Sometimes life kicks you in the head. The very day I told two people how much I had been enjoying Space: 1999 is the same day that I watched a real stinker! And it’s sad because within the first minute or so, I was so happy to hear a voice that I knew and loved. The great Leo McKern is impossible to ignore when you hear that bellowing, mirthful voice. His laugh is utterly delightful too. Between him and Brian Blessed a few episodes ago, we’ve had some great voice talent on this series. But could it be that even McKern could not raise this to a passable episode?
A weird looking spaceship approaches Alpha rolling along as most spaceships never do, so Koenig decides that it’s best to be on the offensive. A real negotiator for humanity, even as the voice asks for help, Koenig opts to be cautious. He may be proven correct, but his approach is hardly heroic. I think it comes down to the fact that even the station computer is put off by this ship. It probably has nothing to do with the fact that the alien speaks perfect English. After a standoff between Koenig and Gwent (not the card game from The Witcher, but the shipboard computer), Koenig, Russell, and Bergman go over to the visiting spaceship. There, they find Leo McKern asleep and realize there’s another entity present.
The episode is a painful back and forth – like watching a tug of war between two parties and neither are particularly interesting. “Do what I say, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes, bang-bang, ok we’ll do it….” This is also another episode where it feels like the writers forgot what they were planning. That might be because two people are credited for writing the script and I get the impression they had very different ideas. Gwent is the computer and McKern plays Companion. (Clever name, right? Sort of like how the computer on Moon Base Alpha is just called “Computer”!) Both Gwent and Companion are voiced by McKern and there’s reason to believe the humanoid built the machine, but Gwent says there have been other companions and there will be more when this one dies. When the crew identify that Companion is dying, Gwent is upset. Suddenly it’s not so clear if there have been other Companions. I was expecting Gwent to mourn Companion’s passing, only to then churn out another, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, after a fairly well done space burial of his former companion, Gwent demands Koenig and Russell become his new companions. He’ll allow Bergman to leave since he has an artificial heart and is therefore defective.
Victor realizes that Gwent is expending energy and needs to recharge so they play a risky game of attacking the ship again in the hopes of depleting said energy, but in the process lose 2 tanks and 3 Eagles. (I have to assume all are manned, meaning I’m of the mindset that we have 289 crew left, though that’s a guess: I don’t know if the tanks need a crew, and I don’t know how many would be deployed to each ship. We’ve seen Eagles fly with 1-2 crew and if the tanks are the same, we could be down 10 people by this episode. It’s not made clear, unfortunately. I’m going with the lowest possible death count.) At any rate, the gamble fails, but Koenig has one more trick up his sleeve. One of Gwent’s wishes was for a new companion while the other was for supplies to power its dwindling reserves. Koenig destroys the power source while inside the ship, trapping the three inside without oxygen. Victor then channels his inner Jim Kirk and talks the ship into killing itself because it was being vain. “Alone, we cease to have personalities!” Sure, that works… not. Except in this story, it does. Koenig takes a small piece of the shattered power unit, shoves it into the reactor and asks for the doors to be opened. Because he’s Leo McKern, and for no other logical reason that I can accept, Gwent allows them to leave. More specifically, the others leave, but Koenig turns around to examine the amazing set design first. The ship then drives itself into a mountainside and blows up.
I was determined to see what IMDb has to say about this episode and the review is a positive one. It refers to an “intelligent script”, but I don’t see it. I do agree with Koenig that the set design was worth reviewing. In fact, that’s been one consistently incredible thing about this show: the set designs and model work have been fantastic. Considering this was an era well before CGI, what they do in this show is nothing short of amazing. But to say “intelligent script”? Here’s an example: when Koenig, Russell and Bergman are knocked to the ground at one point, they drop their guns. When the get up, they leave them where they are. If they picked them up, I’d call that intelligent. To actively choose to walk past them… not so much! And that barely touches the issues I had wit this one.
I’ve said this since the start of the series: this may be all that remains of mankind. To go up against a superior foe just because you don’t like his attitude… I don’t know; it wouldn’t be me! Plus, just hearing McKern laugh makes me smile, so I’d be hard pressed not to try to help this guy. Sadly, this is one of those weak episodes that put you off a bit. I know they can’t all be winners, and I accept that, but The Infernal Machine was a real crash and burn. ML
Even with a particularly failing episode, we can still be blessed with a worthy guest star like Leo McKern. For a story based on a 1934 play of the same title by Jean Cocteau, it’s fairly interesting, as it was for Star Trek and Dr. Who, to put a sci-fi stamp on a familiar classic. So I can certainly give it enough points for that. Thanks, ML.
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