The Catacombs Catacombs Reference Library
Criticism
Space: 1939

Space: 1939

by Baird Searles

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Volume 51 Number 6 (December 1976) p105

Baird Searles (1934-1993) was a science fiction author and critic, who had a regular film and TV review column in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, a leading, more literary-focussed fiction magazine. His first series review (in Feb 1976, with a follow-up in March) was titled "Space 1949".

Alert readers will gather from the title of this piece that we are in for another season of Space: 1999. Steel yourselves; from here on up downhill the way, as Pogo used to say (or was it the other way around?).

Anywho, a whole new series has been produced in England ( coincidentally, production on "Year 2", as the publicists are calling it, didn't begin until was a sure thing that the series was a moneymaker in the U.S.). There have been highly publicised changes in the format of the show, so I sat down to watch the first episode with some curiosity.

Aha! There is a new, and somewhat handsomer logo. Then we are informed that Alpha (and Luna, too, we presume) is 342 days from leaving Earth orbit. (Funny. It's seemed like years.) They've survived another space warp, and are now 6 light years from home. (There's Barbara Bain and she has a newer, softer hairdo.)

They need titanium desperately, and so they drop in on a "nearby planet." (I begin to feel a slight sense of deja vu.) It's a messy place with lots of active volcanoes, but the Eagle scout reports that there is titanium, then heads home. It is followed off the surface by a glowing green ball. (By golly, that's new! All the glowing balls last year were blue!) The Eagle captured by the ball, and soon thereafter the screen on Alpha lights up, and what looks like a fugitive from Flash Gordon announces that he is "Mentor of Psychon." (Right here I begin to feel a definite sense of deja queasiness.)

Mentor lures a rescue party down to Psychon with a smooth manner and promises to play fair. He has a daughter, Maya, who can redo her molecular arrangement a good deal faster than most women can restyle their hair, and can therefore change into anything. It's not made clear whether this is a racial characteristic or her own peculiar talent. Whatever, she has an amazing repertory of Terran animals for somebody that's never heard of the place before. In human form, she wears a dress that continues her father's 30s theme; of silver lame to the floor, she has a maribou at the hem and down the arms (that's curly ostrich feathers, dummy) and looks like a Mae West reject for She Done Him Wrong. The dress disappears conveniently when Maya is gallivanting around as a lioness, or a dove, or a gorilla and, unfortunately for the randier members of the audience, reappears just as conveniently.

To make a long story short, John Koenig (according to the Space: 1999 "Official Handbook," his middle name is Robert, for those of you who really care) Dr. Russell & Co. escape from Mentor of Psychon's nefarious clutches. This is accomplished when Koenig smashes Psyche of Psychon to bits. Who's that? Psyche is a "biological computer" that looks like masses of tubes of boiling Kool Aid, and it was to Psyche that Mentor wanted to feed the human's life force or mental energy or some such (a minimal diet, in any case). But they do it with the aid of Maya, who is a good girl despite her Mae West dress and tendency to change into a gorilla at times.

After the planet blows up, they return to Alpha, with Maya in tow - she is to become their "resident alien" i.e. a regular on the show.

There also a subplot (and sub's the word, all right) about a newly married Alphan couple, the male part of which (of course) is on the captured Eagle scout, and the female part of which (of course) spends a good deal of time expressing anguish and fainting. They end up blowing kisses to each other through the view screen (they deserve each other).

Let's see - what else is new? I forgot to mention the BEMs. It was good to see a BEM again. They were almost as enthralling as the tentacles on last season's second show.

And we are promised a stronger love interest between Koenig and Dr. Russell (who is female, for those who don't know. No new ground broken in that direction). That should really be exciting- like watching two iguanas making eyes at each other.

There seem to be newer, softer costumes to match Miss Bain's new hair style (I miss the old ones), and large white spaces on Alpha. The handsome Alphan Paul is out, as is that old geezer, who spent all his time making suggestions that no one ever took up. (I can see why he left.) The lovely Eurasian Sandra is still in, though.

Now with all these major changes, I can see why they couldn't get around to a minor matter such as getting sensible writers (preferably those cognizant with s/f) who could put out stories that at least made a try at convincing speculative concepts.

But I must say the production as a whole is as spectacular as ever, and fun to watch in a mindless way. And I must say one thing on the writer's behalf. Obviously they have been instructed by the producers to stick to the old series classic episode format, a cliff hanger before every commercial; that is at least every ten minutes. It's like instructing a writer to write a short story with a climax to come every two pages exactly. It's hard to work sensibly within that kind of restriction.

But I'm afraid that Year 2 on Alpha looks about the same as Year 1; pretty rudimentary s/ f.