A few episodes ago, I was surprised to see the writers Pip and Jane Baker behind an episode of Space: 1999. Today, we have other news! Terrance Dicks, one of the most prolific of the Doctor Who writers, makes his was onto Moon Base Alpha with another simple idea that captures the attention from start to finish. Unsurprising, really.
2308 days into their journey, they find themselves in a “Peace Zone”, an area of space where nothing harmful happens. Until something harmful happens. A freak windstorm takes the life of Sally, one of the technicians. There ends up being a number of malfunctions all over the base, Koenig starts getting tetchy with the crew, and weird things are happening everywhere. (Actually this leads to a great comment where John says jealous women are not rational, to which Maya asks “And jealous men are rational?”) No one seems to know what’s causing the issues until Lambda waves are detected. A strange spatial phenomena is increasing psi-powers on the base and someone has a grudge.
The first half of the episode is downright creepy with a mix of a whodunit where Tony, the security chief, interrogates members of the staff to see who might have had a reason to kill Sally. Koenig sees the ghosts of two people who died because of a decision he made in the past. (This is a missed opportunity since we know he had a wife; it would have been better to explore that, but you can’t have everything!) Caroline, one of the techs on the base, is able to cause massive storms with her mind and as the episode progresses, she becomes more and more powerful. She kills her boyfriend and it turns out she also killed the original tech who was her boyfriends previous girlfriend. The love triangle aspect of the episode is tiresome, but it doesn’t take up enough time to really upset the flow. If anything, Koenig’s visions and his near-breakdown from having to confront the vision is far more tedious. A rational commander should be a bit less prone to breakdown. If the episode makes any real mistake, I think it’s having Caroline being able to control Maya. She makes her turn into a monkey and then a caterpillar, which she nearly steps on. When Koenig finally faces his fear of the ghosts, this somehow means he’s at least as strong as Caroline and goes to confront her.
What’s interesting is how engrossing the episode was. Like so many of these, it’s another one that benefits from a simple idea. I still think Koenig is the worst commanding officer in science-fiction history, yet he managers to keep my attention anyway. And not just mine; he holds Caroline’s attention until she burns her power out. When that happens she reverts to having the mind of a child and will have to learn everything all over again. The episode ends with Helena talking about the potential of the human mind, which does indeed sound like a story Uncle Terrance would have written.
I liked seeing so much of the recreation area on Alpha through this episode. One has to believe they would need that, being based on the moon for an extended period – even before the moon burst out of Earth’s orbit. Along with the solarium, I think this place really feels like a believable base. I think what surprises me the most though is the death toll. It took 16 episodes into Season Two before we lost a single crewman. By this story, the 17th episode, we’ve lost two more. Considering the number of fatalities in Season One, they are doing much better this time around, but I wonder if that’s because the threats of this season just don’t stand up to the first. Whatever the reason, I think the death count still matters when you only have 300+ crew to start with.
Next week we will be joining the Alphans on their first, and only, two-part adventure. ML
I remember little bits of this episode. Including Dallas Adams as one of the ghosts haunting Koenig. This is the kind of story to have a Terrance Dicks feel to it. Recreation areas in the space age future are always interesting for sci-fi. Particularly for how they can be a mix of the recognizably old and the imaginatively new. As for a death count for a much more limited space crew, as opposed to the Enterprise or the Battlestar Galactica, it certainly works to humble this show’s ensemble a lot more than most others. Thanks, ML, for your review.
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