Space 1999- The Testament of Arkadia

A thoughtful, sombre episode concludes this first season ably demonstrating all of the show’s strengths (and weaknesses)in stylish fashion.  It is as portentous as you like yet also oddly intriguing dealing with big issues of life and destiny when an alien planet appears to cause the half Moon to stop in space and start to lose power. The Alphans have no choice but to try and find out how and why this is happening and their expedition makes some shocking discoveries. Presented with occasional voiceovers from Koenig `The Testament of Arkadia` is a fitting finale even if it declines to explain itself fully. Koenig professes to like a mystery so this is what we have.

In a cave the Alphans find a group of remarkably preserved and shiny looking skeletons sitting at a table. This actually looks a bit odd- did these Arkadians actually all just sit at the table and die one by one? Alongside them are what seem like Sandskrit writings on a cave wall, and the expedition happens to include someone who can translate them. At least they acknowledge this in the dialogue suggesting the influence of these long dead people has caused her to be included by Computer. Its all a bit vague and you can feel the hand of the writer Johnny Byrne at times.
The Alphans take a little longer than the viewer will to reach the conclusion that humanity originated in Arkadia and to escape their doomed planet some of them journeyed to Earth. This is a very Seventies idea and during the course of the episode we get both classical and hippy music flourishes to remind us what era this was made in. There was a fascination at the time with ideas such as aliens building the pyramids and suchlike so this seems to be the inspiration for the episode. It also plays well against the overall arc of the series and the survival instinct of the Alphans.
Introduced by way of a spooky sequence when the old lights power on and the skeletons briefly become hooded humanoids to talk with two of the Alphans the source of their power remains unexplained. Koenig says he doesn;t want to know what passes between both parties which is a cheeky way for Byrne to sidestep details. We’ve already been told the planet is dead yet waiting for seeds of life so perhaps it is the mere presence of humans that kicks it off. In some ways the episode is not unlike several this season except the revelation in the plot makes it seem more important. 

Due to the way the storyline plays out it has to be two guest characters who become the antagonists in the second half and unfortunately we’ve learned so little about them that this makes them less effective. Presumably Orso Guerrini was one of the required number of Italian actors the series had to encompass due to co-production deals and like his fellow countrymen struggles to effectively put across the lines he is given. Lisa Harrow as Anna Davis is pushed into the background once her translation work is done and neither of them convey the wonder that has surely motivated them. The result is our sympathies are nowhere near as torn as they ought to be. The more the episode relies on standard hostage taking and Eagle manouveres the less fascinating it becomes. I suppose the idea is that as they are essentially human, the Arkadians were not beyond a little duplicitous behaviour.
With David Tomblin directing the episode never looks less than great – there’s a fabulous model sequence of an Eagle emerging from behind the Arkadian Sun and a great shot of the Moon beyond the barren landscape. Tomblin does his best too with the obligatory indoor `outdoor` set adding wind and making full use of the sense of scale that the designers have built in. Like all such sets in the show it never looks like its outdoors though. I like the idea of this episode but the method is too obscure and the conclusion too ordinary to merit the highbrow speeches which accompany it.
So there you have it, it’s taken me seven months but I’ve now watched all 24 episodes and I have to say the season is much better than I was expecting. I loved it as a kid but was pleasantly surprised looking at it now that a number of episodes contained far more substance than I thought they would. There are some standout episodes and even the middling ones have a lot to recommend about them whilst the main cast are excellent. The disappointment was that most of the things I like about this season were removed for the second which lowered the bar considerably. If I ever get round to re-watching that follow up season I doubt if the reviews will be anywhere near as complimentary.

No comments:

Post a Comment