Watching these episodes back in the day the philosophical side of the series’ writing didn’t really make an impact on me, I was more interested in the spaceships, the planets and the action. Yet there’s quite a lot in an episode like `Missing Link` for a more mature viewer even if the end result is rather muddled. After a mission to check out a planet goes wrong, an Eagle crash lands a hundred miles from Alpha and while the others on the mission have less serious injuries the commander is in a coma and seemingly unable to be saved. However we see him wandering about a deserted moonbase stalked by floaty figures in long gowns. These turn out to be Zennites, a race with a fashion sense right out of Sixties Carnaby Street crossed with a circus. Their main man, Raan – played with as much dignity as he can manage by a silver faced Peter Cushing- sports a stripy tea cosy on his head while his daughter Vana is wearing some outrageously shiny accoutrements. They are more serious than their attire would suggest however as Koenig finds himself being seen as an experiment, a `permanent guest`.
Clearly working to a budget the episode enjoys some strong direction from Ray Austin, in particular a sequence where the fake Alpha starts to spin around a disorientated Koenig. There are well rendered changes of locale and a fuzzy quality to the fake Alpha that adds an eerie signature. At times its too gaudy though; the Zennites bizarre clothing is complemented by a lot of yellow curtains and a rather unconvincing `city of light`.
The episode works best early on building a mystery while parallel attempts to save the crashed Eagle crew members are ongoing. Koenig’s wandering around the silent Moonbase is well conveyed – I thought the clue that it was fake came when there’s a long close up on his misspelt name above a medical monitor but apparently that was just a production error! Once we learn what is happening, the most impressive aspect is the acting.
At times it feels like the episode has too many ideas and no focus; apparently the original script by Edward di Lorenzo was based on no less than The Tempest, but was altered by producers. The Zennites world is seemingly constructed from mental thought alone, they lack aggression (though Raan shows plenty of passive aggression it has to be said) and the whole `city of light` thing is rather vague. “This is my home,” explains Raan early on “it is made of light.” So presumably the images of fake Alpha they project are made of this light but created by mental power? Di Lorenzo isn’t beyond slotting in some messages that sound timeless and could apply today referencing human aggression and having Koenig declare (albeit sounding slightly out of character) “Its more important to feel than to think.”
Overwhelmed by these pocket philosophies the episode takes a leap on the last part having Vana fall in love with Koenig because of his human qualities. Is the commander pretending to fall for her to find a way out? Well that bits not clear either but all three seem very matey by the end which does drain a lot of the tension the episode has built up.
What the story does do is give the regulars some heavy lifting which must have been a relief after all the tech talk they normally get. Martin Landau and Barry Morse both get the chance to cut loose- Morse’s sinister, self interested Bergman is a revelation. Meanwhile in the real Alpha, Carter gets into his weekly fracas and there’s some more subtle acting from Barbara Bain whose controlled reaction to Koenig’s apparent demise is rather moving. Really given the stresses and strains they are under, outbursts should happen every episode!