Space 1999 - The Metamorph

Much has been said about what was lost with the change in producer for season 2 of Space 1999. Fred Freiberger as his name seems to suggest preferred the `fast food` style of television. Having boiled Star Trek down to primary colours in its third season he has been accused of doing the same with the second series of Space 1999. This opener certainly sets it stall as one of the livelier excursions for Koenig and co with so much colour and action it is almost as if the production team wanted us not to notice the changes. The results are engaging for the intended audience and there is an undercurrent of seriousness lurking; after all if someone like Brian Blessed can give a mostly understated performance then it can’t all be bad can it? The trouble is the disconnect between scriptwriter Johnny Byrne’s darker ideas and the extremely colourful manner in which they are portrayed.

What planet would really consider vivid orange an acceptable colour for its corridors and even it’s prison cells? Why does the collected brain power of various races manifest itself as multi coloured liquid surging through plastic tubes? So it all looks ridiculous yet Byrne is trying to present a vampiric civilisation that feeds on brains rather than blood. Only one sequence in the hidden mines even tries to support Byrne’s concept; elsewhere it looks like design choices even Willy Wonka would reject as being too bright!

The changes are apparent from the opening titles which replace the fanfare and subsequent disco music with an archetypal Seventies action tv series theme. You could probably substitute any show of the era and use the same music. Rather than turning around on a dias staring ahead Koenig now leaps out of his seat and fires his weapon. Perhaps this is how Victor died? Helena is dashing along a corridor. In soft focus of course.
Victor is nowhere to be seen and unmentioned as are Paul and Kano. Oddly there is an opportunity to explain their absence as we’re told in voiceover at the start that the Moon has just been through a space warp but instead we’re informed nobody died. One change I do like is the more realistic looking control centre which uses about half the space of its predecessor and looks somehow more likely to fulfil the task it is supposed to. Lurking there is serious browed Tony Verdeschi though he isn’t introduced to us and nobody asks him where he’s been till now! He is clearly the Paul substitute albeit less argumentative. Whoever he is he seems to take charge when Koenig is away.

After their space warp incident, the Alphans are looking for Titanium though as it turns out not much. Helena finds a handful of it and says its about all they need; there’s a gag here somewhere but the episode doesn’t do gags. While the planet they are scanning looks dead and volcanic it’s actually inhabited by Brian Blessed’s Mentor along with his daughter Maya. Any other locals we see appear to be vaguely insect looking slaves. There is a familiar turn of events once it gets going- the charming Mentor of course is tricking them wanting to feed all their brains into his “biological computer” and it’s here that you begin to see the change of emphasis this season. Around about half way through Victor and John would discuss the wider issues, the important stuff but now we have a more straight forward capture and a typical Koenig trick which Mentor rumbles. I have to say I can’t recall seeing Brian Blessed delivering such a contained performance with a lightness of touch you don’t expect from him but it makes Mentor a very effective antagonist even if we’ve seen variations of this story in the first season.

Catherine Schell also makes a striking debut as Maya able to convey the necessary emotions when required marking her out as an actor who could potentially fill some of that Victor sized gap. However the premise of her metamorphic abilities is too gimmicky for a show like this especially as the transformations appear to take minimal effort. The Hulk tv series to come a couple of years later essayed this power far better. This effect was supposed to give the new season a `wow` factor apparently but I think it was actually Maya’s regular look that caused the wows! Also how does she know all these Earth based animals to transform into? The narrative never works hard enough to make it plausible Maya would be so unaware of her father’s behaviour either. Has she never even thought to ask him what the tubes are for? I was wondering as well- what does she do of a day? Just lounge about disguised as a lion?

The idea for this story is sound enough but this planet seems to have no history other than a throwaway line and having backed himself into a corner Johnny Byrne struggles to conclude the story with any sense. That it all ends in a series of huge explosions perhaps shows where the storytelling priorities are.