Space 1999 - A Matter of Balance & Space Warp

A Matter of Balance
This rather uninvolving episode takes ages to get going initially leaning on the already tired running gag of Tony’s homebrew. Barely funny the first time we saw it the series seems to return to it constantly as if this is the only personality it can give the security officer. He is popular with hydroponics technician Shermeen though, in fact she has a crush on him and this makes her the best candidate it seems for the attention of a transparent alien from the planet Alpha is circling. He is called Vindrus and his people suffered some sort of accident which turned them into anti matter beings who plan on using Alpha to help restore them one by one to the universe of matter. As the title of the episode suggests for each one of them to transfer over means an Alphan must replace them. Why exactly?  That such a transfer can be achieved in a couple of perspex pyramids hooked up to one of Alpha’s handy portable nuclear generators makes the process look as unlikely as it sounds. You wonder what they would have done had a travelling half Moon not handily passed by.

Lynne Frederick moments after reading the script.

Wayward science is one thing and probably much more common in shows like this than we like to think but the real trouble with the episode is that it lacks any emotion. Rather than offer the Alphans some sort of moral conundrum that questions their ethics (and earns some respect from the viewer) the narrative presents Vindrus as yet another stony faced being with variable influence. There’s some attempt to explain the concept of anti matter but unless handled by writers with some depth of scientific knowledge it’s a topic that doesn’t make for the strongest stories. The fact that the pyramid includes caveman style art depicting human forms is promising but never goes anywhere.

Saddled with a dull character guesting Lynne Frederick manages to make Shermeen more interesting than she is on the page while Stuart Wilson still exudes menace as Vindrus despite a bald head and ill fitting gold robe that looks ridiculous. After matters have ended with what amounts to a game of hide and seek and Koenig wastes the valuable resource of the generator by setting it to self destruct, the planet vanishes. It’s gone back to being anti matter they decide but how did the planet remain matter and its population only become anti matter? The idea that you have to keep a balance between matter and anti matter sounds bizarre. I’ve seen someone with knowledge of anti matter say that almost every statement on the subject in this episode is wrong and though I’ve no idea if that is the case it sounds reasonable as nothing else makes much sense either.


Space Warp
Sometimes with a series like this, presentation is more important than content. TV sci-fi gets away with a lot if it can frame it in an interesting manner and `Space Warp` is a case in point. Courtesy of director Peter Medak the episode fizzes with interest from the off. We’re taken through a space warp with another version of the slit scan technique only this time it tumbles over and over. We have another alien monster rampaging around the base only this time it is quite terrifying in its aspect. Even everyday conversations take place in semi shadow or we see wide shots of the Eagle cockpit. Medak gives every scene a visual gusto that is matched by some sharp editing. It is penned by Fred Freidberger under his regular pseudonym Charles Woodgrove. He comes in for a lot of stick – some justifiably- for his more straightforward approach to this season yet this episode shows he can put together an exciting scenario that would likely be more popular with the casual viewer than it might with the committed fan. So if the two plots don’t meet convincingly it doesn’t really matter because by the end of proceedings you feel as if you have been on a great adventure.

As John and Tony are flying towards a derelict spaceship to check it out, Alpha is hit by a space warp and catapulted millions of light years away. Everyone seems au fait with space warps which helps move the speedy plot along somewhat. Meanwhile Maya has a strange fever which at first seems like that familiar `continuity sickness` as she babbles about Mentor and her home planet. This illness means she loses control of her ability to change and becomes her best and most frightening creature ever. It’s a sort of scarecrow with a rotting hood affair and because the base is running on half power it can stalk the corridors looking far and away the best alien of the season so far.

From the start its clear this is going to work well with unusual camera angles and the exploration of bits of the base we’ve never seen before giving matters a real boost. The sequences of security personnel tangling with the creature are more effective than usual with a chaotic abandon replacing the normal choreographed gymnastics. Sound effects play their part as does Medak’s preference to frame a shot to show as much of the set as he can or even shooting low to show the ceiling.  John and Tony’s sojourn is a little talkier as they encounter a handy message left by the occupants of the abandoned spaceship which gives them a way home. Of course the viewer, even in 1976, would know they will find a way back and though incredibly convenient (the aliens’ language and equations are similar to ours) it makes for a counterpoint to the livelier goings on back on Alpha. I don’t know if the actors were tired or bored by their side of the plot but it’s a low key adventure for Martin Landau and Tony Anholt suggesting different crew members might have made it a bit more emotional. Would senior figures such as the commander and head of security really both go on a mission like this? 

On the other hand Barbara Bain has another terrific episode and there’s strong support from the often underused Nick Tate as Alan has for some reason been left in charge. They provide the more emotional response to the scenario while John and Tony just tend to look a bit peeved.Its never really made clear how or why the space warp and Maya’s fever are linked, possibly because Fred never really thought about it yet in the end it doesn’t matter so much.

Thanks to the very well -staged action and changes of locale this is one of those episodes that convinces us we really are out in the frontiers of space. A combination of strong direction, great set pieces and a tension to the countdowns combine to produce one of the most effective season 2 stories.

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