Last week I mentioned how close this series had come to being a pro-xenophobia story, with Fleming proved to be right in his assumption that the aliens behind the computer intended to take control of the human race and, failing that, destroy everyone. The fifth episode provides a good counterbalance to that, with the emphasis on how humanity can only survive if enemy nations cooperate with each other.
The revelation that a bacterium created using a formula from the computer is now multiplying at an alarming rate in the sea and destroying the atmosphere of the planet was a big shock last week, and it gets even more frightening in this episode, with everyone starting to struggle to breathe. As an asthma sufferer, this was even less of a pleasant episode to watch than it was probably intended to be! The solution to the problem of the bacteria in the sea was obvious the moment we were told about it: find an antidote, something that will neutralise the threat. After all, we’ve seen it before in the last season with the development of a healing serum. There is therefore little tension in terms of how this is going to be resolved, but that doesn’t stop the episode from being very exciting and scary, as the freak weather conditions bring the world to its knees. In Britain alone, we hear of evacuations from half the country, and “people are dying faster than we can bury them”.
Then comes the twist in the tale: the cure is released into the sea, and it makes things worse. It just creates an area of the world that is atmospherically completely different to the rest, and the clash of weather fronts cause hurricanes and tornados. The visuals are presumably stock footage, combined with sound effects etc. for the studio work, but it all works very well to create an impression of the chaos going on. In fact, the visuals this season have been surprisingly effective for 1962, with the exception of some blurry stock footage early in the season to establish the Azaran location. Considering this is mostly studio-bound, we have had a strong sense of the different settings. It helps that a crew went out to Cyprus to film some street scenes and shots of cars going back and forth, etc. That was money well spent, and foreign filming for a television show must have been fairly unusual at the time. I was also surprised to see video feedback used to represent the computer communicating with Andromeda. Although it was discovered soon after the invention of the video recorder itself, in 1956, I had always assumed it was nothing more than an unwanted effect of accidentally directing a camera towards its own monitor, until it was deliberately used for the Doctor Who title sequence in 1963. There is nothing before Doctor Who on Wikipedia in their list of shows that deliberately used video feedback, and yet here it is in a sci-fi show that predates Doctor Who in its entirety. In must have been quite impressive and surprising for viewers at the time.
One of the most alarming visuals is a shot of an approaching tornado, while the unhinged Mlle. Gamboule laughs hysterically. She is our example of the dangers of countries acting only in their own interests, because she wants to keep the solution to the natural disaster to herself, and use it as a bargaining chip with other countries. Of course, that only accelerates the destruction for Azaran. Ironically, Kaufman becomes our voice of reason:
“You can’t bargain with this. There are some things you can do a deal in and some you can’t.”
… and we end the episode with Kaufman, of all people, trying to save the world. Sometimes it’s not enough for good people to do good things. Sometimes we need the villains to come to their senses as well. If that happens, the question is always whether it is too little, too late. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Andromeda Breakthrough: The Roman Peace