Now I know where the Daleks get their plans! Empyria, the planet of bird brains. Or… bird people. Whatever. I thought only Doctor Who’s Daleks would come up with a scheme this nutty! Nope, I was wrong. I can see it now: the bird people are in their treehouse discussing ideas. “Hey, Chirpy, let’s go to a planet, set up an amusement park ride and lure people on board, then take them to our planet to help figure out a long term crisis.” “Gee, Tweety, I guess you didn’t like my idea with a game show, huh? Well ok, have it your way. But don’t we need like, smart people?” “Chirpy, you’re trying to think with that bird brain of yours. We just need people who can read star charts and make control panels that their fingers can actually grab. Should be a breeze.” “Ok, Tweety, old friend, I’ll see if I can get some really pissed off people. They make great scientists, I hear!”
And so it goes! But the irony is that, barring a totally crazy premise of abducting losers to help with this project, I found myself so captivated that when the end came, I was stunned. Had I just watched a 50 minute episode without noticing the time? Not once? I think it’s that I was totally fascinated by the idea. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I wanted to understand how they would eat and sleep on their way to their destination. Second Chance had me wondering how I’d feel in a similar situation. The entire episode is a bit like 12 Angry Men in a Spaceship. Although it’s only 3 angry men, two women, a scientist and a birdman. Sounds like the start of a joke…
Mrs. Beasley is subservient to her husband when she really should wallop him and walk off. Mr. Beasley is a truly disgusting man who beats up soda machines. He has no prospects and he’s too blind to see it yet is simultaneously too afraid to embrace a potentially better future. His “kill him! Kill him for real!” just underscores what a miserable man he is, raging against life because he has no appreciation for what he has. A loathsome person, indeed; I had a hard time even looking at him after he prompts an attack on the alien. Sueann is a lost college girl who doesn’t know what she wants from life but doesn’t want to take a chance on the unknown. Her boyfriend is the school jock who just threw a big game for money and has no moral compass… so much so that when his “personal slave” is jettisoned out the airlock, he gets over the death pretty quickly. (I was hoping Mr. Beasley would open the airlock himself…) But then there’s Dr. Crowell who is willing to try something new. I loved how he would wax philosophical when “captaining the ship”. While I was impressed by him, it was Mara that really made the episode. She doesn’t know what she wants but she’s willing to take a chance even though that’s a big step! She will take that step with a man she barely knows and while that should strike me as a dangerous characteristic, I think it was more about helping him take a giant leap and not letting him do it alone. She could go back to Earth with the others, but offers to stay instead. Perhaps it is unrealistic but I still appreciated the character for it.
The bird man speaks some pretty fine English but it works well for the plot because he uses that to disarm people by saying he’s in costume. I think the set is actually a really great looking one too. And the message that maybe only young people can hear certain messages, before they become disenfranchised with things in life, is a nice one; a reminder of the positivity of youth. I do realize I missed a class in college and I’m tempted to call to ask why Space Age-ese was not a language on the curriculum. I mean, that’s what I needed to learn how to speak! But all those little touches aside, I simply loved the idea that this creature felt he was giving these people a second chance. Depressingly, I know people who won’t take those chances and it seems to me that when nothing is going right, it would be easier to take a chance. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Like the alien said, “how could I be so wrong?” It may not be nearly as big as the step Dave and Mara decide to take, but one would think taking a chance would be better than a life of hopelessness.
Dave makes a good point in the end: maybe next time the aliens should just ask for help. I do think there would be a lot of volunteers. I think I’d go if I had friends to go with me. This is a strange episode without even a control voice closing but it did hold my attention until the very last minute. It might not be the best of the series, but it is enjoyable. If your memory of it is faulty, go on and watch it again… you could tell people you gave it a… second chance. (Don’t blame me – the title just made it too easy! Hey, they can’t all be winners.) ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
True. It just sits there, behaving exactly like a television set should. What it doesn’t do is surprise me by flying off into the sky. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect a fairground ride to turn into a spaceship, and I don’t think many other people would either, so the premise of this episode is a bit bizarre to say the least; bizarre in a good way, but bizarre.
This is one of those episodes where you have to check your brain at the door before you start watching it. You are likely to come away from it with some questions. The one that really bugged me was the nature of that fairground spaceship. How did a real spaceship end up in an amusement park, and then end up being used as an attraction? Did it just turn up overnight one day and everyone thought the builders had done a really efficient job? If so, why was it there in the first place? Or were we supposed to think that the Empyrian had just found a fairground ride that resembled a spaceship and turned it into a real spaceship somehow? Surely a fairground attraction like that would be a solid building, built on foundations, not a completely free standing object, plus even if we ignore that kind of thing, this is the weirdest idea in the world, whatever way you slice it.
The only way to make sense of it, and just about every other aspect of the story, is that the Empyrian is completely and utterly mad. I had to use the same reasoning to explain the Doctor Who story The Sontaran Experiment, and sometimes it’s the only way to make sense of a script that is so divorced from any kind of logic. So he wants to colonise an asteroid with humans for some very convoluted reason. He’s very noble about that, and goes about choosing people who have little to lose by leaving Earth. That of course makes them (a) completely useless to him, apart from the one guy who’s a genius, and (b) a bunch of shady characters, dropouts and belligerent idiots, who are exactly the kind of people you don’t want to give an important job to do. So yeah, basically the Empyrian is nuts. He even announces his countdown to nobody at all. The guy talks to himself.
The people he chooses are a right bunch. Arjay is an pathetic loser of a man, who has clearly been taking his inadequacies out on his wife and is waiting for a big break that’s never going to happen.
“One of these days I’ll make it up to you.”
How about today. Once things get out of hand he is quick to have a breakdown, which at least was a realistic character study. The big man breaks first.
“Why? Why is it real?”
Then we have some shady characters, one of whom seems to be slave to a bully. Faced with what must be the politest alien threat in the universe, they all argue amongst themselves for ages in front of him instead of actually listening to what the very nice gentleman has to say, and then try to kill him. So which of them was planning to fly the ship after that? Even the nice ones are a bit odd to say the least. There is a very rushed romance squeezed into the episode in order to provide a happy ending, with clumsy moments that built to it like this:
“Are you looking for a wife or a girlfriend?”
A bit early for that. I think he’s just looking for somewhere to eat lunch to start with. And talking of that happy ending, it’s really the most unintentionally hilarious thing ever. The one scientist on board points out to the insane alien that it might be a good idea to return to Earth and put together a crew of useful people instead of a bunch of violent misfits, and it apparently dawns on him for the first time that it might be a good idea to do just that. So they head off back to Earth.
I’ve done little but complain about the story, because it doesn’t make a grain of sense from beginning to end, but I did actually find quite a lot to enjoy here. I’m willing to sacrifice logic for fun, and this is 50 minutes of pure escapist joy. Despite his very obvious mask (the eyes that don’t join properly always give it away), I loved the Empyrian, who was a completely different approach to an alien from anything we are used to: so calm and polite.
“I bid you welcome, to the universe.”
Why thank you, good sir, and may I perhaps trouble you for a cup of tea and a pair of headphones so I can enjoy the in-flight movie? Oh, is that turbulence?
“Do not be afraid. You have nothing to lose, but your lives.”
That’s actually quite a big thing though. This has to be a strong contender for the most clunkily written sci-fi episode ever, but it was also utterly fabulous.
We now return control of your computer, until the next time we visit the outer limits of the Junkyard… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Moonstone