The Catacombs Episode Guide

Matter of Life and Death

Breakaway Year 1 - Episode 2 Black Sun

Screenplay by Art Wallace
Johnny Byrne
Directed by Charles Crichton
Guest Artist Richard Johnson
Original Title Siren Planet
France/Canada Question de vie ou de mort Matter Of Life Or Death 30 Oct 1976
Germany Rückkehr der Toten Return Of The Dead 26 Feb 1978
Italy Questione di vita o di morte Matter Of Life Or Death 21 Feb 1976
Japan Living dead in Space 3 Jul 1977
Poland Sprawa zycia i smierci 5 Feb 1977
Portugal Questão de Vida ou Morte Question Of Life Or Death 23 Oct 1976
Spain Cuestión de vida o muerte Question of life and death18 Nov 1976
Sweden Antimateria Antimatter 12 Jun 1976
South Africa'n Kwissie Van Lewe Of Dood A Matter of Life and Death6 May 1977
USA (Los Angeles) 10 Jan 1976
USA (New York) 14 Dec 1975
USA (San Francisco) 29 Nov 1975
UK (ATV) 27 Nov 1975
UK (LWT) 29 Nov 1975

A man returns from the dead and promise of a new civilization on a planet resembling earth opens for those stranded on the runaway moon. But there is drama ahead. ITC summary


Matter Of Life And Death


Int. Main Mission
Int. Command Office
Int. Care Unit
Int. Autopsy Room
Int. Helena's Quarters
Int. Victor's Quarters
Int. Alpha Corridor
Int. Travel Tube
Int. Eagle Pilot Section
Int. Eagle Passenger Section

Ext. Planet Surface

Main Mission is in the early layout with steps to the viewports (there is a slight change in Ring Around The Moon; the new layout is in Earthbound).

The Care Unit reappears in Ring Around The Moon

Helena's quarters are seen again (in a different form) in Dragon's Domain


Matter Of Life And Death



Matter Of Life And Death



Alpha Personnel:

0 fatalities.

Alpha Technology:


Eagle 1 (Parks); 2 (landing party)


Terra Nova


When asked if Terra Nova is inhabited, Lee Russell answers "No. Yes. Not in the way you think." Which may mean the planet is inhabited, but the life forms are not recognisable.



Matter Of Life And Death


Matter Of Life And Death

During the in-show credits we see the medical crew in the travel unit moving to the launch pad. The gurney has no mattress (the director shoots the scene through the frame).

Matter Of Life And Death

After the landslide, the wind blows across the scene, moving a few "rocks" (by Koenig's head).


Helena Russell

Matter Of Life and Death strongly echoes Stanislaw Lem's 1961 book Solaris (English translation 1970, filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972; the 1997 film Event Horizon also borrows elements). Terra Nova is like Solaris, a remote planet able to recreate spirits from the past. In both, a facsimile of the main character's dead spouse is created (in the filmed episode he is the real husband of Helena, but in the Siren Planet script, like Solaris, he is merely an image). Like the Siren Planet script, the book's end includes a reunion with an estranged father (here Koenig's father). The themes are similar; the difficulty of communication with a truly alien form, the limits of human comprehension. "We're a long way from home. And we're going to have to start thinking differently if we're to come to terms with space."

While the book and film delve into memory and ideas of self, the Space 1999 treatment is much less subtle. Siren Planet plays as an adventure, with the aliens tricking the Alphans from the planet, while Byrne's script is a science fiction mystery as the physical form of Lee is too weak and inarticulate to explain their situation.

Structurally the episode is flawed, with much disorienting and incoherent movement between rooms to establish minor plot points. Furthermore it is overly vague; why doesn't Lee just say "The planet is antimatter"? Why are Helena or the autopsy doctors electrocuted? Act 4 improves immensely, establishing idyllic pastoral scenes and then a rapid disintegration into chaos. The resolution, winding back time to before the chaos, is unsatisfying (War Games has a similar "it was all a dream" ending, but is better done).

Koenig's concern and caution is well played (overt jealousy would have been a mistake). Helena admits she is just "numb"- although there are some hints of confusion and distraction, her blankness is uninvolving and uninteresting, wasting the emotional opportunity of the plot.

Direction and cinematography especially noteworthy; unusual camera angles and wide, expansive panoramas are characteristic of Charles Crichton.

Matter Of Life And Death Matter Of Life And Death
On some prints (such as that used on the US laserdiscs), the typography for Rudi Gernreich's credit is in the Braggadocio font. In other prints (such as the DVDs), it is in Futura book, consistent with the other credits. Braggadocio is similar but not identical to Futura Black, used for the This Episode caption.



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Contents copyright Martin Willey