“We’ve got ourselves a war!” War Games gives us a surprise opening that had me anticipating an action packed episode. Within seconds of the opening, the members of Moonbase Alpha see ships heading towards them. Victor mentions that they are “hawks”, which implied that he knew what they were, (which probably should have been a clue for me). John immediately assumes the worst and suggests what any captain would: open fire (I say that with a heavy dose of sarcasm). Before the first act is up, 131 people are dead, all the Eagles with weapons capability have been destroyed, the food stores are wiped out, solar power is only days from being totally exhausted… Moonbase Alpha is effectively dead! Within minutes I wondered how they could possibly get out of this predicament. Talk about exciting! And then the remaining 40 minutes happened and we get a very slow story pondering the nature of life and death as only 1970’s sci-fi could.
I don’t mind when Science Fiction asks us to ignore some basic ideas in favor of a good story. In this one, the inhabitants of the moon base are passing a planet that they hope will be hospitable; one they move to and live normal lives on. They will be in range of the planet for 4 days and the next star system is 6 months away. Now I’m no physicist but that means the moon is traveling REALLY fast to be able to get to another star system in 6 months. And as far as I recall, it was only 4 episodes ago that the base was sent out of Earth’s orbit. Where the hell are they and how fast are they traveling? Now ok, story has to trump the science sometimes or there’d be very little action in most episodes if we didn’t accept the silliness of it, but I do wish the premise was a bit different. Maybe they accidentally opened a wormhole and they keep opening them trying to get home with the moon effectively being like a TARDIS, taking them from place to place? The point is, the writer needs a means of getting from story to story so we have to ignore the basic rules of speed and distance. I’ll get behind that for a good story any day. But when things were still bleak with less than 3 minutes to go, I realized there was only one possible solution: this had to be a dream, or something akin to that. And of course, it was… And the clue might have been right in the beginning when Victor identified the ships. If they were really the product of an alien civilization, he shouldn’t have known what they were. But dream episodes rarely win prizes for me.
The idea was that the aliens saw humans as a threat and with their advanced powers of the mind, showed them the damage humans could do. So that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. We had a deeply introspective story that might actually have been good, but it was bookended by horrible science and the “it’s a dream” ending; neither are great, but together, they drain the will to watch more. (Don’t worry, I won’t give up…) Then between those bookends, we had the “humanity is bad” message to such an extent that even Barry McGuire would have been put off the series. When John Koenig finds himself floating out in space, drifting to a silent death (with Martin Landau providing voiceover for John’s thoughts), I was intrigued but the story doesn’t offer much hope. On top of that, besides Landau, the rest of the cast just doesn’t cut it. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) is still as wooden as Pinocchio. I also couldn’t come to grips with John’s question: “why did you attack us?” Um, because you opened fire on them, genius! It’s not rocket science!! I understand we were supposed to be getting one of those thought provoking ideas that everyone had on their mind in the 60s and 70s “wondering if there is any future at all”. And that should make for very good storytelling, but you’ve got to back that with something; maybe a bit of hope would have been nice. The Alphans are not at all likeable during this episode; though in fairness, it’s still early days. They attack members of another race, destroy their planet (ending with a massive nuclear blast that somehow leaves Helena and John unhurt… but then, just a projection, so there’s the “somehow” answered) and they are just miles from what the 1960’s gave us with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. The best part of this episode for me personally was that seeing the aliens reminded me of an album I had as a kid which had these bulbous headed creatures on it. At least there was something…
“We’ve learned that we still have much to learn!!” Let’s hope that sentiment applies to the rest of the series. I can live with a bad episode provided things improve and I have to believe that since this did get a second season, things had to get better! Right? ML