The Catacombs Episode Guide

Breakaway

Year 1 - Episode 1 Matter of Life and Death

Screenplay by George Bellak
Directed by Lee H Katzin
Guest Artist Roy Dotrice
Original Titles Zero G
The Void Ahead
Turning Point
UK (ATV) 4 Sep 1975
Belgium (Flemish) Breakaway 5 Jan 1977
Denmark Løsrivelse 16 Oct 1976
France/Canada A la dérive Adrift 13 Dec 1975 (Fr)
18 Sept 1976 (Ca)
Germany Die Katastrophe The Disaster 7 Aug 1977
Italy Separazione Separation 31 Jan 1976
Japan Mankind at a Crisis! Big Explosion in the Space Base 3 Apr 1977
Netherlands De maan uit haar baan The Moon Out Of Orbit 2 June 1978
Poland Oderwanie 8 Jan 1977
Portugal A Ruptura The Rupture 16 Oct 1976
Spain Escapada Escape 30 Sept 1976
Sweden Katastrofen The Catastrophe 8 May 1976
South Africa Wentelbaan Winding Course 15 April 1977

Suspected radiation from nuclear waste containers threatens a deep space probe from Earth's space research center on the moon. It is a prologue to disaster and mankind's most fantastic adventure.

Background

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SFX

  • Extensive shots of the 22" and 44" Eagles (there was only one model of each at the time). Standard transporter, pallet (carrying nuclear waste) and winch platforms are featured. Simmonds's Eagle has an orange transporter pod (only seen clearly on the 22" Eagle landing shot, and the 11" Eagle rising over the moonbase). Martin Bower has stated that this was a standard white pod; every other film frame was hand coloured red. However, there are photos of an 11" Eagle with an orange pod. The 44" transporter pod was painted at one time in orange paint, although no shots of it so painted were used in the episode.
  • At least two sizes of small Moonbuggy are used in the initial shots of the astronauts approaching NDA 2.
  • The Space Dock model is shown (a slightly revamped version appears in Dragon's Domain). The Meta Probe is seen only in distant shots; this is a fairly crude model.
  • The Nuclear waste Disposal Areas are models in several scales, the largest being of in scale with the 44" Eagle as waste cans are extracted and dispersed. The hub of NDA 2 was constructed by long-time Anderson collaborator Mike Trim. The flashing light towers in NDA 1 would be reused in Black Sun and subsequent episodes as Moonbase Alpha's gravity generators. The waste monitoring depot (a round building) would be reused as amongst the Moonbase Alpha large scale buildings (it can be glimpsed in the background of shots of the Alpha laser batteries in The Metamorph and subsequent episodes).
  • Unused Special Effects
  • Library Special Effects
  • SFX Storyboard
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Music

Click for larger image

Science

  • The first shots of the series contain an error: the captions refer to "The Dark Side of the Moon". The Moon has a far side (the half permanently facing away from Earth), but this rotates, so there is two weeks of night followed by two weeks of day. During the two-week night, the far side is the dark side. The terminology is a common error (and a 1973 Pink Floyd album). Navigation Beacon Delta and presumably Area 2 are on the "far side". The phases of the Moon and Earth are wrong too. The sun is beyond, so the Earth and Moon would appear as thin crescents (thanks to Marcus Lindroos).
  • The Space Dock appears to be in lunar orbit (not Earth orbit). It is evidently constructed from old rocket casings. The Saturn V rocket stages seen do not reach orbit so presumably they must be higher stages of much larger rockets. The tubular construction resembles the actual International Space Station being constructed in 1999 in Earth orbit, although they are no solar panels. The Meta Probe has a large array of solar panels; it is the only craft in the series to feature them.
  • The etymology of the name Meta is from the Greek, "after", "beyond" or "change". In Roman chariot races, the meta was a column that marked the turning point for the chariots (Turning Point was an original title of the episode). It also anticipates Project Meta (Megachannel Extraterrestrial Assay), a 1985-1995 Planetary Society/ Harvard University radio frequency search for alien signals. The strong stellar winds of newly ignited stars (T-Tauri winds) could propel proto-planets from solar orbits into deep space. A terrestrial sized planet can outgas its own atmosphere; a 1999 issue of Nature speculates that it would accumulate a large insulating cloud of hydrogen as it left the solar system, allowing oceans to form. Gas giant planets radiate their own heat and also have raw materials in their atmospheres for organic molecules. The first free-floating planet, a gas-giant named CFBDSIR2149, was discovered in 2012. From Koenig's remark about seeing an atmosphere we presume Meta is terrestrial sized.
  • Magnetic "radiation" is an odd but not illogical term for magnetic fields. In the 1980s it was proposed that the magnetic fields created by high voltage electricity is associated with cancers and psychological effects from disorientation and nausea to depression; scientific studies have suggested a weak causal effect. In the 1990s and 2000s there remain concerns about mobile (cellular) phones and transmitter masts. The "classic" symptoms of radiation sickness are not similar to the effects seen here, despite Helena's assertion (unless Nordstrom and Collins sudden flight is caused by diarrhoea).
  • Lightning cannot conduct through a vacuum. A possible explanation could be that the waste dumps are venting gases through which the lightning conducts.
  • A long range video picture from a Mars satellite shows the Moon leaving Earth- this is remarkable resolution. In 2007, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter did in fact take a still picture of the Earth and the Moon from Mars orbit, 142 million kilometers (88 million miles) away. Coincidentally, the phases of the Earth and Moon and their relative positions in the NASA photograph are very similar to the picture on the Big Screen.
    Earth and Moon, as seen from Mars
  • The "gravity disruption" described by the GTV newscaster is a reasonable estimate of the damage caused by the Moon being torn from orbit. The earthquakes along the San Andreas fault, and Yugoslavia and Southern France, occur in well-known fault zones. Historically, "Yugoslavia" no longer existed in 1999, and the bare newsroom (with no live footage displayed behind the newscaster) is somewhat dated.
  • Series publicity was wildly inaccurate: according to ITC publicity the Moon is split in two by the explosion and Moonbase Alpha hurtles into space on a chunk ripped away. This was neither in the script or completed episode.
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Continuity

Chronology:

9th September 1999- 13th September 1999

Alpha Personnel:

Numerous fatalities including Jim Nordstrom, Eric Sparkman, Frank Warren. The population of 311 is presumably the figure just before the Breakaway, which killed several pilots.

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Alpha Technology:


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Eagles:

Eagle 1 (Simmonds, V.I.P. pod); 2 (Earth shuttle); 14 (cargo); 26 (cargo); Collins' Eagle; Koenig's NDA1 Eagle (crashed); remote Eagle (crashed); at least two cargo Eagles destroyed

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Planets:

Meta at the end of the episode. We do not find out what happens there.

Aliens:

None

Props:

Footage:

Cast:

Errors

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Nordstrom's spacesuit visor flaps open as he throws Steiner. Some publicity shots show Steiner's visor open as he is held up, but this does not appear in the episode.
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In the later scene when Koenig, Bergman and Collins watch the astronauts, when one jumps in the buggy his entire helmet seems to almost fall off.
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Nordstrom's name is spelt NORDSTROM in the monitoring depot, but NORDSTOM on his helmet.
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When Simmonds calls Koenig on the Eagle, there are boxes under the passenger module screen. When Koenig leaves the Eagle, there are spacesuit packs.
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You can briefly see the faces of the stuntmen in the fight with Collins. Thanks to James C.
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Koenig's Eagle lands on Alpha with port side to boarding tube. Koenig leaves out the starboard side.
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When Koenig flies alone over Nuclear Disposal Area One and crashes, his spacesuit collar changes between scenes, from rubber corrugated to plain nylon. This also happens to Collins when he goes mad: the scenes in the Eagle and close-ups show a corrugated collar, wider scenes and stunts show the plain collar.
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Observations

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Below: cut SFX scenes, seen only in the Fanderson Space: 1999 documentary (1996). A pan across Area 2 to the Monitoring Depot, Moon flies through space with a red glowing area. Other unused special effects survive.

Breakaway Moon with red glow
  • The influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey is clearest in this episode. A flight to the Moon with one passenger (with stewardess). Note in particular the scene of Collins's Eagle landing at the monitoring depot, seen through a window- a similar scene in 2001 was the lunar shuttle landing at the TMA-1 site landing platform.
  • The dates are not very subtle numerology, starting with 9-9-99 and ending on the 13th. Coincidentally, 9-9-99 was a key problem date for computer applications. Sylvia Anderson's birthday is September 9, Barbara Bain's birthday is September 13.
  • A showcase for SFX and sets, with a chilling atmosphere. The first two acts rely on verbal exposition, before moving to more spectacular action. There is little relaxation from the building tension.
  • The original Void Ahead script by Bellak established Koenig and Helena's characters more fully, including that Gorski was "interested" in Helena. Versions of these scenes were filmed, and sound recordings still exist (see transcriptions). They were cut when Gerry Anderson re-edited the episode.
  • From Gerry Anderson's biography 'What Made Thunderbirds Go' (Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn BBC Worldwide Limited, 2002): 'The New York office assured me that Lee Katzin was "the best pilot director in America",' remembers Gerry. 'The schedule to shoot the first episode was ten days, but it overran and we were soon tens of thousands of pounds over budget. Katzin finished editing his footage and screened the completed 'Breakaway' for Gerry. 'It ran for over two hours,' he remembers, 'and I thought it was awful. He went back to America, and I sent a cutting copy of the episode to Abe Mandell. Abe phoned me in a fit of depression, saying, "Oh my God it's terrible - what are we going to do?" I wrote a lot of new scenes myself, and these were filmed over three days. I'm pretty sure I directed them myself. I then totally recut the episode to 50 minutes, integrating the new footage.'
  • More care than usual is shown in video inserts. People step into view or look up when the video first shows them (in later episodes, they are immediately staring directly at screen). Just before Koenig and Bergman first enter Main Mission, the video under the Big Screen shows them in the corridor outside.
  • More observations

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Links

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Contents copyright Martin Willey