Retrospeculative TV: Space:1999:"Matter of Life and Death" (Season 1, Episode 2)

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Alpha has sent an Eagle to recon a new planet: The unimaginatively named Terra Nova. It is uninhabited, but otherwise just like Earth. As soon as this discovery is made, the Eagle is zapped and sent back home, with a stowaway: Doctor Russell's husband, Lee! Presumed dead for five years on the failed Astro Seven mission, 'locked in orbit around Jupiter', and toasted by radiation, Lee Russell has shown up on Alpha, alive, but the medical instruments are unable to record his vitals. John Koenig is faced with a decision: if the Alphans are to colonize Terra Nova, they have a limited window for recon. The mysterious appearance of Lee Russell hinks that up a bit. Koenig decides to give the second phase of recon a shortened window to allow Russell to clear things up. Lee Russell wakes up in the medical unit, croaking out… well, something. John and Victor need answers out of him, but he keeps conveniently passing out. Koenig makes Helena give him wakey-wakey drugs (with the normal objections). They try to get Lee to talk to them, but he insists "Only Helena". She tries to make him understand their situation, but Lee decides to zap her instead. The Recon is going well, everyone is happy until they discover Helena passed out. Victor has some pretty colored chromographs of Lee Russell, and Victor wonders whether or not Lee is alive at all, as he tends to assume room temperature when Helena is not in the room. Russell gets out of bed and proceeds to break stuff. (Cue funky actiony music). John has Russell taken to his office, and tells Helena to stay away. During the interrogation, Russell states that the Alphans are in danger, but not in the way they think. There is power on the planet 'beyond their understanding' and they must not go down to it. Victor and John need to know more, but Lee gives up, saying that the Alphans will go to the planet regardless of what he says. Resigned, Lee dies. They rush an autopsy to determine why Lee died while John goes to apologize to Helena. She is surprisingly okay… But Victor isn't. He believes that Lee's body is converting to antimatter. John politely calls B.S., and okays the beginning of Operation Exodus, the evacuation of Alpha and the colonization of Terra Nova. In the Autopsy room, Lee's body proceeds to zap the doctor and disappears. In spite of Victor's warnings, Koenig and the scouting party lift off and go to Terra Nova. They find drinkable water and edible food in short order. This is cut short by an equipment failure on the Eagle. He recalls the party, and in short order Paul is killed, Sandra is blinded, the Eagle blows up… and then, apparently, the Moon. All manner of meterological phenomena assault John, Helena and Sandra. Helena is buried in a rockslide, but John takes a fatal blow to the noggin. Lost in grief and shock, Helena sees Lee, who explains what has happened to him… typical mumbo jumbo about what happened to him. He has become a sort of antimatter avatar with omniscient tendencies. He gives Helena the ability to remake the world and reverse the deaths of her people. As she and John walk, they realize that Terra Nova is not for them. Back on Alpha, a ridiculously chipper David Kano says that they will be encountering around 2500 Earth type planets on their present trajectory…. so Terra Nova is no big loss.

Observations

Keep in mind that I'm coming to the series fairly fresh, as I've not seen it much (if at all) since the original '70's airings. As an exemplar "Planet o' the week" episode, this wasn't too bad. For being 'Just like Earth', this planet was not too much like Earth, although it did have fauna. One thing that was always missing in Trek was the feel of realism that a few birds and/or lizards would've added to the obvious "Soundstage Planet" setup. Instead, on Trek, we got goofy moving plants. On Space:1999 we got parrots, scads of them. The splashes of avian color made the rather pedestrian soundstage planet lose a bit of it's staginess. The planet didn't exactly feel alive, but it felt less artificial. The meteorological effects were not bad, and the rockslides were shot nicely. I can not complain about the show's production values. Remember last time when I commented that if you have a silly premise, you'd do best to cover that premise in as much realism as you could? Well.... Meeting the antimatter ghost of your dead husband? Well, that's a bit silly. That said, the show wasn't formulaic. We were halfway through the episode before we got any useful info out of Lee, and even then, Koenig weighed it and made a decision based on his desire for the welfare of his people. He didn't disregard the warnings so much as he deemed the risk acceptable (until it killed him...) Another element that made Space:1999 the 'anti-Trek' of the time- there were no neat answers. Although there was a cosmic reset button of sorts, it was obvious that the Alphans were clueless as to what was going on. Although this makes for a 'passive voice' series (stuff happens to them, they don't happen to stuff), they don't pretend that mankind is any better, that we understand everything that goes on in the universe and that they could very well be manipulated by the whims of more powerful beings without recourse. Depressing, but refreshing nonetheless. Next up: The Black Sun

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