Audio & Podcasts

Space: 1999 – Earthbound – Audio Drama Review

For the citizens of Moonbase Alpha, it has now been a year since being thrown out of Earth’s orbit after a freak mishap, hurling them away from their home, and into the depths of space; in fact, after passing through a space warp, it may be that even longer has passed for those back on Earth, due to time distortion; decades, maybe even centuries, could have elapsed since the Moon drifted off into the cosmos.

The birth of the first Alphan child marks a change in life on the Moonbase, as they start to move from simply being just workmates and colleagues to becoming a living community and a colony. As hope of ever returning to Earth seems to be fading, the Alphans now find themselves trying to adjust to the apparent inevitability of their future, exploring the far-flung reaches of the universe endlessly. Fate, however, may have other ideas for them…

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In the third set of audio dramas from Big Finish based upon the cult sci-fi TV show by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Space: 1999 continues to chart the story of the Moon’s voyage into the unknown, showing a shift in dynamics as the ecosystem composed of Moonbase Alpha’s residents start to grow away from a survival mode to thinking longer-term, and building lives for themselves. Fraternisation, which would have at one time been frowned upon and discouraged, is now inevitable, not to mention essential.

The volume’s opening tale, Marc Platt’s ‘Mooncatcber’, takes a familiar type of scenario for the series – finding a planetary body lying ahead, which may offer valuable opportunities or peril – and gives it something of a twist, in exploring some of the people of Moonbase Alpha in further detail, seeing more of what made them who they are, and what brought them to the lunar outpost, as they start being haunted by visions of their past, which we get to share in flashbacks, making it as much an exploration of them as it is of the strange celestial object.

Back in the day, our TV heroes tended to be foursquare, stoic chaps and chapesses, with character development often going only as far as the end of the episode, and very little room for sustained development. In our rather more touchy-feely age where we tend to be far more in tune with our emotions and being less afraid to express ourselves, our characters reflect that shift, as they are allowed to have flaws, and not have to be seen as perfect. Platt’s tale shows people still processing the trauma of being ripped away from everybody they loved, and everything familiar and safe.

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The Delta One object is really just a MacGuffin which is used to set in motion a deeper examination of those living on the Moon, facing up to the reality posed by the forcibly changed circumstances, while at the same time attempting to cope with things which took place in the past, but still live within them, and are just as raw as ever in some cases. Paul Morrow (Glen McReady) comes to the fore here, and someone who in the TV series tended to be just one of the chorus actually has an opportunity to have the spotlight for once.

The changes on Moonbase Alpha form the core of the two-part adaptation of the TV episode ‘Earthbound’. In the first part – also called ‘Earthbound’, by Iain Meadows – we have a crisis brewing, as Space Commissioner Simmons (Timothy Bentinck) starts to campaign for Commander Koenig (Mark Bonnar) to try and make a concerted effort to find a way for them to be able to go back to Earth. Tensions rise as it soon becomes clear some of the Alphans have feel strongly about the power structure and lack of democracy, and Koenig may have a revolt on his hands.

This is where science fiction shines, when it holds up a mirror to real life and lets us see ourselves, and ‘Earthbound’ is such a great example of this. Someone who is engaging in nakedly populist political arguments and emotive rhetoric for mostly personal reasons, manipulating people to their own ends, by shouting down facts and experts, causing brand new divides in a society, as well as widening those which already exist, all of which culminates in a referendum taking place which sees the narrowest of margins result in a win which will have the most serious of impacts.

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Sound at all familiar? Yes, this microcosm that is Moonbase Alpha relives the whole Brexit vote of 2016, with all its toxic campaigning and bitter rivalries being played out here, this time with the stakes being a lunar exit (or ‘Lexit’, if you like). Simmons is an insecure individual, the very embodiment of ‘small man syndrome’, and he creates a toxic environment on Alpha, setting friends and colleagues against each other as a consequence of his huge ‘jam tomorrow’ vanity project, where he has all of the demands, but none of the answers, or even a plan on how to make it happen.

Incisive political commentary is not what you might expect from Space: 1999, but here you get it served by the cartload, and this makes for a hugely rewarding listen. Only when you get back into far more trad SF territory, with the appearance of an alien spaceship, does it briefly lose its momentum, but things soon pick up again, as this dovetails into the final part – Nicholas Briggs’ rather ominous-sounding ‘Journey’s End’ – with Simmons seeing this unexpected arrival as a means to have his pipe dream finally come to fruition.

Any fans of Space: 1999 will recall the rather distinctive and haunting climax to this episode on telly, but Briggs makes a creative choice – for better or worse, depending upon your point of view – to go in a slightly different direction. The joy of having a classic show being rebooted is seeing the ways it can be made to feel distinctive and different, avoiding any slavish retreads, while at the same time not deviating so far from the original source material as to alienate devotees; it seems Big Finish’s take on Space: 1999 is so far managing to get the balance just right.

Space: 1999 – Earthbound is out now from Big Finish.

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