The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Christopher Penfold

My initial discussions with Gerry were, I remember, how to develop the concept of UFO sufficiently to make it both recognisable with the first series and yet a development of it. I think they were planning to use the same cast, but there was a big moment when the central idea of Space: 1999 was dropped in. I can't remember who it came from - it may have been Brian Johnson or Keith Wilson -but I remember there was a huge surge of excitement for the idea that what was going to happen was that the Moon was going to be blasted out of Earth orbit. I think it was probably at that moment that it ceased to be UFO and became something else. It seemed like a really good idea.

In normal terms, the role of the script editor is to commission as well as to take the scripts through their various drafts. One of the things that happened very early on was that we were constrained by ITC to use some American writers. Eddie Di Lorenzo was one, and he just happened to be living here so that was convenient, Gerry and Sylvia went off to find an appropriate script editor in the States and came back with George Bellak. Principally, George and myself created the characters in conjunction with Gerry, and Sylvia had some input in the early stages. George left the series quite early on as he didn't get on very well with Gerry so the ball was back in my court and I had the responsibility for finding writers, talking about ideas for individual episodes, commissioning them and doing the normal script-editing jobs. George had written the first episode, which was eventually entitled Breakaway, but I actually rewrote it after he had left and most of it Is my work.

We all got involved in long transatlantic telephone conversations with American writers who sent in material and we really never had the opportunity to sit with them face to face and tell them exactly what the series was about. It was a nightmare and it wasn't really possible for us to work in the conventional roles of story editors and consultants and in the end, we all became, in effect, staff writers. Eddie wrote a few, I wrote a few, Johnny Byrne wrote a few and even the episodes which people like Anthony Terpiloff wrote contained a huge amount of rewriting.

The interference from New York was relentless. Every time an episode was completed in script form it would be shipped off to ITC and they would make their comments. Often what happened was that we'd finally get a script that we were all pleased with - Gerry was pleased with it, Martin Landau was pleased with it and Charles Crichton was pleased with it - and off it went to ITC and back it came with comments that just tore at the fundamental structure of the thing. It was very demoralising and we all felt that sufficient homage had been paid to the requirements of the American market in the way the whole thing had been set up in the first place, We felt that the secret of success was to make the series that much different from anything else, but time and again our work was being assessed against existing shows of a similar kind.

The conflicts about presentation and development of character as opposed to what I thought was fairly clichéd action eventually came to a head. The pressure to shift onto monster stories was already apparent and I found I was publishing scripts that I didn't myself believe in one hundred percent. Gradually, Gerry began to lose confidence in me as I wasn't willing to do the kinds of things which he wanted to have done. We parted on reasonably good terms and, later, Gerry asked Freddie Freiberger to invite me to do an episode for the second series, so I wrote Dorzak as a freelancer. I enjoyed writing the script but I didn't enjoy receiving an eventual production script through the post which bore little resemblance to what I had originally written. I felt that Freddie was a clever, but rather superficial influence on the series. I think he was pretty derivative and I only watched the second series for a little while.

I found Space: 1999 exciting to work on because I wasn't really a science-fiction buff but it certainly opened my interest in science-fiction. I never had the background that enabled me to compare an idea with something that had gone before, so I wasn't ever saying, for instance, "That was a good idea they had on Star Trek, let's see how we can adapt it."

[Of Space Brain] The idea of the heavenly bodies as being macro brain cells is one that appealed to me and still does. What was achieved on the set with foam wasn't quite in line with that!

I think that of the stories that I wrote, the one that worked best was War Games. I think they were all good science-fiction ideas and Dragon's Domain was also very good, but I remember feeling that War Games was the most satisfactory one in terms of writing and production.