The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Johnny Byrne

Testament Of Arkadia

It had an unusual genesis. It was shot at the end of the first series and at a time when all of the resources had been used up, so it was under-budgeted and there was only so much money available. David Tomblin was the director who was assigned to make it work and we discussed the kind of story that he wanted to do. It had a religious or spiritual element in it and it was also hooked into a strand of pseudo-scientific speculation that was the notion of a whole pile of books that were popular at that time: "Was God an Astronaut?" and so on.

The idea that we may have been influenced by a superior intelligence in our distant past is a very valid and very profound one, and it's certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility to assume that something strange has happened to the people on this planet. About 15,000 years ago, it seems that there was a sudden burst of knowledge and creative activity that, after millions and millions of years, accelerated the pace of evolution and pitched human-kind into being the dominant species on this planet. Now, archaeologists may give you all sorts of explanations as to how this came about, but any other reason is just as valid. You could say that the human gene-bank was, in some way, seeded with knowledge by visitors from outer space, totally transforming the thinking on this planet.

Less than 100 years ago, the Wright brothers were flying something with a bit of string. Now we're flying to the moon. That development has taken place in only 100 years. If you take that pace of development, or if you take how fast that development can happen, you can see that something quite remarkable did happen in that very short time all those years ago, in terms of human understanding, social organisation, technology and all the rest of it.

The other element in "Testament of Arkadia" was the Adam and Eve story, which is a very primal type of story in our consciousness. It's difficult to say whether it's purely biblical, some form of inspiration, or whether it maybe matches up to some sort of racial memory that we have of a time when we all did live in some kind of land of plenty, a veritable Eden. There's a symbolism in the Adam and Eve story which is good for all time and, I think, whether you're religious or not, it has a kind of sense to it...a philosophical sense.

All of these things were at the back of my mind when I came to write this story. David was very keen on doing it, although I was less keen at the time for all sorts of reasons. It seemed to me to be too "on the nose": making a very direct form of statement about who we were, and the way in which the story was being driven to the point where we were imposing a very definite form of religious context into it. Now, although I'm not a practising Catholic, I am an Irish Catholic, which is like saying that I have Catholicism "genetically coded" in my system. I was a very devout Catholic growing up, as most people of my generation were, and that spiritual exercise is what develops your spirituality. Even if you practice Catholicism or not, that expanded presence inside you is there and it finds an outlet in all sorts of other different ways: in humanism, in philosophy, in understanding, and in a speculative consciousness...that is, the capability to not dismiss things because they're not provable. The most important thing is to accept that there are mysteries to life and that if things are not provable, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't exist. This, to me, is a fundamental part of my development as a writer: that I don't need to prove things to know that they are real.

When it came to it, I enjoyed constructing the story: the idea of arriving on a planet, discovering something peculiar in a cave, and discovering words written in ancient Sanskrit. This latter part interested me enormously because I'm deeply versed in the history of the ancient Celtic civilisations of Ireland...the pre-history of my own country. The Gaelic language is one of the most ancient of all the Proto-European languages. It's immensely its most primitive form, its alphabet is only 16 letters, which makes it more primitive than any others. It has very strong links with so many of the other most ancient languages like Chaldeic, Sanskrit and Syriac. I found connections with all of this in this story. We were talking about Sanskrit, the primal Indo-European language, and the fact that it was here and that it was saying something important invested the story with a certain profundity that you either addressed or you chose to ignore.

I believe that if you're going to do this kind of story, you have to go for it on the nose, so the fear that I had about writing it was matched up with the demands of such an important and profound theme, which you couldn't avoid even if you wanted to. That was one of the great things about the first season of Space: 1999: you had to take things to their logical conclusion, otherwise they lacked all credibility. There were scenes in it (the scenes in the cave, for example) that, despite the lack of resources, David invested with a strange kind of spirituality and reverence which had a way of moving people without being heavy-handed. The story wasn't one of my favourites at the time because I was aware of how much better I could have made it and how much better it could have been...which has nothing to do with David and nothing to do with the script, but simply that the circumstances (such as the lack of budget) failed to bring out its ideas much more clearly. Also, it could have been one of those stories that would have fitted more comfortably into a longer time-frame. Certainly I felt that it was unnecessarily contracted and it had much more potential and mileage. I'd like to have done it as a longer story but it simply wasn't possible. I am told that people like it very much. It does express a certain spiritual aspect of my own upbringing and background, and I'd like to feel that the element I brought to it was reverence where reverence was due...not a back-handed attempt at it. And if that came through, then I would feel that I had succeeded even in that small way.

Comments by Johnny Byrne, abridged from an interview with Tim Mallett and Glenn Pearce and a 1982 interview with Carsten Andresen, plus an email from Johnny Byrne.