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Giant Octopus mayhem
In a secluded Norwegian fishing village, an archetypal mad scientist lets arrogance get the better of him as he takes extreme measures to prevent any possible disruption to his experiments. He's even prepared to kill in order to ensure success. His altruistic goal being to feed the world's starving millions by growing vastly over-sized marine animals for food using hormonal secretions from the pituitary gland.
To this end, he creates a giant, monstrous octopus with a penchant for devouring anything that moves. He then lets it loose in the nearby Fjord.
On hearing news reports of multiple fatalities amongst the local fishermen and descriptions of a huge sea-monster, Admiral Nelson orders the Seaview to set sail for Norway to investigate.
After being confronted firstly by a wall of silence amongst the locals and then subsequently being shot at, Nelson and Crane eventually hunt down the perpetrator, who by this time really has gone off the deep end.
The scientist deliberately sets the huge octopus onto the nearby submerged Seaview in an attempt to see how hardy the monster really is. He also seems to perhaps derive some sadistic pleasure from this showdown between the cephalopod and the nuclear sub. This is short-lived however, as in standard sci-fi tradition the creator is ultimately destroyed by his own monster.
Fortunately thanks to Admiral Nelson's quick thinking and intimate knowledge of the Seaview's design, the sub is saved and the monster destroyed for good. He'd realised that cranking the nuclear reactors up to maximum power would overload the electrical systems of the vessel, inducing an electric charge on the hull and effectively electrocuting the octopus.
The legality of US naval officers landing unannounced in Norway and pursuing their own manhunt on Norwegian soil, with the complete absence of involvement from the local authorities seems questionable. Unless we assume it was authorised as some sort of NATO operation with the agreement of the Norwegian government. Perhaps a brief line of dialogue to that effect should have been inserted somewhere in the script to clarify this.
It's also apparent in this episode that the generic "sub dive" sequence can be strung out to any length desired, presumably to pad the episode to the correct length. Here we get a very lengthy diving sequence, as not only do we see the standard stock footage of the sub diving complete with the periscope footage of a WWII-era sub; we also see Captain Crane confirming "Decks awash, bows under and stern gone". It's fun to watch, but it sticks out because diving sequences in previous episodes have been typically much shorter than this.
Overall though the episode is very exciting and enjoyable with a good supporting cast. Admiral Nelson may not be the biggest man out there, but one sure thing, he knows how to fight! Also, the "catfish" scene is hilarious.
First contact situation
On watching all episodes in order, this is easily my favourite so far. A member of an advanced alien race accidentally pilots his flying saucer into Earth's atmosphere after a mishap with a meteor. After a hasty scramble across the United States the floundering UFO ditches in the ocean, which is where The Seaview comes in.
Having tracked the UFO across America, a fatalistic, trigger-happy rear-admiral is dispatched to the Seaview via helicopter with orders to destroy the submerged spacecraft at any cost.
Of course the more thoughtful, scientifically minded Admiral Nelson along with the level-headed Captain Crane would much rather tackle the problem with reason and intelligence in order to work out what is really going on.
A great example of cold-war paranoia in science fiction, the episode is captivating from start to finish as the action never lets up and it really does not disappoint.
We do get to see inside the UFO, complete with obligatory Jacob's ladder and other alien looking apparatus. We also get to see the true form of the alien visitor behind the disguise. We also learn that the nuclear-powered Seaview, apart from using rather "primitive" Uranium fissile material, does crucially also carry a few crates of Strontium-90 pellets for when they need that extra bit of 'kick'. This comes in rather handy as the alien visitor can work with this stuff, converting it to a useful fuel allowing his depleted craft to escape Earth unharmed by NATO forces. Thus averting a potential interstellar war, which certainly the human race would come out the loser.
Well, what else can I say, if you like sci-fi, aliens, nuclear power, submarines, tension, drama and the cold war, then this one has it all. I could nitpick things like the visible strings pulling the detachable transport module away from the UFO, but how can I when the model work is just so exemplary in this series. In the absence of CGI, this was just the most sensible way of filming it. The creators should be proud, they've really made some outstanding models, and the UFO is no exception. The story though is a classic. It's been done in many other variations, but not quite like this. Superb stuff.
Moonbase 3: View of a Dead Planet (1973)
A glimmer of hope!
What I like about the all-too-short Moonbase 3 series is that it certainly gets better towards the end. Alas it was cut short as it was really getting into its stride. To me this final episode is the pinnacle of the series and an absolute sci-fi classic. Being infinitely bleak until the last couple of minutes though as it appears that all life on Earth has been destroyed by a grandiose civil engineering project which went terribly wrong. The idea was to utilise an immense thermonuclear reaction to melt the polar ice caps in order to provide more useful land for Earth's population. However, the dispossessed elderly progenitor of the project arrives on Moonbase 3 and explains that in fact he had later calculated that it will result in destruction of all life on the planet Earth.
Sadly, no governments had listened to the eminent scientist or his colleagues and decided to proceed with this project regardless. When the Earth is apparently wiped out (as viewed from the Moon when it starts to take on the appearance of a giant sublimating comet and all radio contact is lost), Caulder is left with the decision of how and when to best euthanise the entire moon-base crew. Given that they will run out of oxygen and food supplies in a matter of weeks, this seems like the only option.
The result is a breakdown of order and morals, particularly amongst some of the more emotionally troubled senior members of the crew. Of course, Caulder, Tom hill, Helen and a few others manage to stay in control and professional despite the circumstances throughout.
As Tom Hill is just about to sneak off per Caulder's plan and put the entire crew permanently to sleep by means of carbon-monoxide poisoning, an inane TV broadcast of a game-show is received on the Moonbase, indicating just in the nick of time that in fact the human race was not destroyed. Instead the Earth just suffered a "lesser" catastrophe of a nuclear winter scenario, where temperatures had plummeted, but looks like things will eventually get back to normal.
From this experience, the dangers of messing around with Hydrogen bombs are certainly driven home and the scientist concludes the series by saying that although one man may make a mistake, humankind cannot afford to make a mistake. A very potent message, particularly in the cold-war era of the '70s.
So, the series is neatly wrapped up with an outstanding episode having a fitting conclusion. In particular, the scene where Caulder discreetly reminds Tom Hill to start killing everyone in twenty minutes time whilst sitting around the dinner table, laughing and joking remains very memorable. I would have loved the series to go on after this episode, but alas it was not to be. I'm just grateful that the tapes which were wiped by the BBC were later recovered.
Moonbase 3: Castor and Pollux (1973)
Tense and exciting episode
The penultimate episode of Moonbase 3 is in my opinion the best of the bunch so far.
After a computer sends an erroneous thruster command, Tom Hill becomes stranded in space. He's drifting away at high speed inside his spinning space capsule which is jammed into a satellite's docking port at a crooked angle.
Quick action is needed and fortunately the incident had just happened after cordial discussions between Europe and the Soviets on future space mission co-operation. However, the one man qualified to lead the rescue mission, a hot-shot Russian pilot and admiring follower of Tom's career is forbidden to launch by his superior commander.
That doesn't stop him though as Caulder breaks all the rules in the book (diplomatic, political, safety...) in order allow the rescue mission to proceed, despite the many obstacles which make the mission appear almost futile. The impracticality of a rescue mission is highlighted quite starkly as Tom plays with a cyanide capsule as if he is contemplating using it.
Caulder's efforts to mount the highly risky rescue mission result in temporary suspension as commander of Moonbase 3 whilst deputy Michel Lebrun steps into his shoes. On the face of it, Michel is a heartless bureaucrat who appears to place rules, regulations and logic above saving a man's life. Fortunately though, he ultimately saves the day when he gives the order allowing the rescuing cosmonaut to ram Hill's jammed capsule, freeing him and saving his life. Having put his own career at great risk and against the wishes of the superiors on all sides in order to do the right thing, Michel pretended that it was merely a logical decision. Although, really it meant that when it came to the crunch that in fact he did care about those people he works with.
The episode is very tense because Moonbase 3 until this point has conditioned the viewer into thinking that a negative outcome is more likely than a positive one. Unlike many other sci-fi shows, when a regular character is in any possible danger, they seem in all likelihood to end the episode dead.
So then it was a welcome surprise that this episode did end on a high note, with Tom's life saved and a win-win situation to all crew, administrators and politicians from all participating countries. It is good that they threw in this wild-card episode with a happy ending!
Moonbase 3: Outsiders (1973)
Conway's Game of Death!
If the last three episodes weren't sombre enough, then rest assured that this one takes the bleakness to a new level! It's a very intense episode though as yet again Moonbase 3 is in serious jeopardy, although this time it's the very real threat of closure due to impending withdrawal of government funds.
As such, the whole crew are under intense pressure to come up with results, in particular to justify the astronomical expenditure by inventing new alloys and fuels with profitable, real-world applications back on Earth. This drives the fundamentally unlikeable Dr Partness to fake his results in order to keep his research and career afloat. Meanwhile, the increasingly detached Dr Conway has a truly significant breakthrough, however finds he does not care whatsoever for modern life and ultimately decides to end it all.
The episode works well though, because the situations depicted are very believable and the we can emphasise quite strongly with the characters' flaws. It is unfortunate though that Dr Conway was killed off at this point as he was perhaps the most interesting and warmest character of all of them.
On the matters of science and engineering though, "Outsiders" gets it right again, as it's repeatedly mentioned that the lower gravity of the Moon is a significant reason for performing new materials science there, which is a valid point. Also, the CAPCOM/pilot verbal exchange on landing of the spacecraft on the moon is more or less word-for-word perfect when compared with a transcript of the actual Apollo Moon landings, so full marks yet again for accuracy. As an aside, it's also interesting to see an early electronic pocket calculator featured around 15 minutes in. :)
In summary though, "Outsiders" is one of the better episodes and keeps up the general feeling of grimness that pervades the series. However, it's is very refreshing that there's a genuine artistic license here to not have to end every story (or any story for that matter) on a high note of victory and it all makes for rather absorbing drama.
Moonbase 3: Achilles Heel (1973)
In this, the third episode we do have (as expected) yet another crisis at Moonbase 3. Mistakes are being made left, right and centre, resulting in the loss of vital equipment and more seriously a young scientist, Bill Knight almost fatally runs out of oxygen in his spacesuit whilst performing some routine maintenance. As a result, Director Caulder has to get to the bottom of what's going on and try to stop it as soon as possible.
The real purpose of this episode is apparently to examine human flaws of all of the Moonbase 3 characters. In it we find that the usually professional Helen Smith is susceptible to romantic interest from charmer Adam, played by the "guest star" of the episode, Edward Brayshaw. (British viewers may know him from children's TV show "Rentaghost"). Caulder's fault appears to be that he cares too much about other people. Other scientists have other very human issues, such as anxiety about becoming incompetent due to ageing, or paranoid behaviour regarding the fidelity of a spouse.
It appears throughout that Adam has been playing on these crew-members' fears and quite effectively winding everyone up one way or another. In the end, he flips out himself when rejected by Helen and as a result nearly murders her and Bill in the process. In a theme not too dissimilar to the first episode, it turns out all along that Adam was a sick, broken man as a result of being rejected from a high-profile Venus mission on medical grounds. As a result he'd resorted to sabotage in order to undermine everyone else's lives, something which he'd done quite effectively.
Overall it's a reasonably good episode, although my main criticism is that it's a little too similar in substance to the very first episode and a bit too introspective at this point. I think the series could have gone in a different direction here and perhaps may have been better with a slightly fresher idea and even maybe a bit more action. It's easy to surmise that this episode marks a turning point where ultimately the series was axed, in part due to being rather bleak. Having said that, it's still enjoyable to watch, with a satisfying denouement and the charismatic Adam plays his leading role well.
Moonbase 3: Behemoth (1973)
Ahead of its time
This intriguing second episode of Moonbase 3 successfully keeps the pace up, with another tragic crisis to be dealt with by commanding director "Welsh Wizard" David Caulder.
This one focuses on Mare Frigoris (The Sea of Cold), where a series of unexplained seismic events result in the unfortunate deaths of base personnel. After a further unexplained incident in which an eccentric scientist and his seismology lab are blown up, the remaining moon-base staff become quite frightened. Particularly that is, after one colourful character starts to distress everyone with his pet theory of a provoked, malevolent life form terrorising the base. These ideas further seem to be backed up when it transpires that the aforementioned scientist had confided in a junior colleague the possibility of signs of life on the Moon and also a strange track is found in the lunar surface stretching from from Mare Frigoris to the destroyed science lab.
In the end though, the Moonbase 3 team finally decide to scout out Mare Frigoris. It turns out that there's just a simple scientific explanation for all of the tragedies and there was no malevolent life form after all. A shifting layer of permafrost is found to be the culprit after it had amplified the sounding charges used by the scientists, unexpectedly causing Moon-quakes with tragic consequences. Furthermore, mishandling of unauthorised explosives by the over-zealous scientists had allowed a further tremor to trigger the accidental destruction of the seismology lab.
What I like about this episode though, is that all loose ends are tied up, with all prior events explained neatly at the end. Also, the fact that in real life, in the 21st century, lunar probes have indicated the presence of abundant water-ice in permanently shadowed craters near the lunar pole, makes this episode seem somewhat prophetic.
Given that I did not expect this series to be very good, based on various reviews, episodes like this show how it strives for technical and scientific correctness, which is where it compares favourably to other, more stylised shows like "Space 1999".
Moonbase 3: Departure and Arrival (1973)
Very strong introductory episode
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this first episode is. It sets the scene very well by introducing us to the harsh realities of living and working in space. Namely that one small mistake, or simply failure to deal with problems can have catastrophic consequences. The viewer is left in no doubt that the lives of all people on the moon base critically depend on unfailing diligence and a duty of care from all people in the chain of command. Fortunately, by the end of the episode we are reassured that the lead character, the director of the base is made of "the right stuff" as he stamps his authority on his team, whilst at the same time showing complete loyalty to them.
Some of the dialogue certainly comes across as dated when viewed with 21st century sensibilities, but the acting is generally good and the characters work very well together. The plot is intriguing and offers plenty of drama with an interesting twist at the end.
The episode's initial theme of Europe as an "underdog" space power, somewhat behind the US and Russia whilst facing constant financial constraints and threats of cutbacks and closure is however not dated. In fact it now seems quite prophetic, and given the current Eurozone crisis perhaps rings even more true in 2011 than it did almost 40 years ago.
As such, a gritty realism persists throughout the episode and it's refreshing to see issues such as funding pressures, human foibles and psychological burnout tackled in such believable ways.
There's also quite a bit of extra-vehicular action, with scenes both on the moon's surface and in space done quite well. There's plenty of model work used for panoramic scenes, as to be expected from a production of this era.
OK, so the Moon's surface shouldn't really bounce back after an astronaut has stepped on it, but I can't help but find the lunar scenery to be charmingly well presented, given the no doubt limited resources of the BBC props department of the time.
Overall, just an excellent episode of a classic sci-fi series, leaving the viewer wanting more.
Babylon 5: The Face of the Enemy (1997)
Welcome back, the real Garibaldi!
Seventeen episodes prior to this one (at the conclusion of the third season), Chief Security Officer Michael Garibaldi was abducted by the Shadows. Unknown to the audience at that time, he was sent off to receive some serious if subtle doctoring of his mind by the delightfully scheming Bester at a top secret Psi-corps base on Mars.
As we learn in this episode, not only was Garibaldi's mind altered to make him throw a spanner in the works of the Army of Light, but Bester also took the opportunity to add some programming of his own. This made Garibaldi susceptible to remote commands via a psychedelic pattern transmitted to a video screen.
Bester was aware all along that there was a conspiracy against the telepathic community, but did not know the exact details of it. His hidden agenda was to have Garibaldi root out the perpetrators for him.
Bester's plans worked out even better than he'd expected, being a complete success with the conspiracy foiled and the chief perpetrators killed. Bester could then effectively "switch off" Garibaldi and do with him as he pleased, since he had served his purpose. He could kill him, leave him in the altered state or restore his previous personality, leaving memories of this whole saga intact in his mind. For some reason, Bester chose favourably and decided to restore Garibaldi's previous "likeable" personality. The scary thing is, the personality of the "bad" Garibaldi was simply derived by accentuating the existing paranoia and natural distrust of the "good" Garibaldi.
So for the last seventeen episodes, Garibaldi had effectively been playing a different character, the altered personality who rejected authority, lost all of his friends and came to blows with Sheridan.
Thankfully, this uneasy-to-watch behaviour finally culminates in this episode where Garibaldi commits the ultimate betrayal by setting up Sheridan such that his enemies, the Clark regime can capture him. It is at this point that Ivanova orders a "shoot on sight" policy on him, should he ever dare show his face again. Although extreme, this seems somewhat justified seeing the damage he's done. Of course at this point, nobody from B5 knows the truth that Garibaldi has been subject to forced alterations of his mind.
So it is relief then that good old Garibaldi is apparently back with us after all this time of us watching one of our previously favourite characters becoming slowly destroyed, and this episode leaves many questions open such as, how will Garibaldi get back to where he was before in terms of his career and friendships? How will he avoid getting shot dead by his former colleagues and can he ever get back into their "good books" again?
Overall a great unmissable episode compelling the viewer to watch the next one with great anticipation. It's these very long story arcs that make Bablylon 5 great to watch.
Besides, any episode featuring Bester is usually a good one, not to mention the ongoing saga of the war against Clark's forces and further defecting Earth Alliance destroyers. There's so much shoehorned in to a single episode here - very intense!
Babylon 5: A Distant Star (1994)
This episode gives us a good idea of what the concept of "Hyperspace" looks like in the Babylon 5 universe and it's fair to say that it's a pretty dangerous place.
We learn that ships inside hyperspace must maintain a navigational lock on a jump-gate as there are no fixed points of reference. If the lock is somehow lost due to a malfunction then a ship will naturally drift away due to a "gravitational incline" and will be lost for eternity.
It's good also to see an "Explorer" class ship, with the potential for great unknown adventures that this might bring. Although, like Captain Sheridan for a moment we also wish we are on that ship, exploring the galactic frontier (the rim) rather than stuck within the confines of B5.
There's some good character development as Captain Sheridan is forced to re-evaluate his career and think "just what am I doing here?". Just as in real life, when friends who have gone away for a better career come back and tell us what a great time they are having and we wonder if we shouldn't be doing completely different something too. I'm sure these scenes in the show would ring true for many viewers.
Captain Maynard of the explorer class ship is a very compelling character too with his cowboy boots and his seniority and friendship to Sheridan which give him the freedom to talk frankly to Sheridan about his position, in that he is effectively "tied to a desk".
We learn of great, mysterious alien forces which have been encountered on the explorers' travels and also see them causing a few problems within hyperspace too, although at this point us viewers (assuming watching the show in the correct order of episodes) have no idea what these forces actually are. Although they certainly compel us to continue watching through season two with increasing anticipation.
Sheridan's solution to rescue a lost ship from hyperspace is very bold and gripping if incredibly risky, but it really makes this a memorable episode.
Then there is also the subplot involving Doctor Franklin enforcing strict dietary habits on the B5 senior officers and this does lend itself to some lighthearted humorous moments with Garibaldi, Ivanova and Sheridan.
Overall an enjoyable, interesting episode, which serves to further build up a sense of foreboding in the future direction of the B5 story.