I’ve been far more impressed by this series than I expected to be. Barring what I’d call a misfire for episode two, where they failed to reflect on their circumstances, I’ve found this a thought provoking experience. I acknowledge that it’s a totally different pace from its SF predecessor, Star Trek, and the cast is not as magnetic, but maybe that’s to be expected. Trek had an amazing cast. Maybe the other bad thing is that Black Sun was such a good episode that this was bound to leave me feeling tired and bored. I don’t think that’s a trait to expect for the rest of the series, but this episode just felt tedious. In fact, it felt worse than that: it felt like a repeat. Although, the “original” would not be found in Space: 1999. The first iteration of this story could be found in Star Trek with This Side of Paradise.
As the Alphans approach a new planet, their computers work to determine if it’s habitable. When they realize their computers are struggling, they send the first Eagle over, only to lose contact with them when they presumably crashed. When Victor’s mechanical heart malfunctions, they realize something is controlling all of their computers, so they hook up Kona, who had previously been part of experiments to merge humans with computers… and then he vanishes right out of the base. It seems the planet Piri has a guardian and it’s offering bliss to anyone interested…
So Martin Landau is playing Captain James T. Kirk and his first officer, Barbara Bain, plays Spock. Jill Ireland’s character from the classic Trek episode is played by the lovely Catherine Schell and the resemblance is uncanny! Schell wears far sexier attire however, leaving me wondering how Trek missed the boat with that one, considering how sexist Trek often was but that’s not a question worth investigating right now. She’s not the only one wearing sexy attire either. Once the entirety of Alpha goes over to Piri, most of the women wear skimpy robes and bikini togas, for lack of the right terminology. Many of the men remain in their uniforms, because… why not, but some decide to walk around topless sporting hairy chests. Like This Side of Paradise, when all that is left on Alpha is Koenig (like Kirk), he goes on the attack to save the day. He causes Helena (like Spock) some pain to break her out of the spell of Piri while Schell uses the Alphans to hunt down those pesky rebels.
Where this is different from the Trek episode is that Trek at least gave us some idea that people were doing something; they were farming and living a life. In Guardian of Piri, the people literally sit around staring at the tower of Piri all day. It’s far from paradise, but then maybe that is better than farming… I don’t know. I can’t sit around doing nothing and feel good about myself, but then, I also don’t think I’d like farming! At least the sitting round watching something would be relaxing and maybe that’s what we do when watching TV. I do think I’d rather watch TV than farm, so maybe Space: 1999 has the better story in the end.
While their choice of pastime is someone lackluster, the sets were amazing. It makes for some truly enjoyable viewing as we explore this weird alien world. Seeing an Eagle just hovering in the air was awe inspiring and some of the model work in this series has been nothing short of amazing. When Koenig gets the better of Schell, he shoots her and she covers her face just before being shot. The result is another of Space: 1999‘s shock value images of Koenig moving her hands from her face to see a hole where a face should have been. With her death, Piri begins to move again and the perfection (of stasis) is broken causing the moon to start drifting as well. The crew race back to Alpha before they are cut off forever. When they get back, their computers begin working normally again and they soon realize that without the Guardian, Piri became a paradise but it’s now too far away for the Eagles to make the flight back. A bitter pill to swallow.
By this point I was waiting for the end. Whether Koenig was spouting Kirk impressions saying things like his pain reminds him that he’s human (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) or Schell was saying she appeared as human and then immediately kissed Koenig, I just couldn’t get out of my head: “been here, done that!” There’s even mention of the “Prime Directive”! I’m not even joking. Oh yeah, and between 2 Eagle pilots, Kona and a young lady who dies during a routine blood transfusion, Koenig channels his inner Kirk when he says that he’s lost “three men” to Piri (before finding only the men totally alive and well later). Now, in case you’re suffering from this episode, I’ll help with the numbers: 2+1+1=4. Sure, he’s not wrong: 3 were men, but one was female and by the time the episode was over, the only one who stayed dead was the woman. (Which brings us down to a crew of 299, by the way.)
The best things I can say about this is it was nice seeing Catherine Schell before she played my first TV crush throughout next season. It was awesome seeing the Eagle docking bays because it gave some idea of how many they have, and the sets really impressed me. But I’m ready to put this episode behind me and drift on to the next destination, provided it’s not another Star Trek rehash. ML