Space 1999- The Full Circle & End of Eternity

The Full Circle 
A curious and atypical episode that teeters on the precipice between being interesting yet unintentionally amusing. While you can sense the big reveal a long way off the journey there sees the series abandon much of its usual technology dominated sequences for some basic running around and screaming. It is bold and sometimes gripping but also bizarre. You do have to feel sorry for Koenig and co though as every planet they encounter gives them nothing but trouble and Retha is no exception. As the episode opens there’s already a reconnaissance team down there on the promisingly Amazon like surface but they’ve vanished and Koenig, Helena and others go down to look for them. One by one they disappear till there’s only a somewhat terrified Sandra huddling in an Eagle in what is a great performance from Zienia Merton. Of course in ignorance of horror film etiquette she only goes and opens the door.

From the start it’s clear this story is going to be presented differently eschewing most of the established musical themes to offer primitive percussion while director Bob Kellett does a grand job of taking us close into the action. Some of the sequences in the dimly lit cave later on are as hard hitting as a series like this could dare and I wonder if this episode was sometimes missed out on repeat runs scheduled earlier in the day. It is soon clear to us that the cave men wandering about building bear traps and shrieking earthily are in fact the missing Alphans but what undermines the good work the story builds up is the fact it takes Sandra so long to work it out. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain have such distinctive features that no amount of shadowy camera work or in her case lack of make up can disguise them and surely Sandra would recognise some of the others too?

Despite this you have to admit they put their all into grunting and screaming and generally passing muster as prehistoric people. Barbara Bain’s banshee howling is a wonder to behold and as out of character as you could get. I like the way, too, we see her primitive medicinal behaviour which contrasts with shiny high tech work she normally does. Yet the choreography of the rituals and some of the noises just make the modern viewer smile. The pace of the episode seems wrongly judged as well with a slow first half giving way to a frantic second so the cause of what happens is never explained. Victor, who has a theory for everything, calls it a “time warp” but how a mist can change people into prehistoric versions of themselves and then back again even down to the clothing seems a bit far fetched even for this show.Still while there are moments to make you wince / howl with laughter there are also impressively staged sequences and a real sense of chaos plus some committed performances from the cast. 

End of Eternity 
For a crew trained in diplomacy the Alphans can sometimes seem to have a sledgehammer approach to things they don’t understand. So when a passing asteroid displays interesting readings their response is to blast their way into its centre where they appear to severely injure its sole inhabitant. Whisking him back to base (to save his life and presumably then apologise) they lose him quickly only for him to appear alive and completely regenerated within a few hours. He is now Peter Bowles, who spends the rest of the episode being mysterious and dangerous which he does rather well as it happens. Togged up like 70s pop star Alvin Stardust he dispenses threats and chaos until the Alphans agree to surrender to his experiments.

Trouble is the episode isn’t that clear what he wants to do. In lengthy- yet ultimately foggy- exposition scenes we learn his people discovered immortality but sought to persuade them to open themselves up to torture and pain in order to erase the societal malaise that being immortal had created. So they banished him to travel alone forever in the asteroid. Now he wants to use the Alphans for the same purpose as it will restrain his wildest tendencies because they are still mortal. It’s a concept that doesn’t sit too easily in an ostensibly children’s series and you’re not quite sure where the writer Johnny Byrne is going with it. Neither it seems is he. Perhaps a more straightforward ambition would have sufficed.

Peter Bowles has tremendous fun as Balor despatching threats with a slight smile and remaining puzzled by ordinary things likes sliding doors and screens. He gets more to do than most guest stars in the show and relishes the opportunity. Director Ray Austin choses to make him seem as weird as possible using odd angles, shooting him from below to accentuate his height and having distorted electronic music to accompany him. When Balor takes on the guards it is shown without either incidental music or sound effects almost making the choreographic look seem deliberate There’s even a weird scene regarding the paintings they found in Balor’s cave.

Johnny Byrne was interviewed about `End of Eternity` and went into some detail so clearly a lot of thought went into what he intended as a Lucifer analogy but there’s no way that comes across fully in the finished version. The more interesting side of the narrative is about the effect of immortality and I wonder if Byrne considered showing that by having some of the Alphans temporarily thinking they had that gift. The suprisingly basic ending uses the old `trick them into the airlock` idea but when Balor does fly out it is a well done effect. There’s a neat coda too when the Alphans seemingly destroy the asteroid only for us to see it re-appear moments later. Perhaps there was an intention to have a return for Balor too after all he is supposed to be indestructible.

The episode has been described as one of the best of the season, however it is drawn out and needs another element to make up for the lengthy scenes of Balor meandering about. Understandably it can’t really fully explore its subject so the result is multiple scenes involving guards and others being fling about. Like many guards in screen sci-fi they really are not very efficient!  I’m not keen on narratives which describe a whole planet reacting the same to something as this one does. As we know from real life it is difficult to get a majority view on anything and Byrne’s script here glosses over the likelihood of different responses to the aliens’ immortality preferring to describe an unspecified chaos engulfing everyone. Also Balor’s solution for which he was exiled was designed to work for immortals which the Alphans are not unless the story is saying his motivation is purely sadistic?

I’m not sure either about the secondary storyline concerning Alphan pilot Baxter. Caught in the delayed explosion the crew themselves cause, an eye injury means he can’t fly again. Potentially there is an interesting dynamic to be explored here but it ends abruptly with a bizarre scene in which, now controlled by Balor, Baxter attacks Koenig with a model plane. While the sequence is strikingly presented it wastes the character potential. Baxter incidentally is played by James Smillie whose voice features on hundreds of adverts and animated films.

No comments:

Post a Comment