RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Space:1999 : "The Black Sun" (Season 1, Episode 3)

sysadmin 2.0
sysadmin 2.0's picture


This week, we visit a ‘Black Sun’... an astrophysical impossibility, but since when did that ever stop a science fiction TV show?


Since this is the Seventies, and we are more interested in the story than the science (or at least that’s what they tell us), let’s take a peek, shall we?




An asteroid is headed in the general direction of Alpha- it then, very improbably changes course and heads for Alpha.  At the last minute, it swerves away and then shears to pieces.   The Alphans note that there’s a big, black circular void on another camera, so they switch to that and cue the ominous music.


They send an Eagle out with Sandra’s Pilot boyfriend at the yoke.  He’s a likable guy, until he gets swirled to death.  Sandra faints.  Victor comes rushing in with the answer too late to save him, or to catch Sandra.  It’s a black sun, he says ominously.


So, during exposition time,  Victor explains that a black sun is a star whose gravity overpowers everything, including light.  But there’s hope!  The system that creates Earth normal gravity on the moonbase can be juiced up and deployed using Physics Judo.

“Really????” asks Commander Koenig

“Really!” says Professor Bergman

“No foolin’???”

“Yes, foolin’”.   Bergman knows that his doubletalk generator is a snowcone in hell.  But he and Koenig put on a few dog-and-pony shows to keep the Alphans from looking too deeply into the math, and then come up with an alternate plan- a lifeboat, that has a popsicle’s chance in the aforementioned hell.  Koenig has the computer draw names- Alan Carter and Dr. Russell are among the passengers in the lifeboat.  Dr. Russell objects, but Koenig has a cunning plan!  No, he doesn’t really.  They’re all pretty much toast, but they launch anyway.


As they get closer to the Black Sun (the neat thing about a Black Sun is no pesky event horizon!), they begin to fade out.  John and Victor are busy getting slightly buzzed when they notice that they can see through their hands.  They wonder if the doubletalk device is actually holding, or if they’re dead... but in either case, it’s “interesting”.  After a bit of tinsel waving in front of the camera, we see Bergman and Koenig (sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?) have aged about six hundred years.  The age makeup is good enough, but a bit strong.  Victor looks like a refugee from the Planet of the Apes and John looks like my grandmother.  Anyway, they wander through tinsel and sparkly lights and meet the Universal Intelligence.  “Are you God?” John asks.  She just seems to smile enigmatically and fade away... very Alanis Morissette, except with no physical presence.   


They find themselves on the other side of the Black Sun, several bajillion light years away from where they were.  Suddenly the lifeboat appears in Alpha’s airspace and lands.  Nobody knows how they got there, but it’s very providential.




The point is made in a couple of spots through the episode that the odds of them surviving even to this point are as near to infinite as you can get, while still being finite.  After this, it’s obvious to even the most casual observer that they are being yanked about by God, or the Universal Intelligence, or what have you.  In this context, survival begets a purpose.  They just don’t know what it is, yet.


However, Alpha’s miraculous survival coupled with the reappearance of the lifeboat Eagle pretty much seals it.  The ‘U.I.’ has obviously not read Oolon Coluphid’s best sellers; or apparently doesn’t care much about disappearing in a puff of logic.  There is no faith required.


When confronted with his lack of faith, Victor seems to say ‘I don’t believe... God, help me maintain that unbelief’.  His reactions are detached, but he knows that science as he knows it has just gone out the airlock.


The characterization in this episode is nicely done, especially regarding Paul and Kano.  Paul is steady, sure, optimistic and ‘a good man’.  Kano sees every slight against his beloved Computer as a personal affront.  I really like how this is played- Kano fights against the main Computer (and yes, I’m capitalizing it because that’s how David Kano SAYS it.  He actually manages to pronounce it in such a way that it is clear that he believes Computer to be a person) being powered down... and the scenes are directed in such a way as to make it seem that Kano is right- disaster will surely follow if Computer is shut down.   Except it doesn’t.  The scenes are there to give Ominous Portent and develop Kano’s character.  


The episode is nicely directed, and though the pacing is, well, British, it still plays well today.


If you remember this one, chime in below!