We are proud to present the following interview with writer and story editor on Space: 1999, Johnny Byrne, which was recorded in London on 20th May, 1982. It was very nice to talk to him and I would like to extend my thanks to him for doing the interview. I hope you will all enjoy this insight into the stories of Space: 1999. The interview is edited due to space availability.
How did you get interested in science fiction?
My interest in science fiction goes back a good way, and if there are any devoted archivists of the sixties' science fiction scene in London, they'd find magazines like Impulse and Science Fantasy. I got the big accolade in 1965-66 in the Judith Merrill anthology The Best of Science Fiction, one of the odd little stories I used to do got printed in that. Up to that point I hadn't written anything for the screen. In fact, the very first things I had published was science fiction.
How did you become involved with Gerry Anderson?
Chris Penfold made the initial contact in 1973. Gerry Anderson had done UFO and he was now going to move UFO up onto the moon and deal with the threats of outer space from up there. And Chris Penfold called me in to work with him on it. And at the very last moment the whole thing fell apart because, I think, Lew Grade either couldn't get the money together or he lost interest in the UFO notion. And Gerry went back to the drawing board and came up with the whole idea of taking the UFO concept on the moon- and doing something totally ridiculous like sending it out of orbit. I don't quite know the reasoning behind it, Gerry's never admitted it to me. When I came on the scene it wasn't a fait accompli. When I was finally called back- a good nine months must have passed, this must have been around early 1974- the situation was that it was now going to be Space: 1999 and it was going to be a big budget science fiction series which was going to do all kinds of miraculous things in special effects and, in fact, Gerry Anderson had been gearing himself all his life to make this series, in terms of technique and science fiction interest. Now, I had no experience of Gerry other than what I had seen of his puppet stuff and found it, you know, quite competent and technically well done.
How much had you seen?
I had seen most of the Thunderbirds. I hadn't seen much of Stingray. I was quite impressed by the way he put the stories together. I never felt happy with the kind of pseudo mid-Atlantic, not British/not English accents of the actors and things like that. I always felt that if shows are made in England they should be made from the point of view of an English situation. They should not pretend to be what they're not. If you try to beat the Americans at their own game, you simply can't do it. The English have their own special point of view and the Americans have theirs.
But, I came into Space when the first episode called "Breakaway" was just about to go onto the floor. It had a 14 day schedule and Lee Katzin was going to direct it and I was brought in because they hadn't really got any follow-up scripts prepared. The next script to go on the floor was meant to be something written by Art Wallace. It was unsuitable because, you know, to be fair to the writer, he had written it in isolation long before the thing had become a reality. Writing for a series is a very precise art that has to be geared to the actual conditions existing at the time. I was brought in 14 days before the shooting began on "Breakaway" on a kind of six weeks trial basis to get the second script into operation. My brief was to act as a story editor. The first job I was faced with was a complete rewrite, a complete restructure- 'coz I don't like messing up people's work, but the requirements were quite severe. So "Breakaway" went onto the floor. It took a bit longer than had been reckoned and they went for a really incredible opening with all the amazing special effects by Brian Johnson. And this was my first exposure to the whole thing. Seeing it all coming together with one unit at Bray and the other unit in its own secluded little part of Pinewood- it was a whole world and it was very exciting. Although I could see tremendous problems coming up in terms of simply feeding this creation that they'd set up, it was a very challenging one.
Did you work on the series format?
No, the format had already been written up by a man called George Bellak. There was a lot of American interest in this, it was ITC which is an international company, it was being geared specifically for the American markets- that's why they brought in Martin and Barbara- and George Bellak was the one who, with Gerry, had drawn up the original format. He had written "Breakaway," I think, and it hadn't worked. There had been a conflict as there always is conflict of one kind or another, and whatever happened, he was not there when I arrived. That was probably when I came in because Chris Penfold was the guy who was occupying the position I now occupied; so that Chris had now become story consultant, as it were. I was brought in, and while Chris and Lee Katzin were trying to put the finishing touches to getting the first story together, I was working reasonably closely with Gerry.
What is the basic difference between story consultant and story editor?
A story editor is involved more with the mechanical business of making stories work. In its purest form it is first of all commissioning, seeing, speaking to writers, getting an idea from one of them that you think has possibilities, getting that story off the ground, and when it comes into script format then it goes up to Chris or to Gerry and there are meetings about it, and if they feel it's a goer then it goes. Thereafter the story editor is really the one who tries to sort of bend it towards the demands of the format which he knows about, and the existing technical problems. It was a nightmare situation. You had one special effects unit over at Bray, you had the big shooting setup at Pinewood, and we knew instinctively what was right and what was possible. It was not what was right or wrong, it was what was possible and what was not possible in terms of budget and all these sorts of things; technical thing. So the story editor was responsible for keeping that alignment and making sure that the script was ready to go into production. He would also deal with any queries from the stars, the directors who had special things, and prepare the final shooting script. Essentially, the story consultant is a more executive position. His job is to find those scripts, to update the format, to keep the whole thing sort of ticking over. He has overall control over the writing department and would involve himself more with high level discussions, casting, characterizations, and things like this. You could be called associate producer, you could be called script producer, I suppose that was what Freddie Freiberger called himself. In essence it means that you're getting more money than the guy who's underneath you, and you have more responsibility.
But I had problems right from the beginning. My main problem was, having come to science fiction through the respectable route, not the route of SF films or series, but through the SF industry literature. And there's a distinct difference. Science fiction writers don't know how to write scripts and script writers invariably know little about science fiction. It's not just a question of writing another script. There's a whole sort of history and it has its own kind of universe, universal values in terms of writing SF- that's why SF writers are rarely satisfied with what they see on the screen. But anyway, I found it difficult to accept that the moon could travel through space at no matter what velocity they gave it and week after week, considering the immense distances that the moon would have to cover....There was a basic element of unbelievability, and SF has to have a basis in truth, or experience, or psychology, or something you can latch onto. The fundamental element is the moon traveling through the universe and week after week coming into the range of another planet, and then another planet and God knows how many light years we are away....That I found very difficult to take. It took me a good three or four weeks. Obviously I didn't press it, because it was something that you had to put aside and to see how, in fact, it affected the writing of stories, as far as I was concerned. And as I got into my stories I found that it didn't really affect my stories and my concept of how the stories should be. It offered the kind of scope and if you could suspend judgment to the extent that the moon was here, that thing was there, and these situations were occurring- then it was possible. But there was that necessary suspension of belief as to how it got there. Here, what have we got? We have a credible existence on a moon where people can be seen to be leading a fairly believable existence, reasonably expected around that period.
Thinking of it in those terms it's quite exciting. It didn't move them out into the impossible future but kept them in a fairly discernable future. Having established that, the philosophical part of it, it was quite easy. We had great trouble with the first script "Matter of Life and Death." I can't quite remember what Art Wallace's script was like, I think it was called "The Breath of Life" or something. I was working under great pressure. Two weeks to get this thing ready and I was pitched in, as they say, into the deep end. So we came up with a story that concerned antimatter. They had a very good actor for it, Richard Johnson. And it was me kind of edging my way into the kind of space ethos, as it was, the Alpha Moonbase ethos.
You didn't have any collaboration with Art Wallace?
No, I never met him. There was a rejected script which they felt they couldn't use. He had written something for a series that had not in the event materialized. It was out of synch, out of phase, the characters hadn't been truly defined, it had been written at an early stage and while every producer likes to come into pre-production with a good first draft, inevitably it has to be rewritten to conform with the demands of the fully worked out format. It's no reflection on Art Wallace's writing at all, the story simply wasn't right; and I had very quickly to shift and get something that would work within the context.
He still got credit for it?
Yes, because I felt that it was his. I could have, I think, demanded a full credit on it, but I didn't. I just wanted a shared credit. But I remember it being made very well and it went over reasonably okay.
Now, I can't remember if it was around this time that Eddie di Lorenzo was taken on as a story editor alongside me. Essentially it meant that we were writing our own scripts but we were on staff, as it were. The scripts that were coming in from outside writers like David Weir and Anthony Terpiloff were done with Chris in conjunction with them. Occasionally, we'd get a little bit of editing to do on a script. We all lived away from the main unit in a little writers' colony on the other side of Pinewood.
How long did Edward di Lorenzo work with you as a story editor?
He came in...and "Ring Around the Moon" was the first one he did. Then "Missing Link" and then "Alpha Child," but I think it was rewritten by Chris.
For what reason?
I don't know. I think that might have been the time that Eddie di Lorenzo decided to leave. But I'm not absolutely sure about "Alpha Child." I think it was Eddie who started it and Chris who completed it. He left by the time we had shot episode six, and then it was just Chris and I for the remainder of that period. Towards the end, 'round about episode 20, Chris and Gerry agreed to sort of go different ways, and so I was the only one who remained 'til the end of the first series.
What can you tell about the collaboration with directors?
On Space it was very close. And they were each in their own ways very different. I was absolutely thrilled, of course, to find myself working with Charles Crichton who's a legend. Charles made The Lavender Hill Mob and lots of very good Ealing films like The Titfield Thunderbolt and Hue and Cry. He had a very maddening, meticulous perfectionist approach which was very good for someone who is, you know, quick as me. Everything had to be written down that one could see or imagine or convey onto the screen; and while Charles would have a sort of notoriously prickly gruff personality, he and I always got on extremely well. He could rub people up the wrong way, drive them mad by his attention to detail on the floor and his absolutely picking and picking away at a script. But I reckoned that a man of such experience- having virtually lived through the entire British film industry- had a lot to teach people like me who was relatively new to the actual job of making films, not to writing. So, I learned all I could from Charles.
I think for me the one who took my work and did the best possible job with it, the one who really excited me to work with creatively- Charles did, but we never really had a good script until we came to the second series. "Matter of Life and Death" had been written too hazily and could've done with a lot more rethinking about it, but it had to be done. But I really started getting into my stroll when I worked with David Tomblin. "Another Time, Another place" was very exciting. It was the first script I did for Space on my own in my position, having got rid of the other one. There's no sort of set way of writing scripts. The demands of a format like Space: 1999 required a strong hook, 'coz there is great fear among the moguls that the 30 second edge, if we don't pass it people will switch off and switch to another channel- so you had to have a hook. You had to have a first act with a strong act ending, second, third, fourth, and then a little epilogue. That was the format. It never varied. In "Another Time, Another Place"- I thought the way you're faced with a blank page of paper and you've got to get a script ready in three weeks, a very complicated script, sets would be built, hundred thousand pounds or something would have to be spent- I can't tell you. Garry would have to tell you how much each episode cost, but a lot of money. How do you start? Where do you start from?
You said three weeks?
I had about three weeks to get that ready, because by this time my six weeks were more or less up and my contract had been renewed as a story editor with the requirement to write scripts, in other words work full time for them. So the first one I came up with was: what was the worst thing I could possibly imaging happening to those people? Let's say they're hit by a mad cloud or particle storm in space. What would happen if a certain kind of ionized particle storm hits them? So, I then imagined their bodies separating, their images separating, and watching themselves moving away from themselves. Now, that's so far as I had thought. What are the implications of that? Okay, they all pass out, nobody knows who's who because one lot has seen the other lot sort of passing away. That's the act ending, that's a fairly strong one, but that's only the hook. But we've got an hour's screen time to fill. I thought "Can I sustain a story developing like this?" Okay, we've come back now after the credits and they find that they're not where they were. That's good. So where are they? They look up and, my God, they're traveling back to occupy the spot in space they occupied before they were blown out. All they can do is scratch their heads. They have got some kind of data on the kind of weird force that struck them but no real idea...which is one of the reasons I like Space- their knowledge was fairly limited. So you can endlessly speculate. I built a story purely empirically by building situation on top of situation. It all stems from the initial logic of the setup. That was, I think, the easiest way to write that kind of story. It was not possible to do all the stories like that, very few of them you could do like that. That was the fun way. I really enjoyed putting myself in a corner and writing myself out of it. Problems came a good deal along the way because you could actually literally put yourself in a corner and yet your efforts to get out could show to be fairly gratuitous or not really wholly believable unless you could find a really stunning turnabout. I was fortunate there with a nice little twist to give it. I like that episode very much and I thought David Tomblin directed it very well.
Was "Force of Life" the next one you wrote?
Yeah. I wanted to get away from the notion of the kind of good and evil. You know, the nasty, mad alien and the cowering Earthlings. That's a valid form of story and, you know, we'd seen it ad nauseum in Star Trek and I think too much of it came in later on into Space. In "Force of Life" to many forms of life out in space intelligent Earth life means bugger-all. It means as much to a wisp of gas up in space and here I had the kind of mindless evolutionary imperative at work. We picked up a random force going through a kind of chrysalis stage in space. Its decision to latch itself onto Zoref was purely arbitrary. He happened to be in the right place at the right time and, of course, there was something about him which attracted the creature. But it had not got any kind of intelligence in the sense we understand intelligence, it had an imperative, a kind of instinctive thing driving it. Of course, these things have to be visualized in terms of science fiction for the screen so the way I found it was to turn him into a heat-junkie, he was just like an addict. The thing inside him would need a fix every so often and we had him going through these spasms where he'd draw heat out of any object, including coffee, including people, including anything thus finally- again I applied to the tail end. I applied the technique of the first story where you look at the situation and see what's the inescapable sort of logic and try to build on it. This force had been ripping its way as part of its evolutionary imperative through the base and the effects it has on human rituals are very simple. I think David did it very well.
The image of Zoref being recharged and having his eyes glow, whose concept was that?
That was mine. I remember a discussion vaguely in Gerry's office. I think it was mine. I worked very closely with David Tomblin and he made a tremendous contribution to the scripts. Not so much to "Another Time, Another Place" but more so to this. So the idea may have come out of discussions I was having with David about the best way to do it. But all these things, of course, were discussed with Gerry.
The directional style of making "Force of Life" a thriller, was that David Tomblin's idea or yours?
We didn't sit down and say "Let us make this a thriller." We had essentially a story and we wanted to keep the story fairly simple. We wanted to make it different in the sense that it didn't have a a kind of conscious heavy...it had a force affecting people. The force had its own reasons for doing what it did and they were perfectly understandable in terms of itself. But it had a kind of unthinking, devastating effect on the people. I thought the use of camera angles, pace and effects were quite stunning. David did some wonderful sequences of Zoref going through those corridors and the lights were fading into him. I'm amazed to hear it caused a storm in Denmark and that in Germany the scene, the most effective scene where the creature inside Zoref, having been blasted by the lasers, gets up with its eyes glowing and the body is dead but the creature is animating it- having cut those out absolutely appalls me, it sort of destroys the whole basis of drama because if you take these things in isolation, yes, they can be a bit frightening. But if you take them in the context of a given creative entity, it destroys them and gives them undue emphasis. It's the faint hearts and, you know, when one considers what one sees on the screen in terms of actuality, footage and so on, it's really nothing. Here we see it in its full context. To say that in Denmark, a country which I admire for the freedom its people enjoy, I'm absolutely astonished that they should have reacted in such a way. I don't want to be too hard on nervous television executives, but it seems silly rather than tragic. It spoils a story that was not written with any attempt to set the world on fire, it was simply there to hold people's attention for an hour and to provide, I thought,quality television in the home.
Coming 'round to "Voyager's Return"...
That began its existence in an idea from a friend of mine called Joe Gannon who's a sort of young writer and also a film editor. He came up with a rough idea as a story which he submitted because he knew I was story editor. It was way off target in terms of what was possible for us to do. It was a very complicated thing. The basic idea was that a ship had come back. And it's quite impressive in a way because the Voyager probes were out there at that time. The ship would land on the moon and the creature would con them into providing systems of life support, and it was actually turning itself into a creature, rather like Frankenstein on a rack. Joe couldn't write the script at that time. There was a host of reasons why Joe couldn't be commissioned. But I asked him if I could do the story and he was quite willing, he got paid for the idea of just the Voyager coming back. I was struck by the idea of something that we carelessly sent out into space- in a sort of altruism- could possibly have unfortunate consequences for the things it comes into contact with. Basing it on that I built in a story of Ernst Queller rather like a Nazi sort of Wernher von Braun. He had been responsible for a nasty accident because his concept was so wonderful but it was also very dangerous and it sacrificed a lot of people.
Obviously the German similarity of his name was intentional?
Yes, I wanted to give him a Germanic type of facade. I never saw him as a nasty, I didn't see him as a Nazi, I saw him like one of these haunted Germans who has done things during the war and felt ashamed of them later and tried to atone in some way, you know. But anyway, for dramatic purposes we simply had him surfacing on the moon base. Because this thing is coming back and it has got- as it comes into contact- it's got this drive which will switch on which will annihilate them. They don't know how to stop it but then Queller reveals who he is and he helps to do it. And then the full consequences of what he has done- again, building on the existing situation- when we think the story is over, it's only really beginning because it is being trailed back to its home planet by people whose worlds have been absolutely destroyed and are intent on exacting a horrific revenge. So there was a kind of social message in that, a slight one, and one tried to make it as interesting and agreeable and as tense a situation as possible. It was more a nuts n' bolts story, that. What you would call pure sort of nuts n' bolts science fiction of Space: 1999-type story.
What do you think of the design of the ships?
I particularly liked the interior of the Earth ship, the Queller ship. The alien ones looked a bit too stick cricket-like.
Do you think so? Surely they worked in the context.
They didn't strike me as menacing enough. They were meant to be and I laid this on very heavily in the script. They were meant to be extremely menacing. You could sense power but not see it, and you had the feeling that things were going to start poking out and start firing at you at any moment in the Sidon ships.
What technique did you employ?
I just took the existing situation. This thing is coming back, it's lethally dangerous, how are we going to stop it? From that I built in the thing of having a scientist there, that I didn't know to begin with. I was going to have them sort of struggling around finding ways to do it.You know, here was a man who believed he had a great sort of gift to give to space, people, other nations, and other races if he brought contact between those two worlds. He did bring contact but not in the way he expected. And I think there's a message there, even today when we're littering space with all kinds of hideous junk, that we don't really give a thought to the consequences and the things we send out. Just as if anything else came from outside and landed here with the thought of contamination. It's a grisly thought. We should have the same regard for what might be out there That's not to say we shouldn't explore. We should be very responsible and treat space as much like our home backyard as we can. It's a curious thing, that. As we sort of become more aware of how precious the Earth is and how to look after it, the less we seem to care about space. Obviously, when we've sorted out our back garden and sorted out the Earth, then perhaps we'll sort out space. And by a time, let's hope, you know... that it hasn't gone too far. Who worked with me on that?
There wasn't much collaboration with Bob on that. He just took it and shot it very, very quickly indeed, and I didn't see an awful lot of him. He liked to just do things on his own. It was fairly much Bob's interpretation of the script and within those limits he did a reasonable job.
We come 'round to "End of Eternity" which seems to have been another fast thriller story.
Yeah. It's not one of my favorite stories. It started off with a very good idea. First the discovery of finding a creature entombed in a rock, then discovering that the guy has powers of regeneration which means that he's immortal, and then discovering that he's a psychopath. How do you kill an immortal killer? That was really what got me going on it. In the playing of it, in the confines of Main Mission and the other places, it should have been a story in many ways that required opening out onto another landscape. I felt it was too claustrophobic and too confined.
But surely that contributed to making it tense.
Yes, in a way. I don't know, it was a tense story. The idea of the confrontation between it and Koenig, it's like Jack and the Bean Stalk and the Giant, you know, trying to outwit the Giant. It all worked, I think it all hung together very well. But for some reason it's not one of the ones that I like. I felt that I'd just turned out a decent story for that slot which was number six or number seven. I didn't feel inspired writing it, I Just felt it was a writing job and I tackled it the best way I could. I think it had to do with the nature of Balor, he was very one-dimensional. He was a psychopath and the moment you say that to yourself you make people very single-minded. All they want to do is to destroy. He never had any real reasons to do so. That, to me is not good drama. I don't know how it came about, a host of reasons why he simply came out like that. It had all the potential for action, for movement, for pace and things like that. But on reflection, if I had looked and tried to work harder at that I think I could have made him a much more interesting and subtle destroyer, and at the end of the day, a more effective and permanent one.
You did make some attempts to flesh out his background?
Oh, yes, there were some good scenes. Some of the scenes where he tells them what a hard time he has, some of that was okay, but then when he turned nasty there seemed to be a fairly arbitrary decision and there was no real build-up, I think, to his unmasking. And he should have had another purpose, a higher purpose, than simply the urge to indulge in mindless killing. That, I think, was the weakness of it. Other than that it worked as a sort of action-adventure story because of the way it was shot, the acting, the production values and the dramatic elements in the story.
Going on to "The Troubled Spirit."
Now I wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to do the first science fiction ghost story and it would have all the classic elements of a ghost story but inextricably bound up with the high technology of science fiction. And I took what was then a fairly current thing like communication between plants and human beings, that plants do communicate. And it seemed fairly natural that in 1999 they would have a device that could boost those signals. And it was so, l believe, though I'm not absolutely sure about this, that the signals from plants can in certain instances equate to certain signals which are found in the human brain, electrical signals. And I had Mateo fix up the beginning of the ghost story thing, which is a kind of technical seance and from this appears this creature that is horribly burned, horribly disfigured. It's a vengeful creature but we don't know that yet.It has come back to avenge a wrong, a horrible death which hasn't happened yet. The irony of the situation is that everything they do to counter the threat of this being is pushing this man towards the death this thing is coming back to avenge. So it had a beautiful poetry and I tried to get the best value out of it. I was very pleased with the shape of that story. To have a ghost story set in a science fiction context was also, I thought, quite an original thing to do.
What were you trying to say in the epilogue?
I can't remember it off hand, but if I remember, Koenig and Helena were talking about what is death and what is life? What you had to be left with there is how much you don't know and how flexible are the barriers between what we consider life and death. It's all tied in with time. When you mix all these equations up all your sort of thoughts and feelings and beliefs simply don't make any sense and you have to be infinitely flexible. One of the good things about the Alphan situation was since they were moving out, moving all the time, exposed to these extraordinary situations, their flexibility, not necessarily their knowledge, but their ability to adapt to the mysterious, to the unknown, was expanding as the distance between Earth and them lengthened. It would have been wrong to put sort of pat answers on some of these thoughts we had.
The next episode you wrote, was that "Mission of the Darians"?
Yes. I think it is probably the one I like best. It is perhaps the most serious of all the stories I wrote. It has the cruel, inescapable things that life sometimes forces upon us. If you remember there was a crash in the Andes and that people in order to survive had to eat their fellow passengers. I don't think that book had been published when I wrote this story. This is a theme that I dealt with in one or two respects before but not in any sort of developed or finished way. First of all I was excited by the thought of a 50-mile long spaceship. Secondly, my mind harked back to a wonderful story that I had read by Brian Aldiss many, many years ago. I think it was called Non Stop, and that always set up an echo in my mind and, while not sort of plagiarizing Brian, you can't help dealing with a theme of people cut off, you know, sort of drifting and the mystery about them. So here they are in this wonderful spaceship. They discover that thousands of years ago the original people who owned the ship, who had taken the ship and who were on their way to a new world, had a huge accident and now there was a small group of the original aliens plus the atomic survivors, the mutants of their own people. The Darians- and it's not a mistake that they are called Darians- it was meant to equate with Arians, the life theme from the Arian race, the sort of proto-Nazi thing,not fascism and not Nazism but the kind of primal, racial instinct. A kind of superior beings. Knowing that they've got to keep a residue of those people alive so that they can survive and, once there, they would be disposed of but here in the gene bank is all they require to remanufacture the race again. The thing was, and I thought it was well worked out in the sense that if any of them were born mutant a kind of religion was built around a sort of disfigurement and the things which would obviously weigh large in people's minds in a post-atomic situation, and lots of still births and horrific mutants and things like this would appear. The structure of social groups would be incredibly rigid and they would try to eliminate, in the way the Spartans would dispose of daughters or deformed children to keep the purity going. And of course they would feed these into the food chain, and that was what was keeping the good Darians alive....The name of the game is survival and that's what they were doing.
So that was your message?
Yeah. Essentially we were talking about cannibalism, no matter how science fiction it was. At the end of the day the resolution was a very humane one where the idea was that the gene bank is now destroyed- it should've been destroyed in the first place; these are the people who own the future. The two groups have got to be connected so that by the time you land you will have your own people, not the same, but you will have people. So they basically need each other. Again there were no heroes and villains, but things that people had to do.
What kind of technique did you use?
In doing this, I employed my original technique of just imagining a situation and the situation was first of all a huge drifting spaceship. It simply grew out of the initial premise and I structured it vertically. I simply started at the top and sort of worked down. First of all I would play around with how the story would develop from the hook, but essentially I would look beyond to the and of the act and find out the point I wanted to build towards. And in this case I think I was going for one of the Alphans being taken and put into the food chain- then I would sort of work back and fill in the gaps in between, always building towards a strong act. So that was the more refined way of "Another Time, Another Place." This time you have a rough idea of where you're going. It's surprising how things would fall into place when you did it like that.
You don't feel it was too contrived having just the security guard buying it, as the only extra on that particular mission?
Ah, well, yes- all the stories are full of contrived incidents. At the rate we were getting through Alpha moon base personnel, I'm amazed that any remained at the end of the first season! But it was important to show, I think, this whole obsession they had with mutancy. It's important to have one there who could be disposed of to show how deeply rooted this tradition was, basically how ignorant, how clueless they had become about the real world. And how they were simply acting on a kind of ritual memory rather than common sense. We did actually have two dwarfs in it which I thought added immensely to the value. And there were some magnificent glass shots in it. We didn't do many. By that I mean, there was a view when you came in through a door and you saw the entire, huge bay of the spaceship. We didn't do many glass shots but that was one and it really added immensely. The sight of that massive ship moving through frame in the first shots was excellent. Ray Austin did a marvelous job of directing this and the two previous episodes.
Expanding on the visualization of that ship, how was it conceived?
We had a brilliant model maker, I can't remember his name [Martin Bower], but he was absolutely brilliant. He gave it that distinctive kind of Legostyle, you know. Did you see Alien?
Yes. I did.
Did you notice now similar the structures were to that one in "Mission of the Darians"?
I haven't thought about it- you may be right.
It had that kind of feeling about it. It looked really mind-bending on a big screen, which I used to see it on in rushes. When the model would be devised, Brian [Johnson] would sort of have meetings with me and Gerry. We would have these technical meetings just to go through the technical, the special effects stuff, and then simply Brian would go off and do his own thing, and we'd never see him. He would just do what he had to do and then every day we would go to rushes and see it coming up. There wasn't much that Brian couldn't do. He could do- anything.
How did the special effects sequences come about?
Well, Brian Johnson, as I understand it, was a protege of Gerry's, and Gerry's a technical man, essentially a film editor, and that is where his brilliance lies. He's a very good one. And he sort of developed or encouraged Brian's talent and Brian had had a real grounding and by this time he now had his own unit over at Bray studios. There would be technical meetings with the director, sometimes technical meetings with the writer and the director and the producer, and if there were any problems we would work them over. By that time we knew more or less what was okay and what was in stock and what wasn't- what we would have to do. Maybe we'd gone over budget on something, maybe we had to keep one down on this, you know. If there was a requirement to keep the special effects down then we would sort of have to meet that requirement; but that was rarely mentioned. The money always seemed to be there.
To what degree did you visualize the special effects?
I always visualized them completely. Everything. There were certain things that you would describe in a special effects shot where Brian would have to adjust those very much to his own requirements.
How much were you involved in special effects shooting?
Well, I only went to Bray three or four times. I was simply an onlooker, I would come over, 'Hello, Brian," and have a cup of tea, see a few shots: "What are you doing? Let's have a look at your shooting," and he'd say: "Look, we're just doing this now. Hang on," and then go into it. I could have gone...but I was very busy. If there was a problem about it Brian would contact me and we would speak about it and I would change it. But, essentially, everything we saw on the screen was written and... like "War Games" which had some amazing sequences in it...
Yes, they were wonderful. That was Chris [Penfold] writing the special effects and Brian visualizing, doing them.
We get 'round, finally, to "Testament of Arkadia."
No, that was earlier. It was "Troubled Spirit" and then "Darians" was the last one I did in the first series. So "Testament of Arkadia" came when David Tomblin was still a director on the unit. And it had a strange genesis. There was a requirement to do a script and David started talking over ideas, and in essence, much of what finally came out stemmed from the kind of story David wanted to do. I then had always considered that, you know, life did not begin on Earth but was taken to Earth. It's not the kind of story I would normally write. Somehow the logic of the situation, plus my close collaboration with David pushed me that way and I found myself doing a story that had this kind of connotation, and once launched on it, it had to be sort of pursued to the very end. It has a strange kind of eerie quality about it. It looks out of place in the welter of all the Space: 1999 stories. It has, I think, a serious message. It was bedeviled like many of the stories at that time by the fact that we had to use Italian leading men because of the money connections with Italy. And many of them couldn't speak English very well and it was a big problem. They brought in a wonderful man who would dub these voices, Bob Rietti. He can simply stand there and speak in their voice and correct it and redub it. A lot of Luke's [Orso Maria Guerrini] stuff was redubbed. They would take sometimes only a word in a sentence and this guy would pick it up perfectly.
But I think "The Testament" showed the effects of underbudgeting. For one reason or another it had less money available for it and so in terms of production values it didn't quite measure up to some of the others. I can't quite remember. That's my feeling about it. But I thought it was well directed and it was quite eerie and spooky in a strange way. Well, it's not one of my favorites. You know, I think it's quite a special one, quite outside the stream. I don't know what your feelings are?
I have the feeling it's very much a favorite of many Space: 1999 fans. I like it very much myself.
I always felt very uneasy about it because its statement was so direct. And it had too much of it related to a purely spiritual impulse in terms of the characters. So much had to be taken for granted. Luke being taken over by this force was a kind of religious obsession but it was never adequately explained how...well, we knew what the motivation was 'coz at the end what we're saying is: "We have left Adam and Eve" and like this, I mean, it's an Adam and Eve story. It's starting again.
It's a very direct message.
Yes, and it didn't really examine that process of spiritual possession, which I'd like to have done. I think that's where it sort of falls down for me. Given an hour-and-a-half I think I would have made it a better story- but again, writers are never, never satisfied. It's one of those stories I can look at now and feel very nervous when it's coming on but feel okay at the end. It's like that. I thought the performances were well done and that the scenes in the cave where they discover that it's Sanskrit and all of that was very spooky and very effective.
You had some very heavy symbolism there by having Luke and Anna actually kneeling while seeing these figures.
Yes, but that was David. He had strong feelings about this story and, I mean, I'm a Catholic and obviously I have a vast reservoir of Catholicism "genetically coded" into my system so there is more than simply life. In terms of me I'm not a religious person, but I am a Catholic and if you look at many of my stories they do have this slightly spiritual quality about them. Philosophical implications of meeting yourself, the problems of the inanimate force taking you over, the one you can't communicate with, it's simply using you and disposing of you, in a way. Man proposes and God disposes. The story of the Darians. Again, there's a spiritual element in it: people desiring to stay alive at any cost and the effect it has on their spirits, on their humanity. And, looking back, all of the stories, they all have this element of sort of moral uncertainty or spiritual uncertainty.
There's also another small example in "War Games" where we see Koenig floating in space and then when Helena calls his name we see him reaching towards the sky and the camera is tracking his arm.
Yeah. These are qualities that Gerry Anderson feels, as well. One mustn't rule Gerry out of the equation 'coz he was there behind all these stories. Gerry's hard and fast in the sense that his brilliance is the technical side but when you come to story terms, Gerry has very simple ideas and all the better they are for it. If one was to qualify this effect: Gerry could make a good script infinitely better and make a bad script very much worse. And I think he'd smile and nod and say truthfully "Yeah. Perhaps" if I said it to him. He would go for the basic virtues and he was all for, you know, people expressing their emotion. Which is strange, for my image of Gerry before I ever met him was a guy who was devoid of feelings, it was the action that was the thing, but in fact, Gerry is very much a man of feeling. He likes to think his reactions- he's a bit defensive, he thinks, maybe they're, you know, corny but they're not and I always welcomed those kind of discussions about aspects in the scripts because he made me less too inhibited about dealing with straight emotion and spirituality which I would normally be known to do, being the kind of person I am. I don't reveal a great deal about myself. I never write about myself as a writer but, obviously, my thoughts and things permeate my work and I've been content to simply let them come out in that way. Well, they've come out in Space in a profound way but they've come out very strongly in All Creatures Great And Small in the purely human relationships. Man's relationship with animals and the effect animals can have on people and humanity and things like this. I think that ability to be able to feel and to communicate what you feel in terms of dramatic concepts is something that Gerry is very much up to develop.
What happened in the period between the first and the second series?
There was a great deal of uncertainty at the end of the first series as to what the future was going to be. There hadn't been a firm commitment to make the next series but I was kept on to do various things, like trying to work out how we could improve if we went into a second series. And I was going to be executive story consultant. When we got the go ahead, I think it was around the summer time. In the intervening period I had written two scripts. One was called "The Biological Soul" and the other was called "Children of the Gods." "The Biological Soul" was a very interesting concept. Again, I suppose it harked back to this spiritual thing I was talking about. Here the question was: what is the soul? And it was an attempt to offer some kind of explanation that it is the kind of source of intelligence in human beings, the sort of thinking, reasoning areas of the brain. In the early script Mentor was alone with his biological computer which he calls Psyche. They would have conversations; it was a love affair between the two of them. It had a very different feel about it, but many of the same elements were there: the attempt to lure Koenig down and so on. Then when Freddie came it was imperative that an alien be introduced. Again, the panic was that they wanted their equivalent of Mr. Spock and we tried to resist turning it into another Star Trek- they were two completely different things. But the requirements were such that it had to go into the first episode so my first episode from being "The Biological Soul" became "The Biological Computer" and then it became "The Metamorph" which is when Maya first appeared.
But there must have been other drastic changes than only the introduction of Maya.
Yes, there were. Freddie was coming in on the basis that the first series hadn't worked in the sense that it hadn't got the coveted network deal in America and in England, too. This probably had more to do with politics at a high level in the television industry than anything else. We were constantly under pressure from responses coming back from America. We would lower the hemlines, drop the necklines, speed the shows up, slow them down,more characterization, but if there's more characterization there's less pace and so on. We tried to accommodate these things and still keep on an even keel. But Freddie felt that the whole sort of feeling about it- and in many respects I share his feelings 'coz I did a critical commentary on it too. You see, Space was produced by two people: Gerry and Sylvia. While Gerry was largely responsible, Sylvia had very important areas and there was a certain amount of creative tension about the best way, and the best look it should have. My own feeling was that the original Main Mission set was too depersonalizing, that the costumes were fairly depersonalizing and there wasn't enough mix among the actual people we would see on the screen. They all tended to be too youthful, too pretty, too neutral. They needed sort of real flesh and blood. Freddie quite correctly picked up on this and so some of the major characters left, like Bergman for contractual reasons and one or two characters were brought in. Morrow left. And Main Mission was demolished and turned into Command Center which was meant to make it more claustrophobic, people on Alpha were now living in slightly more uncomfortable surroundings and were generally more harassed. This was all meant to give it more immediacy and, you know, real-people-under-stress and all of that. Fair enough. It changed the look of it. It turned it, I thought, into more of a kind of Star Trek-type series. In the kind of treatment, not the best of Star Trek, some of the later 'coz Freddie did do the third season and it had many qualities which put if more in the mainstream of science fiction on television. But to me, despite all the faults which I knew about and which Freddie had partially corrected, it had lost something quite important. It had lost its metaphorical way, it had become just another group of people rather than a special group of people.
It had become less spiritual?
It had become more involved in the nuts and bolts of survival, less in the state of their minds and the state of their feelings and their soul, if you like. To me they were people on a kind of odyssey, not only physical progression but also spiritual progression, and the inner world of Space: 1999 seemed to have gone by the wayside. The problems became more immediate, more containable. They had more blacks and whites- I mean that dramatically- in characterization, and issues were solved in an hour. There were very few things that wasn't a tantalizing thought in many of the original Space episodes where as in life situations were not always resolved. Certain things we don't understand. Do we need to understand certain things? Is it best to leave them not understood? And it lost that kind of slight feeling, that nice feeling of people more like us with our kind of weaknesses and limitations moving out into the great unknown. Now they were more "space men" as opposed to Earth men. That was something that couldn't be helped, given the situation. It was Freddie's job to change it, to give the Americans what they wanted.
In the meantime I had tried to evolve a system whereby I could bring good science fiction book writers, story writers, into the process. When Freddie came, of course, the whole thing went wrong from that point of view. Freddie had a new job to do. It was his job to make it look as different to the first as possible- you can't blame him for that. It was his job to be answerable to the Americans and he knew the scene, he had worked on science fiction before and he'd worked on Star Trek. And, while in the early days of Space we would always consciously try to steer this different path from Star Trek- we had the beating of it, I think, in technical production, of course, 'coz it had been made six or seven years earlier. But I think some of our best were equal if not better to the best of Star Trek in terms of their stories. They had a slightly more profound quality about them. And now the stories went into the stuff that was required for the new situation and my interest simply dropped back to being a script writer. I had the same kind of problem with Maya as I had with the original notion of the moon moving through space. One of the fundamentals of drama is that you don't make things too easy for your people, television drama, drama anyway. It seemed to me that if you had a creature who could turn herself into a bug, a pigeon or an insect that could crawl under a force barrier- it seemed to be devaluing the elements of having humans getting out of difficult spots. It was a difficult thing because virtually every plot was contrived around Maya.
How do you feel she was used?
I think in the context of the second season, she worked. She was a good character, she was a good actress and it gave a potential for that kind of love interest that I don't think was ever properly exploited. There was always talk about something going on between Tony and Maya, and there was always something going on between John and Helena, there might have been something going on between Paul and Sandra, and Carter was having a thing going with Tanya. But there was real potential at the heart of it for Maya and Tony and it never really developed. Why, I don't know. I just did that first story and I didn't do any more until the end of the season. I did two more scripts.
What happened to the second story you had written?
When Freddie came in he read all the old scripts that might have been used. Of course he had to junk them because he was starting his new reign and such were the dictates of that kind of responsibility. And this one, called "Children of the Gods," Gerry said to me, you know, it was the finest story that had ever read. I don't know where that script is, I haven't got it in rough, I haven't got it in first draft- it was written. I think Freddie didn't like it. It's Moonbase Alpha bit by bit starting to disappear off the surface of the moon. Then it reconvenes- that's the end of the hook, voices of children "We're the children," sounds over the intercoms. Then they were in some kind of structure and there are two children, they've got these jewels in their foreheads and they're incredibly evil. The kids are very indulged, they have complete mastery of time and space and they put Moonbase Alpha personnel through weird time trips. Like Carter comes back, his mind completely cleaned, he believes he's a sort of gladiator from ancient Rome. There's a fight in it between Koenig and Carter and there's a guy who was the heavy. They gradually work it out: these children were kidnapped in the future. The man who's controlling the whole thing belongs to another race and Koenig's race or these children's race and theirs are about to make contact at this moment in time in the galaxy somewhere. There was an effort made to discover the fundamental nature of human beings, so these people kidnapped two of the children and brought them up in complete indulgence, allowing their natural instincts to entirely rule their lives. The crunch is why they've come back for Moonbase Alpha is because...these children are the descendants of John Koenig's people on Moonbase Alpha.
Ah, a very nice twist.
I felt it was a wonderful thing. He had decided that he wants to show Koenig why he has to be destroyed- you say "But we're not destructive"- then look at your offspring.Their essential natures have been allowed to develop with the power to indulge and they are turned naturally to evil. It was a wonderful story.
Why didn't you write more scripts for the second series? You had done 11 for the first one.
Because, part of Freddie's thing...he wasn't sure of me because I was the guy who was going to be doing roughly the job he was doing. That being said, on a personal level we got on very well together, we became very good friends and, in fact, I saw him last year when I was in America. I never allowed that kind of thing to interfere with my judgment and my work. It would have been good to do it and I was disappointed, but my allegiance was to the show. The thing was to make it as good as possible and to give Freddie all the help that I was capable of. I was commissioned by Freddie to do two more. But I was now working at home. In the meantime I'd got married and I'd moved out to Norfolk and I bought an old ruinous ancient cottage. So I took the opportunity to start rebuilding that, doing the other two scripts which I didn't deliver until near the end of the season because Freddie told me that he was putting all the scripts out to various writers and in that way they'd be finished within a short period of time. The two stories that I did, one was called "The Immunity Syndrome." I think it's the saddest story of all in the sense that it is all about communication and the lack of it and an essentially benign wonderful creature. I conceived it first of all, the planet, as a body that had been invaded by foreign virus which was the Alphans. And the immediate response would be like in a body to create antibodies and to repel it. That theme is still very much in it. The planet's a living organism, and as soon as they arrive it sets up its defense mechanisms which turn the food poisonous and the water poisonous and whatever. Also, in confronting the creature in its attempt for billions of years hoping to find a creature that it can actually talk to and believe that it's not alone, the act of trying to communicate destroys the creature and then, getting no response, it sort of finishes off the process, as it were. That was the theme and every time I see that sequence where the creature makes contact with Koenig I feel that it's something that really belongs in the first series, it's not one that belongs in the second. It has that feeling of humanity even though it's a truly alien creature and it desperately wants to communicate and it's desperately sad and it has also a slight sense of the ridiculous in the humor. When it is picking up on language it's repeating what Koenig is saying. I liked "The Immunity Syndrome" very much indeed and I worked very hard on making it work as well as it did. If I was to point to something and say what I would have done with Series 2 it would have been to give it the kind of pace and immediacy of Freddie's image of it and the heart of the first series. To me that's infinitely more interesting than, you know, forcing Koenig to have a gladiatorial duel with a creature on a planet. I don't know, there was a certain kind of shallowness of purpose about some of the stories that one is forced to do in science fiction where you concentrate so much on the science fiction that you forget about everything else.
There was a transcendence or deus ex machina in many episodes of the first season. How did that come about?
I'll tell you. It very much reflected the kind of people who were involved in it.You had first of all Chris Penfold who is the son of a vicar and who had a strong moral and social conscience and believed passionately in good. He also was an experienced writer but these were his personal characteristics. You had me who had come from a very Irish sort of Catholic family, ingrained sensitivity to spiritual matters. And there was Eddie di Lorenzo who was also very interested in the mental attitudes. He was a very sensitive writer, a very good one in my estimation. The three of us together almost chemically sparked off the kind of feeling that washed over into all the episodes, even those we didn't write. There was a feeling, a concern...to carry the feeling of- the humanity of- the people on Moonbase Alpha out there; not necessarily as a spoken dialogue thing but something in terms of the situations and their responses and their utter bewilderment. These were our people, our younger brothers and children who were out there. And they should have echoed our concerns, our feeling of...human beings in a tremendous state of transition and change, with all their weaknesses and limitations. So that feeling carried over and was reflected in some of the stories which might have been qualified as soft, certainly they were thoughtful, certainly they were exciting, but it was a good mix.
"Black Hole" [Black Sun] was a very interesting experience. Again, there wasn't much knowledge about black holes at the time. But I remember long sequences of Koenig and Bergman just sitting there, talking. It was amazing. Freddie would never have allowed that. Well, you see, the dictates of plot-plot-plot, relentless story-story-story denies you that.
Was this feeling part of the initial format?
Do you know, I have the initial format somewhere and it says nothing really about that kind of thing. It simply described the people, what their situation is, what they do and, you know, a little bit of nonsense personality stuff that writers just write when they don't really know how it is all going to turn out. But there was no instruction like that other than the kind of formulas that we hammered out among ourselves, not sitting there and saying 'How do we want it to look- we just went for stories that attracted us. And while some of the stories I wrote Chris didn't approve of- and some of the ones he wrote I didn't approve of- and the same with Eddie, but that was the way it was. "The Last Sunset," "The Last Enemy," "Space Brain," and I think there was another one I didn't particularly like awfully well.
What about "Dragon's Domain"?
I thought it was awfully good. Again it was different because we had a voiceover but it worked awfully well in "Dragon's Domain." That was a really spooky dragon they had and I saw the poor thing moldering away outside in the backlot for the remainder of the series. And, poor little thing, I used to take my dogs up to the studios and we would go chasing rabbits around the backlot and they would always end up somehow having a pee on the old octopus or whatever it was! [laughs]
What a great little anecdote!
Yes. Poor thing.
Let's return to the Alphans' humanity. It was kept in the background. I'm speaking from the critics' point of view.
They said so. Some people said so. I'm not sure how true that is. If by humanity it's people being terribly nice to each other like your characters- well, that was there, in its correct proportion. There's that version of humanity- but to me, humanity means something completely different. That was okay as far as I'm concerned, like Koenig comforting Helena- we needed more physical contact, more than they were prepared to give, in fact.
Why? Did that have to do with the direction of the format?
I think it had to do with the format, there was a weakness in the format. I think it was because Helena was such an important character. By making her a doctor inevitably a lot of stories had to be set around the medical wing- and also, when you tell people that they're a doctor and psychologist,strangely enough when they get in front of the camera they start behaving not like a human being but like a "doctor and psychiatrist." Barbara was infinitely better when she was completely herself, when she was playing Barbara Bain and not Dr. Helena Russell. But there were moments of tenderness, there was the feeling, say, in "Another Time, Another Place" between Carter and the girl, Regina.
You can find all these wonderful small scenes in any episode, but generally...
Yes, those were there. But in a wider sense the humanity came in the opposition of putting the Alphans into situations wherein to a large degree it was their humanity that was being tested. It might have been in essence the heat levels were falling or the food was running out or something was about to hit us- essentially in their contact with each other, the Alphans' humanity was being tested and in the conflict with the aliens and things like this it was always a question of humanity, rather than straightforward "We take you- you can't stop us." So it was moral values more than anything else that was being tested, or tried to be tested.
If you look at the episodes in the order in which they were made you will see that the progression of people who are fairly frightened and fairly clueless reflected the screen writers' frightened, clueless attitude as to stepping out into the unknown, too. 'Coz we were out there at the same time. When we became more familiar, our touches became more adept, responses more sure, weariness more pronounced as the further we went out. By episode 48 there wasn't a situation out there that we couldn't deal with! But on the way out we didn't know where the hell we were and what the hell was happening to us - and that was reflected in the stories. After a few physical disasters we had we felt we could cope and there was a huge sigh of relief at the end of the first series. And there was a great regret as well because we knew that we had done something really special but we knew that it wasn't perfect. Not at all.
According to The Making of [Space: 1999 by Tim Heald] you obviously took the criticism seriously.
The criticism, I felt, was fairly...there were many good things said. There was a lot of praise, of course, for the technical side of it which is fully justified. There was a very mixed reaction to the stories themselves. The fans were hooked from day one, l'm talking about the audience as a broad mass. There were certain irritating things about it which made our lives very difficult.The casting in the two main roles, Martin and Barbara. As I said the problem had to do with the format. Barbara was in a position that didn't entirely suit her, but that was just, you know, a personal feeling. She did...I think, under the circumstances she did awfully well, and as it went on it was fully justified because she came more out of the Medical Center and there she was to stay. They were finding their way and so were we. But sometimes the size of Koenig's office, that big office that opened out into Main Mission and the low-pitched conversations, everybody being slightly too nice and respectful. There were certain things that put people off- it was science fiction...I didn't particularly like the costumes either. So there were all sorts of reasons why people didn't accept it for what it was- which I thought was an absolutely astounding television production. It couldn't be done again and it will never be done again. In no way can that be matched.
In retrospect, people are now beginning to see how good it was. If they saw them now, many of the issues, the feelings and thoughts that permeate the stories, I think they would find to be more interesting to them now. I don't know why that is. I think they would find more for their minds to hold onto now than they would then because they had been conditioned to Star Trek.
That brings me to the age group. Was the series aimed at any specific age group?
Not that I was aware of. It was simply aimed to provide family entertainment. Mass family entertainment.
Some of the stories were slow because of the nature of the thing, but television is like that. We have been badly conditioned by American television to go for the slam-slam-slam-bang hard thing and that is wrong. American television is now coming round to the English view that you can actually have people standing or sitting around, having interesting, dramatic conversations, and it's not sort of... They want English television and they're coming right back. Unfortunately, we were at a point where American stuff, American attitudes, American ways of doing it were the thing.
What did Space: 1999 mean to your career?
It was a very important three-and-a-half years for me 'coz it made that sort of leap between simply being a screenwriter who simply writes and never sees anything. I had made a feature film and I'd written many, many scripts but that was as near as I'd got to consecutive hard learning one's craft. Whereas three-and-a-half years on the sets at Pinewood taught me everything I needed to know about film making. It was right there, we were right in them, they were being made, they were being rehearsed, they were being cast, they were being built, dubbed, edited, the music- it was wonderful.
Which script was the easiest to write/the most difficult?
Most difficult to get right or suitable was "The Immunity Syndrome." It was a half hang-over I'd considered doing for the first season. I had a hard time getting that right because I was working closely with Freddie and he was a very demanding guy and it says a lot, you know, that I actually turned out something I could say was recognizably Johnny Byrne and hold onto it. "The Dorcons" was a fairly easy one to write. The idea of using Maya was absolutely essential to this. But it would have to be in such a way that she would be incommunicado, keeping in mind that this was the girl that could get out of everything. So it had to be people who hunted Psychons and once having them could sort of control them. And the idea of taking the brain stem of the Psychon and putting it into an aging guy which would regenerate him was...it's a good science fiction story but it hasn't got anything awfully profound about it to say about the state of life and the state of the world or anything. It was a good action-adventure story because by that time I think I'd simply given up and wanted to finish my commitment precisely to the requirements of Freddie. That type of story. So I put "Dorcons" as a kind of Freddie Freiberger-Johnny Byrne story. All the rest it was me struggling to hold onto what I felt was good and what I felt could've been better about the second series.
How did episode titles come about?
They all came fairly easy. "Matter of Life and Death" I think was mine. "Another Time, Another Place" was mine- also no problem; just put in on the top from day one and that was it. "Force of Life" was "Force of Evil." I was going to make it a much more malevolent force but, in fact, I reconsidered and then in talks with Gerry and things I decided it was much better that this creature had no sort of actual human malevolence, that its actions should be what it was; without good, without evil,simply doing its thing. "Voyager's Return" was- just like that. "Troubled Spirit" was okay, but it wasn't a good SF title. If I'd stayed with it a bit longer I could have done better on that. The best title was probably "End of Eternity." That juxtaposition of something ending and something that can't end. "Testament of Arkadia"- Arkadia was one of the old, pre-flood type civilizations wasn't it? It was probably called Atlantis or something like that. It was meant to have the idea of ancient, ancient Arkadia which is a time in early Grecian history, isn't it? It was meant to hark back to that kind of feeling to before the advent of great knowledge and by using Sanskrit, the primal sort of Arian language, it sort of made that very ancient connection, and "testament" is a nice word because that was what it was.
How did planet and character names come about?
If you think of "The Metamorph" l think of Mentor, then think of Psyche. Mentor is the teacher, then we have Psyche which is the Greek word for soul, and then we have "The Biological Computer," so all of those worked. Maya was Freddie's name, of course.
What about Progron and Balor?
Balor, well, of course. Anybody with their biblical knowledge will recognize the reference to Balor- Balal, the Destroyer. Progron is a word which has the feeling of progress. I never really gave much thought to planet names. I gave a lot of thought to character names, all the chief sort of antagonists.
I have one particular example here: "Acharm" in "Voyager's Return" that reappeared as "Archon" in "The Dorcons." Are you particularly fond of this name?
No, but you have made a very good point. There are certain things that stick. When you're trying to fix a kind of science fiction social structure it's awfully important to choose the right name. If you say "consul" to an alien, you would have a vision of a kind of Roman-type state or forum, if you say "Majesty" we know what that is- the Emperor, the Empress. If It's a more contemplated type like Mentor, you imagine a kind of crazed philosopher or something, with scientific abilities. Archon again refers to the head of a small kind of state, I don't know whether it was Greek or Spartan- but it's a kind of localized leader and it is one of those leader-type names. I'd forgotten that I'd used it earlier I shouldn't have done that. Take this for example: a name that I keep using and forgetting that I have used is Neman and Hadin. Hadin comes from the Icelandic Sagas which have been the great source of my inspiration where Hadin comes from one of the most famous, the Njal Saga, and one of the sons of Njal was Skarp-Hedin, the ferocious man, and I was so impressed by that character that whenever possible I try to use his name 'coz it gives me a sort of fix on the character. Both these names, Hadin and Neman are in "Mission of the Darians." It was originally called "Mission of the Darya" and this was more sort of genetically Nazi-like where they were going to turn out endless warriors and they were in a big ship full of tanked sperm or something. But it was completely different to what turned out ultimately.
What about the Alphan extras' names?
I'm happy to say that all my friends met grisly ends. Zoref was a friend of mine; the victim of the Queller Drive was pilot [Steve] Abrams. It was Steve Abrams who lives down the road and he was very pleased to hear he had been sucked out into the vacuum of space...
Thom Keyes who later wrote one of the episodes in Freddie's time called "The Taybor"- well, Technician Keyes would always be summoned whenever there was an emergency at Airlock 5 or something. Jones was done somewhere, Hawkins... I used to write a lot of dialogue as part of my job for voice announcements. Eva Preston- Eva was again another. Regina von Kessler is the wife of Thom Keyes in real life! So all of the subsidiary characters I gave the names of my friends to.
What about a name like Jim Haines?
Jim Haines used to run the arts lab in London. He used to run the Travers' Theatre in Edinburgh, he is an American, and he was active in the 1960s.
That's incredible. What about planet names? Any specific intention behind them? Sidon? Atheria? Piri?
Sometimes there is. Atheria is suggestive of something. Piri- not just a name. Sidon sounded euphonically right. But I put my friends in because I felt as if I was up there and it helped to establish a kind of reality. Having people I knew around me and to do something nasty to them as well.
Particularly the latter?
How would you describe the humor of the first series?
There wasn't a great deal of it. There could have been a bit more. But the problem was what the Americans call humor and what the English call humor are two different things. In America it's sort of...you're cracking jokes, one-line throwaways, and it always seemed gratuitous to me. Humor to me essentially comes from character. The strange things that people go through, their response to situations. But there was a more profound reason why you wouldn't really get in proper humor. You wouldn't build it into the plots because that would have detracted from the seriousness of the plots. The nearest we came to that was probably in "The Infernal Machine" where it was a situation that had humor in it, comic tragedy- and the rest of the time you could try to have people make in-kind of jokes about Moonbase Alpha and not succeeding, really- you'd get a required grin out of the one at the other end of the remark. But he's on screen and told to laugh because it says so in the script. But there's very little sort of spontaneous humor in those situations. Humor is not an essential ingredient in that sense but it is essential that you have the kind of eccentricity of characterization. Alas, because of the pressure of telling a very complicated story in 50 minutes, because they were complicated stories, the requirement of 40 to 60 percent of Barbara and Martin on the screen...
Was that put down?
No, it wasn't, but it was pretty much a requirement. And any leading actor would always want to increase his screen time- we had problems with this all the time. So in many ways you would find Koenig doing things that were strictly not his domain. Whenever there was an Eagle to be flown Koenig would always try to got in it and he invariably succeeded! So Carter was on slow burn all the time.
I gather you didn't really like the kind of humor that was in the second series because it was more geared to the Americans?
I thought they were playing up to the Americans, yeah. I would rather have people say something interesting than try to say something funny which isn't, and I can get more pleasure from those kinds of things. Freddie would say: "Above all, it's got to have humor!"- that's easily said. You put it in and what it boils down to is a kind of crass line that's been put in because now we've got to be humorous. So what you would try to do is finish a scene on a slightly intriguing sort of humorous thought. They didn't always come off, but we tried to do those in the first series as well. There were many situations with Bergman where the things he was doing in his confusion were funny. There again there's another trap you tell people that they're a slightly absent-minded professor and they become an absent-minded professor as opposed to making their own personality slightly off-key to what they normally are. The conflicting requirements...simply to try and tell the story, that was the first requirement, second thing was to try and deepen the characterization. That was not always interesting. So what you had to do is to put people into interesting situations. We did find sufficient places like during "The Black Hole" [Black Sun] when they're sitting around drinking, there's a certain amount of ironic humor in their situation. I can laugh at things that are not funny. When the alien arrives on his way from Sidon, when he says what Queller has done, one in one's cruelty would laugh because it's such an outrageous thing. If you did that with the look on Queller's face listening to this you'd laugh- but you would feel dreadfully sorry for the millions of life forms that he has killed. That's how you would find the humor. I don't like one-liners. They rarely work. You can put a good line in but by the time it appears on the screen three months later and it's out, you wonder why you ever put it in. Instead of sounding profound or interesting or amusing they just sounded glib. And there was a lot of that kind of Smart-Alec glibness in the second series. If you remember Star Trek some of the situations there were funny because Spock never smiled. They said something completely outrageous to him and he would treat it seriously or be disapproving because he didn't see the humor in it. He couldn't- that's funny.
How often did you attend the shooting?
I was on he floor at least once a day. When mine was there, in the first few days I would be in attendance all the time. And then as it got into its stride I'd go over for an hour or two- but I was always fascinated to see my own stuff being made, I think it is a natural thing. It's very exciting. Watching filmmaking, it can be very tedious as well, people are really turned on, those who are acting, those who are directing or, you know, doing their job. If you're an onlooker in general it palls after a while unless you're absolutely obsessed by it. But I love it and watch it endlessly, just love the whole thing.
Can you remember any funny anecdotes?
I have one image ingrained on my mind. It was during the shooting of "Space Brain" which was in fact the last film to be made, and I remember there was only one sequence to be done. And it's where Main Mission is invaded by brain cells, in other words, tons of foam. And everybody was pissed off because they wanted to get over to the party, have the end-of-shoot party, and get drunk and things; and also, it was a question whether Charles would finish it on time, I think. But I have this image of Charles standing there- in great big waders- and he has a square big mouth [grimaces, then imitates] and he'd say "More foam!," and the foam machines kept coming in and they went absolutely mad- "More foam"! 'til finally Charles disappeared under a great sea of brain cells' foam!! It was a wonderful image.
Do you have any regrets?
If I had any regrets it was that due to the demands of the format in terms of keeping your main characters on screen for most of the time and having in the background a host of really fine actors and actresses, like Nick Tate and Zienia Merton, that we would have been able to give them something a bit more profound, and in one story would have Sandra, in others Nick Tate and, of course, Clifton Jones. It was very difficult 'coz these were not only good actors- and even like all actors and actresses they have egos- and it's very demoralizing week in, week out for Sandra to say "The heat levels are rising, Commander." You know, she wants a bit more than that. The other regret is- looking back I would have loved to bring out the sense of wonder which they were taking with them a bit more acutely, made it an absolute point and to have showed the degree of leadership needed to stop them reverting into any of one ten thousand possibilities which we never really examined. Occasionally, Alpha moon base was swept by great typhoons of unreason, mind control, and things like this- but we never tackled the problem of people in such a desperate situation. Their morale would've crumbled but for very strong leadership. We tried to show the strong leadership and I think Martin did it reasonably well. He is a good actor, Martin. He is a very instinctive actor.
How was your relationship with the stars?
I had an exceptionally good relationship with the stars. I respect actors. They are not the kind of people I would like to spend all my spare time with, but professionally I respect them very much. Martin and Barbara were absolutely wonderful.They had their sort of ego hang-ups- all actors have those- but, they are the lead, it's traditional, they're used to telling people what they want. But they had a really good time, they were the stars of the show- there was no question about it- and all the perks that went with it. But on the human level I had nothing but the nicest friendship with Martin and Barbara. They came to my wedding and brought me a wedding present. At the end of shooting of the first series they gave every member of the cast a wonderful address book stamped Space: 1999, and they gave a party. And at the end of the second season they gave everybody a little electronic clock stamped "From Martin and Barbara" and Space: 1999. So, you know, they knew their stuff, they were professionals and they had come a long way. Nick Tate is still a good friend of mine. I didn't get to know Prentis Hancock awfully well. Catherine Schell I didn't know very well, but that was essentially because I wasn't in the studio complex in the second series. Victor Bergman. Barry was a very intelligent man with a wide range of interests, and he was a delight to work with. Joan Collins I met on the set. One became very friendly with the regulars who were there and I made a lot of friends. Although I haven't worked with Gerry since then, we keep in touch. I have the greatest respect for him.The sad thing is that, having been responsible for starting this kind of cycle of science fiction dramas, that the whole thing should to a certain extent have gone by him and that a man with such incredible science fiction know-how should not be employed all the time.
Johnny Byrne is presently finalizing a major animation project which has been under development for four years. It will have a full merchandising tie-in industry and will be followed up by 13 one-hour television programs. He describes it is "a very exciting prospect." He is doing more "Dr. Who" scripts- and a special one to celebrate its 21st anniversary. He also has a feature film under development set in the 1950s, a six-part television series, "Poetry & Jazz," about the Beatnik phase in England, plus a couple of other half-hour projects.
Johnny Byrne (born Dublin 1935)
Space: 1999 copyright Granada Ventures
Thanks to Robert Ruiz