Continuing my nascent series of episode by episode blog posts of Space: 1999 (1975) I present Episode 2, season 1 ‘A Matter of Life and Death.’
Plot Summary (spoilers — inherent in the very nature of this sci-fi episode post series because endings are the easiest to rant about)
Moonbase Alpha, hurtling across space, comes into contact with its first potentially inhabitable planet — Terra Nova. Koenig sends an Eagle space craft down to the surface to investigate. When it returns the two pilots are alive but unconscious and a third body, Doctor Helena Russell’s husband Lee (presumed to be long dead in an expedition to Jupiter), is found!
The chief scientist, Victor Bergman (Barry Morse), is unable to record Russell’s life signs (it’s somewhat annoying that Bergman does all the medical related research while Helena Russell is supposedly the chief medical officer). When Lee Russell finally wakes up he only wants to speak to his wife. Bergman discovers that Lee Russell is drawing Helena’s life force when they are alone to sustain his body.
When interviewed, Lee is unable to fully explain his the dangers presented by the planet Terra Noval to the crew and soon “dies.” A scan is done of Lee’s “dead” body which uncovers a “reversing polarity” of his skin – i.e. he’s turning into antimatter.
This discovery isn’t enough to discourage Koenig’s expedition down to the planet. On the planet they discover “pure water” (which is brown — hmmm) and various edible plants (the set is only a slight improvement from the barebones planetscapes of TOS).
However, the tranquility and excitement of these discovers are tempered by disaster! The corrosive atmosphere is melting all the seals on the Eagle spacecraft. Everyone starts dying — and then, Lee Russell reappears! And rolls back time…
‘A Matter of Life and Death’ is a poor follow-up to the top-notch pilot, ‘Breakaway‘. The main flaw is the dependence on an extraordinarily hokey ending to tie up the shamble of the plot — in short, everything can be fixed if we roll back time since we kind of had to kill off all the characters because we didn’t know what else to do!
I’ve always been frustrated with sci-fi episodes/films which rely on killing off characters indiscriminately before brining them back to life (for example, TOS movies). Firstly, it shows an inability to create necessary tension. Secondly, if a character has that sort of power the power could be harnessed for a vast variety of purposes which would defeat the existence of the show’s plot — the fact that Moonbase Alpha has been detached from orbit and is hurtling across space. Why isn’t time rolled back even farther to prevent that catastrophe?
If we’re dealing with these sorts of annoying “super powers” they have to be tempered by at least pseudo-scientific ramblings. Because there’s no attempt to do so in ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ life and death are trivialized…
The cinematography, Moonbase Alpha’s wonderful 70s aesthetic, hilarious action sequence music, and interesting sets barely prop up this poor episode.
If only the creators had stuck to the original homage to Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris script…
In case you missed earlier posts: