Features from Previous Issues

This page features a number of articles which have appeared in previous issues of Andersonic. This first article first saw the light of day in Issue 2 dated Spring 2006.

While in between production of the two series of Space 1999 in 1975, Gerry Anderson was commissioned to produce an episode of an educational series called Special Treat for NBC TV in America. Originally titled The Day After Tomorrow, it is now better known by its subtitle Into Infinity. The episode’s aim was to illustrate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity for young viewers. Unseen on British television since the late 70s, and unavailable to buy on video/DVD until relatively recently (and then only through Anderson’s fan club), Into Infinity is an oddity in the Anderson canon. Vincent Law engages the photon drive and takes a look at this lesser-known episode.

With Earth’s resources squandered and the planet ravaged by pollution, the lightship Altares sets out on its mission to explore Alpha Centauri, four light years away. The ship is crewed by two complete families (one British and the other - of course - American). But disaster strikes soon after reaching their destination when the ship goes out of control, leaving the crew lost. They escape from an exploding supernova only to be drawn helplessly into a black hole. Re-emerging safely on the other side, they must find a new home in an unknown universe.

Nick Tate (Captain Harry Masters) had had a regular role as Alan Carter in the first series of Space:1999, while Brian Blessed and Joanna Dunham, playing the ship’s other family, Tom and Anna Bowen, had also appeared in guest roles. However the episode focusses more on the two children in the crew, particularly Jane Masters (Katherine Levy) and how she is affected by their journey. The youngest member of the crew is David Bowen (Martin Lev), a serious and somewhat precocious lad who spouts various scientific facts and is even able to navigate the vessel, making him a bit of a swot.

Johnny Byrne, a veteran of Space:1999’s first series wrote the script, although to be fair to him there wasn’t much room left for fleshing out the characters after shoehorning in the required educational content. The adult characters are pretty much peripheral, as the story is told from the children’s viewpoint; David is clearly fascinated by the prospect of travelling on into space, whereas Jane yearns to return home to Earth. Feeling slightly pressurised, she goes along with the consensus to travel further into space. The episode is directed by veteran Charles Crichton, with special effects supervised by Brian Johnson, continuing the Space:1999 old boys’ reunion. Newcomer Derek Wadsworth provides the more contemporary musical soundtrack, and even old hand Ed Bishop gets in on the act as the narrator.

Into Infinity resembles an episode of Space:1999 in many ways, bridging the two different series not just with the familiar faces both in front of and behind the camera, but also the leftover 1999 sets which are cobbled together to make up the interior of the Altares - parts of the Ultra Probe, Voyager and even the circular door from Captain Zantor’s Earthbound ship are all prominent (It’s a very cramped ship to spend four years in, particularly with a radioactive drive unit so close to the habitable part of the ship. That’s what you call tempting fate). The ‘info-dump’ opening credits echo Space 1999’s original title sequence, with shots of the forthcoming fifty minutes flashed almost subliminally across the screen, but the design falls short of 1999’s standards. Keith Wilson is conspicuous by his absence, working as he was at the time on the equally forgotten Anglo-German Star Maidens.

The costumes and hairstyles are very much of their time, and Derek Wadsworth’s music removes any lingering doubt that we’re groovin’ in the ‘70s. His music is however less intrusive than his score for the second series of Space:1999, and has quite a dynamic pace. You don’t object to it as much because in this instance it’s not a replacement for Barry Gray’s stuff, but you know it’s trouble for the Altares crew when the tambourines and wah-wah guitars break out. The punch card system, diode displays and slide rule weren’t exactly cutting edge in 1975, but they’re veritable museum pieces by modern standards, and would be more suited to a museum than a spaceship capable of travelling at the speed of light.

Brian Johnson’s effects are strangely a mixed bag. The spacecraft design is up to the usual standard, with the Altares resembling an improved Meta Probe, and the Delta shuttle being Martin Bower’s homage to Thunderbird 2. Delta Beacon is cannibalized from the enormous Daria model from Mission of the Darians. The spectacular space warp effect used so prominently in the second series of 1999 is featured heavily in this episode, being a refinement of the technique used in 2001, and is the standout effect. The use of multiple exposures and glass shots was an inexpensive but effective way of achieving believable space scenes in those pre-digital days. The ships are shot against a black background, but the pattern of the star fields tends to indicate too obviously the path the vessel will take across the screen. The depiction of adjoining planets and stars is a disappointment and not a patch on the colourful planets of Space:1999.

The episode’s whole raison d’être is the science lesson, delivered both by the characters and also Ed Bishop’s voice over. We are treated to passing mentions of the Doppler Shift, time dilation and the limitless power of the photon, but at times Ed comes across like a presenter of one of those old schools programmes from the 70s, just imparting a string of dry facts. The episode ends with a freeze frame of the Altares approaching a new planet, with the caption ‘E=MC2’ plastered across the screen, which means as little to us at the end as it did fifty minutes previously. Although the scientific content is handed to the producers on a plate in this instance, it’s still partly bungled; no mention is made of the obligatory artificial gravity, and there’s the obvious blunder that the two children do not age during their four year journey to Alpha Centauri (that’s assuming there’s no suspended animation on board).

The premise is a good one, offering scope for a potential series, although it lacks the originality of previous Anderson series and is perhaps too close to Lost in Space in that it features a family crew with a malfunctioning spaceship (but without the robot and talking carrot). The cramped plot relies on the unreliability of the Altares - while it can travel at the speed of light, seemingly it can’t be navigated dependably. The adult characters are vague, either providing Einstein-based exposition or doing the dirty work like repairing the uncharacteristically low-tech drive units (probably with a new elastic band). Of the remaining characters, only Jane is fleshed out; we share her sadness at having to leave her pet dog behind, and her concern for her father Harry as he struggles against time to repair the ship. Meanwhile David, the miniature Spock, lurks around the ship either brandishing his slide rule threatening to calculate something, or staring out of the porthole (a nice touch!) dribbling about pulsars. The boy would surely have given even Damien Thorne nightmares.

The episode cracks along at a fair old pace, but the educational content does tend to deaden the first half of the story and limits the room for character development. The design and effects fall well short of Space:1999’s recently completed first series , and suggest a tighter budget and preproduction period. It lacks the characteristic polish of previous Anderson productions, most notably in the sequence where the crew pass through the black hole; Kubrick’s stargate it is not. The slow motion filming and wobbly mirror effects are more in keeping with Blake’s 7.

There’s little point criticizing Into Infinity for being dated, as this is a foregone conclusion after 30 years. However, it has stood the test of time less well than other series. It’s clear the producers weren’t attempting to make predictions - with the punch card system, slide rule and reel-to reel tapes all a little incongruous aboard a lightship! It was made at a time when optimism in the space programme was on the wane, perhaps echoed in the unreliability of the Altares’ technology. Into Infinity does succeed in getting its science lesson across in a superficial way, but it is only a pointer for further reading. It is an uncharacteristically lacklustre entry in the Anderson canon, a half-forgotten experiment which is now perhaps only of interest to aficionados. It lacked the spark to make it to a series, but is an interesting look at what might have been. I wonder what old Albert Einstein himself would have made of it.

Vincent Law