Friday, February 26, 2010

Space:1999 Y1 Ep5: Earthbound

Moments earlier, a 5 foot 10 inch tall man/ modeller placed these two tiny miniatures on the Moonbase Alpha set and quickly left the Moon leaving our imagination to create the fantastic.

It's FAB FRIDAY! [and all things Gerry & Sylvia Anderson]
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I have this ship. I will share it with you, but you cannot have it. I love her!
The Alpha command staff concludes a meeting with Commissioner Gerald Simmonds in attendance and suddenly back in the fold. He has been conspicuously absent since Space:1999, Year One, Episode 1, Breakaway. Where has this fellow disappeared to for the last three episodes? The Solarium? Simmonds is less than pleased with the Alphans' lack of response in finding Earth. Commander John Koenig calls it scientifically impossible. The Moonbase Alpha team is coming to terms with life on the Moon. They will not float false hopes to the remaining survivors on Alpha. Their objective is to find a suitable place to live outside of Earth perhaps one day evacuating Alpha. A spacecraft approaches. Koenig wants Eagle One and Eagle Two in the air immediately. Koenig hopes it's a warm welcoming. Captain Alan Carter worries about the possibility of incoming visitors as potentially hostile. I'm still scratching my head over Simmonds noticeable absence. This moment speaks volumes to the character of Simmonds.

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The beauty of these shots simply cannot be measured. It's my favorite ship ever designed. Visual Effects master Brian Johnson designed the craft.
For whatever reason, putting this one together was a trial. It didn't come easily. It was one of those weeks. So begins Space:1999, Season One, Episode 5, Earthbound. You have to hand it to the editors behind Space:1999. They came up with most rousing, enticing, tantalizing opening sequences in science fiction even when the episodes themselves may have been on the flat side.

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The dynamic duo.
The latest entry guests none other than one Cristopher Lee [see below for guest details]. Yes, the Christopher Lee of Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones [2002], The Lord Of The Rings [1971] and The Man With The Golden Gun [1974]. A prestigious veteran actor like Lee always keeps your attention when they are part of the mix. Although, I must admit, I've never been a huge fan. He's certainly not a favorite of mine, but his work is always intriguing nevertheless. I am looking forward immensely to an upcoming Space:1999 installment dubbed Force Of Life guest starring Ian McShane. As I've mentioned here before, I'm a huge McShane fan and look forward to seeing one of his earliest works in television.
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This may be one of the dodgiest landings for a spaceship in science fiction history. It kind of twirls about haphazardly floating down like a balloon.
The alien vessel lands. I must admit, for a show with such high production values [and they are generally terrific], the landing of the craft is notably weak and near comical complete with string. It doesn't land with any of the grace of the Eagles. The Eagle launches to the site of the orb-like object's position. Now here is the part that amused me. The Eagle lands next to the orb and attaches its umbilical cord to the ship. How would an Eagle be able to connect with an alien spacecraft without any prior knowledge of its design? Is there a set of intergalactic structural designs floating around out there that requires all ships, of any shape, size or design, to be able to connect? Not likely. That was a pretty notable absence in logic. It's just a bit of amusement. I don't actually care that much about it. The umbilical vacuum chamber is ready for entry by the Alphans.
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The world of wonderful model designers. There's something very male/female here.
Professor Victor Bergman utilizes a plastic toy device to take readings and scan for life. There's an interesting touch on the camera work by Director Charles Crichton [A Fish Called Wanda], with his second directorial appearance behind Episode 2, Matter Of Life And Death, as Koenig and the others enter the extraterrestrial vessel. The images are blurry, but it creates the idea and visual that the Alphans are not only in a foreign place, but instead they are the aliens entering a craft that is clearly not of their design or making. The Alphans are the invaders. Inside, beings are horizontally at rest inside glass-like cases. They are in suspended animation. If there is one thing about Space:1999's science fiction, it is often deliberate. It can be slow to move as a result, but I appreciate how it quietly unfolds its themes. There is always an air of weird and wonderful to the adventures of those on Moonbase Alpha. The series makes all attempts to be thoughtful, deliberate and studied sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The slow pacing is sometimes to the detriment of Space:1999. The series has indirectly garnered unfair criticism regarding its science fiction content, concepts or ideas as a result.

The first detachment of the Service Pod.
Koenig orders Paul Morrow to activate gravity and atmosphere. There's a terrific shot of the orb with the pod of the Eagle connected to it. The Eagle heads back for more supplies and I believe it's the first shot in the series to date detailing the Eagle's separation from the Service Pod [see below for details on the Eagle]. Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell take readings on the alien lifeforms, but get no life signs. Russell and company decide to break the seal of a glass chamber housing one of the aliens with a drill. Boy, that's a bit of a risk. As it turns out, it was a BIG risk as exposure kills one of the lifeforms turning it into a layer of carbon ash.
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Moments later, the aliens awaken. The man who would be Scaramanga, Count Dooku and Saruman is among them. Christopher Lee's character, Captain Zantor, is none too pleased to find his brother dead. Koenig and Russell appear apologetic. Zantor takes Russell's hand. The aliens gather in an almost ritualistic posture around their deceased brother. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the orb lifts off and lands upon Moonbase Alpha. It must have been moments like this that had Koenig and company consider a move below ground on Moonbase Alpha for Year Two. Zantor is introduced to Simmonds. Simmonds' final line might as well be referring to himself. He's a vile thing.

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Lee as he appeared during roughly the same timeframe as his role in The Man With The Golden Gun [1974]. Those white wigs can throw you. Zantor looks like a young Saruman.
Zantor presents a token of peace in the form of alien space balls [libra eggs from the libra bird] to Koenig. The bulbs represent a symbol of peace and feedom to Zantor's people and are presented to the Alphans. Based on Zantor's words, their race is a fading culture. Sterility issues on their planet have resulted in catastrophe. Koenig inquires how long his people have been travelling. Zantor informs them it has been three and a half Earth centuries. With their people dying, ships scattered across the galaxy in search of a viable, life-sustaining planet. Zantor's group of space hippies were headed to Earth before erring in its trajectory, which landed them on the Moon and ultimately Moonbase Alpha. As it turns out Simmonds is impressed with Zantor's ability to locate Earth's coordinates contrasted by his joust with Koenig and Koenig's lack of "will" and inability to find Earth himself. Zantor hopes to be welcomed on Earth. If not, "voluntary reduction" or suicide shall be applied by the Kaldorians. This is an intelligent, but seemingly meek race.

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Russell offers to assess a medical comparison between the Alphans and Zantor's people to determine medical compatibility. Bergman will assist in repair of Zantor's spacecraft. That offer should result in a fairly sizable undertaking when their technology is clearly foreign to the Bergman. Simmonds is suspicious of their intentions. This is certainly udnerstandable and caution should be in play, but not conspiracy. Simmonds tells Koenig the Alphans need to seize the alien ship to return home. The Kaldorians, as they are called, are simply "expendable." The Commissioner is a shady fellow and why should we be surprised by his essential plan to implement coup d’état on the Alphan guests. "The courage, the vision and the leadership." These are but mere words to this near Machiavellian politician.

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Zantor discusses the Kaldorian suspended animation process with Russell. Unlike the freezing process on Earth, the Kaldorian processes suspend cell degeneration. Russell determines the Kaldorians are compatible to humans. Zantor's computers have calculated the trip to Earth will take seventy-five years. Is that all? Moonbase Alpha is a long way from home. Zantor implies that Russell could suspend her beauty by joining them for a wee brief beauty rest. With the loss of one of the Kaldorians there will be a vacant space aboard their ship. It's too bad the Alphans didn't inadvertently crack a few more encasings given Zantor's understanding. Still, Zantor did sense the genuine contrition of the Alphans and no ill intention as evidenced in the clip. Zantor offers to bring one human home given their similarities, physical and otherwise, are greater than their differences.
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Roy Dotrice as the conniving Commissioner Simmonds.
Simmonds is making every effort to sabotage the Kaldorian plan to depart Alpha not to mention the essentially successful diplomatic connection made by the Alphans thus far by tempting Koenig to seize Zantor's vessel. Koenig is not impressed. Simmonds indicates the Kaldorian lifeboat will not arrive on Earth until 2074. This is Space:1999. 2074-75= 1999. My math is limited, but science fiction proficient. The Commissioner clearly not winning his argument of persuasion suggests he should be the human representative to go to Earth with the Kaldorians. Koenig indicates the Computer shall select based upon a lottery of who is best suitable. Nevertheless, Koenig would love to send Simmonds packing. He orders Kano to program Computer confidentially utilizing code.

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This is my least favorite science fiction design. It's so goofy. Those crazy Kaldorian engineers. I do love the shot against the Eagles.
In the hangar decks below Moonbase Alpha, Bergman summons Koenig to the alien craft for an emergency. During testing Russell submitted to suspended animation. She is alive, but locked into a Kaldorian state of suspended animation. Whatever you do, don't drill into her glass case. Koenig is a little hot around the collar to say the least. Funny, he wasn't quite as concerned with the Kaldorians now was he? Granted, all life signs appeared to be absent at that time. He had to make a command decision. This event certainly plays into the devilish whispers fed by Simmonds on some level.
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Later, while in Main Mission Koenig asks Benes what is going on inside the alien craft. She brings up visual on the view screen. The answer: nothing. Nothing is happening. Unfortunately, that is how it feels watching Space:1999 at times in these first few entries of the series. It fails to capitalize on conflict and build suspense to drive the story forward with any kind of momentum. Yet, the cast and the characters they play are so expertly captured and so fun to watch, it compensates on that level and you stay with it. The visual effects, set designs and details are also a science fiction picnic. Dr. Mathias recalls Koenig to Zantor's ship.
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Ring Around The Russell.
On the alien blue, bubble ship, Zantor informs Koenig Russell is in a deeper sleep than expected. It would seem Computer underanalyzed the potential harm to human lifeforms on their Kaldorian ship. Zantor essentially takes a shot at the Alphan Computer's shortcomings compared to the Kaldorian system. Are we keeping a running chart on the Alphan Computer's fallibility? Koenig inquires whether or not the Kaldorian computer can return her to health. Yes, but reanimating Russell from such a deep sleep could result in potential harm. Cell damage may cause brain damage. No, that's not good. The possibility of death looms. Koenig is not pleased once again. He hasn't been happy of late. Vacation doesn't look likely for anyone on Alpha. Bergman conveys to Koenig that Zantor must be trusted. A halo ring appears around Russell as efforts are made to revive her. Upon waking Russell stares with eyes wide open. She appears to be fine, but she may not be. With not a whole lot happening so far in Earthbound, one hopes something will be wrong with Russell. In the end, she's just fine and I'm glad, but how about a little more conflict.
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I like the white chairs in Main Mission. They look kind of modern, but I swear they look an awful lot like those on my back patio in the summer. Koenig announces Computer has selected three names. It couldn't even select a single name as directed. Koenig calls it "a classic case of Computer buck-passing." Koenig refuses to decode the names until he knows how safe the Kaldorian suspension process is based upon Russell's return to form. Carter indicates he's willing to risk it. Koenig suggests the grim possibility that Earth may not even be there at the end of the journey. This possibility exists. A round trip ticket back to Moonbase Alpha is unlikely.

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In Koenig's office, Simmonds is unhappy with the commander's choice to leave the decision-making process to a computer. This is no ordinary computer. This IS Computer. Koenig feels it was the only fair and objective way to go. If Simmonds is selected he will bid him well. If not he will wave goodbye along with the other Alphans. Koenig is disgusted with the man.

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Koenig greets the now returned Zantor and Russell. Simmonds switches out CommLock devices undetected. He has swapped his for Koenig's device. Russell informs Koenig the Kaldorian computer matrix collects data on a per subject basis. A new subject, outside of Russell, will be a new variable and thus the process of suspended animation could have an entirely different impact on that subject.
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Simmonds is on the run and making his way to the alien ship. Meanwhile, Koenig asks Computer to make the final choice. Simmonds has used a laser weapon in a secure area disabling two guards. He is making his way to a Nuclear Generating Area. In one of the more touching moments, the trio that is the core of the show, Landau, Bain and Morse, share a moment regarding what their decision might be, to stay or go, if selected. Koenig asks Bergman if he would go if selected. He is uncertain. He asks Russell. She would consider it. "It is a nice idea." I'm sure part of the scientific appetite in Bergman and Russell would certainly tempt them to go.

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Koenig looks down at his CommLock and discovers he has the device belonging to Simmonds. Simmonds commandeers a security point. Stun Guns undeniably rock! Koenig contacts Simmonds at the nuclear facility and tells him to hand himself over. Simmonds forces a guard to open a DANGER area.
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Koenig orders the power area sealed off. Koenig has Benes bring Simmonds up on visual. Simmonds has removed a power converter rod that will result in death by freezing unless he is allowed to leave with the Kaldorians. "I got to be Commisioner by doing what was necessary, not what was right." Roy Dotrice as Simmonds could give Dr. Smith of Lost In Space a run for his money. Paul makes a rather astute point. "If there's one man Alpha could do without, it's Simmonds. I say let him go." Too right!
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Koenig informs Zantor of the situation. All agree to let Simmonds go on his terms. Simmonds wonders what kind of guarantee is in place. Koenig says "my word." And Koenig is indeed an honorable man of his word. "Not enough" informs the slimy Simmonds. Zantor offers to be his hostage. He is held at gunpoint. Zantor offers his farewell. By the way, I think Zantor had a thing for Russell too. Russell was certainly intrigued as well. Zantor definitely wanted to bring her along with him and offer her a little Kaldorian attention.

The Kaldorian spaceship preps for take off. The slippery Simmonds wants everyone in suspended animation first. He will go last. Simmonds assumes the position and the ship launches.
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"In space no one can hear you scream..." except your fellow Alphans via CommLock.
Koenig smiles at Russell pleased she is still by his side. A short while later, in space, Simmonds wakes prematurely. Simmonds pulls out his CommLock in the hopes of contacting Earth. Justice is about to be served. Could the Kaldorian computer matrix have been programmed to terminate his life? Simmonds, locked inside his case, pleads for help from Koenig. Simmonds writhes like a desperate, frightened animal. Koenig is in no position to aid him. He is trapped, with no way out, no sustenance, alone in space and it will be a horrible end indeed for the despicable human being that is Simmonds. It's a sobering, unsettling moment on Moonbase Alpha, even disappointing, despite the bad blood between them, to hear Simmonds' cries for help. The Alphans are human and they do not take solace in Simmonds' end regardless of how deserving it might be. As it turns out, it could have all been different too. Russell asks Koenig who Computer chose. "Simmonds." Now there's a horrible way to go. I can't help but imagine Simmonds might have been a worthy advesary to the Alphans had he survived beyond this episode. His presence would have reminded us of the fight from within on Alpha along the way. Perhaps it would have been to pronounced, but the possibility, as exhibited in Earthbound, did have potential. Note the Kaldorians move in the background.

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This was a solid ending to a sometimes slow moving affair. Admittedly though, I did appreciate it more upon a second viewing. Earthbound offers a classic resolution to the story's overarching theme of human behavior with some well executed [pardon the pun] final moments. The episode really probes the recesses of the mind and plumbs the idea that we are faced with choices and those choices determine who we are and are fates. The mood, the atmosphere, the cast, costume, make-up and set design are all top shelf here. With a strong ending and all Earthbound has going for it, this is an often quiet, warm, sincere piece of science fiction. The performances are exceptional by Roy Dotrice, Christopher Lee and the regular cast.
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Earthbound: B-
Writer: Anthony Terpiloff
Director: Charles Crichton
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The Philosophy of Space:1999: Koenig: "Our priorities are survival and the search for an alternative place to live."

One of my babies.
Author John Kenneth Muir definitely rates Earthbound with higher marks in Exploring Space:1999. His reasons are certainly sound. As he points out, the story, performances and conclusion are logical and executed beautifully by Director Charles Crichton and Writer Anthony Terpiloff. One thing I did like about the story that I failed to mention was how it took convention and turned it upside down. The aliens, headed by the "imposing" Christopher Lee are actually not the typical enemy we are often led to fear. They are a gracious, cerebral, patient, kind lot that keeps us off balance throughout the story thanks to the mood and dark atmosphere associated with Space:1999. The Kaldorians never become what we fear. As Muir indicates it is Simmonds, a human, who is the truly evil cog in the wheel. His distrust and scheming are the real evil here. It is from within the Alphans must worry. I had mentioned in an earlier entry, as others have mentioned before me, and as the DVD Box Set indicates with the quote from Dorzak ["It is the struggle for survival that makes monsters of us all"], that it is often ourselves that pose the greatest threat on Space:1999. Earthbound is a splendid case in point.
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Muir points to the professional performances delivered by both Christopher Lee as well as Roy Dotrice as the wicked Simmonds [Picket Fences, Beauty And The Beast]. Dotrice's performance is particularly juicy. Muir calls it one of the "best of the Twilight Zone twists." The ending is certainly a highlight. The pacing is fairly good, but could have been better in my book. Muir calls it a terrific tale of "human ambition and greed." It is a "cautionary tale" manifesting "mankind's darkest qualities." These are certainly convincing points. Viewing segments a second time makes me a believer too. The ingredients are there and it is a solid Space:1999 entry.
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Saruman [The Lord Of The Rings].
Special Guest: Christopher Lee [1922-present]. English born. Captain Zantor. His vast resume includes: James Bond's The Man With The Golden Gun [1974], The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring [2001], Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones [2002], The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers [2002], The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King [2003], Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith [2005]. He played Saruman in The Lord Of The Rings triology. He played Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. Other films include: The Curse Of Frankenstein [1956], Dracula [1958], A Tale Of Two Cities [1958], The Hound Of The Baskervilles [1959], The Mummy [1959], Dracula: Prince Of Darkness [1965], Rasputin: The Mad Monk [1965], She [1965], The Face Of Fu Manchu [1965], The Devil Rides Out [1968], The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes [1970], I, Monster [1971], The Creeping Flesh [1972], The Wicker Man [1973], The Three Musketeers [1974], To The Devil A Daughter [1976], Airport 77 [1977], Return From Witch Mountain [1978], Arabian Adventure [1979], 1941 [1979] and Gremlins 2: The New Batch [1990]. His appearances in television include: Ivanhoe, The Avengers, One Step Beyond, Charlie's Angels, How The West Was Won, The Far Pavilions, Faerie Tale Theatre, The Tomorrow People and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. One of my favorite roles was seeing Lee play Francisco Scaramanga [the triple-nippled villain in the 007 film, The Man With The Golden Gun opposite Nick Nack played by Hervé Jean-Pierre Villechaize [Fantasy Island: "boss, the plane, the plane"].

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It is curious how often the world of James Bond 007 collides with the world of Gerry Anderson.

Loving one of my girls. The detail by Aoshima/ Product Enterprise Limited is phenomenal. This is actually the V.I.P.. I have the one from this episode too.
The CommLock: This is a portable communication and locking device. It's an all in one secuirty key, audio/visual communicator, transponder and computer.

The Eagle: The legendary spaceship of Space:1999. It is my favorite spaceship ever committed to film to this day. I have amassed a small fleet in my basement. The ship was designed by visual effects artist Brian Johnson. The space vessel is utilized for a number of missions not least of which is defending Moonbase Alpha. It primarily serves as a transport, reconnaissance and exploratory craft. The sheer volume of Eagles maintained below the base is something of a mystery. The ship is modular in three components: Command Module, Service Pod and Superstructure. The Superstructure is comprised of the Main Propulsion System [nuclear fusion rockets; speed 15% speed of light], Access Corridor, Aft Compartment and Landing Gear. There are several types of Eagle models. The models include: Passenger, Recon, V.I.P. [see Breakaway only], Rescue, Transport/ Supply, Docking [see Collision Course], Freighter, Laboratory [see The Metamorph], Winch [see Missing Link] and Fighter. Additional points of interest on the Eagle include: Winches, Docking Tube, Top and Side Boosters, Vertical and Horizontal Grabs, Harness, Re-Entry Glider, Refuelling Boom, Top Mounted Retractable Laser Cannon and Moon Buggy. The Eagle design was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and later influenced the designs found in Star Wars. It did so because the Eagle simply rocks! My cousins and I used to pretend we were escaping in an Eagle when we played in the backyard. Makeshift forts acted as our Eagle.
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The lonely little Service Pod on a vast woodscape. Don't worry friend. I will be back for you.
Visual Effects Specialist: Brian Johnson. English born. Johnson designed the world famous Eagle. He is also renowned for his visual effects work on Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds, as well as Space:1999, 2001: A Space Odyssey [2001], Alien [1979], Moon Zero Two [1979] [with Catherine Schell], Aliens [1986] and Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back [1980]. He would receive an Academy Award for Visual Effects for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back [1980], arguably the best of all six Star Wars installments. George Lucas contacted Johnson while he was working on Space:1999. Johnson's committment to Space:1999 kept him from working on Star Wars [1977]. Some might argue the decision was a mistake. As a loyal fan and believer of all things Space:1999 Johnson made the right decision and the wonderful years he spent on Space:1999's visual effects for two classic seasons of science fiction prove that out. Sadly, in an insightful and extensive interview found at Original Prop.com, Brian Johnson barely mentions his time on Space:1999, but he did confirm the aforementioned scenario. "I was working on Space:1999. And two blokes came to the studio.... We were just coming to the end of the first season, .... And then they went away and one of them came back and said we’d like you to do this picture called Star Wars. I said I can’t, I’ve just signed literally yesterday with Gerry Anderson to do a second series of Space:1999." No matter, thank you Mr. Johnson for working on Space:1999.

6 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic:

Great review of a classic episode. I hold this one in high esteem, but the series was definitely on ascent. The next few episodes were even better. I look forward to your upcoming reviews.

best,
JKM

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

One wrap up point I neglected to mention for those interested and following along. Earthbound is indeed a big step up from Ring Around The Moon.

I agree. This series is rising indeed. Cheers for swinging by. All the best.

JupiterIsBig said...

I remeber the wobbly spaceship landing like it was only yesterday !!!
Thanks for the reminder !

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha. So true. Not one of the show's finer moments. Good for a laugh though.

Anonymous said...

I always like this episode-- once more we see that "Space:1999" has a lot of gothic horror in its genes as we witness the fate of Simmons. However, the episodes does end at last on a somewhat upward beat, as we see the ship making its way across space, bound for Earth. Years later, this ending was stolen in the Dr. Who episode "The Satan Pit"

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ah, very interesting. Great observation. I also love your point about the gothic horror. So true. Thank you for giving me additional food for thought going forward.