Sunday 31 December 2023

E.C. Tubb’s Space: 1999 Rogue Planet (TV tie-in novel)

E.C. Tubb’s Rogue Planet, published in 1977, was the ninth of the Space: 1999 TV tie-in novels. It is an original novel, not a novelisation of episodes from the TV series. It’s based on Year One of the TV series.

E.C. Tubb was a prolific British science fiction writer. He wrote several Space: 1999 novels.

It’s relaxation time for the crew of Moonbase Alpha. They’re enjoying an amateur performance of Hamlet, but when the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears they see and hear something strange, something Shakespeare certainly did not write. It’s a warning that Moonbase Alpha is heading for danger. But every member of the audience saw and heard something different. And every member of the audience agrees that what they saw and heard was terrifying.

Was it some kind of mass delusion? Was it some mysterious message beamed from somewhere in space? Not long afterwards some kind of temporary collective madness afflicts the Alphans. It passes, but again it was terrifying and inexplicable.

Moonbase Alpha’s commander, John Koenig, wants answers. The base’s chief scientist Victor Bergman and chief medical officer Dr Helena Russell cannot provide answers, only speculation. Alpha’s instruments can detect nothing threatening.

Then the brain appears. It can’t be a brain of course, but it looks like one. An enormous brain the size of a planet. And Moonbase Alpha is trapped in a separate miniature universe. There appears to be no escape but some means of escape must be found. One crew member has already died of old age and he was only thirty-two. The same fate may await all of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha.

Space: 1999 was a great series (or at least Year One was great) but you do have to accept the outrageous premise of the series - the Moon being thrown out of orbit and hurtling through space at an absurd speed like a gigantic spaceship. You also have to accept the idea that in the almost unimaginable vastness and emptiness of space they keep encountering countless planets and alien spacecraft. But then the science fiction genre as a whole requires a huge suspension of disbelief. If you love science fiction you learn to accept some wacky science.

The novel captures the feel of the series extremely well. The principal characters - Commander Koenig, Dr Russell, Professor Bergman, chief Eagle pilot Alan Carter etc - behave the way they behave in the TV series. There’s the same mix of space adventure and reasonably cool science fiction concepts.

There’s a reasonable amount of emphasis on Koenig’s responsibilities as commander and the need to be strong and decisive while always bearing in mind that he’s dealing with people not machines. Similarly with Dr Russell there’s emphasis on the awesome responsibilities she has to shoulder alone.

Tubb’s prose is straightforward but pleasing enough.

It’s a very entertaining story with a few serious touches. The crew of Moonbase Alpha have to confront the imminent threats of death (death from accelerated ageing which is certainly a very frightening prospect) and madness. Death is ever-present in this story, in varying forms.

Space: 1999 was not a series that offered spectacular space battles. It offered action, but the action was more likely to be battles against strange unseen alien forces rather than hostile star fleets. This novel follows the same sort of formula. There are narrow escapes from mortal danger but the dangers in this case come from strange force fields and from being trapped in caverns and suchlike things.

This novel also offers us an alien life form that is genuinely alien.

Rogue Planet is a very decent science fiction novel. If you’re a fan of the TV series you’ll enjoy and even if you’ve never seen the series you’ll probably find it entertaining. Highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed one of Tubb’s other Space: 1999 novels, Alien Seed (which is excellent). I’ve also reviewed another Space: 1999 novel, John Rankine’s Android Planet (which is quite good).

Sunday 3 December 2023

The Saint in colour, part 2

A few selected episodes from the colour era of The Saint. I slightly prefer the black-and-white episodes but there was plenty of fun to be had in the colour seasons as well.

Locate and Destroy

Locate and Destroy (scripted by John Stanton and directed by Leslie Norman) went to air in December 1966.

Locate and Destroy begins with what seems to be an attempted hold-up in an art dealer’s shop in Lima, Peru. Simon Templar naturally just happens to be on hand and foils the robbery. Except that it wasn’t a robbery. This much is obvious to the Saint. He decides that he’d like to find out what was really going on. The fact that it’s none of his business is merely an added attraction. In fact what is really going on is a bit too obvious from the start, and the story relies on too many clumsy clichéd narrow escapes.

This one is a bit disappointing. It’s not terrible, it’s just very average.

The Better Mouse Trap

The Better Mouse Trap (scripted by Leigh Vance and directed by Gordon Flemyng) screened in November 1966.

The Saint is in Cannes and of course crime has followed him there, in the shape of a series of daring jewel robberies. Naturally the police assume Simon is the thief. They always do. 

And naturally this adventure involves a woman, a Canadian. The thieves are trying to cover their tracks by framing Simon.

As often happens in Simon’s adventures the woman is somewhat ambiguous. The viewer certainly has plenty of reason to suspect that she’s mixed up in the robberies.

This is very much a stock-standard Saint episode, enlivened by a comic turn by Ronnie Barker as a bumbling French policeman. There’s the usual stock footage to convince us we’re in the south of France.

Nothing special, but it’s executed competently.

Little Girl Lost

Little Girl Lost (scripted by Leigh Vance and directed by Roy Ward Baker) went to air in December 1966.

Simon is in Ireland where he rescues a young woman from a couple of thugs. The woman claims to be Hitler’s daughter! Simon is sure she’s either mad or lying but he likes a good story and she is pretty and it all sounds like it could be an amusing adventure.

There’s a millionaire mixed up in it and a couple of crooked private detectives, Simon and the girl get chased through the countryside and there’s young love thwarted and a matter of a hundred thousand pounds. And quite a bit of fisticuffs. 

Oh, and there’s a castle and a dungeon as well.

All in all this is a delightful light-hearted romp.

Paper Chase

Paper Chase (directed by Leslie Norman and written by Harry W. Junkin and Michael Cramoy) went to air in December 1966.

A chap named Redmond from the Foreign Office has defected to East Germany taking with him a vital file. Simon gets inveigled into working temporarily for British intelligence since he can identify the defector. But it’s not as simple as that. The East German spy who was Redmond’s contact wasn’t what he seemed to be. And Redmond finds he’s been conned.

There’s also a pretty girl (naturally). She’d like to go to London with Redmond. Or with Simon. Or with anybody who’ll take her.

This story gives Roger Moore a chance to do the James Bond thing which of course he does pretty well. There’s a lot more action than usual and some decent suspense.

All in all this is a pretty good spy thriller episode.

Flight Plan

Flight Plan (directed by Roy Ward Baker and scripted by Alfred Shaughnessy) went to air in December 1966.

Diana Gregory (Fiona Lewis) arrives in London to meet her brother Mike but a phoney nun tries to kidnap her. Luckily when a damsel is in distress you can be sure that Simon Templar will be at hand to rescue her. But then there’s another mystery - her brother, an R.A.F. pilot, is nowhere to be found.

Mike had been one of the pilots testing the new top-secret British fighter the Osprey (which appears to be the supersonic version of the Harrier that was planned at one stage) and it doesn’t take Simon long to figure out that there’s some kind of plot afoot involving that aircraft. Mike turns out to be a bit of a loose cannon, being a drunkard who passes bad cheques. Just the sort of person who get mixed up in an espionage plot.

This is a decent spy thriller episode with the added bonus of aerial adventure (although the aerial stuff is of course almost entirely stock footage). William Gaunt (from The Champions) plays Mike.

Final Thoughts

Five episodes, two of them a bit on the routine side but three of them very good.