11/01/2019

Space 1999 Force of Life


First shown 11 September 1975. Written by Johnny Byrne. Directed by David Tomblin.

Director David Tomblin gives enormous urgency to this somewhat trippy episode in which technician Anton Zoref is taken over by an unknown alien force that seems to feed on energy. The production is top class turning what might have been something of a run of the mill story into much more. Tomblin utilises a battery of camera techniques to convey the strangeness of the alien while guest actor Ian McShane successfully menaces several Moonbase Alpha personnel sometimes with fatal results. At times its surprisingly graphic for what was seen as mostly a kids series with sudden freezing effects deployed to the alien’s victims. At the climax when Koenig orders all power to be switched off to try and isolate Zoref we see medical staff attempting to manually resuscitate a patient. Even more extreme, after a beam that was meant to finally fell the visitor resurrects him as charred with glowing eyes the results are a match for any horror movie of the day. That all this takes place in the comparatively bright environs of the base makes its use of scare techniques even more impressive. 


David Tomblin deploys fish eye lenses, wide angle views, at one point he has our point of view of a body roll over.  Zoref’s draining of energy provides ample opportunity for use of shadows further emphasising the threat. Even when you know the set up is being deliberately melodramatic it still works a treat. Zoref’s stalking of Helena around a darkened room (because who doesn’t turn the lights down when they’re working and there’s a potentially dangerous being in the next room) is superbly rendered. There’s also a very good effect used sometimes that appears to show a heat haze around Zoref’s head. A sense of unhurried measure abounds in the way the episode is assembled and presented which seems most unlike the product of the regular grind of producing series like this to end up with 24 episodes a year. Together with some excellent sound effects and suitably atmospheric music `Force of Life` is almost a mood piece, a work of disturbing art.


What is equally rewarding though some may find odd the leads take something of a philosophical view of events in the aftermath. Indeed Victor- whose “clockwork heart” almost gives up when the power is cut- seems impressed that they may have witnessed an evolutionary stage in the life cycle of a being whose origins they will never know. Thankfully Johnny Byrne’s economical but focussed script never resorts to the visitor speaking with mundane aims or demands. It is simply allowed to be, to act and then at the end leave. If it sounds anticlimactic in print believe me it’s anything but.

See below for waffle about what order the episodes are supposed to be watched in (clue- nobody seems to know) but this does make an effective second episode because it brings the strangeness, wonder and danger of “living in deep space” into sharp focus and shows how the Alphans will have to adapt and learn as they go along. I don’t know what episodes long term Space 1999 fans think of as classics but for me this is definitely in that bracket. Powerful, absorbing and with just enough edge, `Force of Life` scores highly in every way. 

Spacewatch!

Exactly what order should Space 1999 episodes be watched in? That’s not as easy a question to answer as you might think and would probably even have Victor looking puzzled into futuristic globes. While some sources list them in order of original transmission, others have them in an alternative order.  The dvd which I’m using for example places `A Matter of Life and Death` what should be episode 13 second on disc one after `Breakaway`. So this week I watched that one, did my review and then when checking the date discovered it first went out in November 1975. I must admit I’d been surprised at how quickly the Alphans had adapted to their situation, wondered what had happened to the commissioner and also noticed how quickly Koenig and Helena had become close. There’s also a reference in the dialogue to the lots of strange things they’ve already met. What the dvd seems to have done is used the production codes rather than original broadcast dates.  It’s not even as simple as this though because some accounts have it that `Black Sun` and Earthbound` should be watched next after the opener. And `Force of Life`, which was the second episode shown but appears as number 9 on some lists doesn’t tell me what happened to the commissioner either. Of course shows like this are designed to be shown in any order and in some countries they were; in fact later broadcasts even mixed up season one and two episodes which would have been very odd. For the purposes of these reviews then I’ll be watching them in order of original first broadcast in the UK.
Fake Fact- There was an Eighties electronic band called Victor's Clockwork Heart.


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