Space 1999- Ring Around the Moon & Earthbound

Ring Around the Moon
For an episode that presents such a big threat to the Alphans, `Ring Around The Moon` is not in the least bit exciting. Its threat is a huge glowing sphere from the planet Triton in which a large eye occasionally appears, and which goes about things with a methodical method that unfortunately means everything takes a long time to unfurl. At the same time all of the dialogue is very much technical and therefore a bit dull. All this made my attention wander as the umpteenth golden forcefield shimmied across space and I was drawn to the odd musical score employed for the episode. There’s mysticism, jazz, classical and fusion all chucked together as if someone who doesn’t normally do this sort of thing is assembling the incidental music. It is all the more noticeable as large chunks of the episode take place without any music at all. The only time the music seems to match the visuals is when we’re inside the sphere which also happens to be the most visually interesting aspect of the story too.

We see inky blackness, lights jutting into the picture and grainy shots of what’s happening on Alpha. Clearly feeling budgetary restraint, this means that the sphere never seems like the machine it is. Its also one of those super powerful alien menaces beloved of Star Trek that’s not however quite super powerful enough when it conveniences the script. So somehow the Alphans trick it so they can add information that Triton has actually been destroyed into the computer which causes it to explode. It’s a woolly idea that at least jump starts the episode late on into something a bit more exciting. One thing the story made me wonder is where exactly Victor gets his information. Here for example he discovers that Triton is no more but surely Alpha has by now travelled far beyond the reaches of humanity’s knowledge of other worlds. Is there perhaps a secret Twitter news feed he’s accessing?

Its curious to watch these episodes now having seen them as a kid because what I remembered was a lot of action and colourful incident whereas the reality is that often its quite a static series. `Earthbound` is a case in point especially as the still of Christopher Lee as the leader of the alien Kaldorians whose spaceship lands on the Moon was one of the main ones used in publicity for the show at the time. I remembered the image yet couldn’t recall what he actually did and the answer is stand about and talk mostly. Director Charles Crichton uses his considerable experience to enliven the episode yet still struggles with a narrative that contains some surprising ommissions.
For one thing, when the aliens first communicate with Koenig and co we don’t even see it, instead the commander tells his crew the ship is going to make a hop to the base. So we’re deprived of a sonorous Lee announcing who he is / they are, surely an essential. Then when it becomes clear that the aliens intended destination is Earth only commissioner Simmons displays any burning desire to go. Then there’s Zaldor and Helena. Despite the fact that she inadvertently kills one of his people trying to break the seal of the suspension chambers they’re in, he rather seems to like her. Weird. Though not quite as weird as the fact its Helena who gets to use the large drill, presumably from a sideline in terrifying dentistry.
Though his performance becomes increasingly manic, guesting Roy Dotrice adds some personality to an otherwise somewhat bland episode. Simmons’ ultimate attempt to escape and what will happen is well signposted enough but it’s the actor’s approach that makes it interesting.
Given the amount of time each episode has, there is some rushed work here while at other times watching Lee playing with coloured objects that make up the Kaldorians unconvincing engineering science tests the patience. Visually the exterior of the alien ship recalls pulp science fiction with its bulbous blue metallic appearance while inside is full of coloured lights and plastic, a mismatch if ever I saw one. Crichton tries to make it more interesting with hazy filters and a very impressive scene when the Alphans first enter in silhouette.
The premise of a computer programmed for Earth is an interesting one that the resulting episode never really fulfils becoming side-tracked with Helena foolishly testing the alien suspension process by trying it herself. This wastes a lot of time when they could just run their usual tests the results of which always appear on a shopping receipt sized piece of paper however big the problem!
My favourite aspect of the episode though is the ongoing sub plot as to which name the computer will pick to travel back to Earth with the Kaldorians. It keeps us guessing right up till the end, till after we’ve seen Simmons disturbing demise in fact. The name the machine finally came up- Simmons! Which means that this episodes has a great start and end with too much stodge in the middle.

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