Back on the old board we had a discussion about the differences between seasons one and two (the theme music, the actors), what happened to Victor Bergman between seasons, the planet Meta, the paperbacks, the comics, how an explosion powerful enough to throw the Moon from orbit would also destroy it, and if it was propelled from far side it would have crashed directly into the Earth itself. What, you may ask, is there left to discuss? ANSWER: the audio series from Big Finish!
I recently ran a discussion of Big Finish's The Prisoner audio series, but I started with a re-hash of the TV series. I'm not going to do that this time, first, because The Prisoner was only 17 episodes as opposed to Space: 1999's two seasons, but mainly because both audio series are total reboots of their respective TV counterparts. I may change my mind and add the TV episodes later, but here's what's slated so far.
SPACE: 1999 - Breakaway
1.1 - The Siren Call
1.2 - Death's Other Dominion
1.3 - Goldilocks
"After the Apollo missions of the 1960s and early 1970s, space exploration was very nearly abandoned as public pressure mounted for money to be concentrated on problems down here on Earth. But, by a whisker, funding was granted for a base on the Moon. Greatly expanded, it became the international Moonbase Alpha we know today. 311 personnel serve in a perfect, self-sustaining, artificial environment – their mission statement: ‘to forward the frontiers of human knowledge and science’. Dateline: 13th September 1999. The interplanetary Meta Probe is due to be launched from a platform orbiting the Moon. What could possibly go wrong?"
The audio series launches with an extra-length adaptation of the first television episode, "Breakaway." It's been a decade since I've seen it, but to the best of my recollection, the audio hews pretty close to its source. Mark Bonnar is cast as Commander Koenig. Fans of Big Finish (or readers of my posts) may recognize Bonnar as the schizophrenic Time Lord nemesis of the Doctor, The Eleven. Bonnar is a skilled voice actor ("The Eleven"?), but I don't think he's trying to imitate Martin Landau. No matter. He has a distinctive voice and is easily recognizable. It is a large cast, and most of the other actors sound very much like their TV counterparts, so that's a plus to those familiar with the show.
So far I'm about a half hour in and, as I indicated, the adaptation is is close to the original. Moonbase Alpha is poised to launch the "Meta Probe" from an orbital platform, and John Koenig has been reinstated as commander of the base. He was there when the base was first built in 1989, but has since been promoted to an Earthbound position. The "villains" of the piece are the current commander, Gorski, and the smarmy bureaucrat Simmons. A mysterious pandemic has been sweeping the base resulting in five deaths so far. Dr. Helena Russell sees Koenig as a patsy. He knew nothing of the disease before arriving, because Gorski and Simmons have squelched communications, and the last thing Koenig did before leaving Earth was to refute rumors of an epidemic on Moonbase Alpha during a press conference.
I've now finished the first disc. Koenig's theory is that the madness is caused by radiation, but Dr. Russell refutes it. All of the affected flew "Eagles" over beacon "D" and the place where radioactive waste is buried. Until the cause of the epidemic is discovered (three more people have died), Koenig calls a halt to the Meta Probe, which they have been working toward for ten years, despite new evidence of intelligence life. He also orders all children, spectators and non-essential personnel evacuated from the base. From Earth, Commissioner Simmons onjects on the grounds that doing so will send the wrong message. Simmons relieves Koenig of command but Koenig refuses to comply until Simmons arrives to take over, by which time the civilians will be on their way back to Earth.
The set comes with the following disclaimer: "This release contains adult material and may not be suitable for younger listeners." For the life of me, I can't figure out why, but I'm not good at recognising such things until they are pointed out to me. My best guess at this point is mild profanity. (Is that an oxymoron?)
I should say something about the music, too. The first season television theme is one of my favorites. Having heard the audio one only once, I think it's the same piece but a different arrangement. If they changed it at all, it's very similar to the original.
"Breakaway" - (conclusion):
Soon after Commissioner Simmons arrives on Moonbase Alpha and discovers how bad the situation is, he reinstates Commander Koenig so he will have a scapegoat if things go from bad to worse. He then makes a public statement taking full credit for evacuating the non-essential personnel. It it soon determined that the signal from the planet Meta is responsible for "cooking" the radioactive material buried at Nuclear Waste Dump #1 and that the signal is beamed directly at the Moon, not at Earth. NWD #2 is much bigger, and Simmons wonders, if it were to explode, would that affect the Moon's orbit. Bergman explains that there would have to be 5000 times more waste buried there than there is to have that effect, and that much force would destroy the Moon, anyway.
Simmons insists that the Meta Probe be launched, which will take five years, five months and five days to reach Meta. But the signal from Meta, laced with "exotic material," is also affecting the probe's Quellar Drive. The beam causes the drive to explode shortly after take-off, and it is the combination of the exotic material of the beam and the Quellar Drive which opens a traversable wormhole. The Moon disappears from Earth orbit and emerges from the wormhole in the Meta solar system. The episode ends as "Breakaway" on TV did, but you can bet that Big finish is not going to just let this plot point drop.
The original intention had been to make the audio adaptation an hour-long episode, about 10,000 words, but when Nick Briggs finished his initial draft, it was already at 17,000. At that point, the decision was make to expand it into a two-hour premiere. One thing Briggs noticed about the TV script is that five days pass, from September 9 through 13, and no one ever seems to get any sleep, so he decided to work that into the plot. At one point, Dr. Russell gives Commander Koenig a "stim shot," which will keep him awake and alert for an additional 24 hours, but at the end of that time he will collapse and wake up with a "hangover." At one point in the story, the stim shot wears off and he falls asleep at a critical time.
Mark Bonnar's America accent is so convincing that I didn't even realize he was affecting one until I listened to the "extras" disc and heard his thick Scottish brogue.
The episode ends with a lot of questions. What was the purpose of the signal from Meta? Why was it aimed at the Moon and not Earth? Will the Metans be friendly or not? I can't wait to find out.
When Space: 1999 first came to television it was touted as being "the next Star Trek" when, in fact, it was closer in tone to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and went on to influence certain aspects of Star Trek: the Motion Picture (which also was influenced by 2001). One thing 1999 had in common with 2001 was the subdued, emotionless delivery of the astronauts. I think that's the biggest difference between the tv show and the audio. Big finish cannot rely on the visual aspect of the stories, but their actors are charging their performances with emotion that the tv show never exhibited. The other main difference is in gender politics, which is much more 2019 than 1999 (or 1975).
"I can't wait to find out."
When I said that (back in June of last year) I meant it, but although I already had volume one (which follows "Breakaway") on hand at the time, I was moving into the time of year I am more likely to listen to music than audios (for whatever reason). I didn't start listening to volume one until today, as a matter of fact, but i should be able to move through it quickly because Tracy is not interested in listening to it.
"The Moon has been sucked through a wormhole in space and has arrived countless miles away from its proper place. The crew of Moonbase Alpha can only guess at the resultant devastation left behind on Earth. They must decide how best they can survive. Some Alphans find it difficult to let go of the notion of returning to Earth, others are facing the reality that they must find another home to ensure the survival of the human race. They can't survive on Alpha indefinitely."
1.1 - THE SIREN CALL: "The people of Moonbase Alpha are recovering from the shock of their base and their Moon having been blasted through a wormhole in space. But now they are far from home with little hope of a return to Earth. Ahead of them is the planet Meta, whose signal somehow caused this catastrophe. Could this be their new home or does yet more danger lie ahead?"
The "Breakaway" television episode ended with the Alphans looking hopefully toward Meta and then... that's the last we ever heard of it. The audio "Breakaway" ends the same way, but Big Finish tells the story TV never did: what happens when they get to Meta. (The title is a clue.)
I remember wondering why the TV show never mentioned Meta again.
I think someone on the old board mentioned that they tried to account for it in the novelization of the second episode but I don't know that for certain; I've never read any Space: 1999 novelizations. What they did was to say that the planet from the second TV episode, "Matter of Life and Death" was, in fact, Meta. Reading the capsule summary on the DVD, I see that certain elements of that episode were incorporated into "The Siren Call," but the audio episode is by no means an adaptation of "Matter of Life and Death." From what I know of Big Finish's version of The Prisoner, some episodes were adaptations of television episodes, some were original. Others still incorporated certain aspects of television scripts, but changed enough that the episode title was changed as well. I don't think any of the Space: 1999 audios are adaptations, but I'm not as familiar with the stories or their titles.
One other thing I forgot to mention: Simmons. You may remember him from the first few episodes of the TV show. He's the bureaucrat who opposed Commander Koenig's authority every step of the way. In the "Breakaway" audio, he was every bit as one-dimensional, but in "The Siren Call" he became two-dimensional at least.
The novelizations also tried to account for Victor's unexplained disappearance between seasons one and two. IIRC, his space helmet cracked and he died on the Moon's surface, but we must consider that apocryphal. Of course, there's no reason why Victor would even have to die in the first place in the audio version.
1.2 - DEATH'S OTHER DOMINION: "A voice calls to the Alphans from a mysterious, snowbound planet. Can it be possible that humans from Earth have really colonized this remote world? When Commander Koenig and his team investigate, they discover the planet Nival holds many terrible secrets."
The manned Neptune probe was lost in space years ago. It is the crew of this probe that the Alphans discover. They soon discover, however, that the Neptune probe was not only displaced in space, but in time as well. They have been been stuck on their planet for 900 years and are somehow, mysteriously, alive. this is an adaptation of a television episode but, whereas on TV the extreme longevity was immediately assumed to be an effect of the planet, the audio Alphans make no such assumption. (Perhaps is is a side effect of the warp they passed through.)
The colonists have a ship which needs Moonbase Alpha's power source, and Koenig must decide whether or not to trust the colonists before the Moon is out of range. Also, one of the colonists warns the Alphans of danger, but the colonists won't let them see him. It doesn't help that the Neptune colonists are caught in other bold-faced lies about the situation.
1.3 - GOLDILOCKS: "Not too hot, not too cold. The perfect planet on which life can thrive. But not all forms of life that thrive in the Goldilocks zone are peaceful. Investigating this lush paradise, the Alphans must battle an ancient terror for survival."
The Alphans take an Eagle to investigate an idyllic Earth-like planet as the Moon passes by in case they might want to relocate their. The indigenous people are primitive but are aware of space travelers from other worlds. They learn English via tactile telepathy and are telepathic with their own people over distances, but this skill is fading out with successive generations.
the landing party splits into two groups: Koenig's goes to the city, Russell's goes to the wilderness. Unfortunately, Russell has Simmons in her group. they soon discover that the planet is dotted with live volcanoes, plus there are large predators. Simmons orders the party not to follow their native guide's lead... for no good reason, really, just to be in charge. Everything works out and the Alphans help to defeat the predators, but they ultimately decide not to stay on this planet after all.