Review by Ian McArdell
Earthbound is the second volume of regular adventures for Big Finish’s reimagining of Space: 1999. Striking a happy balance between old and new, it provides an original character-based adventure, plus a smart re-working of a television which turns it into a high-stakes two-parter.
First up, writer Marc Platt provides an original episode. It begins with the first child being born on Moonbase Alpha. While most are thrilled, Paul Morrow is concerned about the age gap between the baby and the next youngest person on the base. As Commissioner Simmons comments, they’re no longer a base and now a colony.
Celebrations are disrupted by a transmission, which is soon followed by many others. Despite the fact that they sound like either a plea for help or a warning, Morrow and Professor Bergman are keen to investigate – a mission agreed to despite Commander Koenig’s misgivings.
What follows is a story of delusions and dreams, one which explores the backstories of both Morrow and Bergman as they find themselves pulled into the heart of the mysterious ‘Delta One’ object. It’s also a cautionary tale for Professor Bergman’s boundless curiosity as their discovery comes to endanger the whole base.
This story is a terrific showcase for Glen McCready as the unlucky-in-love Paul Morrow, with Big Finish stalwart Jane Slavin guesting as his fiancé Jeanette. Plus, of course, the delightful enthusiast that is Clive Hayward’s Professor Victor Bergman.
Earthbound / Journey’s End
Earthbound adapts the television episode of the same title, expanding it across two episodes, with the second part named Journey’s End.
While on the television series, Commissioner Simmons was purely a guest role for Roy Dotrice, who played the character in two episodes, on audio the role has been expanded. Timothy Bentinck’s superb iteration of the character has been a thorn in the side of Koenig and his crew, with events leading to this story.
Using all his political acumen, Simmons effectively stages a coup – demanding, with the base’s armed security personnel on his side, that the whole population of Alpha should consider his assertion that their mission should focus on getting back to Earth, rather than on looking for a new home among the stars. In order to diffuse the situation, Koenig agrees to put the question to a vote.
Despite all the logical arguments to the contrary, such as whether the Earth survived the Moon’s departure, the impossibility of creating a faster-than-light drive and the strain it would put on an already stretched crew, Simmons proceeds to run rings around Koenig, Dr Russell and Professor Bergman. Playing on a heady mix of cryogenics and hope, he (narrowly) wins the argument.
The Brexit parallels are writ large here, unsubtly but in entertaining fashion, by writers Iain Meadows (who is also the sound designer) and Nicholas Briggs (who also directs and script edits). Weeks in, the lack of delivery of Simmons’ promises become a problem for his followers; the ‘sunlight uplands’ for Alpha include accusations and threats of physical violence. It’s into this environment that a Kaldosian ship arrives, bound for Earth and with the potential to take someone with them.
With a developed sub-plot beefing up Dr Russell’s connection with the Kaldosian Captain Zantor (Barnaby Kay), terrific head-to-heads between Simmons and Koenig, this is an impressive reimagining of Earthbound. It cleverly plays with the expectations for those familiar with the television series, but in a way that I imagine is not at all off-putting for those coming to it fresh.
In another satisfying boxset, the audio version of Space: 1999 again benefits from the pacer treatment that this modern adaptation provides; the 1970s show could be glacial at times. As ever, Iain Meadow’s sound design in on point to evoke the feel of the series and Joe Kraemer provides an absorbing score. Heightened emotions form an essential component too (longing looks are a tough sell on audio) as the attraction between John Koenig (Mark Bonnar) and Helena Russell (Maria Teresa Creasey) is tackled head on.
Given where the story concludes, it seems certain there are plans for more. While I’m being deliberately circumspect to preserve the surprises, the decisions taken here open up the story in interesting ways so I really hope so.
If you haven’t jumped on board yet, now’s the time – this Moon is really going places!
Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!