Space:1999 fans are in for a real treat in this post by Shaqui Le Vesconte about Victor Pemberton’s treatment for ‘Space:1999 – Planet of the Eye’…
Victor Pemberton is a name well known to fans of British telefantasy, associated with Doctor Who, Timeslip and Ace of Wands, among other series such as Adventure Weekly, Tightrope and The Adventures of Black Beauty, and various radio productions; The Slide, serials for 4th Dimension and Saturday Night Theatre, an adaptation of Rider Haggard’s She, and the semi-autobiographical Our Family, based on the relationship of his parents.
It was after writing the 1968 Doctor Who story ‘Fury from the Deep’, based partly on The Slide but replacing sentient mud with seaweed, that he pitched a second story called ‘The Eye in Space’. This concerned a space-going creature like a huge octopus, which could draw objects towards it, but this was ultimately rejected. Pemberton would return to Doctor Who for an original adventure called The Pescatons, released as an LP in 1976, and which he novelised in 1991. It was shortly after The Pescatons that he developed a two-part radio play called Space Watch (aka Starlab Zero) but despite several drafts, this was never produced.
With his passing away in 2017, Pemberton’s collection of documents was acquired by Matthew Doe of Toybox Treasures, which usually concerns itself with Doctor Who memorabilia. Among these was a five page outline for Space:1999 which Doe offered up on Facebook. The document was new to fans of the series, as Pemberton’s involvement had not previously been mentioned. In fact it had, briefly, in an interview from Doctor Who Magazine in 2002, where he stated, “I was going to adapt the (‘Eye In Space’) story for Space 1999, but then that series ended.” As the document shows, this appears to have not been quite the case*…
Although undated, the outline suggests strongly it was written very early in production, using terminology from the Writer’s Guide prepared by George Bellak (writer of opening episode ‘Breakaway’) and story consultant Christopher Penfold, dated 3 September 1973. It lacks – as did the Guide – character names besides Alpha Commander (ALCOM) John Koenig, Dr. Helena Russell, and the main guest character, and so presumably pre-dates any subsequent information n characterisation and casting when rehearsals and filming began by early December.
The outline starts with Moonbase Alpha on full alert, as the Moon is rocked by a bombardment of meteorites. A specimen from one meteorite is given to geologist Alex Danilov, who determines a close parallel to mineral formations found at Tassili in the Sahara Desert on Earth, site of ancient cave paintings. As ALCOM Koenig orders a probe of a new planet which seems the source of the meteorites, adrift from any solar system and shrouded in sinister reddish mist, Danilov becomes aware of a pulsating sound like a heartbeat, and indistinct voices, before rubbing his eyes and retiring to his quarters. The same pulsating sound is heard as the M.T.U.† investigating the planet is destroyed, its pilots screaming as their craft is crushed… and in the empty Geological Laboratory, as the meteorite specimen expands out of its glass case, spilling onto the floor…
Concerned by Danilov’s headaches, a need to wear darkened glasses, and data from his ‘sleeve’** that does not make sense, Dr. Russell orders a psychoanalysis check which reveals two sets of data, one of which is incomprehensible. Electro-hypnosis of the young geologist shows the alien side is dominating the other, and transmitting information to the planet. He reveals to Russell that the planet is a living centre, feeding off the brains of travellers to grow. She leaves Danilov with a medical assistant to investigate the meteorite specimen.
The English astrophysicist Professor, using the computer, plots a path for a second MTU to navigate through a gap in the red mist and land on the planet. In the dark, the two pilots find reddish rock formations and statue-like skeletons, humanoid and alien, cocooned in web. The pulsating sound grows louder, and the pilots are sucked into the softening mud-like ground. Alarms sound, as another meteorite attack bombards the Moon’s surface to the deafening omnipotent accompaniment of the pulsating sound filling the base… as Dr. Russell discovers the cocooned skeleton of Danilov in the Geology Section…
The bombardment stops, with Alpha now cocooned in the red clay-like mass. Koenig meets with the Moonbase chiefs, and they determine the mass is only active for short periods, as Dr. Russell rushes in to tell them Danilov has broken out of the Medical Centre. After a brief skirmish in the Solarium where Danilov finds the lights too bright, he heads for the launch-pad and threatens to destroy the M.T.U. section with his TSLA†† unless allowed to leave. Koenig has no choice but to agree and makes to follow but Dr. Russell is certain this is what Danilov and the planet want. The Professor believes it to be like the eye of the octopus, drawing things to it, and it wants Koenig’s brain. The ALCOM responds this is exactly why he must go, to destroy the nerve centre before the mass outside totally engulfs and destroys Alpha.
But he needs a form of attack, and with the Professor, they reason that because of the planet not orbiting a sun, and being shrouded in mist, it fears light and heat. With an infra-red detonating device on board his M.T.U., Koenig travels to the planet and through a gap in the red mist, which closes up behind him.
On the planet’s dark surface, the laser rod of the device aimed at the surface, Koenig races against time to complete the wiring system so that Central Control can activate it. The pulsating sound starts again, and the mass around Alpha becomes foam-like and grows. The ground around Koenig begins to soften and bubble too, as an un-space-suited Danilov appears, telling him to surrender and become part of a greater civilisation than humans have ever known. Contact with Alpha is lost and Koenig, struggling to avoid the slide of foam-like matter towards him, uses the chain ray setting on his TSLA to trigger the infra-red device. The laser beam pierces into the surface and Danilov, screaming, falls into the abyss of hardening material as the eye of the space octopus nerve-centre is finally destroyed.
It has to be said that Pemberton’s outline, while brimming with ideas, is perhaps a potboiler too far, with elements thrown in that are not satisfactorily explained and while intriguing are ultimately unresolved. What is the significance of the caves at Tassili, and the voices Danilov hears? Was Danilov a duplicate, and if not, whose skeleton was it in the Geology Section? Like a rolling stone gathering moss, Pemberton tended to collect ideas and re-use them throughout his career – The Slide and ‘Fury From The Deep’ being prime – and a number resurface in The Pescatons LP (a heartbeat like pounding, visible brains, sound as a weapon), and the unproduced Space Watch, with unexplained subliminal communication with aliens, cloning (from Timeslip), an eye in space, foam, alien migration, etc, which in turn has ideas worked into the novelisation of The Pescatons. One almost suspects that Space Watch, set in the early years of the 21st century with the threatening eye-like planet Medusa hidden beyond the far side of the Moon, could be the closest we will get to a what Pemberton’s script for ‘Planet of the Eye’ may have been like…
It is not difficult for fans of Space:1999 to notice similarities between Pemberton’s outline, and episodes from its first Year. Early on, ‘Ring Around The Moon’, by script editor Edward di Lorenzo, with its visual depiction of Triton as a vast single-eyed brain which, even though not directly described, is implied throughout. Having ‘two brains’ is key to ‘Another Time Another Place’, by his successor Johnny Byrne. But it is two late episodes which, either by accident or design, have the most resonance.
‘Space Brain’ written by Christopher Penfold is the one that, for the most part, it brings to mind. A space phenomenon likened to a ‘brain’ affects astronaut Kelly who transmits information back to it. (This element also features in ‘Ring Around The Moon’ but is a staple of most television science-fiction – a form of possession) The twist is the brain is not malevolent but is attempting to destroy the Moon or at least alter its course using foam-like anti-bodies before the errant satellite ploughs into it. A simple matter of self-preservation. The episode even opens with the loss of an investigating Eagle, later revealed to have been crushed by the foam and returned as a web encrusted meteorite. Viewers of the episode, if knowledgeable about ‘Fury From the Deep’, will note the similarities to the ‘antibody’-filled Main Mission of Moonbase Alpha, and 8mm footage taken during filming at Ealing where the seaweed lays siege to the refinery control room amidst a deluge of foam.
The other episode is ‘Dragon’s Domain’, also written by Penfold, where a single-eyed octopoid creature (so-called in the script and novelisation but less apparent on-screen) that haunts the only survivor of a previous space mission, the Ultra Probe. The creature drags its victims to it, partly by hypnosis then with its tentacles, into a fiery orifice before spitting out the skeletal remains, later seen to be web covered.
As those behind the series as script editor or story consultant – between them, di Lorenzo, Byrne and Penfold penned two-thirds of the first Year – and commissioning writers after outlines were pitched, one can only ponder now whether the connections were direct or unintentional. How many ideas were tossed about, either by the cast and crew, alongside freelancers like Victor Pemberton trying to make an impression strong enough to get them the gig, to be lost and later resurface during the three-year production of the series?
As the ‘English astrophysicist Professor’ character, later named Victor Bergman, would often admit to Commander Koenig throughout Year One of the series…
“John, I just don’t know…”
With thanks to Matthew Doe, Richard Bignell, and Emily Smith of The Agency.
*At the time, Pemberton was represented by the agency Spokesmen but when writing Space Watch he had moved on to another agency, Unna/Durbridge, in May 1976. So when ‘Planet of the Eye’ was submitted, production was still ongoing.
†Mentioned in the Writer’s Guide, acronym for ‘Multiple Transportation Unit’. The early name for what would become the Eagle Transporter.
**Mentioned in the Writer’s Guide as a medical monitoring system interwoven into uniforms, but on-screen, a wrist-watch device is seen instead, as in the episodes ‘Guardian of Piri’, ‘Force of Life’ and ‘The Full Circle’.
††Mentioned in the Writer’s Guide, acronym for ‘Tranquilliser, Stun, Laser, Atomic’. The early name for what would become the stun gun.
Thank you Shaqui for this brilliant piece examining Victor Pemberton’s ‘Planet of the Eye’! Would you have liked to have seen Planet of the Eye as an episode of Space:1999?