The Catacombs Reference Library
War Games

This review by Carsten Andresen appeared in the fanzine "Intercom One". Scanned by Paulo Jorge Morgado.

I consider "War Games" to be the best episode of 1st season, possibly of both seasons. It has a dynamic storyline, impressive sets and an effective interplay between music and action. It contains several story climaxes: the spectacular attack on Alpha, the confrontation between Alphans and aliens and Barry Morse's moving valedictory to Alpha. Barbara Bain's performance is subtle and yet intense and Martin Landau is at his best as the indignant and responsible leader. Other climaxes are Koenig's philosophical journey in space and the reunion between Koenig and Helena in the charred control centre. A very important part of the episode's impact is due to the outstanding special effects which are unequalled anywhere in the series. Music, sound effects and camera work are excellent, in particular the dramatic rythm which accompanied the battle scenes and the camera work in the alien control centre where out of focus foregrounds and angles through glass cases are employed to obtain an eerie and abstract effect.


Most of the "Space:1999" episodes convey different messages about human psychology, ranging from responses to a confined existence to both metaphorical and literal observations on and discussions of social, moral and religious issues. These themes are most prominent in the 1st season episodes. These were characterised by strong fantasy elements and displayed great variety in story lines. Unfortunately, the extra dimension in the scripts was considered too distracting from the story development and was held responsible for the story complexity which was badly received by many viewers and critics. As a result these themes were drastically reduced when the series format was changed for the 2nd season to one of "... hard driving, physical action in combination with dramatic action; character conflict..." (excerpt from "Notes to Writers" in "The Making of SPACE: 1999" by Tim Heald). The stories themselves were not always to blame: it is a sad fact, for example, that all episodes broadcast on US stations were edited, often very badly, and that plot coherence suffered accordingly.

The following analysis of "War Games" describes themes, character development and symbolism. It is impossible not to be subjective in an analysis and as a result other important aspects may be overlooked. Comments and opposing views will be appreciated. Abbreviations are extensively used; JK= John Koenig, MA= Male Alien etc. Parentheses refer to scenes in the manuscript, e.g. (FA, 113, 3) - Female Alien, scene 113, page 3.


The following themes are presented in "War Games":

  1. The importance and consequences of human fear.
  2. Human insignificance and inferiority.
  3. Transcendence.

1) The importance and consequences of human fear.

The moral of the episode is that fear is a far too dominant factor in human life. Fear of the unknown, this episode seems to say, prevents us from expanding mentally.

The Alphans have beep put on trial by the aliens. The aliens tested them by projecting illusory images of their own f ears at them (sudden unexplained attack by warships) and by showing them what alien life would be like (via HR's absorption in the alien world). In both tests the Alphans failed; they were unable to accept alien life because fear governs their lives and makes them mentally inferior to the aliens. The point of the story is that the Alphans were defeated by themselves, defeated by their own minds (the origin of the terrestrial warships). This moral is conveyed by the aliens in the epilogue (185):

"We trust you will stay away. Because you are so primitive and unstable, so governed by emotions like fear, that you would destroy our perfect world." (MA)

"The spaceships that appeared to attack you were created in your own mind by your own fears. Our only defence was to make your fears appear real. "(FA)

Fear is the key word, which forms the basis of the story progression. Here are some examples:

It is the reason why the 3 space ships are recognised as malevolent, technically superior ships; War ships.

"They're Hawks, They're Mark IX Hawks." (VB, 2)
"They're war machines, and that's enough for me." (AC, 2)
"We've ourselves a war." (JK, 24)

And war is what they get. The extent of damage to Alpha is directly proportional to the Alphans' strong beliefs in the Hawks' destructive powers. They actually expect and foresee the progression of the attack:
"Well, they're going by the book. First they eliminate the fighter defences. Then they send in the bombers." OK, 77)
"Looks like their defence is fully alert, Commander." (AC,131)

The latter speech is employed in the scene where Koenig and Alan Carter prepare to invade the planet. JK is "very much afraid" MA, 126) that the aliens will stop him (something that MA has just told HR they will not do) and when the planet emits blue force fields they visualise Koenig's and Carter's fears. They expect to be stopped in some way: fear makes the force fields materialise.

There are a few hints in the story, which should show the Alphans that the attack is only an illusion:

  1. "It was too easy." (AC, 21) referring to interception of the first 3 Hawks.
  2. the deaths of Bob Mathias (68, because of a leak in a window) and Alan Carter (139) both are hints to viewers that something isn't as it appears to be and arouses suspicion.
  3. But the most obvious sign is the fact that they are attacked by terrestrial war craft: this should make the Alphans suspicious and question their appearance. Most of all Prof. Bergman should ask: "Why are we attacked by Earth ships?" - thus seeing through the illusion. The answer why no One does is that it would ruin the story point; that the Alphans are defeated by Earth ships- defeated by themselves. The conflict is understandable: on one side, the moral of the episode and on the other, the plot manipulation necessary to convey that moral.

2) Human insignificance and Inferiority.

"Why has all this happened to us, Professor?" (SB)
"The gods using us for their sport perhaps?" (VB, 98)
"You have no place in space at all. ( ... ) You have no future. You carry with you the seeds of your own destruction. You are a contaminating organism, a fatal virus, a plague of fear." (MA, 1139 3)

The theme of insignificance and inferiority is closely linked with another theme; that of lacking control over destiny. The subsequent uncertainty is underlying all 1st season episodes:

" ... But, we're not here by choice. We cannot control the course of our Moon. We're looking for a place to live..." (HR,113,2)
"Just wondering... if there's any future at all." (VB, 154)
"... marooned and isolated on a terrifying journey through space ... pitted against forces of nature so extraordinary... life forms so strange... environments so hostile... their unexpected space odyssey is beyond the grasp of human comprehension" (excerpt from ITC's 1st season promotional folder)

3) Transcendence.

"Ever since we were blasted away from Earth we've been fighting for survival. We have survived. How, I don't know. There's no rational explanation. What I do have is an absolute faith in the strength of the human spirit and the belief that someone or something is looking after us. God, if ou like. And we will survive." (JK, 113, 3)

This speech describes one of the basic elements of the fantasy universe of the 1st season: the indefinable factor which controls the Alphans journey through space. It is also called the "Mysterious Unknown Force", a term by STARLOG's David Houston. It was explored in some depth by David Hirsch in issues nos 34-36. The MUF was not present in all episodes and its interference varied. In WG it has less to say as' greatest importance is attached! to human psychology: the primal, instinctive fear. In episodes like "Testament of Arkadia", "Collision Course" and "Missing Link" it played a much more influential role.


Three entirely different views on the concept of learning are presented via the three main characters:

Commander John Koenig's actions are motivated by his strong feeling of responsibility for the Alphans; he is aggressive with the aliens but is unable to adopt a different attitude towards them (e.g. as demonstrated 'by his actions in the control centre) only when he is forced by the aliens to see things differently (the involuntary solitude in space) is he able-to acknowledge the prospect of his own death and thereby conquer his fear. The lesson he acquires is one of resignation: death is inevitable and should be accepted as such: "If you're gonna die, you might as well die on Alpha." (179)

Doctor Helena Russell's attitude towards the aliens is directly opposite to Koenig's: she believes in peaceful actions: "John, violence is not the answer." (113, 5)

and is therefore able to enjoy the alien existence (as seen when she becomes absorbed in the planet brain). Her new mental powers enable her to share Koenig's thoughts but, unlike him, she does not acknowledge death, but her own f ear of death. She is terrified at the prospect of alien life and rejects it: "I am afraid of death. I don't want your world". (161).

Her lesson is one of realisation: the two worlds are highly incompatible. The Alphans have their own way of life and cannot easily adjust to alien life.
"I want him as he was. with all his faults and fears." "We are what we are." (161)

Professor Victor Bergmans attitude towards the aliens is to try and understand their actions "...we still have much to learn" but since the story is concentrated on JK and HR and their mental development, Bergman's development is stagnant and he does not acquire any lesson. He is still the curious scientist who seeks understanding but is not succeeding in obtaining it:
"John, I don't begin to understand, but does this mean we can go down to the planet?" (185)


It is implied that knowledge eliminates fear (of the unknown/death) and results eventually in mental superiority - thus the link between the undeveloped Alphan minds and the alien ones. This theme the importance of knowledge is present in nearly all 1st season episodes in some form. It was usually shown as an ideal, a symbol of superiority and perfection, and a great contract to the Alphans' lack of knowledge.


Mental superiority: the aliens are expressionless and cold. They have bald, enlarged skulls, possess great mental powers (materialisation of attack, teleportation, telepathy) and exist in a spiritual, biomechanic world (glass cases with multicoloured tubes and spheres and translucent, pulsating walls with electronic circuits):

"...vaguely defined circular room of moving colour and light"
"The whole place seems to be alive and glowing, and yet mechanical - dead" (script, 113)

The Planet landscape is a visualisation of the peaceful spiritual existence and the violent destruction is a symbolic visualisation of the Alphans' arrival on the planet.

The war ships (Hawks) are "venomous (script, 1) and give associations of swift. dangerous birds of prey - the malevolent characteristics are emphasised by the sleek. insect-like design and the bright colours. The obvious similarity to insects Is even more efficiently used In the design of the menacing, fly-like pursuit craft seen in "Voyager's Return". Insect features such as facet eyes, wings, segmented body, articulated legs and sensor apparatus (antennae) have obvious parallels in the spaceships. Apart from providing valuable credibility of flight skills the parallels provided psychological resonance: unconscious comparison to insects made the ships seem more dangerous and likely to "bite" or "sting".

A few examples: the Eagle (based on a grasshopper), Swift ("Brian the Brain"), Superswift ("Bringers of Wonder") and the Robot Probe and warship seen in "The Dorcons".