The headquarters of Eurosec, the European Space Exploration administration, and Doctor Hassler (Herbert Lom) has requested a look at the top secret files relating to their most recent project. He goes through the security procedures and is finally allowed access to the filing room, only to acknowledge, yes, the data was just as he suspected, and he leaves soon after. But Hassler is a spy, and in his glass eye there was a tiny camera which he has photographed the documents with - now he knows the nature of the next Eurosec mission...
But never mind all that, for while it makes for an arresting beginning to the movie, it really doesn't have much to do with the rest of it. This was the attempt at a big screen hit by Gerry Anderson and his then-wife Sylvia Anderson, who produced and came up with the story, moving away from their popular sixties television series such as Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet for a go at live action. It wasn't a huge success, and they soon retreated to television, but they learned a few lessons which went into creating sci-fi show UFO, and later Space: 1999, both of which are better remembered than this little item.
Its premise is a simple one which sticks in the mind thanks to its simplicity: there's another planet discovered on the exact other side of the sun, and the characters decide to send a mission to seek it out and examine it. But for such an uncomplicated idea, the film didn't half make heavy weather of it, as director Robert Parrish approached scenes with the utmost ponderousness, as if the Andersons were intent on being taken as seriously by the grown ups as they were by their juvenile fans. Nevertheless, the familiar obsession with hardware and machinery was well to the fore, obviously a work of this team.
Therefore every so often Derek Meddings' intricate miniatures were given scenes all their own, whether it was space rockets on the launch pad or capsules exploring the heavens, reminiscent of the same care and attention Stanley Kubrick had offered them in his 2001: A Space Odyssey of the previous year. The Andersons were patently taking notes on how to be adult with their science fiction, as there were not one but two "trip" sequences, not up to the Stargate sequence but more dreamy instead. Then there was the astronaut Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes, fresh off The Invaders on TV), whose wife (Lynn Loring) accuses him of impotence.
But she's actually been taking the pill because she doesn't want his space-irradiated babies, not a subplot that made it into many works of this type, and is quickly forgotten about here, as are a few promising threads (Glenn's not-quite romance with Eurosec worker Lori Von Friedl, for example). But the boss, Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark), forges ahead with the excursion to that mystery planet, and therefore we get sequence after sequence of preparation and application until Ross and his co-pilot, John Kane (Ian Hendry) awaken from suspended animation to orbit this new world. Except it's not quite as new as they anticipated, though to explain more would be to spoil things, suffice to say the notion of this alien planet is such a memorable one that it almost makes up for the humourlessness of the rest of it. With something to point out about authoritarianism in another subplot that isn't capitalised on, and an original title that gave the game away, this was by no means perfect, but you do respect the endeavour. Music by Barry Gray.