The audience research reports for The Andromeda Breakthrough in 1962 indicated that viewers felt the series was slow to get going, but this episode finally picked up the pace with some exciting developments. I’m paraphrasing, but I think the viewers are the time were exactly right in their opinions. In a way, the extreme weather conditions happening in this series have been an accidental metaphor for the development of the story. Things started out a bit breezy and weird, but with this episode the storms really hit.
We ended the previous episode with Mlle. Gamboule under the influence of the computer. Within the first few minutes of this episode, Salim is dead, and Gamboule is basically in charge of Azaran, with the president little more than a puppet leader. After watching Salim conspiring to seize power for three weeks, and his carefully planned military coup unfolding in the last episode, it’s a shock to see him dispatched so suddenly. But it’s an indication of the way the computer is so sneakily manipulating events, via the people it controls.
“I thought she’d choose Salim, but this is cleverer.”
I have to admit that I have always wondered if Fleming was over-reacting, with his insistence that the alien power behind the computer has evil intentions. His opinion has seemed almost xenophobic at times, based on little in the way of evidence, and I thought it would be more reasonable of him to give the mysterious aliens a chance first rather than jumping to the immediate conclusion that they intend harm to the human race. This episode proved me spectacularly wrong, but I’m not sure that’s a good message from the writers. This has become something of a cautionary tale about the danger of outsiders, and how you’re probably right if you mistrust a foreign influence. I suppose we can’t expect much better from the 1960s, but it is uncomfortably close to being a pro-xenophobia text. It’s not as if the writers weren’t capable of better things. When they were writing the first season they deliberately changed the gender of Dawnay from male to female, as they had given the near future setting sufficient thought to decide that there would probably be more women in positions of power by that point, so these were not writers who were incapable of seeing positive changes just over the horizon. It’s just a shame that they were stuck fast in parochialism. There are hints of deeper thought on the subject of outside influence, though. The aliens are specifically retaliating to the hostile reception they received. That makes them imperialist, I suppose, but leaves room for their original intentions in making contact and offering their technology to have been friendly.
“You have a great force sent to help you and you turn it against you.”
The unusual weather conditions have been an odd mystery that barely seemed to intersect with the main story up until this point, but the reason for them is revealed this week and it’s as cleverly thought-through as one would expect from a script that was co-written by an astronomer of the calibre of Fred Hoyle. A new bacterium in the sea is extracting all the nitrogen from the atmosphere at an alarming rate, and will destroy all life on the planet. The alien threat is no longer in any doubt. It’s an excellent twist in the tale, but the twist that follows the twist is even better: Madeleine was the one who created the bacterium, based on instructions from the computer, and then when it didn’t appear to do anything at all she poured her sample down the sink… where it found it’s way eventually into the sea and multiplied at a spectacular rate.
“It made life before. This time it’s made death.”
The truth, though is that she made it, not the computer. The curiosity of a scientist made it easy for the alien threat to wipe out the human race. As the end credits roll, the doom-laden music never seemed so apt. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Andromeda Breakthrough: Hurricane