The Catacombs Doppelganger

Lift off

Doppelganger was Gerry Anderson's first attempt to move from children's puppet series like Thunderbirds to live action science fiction for adults. Released in 1969, it is now better known by the US title, Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun.

Thanks to Marcus Lindroos and Shaqui Le Vesconte


In the movie, a new planet is found in the solar system by the European Space Exploration Centre's "Sunprobe", whose instruments are unexpectedly distracted by the planet's magnetic field. Images transmitted to Earth by Sunprobe reveal the new planet is in the same orbit as Earth but on the opposite side of the sun (the same arrangement found in the Space: 1999 episode The Last Enemy).

EUROSEC's autocratic chairman Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark) lobbies the European Space Exploration Council for a manned "Phoenix" follow-on mission to the new planet, but EUROSEC members France and Germany balk at the cost. The U.S. government also refuses Webb's initial call for participation in the Phoenix project but changes its mind when it is discovered that a spy has been sending classified information about the new planet to America's enemies.

Thinnes and Hendry

The Council then reluctantly approves the project after NASA agrees to contribute $1 billion in return for putting America's top astronaut on the mission -- Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) who already has two Mars missions under his belt. The other crewmember is EUROSEC project director and astrophysicist John Kane (Ian Hendry). Webb has to move the launch forward by two weeks due to budget troubles in Germany and political problems in France, despite concerns Kane will not be able to complete his astronaut training in time.

Sunrise over the new planet

The Phoenix spacecraft is sent to the new planet, and initially enters a preliminary parking orbit. The astronauts conduct electronic surveys from space, but the orbital path only takes the spacecraft over the polar areas and oceans. The crew therefore decides to land using the "Dove" landing craft to search for life, but the ship crashes. The one survivor (Ross) is astonished to find he is back on Earth, and he is accused of turning back by his EUROSEC superiors. He then realises that everything is reversed; the planet is a mirror image of Earth.


The stars were British actor Ian Hendry (top-billed in the British print of the film), American actor Roy Thinnes (top-billed in the US print) and Patrick Wymark. The screenplay was by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and Donald James (who also wrote The Exiles, Journey to Where, and The Seance Spectre). It was directed by Robert Parrish.

Jason Webb and Dr Pontini

Several supporting actors later appeared in Space:1999 as well. Philip Madoc (Dr.Pontini in the movie ) played Commander Anton Gorski in Breakaway.

The crew ready for lift off (Maxwell Craig is left)


A VTOL plane discharges the cargo cabin

The movie is supposedly set a century in the future (2069, according to the first draft screenplay) but this is never stated on screen. The 2069 date is strongly contradicted by the late-1960s fashions, computer technology and the Phoenix rocket itself, which suggest the events take place in the near future. Later script versions mention the Phoenix rocket being "20 to 30 years" more advanced than the 1960s Saturn V technology, indicating a 1990s setting. The Phoenix rocket launch and mission control footage was later reused in the UFO episode "The Man Who Came Back", suggesting that Doppelganger is in fact contemporary with the TV series which was set in 1980-1984.

The leading Western space agencies seem to be EUROSEC and NASA. EUROSEC appears to be a successor to the real-life European Launcher Development Organisation which was initiated in the early 1960s by the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands; the same countries are represented in Doppelganger's EUROSEC council meeting. Britain continues to be the largest financial contributor (in real life, France and Germany overtook Britain in the 1970s when the European Space Agency and its new French-led Ariane rocket project replaced the earlier British-led ELDO I & II launch vehicle development efforts). EUROSEC maintains a huge European Space Exploration Complex in Portugal, which serves as a launch site for the giant "Phoenix" rocket.

The movie was shot in southern Portugal. An instruction in the script states the Airport Control Tower, where the plane carrying Glenn and Sharon Ross lands, is to 'match Faro Airport' (the capital of the southern Algarve region of Portugal). A more likely location for the launch base would be the Portuguese Atlantic islands such as the Azores, due to the danger of falling rocket stages.

Opening shot


Two planets in the same orbit but on opposite sides of the sun would maintain their relative positions only if there were no other planets in the solar system (the gravitational perturbances caused by other planets would quickly disturb the orbit). Astronomers would also be able to indirectly detect the presence of a "Doppelganger" Earth as its gravity would affect the predicted positions of Mars and Venus in particular.

Jason Webb looks at the mission trajectory

As portrayed in the movie, the curving transfer trajectory from one planet to the other should take exactly one year rather than three weeks (the position of the planets on the map does not change).

The fast three-week transfer would require an impossibly fast spacecraft capable of reaching a speed of 2% of the speed of light (i.e. 150km/s to leave Earth, 150km/s to enter an orbit around the Doppelganger planet plus another 300km/s for the 3-week return journey)! The spacecraft would essentially move in a straight line from one planet to the other.


The 3-stage Phoenix carrier rocket appears to be similar to the real-life Saturn V rocket but it is much wider, suggesting larger propellant tanks and an even larger payload capability. Dialogue in the script states the rocket is actually 465 feet tall - 100 feet taller than a Saturn V. The launch vehicle appears to be constructed from clustered propellant tanks; the stabiliser fins on the second stage suggest the upper portion of the rocket is capable of independent missions with a reduced payload. The USSR made similar proposals in the 1960s with the N-1/N-11/N-111 and R-56 series of modular heavy-lift rockets.

The Dove leaves the orbiting spaceship

The Phoenix mothership life support system includes a "heart/lung/kidney machine" for keeping its suspended crew alive during the 3-week interplanetary transfer phase. Heart-lung machines are frequently used in heart surgery and can also be used for the induction of body hypothermia, a state in which the hibernated body can be maintained without blood flow. However, it is currently impossible to maintain this state for longer than a few hours.

The Dove landing vehicle

The EUROSEC "Dove" landing craft seems to be a 2-man single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) lifting body vehicle. The design itself is quite realistic, but the Dove appears to be way too small to hold the enormous propellant tanks required for such a mission. The vehicle apparently uses VTOL jet engines for takeoff and landing.


Doppelganger set the pattern for much of Anderson's live action science fiction. The special effects and gadgetry were outstanding. However, there are a few shaky blue-screen shots, and the effects aren't in the same league as 2001: A Space Odyssey, released the previous year. As typical in Anderson productions, it all ends in spectacular explosions, when the spaceship crashes into a rocket launch pad.

The scientific basis of the plot is dubious. But any criticism is pedantic; the clever idea is the film's strongest point. Criticism of the wooden acting and slow pace are more justified. There are tedious subplots about spying and the marital problems of Thinnes which drag out the running time. Thinnes is uncharismatic and the characters are dull, although Wymark makes an impression as the autocratic boss. Yet the unsympathetic characters contribute to the general mood of paranoia and remoteness (Stanley Kubrick did the same in 2001). Apart from some soap opera aspects the film engages the viewer, although the fashions and acting style give the film a very 1960s feel.

Thinnes in spacesuit One of the futuristic cars

Many of the supporting actors found their way into the next Anderson production, UFO, including Ed Bishop and George Sewell. Some of the cars and jeeps made for the film also appeared in UFO, as well as some of Barry Gray's music and some stock special effects. The spacesuits became Moonbase spacesuits, and one helmet eventually ended up in the Space: 1999 episode Mission Of The Darians. The EUROSEC launch countdown timer (visible above the large world map in the mission control room) would later appear on the B&W video monitors in several year 1 Space:1999 episodes, e.g. Collision Course. Apart from that, the movie did not leave its mark on Space:1999 although the earlier UFO series benefited enormously from the expensive SFX props and costumes originally made for Doppelgänger.

Launch control Countdown clock

Contents copyright Martin Willey.
Doppelganger copyright Universal