Friday, May 3, 2019

Space:1999 Y1 E16: End Of Eternity

"How can you value life if you do not fear death?"
"A killer who can't be killed."
"We must learn to leave some things alone."
-Dr. Helena Russell-

FAB FRIDAY baby! All things fabulous by Sylvia and Gerry Anderson live on.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Space:1999, Year One, Episode 16, End Of Eternity opens with precisely that concept. Horrifying images of terror are presented in paintings entombed with a bloodied man inside a wayward asteroid. These images present Commander John Koenig and the Alphans with their latest, troubling deep space mystery.

End Of Eternity offered viewers in the 1970s some of the most startlingly violent and surprisingly frightening images of death and body horror seen on television for its time. A critically injured being named Balor, played by mesmerizingly by Peter Bowles, is bloodied and wrapped in bandages. He's carted into Moonbase Alpha from a rescuing Eagle and we are immediately on edge from these opening moments. The images are disturbing and Space:1999 never shies away from the trauma surrounding the Alphans' reality. The combination of mystery, evil and moments of violence make End Of Eternity a stirring entry in the Space:1999 catalogue.

One of the ongoing themes of Space:1999 is encapsulated in the words of Dr. Helena Russell. Russell warns, "we must learn to leave some things alone." As a result of our curiosity, humanity unlocks a horror from the unknowns of deep space. It was this reluctant but necessary curiosity from the hurtling survivors of Moonbase Alpha and the need for discovery that went hand in hand with the Alphans unfortunate position of being ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the mysteries of space. This was not their original mission, but this is their new, unending challenge.

Space:1999 had a uniquely unsettling take on the dark, vast void of space in mood and tone, not previously explored in quite the same way by the family-grounded Lost In Space (1965-1968) particularly as that series advanced. The same held true for the approach established by the Starfleet burdens of Star Trek (1966-1969). All of these aforementioned series had their moments and certainly their moments of horror, suspense and mystery. But Space:1999 was tonally unique on the whole as a science fiction. It's atmosphere was consistent and persistently disconcerting and eerie with Year One offering a wonderful selection of quality science fiction stories.

As the script here clearly denoted we wouldn't always like what we would find. Think about the jackal in the box that would be LV-426, speaking of moons, in Alien (1979) just a few years later. In space no one can hear you scream. This sense of silence in the vacuum of space is captured beautifully on camera in End Of Eternity through the limited use of sound during some frighteningly violent confrontations with evil. Ridley Scott would apply the same use of sound and silence to equally great effect for that classic film. In Alien, mankind unlocks a horror from which nightmares are made. The suggestion of those nightmares and unleashing things we simply cannot understand is a theme in evidence here in Space:1999.

Interesting also is how the episode foreshadows a similar idea of unlocking and unleashing evil cast into space that would be handled just as exquisitely for Superman II (1980). In addition, the black garb of the Balor character, a traditional representation of menace and evil, would also be visually duplicated for the aforementioned Richard Donner/ Richard Lester sequel film as portrayed in the escaped villains of General Zod, Ursa and Non.

Directed with moments of real action and some terrifically unsettling low camera angles by Ray Austin the episode, written by the thoughtful Johnny Byrne, is genuinely brought to life making a vivid, lasting impression. There is a terrifying intimacy and urgency to the physical exchanges between characters throughout its streamlined narrative culminating in a gripping showdown between Koenig and Balor for the survival of Alpha.

The story and visuals are instantly memorable as represented by the evil figure of Balor in black against the sterile, white, splendid production design world of Keith Wilson.

As a kid in the 1970s, Space:1999 left a dramatic impression and End Of Eternity is a great example of why it left such a profound mark.

The use of unsettling music and even better sometimes the use of silence or a simple sound effect, as found here End Of Eternity, made for some truly disturbing images and unforgettable moments that are underscored and emphasized through smart ideas. The camera work and production design is always first rate. The writing, here by Byrne, always presented us with some wonderfully reflective science fiction concepts even if not as successful as End Of Eternity turns out.

Even as young people we were always left with a visual experience drawn from each episode that somehow aided us in comprehending the deeper themes in play.

End Of Eternity imagines a world of immortality that ultimately recognizes the absence of wisdom in that discovery. It imagines a world where evil if left unchecked and immortalized could potentially leave a world in ruin for all eternity. We must recognize the danger of letting these proverbial genies out of the bottle in our own world into the future always.

Space:1999 asked us to ponder the value of life, the value of our mortality and respecting that gift of life. As much as it stunned viewers with the terrors of deep space it aided us in recognizing and appreciating our humanity in its own unique approach. Space:1999 was tackling science fiction in a very special way. End Of Eternity is a evidence of why it has reached classic status in science fiction.

Often I had wished stories on Space:1999 could have been longer, but often ending thematically as they did they left us wanting more. Perhaps this was the beauty of the series. We wanted more answers. We had questions. It made us think.

The quote noted above from the Dr. Russell character about leaving well enough alone is introspective on its own terms. The Alphans, being human, and by our very nature seeking to help and heal inadvertently unearth a monster. In this case the monster is not ourselves. We instead seek to give life and yet out in the black we are incapable of understanding the potential unknown horrors that awaits us. This was indeed the strength of Space:1999 lost on many upon its initial run. Blade Runner (1982) was misunderstood and became a heralded work in film. One could argue Space:1999, too, continues to hold a significant place in science fiction for many to discover.

The late Johnny Byrne himself once noted in FAB#60 he wished the story of Balor had a "middle act." Well, this popular entry in the Year One cannon, End Of Eternity, was revisited for a series of stories collected for a novel titled Eternity Unbound by William Latham. For those interested in more of this often poetic sci-fi series they should seek out these Space:1999 books from Powys Media.

End Of Eternity: A.
Writer: Johnny Byrne.
Director: Ray Austin.

Additional Commentary:

Author John Kenneth Muir who penned Exploring Space:1999 called End Of Eternity "one of the best episodes of the entire 1999 series because it adheres so clearly to the central theme that space is a region of mystery, the unknown and, ultimately, terror."

Though End Of Eternity is among Muir's favorites from Year One he doesn't offer excessive exposition about the tale, but like the episode itself less is more perhaps. Muir distinctly notes in his own way the installment is a lean, mean thriller. The episode is genuinely articulate and clear and singular in its driving focus of invading evil on Alpha. Johnny Byrne really captures a very straightforward story and doesn't muck up what works by convoluting the narrative with unnecessary confusion and yet it says enough to give us all considerable pause concerning existence.

Muir would also note the infamous airlock scene here in End Of Eternity and, once again, the all important air lock scene in Alien. Could Ridley have been watching Space:1999? Is there anyone who doesn't love a good airlock scene?

Finally, I wanted to revisit the Space:1999 Year One Blu-Ray set, now long out of print, in anticipation of the new SHOUT release for Space:1999 slated for July (summer) 2019. SHOUT, though costly, is commended for being the company to finally release the entire series, Year One and Year Two, here in North America. So thank you. Alphans, be sure to get yourself a copy and support this wonderful, vintage series of great science fiction storytelling. They very rarely make them this special anymore.

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