|September 9, 1999: On the far side of Earth's Moon, nuclear waste is being disposed of in the underground silos of Nuclear Waste Area 2. Under the strict supervision of Dr. Helena Russell and Professor Victor Bergman, radiation seals on full silos are being tested for leakage.|
|En route from Earth, is John Robert Koenig, assigned to replace Commander Gorski as Commander of Moonbase Alpha. He is told by Commissioner Simmonds, that signals are being received from the newly discovered planet Meta, via the unmanned probe ship, Spacefarer 9. He believes Meta could|
|be supporting life as we know it. He explains that Koenig's job is to put man on Meta. Commissioner Simmonds emphasizes that not even the virus infection affecting the astronauts must not be allowed to threaten the launch of the Meta Probe, which is preparing to dock with the launch platform.|
|Meanwhile the radiation check is finished on the seal of the just filled silo in Nuclear Waste Area 2. As the astronauts prepare to depart, Dr. Russell reads an increase of brain activity on Nordstrom's monitors. She instructs Steiner to get him out of there. Nordstrom goes berserk, and resists Steiner's help.|
|He breaks free, and runs into the laser barrier surrounding the waste area. Koenig lands at Alpha, and is greeted by Victor, who tells him that the situation is far worse than Simmonds let on. Victor tells him that people are dying. He explains that it looks like radiation sickness, but there is no radiation.|
|At Victor's suggestion, Koenig goes to see Dr. Russell. He asks when the Meta Probe astronauts will recover from the virus. She tells him that there is no virus, but an unusual form of brain damage that causes immediate disorientation. Koenig mentions that the men who died, were workers in Disposal Area 2,|
|and that the two sick Probe
astronauts never went near there. He asks if the backup crew is
medically cleared to fly the mission. She tells him that they because of
the sudden nature of the illness, and the unknown factors, that she
cannot guarantee that they won't be affected three days or three months
into deep space.
|Koenig returns to his office where he receives a call from Commissioner Simmonds. He makes a deal with Simmonds to stop sending nuclear waste until he can figure out what is going on, and asks why he was lied to about the "virus". Simmonds tells him that they had to avoid any hint of failure, or else funding|
|for their mission would be cut off. Koenig decides to check out area two for himself. When he discovers himself over Nuclear Waste Area 1, the Eagle's pilot tells him that the navigation beacon is used as a turning point to go to Area 2. Keonig asks Collins to move in closer for a better look, then has|
|him proceed on to Area 2, where another check is done on the radiation seals. No radiation leaks are detected, which suggests that Dr. Russell's theory is incorrect. Collins suddenly goes berserk, and tries to break through the view ports to "get out" onto the lunar surface. Koenig manages to stun him,|
|and with Victor's help, drag him out of the room before the window shatters, causing explosive decompression. Back at Alpha, Koenig has Benjamin Ouma cross reference the flights of Collins against those of the sick astronauts for any correlation, then informs Alan Carter that he is canceling the Meta|
|Probe launch until he can find out why the two astronauts died. Ouma finds the connection. It's navigation beacon Delta in Nuclear Waste Area 1. Koenig orders a check on recent data on Area 1. Sandra reports a steep rise in heat, but still no radiation. They bring it up on the big screen,|
|in time to see the cameras knocked out by lightning. Koenig takes an Eagle out to Area 1 to monitor the situation. There is a magnetic surge which knocks out his on-board instruments causing his Eagle to crash as the whole area explodes. Rescue Eagles are dispatched to return him to Alpha.|
|Victor has found evidence suggesting that it was not radiation, but magnetic energy of unprecedented levels, caused by the storage of large quantities nuclear waste over the years, that is responsible for both the brain damage ,and the flare up in Area 1. His major concern now is that the same thing|
|could happen in Area 2, which contains 140 times the amount of nuclear waste of Area 1. Unwilling to send anyone else out under those circumstances, Koenig orders a remote controlled Eagle be sent to Area 2 to monitor the magnetic levels. As Paul is landing the Eagle, a magnetic surge causes it to crash.|
|Koenig has Paul contact Simmonds using emergency code Alpha 1. Unable to reach Koenig, Simmonds comes to Alpha to find out what the emergency is. Koenig explains, and after a brief discussion with Victor, they decide to distribute the mass of the nuclear waste of Area 2 over a larger area to|
|decrease the risk of it going up like Area 1. All of Alpha's Eagles are fitted with winches, and begin dispersing the nuclear waste. The heat levels even out, but the magnetic field continues to fluctuate, which worries Victor. Simmonds, believing that the situation is under control, wants to issue a communiqué|
|to that effect, but Koenig thinks it's too early to declare success, while men are still out risking their lives to avert disaster. It's still a race against the clock. Time runs out, as Paul announces "Commander, it's going up!". Koenig immediately has Paul recall all Eagles. The Nuclear Waste Area begins to|
|explode in a chain reaction that acts like a giant rocket motor, pushing the Moon out of Earth's orbit. The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha are thrown by the violent forces tearing their Moon free from Earth's grip, then pinned down by the tremendous G-forces as it pulls away. They are unable to move, held down|
|by the force of gravity, now magnified to several times that of Earth's. Alan Carter sees this from orbit, and informs them of their situation. Koenig, struggles to crawl to the communication console to let him know that they are alright. As the acceleration of the Moon slows, the base's artificial gravity|
|compensates. Carter returns to Alpha, as they consult the master computer to calculate the possibility of returning to Earth. Unable to compensate for the variables of constantly changing G-forces, due to the Moon's movement away from Earth, and it's unknown trajectory, all of the computer's data relating|
|to Operation Exodus is inapplicable. The computer's verdict: "Human decision required". All eyes turn to the Commander. John Koenig addresses the base. He tells them that they are cut off from planet Earth. He explains that they have power, environment, and, therefore, the possibility of|
|survival. Considering their lack of travel plots and full resources, he believes that any attempt to return to Earth would fail. Bearing the full weight of the survival of everyone under his command, it is his conclusion that they do not try. A news broadcast is picked up, telling of the repercussions of the Moon's|
|voyage away from Earth. The signal is lost, and Koenig orders Paul to scan all frequencies for any broadcast. After several moments of silence, a faint signal is picked up. It's Meta. As the signal increases in strength, Koenig considers that maybe that is where their future lies. Yes, maybe there...|
Commissioner Simmonds..................................................Roy Dotrice
Commander Gorski......................................................Phillip Madoc
Ben Ouma......................................................................Lon Satton
Eddie Collins....................................................................Eric Carte
Jim Nordstrom............................................................Roy Scammell
Breakaway continues to be one of my all-time favorite episodes. Perhaps because it started the series, but more likely, because it was spectacular! They were able to convey an adventure, the scope of which has seldom been seen before or since. I still get chills when Nuclear Waste Disposal Area 2 blows up. The effect is only magnified by the brilliant score by Barry Gray. Which I used to listen to on a scratchy old album for decades, until Fanderson released the music on a double CD set.
There are a few things
that I notice now that I did not notice when I first watched Breakaway. One being that
Moonbase Alpha was not lit up until the second episode. Another, in the opening credits they show
a canister of nuclear waste hitting a tower which explodes, this
is never shown in the actual episode (at least not in any version that I have).
Another thing that I noticed that really impressed me was the attention to details, that really helped to reinforce the sense of reality. Things like the video cameras in the Nuclear Waste Area, so when the astronauts report the radiation counts, or Main Mission monitors the area, it all makes sense.
Also the use of commlocks to open doors and link to the computer is established. This works, not only to define their use for viewers, but to maintain a sense of reality within the world of Space: 1999.
Another thing that lends a great sense of reality is the fact that when people are contacted by video communication in this episode, they are not necessarily standing in front of the commpost or screen waiting to talk. This is something they apparently abandoned as the show went on for the sake of expediency.
In Breakaway, more than any other episode, the use of windows to establish a link between the interiors, and exterior sets (or miniatures) is at it's best. Nowhere is this more evident than the building at the Nuclear Waste Area, and the window to the Eagle hangar. This also gives a sense of scale to the base, and it's surrounding environment. In addition to the wide open sets (complete with ceilings), Main mission in particular, we have a sense of grandeur, and believability, not often found on a television series at that time.
One of the other things that really helped to sell the realism of Breakaway (and Space: 1999 in general) was the marvelous effects work. Some things that always bothered me about many science fiction shows was the fact that when anything blew up in space, it was always vaporized, that is to say, that you never saw any wreckage. While Space: 1999 was occasionally guilty of this, I recall being immensely impressed when the Space Dock blew up and you saw debris flying towards the screen. Also, you very rarely saw ships damaged on other shows. On Star Trek, when the Enterprise was "damaged" in battle, they merely hung the model at an angle, and we had to accept that. When Koenig's Eagle crashed over Nuclear Waste Area 1, you could actually see damage to the hull and superstructure! It is details like this that made this show stand out for me.
Add to this, a subtle acting style that stood apart from the melodrama prevalent in the seventies, and you have a show that stands the test of time. It's unfortunate that this lack of ham-handed acting was often perceived of as "wooden" or emotionless. I think that if this show would have come out today, these same subtleties might have been better appreciated.
If you would like to respond to any
comments made here (or any section of this site)
please use the commlock in the Communication Centre to send me an e-mail.
his orders from
Commissioner Simmonds, and learns
about the Meta signal.
Koenig aware of
the gravity of the situation
on Moonbase Alpha.
that there is
no virus, and suggests Koenig
talk to Dr. Russell.
|Koenig and Dr.
the mysterious illness, which has
already taken nine lives.
|Koenig makes a
the devil to stop the shipping
of nuclear waste.
Radiation checks at Nuclear
Disposal Area 2 seem to negate
Dr. Russell's theories.
Eddie Collins decides he
wants to step outside
for some fresh air.
Dr. Russell must "pull the plug"
as the mysterious illness
claims another victim.
Sandra reports that the
heat is rising in Nuclear
Waste Area 1.
Dr. Russell scolds the
Commander for his
Victor develops a theory
that may explain the
Koenig realizes that they
are "sitting on the biggest
bomb man's ever made".
Koenig and Victor
explain the situation to
wants to issue a communiqué,
but the waste explodes.
Alan Carter alerts Alpha
that the explosion has pushed
the Moon out of orbit.
Koenig consults Computer
regarding Operation Exodus.
Koenig addresses the base
with his very human decision.
Alpha loses all contact
with Earth, bur receives a
signal that offers some hope.