The Catacombs Catacombs Reference Library
Johnny Byrne

The FAB Interview - Johnny Byrne (Part 2)

FAB 30
by Tim Mallett and Glenn Pearce
This article appears here courtesy of
Johnny Byrne and Chris Bentley of Fanderson.

You pushed the boundaries of Space: 1999 into a different arena with "The Troubled Spirit," which was essentially a ghost story with a difference.

"The Troubled Spirit" was a story idea that Sylvia liked very much. She was very interested in developing it with me, to the extent that she oversaw it in the way that Gerry normally oversaw the other tales that I was writing. In other words, when I was having story discussions it was usually with Gerry, but in this instance it was Sylvia.

I was interested in it for a number of reasons. I am interested in things of the heart and the spirit as well as of the mind, and there was also a bit of a challenge in trying to construct a story that would effectively be a ghost story in space. In this instance, as in all of the stories that I wrote, I tried to find a point of departure that the people who would watch it could lock into. In that context, there was a lot of stuff being written at the time about how plants could communicate with people. There were also a number of scientific theories being mooted that the human brain only engaged about 35 percent of its capacity. The rest of it was one great vast question mark and no one really could understand its potential. Taking all of those things and putting them into a technological context, it seemed reasonable to me that the Alphans could have a device that would boost signals that came from those uncharted areas of the brain. They could also log them and connect them up with plants, which were emitting signals of a matching kind. So we had, in effect, a form of electronic, technological seance happening on Moonbase Alpha.

It was to do with plants and how plants were the essence of the Alphans' continued survival on the Moon. The development of how they could feed themselves was obviously something that had to be continuous- without it they would simply perish. Anything that would enhance research and development into the production of food was essential, so on that basis it was a valid story. It was also valid on the basis of what was happening on Earth at that time in terms of the philosophical and scientific investigations into the nature of plant and human communications. So we took that as the starting point.

In the context of a seance, where normally there's a voice or a form of possession that is meant to take over the medium, what we conjured up is a vision of a Moonbase Alphan who is grotesquely disfigured. This Alphan is of a vengeful state of mind, claiming to have come back to avenge a horrible death. The key, the thing that gives the story its very interesting symmetry, is the fact that this Alphan is coming back to avenge a death that has not yet happened. At the same time, everything that the Alphans do to counter this dangerous presence in their midst is pushing it towards the death that it has come back to avenge.

Having gone through the process, first of all, of responding to its destructive presence among them- discovering why it's here and what its purpose is- they then have to go about devising a means whereby they can somehow exorcise it. And I mean that in the true sense of the word, because basically we're talking about Bell, Book and Candle, which I think Professor Bergman talks about in the story. The Alphans have to devise a form of electronic, technological exorcism, which they do, and the presence is exorcised completely- in as effective a way as we believe that a religious exorcism would clean out a hostile spirit here on Earth.

The story had a number of unusual features. For example, it had a very interesting sort of Indian Raga session right at the beginning, and I thought that was very exciting, very interesting, in the way that things were happening. It was one of those stories, unfortunately, that was bedeviled by Italian leading men who were brought in for reasons of finance and not for reasons of artistry or story. These were Italian leading men who were introduced into the series to reflect the money that was presumably being invested by the Italian co-financiers. The lead in "The Troubled Spirit," the vengeful spirit himself, was one of these. They were good actors, but they had difficulties speaking the English dialogue, and that made for difficulties on the set on the day. Carrying the emotional strand or the emotional baggage from one scene to another and developing it, an actor has to live in several different stages of awareness all at once, given the way that these things are shot. It's difficult to do that at the best of times and it was made doubly difficult, I think, by having actors who were not really being chosen for the role. Of course, their voices could be re-dubbed later, but the result is never totally successful no matter how brilliantly it's done. The dubbing was done in this instance by a man called Rob Rietty, who was a master of the art and to see him at work was quite miraculous.

Apart from that, "The Troubled Spirit" was interesting and I think as a story it had a very interesting construction, if you look at it purely in the abstract. As a ghost story, I think it worked within the context as well.

Your next script was "Mission Of The Darians," which seems to have its roots in contemporary events.

Yes, "Mission of the Darians" was based on a number of events which were not exactly contemporary but they were events that had stuck in my mind. There were two aspects to the story: the first, was that we all know that under difficult circumstances people will do virtually anything to survive; the second was that even the most severe taboos that we have in our society- and cannibalism is certainly one of those- can be raised to a level of cultural importance in other societies. Now, given the circumstances, at any time in any culture, the need to live will always overcome, and all taboos will break down in the face of that primary need. Some years before I came to write this story, there had been a case where a group of fairly ordinary basic people had crashed on the Andes and, in order to survive, some of them ate some of their companions. It's a remarkable story, but it's not unusual and it's one that no doubt will be repeated in time to come.

The other notion that was at the heart of the story was a kind of racial superiority element- it was originally called "Mission of the Daria" and Daria comes from "Aryan." We tied that in with the single visual thought that had excited me, which was to plant the story in a spaceship that was 50 miles long. Somewhere at the back of my mind was this wonderful book, "Non-Stop" by Brian Aldiss, which was a story about one of those enclosed universes where a society had simply broken down. So, in "Mission of the Darians," we had this wonderful ship created many years ago by these very arrogant, perfect people who were leaving a dying world and making a very long voyage to another world. Somewhere along the way, their means of power blows up and irradiates most of the people- a small number survive and those who are left simply revert to a form of barbarism.

If you look at the way in which the elements had evolved inside that spaceship, you're looking at a microcosm of life. In the first place, there was no food. In the second place, the survival of the race was considered to be the most important thing. And in the third place, they had to get to their destination where they would refound the race. Those who had survived had reverted, as I say, to a form of barbarism, and they had developed a cult of physical perfection and structured some kind of religion around it. Therefore, anyone who was deemed to be mutant was deemed to be an outcast and they were consigned to a process of destruction, but the very means of destroying those outcast survivors was simply feeding them into the food chain. This had been going on for generations and the barbarous survivors didn't know that this was happening. All they knew was that they were serving a kind of religious purpose and that all of the things that they were doing were necessary to their survival. At the other end of the chain, there were those who were manipulating them: essentially their own people, the survivors of the original Darians. These people couldn't reproduce but there was enough food among the mutants to sustain them until they reached their destination. This wasn't something that they had wanted to do and it wasn't something that they liked doing but, nonetheless, they were using the survivors of their own people in order for the race in total to survive.

So, it worked at many, many different levels. It had, I suppose, the most fundamental question of all at the heart of it: what will people do, and is there any limit to what people will do, in order to survive? And the answer's basically, "No, there isn't."

It probably helped that we had Joan Collins, the perfect example of the imperishable survivor. Sometimes I think that she probably fed on too many spare parts in that particular episode, because she seems to be surviving, unchanged, 20-odd years later! I think, in that sense, Joan Collins was the perfect choice for this Darian super goddess. I quite enjoyed working with her and being there when they were shooting it.

The first season ended with "Testament Of Arkadia," which is a very popular story with fans, and unusual in the sense of spirituality that runs through it.

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 old- in 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.

When it came to the end of the first season, how successful did you think that it had been?

I thought that there had been a number of missed opportunities. I was pitched in when episode one was starting and there wasn't an episode two- it was a race against time to write that second episode and one never recovered from that. Now, while those circumstances can often produce some very good things, it does have a down side which is that, because of the time factor, scripts which were not really up to it managed to get through, and resources- money particularly- were spent on making mediocre scripts acceptable, whereas that money and those resources should have been spent on making good scripts better. In terms of its story content, it was still finding its way, but it did express our philosophy that the further we went out into space the more our understanding grew of ourselves and the environment.

During the interim between the end of series one and the commissioning of series two, I was still around at Pinewood and during that period we made a one-off special for NBC in America, The Day After Tomorrow. But the main purpose of my being around was to take a really cold, hard look at what we'd done and see how best we could actually maximise this very unique series- the like of which we'll never see again- and project it and really have the chickens come home to roost. We had been finding our way, as I said. Now it was time to really go for it.

To that end, I wrote a paper on the entire series, episode by episode. I looked at the weaknesses, the faults, and ways in which things could be avoided in the future. I also devised a means whereby the very best input from science-fiction writers could be adapted to the needs of screen writers, so that everything we would do would have a solid foundation in real science-fiction, and so that the philosophical elements- which many science-fiction writers had already dealt with- could be incorporated in different forms into the series. There were problems about attributing rights and so on, but I had worked out a way in which people like, possibly, Michael Moorcock and writers of his calibre could contribute ideas which would be adapted by very skilled screenwriters.

In anticipation of a start, I was commissioned to do three scripts, two to begin with and then another one later on. The very first one I did that would express this new way of thinking was meant to be "The Biological Soul." Here was classic Space: 1999: you have a guy who's a lonely, rather peculiar scientist who has created this wonderful computer which is biological. This was pure Space: 1999 and essentially the question here was, what is the nature of the soul? In essence it would transpire that it constituted those most elevated parts of the human consciousness: the reasoning, humane elements that aspire to constructive and not destructive activities and speculations. This deepest and fundamental part of the human psyche was the soul, and that was represented in this biological computer which Mentor, this lonely, brilliant man, had created for his own reasons. He was in love, partly in a narcissistic way with himself because the computer was a reflection of himself, and partly as it had a personality of its own which was feminine, and therefore it was called Psyche. I think in all its aspects, that story reflected the ideas that we'd established in the first series: it was speculative, it was action adventure, it had a mystery, and it had elements of suspense. These were the dramatic characteristics of the stories in the first season.

The second script that I wrote was called "Children of the Gods," which was a remarkable story and, indeed, I distinctly remember Gerry saying when he read it that it was the finest thing that he'd read. I was deeply pleased with it and given what happened, given the nature of the story, it would have been a perfect end to the series had we known that Space: 1999 was only going to be two seasons. I'll come back to "Children of the Gods" later on.

The third script turned out to be The Immunity Syndrome but it had a different title, "The Face Of Eden," to begin with. We had Moonbase Alpha discovering the perfect world- joy all round! But the moment they land on the planet, start to set up home and think that, finally, their long quest is over, they discover that everything starts going wrong. Plants become poisonous, water kills them, and so on- there's something on the planet that is destroying them. In essence it's a very simple thing: it's like a body being invaded by a germ, by a virus. Moonbase Alpha is the virus, the body is the planet, and the planet is simply responding in the way that a human body would to an invasion of this kind, with the added element that the planet is a conscious thinking entity and that it is a desperately lonely entity. All it's ever wanted throughout its ageless existence is the company of another sort of being or some kind of presence that it could communicate with, but the irony is that in the act of communicating with likely prospects that have appeared, it actually kills them, and then having killed them, it expels them. So all of these things are happening and Koenig discovers all of this, and he has this remarkable encounter- which to me is one of the most touching things that I think I've written in the series- where he dons this protective covering, confronts this presence and starts talking to it. It reveals itself to be vulnerable, very human and very destructive, but unknowingly so.

I found this deeply touching and to me it expressed very much the essence of Space: 1999- that villains were not necessarily villains and that disasters were usually the result of cock-ups more than by deliberate intent. This echoes all of the real things in life. Where we did bring in deliberate megalomaniacs and psychopaths, they tended to be less interesting stories. If you just compare any of those episodes like Force Of Life and The Immunity Syndrome with, say, End of Eternity, I think you'll find that they're much better stories.

This was all before Fred Freiberger took on the role of producer for Year Two?

Yes, at this point, the speculation as to whether we would go to a second season or not was, of course, not decided. I'm talking about the situation as it was before we got the official go ahead. At this point, I was going to take over the role previously occupied by Chris Penfold, which was as story executive as well as head writer for the second series. Then, all the speculation- whether it would go network or syndication, whether we would raise the hemlines, drop the hemlines, raise the neck, give it more sex appeal, more pace, more characterisation- all these conflicting elements suddenly came to a head when, out of the blue, I was told that Freddy Freiberger was coming over from America to take over the show.

I had heard some of the comments that he had made when he was pitching for the job and it had all sounded unbelievably crass to me. Freddy arrived and he was a very personable man. I got on very well with him, but it was clear that we were living in two completely different universes as far as stories and the understanding of drama were concerned. Freddy came with all his ideas for change: get them all sweaty, get them all hairy, make the sets more claustrophobic and so on. Well, fine, I would go along with some of those things.

But, suddenly, we were not talking about Earth people any more. We were talking about some kind of ghastly alternative Star Trekkers: they were Space Men; there was nothing they couldn't handle; they could deal with anything that was thrown at them by aliens- who are inevitably malevolent. Their attitude was, "Get the bastards before they get us. Kick arse quick or they'll kick us." It became gladiatorial combats and, "We've got 50 minutes to really get out of this one so let's go for it- let's pack up and ship out." To me it was a complete reversal of everything we had done and everything that we had established in the first season. It denied that philosophical element at the heart of those stories which made them interesting. Instead of becoming a group of special people they became a group of any people. I think we lost concern for them.

To me it was going to lose that sense of wonder, of people in an expanding universe whose knowledge was only consistent with their earthly origins- not people who'd been out there mucking in and toughing it out with one lot of aliens after another. Usually this meant galloping around being very sweaty and completely over the top and, of course, it was just deathly boring. I told Freddie that he was going to lose the sense of wonder that we had had in the first series, and he told me not to worry because he was going to bring wonder into it- so we got a story called The Bringers Of Wonder, and that was Freddy. He completely changed the scripts that I had written, primarily to make it more like Star Trek, because he had worked on the third season of Star Trek and he'd brought the kiss of death to it. He'd done the same with The Wild, Wild West- now he was intent on doing it to Space: 1999.

Suddenly, I was lumbered with an alien. Catherine Schell's a wonderful actress, but she was now slated to be the biologically transforming daughter of Mentor- our Mr. Spock as it were- and he'd chosen a means whereby she could change form at will. Therefore, if our people were locked up or in a difficult situation, she could change into an ant, go under the force shield or whatever it was, or climb out of the barrel of the alien's atomiser and suddenly reveal herself, removing any real sense of threat. Catherine was a very good actress but she could only work with what was there on the page and I was very sorry that she had to play this kind of nonsense.

The first script that I had written was renamed "The Metamorph" to take account of that and a Freddy version of my script appeared. The second story, "Children of the Gods," he completely rejected. "The Face of Eden" was hacked about unmercifully to make it conform to Freddy's notion that, "Above all it's got to have drama- above all it's got to have humour," and all of that kind of rubbish. It eventually appeared as "The Immunity Syndrome" and managed to maintain some of the stuff that I had put in and the kind of story I wanted to tell: one that would link very, very strongly with what we were doing in the first series- which was probably why Freddy didn't like it. But it took a hell of a lot of arguing, so that's really when I disengaged myself from Space: 1999. I got married and came to live up here in Norfolk.

Because Freddy had rejected "Children of the Gods," to complete my assignment I wrote something called "Return of the Dorcons," which ended up as just "The Dorcons." It was a "Freddy" story- it was me giving Freddy a story just to complete my assignment. It was on a par, I should imagine, with the rest of the stories of that season. It had no particular take on anything, no real psychological depth or spiritual dimension. It was just me trying to feed Freddy the kind of story that would simply allow me to get him off my back so that I could go home and say, "Good bye" to it all.

I liked Freddy and I think that most people liked Freddy and found him wonderful- he was great company. I think he was an appalling disaster for Space: 1999, but that's just my opinion. So, it all ended in an anticlimax. Had we known then that it was going to be the end of the series... Well, we might have guessed it, given Freddy's past record.

After Space: 1999 ended, he went back to America and killed off The Six Million Dollar Man too.

You know, it wasn't so much that he was a bringer of wonder, as much as he was a bringer of the kiss of death to series. I'm sure he'd smile if I told him that- actually, he'd probably punch me- but I still like the man and I'm sure he liked me. I think it would have been very uncomfortable for him to have had me around because I was the inheritance from season one which was, in his estimation, all completely wrong. And yet, you know, I think that it is the first season that most people who watch that series today would cling to as being something special, but it was cut off while it was still developing and evolving.

How difficult was it for you, as an English writer, to write for the American format that Fred Freiberger wanted to impose on the series?

Oh, that was no problem at all. Any good writer can swiftly adapt to any format- those are the acceptable needs of drama. It's simply another way of skinning the cat and this is just one way of skinning 50 minutes in terms of drama. It's great to write, say, for the BBC with All Creatures Great And Small, of which I wrote 40 episodes. You can take a leisurely intro into the story, establish characters and all of that, and then when you're ready to introduce something else you can do it, because you're not basing it on action to stimulate interest- it's the interplay of character that stimulates it in another context. In Space: 1999, yes, we realised that people have a small attention span, especially in America which is the main audience they were pitching for. In the event, Space: 1999 went around the world God knows how many times- 120 countries, I think- and it made huge amounts of money for Lew Grade and the organisation. But working to that format was not a problem for our English writers.

What would have been a problem for the English writers was that they were having to conform to American notions of humour, and this pretence of being Americans and trying to write like Americans. I'd always bucked against this notion that, simply because we were writing primarily for American television, we should try to write "American." We were writing Space: 1999 and, yes, it had American characters, but any attempt to write them as phoney transatlantic people never seemed right- they ended up being nothing to everyone. We were English writers, we were writing in England, and we were writing what we felt was natural to us. We weren't writing as sort-of-American writers, writing on the cheap, which was an insulting notion.

Our concepts of humour and our cultural differences would have made it different, certainly, but American audiences are just as capable of appreciating English takes on these aspects of human activity, just as the English can appreciate the American perspective. "Let people do what they do best," was the order of the day when we were writing the first series. Good drama is good drama, regardless of whether it's written by the French, the Germans or someone from Ulan-Bator- it's good drama and that's the primary thing.

Anyone who says that you can't write drama for Americans because you're not American is talking rubbish and doesn't deserve to be in a position to make judgements about these things. Good writing is good writing, period, and Martin Landau and Barbara Bain understood that. It didn't worry them that we weren't Americans. We were writing lines that they could speak, expressing thoughts that they could express and understand, and they would contribute to them brilliantly. So it was astonishing to us that you still had people saying, "Oh, they're English writers and so they can't write for an American audience." Story is story, ideas are ideas. How they are expressed can sometimes be a barrier, but not in this case, because they were being transmuted through Martin Landau and Barbara Bain and a cast of other very talented people.

The notion of implanting the worst kind of sub-grade American humour into these things was one of Freddy's more disastrous ideas. To introduce crass one-liners of the type that you'd find in the lowest grade of sitcom humour in America wasn't what we were about, but it was what Freddy wanted to impose on the series. I think that even he came to realise in the end that he had to let English writers do what they do best and forget his notions that, "Above all it's got to have humour." Freddy's notions of humour were quite unfunny. In fact, the funniest thing about Freddy Freiberger was the notion that he had of what constituted funny lines and drama: they were utterly appalling and they were so appalling that they were hilariously funny. Unfortunately, that couldn't be communicated to him because he took it all very seriously.

Do you think that there was any strength that the second series had over the first?

The second season had, of course, a basic appeal because it was more like Star Trek, and on that level, it made for easier viewing to a certain extent- but not more pleasurable viewing. I would have used the set in roughly the same way and enclosed it more, but I would have recast a lot of the background Alphans to make them look more like real people than fugitives from a hairdressing school in London circa 1972. I would have got rid of all of those flaring clothes that immediately date a series, and gone for something much more timeless, much more representative of the kind of people that they were. Yes, I would have used some of those things that Freddy brought to it and I think that some of those things were advantageous to the series.

As far as I'm concerned, Freddy's only fault was that he just didn't know what the series was about. He tried to make it into something that it wasn't and ended up getting something less than the sum of its parts. I don't think that he did that maliciously. I just think that he was mistaken, and I think that it was the power of his rhetoric that he could convince people that he had the answer when, as history has shown, he didn't have the answer- in fact, he had anything but.

Freddy made some real contributions to the second series. There was more pace, there was more sense of immediacy, there was more of a believability about some of the characterisations and so on. Because they were written in the main by good writers, even though many of the scripts were re-written by Freddy, the stories did come out as acceptable and up to the mark.

But Freddy wasn't writing the same series. He was writing something else. He was off the wall in the most interesting way, and it would have been wonderful if his notions of science fiction had married with, developed, and enhanced what we were doing, but it didn't. It was working completely against it. Everything that we had established was fighting against what he was trying to impose. He was a lovable, warm, generous man, but he should have been kept a million miles away from Space: 1999.

Whatever the series was that he was destined to enhance, it was not this one, but I pay him the greatest tribute as he was personally very kind both to me and Sandy when our first child was born, and we stayed with him and his wife, Shirley. But I have to be honest and say that Space: 1999 was on a hiding to nothing with Freddy, that the value that he brought to the show was completely off-set by the unconscious damage that he was doing to something that had its own universe and had its own journey to travel. It was as if you were to set off in Concorde and end up in a train somewhere in the back of Outer Mongolia- you just didn't know where the hell you were and where the hell it was going.

What really annoyed me most of all was "Children of the Gods," that he didn't want to have anything to do with it. It's to my great loss that I haven't even got a copy of it. It got caught up in all the shunting about the studios and that was in the days before word processors so I don't know where it went. I was very disappointed particularly about that.

Here was a story where things start happening in Moonbase Alpha- we don't know what's going on but bits of it start disappearing and, by the end of the hook, it's gone from the Moon. Now, when we come back after the titles, we discover that Alpha is on some sort of planet and here are two unbelievably powerful children and this Mentor character, who is an alien who seems to be looking after them. We discover that these children have total power at their disposal. They can do unbelievably wicked, cruel or generous things, depending on how their mood takes them. We discover that this alien is from the future and so are these children. We discover that the alien's people in that future time are about to encounter Earth people, and that these children have been kidnapped from Earth and allowed to have all the power of these alien people at their disposal, without any kind of moral or ethical guidance. In other words, the children's natural instincts have been given free rein with the unbelievable power to exercise it, and they are exercising that power on the Alphans.

The catch is that the Earth people that this alien nation are about to meet are the descendants of John Koenig's Alphans. These children are the Alphans' direct descendants and the assessment that this alien makes of them will determine whether this meeting of the two species will ever happen or whether the aliens will simply zap the expanding Earth civilisation out of existence. That's the crux of it. The children are actually the Alphans' children- John Koenig's people did find a home, they did succeed, they did expand out- and now their existence right back to the very beginning depends on the actions of these children because the alien is going to simply annihilate Moonbase Alpha and prevent the whole thing.

And that, I think, would have been a fitting kind of finale for the season and for the series to have gone out on, because it would have illustrated their survival. They would have survived, they would have proven their worth through all the trials and tribulations which, as a small community of people, they had somehow managed to survive- not with Captain Kirk's endless resources, but simply on account of their humanity.

Of course, It was impossible that any of them could have survived. We were knocking off Alphans at such a rate that, by the end of season one, I'm amazed that we had anyone left. There were meant to be about 300 of them to begin with and we must have gone a good way towards knocking off most of those, so I'm surprised that any actually still existed by the end of the show! However, there was Alpha Child wasn't there? Things were happening, babies were being born on Alpha, so they were replacing the numbers that they had lost.

But it is an interesting speculative thought to imagine what became of Moonbase Alpha. "Children of the Gods" would have pointed to one particular solution and it was an intriguing one. It was one in keeping with what we had established, I think, and if I have any resentment against Freddy it was that he didn't allow that story to get made. And if I have any sort of resentment against myself, it's the fact that I lost the bloody thing and I don't know where it is! I'd love to see it again.

Our thanks to Johnny Byrne for kindly permitting the reproduction of this interview.

Space: 1999 copyright ITV Studios Global Entertainment
Thanks to Robert Ruiz