SF TV Episode Reviews: Space: 1999, episode 3, ‘Black Sun’ (1975)

4/10 (Bad)

One might ask: how do you eviscerate a promising concept/episode?  I would answer simply, resolve it with a Cosmic Intelligence.  It’s easy!  Characters accidentally placed on the other side of the galaxy by the script, just swish them back to square one with Mr. (Mrs?) Cosmic Intelligence.

Did your characters accidentally get scripted into an uncompromising position (let’s say, heading straight for a Black (hole) Sun)?  If the answer is yes, douse everyone with liberal smattering of pseudo-philosophical mystical hooey and pop in Mr. Cosmic Intelligence — he’ll find a nice home among the gauzy eddies of the mystical betwixt time zone, the intra-ethereal layer, and telepathic mumblings of men in old people suits amongst the sparkly tears of unfocused camera and cascading sequins…

Mr. Cosmic Intelligence, while you’re resolving the mess the screenwriters have placed everyone in please please just drag Moonbase Alpha (and the Moon) BACK to Earth.  It’s all a shame really, this was a promising episode with a lot of positives until the end.

Brief Plot Summary (I’ve already spoiled the end, it was terrible anyway)

Moonbase Alpha observes a nearby asteroid which doesn’t seem to be heading on a collision course.  However, it strangely veers towards the base.  At the last moment it changes course again and is destroyed by an unknown force/entity.  An expendable astronaut is sent to investigate (Moonbase Alpha appears to have an inexhaustible supply of Eagles — a few are destroyed every episode) and he’s pulled into what his collected data later shows to be a massive black sun.

Moonbase Alpha changes course towards the pull of the black sun which begins to drain their energy.  Bergman comes up with a forcefield that will use the forces of the black sun to protect the base.  Since Koenig and his main officers know that the chances for survival are very slim they come up with a backup plan behind the back of the main crew — a survival ship.  Koenig is angrily confronted when the crew discovers the plan since they suspect he’s trying to protect himself.  In one of the best moments of the show so far Koenig reads the names of the six crew members to depart on the survival ship selected from the most suitable candidates by the computer — he’s not among them.

The survival ship heads off and Alpha with the majority of the crew heads into the black sun.  The shield appears to work — the Cosmic Entity intervenes…  And the episode implodes.

Final Thoughts

This episode did an admirable job of developing characters (Helena Russell is still a stone statue devoid of humanity).  One of the positives of putting the entire crew in a dangerous situation with the looming possibility of annihilation is the emergence of the true make-up of the characters.  The direction and set design continues to be superb.

After the debacle of the ending of the previous episode — let’s roll back time to fix the situation — this particular ending really bothered me since I was expecting an improvement.  I’m convinced that such endings show a poor script devoid of imagination.  I hope the show improves or else I’ll have to abandon this project.

In case you missed the earlier posts of this series.

List of Episode Reviews

22 thoughts on “SF TV Episode Reviews: Space: 1999, episode 3, ‘Black Sun’ (1975)

  1. A fantastic review!
    I enjoy your humor and the seriousness of the problem as well. This is one reason why Star Trek tended to evaporate into weak dribble. Once a series has crossed that line, it is difficult to go back, Mr C.I. is there, waiting for the next situation to appear. This may be why Q (Star Trek) seemed to work – he was whimsical and absurd, but his great powers were mitigated by his inconsistencies… However, Mr C.I. can’t quite fall back on such farcical whims… he is all-[too]-knowing for that. Perhaps I too have fallen into a rant or ramblings… no worry, I hear someone, or some power knocking at the door…

    • I never liked Q for this very reason. However, you rightly point out that the writers tried at the very least to temper Q’s powers with an extremely fickle nature — and of course the Q prison and all that stuff… But yes, many episodes of Star Trek evaporate into weak dribble — but at least I have nostalgic value propping each and every episode up!!!

  2. But… this series was neither artistic nor obscure…

    Seriously, I’ve been truly enjoying your reviews of Space 1999. I remember loving the show as a kid (still have one of those giant Eagles with action figures)… but having seen it years later was, shall I say, less impressed.

    Its primarly failing, I’d say, was summed up by your review this very episode. They start with some excellent premise that is then undermined by what I refer to as the “Whooo whooo” factor. That is, the part where strange music comes in and we discover some totally implausible, non-science based mystic explaination shows us that we just don’t know.

    In this case, it’s Mr. Cosmic Intelligence. In the last one it was the Time reversal, in the next one it will be….

    As a total aside, I find it really really funny that Barbara Bane’s character, Helena, is so robotic in this series. In her other (and more famous) role as Cinnamon Carter in Mission Impossible, she was all sexuality and allure.

    • I know I know… haha…. alas….

      That particular failing is an egregious one — my brain convulses when the strange music starts. It might force me to quit before I even get to the second season re-imagining.

      I don’t understand Barbara Bane’s character — she rarely actually DOES anything, just stares with a blank face at nothing in particular and occasionally gets a little tear.

      • If memory serves, reviews at the time compared her acting to that of the marionnettes from the Andersons’ earlier works (Thunderbirds, Joe-90, Captain Scarlet (bum-dee-dum-da-dum), and Sting Ray). I think they thought the marionettes were more lively.

        I believe she was supposed to be the self-possessed but still feminine woman. Funny how frequently this attempted archetype fails in Science Fiction. Captain Janeway, Second and Third Season T’Pol (first season she was a vulcun and that worked, then she started leaking emotion everywhere and it got messy), etc. One can’t help but think writers and actors have a really hard time coming up with believable portrayals of professional women.

      • She’s worse than a marionnette. At least the voices behind marionnettes try to compensate — here, well, her voice is just as stiff.

        Oh, I didn’t think that Captain Janeway was a failed character… Their attempts to humanize her were fine and not over the top — or at least I thought so last time I watched Voyager (I need to again, it’s been a few years).

  3. Ah, you see, I didn’t mind Janeway when she was just being captain (though her voice was REALLY irritating), but when ever she’d go all Feminine-caring and philosophical it never really rang true

    • I didn’t find her voice irritating. Well, my favorite captain always raises eyebrows — Jonathan Archer… And, when I tell people that my favorite Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, has the worst captain and the worst acting… haha

      • I knew it! I completely agree that Deep Space 9 was the most enjoyable series, though I did like Sisko as a character. Very flawed, but then again, that’s why I wouldn’t have wanted to serve under him.

        There was a brilliant episode in Season 4 with some very good acting, however. It was entitled The Vistor, and involved an adult Jake Sisko played by Tony Todd (of Candyman fame). Beyond that, I agree much of the acting was limited.

        I also liked Archer, though found many of his crew a bit on the ho-hum irritating side.

      • I liked Sisko’s character as well — however, Avery Brooks conveyed the complexity of the character by staring forcefully the exact same way every time…

        Jake didn’t bother me — I have to admit, I loved the father/son silly solar sail vessel episode.

        I loved Enterprise. I have to admit. I hated most of the cast, as you point out, (besides Archer). But I like the more simplistic/gritty sorts of episodes — especially the one where they all hide in the shielded passageways of the ship because of an approaching radiation wave — and of course, aliens sneak on board the ship…

        The best cast was Voyager’s — besides Neelix and Tes, both of whom I wanted to shoot.

  4. Nice review. My memories of the show are colored with time. I was old enough even then to realize this wasn’t primo SF. I enjoyed them nevertheless. However badly done, they were the only attempt at quality SF at the time.

    Barbara Bain was much better on Mission:Impossible.

    One last point, I remember one of Blish’s novelizations of TOS episodes referred to a black sun. I don’t think the term black hole had been invented at the time. Or at the least wasn’t in wide usage,

    Randy Johnson

  5. Oh, that’s not fair. Avery Brooks would also occationally wave his hand with flare and say something in the manner of a 1960’s sit com French Artist.

    Yet, I HATED the solar sail episode. I mean, they could get the ship into space, but had to use hand cranks to adjust the sails?

    I also enjoyed Enterprise, the first and third seasons particularly. Yet, as you point out, most of the crew was aoversimplified and the actors not quite up to bringing life to what they were handed. T’Pol was a great character to start, but then got all “I’m a Vulcan so I won’t show my emotions but still look like I’m about to Cry.”

    As for Voyager (which is the only Star Trek Series I have not watched all the episodes in), I thought they started with some great premises, but never allowed the characters to live up to them. I hated Tom Paris, but felt the Neelix/Tess characters started with prmoise and were left to rot on the side. I mean, you have an indigenous trader on board the ship and you put him in the galley? REALLY?

    • Haha, the premise was ridiculously dumb but fun nevertheless — like a Heinlein juvenile or something. Too bad they didn’t do some real research and figure out a how a more practical design for a solar sail vessel. But, then again Star Trek is rarely interested in being realistic.

      Yup, the characters were dull — besides the captain — off all the captains to work under he seems the most believable/level headed etc (besides Picard of course).

      They put him in the galley because they accidentally created an egregious creature. I think I read at some point that the show was so dark that they needed some relief — hence Neelix.

      • You know, I keep meaning to write an action tale about starship combat on board a Solar sail ship. I thought about adapting bits from Midshipman Hornblower to have crew set in the rigging, etc. Ah, heavy sigh, if I only had ome time…

      • I love the Hornblower books! I want the entire series in first editions…. I read most of the Bolitho books by Alexander Kent but disliked them since he fought the Americans in the beginning — HAHAHA (alas…). I didn’t care for Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series as much, but I only read two or three of those.

  6. Hornblower is wonderful, not quite as true-to-the-sea as Conrad, but one can one expect.

    I must admit to not having read either the Bolitho books nor the Aubrey novels. I saw Master and Commander/ Far Side of the World some years back and enjoyed it as a relatively realistic naval combat tale. since then I’ve been intending to pick them up.

    Really, for a lover of nautical fiction that’s a pretty damning admition I guess.

  7. In Defense of the MUF

    What you call the Cosmic Intelligence has long been viewed in Space: 1999 as either an asset or a liability, though it generally goes by the term Mysterious Unknown Force, or MUF in the literature. I choose to view it as an asset.

    The 1960’s and 70’s were a time of change on many levels. There was real turn from researching only the “hard sciences,” to exploring more metaphysical ideas. Things such as ESP, spiritualism, shamanism, meditation and other reputed phenomena were investigated by mainstream institutions and were the subject of serious research. On TV, shows such as In Search of. . . and Mysterious Worlds were popular with the general public. The climate was right for such concepts to be shares in science fiction, especially with science fiction placed on that most accessible of all mediums at the time, television.

    Space: 1999 sought to capitalize on the zeitgeist of the time and include this as a basic premise in the first season of production. That there was something out there that was interested in us, that this something was beyond our comprehension, and could interact with us if it chose to do so. This was not a deus ex machina device to get our heroes out of one jam or another; rather the MUF is an essential part of the arc of the story, at least for the first season. Indeed the MUF does very little to save the Moonbase; people die, the moon keeps going and the characters are left to their own devices as the MUF mostly hangs over their heads as another part of the mystery of their existence and their survival. Is it benevolent? Why does it care? What’s its purpose? All left unanswered. The most direct contact they get to it is in the episode, “Black Sun” and even then the MUF leaves more questions than it solves. Here it merely says “I am Here” and leaves the matter at that. The rest is left for the audience and the characters to puzzle out.

    Space: 1999 was unique for the time in its first season in that the endings are left open. It was rarely all tied up in a neat package at the end of the program. The characters were still in the same basic predicament as they were and often left dazed and confused as to what happened to them. Because not only was there a MUF out there; the universe itself was a MUF and indifferent to human beings.
    The series was often very bleak in its outlook. Humans were low men on the totem pole and aliens encountered were indifferent at best, hostile at worst. The characters were not in control of their fates most the time and had to just hang on for the ride and try to survive. Survival was often as much a test of faith, as it was a test of their wits and resolve. Very few shows in the genre will tread those waters.
    Unfortunately what made the series unique was “fixed” in the second season. The show was in effect gutted of philosophy and metaphysics and “cartoon-ized.” The pessimism and bleakness of the first season was replaced by an standardized action/adventure format. Humor was forced into the scripts with a crowbar. And the MUF went poof, metaphysics replaced with a metamorph.

    I always find it odd that those who oppose the MUF in Space: 1999, willingly accept a “unifying force that surrounds all living things” and allows its adepts to bat away light beams like they were softballs. Yes, Star Wars fans, the MUF and the Force are cousins, born of the interest in spiritualism, metaphysics and mysticism that abounded in the late 1960’s and 70’s. If you don’t believe me go ask George Lucas.

    Even now a current form of the MUF is still with us and still under debate at large in the scientific community and the public consciousness in the form of the concept of Intelligent Design. Whether you believe in this, or not is not the question; rather it’s in the explorations of the concepts involved.

    • Thanks for visiting! And your detailed response….

      I’m actually no fan of Star Wars (well, it was fun as a kid — but I think I’d love Space 1999 if I was a child as well). I was also frustrated with similar plot devices in all the various Star Treks — and the frustratingly silly omnipotent Q (and all his fellow Q’s in Voyager etc). So, my dislike of all-powerful beings runs deep! This isn’t the first time I was frustrated.

      Again, thanks for the detailed response!

  8. The previous poster said everything I wanted to say, but somehow I`ll manage to find something… I disliked the first season of 1999 as a kid, but when I watched it as an adult, I found much to enjoy. It is a very 70s show, and the stark tone–sets, music, situation–is in keeping with a unique mindset. It`s a little like The Outer Limits, a mix of SF and horror, wiith the MUF a bit like the Lovecraft elder gods [esp. as expanded –poorly–by Derleth]. There are several eps that deal with something out there watching the moon and guiding it [it can`t be travelling so far so fast without supernatural assistance]. Any sf show requires the viewer to play along, and 1999 isn`t anymore ridiculous than the sunnier Star Trek [liked the original, especially the occassional matte paintings, and the Blish covers are some of my favorite sf covers]. But Trek is easier to like, from the characters to the happy endings. 1999 wasn`t trying to be Trek; I think it tried to be more like a blend of Clarke and Lovevraft.

  9. I know S:1999 tended to ripped apart for “scientific inaccuracies” and mystical elements that Trek would get a free pass on – but then at least the Eagles in 1999 were fitted with safety straps, a simple bit of science (not to mention health and safety) that most of Trek’s shuttlecraft (and bridges) didn’t grasp over 40 years!

  10. Spot on John S, 1999 was never meant to be another Trek, what many saw as its weakness in Season 1 (talky, metaphysical and unresolved endings) was actually the strength that set it apart from Trek. When Frieburger came into Season 2 and tried to Trek-it-up for the US market, that’s when it fell apart and I think a lot of hardcore ST fans started to resent the show for trying to be another Trek.

    In many ways the rebooted BSG had more in common with 1999 than Trek (which it effectively killed off at the time).

    1999 did play fast and lose with science at times – but then again Trek was never the textbook that many have tried to claim over the years, at least in comparison.

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