The Pitch: Space: 1999 (Part 2)

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The Phantom of the Cineplex

Preface:  The original second episode of the first season of Space:  1999 was entitled “Force of Life” and featured a young Ian McShane as the heavy (EVEN THEN!).  This particular episode terrified me in my childhood.  The 1975 broadcast was, as was the common practice of the day, wholly self-contained and neither informed nor was informed by other screenplays in the series, which is a shameful waste of the opportunity to connect the many common elements it otherwise shares with several other episodes.  In keeping with the original proposition of my pilot treatment, I intend to re-imagine the material presented in the many episodes as all connected by an over-arching major plotline and several subplots while keeping the screenplays, themselves, in their proper broadcast order.

“The Life Force” (new episode name) would open with Moon Base Alpha (MBA) Commander John Koenig taking up residence in the quarters of recently deceased Commander Gorski.  The chamber is appropriately equipped for his rank and the new base commander is combing through the records left accessible at Gorski’s security terminal.  When the door to the room beeps, Koenig hurriedly clears the terminal screen and turns to the entrance.  He finds Alan Carter, his ace pilot, waiting in the corridor beyond and motions him in.  After a quick look-about for witnesses, Koenig closes and seals the cabin door and says, “Alan, I’m glad you’re here.  I need your help with something.”

Commander Koening asks Carter what he remembers about Helena Russell, and Carter affirms Koenig’s recollection that Doctor Russell had been chosen, by computer lottery (as was revealed in 1975’s broadcast of the original episode “Earthbound”, the society of Space:  1999’s timeline let computers make human mission selections) for the Meta Project.  Together the two agree that they remember that the launch of the Meta Probe had been delayed by a viral outbreak among the selected astronauts, and Koenig relates that he had received an unexpected “goodbye” message from Dr. Russell after she had been ordered to report, as she feared that mission might be a one-way trip.  When Carter asks who else knew about about her selection, the commander replies, “Commissioner Gerald Simmonds”.  Koenig asks his friend to keep the matter between themselves, but be alert to any information that would improve their mutual understanding.

Before leaving, Koenig asks Carter how well he knows Paul Marrow, to which he responds that he briefly meet him when they were all assigned to the Ultra Project, just as Koenig recalls.  This question prompts Carter to ask a question of his own, as he is confused about the chain of command at MBA.  Both men are perplexed as to whom, exactly, was Base Commander Gorski’s second in command, as it seems that Main Mission Controller Marrow is actually third in line.  The new base commander suddenly seems very concerned, and cautions his pilot friend to “tight lipped and wide eyed”.  Carter looks both ways down the corridor before stepping out of the commander’s cabin to casually but surreptitiously slip out as John Koenig turns back to his security terminal and begins keying in his security codes.

*******

“Outside”, a wide camera pan captures the stark moon careening across a featureless starfield.  Earth is now a strangely small dot in the vast distance, barely identifiable by the unaided eye.  Professor Victor Bergman is conferring with Controller Paul Marrow about developments in the continuing crisis.  When Marrow, a man of some scientific education, asks Bergman why, when the Moon is no longer in a tide-locked orbit around the Earth, that the planet has still not been visible to the Moon’s “dark side”, Bergman explains that, indeed, it should have been.  The professor shows Marrow a visual feed from an orbiting astronomical telescope and assures the Main Mission Controller that, according to Dopler rangefinding, the Earth is nearly three times more distant than the natural center of their (apparently) stable orbit and that Earth, while growing more distant, is somehow still locked in its usual location in the Moon’s sky.  When Marrow asks if the Moon’s rotation has changed and is told that it has not, he declares that that is a paradox and an impossibility.  “Yes…and no, in that order”, responds Professor Bergman.  Neither man is looking at the monitor when a strange, pulsating light floats across the camera’s objective.

The unseen luminance moves in an arc, as though adjusting course toward a just-noticed Moon.  The light “descends” upon the lunar surface and races across it.  Viewers watch as the camera trails the spectral object in its searching path, taking in the features of the lunar landscape in passing.  The phenomenon flies over crests and valleys, craters and canyons before finally aligning with the glittering topside structures of Moon Base Alpha as the appear over the horizon.  The object accelerates and, just as is about to fly over the artificial habitat, it dives and plunges through the outer surface of the lunar base like a comet through a cloud, causing no physical damage and leaving no material trace of its passage.

*******

Meanwhile, in the medical wing, Doctor Helena Russell is familiarizing newly arrived Doctors Ed Spencer and Bob Mathias with MBA facilities.  Dr. Mathias is attentive and grateful, but expresses confusion and finally asks if Doctor Ben Vincent was not the head of the Medical Section.  Dr. Russell only appears slightly irked when she responds that Dr. Vincent is HER divisional deputy.  Her abbreviated tour continues with Drs. Mathias and Spencer exchanging questioning glances, when suddenly alarms sound throughout the complex.  All in attendance follow Dr. Russell as she races toward the duty station notice board, a wall-mounted panel currently ablaze with flashing lights and intoning warnings of several concurrent events.

Dr. Mathias is the first to interpret, as he seems eager to demonstrate his worth by pointing to a flashing yellow feature of the panel.  “Power fluctuations are triggering equipment reboots”, he offers.  “And someone has initiated a general security alert”  Dr. Spencer adds as he points to flashing red symbol.  Dr. Russell looks at her two peers with a look of hurt and frustration.  “The system is reporting that we’ve lost vitals for five technicians in Generation…reactor three!”  When the two physicians do not immediately react, she shouts “Go prepare for burn treatment!” as she detaches an emergency medical intervention package from the wall and rushes to the door.  The two doctors turn to begin preparations when Dr. Spencer turns back to ask, “What kinds of burns, Doctor?”  “Radiation!  Electrical!” she shouts in frustration while hurrying through the door.

*******

Dr. Russell arrives at the heavily built blast door guarding reactor three just as Paul Marrow and Victor Bergman likewise converge.  Koenig’s own security team, the men he brought over to MBA from the space station, are already on scene and attempting to overrided the door controls.  They are easily distinguished from all other personnel by their purple coded sleeves.  Helena catches her breath when she seems to recognize a voice; “John, this is Toni.  We’re going to need your remote override for entry into reactor three.” she hears a man speak into his commlock.  With dread she realizes that she, too, has been recognized as the man, who is apparently on a first-name basis with the new base commander, looks up from the door lock with contemptuous eyes, narrowed to slits.  His pupils slide sideways in dismissive disgust as he turns back toward the door.  “They should be opening now, Toni” comes the voice of John Koenig through the tinny little speaker embedded in the base of the commlock.  Indeed, the doors were sliding open even as he spoke, and Toni and his men rush inside.  Less eager now, Dr. Russell gingerly picks her way through the growing crowd of responders.

The room is undamaged, but there are burned bodies laying in various positions around the chamber.  All seem dead.  Helena knells at the first one she encounters and opens her medical package.  She retrieves an instrument and begins examining the unmoving form.  She is examining a second casualty when Commander Koenig rushes into the chamber and asks for a damage report Paul is the first to respond and states that there is no physical damage to any of the systems, power fluctuations not withstanding.  When the commander turns to the professor for confirmation, Bergman nods his head and affirms that there is no sign of fire, electrical discharge, or irradiation.  Koening is surveying the room with a look of frustrated curiosity when suddenly Dr. Russell declares “This one is alive”.  She immediately begins to apply treatment and the commander retrieves his commlock to instruct Dr. Mathias to bring a liter team to reactor three for one survivor.  Koenig turns to leave and is just passing through the door when he is stopped by voice of Toni Cellini; “John, I’ve seen this before.  You know what this is.”  One look from him informs Cellini just what the commander thinks of that cryptic suggestion and with that dismissal the security officer sighs in resignation.  Koenig passes him by.

*******

The base commander heads directly to Main Mission Control and begins to review the surveillance record for the reactor at the noticeably uncrewed security monitoring station.  He observes the moment the luminous entity penetrated the base and entered the control room of reactor #3.  He watches a monitor in horror as he now sees what only the camera had witnessed:  A man is seized upon by the strange force and (as Koenig is seen to observe), at that very moment, each of the other reactor operators suddenly stops, as though frozen in place, and remains perfectly still.  The first man taken by the light, however, is seen to struggle with the intangible presence and, in his failing resistance, resorts to beating he own head against an instrument panel as he repeatedly screams “No!”  This man begins to smolder and then bursts into flames and, even as he drops to the floor in the throws of agony, he continues to scream “No no no!”  His screaming only ends with his apparent death and the light passes on to one of the other, unmoving technicians.  The gruesome scene repeats two more times with similar results, but on the third attack the victim, smoldering but still alive, seems to capitulate to the silent demands of his psychic assailant with an acquiescent “Alright…yes!  Yes.”  This man, who is so badly burned that he is unrecognizable, proceeds to attack the remaining two reactor technicians, who still appear to be frozen in place.  In both instances, the possessed man needs merely place his hands on his fellows and they burst into flames where they stand.  This having been done, the “survivor”, if he can be called such, wavers on his feet for a moment, seeming gripped by a thrill of ecstasy, before finally collapsing to the floor where he will later be found.

“Zoref?”

Koenig turns upon hearing Paul Marrow gasp and realizes that his viewing has attracted a small audience of command staff.  “Zoref…Anton, I think”, says Paul in answer to the unasked question.  Among the gathering is Sandra Benes, who, apparently not having seen the recording from the beginning, asks for how long the ordeal in the reactor had gone on and Koening, to his surprise, notes that it must having occurred over the course of at least ten minutes.  “Impossible!” declares David Kano, “We’d have noticed that”.  Commander Koenig begins flipping switches to change camera angles concurrent to the events playing out in the reactor, and discovers another shocking truth!  Cameras from all corners of the lunar base recorded Alpha staff throughout the labyrinthine complex simply standing fixed in place, all unmoving.  The base commander’s final reveal is an interior view of the Main Mission Command Center itself and, as if to specifically refute Kano’s claim, a panning camera captures him in its moving frame, seated at his workstation, perfectly still.  Tanya Alexander shrieks when she sees herself standing motionless in a doorway.

Professor Bergman, having entered at some indefinite time, points out that the cessation of movement must be a purely cognitive phenomenon because, if it were of a physiological nature, they would all have a horrifying recollection of paralysis.  Instead, everyone seems to be suffering from “missing time”.  As the staff then begin to murmur among themselves about this alarming development, Koening catches Marrow by the elbow to draw him closer and ask, in a loud whisper, “Paul, whose supposed to be manning this security station?”  When Paul answers that, as Main Mission Controller, HE is acting head of security, Koenig questions why and is reluctantly told “It’s just me, John” in a tone which lacks the conviction of truth.  The commander seems unconvinced but then, as though suddenly taken by a dreadful realization, Koenig’s face changes to an expression of wide-eyed fear and, standing in a jump, he asks who was the surviving reactor operator removed by Doctor Russell.

*******

“Anton Zoref” Doctor Helena Russell reads aloud from her patient’s medical chart.  The man she is attending has received some preliminary treatment and his burned cloths have been replaced with wrappings which now cover the whole of his body.  She checks the fitment of the restraints which she hopes will prevent the self-injury from which burn victims often suffer when scratching to relieve the incessant itching which accompanies such injuries, and sighs with the resolved confidence that she and her team have done all that could be done, given the severity of Zoref’s injuries.  She dims the general lighting in the recuperation chamber and retreats beyond the hatch before pressurizing the glass enclosure with hyperbolic oxygen.  When the doctor activates a workstation and begins to log her patient’s treatment and prognosis, she turns her back to the recovering burn victim at nearly the exact moment he begins to regain consciousness.

Anton Zoref barely opens the slits of his eyes before clinching them shut in wincing pain.  He attempts once more to look at himself and discovers that he has been restrained.  Raising his head to look down on his own body, he finds that he is thoroughly bandaged.  Terrified by the significance of this, he begins to silently weep and, recollecting the events which produced his current predicament, he shakes his head in denial and grief.  Suddenly, his expression changes, as though his personality has been instantly replaced with one completely disinterested in his current situation or physical condition and he begins to pull at the straps which bind his arms to the bed rails.  With inhuman strength, he breaks free and, third-degree burns notwithstanding, he leaps to his feet and rushes at the door.

Doctor Russell turns with a frightened cry toward the observation chamber upon hearing Zoref’s collision with the air-tight hatch.  She is momentarily stunned and almost does not react to seeing him experimentally pressing keys on the interior access panel.  She attempts to lock the door from her side, but finds she is too late and Zoref lunges for her through the sliding hatch.  She turns to flee from the recovery center through a now-opening door and nearly collides with two of Koenig’s purple-sleeved security team rushing in from the other side.  When Russell sees that one of the men is Toni Cellini, she pulls back in fear, as though he terrifies her more than the monster behind her.  The two men immediately assess the situation and, drawing their weapons, attempt to subdue the rampaging man.  Zoref, however, seems possessed and easily throws off his attackers.  Cellini recovers just in time to see his companion seized by Zoref whereupon the man screams and bursts into flames.  Cellini snatches up Dr. Russell and pulls her into the exterior hallway, pausing only to close the door.  Once clear of the doorway, Cellini asks the doctor who else is in the recovery wing.  When she responds that there is no one else, he uses his security-coded commlock to lock down the medical center.  They are running down the hallway when, in the distance behind them, they hear Zoref tear the door from its frame.

While retreating down the corridor, Commander Koenig’s voice comes over Cellini’s commlock, assuring him that the whole situation is being monitored and that their escape route is being secured remotely.  When Cellini replies that Zoref is now too strong to contain, Koenig realizes that the blast doors to reactor room #3 had contained the possessed man and he tells Cellini to head there.  Along the way, the fleeing pair come upon a travel-tube accessway and the security guard unceremoniously pushes the doctor into an awaiting car.  Having seen to Russell’s delivery, Cellini continues to navigate his way through MBA’s labyrinthine complex toward reactor room #3, where the most current crisis started.

Cellini finds the massive door to the reactor chamber already open and he passes through to find a hiding place.  No sooner than he is secured under cover does Zoref, in his slow yet relentless pursuit, come into the room and begin to look around.  The moment Cellini breaks cover and makes for the door, Koenig, who is observing the chamber remotely, triggers the closure of the blast door.  The purple-sleeved man just barely escapes Zoref’s grasp and slips through the doorway before the massive door shuts, trapping the madman inside.

*******

Back in the Command Center, Professor Bergman is advising Koening to allow him to apply a new technology, one which has previously worked in tabletop demonstrations but which has failed in large scaled tests.  Koening feels wholly out of his element and readily defers to Bergman’s suggestion.  When the professor informs him that it will be necessary to open the reactor housing itself, Koenig hesitates to countermand his prior consent, and Bergman exploits the commander’s indecision to force the issue.  On surveillance monitors which ring the room, command staff tensely watch as the innermost door to the reactor core laboriously swings open to expose the radioactive hell within.  The camera’s flare as they automatically filter and adjust for the intense light contrast, but the imagining resolves to reveal Zoref, standing proud and fearless against the nuclear fire.  His mummy-wrapped form smolders briefly before bursting into flame, but the man himself shows no sign of pain or concern.  Instead, as though enraptured with a strange admiration for the fiery core, Zoref leans into the circular access of the vault-like door, and hangs from the seal, striking a contemplative pose.

At just that moment Professor Bergman nearly shouts, “Ha!  Got you.” as he presses a button on his commlock.  “Activate it now Er…Linden!  Right now!”  No sooner than he has spoken than a new light appears and, for a brief moment, a broad ray of energy can be seen to pass from out of the monitor’s picture frame, its course channeled directly through the reactor accessway from opposite the room, like a shot straight down its throat.  Zoref’s withering form possess no obstacle at all and, in a flash of light, he disintegrates.  Bergman barely has time to shout “Turn if off…off!” into his communicator before Commander Koenig turns on him and demands to know what just happened.  The professor is remotely closing the reactor housing even as he speaks.  “That was, uh, that was ‘Queller Elimination’, John”, he says with obvious reluctance.

With a sudden look recollected fear and anger, Koenig slowly and soberly recites, “Queller.  Queller?!” with ominous portent.

As so this episode also closes on a cliff hanger.  In my re-imagination of the series, the installments should all be, well, SERIAL and not just episodic.  I would like for all the smaller stories to be inter-related and intertwined.  This version of the screenplay hits all the same plot points and, really, covers the same general outline, except that all the similarities it shares with the remaining stories are not coincidental.  Every alteration to the original is intended to foreshadow the events of future installments.  Anyone well versed in the lore of the old show can probably already see where I am going with the inclusion of Cellini and Linden this early in the season.

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