Well this story opens with a real humdinger of an idea… or perhaps I should say a Schrodinger of an idea? It’s like this: the Alphans find a new planet and “computer” (because no one likes using the definite article when talking about the computer in this series) identifies it as Terra Nova. It’s a peaceful world perfectly suited to life for the Alphans… a new home! So an Eagle is sent over with 2 crewmen but something happens causing the Eagle to return… with a third person on board! When Koenig and Russell arrive to check on this new passenger, we find out it’s Helena’s husband, Lee Russell. Or is he? He was lost near Jupiter 5 years ago, so how could it be? He’s also alive… or is he dead? Scans are undecided! Yes, this he could be one or the other, giving us a really interesting mystery. But what does he have to do with the planet they are hoping to make their new home?
Depressingly, the idea was going really well and I had a lot to compliment about the episode including the title because Matter of Life and Death is about matter and antimatter. The planet is inimical to human life and Lee serves as a genus loci, or spirit of the planet, telling Koenig and the Alphans not to land here. Tired of living on the moon, Koenig launches a visit anyway with 5 of the key cast members and no Yeoman Smith. This signals to me: no deaths. But this is a Schrodinger episode, remember!
If you worked it out, good for you: first Paul dies followed closely by Carter in an exploding Eagle. Then Sandra goes blind before vanishing in a hurricane and the moon blows up. Lastly, Koenig is crushed to death. Helena is left alone on a planet that is slowly killing her when Lee “Schrodinger” shows up and tells her to see what she wants to see. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-YAY, all is well, what a wonderful day… and we get the second “it was all a dream” style story far too close to the first one. I hate that style ending so saying “too close” simply means we shouldn’t have seen another for at least 50 more episodes. (The series is only 48 in total…)
The thing is I really thought there was a good idea here. The series has impressed me more than I expected but you can’t hit me with two dream stories in one season, for God’s sake! By the end, the most impressive thing to me was watching Helena get electrocuted and perform one hell of an acrobatic feat of being flung. It was amazing! But with nothing else nice to say about the episode, it’s a good time to talk about a handful of other observations. First, John’s office design is brilliant. His desk sits near very large sliding doors that open allowing him to see all of the command deck, but also allows him to close it to have private conferences. I find this all rather clever. Less clever is the camera view that we’ve seen before when the folks back on Alpha can watch events unfold elsewhere. I might be willing to buy into it on the base: they might be tapping into cameras all over the place, but on another planet… no, that makes no sense!
Speaking of making sense, I’ve been wondering about the viewing order of this series. Black Sun made me wonder if that should have taken place earlier in the series, so I looked it up and found there is a different order to what was broadcast. I’m reviewing in broadcast order, as we did with The Prisoner. Ironically, I was reminded of The Prisoner with the music in this episode. Oh, and of interest to my fellow Whovians, on the same page I discovered the order was changed, I also discovered that some of this planet featured in Doctor Who’s Nightmare of Eden which is incredibly apt since this is about a horrible event on an idyllic planet.
I’ve been so thoroughly enjoying this series, that I’ve put my games on hold to put more time into viewing, so when an episode comes along and just derails me so badly, it’s a real heartbreak. I love that I have absolutely no idea what’s coming next, but these dream endings are a real nightmare and I wonder if it pays to look ahead… ML
It’s always a gamble on whether or not you feel like you can stick with a series, good as it could fairly be, after starting with it and enjoying the premise. I enjoyed Lexx’s first season, but then lost interest shortly afterwards. Even if there’s a popular actor having a guest appearance like Richard Johnson as Lee Russell, a commitment only works if you can tolerate quite a bit. That can easily work with shows that speak to most basic needs of the audience. So much so that a limit to what even the best of the best may give us could be effortlessly overlooked. For Space: 1999, in what it achieved in just 48 episodes, it was (chiefly in its first season) even more back to certain sci-fi basics than Star Trek and could therefore be mixed in its improvements on the basics. All the same, like any thoughtful series to encourage true sci-fi fans, it earned the best chances that the powers that be saw fit to give it. Thanks, ML, for your review.
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