There’s something cool sounding about the name Ultima Thule and that’s the best pun I could come up with as an opener. Thule, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, means the northernmost part of the habitable ancient world. Ultima is the last, or one might consider the word ultimate, as in the way we think of something being the best. Ultima Thule is therefore the coldest planet the Alphans could imagine. But the name is the only good sounding thing about the planet, because the perpetual wind storm wears on the viewer’s nerves. It does, however, also create an extremely tense opening act. The Alphans get an invitation to visit the planet. Ever on the lookout for a new home, Koenig, Helena, Allen and Victor pay a visit but it’s a freezing blizzard that immediately clings to them in ways polystyrene snow never does. This is because the effect is created using some kind of foam that was undoubtedly bad for the actors health, but made for a much more believable viewing experience. They are almost immediately lost in the blizzard, unable to even hear one another as they wander the dreadful landscape. Luckily Ultima Thule has one thing that can help… the only man who could be heard through any blizzard: Brian Blessed!!
By the second act, we’re basically in a better version of Zarabeth’s cave (Star Trek: All Our Yesterdays), complete with lots of scantily clad women, a bunch of scientists (because that combination happens…) and one raving Shakespearean, Colonel Jack Tanner. The chief scientist is Dr. Roland (Blessed) and he wants to bring the Alphans to Ultima Thule. This is where the episode peters out a bit. We get a lot of tension building up around Roland. He’s sneaky and prevents communication with Alpha, and also has a room full of mindless zombies, but Helena seems to be in agreement with him. The planet has allowed them to live for 800 years; the inhabitants are immortal but in experimenting to save themselves, they’ve wiped the minds of some of their people. But here’s the rub, it’s almost like we had two different ideas and the writers forgot which way they were going with it. These people recognized the moon and knew it was Earth’s moon. Jack had even foretold it’s arrival (even calling it Moon Base Alpha!). Which that too seems to be a contradiction because they were part of the Uranus Expedition of 1986. That was, as Victor even verifies, “14 years ago”. Now, I’ve never claimed to be great with numbers; I know how to pay my bills and whatnot, but 14 and 800 aren’t close to one another, especially when talking about years. I believe I could still be alive in 14 years. I can’t say the same of 800, to my dismay.
So let’s ignore that and assume that somehow they’ve been sent into a time warp, which is what Roland implies anyway, but then that means they made it back close enough to the Alphan’s time to meet them which makes no sense. They seem to have a line that tries to make sense of it when Victor says he tried to ask the computer questions but he had the wrong premise and the computer is 800 years more advanced than they are. Whatever, it doesn’t pay to think too hard about it so let’s move on. It’s already clear the writers didn’t care about the logic of it. The kicker arrives when Allan, who was separated from the others, makes it back and finds a veritable paradise; he wants to stay on Ultima Thule. I can’t say I blame him, barring that I dislike the cold, but a cave full of lovely women might coerce me. Koenig proclaims, “Freedom of choice is out of the question!” Good to know he’s a dictator! “We’ll have a vote.” They either all will stay or none will, so they decide to head back to Alpha to try to convince everyone. One woman offers to go with Roland and the Alphans but Jack screams that no one should go. So therefore only Roland opts to go and Koenig will “make the case” for the woman… without ever asking her what her case actually is. Jack says that the planet is a jealous woman and with that, they leave.
Now if you didn’t see where this was going, I failed to explain it well. While traveling back to Alpha, Roland melts and I have to say, it’s a gloriously disturbing image. The picture doesn’t do it justice! The realization is that once you’re part of Ultima Thule, you can’t leave or you’ll die. So of course, no one goes back; problem solved. The problem of the dictatorial commander is resolved by the jealous woman that is Ultima Thule. Koenig ponders, “death gives meaning to life.” Melancholy and a bit confused really as morals go. See, that’s like telling me if I stay on this planet and never leave, I can have eternal life. OK, done! I won’t leave. Sorted! I hadn’t any plans to find a way offworld and, though I’ve hoped to meet aliens all my life, they haven’t come calling yet, so… eternal life it is! If the Alphans made a life on Ultima Thule, why would they even consider leaving it? The curse would not have been a curse; the moon is hardly likely to make it back to Earth, and certainly not in their lifetimes!
I’m blasting holes in this episode left and right but I actually was mesmerized by it. I thought Blessed was going to be the star but that honor really goes to Jack Tanner (John Shrapnel) who goes from madness to clarity throughout the episode. His performance is stellar. But the main cast still leaves something to be desired. I really like Victor but he’s definitely not on his mark yet and Helena still could be a child of Pinnocchio. Koenig (Landau) is a class act, even if he doesn’t fare well in the command department this week. In fairness, I feel like this show is still finding its space legs and it’s coming along, albeit slowly. I’m far from disappointed with it, but I do wish someone was hired to review the script and point out the massive leaps in logic, but otherwise, I’m happy to be along for the journey. ML
For an actor whose sci-fi credits also include appearances on Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Survivors and the voice of Boss Nass in Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace, Brian Blessed knew how to be a powerhouse presence. I first saw him as Det. Sgt. George Briggs in Thriller’s A Midsummer Nightmare and later on learned about his stardom on Z Cars. If Space 1999 could attract such good names into its guest stars cast, that was a good sign for how interesting the guest characters should be for the Moonbase Alpha adventures. Thanks, ML, for your review.
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This was a great episode. I enjoyed it a lot more than you. It seemed pretty clear to me that either the mission from 1986 traveled backwards through some sort of time warp, or Moonbase Alpha traveled forward through one, or both. Part of that might be that I watched these episodes in a different order, specifically the one they’re in on the Short Factory TV website, and previous episodes had already made it clear that the Moon had been shot through several space warps.
Anyway, yes, as soon as Tanner started shouting that Frieda couldn’t leave to go to the Moon, and told Koenig that “Thule is a jealous woman. She’ll never let us go.” it was obvious to me what would happen, just not exactly how. I thought they’d get back to Main Mission, Rowland would start making his pitch to the population of Alpha, and in the middle of his speech he’d start aging to death before their eyes. Instead, one minute Rowland is on the Eagle holding Helena’s hand sweet-talking her, then we cut to Koenig and Alan in the cockpit still arguing, they’re interrupted by Helena’s off-camera scream, and we cut back to the passenger section to find Rowland has become a gruesome, steaming, rapidly-decomposing corpse. All of which was much more effectively, and shockingly, done than I had imagined in my own head.
By the way, it was clear that the humans on Thule did not want to be stranded there forever. What’s the point of immortality if you’re stuck on one single frozen world for all eternity? They were building a spaceship, they wanted to get away and colonize the stars… and when Rowland instantly died after leaving the planet, they realized that more than ever they were prisoners of Thule. I certainly understand why no one on Alpha wanted to join them after that.
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Oh Ben, you misunderstand. Complaints aside, I was taken by this episode. I’ve seen one last night that I thought was a complete dud but this was good and your description is exactly right. That shock value was amazing. Plus I love Brian Blessed so the episode had that too.
I just felt some of the plot points got muddled.
I’m watching in episode order which may not have been production order (I hate when they do that). I agree Black Sun gives us more context but even before that, we are shown that these guys are not near Kansas anymore! ML
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The crew of the 1986 Uranus Probe had gone through a time warp, as hinted in the dialogue: “We traveled at, at unbelievable speed to the farthest limit of the then-known universe – and beyond, yes…” The time dilation which occurs close to the speed of light apparently took them back nearly nine centuries into the past, where they landed on Ultima Thule and, due to the unusual properties of the planet, remained in stasis ever since.
Moonbase Alpha had been under construction since 1983, so the personnel of the 1986 Uranus Probe knew of it, ‘tho for them it must have been only a dim memory. That’s why, when they saw Earth’s moon approaching Thule, it was not unreasonable for them to expect the moonbase to be there.
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That is a brilliant perspective and makes me want to go back and rewatch that one. That really does improve the experience and I greatly appreciate your feedback! Thanks for joining us on the journey too.
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