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243 – Space: 1999 – Matter of Life and Death

The runaway moon crosses paths with Terra Nova, a planet almost too perfect to be true.

In fact, it is too perfect to be true because it is the home of the anti-matter parrots of death!

Ben and Eugene discuss the second episode of Space: 1999, Matter of Life and Death.

8 thoughts on “243 – Space: 1999 – Matter of Life and Death”

  1. Unless I missed sarcasm on Ben’s part, the film “Solaris” with Geo Clooney WAS based on the novel by Lem…. There was also an earlier film with the same title and based on the novel, made by a Russian director in the 70s.

    1. Ah, ok, good, then my brain wasn’t deceiving me.

      I’ve not seen either version of Solaris, but I thought I’d read that (A) it was based on a Russian novel/novella and (B) that some part of the plot involved a man’s dead wife returning for some purpose…

      That was why I asked when Ben mentioned it. My guess is the Clooney movie was probably far removed from the source material – as films frequently are… could be why Ben didn’t recognize them as the same.

  2. Based on a novel by a Polish author, actually. I think both versions were pretty close to the source material, but not as exciting or interesting to watch as to read. Lem has written some clever stories that are well worth checking out. He does clever, humor and alien stuff that is far removed from Star Trek type of hominid races.

  3. Ah, I was super-confused by this as I only know of two films with the title Solaris – the Tarkovsky film and the Soderberg remake which have this plot (although I’ve only seen the Soderberg film which is about half the length of its predecessor). I liked the Soderberg film, but then I liked this episode rather more than either of you!

    I’ve only listened to half the podcast, but I’ve already got a few thoughts to set down. First of all: I totally agree with Eugene that a great thing here is not giving a pat answer (which is why this seems better than the ‘total projection’ resolution that you mention is spoon-fed in a future episode).

    I think this makes a good second episode in some ways, too. While it is odd that it takes place sooooooo long after Breakaway (they refer to all the things they’ve seen in between) the themes of bereavement and the fragility of both life and sanity are very suitable to explore right at the start of a show about being marooned in space. Far too many shows would just ignore the psychological consequences.

    I’ll agree that the technical mumbo-jumbo is jarring (though I think Breakaway suffered quite a bit from this too). Why all this “anti-matter” nonsense? It’s unnecessary. Mind you, it’s better television than The Three Doctors… (Speaking of anti-matter universes, Arc of Infinity was also written by the writer of this episode, Johnny Byrne).

    I’ll disagree on production values too. I think they’re a lot poorer here, thanks to the decision to film the anti-matter parrots of death scenes in studio (assuming this is not some sort of homage…). Having said that, all the Alpha stuff looks great – and the direction is terrific. No surprise, since it’s Charles Crichton, one of my favourite directors having done some of the best Avengers episodes as well as some of my favourite comedy films, including The Lavender Hill Mob and A Fish Called Wanda (which he also co-wrote). The shot in the Eagle up through the trolley struck me as very typical of him. And having criticised the studio stuff, I really have to commend his work on the storm scenes.

    Overall, while it’s not all round up to the standard of Breakaway, it is a fine episode.

    By the way, Bergman does confirm that the ‘yellow’ shot of Mr Russell is when Dr Russell is absent – it’s later in the scene, confirming what Koenig postulates.

    As I say, I’m only half way through the podcast so I’ll comment again. I’m hoping that you’ll discuss the other film that this appears to draw inspiration from (beyond, I think, just using its title) and Terra Nova as the afterlife…

  4. Your discussion on types of storytelling hit the nail on the head. I absolutely agree, this is not the type of story where everything is spelled out and consequently the viewer must do some work to interpret what she is seeing, and project some of her own ideas onto that interpretation. Some people like that, some people don’t. (Obviously I don’t fully agree that this was a poorly executed example, though.) For what it’s worth, I didn’t think Koenig remembered seeing the moon blow up, only Dr Russell did; I got the feeling Koenig wasn’t fully aware of why he decided to leave… If he’d remembered that, would he have remembered dying?

    I liked Bain’s performance in this, I thought it was very well judged (I’d happily do without the vaseline, though, I very much doubt it would actually detract from her appearance).

    I jumped the gun earlier mentioning Crichton in my earlier comment, obviously I’m delighted by your discussion. I have to admit it was seeing his name on so many credits that clinched it for me when choosing whether to take a punt on the bluray or rent/stream a series I didn’t really know.

    I’ll expand on my earlier comment. To me, the symbolism of a place that is clearly a kind of paradise, and one in which the dead are living, doesn’t seem like something that could have been accidental. In particular, Mr Russell’s description “it transformed us, scattered us into deep space, and I became what I am now” sounds very much like a technobabble account of the soul’s journey beyond death. In the Powell and Pressberger film, heaven is a different colour (just as Oz is) and I did wonder if that had inspired the rather garish way they’d dressed and lit Terra Nova… but I think that’s probably me just stretching to excuse what I consider to be a low point in the production. The rest of it, given the title, can’t be coincidence though. Mr Russell is an inhabitant of heaven. He is protecting Dr Russell, who doesn’t belong there… yet.

    1. I’m absolutely fascinated by the notion that Terra Nova is “space heaven”! It is quite obvious now that you mention it, but I don’t think the thought ever crossed my find.

      In production order, this is the second episode. At the time Ben and I discussed this, we’d not gone through any others except Breakaway. In subsequent discussions – and I’ll try to phrase this in a non-spoilery way – we’ve had situations to discuss religious parallels in Space: 1999. We’ve jokingly begun to refer to it as the “hand of space god.”

      Now that you mention it, if the freak accident that blasted the moon out of orbit wasn’t the first instance of the hand of space god, then a brief glimpse of space heaven certainly is.

      I wonder if we’d have spotted it if we watched this one further down the line?

      Good catch!

  5. Ahh, I just realized… if the planet Terra Nova was really “Space Heaven” then everything there was dead.

    That would explain the parrots. They were Ex-Parrots!

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