Received opinion marks Ring Around The Moon down as one of the weaker episodes of Space:1999’s frst series. Writer Edward di Lorenzo’s more philosophical outlook may have been a little too subtle for 70s prime-time TV, but even without Barry Gray’s incidental music there’s no reason to write the episode off.
An alien probe materializes over Alpha and takes control of technician Ted Clifford, using him to transmit data from Alpha’s computer. Clifford dies suddenly, and Alpha is gripped by a force field from the nearby planet Triton. When Carter is sent to investigate, his Eagle encounters the force-field and crashes close to Alpha. While mounting a rescue on foot, Helena is abducted by the watching aliens. Back in their sphere, the aliens introduce themselves as ‘the Eyes of Triton’, their mission being to record and accumulate data on, well, everything. They return Helena to Alpha under instruction to transmit Alpha’s data to them. Meanwhile Victor has developed a force-field to enable Koenig’s Eagle to reach the Triton sphere. Having established that Triton no longer exists, Bergman and Kano ensure that Helena transmits only this data. When the probe learns of its planet’s fate, it realizes its function is discontinued (it’s redundant, in other words) and begins to self-destruct. Koenig and his men escape in the nick of time. Back on Alpha, Helena recovers while Victor ponders on whether the accumulation of knowledge is the answer after all.
On first viewing, what sets the episode apart are some below par effects sequences and the incidental music. The Tritonian ‘eye’ is disappointingly two-dimensional and is clearly just a painting animated with a strobe light. Judging by the lack of elaborate effects shots, the episode may well have been done ‘on the cheap’ following so soon after the opening episode’s effects extravaganza. Many of the Eagle shots are disappointingly static, but this may have a lot to do with the need to add the animated beams and effects. It was probably necessary to have a stationary subject to which to apply the beams, force fields etc, hence the very still Eagle shots.
Another reason that Ring Around The Moon stands out from the crowd is of course the lack Of Barry Gray’s incidental music. The episode was scored by ‘music associate’ Vic Elms, son-in-law of Sylvia Anderson and formerly of pop band Christie, with the help of Alan Willis. It’s not necessarily bad, just a little dated or a tad inappropriate in parts. In any event, the music is used sparingly, making way for some very effective and eerie sound effects.
Former stuntman Ray Austin made his debut directing Space:1999 with this episode and adds some of the polish he would later bring to End of Eternity and Mission of the Darians. The lighting effects in the scenes of Helena inside the Tritonian sphere imbue the sequences with a sense of tension and atmosphere - the aliens are heard but never seen. The scenes of Koenig and his crew eventually entering the sphere, although filmed cheaply on a plain black set with limited uni-directional lighting, are extremely effective, as Koenig inches slowly into the unknown, hand held out symbolically ahead of him, unable to see what lies ahead.
The characterisation is typically subtle. Carter is his usual headstrong self, bordering on insubordinate when questioning Koenig’s orders to merely investigate the sphere. The pilot, clearly not a ‘yes man’, has something more final in mind. Koenig shows overt concern for Carter, visiting him in his hospital bed after the crash. Koenig’s reaction to learning of Helena’s disappearance indicates a burgeoning relationship between the two. He is clearly distracted while Victor bangs on about Triton, gazing wordlessly out of the viewport. The long-shot of him in his office emphasizes his isolation and sense of loss at this point. There is also evidence of a strong and established friendship between Helena and Victor, as the latter provides firm moral support to her between the times she is ‘activated’ to transmit data.
The plot itself is undeniably a little thin, and those aborted Eagle trips to Triton look a little like padding - three flights is pushing it a bit. The idea that the Triton probe is seeking information about Earth, in expectation of the ‘primitive’ Earthmen eventually invading, is also hardly new. However, the contrast between the Tritonians and the Alphans’ approach to knowledge is the thrust of the episode; the Tritonians merely seek knowledge, whereas the Alphans use the facts they have learned (about Triton in this case) as a means to an end, i.e. saving Helena and escaping. Koenig and Bergman deduce from Helena’s abduction that the sphere has an oxygen atmosphere and that the Tritonians are unable to leave it. They are then able to work out a way of both breaking through the Tritonian force-field and controlling the flow of data to tell the aliens only what they want them to know. The writer’s point is alluded to in the epilogue when Victor muses on the Triton probe, ‘All that knowledge and yet... perhaps knowledge isn’t the answer after all’. Di Lorenzo’s answer, perhaps, is being able to accumulate the wisdom to put that knowledge to some use.
Di Lorenzo also contributed Missing Link and Alpha Child before leaving the series, apparently due to the pressure of rewrites. Later episodes would move a little away from his delicately contemplative input to accommodate more action. He went on to write for Miami Vice and Dempsey and now lectures in screenwriting at the University of California. Having cut his teeth directing ITC series such as The Saint and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Ray Austin continued his career in America on series such as Airwolf, Magnum PI and Spenser For Hire.
Although the episode lacks a little pace and is remembered for some disappointing music and effects shots, Ray Austin’s moody visuals and stylized use of sound add a great deal to the episode. The pacing, along with the use of sound and the philosophical undertone are vaguely reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey in some ways. The thrust of the episode is subtle, perhaps a little too much so, but subtle nevertheless; Star Trek it is not. The epilogue leaves the viewer something more to ponder than a joke on the bridge. It may be remembered for its wah-wah guitar incidentals but perhaps merits reassessment due to Ray Austin’s imaginatively stylized visuals.