Ian Coomber gives us his thoughts on the 1969 film Doppelgänger aka Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun. We hope both of you are sitting comfortably…
Although most commonly known by its alternative title Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s 1969 film was originally released in Europe under the name of Doppelgänger, and was one which heralded a new era in their work. Produced just prior to The Secret Service, which failed to capture the magic of its Supermarionation predecessors, it showed they had what it would take to create live action, space bound science fiction. Something which would eventually lead to what is arguably their most ambitious yet successful series, Space: 1999.
As a sci-fi film which dealt more with a speculative “what if?” scenario than a credible scientific theory, Doppelgänger begins with the top secret discovery of a planet which, as both titles suggest, is a duplicate of Earth located on the far side of the sun. Naturally a manned mission isn’t far behind, and comes as a cooperative venture between NASA and the fictional Eurosec; a prediction of an inter-European venture some six years before the European Space Agency was established.
Although Thunderbirds‘ cinematic efforts under-performed at the box office, this premise originally intended as a one hour TV special would go on to be produced specifically for the silver screen. A deal with Universal was secured in part by the previous successes of Century 21 and the cordial relationship with Lew Grade, although it wasn’t until Robert Parrish was brought in as director that production could begin in earnest. Considered to be a “bankable” name, Parrish started his career as an editor, for which he won an Oscar in 1947, but also came to the project with nearly 20 years of experience as a director.
Despite being primarily known as creators and producers, Doppelgänger was also one of those rare occasions on which the Andersons also received writing credit not just for the story but the screenplay as well. A screenplay which fully lived up to the premise of what a doppelgänger actually is, and even took the idea of a mirrored double to its most accurate measurement; astronauts Colonel Glenn Ross and Dr. John Kane leave Earth’s atmosphere 42 minutes into the film, and enter that of our duplicate 42 minutes before the end.
It also included more adult themes, such as one particular scene where Ross confronts his wife about her accusations of his sterility. The fact that he does so whilst clearly holding her contraceptive pills, and that the confrontation concludes with him hitting her is a far cry from the usual familial harmony we’re used to seeing.
But for all it’s changes, Doppelgänger does have more in common with its predecessors than you might think. In fact it’s clear from the very opening that the classic Supermationation style hadn’t been completely abandoned, with the highly recognisable establishing shot of a large sign in front of a wired fence and gate being just the first of such instances. Something which is also naturally underscored by the unique sound of Barry Gray’s signature strings.
Examples which shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that other names from Century 21’s list of top talent were also brought on board, including Derek Meddings who supervised the ever impressive practical effects. While the necessary backdrop techniques may project somewhat outdated visuals, in other cases it’s still difficult to tell where the scenery stops and the physical models begin, even 50 years later. Not least in terms of the various spacecraft themselves, and obviously using contemporary rockets as a starting point, the launch pad for the Phoenix is an undisputed masterpiece.
Also like a number of series which preceded it, no amount of obviously 60’s interior designing could overshadow such imaginative model designs into making you believe this was anything other than the future. NASA’s passenger plane and accompanying service vehicle could only appear in an Anderson production, but it is the more everyday elements like the specially constructed cars which really establish the wider world we are witnessing.
Commissioned by a production company with a strong sense of lineage, these cars would go on to appear in UFO, albeit having undergone separate paint jobs for their new owners of Commander Straker and Colonel Foster. In fact many elements of Doppelgänger would reappear in the live action series, including themes from Barry Gray’s score, and even footage of the Phoenix’s launch was reused.
In fact it’s also unsurprising that a number of Doppelgänger’s cast would also find themselves appearing on the small screen later on (joined by a number of Anderson newcomers) such as George Sewell, even Straker himself Ed Bishop played the role of David Paulson, the NASA liaison to Eurosec. In fact it’s also worth mentioning that this part was initially taken by Peter Dyneley, who was another of several alumni best known for their Supermarionation voice work. Captain Scarlet’s Cy Grant is the most recognisable of those who each make just a small cameo appearance, allowing fans to finally a put a face to the voice.
Looking back, Doppelgänger obviously hasn’t become the mainstream masterpiece in the vein of Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which came out the previous year, but that’s not to say it doesn’t compare. Whether overlooked due to Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun sounding no different than any other camp low budget (albeit fondly remembered) title of the time, or considered a mere stepping stone in the career of Gerry and Sylvia, Doppelgänger in fact imbued a cinematic era of science fiction classics with the signature Anderson style of incredible imagination, exciting adventure, and obviously an explosive fireball or two.
Our thanks to Ian Coomber for his thoughts on Doppelgänger. Did you ever see this film in the cinema? If so, what was it like watching it on the big screen? Let us know in the comments section, along with any other thoughts about the film. Your twin-world selves will be doing the same…