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Order from Chaos

Suggesting an episode running order

The important thing to remember is that there's no correct running order for Space: 1999. It's the nature of the beast. Unlike modern shows, where events take place in a specific order and "story arcs" continue from episode to episode, the film series of the sixties and seventies were deliberately designed to have as little continuity between episodes as possible. This was done to make the shows more saleable - broadcasters knew they were buying a series of (largely) self-contained films, which gave them much more flexibility in the way they could transmit the show; episodes could be dropped, switched around or preempted without any difference being discernable to the viewer. [Well, that's the theory. It's blatant nonsense however - in the first American screenings, Dragon's Domain was shown as the second episode. Even a half-asleep viewer's going to notice that the episode opens 877 days after the Moon left orbit, and wonder what the hell's been going on for the last two and a half years!] So, the show is designed to have a definitive first episode, to establish the format and introduce the characters, with all subsequent episodes being interchangeable. Part of the sales package would be an instruction to open with Breakaway, after which it would be up to broadcasters to sort out a running order - or more likely to put the episodes out completely at random.

What this doesn't do is take note of the way the series develops. The producers may have been aiming to have interchangeable, continuity-free episodes, but with the best will in the world, subtle changes are going to work their way into the show. Characters will start to be written differently once the writers see how the actors are playing them. Ideas and concepts that didn't work out are quietly dropped. The thinking at the time was that such differences were small and wouldn't be noticed by the casual viewer. [This seriously underestimates the intelligence and observation of the audience, of course, but it really does seem as if tv executives thought their consumers were idiots.] All they had to avoid was doing something irrevocable, like killing off a major character, as they couldn't guarantee that other episodes featuring that character wouldn't be screened later. (They can kill off Commissioner Simmonds in Earthbound; since the only other episode he appears in is Breakaway, there's no way you can show those out of sequence. But the only other major characters we see dying are single episode guest stars; by the same token, we never see what happens to Jackie Crawford after Alpha Child.) [I'm reminded of the character of Mr Leslie in Star Trek - he's not one of the main players, but he's a named and recognizable character who features in a huge number of episodes - he's killed off by the alien creature in the episode Obsession, yet is seen back on duty several times subsequently. This would have seemed even worse once the episodes were being shown in random sequence in syndication.]

So, is there a "right" order in which to show the series? It's quite common these days to place the episodes into production order. This is how they're arranged on the DVDs for instance; and it's the order in which the BBC (mostly) showed the first series. Now, one might think that this would take account of those subtle changes I talked about - that's true to an extent, except for that fact that it's not a progressively linear development, as multiple scripts were being written and re-written at the same time. (Take Matter of Life and Death - it was produced second, but there's just as much dialogue suggesting it's not the second episode as that suggesting it is...) Then again, there are some fans who argue that the production order makes more sense of the changes to the set layouts. For instance, the basic design of Main Mission changes as the series goes on: the lighting behind the translucent panels changes colour; the steps along the wall leading up to the windows disappear; and Kano acquires his own rotating desk in the centre. Well, I seriously have to ask: should we allow what must have been practical production decisions to dictate our understanding of the narrative? Let's think about this for a second. What that's effectively saying is that, in the midst of their desperate struggle to survive, Koenig got the decorators in to completely remodel the room - a huge control room sitting at the top of a tower overlooking the base. Is that really credible? Surely, it's far better to overlook what amount to a few visual continuity errors? (I would guess they took the steps out to make the set easier to work with - perhaps to create some more floor space for the cameras and actors to move in. As for the lighting panels - I think constant changes in colour make more sense within the context of the series, as a deliberate attempt to break up the sterile look of the base and prevent claustrophobic reactions in the personnel.) There are other more aesthetic and narrative reasons why production order is unsatisfactory: to take a single example, it means watching War Games and The Last Enemy - two episodes in which the base comes under heavy military attack - back to back. Any responsible broadcaster would separate these episodes to stop it looking like the programme is repeating itself.

When I started watching the series, courtesy of the ITC video releases, I had no idea what the production order was. All I could tell then was that the order in which the episodes were being released was clearly wrong. So, because I'm of that sort of mind, I found myself trying to work out the "proper" running order. [Even before I'd seen all the episodes! It's like a sort of intellectual jigsaw puzzle - you move the pieces around to see what fits best, then when something new comes along and spoils your theory, you move them around some more. It's an organic process, but it does mean that once finalized, the sequence sets in stone in my mind. That's one reason why I've stuck with it for this site - although I do genuinely believe it works to enhance the viewing experience.] For the first series, this was based on what little continuity there is in the show - lines of dialogue, and other hints that certain events might occur later than others, changes in the characters' attitudes, and so on - but overall, the aim was just to come up with the most logical and watchable sequence of events. The second series was relatively easier to order, since most of the episodes are given a date at the beginning. This means that the sequence is much closer - though not identical - to the production order. (As for the two episodes without dates, their approximate positions can be inferred from the dates given in the episodes produced around them.) Of course, going with the stated chronological order is not without its own continuity problems, but I'll examine those in the episode analyses. [You have to wonder though why they bothered to put such obvious dates on the second series - it flies in the face of the way film series are supposed to work. You can be sure that the episodes weren't ever screened in that order (although the BBC rerun in 1999 almost managed it...) - so the alert viewer would have seen the Alphan's chronology jumping about.]

So, to go back to the first series: in creating my running order, I noticed that the episodes divide roughly into two categories - those where the Moon arrives at a new planet, and those where the Alphans are visited by aliens or encounter various space phenomena. Since one of the common criticisms of the show is the perceived regularity with which the Moon encounters a new planet, it made sense to alternate the two different types of episode - that way, they wouldn't seem to arrive at a new planet every week. (In actuality, it's not every week, as the series takes place over a much longer timescale.) This may create some artificial and arbitrary shuffling of episodes, but I felt it was important to maintain this balance. At the same time, I made sure that episodes dealing with similar concepts were moved apart in an attempt to keep things fresh. My third decision was to try and suggest a progression further into the depths of the universe - which meant that episodes that retained some link to Earth (whether it be aliens who had observed our world, or discovering lost Earth expeditions) would be placed in the first half of the series, with the more exotically strange episodes later on.

I'll now briefly outline my reasons for the placing of each episode:

1. Breakaway
September 13th 1999: the odyssey begins.

2. Earthbound
Time has moved on since the breakaway, with talk of the Alphans adjusting and coming to terms with their situation - but no more than a few weeks: it's clearly stated that the date is still 1999, and the Moon must still be in the general vicinity of Earth to enable the Kaldorian ship - which after all is heading that way - to be able to pass close enough to identify the Moon and lock on to it. (One might also note that whilst Koenig and Helena are now on first name terms, as they will be throughout the rest of the series, he still calls her "Dr Russell" when formally requesting her assistance in dealing with the alien ship). But the deciding factor here is the presence of Commissioner Simmonds. He's a strong personality, and the way he dominates this story makes it inconceivable that any significant events could have occurred since the breakaway without his involvement. Wouldn't he have taken over the interrogation of Lee Russell for instance? Given his behaviour here, he would certainly have tried to get aboard the survival ship in Black Sun. Some fans will seriously try to suggest that Simmonds just sulks in his quarters during any intervening episodes; but to my mind, there's no way that any episode without Simmonds can fill the second slot. [Interestingly, the BBC repeat run broke from following the production order to insert Earthbound as the second episode.]

3. Black Sun
The Moon's passage through the black sun moves it into a different part of the universe - perhaps one where different physical laws appply. This might explain some of the scientific oddities in the show - for that reason alone, I think this episode has to come very early on. But several factors place it after Earthbound: the problem of Simmonds's absence, as discussed above; the fact that the Kaldorian ship, on a general course towards Earth, wouldn't have been able to locate the Moon if it had moved to a different area of space; and the fact that a black hole that close to our solar system really ought to have been detected already.

4. Missing Link
Now an unspecified distance from Earth, the Alphans encounter their first planet. Koenig leads an expedition to attempt a landing, which almost ends in disaster - perhaps this leads to the more cautious approach seen in subsequent episodes of sending a survey Eagle first (with a more expendable pilot.) The fact that Koenig falls in love with Vana and wants to stay with her also places this episode here: I can't see him being prepared to abandon Alpha and his responsiblity to the personnel any later in the series. (There's also the question of his growing relationship with Helena - it's hinted at in the preceding episodes, but hasn't fully blossomed yet. Although it remains a fairly low-key piece of characterization throughout the rest of the first series, I find it hard to see Koenig leaving Helena and falling for another woman - even a golden-skinned one - any later in the series than this.)

5. Voyager's Return
The Alphans encounter a lost space probe that has been charting the universe. I place this here as it explains something of an anomaly in the series: that the Alphans are seen to display fairly detailed knowledge of the planetary systems they visit, often knowing the names of alien worlds before they reach them; even possessing star charts of distant parts of the galaxy. In this episode, they successfully retrieve the data that the Voyager probe has been collecting, which is said to provide a huge amount of invaluable astronomical and scientific information. The probe's launch is dated to 1985, which Victor says was fifteen years ago - suggesting that time is moving on, and from the Alphans' point of view, the date is now 2000.

6. Matter of Life and Death
Although filmed second, I feel this episode fits best a little further into the series. It's made clear that Terra Nova is not the first planet they've encountered, but the first that seems to hold the promise of a successful colonization. More importantly from a character point of view, this is the episode that brings Koenig's relationship with Helena to a head. Though it's been hinted at (his concern for her safety in Earthbound and Black Sun, her tears over having to terminate his life support in Missing Link), they clearly haven't committed to each other before now (hence Koenig's romance with Vana, and even the suggestion of an attraction between Helena and Captain Zantor). The unexpected reappearance of Helena's husband here probably crystallizes Koenig's feelings (quite apart from the obvious jealousy he displays) - as he lies apparently dying, he tells her: "We almost made it, you and I..." In the epilogue, Kano reports to Koenig on the results of a feasibility study that Computer has been running, about how many potentially habitable planets the Moon is likely to encounter along its current trajectory. This would make sense with my placing of Voyager's Return - the raw data for these projections are obviously the information downloaded from the probe.

7. Ring around the Moon
The Tritonian probe is defeated with evidence of its home planet's destruction - something which Victor gains from his "galaxy charts". This must be more information derived from the Voyager probe.

8. The Last Sunset
A character-based episode with a sad ending, this seems to fit here before some of the more fantastical worlds the Alphans encounter.

9. Alpha Child
After that sad ending, a new beginning: the first birth on Alpha. This is something that was surely going to happen sooner rather than later. (The timescale I'm proposing would suggest this is about a year after the breakaway, implying that the child was conceived around three months afterwards. We have to assume that once Helena became aware of this first conception, strict birth control was imposed on the Alphans - as a "baby boom" would certainly upset the precariously balanced environment of the Moonbase such as Koenig describes in this episode. That's why we never see any more children in the future.)

10. Death's other Dominion
Victor says the 1986 Uranus probe was fourteen years ago, suggesting again that the date is 2000 (I would say very late in the year). Within that timescale, I'd want to place the episode as far as possible from Matter of Life and Death, which also features a mysteriously transformed survivor of a lost space expedition.

11. Force of Life
In keeping with my proposed scheme, as the Moon leaves the Earth ever further behind, the mysteries of deep space become increasingly bizarre. Here, an inexplicable alien force affects the base.

12. Guardian of Piri
The growing strangeness of the universe sees the Moon arriving at the weirdest planet so far.

13. The Troubled Spirit
In contrast, I felt it was interesting here to demonstrate that the human mysteries of life and death could be just as strange and incomprehensible as any alien influence. This is one of the four episodes featuring Italian guest stars, which help to emphasize the international nature of the Base - but it's useful for our purposes to move these episodes apart somewhat: once again to add variety, and to prevent all the Italian personnel suddenly turning up one after the other.

14. The Last Enemy
The base sustains damage during a military attack. As stated earlier, I'd want to place this at some distance from War Games. Here, we see Koenig ordering a preemptive attack against the Bethan gunship. I really don't see him acting in this way after the lesson he learns in War Games, so this episode must be placed earlier. (He's already given a similar order in Alpha Child, but called it off - only for more aliens to arrive and get the better of the Eagles. This would suggest why he doesn't want to take any chances this time. Nevertheless, Victor remarks it's not really his style.)

15. Collision Course
Here, it might seem as if I'm breaking my self-imposed rule by having two "planet" episodes back to back. But I'll permit myself this: Collision Course starts out as a "phenomena" episode, and the presence of the planet only becomes apparent later on - and the thrust of the plot is more about avoiding the danger of collision than it is about the chance of colonizing the planet. This is the first episode to really confirm earlier hints of a higher force guiding the Alphans' destiny, so fits nicely here to start the build-up to the final episodes.

16. Dragon's Domain
Another episode with an Italian guest star, placed here to help separate it from the others. This is the only first series episode (aside from Breakaway) to be specifically dated: the story starts 877 days after the Moon left orbit - that's 6th February 2002. This fits within the timescale I've been suggesting, allowing a space of two to three months between each episode. (It seems odd that we haven't met Cellini before now, considering he's an old friend and colleague of Koenig's - but I can't argue with such a definitively-given date.)

17. The Full Circle
A character-based episode, providing a change of pace from the mystery and horror of previous instalments.

18. Mission of the Darians
Although a "space phenomena" episode, this one plays out more like a "planet" episode, as the Alphans are offered the chance of a new life with the Darians.

19. End of Eternity
I wanted to move this episode as far away from Death's other Dominion as possible, since they're both episodes touching upon the theme of immortality. It's hard to know which way round they should be viewed, since in both cases the Alphans (Koenig excepted) seem keen to gain the secret of eternal life, as if the lesson learned in each episode had no effect upon them. (So it's best to keep them as far apart as we can, and hope no one notices!) Victor's apparent wish for immortality here seems more of a throwaway speculation than it did in Death's other Dominion. When discussing Balor's claims, Helena comments that they know immortality is possible - presumably this is referring to the events of Death's other Dominion, indicating that this episode must be the later one.

20. War Games
This is the flipside to The Last Enemy, with Koenig's fear of a uncommunicative and militarily-powerful force leading him to launch another preemptive attack. The consequences seen here mean he's unlikely to do this again. Since, before the final revelation, it really does appear as if the base has been destroyed and abandoned, I wouldn't want to place this any earlier in the series - it just wouldn't have the same impact, the same sense that this really could be the end. (There is, I think, something mournful and elegaic about all these last few episodes - here, there's an almost funereal tone, culminating in Victor's moving farewell speech.) The alien world here is strange and completely unknown - we don't even find out its name - suggesting that perhaps the Alphans have moved beyond the areas surveyed by the Voyager probe.

21. The Infernal Machine
The elegaic theme continues with this meditation on loneliness, the meaning of identity and the vanity of seeking a continued existence beyond death.

22. Another Time, Another Place
This episode was filmed sixth, but I choose to move it almost to the end of the series for the simple reason that it shows the Alphans finally returning to Earth. Having this occur much earlier in the series robs it of any dramatic and emotional impact - but after so many travels, to finally get what they want, only to have it snatched away, is heartbreaking. [The original video release had this one quite near the end of the series as well, so I felt that impact with all the weight of the previous episodes behind it - just for once, that peculiar release order made some sort of sense. I couldn't imagine this episode playing earlier in the series.]

23. Space Brain
Following the space/time warps of the previous episode, the Moon could be almost anywhere in the universe now. (Certainly they're not in a region that Voyager One charted - or it would have recorded the existence of the Space Brain - or more likely the probe would have been crushed by the Brain's antibodies.) Here, Koenig seems to be enacting the lessons learned in War Games - although initially planning to use nuclear charges against the Brain, he's uneasy about the whole notion of a preemptive attack against an entity they don't understand, and goes out of his way to attempt to communicate with the Brain - sadly, all to no avail, and the mournful epilogue fits perfectly into the mood of this part of the series.

24. The Testament of Arkadia
The Alphans finally discover the purpose behind their wanderings. There's no doubt that this revelation should be kept for the last episode of the series. Koenig's expression of hope in his final log entry makes for the perfect coda. [This was also the last episode to be filmed. Back when I started watching the series, I didn't know that of course. Indeed, thanks to the completely random order of the ITC video releases, I saw this one fourth! But even then, before I'd started thinking about developing a running order, I had this one pegged as a possible last episode - sometimes, these things are simply inevitable.]

As I said above, the first series takes place over a timescale of several years. The only definite date is given in Dragon's Domain: February 2002. So regardless of where you place that episode, the whole series covers at least two and a half years. (I've got Dragon's Domain as the sixteenth episode, so I'm projecting a timescale of three and a half to four years.) This is contradicted by the second series, whose stated dates clearly indicate that the whole first series occurs within one year of the breakaway - the second series is allowed to stretch over six years however, a much more acceptable timescale. There's no easy way to reconcile the discrepancy, and no leeway in the given dates. By my timescale, the first series overlaps the first twelve episodes of the second. (This is perhaps evidence for arguing that the two series in fact take place in alternative universes, a notion I'll be examining in some detail later.)

I make no claims that this running order is perfect, or even the best way to view the series - but it works for me, and I hope I've outlined my thinking clearly here. (It really depends on what indicators you think are significant - there are plenty of other opinions on the matter.) I think it's certainly in the spirit of a seventies film series that its running order be completely free for the individual to decide; and so I'm pleased to present my own preferred order on this website.


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