This entry is about the episode. For details of the event, see Breakaway (Event)
"A giant leap for mankind. It's beginning to look like a stumble in the dark."
Suspected radiation from nuclear waste containers threatens a deep space probe from Earth's space research center on the moon. It is a prologue to disaster and mankind's most fantastic adventure.
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, because of the sudden nature of the illness, and the unknown factors, 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...
- Original pilot script: Zero G by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson (30 minutes long)
- Pilot script "The Void Ahead" by George Bellak (90 minutes long)
- Pilot script "Turning Point" rewritten by Christopher Penfold (now 60 minutes)
- Retitled "Breakaway" Thursday 22nd November 1973
- SFX filming from 5th November 1973 (although for 6 weeks a dragging brake ruined footage)
- Studio set construction began at Elstree Studios. As it was under threat of closure, the entire production moved to Pinewood Studios one weekend. All the sets had to be rebuilt. As a result they were blacklisted by the unions.
- Rehearsals began at Pinewood from the 26th November, with tests filmed from the 28th November, including the Meta signal. Filming began 3 December and lasted 23 days, across the Christmas and New Year holiday to 11 January 1974 (when the series title shots were filmed). After Matter Of Life And Death was filmed, a further 3 days of reshooting was held before Black Sun.
- The "This Episode" sequence has several shots not in the episode. These are mainly SFX, including a magnetic grab exploding against the laser barrier, an alternative robot Eagle crash, and a rockslide (perhaps from Matter Of Life And Death. For Breakaway only, the "This Episode" caption is in lowercase against a black background (in all other episodes it is capitalised and on a blue background).
- Nick Tate was originally cast as Collins. Another actor was originally cast as Nordstrom but became sick after the special milky contact lens had been made- it had to be used for the replacement actor (Roy Scammell).
- Edited into the 1976 Italian compilation movie Spazio 1999
- In 1979 it was edited together with War Games into a compilation movie, Alien Attack with new scenes of the International Lunar Commission discussing the events, written by Dennis Spooner and directed by Bill Lenny.
- Int. Main Mission
- Int. Command Office
- Int. Medical
- Int. Medical Office
- Int. Care Unit/Observation
- Int. Koenig's Quarters
- Int. Technical/ Eagle hangar
- Int. Alpha Corridor
- Int. Travel Tube
- Int. Eagle Pilot Section
- Int. Eagle Passenger Section
- Int. Monitoring Depot & corridor
- Ext. NDA2
Extensive shots of the 22" and 44" Eagles (there was only one model of each at the time). Standard transporter, pallet (carrying nuclear waste) and winch platforms are featured. Simmonds's Eagle has an orange transporter pod (only seen clearly on the 22" Eagle landing shot, and the 11" Eagle rising over the moonbase). Martin Bower has stated that this was a standard white pod; every other film frame was hand coloured red. However, there are photos of an 11" Eagle with an orange pod. The 44" transporter pod was painted at one time in orange paint, although no shots of it so painted were used in the episode.
At least two sizes of small Moonbuggy are used in the initial shots of the astronauts approaching NDA 2.
The Nuclear waste Disposal Areas are models in several scales, the largest being of in scale with the 44" Eagle as waste cans are extracted and dispersed. The hub of NDA 2 was constructed by long-time Anderson collaborator Mike Trim. The flashing light towers in NDA 1 would be reused in Black Sun and subsequent episodes as Moonbase Alpha's gravity generators. The waste monitoring depot (a round building) would be reused as amongst the Moonbase Alpha large scale buildings (it can be glimpsed in the background of shots of the Alpha laser batteries in The Metamorph and subsequent episodes).
Original score by Barry Gray, recorded at Wembley on Friday 15th March 1974. This was actually the second episode scored (Matter Of Life And Death was first).
Astronomer (and Space 1999 fan) Phil Plait discusses the physics of the breakaway in a March 2012 article. He calculated the waste dumps must explode with the energy yield of 1 quadrillion one megaton bombs, or 13,000 times the energy of the sun.
The first shots of the series contain an error: the captions refer to "The Dark Side of the Moon". The Moon has a far side (the half permanently facing away from Earth), but this rotates, so there is two weeks of night followed by two weeks of day. During the two-week night, the far side is the dark side. The terminology is a common error (and a 1973 Pink Floyd album). Navigation Beacon Delta and presumably Area 2 are on the "far side". The phases of the Moon and Earth are wrong too. The sun is beyond, so the Earth and Moon would appear as thin crescents (thanks to Marcus Lindroos).
The Space Dock appears to be in lunar orbit (not Earth orbit). It is evidently constructed from old rocket casings. The Saturn V rocket stages seen do not reach orbit so presumably they must be higher stages of much larger rockets. The tubular construction resembles the actual International Space Station being constructed in 1999 in Earth orbit, although they are no solar panels. The Meta Probe has a large array of solar panels; it is the only craft in the series to feature them.
The etymology of the name Meta is from the Greek, "after", "beyond" or "change". In Roman chariot races, the meta was a column that marked the turning point for the chariots (Turning Point was an original title of the episode). It also anticipates Project Meta (Megachannel Extraterrestrial Assay), a 1985-1995 Planetary Society/ Harvard University radio frequency search for alien signals. The strong stellar winds of newly ignited stars (T-Tauri winds) could propel proto-planets from solar orbits into deep space. A terrestrial sized planet can outgas its own atmosphere; a 1999 issue of Nature speculates that it would accumulate a large insulating cloud of hydrogen as it left the solar system, allowing oceans to form. Gas giant planets radiate their own heat and also have raw materials in their atmospheres for organic molecules. The first free-floating planet, a gas-giant named CFBDSIR2149, was discovered in 2012. From Koenig's remark about seeing an atmosphere we presume Meta is terrestrial sized.
Magnetic "radiation" is an odd but not illogical term for magnetic fields. In the 1980s it was proposed that the magnetic fields created by high voltage electricity is associated with cancers and psychological effects from disorientation and nausea to depression; scientific studies have suggested a weak causal effect. In the 1990s and 2000s there remain concerns about mobile (cellular) phones and transmitter masts. The "classic" symptoms of radiation sickness are not similar to the effects seen here, despite Helena's assertion (unless Nordstrom and Collins sudden flight is caused by diarrhoea).
Lightning cannot conduct through a vacuum. A possible explanation could be that the waste dumps are venting gases through which the lightning conducts.
A long range video picture from a Mars satellite shows the Moon leaving Earth- this is remarkable resolution. In 2007, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter did in fact take a still picture of the Earth and the Moon from Mars orbit, 142 million kilometers (88 million miles) away. Coincidentally, the phases of the Earth and Moon and their relative positions in the NASA photograph are very similar to the picture on the Big Screen.
The "gravity disruption" described by the GTV newscaster is a reasonable estimate of the damage caused by the Moon being torn from orbit. The earthquakes along the San Andreas fault, and Yugoslavia and Southern France, occur in well-known fault zones. Historically, "Yugoslavia" no longer existed in 1999, and the bare newsroom (with no live footage displayed behind the newscaster) is somewhat dated.
Series publicity was wildly inaccurate: according to ITC publicity the Moon is split in two by the explosion and Moonbase Alpha hurtles into space on a chunk ripped away. This was neither in the script or completed episode.
Chronology: 9th September 1999 - 13th September 1999
Alpha Personnel: Numerous fatalities including Jim Nordstrom, Eric Sparkman, Frank Warren. The population of 311 is presumably the figure just before the Breakaway, which killed several pilots.
Note the female security guard shown in some scenes-she is rarely seen (another appearance is in Guardian Of Piri).
Ouma (Lon Satton) was intended to be a regular character- but disagreements amongst the cast led to him being replaced by Kano (Clifton Jones) from Matter Of Life And Death onwards.
Simmonds (Roy Dotrice) reappeared in the episode Earthbound
Alpha Technology: The Space Dock appears (it is called both "space dock" and the "Meta Probe launch platform", and, in Dragon's Domain, the "interplanetary space station"). Evidently it is constructed from old rocket casings (the model makers used Airfix Saturn V rocket models). It clearly blows up during the breakaway, although the news announcer says it was blown out of orbit. It also appears, with a slight revamp, in Dragon's Domain
We see Gorski, the previous Commander of Moonbase Alpha, presumably ousted as he could not resolve the astronaut "virus infection". He is mentioned again as Commander during 1996, in Dragon's Domain. According to War Games Koenig is the ninth commander of the base.
Koenig's appointment presumably follows his "grounding" in 1997 after the Ultra Probe failure seen in Dragon's Domain. Victor's grounding seems to have been brief ("Still here?"). Although he was friendly with Mathias in 1996 (calling him "Bob"), here they are on formal, last name terms.
Different designs of lunar nuclear waste area are seen in The Bringers Of Wonder and The Seance Spectre.
Spacesuits sometimes have a plain nylon collar. The other style, a rubber corrugated collar, is used for the rest of the series.
Note the rare use of the Command Office viewscreen.
Medical thermographic scans are used. They are also featured in Matter Of Life And Death, Ring Around The Moon, Another Time Another Place, Missing Link, Force Of Life, Space Warp and Dorzak.
Eagles: Eagle 1 (Simmonds, V.I.P. pod); 2 (Earth shuttle); 14 (cargo); 26 (cargo); Collins' Eagle; Koenig's NDA1 Eagle (crashed); remote Eagle (crashed); at least two cargo Eagles destroyed
Eagles are seen with the transporter pod, the nuclear waste pallet, and the specially converted winch platforms. The transporter pod also appears in orange (Simmonds's Eagle)- the only appearance of this.
The Eagle passenger module has lap seat belts. These are not seen again.
The Eagle pilot section monitor screen is in colour. In all subsequent episodes they are black and white.
Planets: Meta at the end of the episode. We do not find out what happens there.
Props: Nuclear waste caps are seen again on the wall of the Nuclear Generating Area in Force of Life and Alpha Child, and in Hydroponics in The Troubled Spirit. A model cap is used on the Daria in Mission Of The Darians.
The laser barriers can be seen in the wreckage of the alien control room in War Games
Footage: Footage of Alphans being thrown about in a corridor and Reconnaissance, and an explosion between Moonbase buildings, are reused in Force Of Life.
Cast: Alf Joint (Steiner) reappears as a Psychon overseer in The Metamorph
The influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey is clearest in this episode. A flight to the Moon with one passenger (with stewardess). Note in particular the scene of Collins's Eagle landing at the monitoring depot, seen through a window- a similar scene in 2001 was the lunar shuttle landing at the TMA-1 site landing platform.
The dates are not very subtle numerology, starting with 9-9-99 and ending on the 13th. Coincidentally, 9-9-99 was a key problem date for computer applications. Sylvia Anderson's birthday is September 9, Barbara Bain's birthday is September 13.
A showcase for SFX and sets, with a chilling atmosphere. The first two acts rely on verbal exposition, before moving to more spectacular action. There is little relaxation from the building tension.
The original Void Ahead script by Bellak established Koenig and Helena's characters more fully, including that Gorski was "interested" in Helena. Versions of these scenes were filmed, and sound recordings still exist (see transcriptions). They were cut when Gerry Anderson re-edited the episode.
From Gerry Anderson's biography 'What Made Thunderbirds Go' (Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn BBC Worldwide Limited, 2002): "'The New York office assured me that Lee Katzin was "the best pilot director in America",' remembers Gerry. 'The schedule to shoot the first episode was ten days, but it overran and we were soon tens of thousands of pounds over budget. Katzin finished editing his footage and screened the completed 'Breakaway' for Gerry. 'It ran for over two hours,' he remembers, 'and I thought it was awful. He went back to America, and I sent a cutting copy of the episode to Abe Mandell. Abe phoned me in a fit of depression, saying, "Oh my God it's terrible - what are we going to do?" I wrote a lot of new scenes myself, and these were filmed over three days. I'm pretty sure I directed them myself. I then totally recut the episode to 50 minutes, integrating the new footage.'"
More care than usual is shown in video inserts. People step into view or look up when the video first shows them (in later episodes, they are immediately staring directly at screen). Just before Koenig and Bergman first enter Main Mission, the video under the Big Screen shows them in the corridor outside.
Errors and Explanations
Internet Movie Database
- A tremendous explosion on "the dark side" of the Moon supposedly throws the Moon out of orbit and into deep space. There really isn't a "dark side" to the Moon. Though it is true that only one side of the Moon ever faces the Earth, all parts of the Moon get sunlight as it orbits Earth every month. Even if they meant the "far side" of the Moon, the situation is no better. If they actually meant "dark" side (ie: the side facing away from the Sun at that moment) then the explosion would have flung the Moon into the Sun. If they meant to say "far" side, then the explosion would have flung the Moon into the Earth. The gravitational fields of Earth and the Sun could have deflected the moon away from the solar system.
- Daniel Phillips (Danny21) on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - 8:02 am: I always felt that it was weak that they wouldn't leave the moon when it was blasted out of orbit, it wasn't that far away and Eagle Transporters have been shown to have a decent range. Even if they used up all their fuel before making it back to earth they would at least have been near enough for Earth to mount a rescue attempt. They couldn't justify abandoning Alpha.
- ↑ Joel Owens Website
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 http://catacombs.space1999.net/main/epguide/t01b.html
- ↑ http://moonbase99.space1999.net/breakaway.htm
|Breakaway I Earthbound I Black Sun I Missing Link I Voyager's Return I Matter of Life and Death I Ring Around the Moon I The Last Sunset I Alpha Child I Death's Other Dominion I Force of Life I Guardian of Piri I The Troubled Spirit I The Last Enemy I Collision Course I Dragon's Domain I The Full Circle I Mission of the Darians I End of Eternity I War Games I The Infernal Machine I Another Time, Another Place I Space Brain I The Testament of Arkadia|
|Episodes are listed in the order suggested by Andrew Kearley.|