The ninth season got off to a huge publicity bang as the Mechanoids, back after a five year absence, returned to television screens in color. From all accounts, cast and crew were delighted to be sparring with the alien invaders for the first time and no expense was to be spared in making their return a strong one. Michael Jayston explains: "Well, it was about time, wasn't it? We hadn't had a returning villain for the first two years, which was unheard of. Also, you have to think...the previous Professors had made a lot of enemies. Where in the world were they? On one hand, it was important for the series that we stood on our own, cut ties with the past, that sort of thing, but, having done that, it was safe to bring some of the old Professor X villains in to face me."
"Day of the Mechanoids" was an alien invasion story with a difference: the invasion was from time and not space. The Mechanoids were operating from a future Earth that they control and setting in motion the events that would lead to their conquest. In order to stop them, Colonel X must break the chain. Paradoxically, by preventing the Mechanoid takeover in 1972, he prevents them from ever controlling Earth's future. Thus, the events of the story could never have happened! Don Shaw relates "I think that's why I like time travel stories so much."
"Mechanoids" began filming in July 1971, by which time all but the last script was finished and ready to shoot. There were a few differences in the types of stories this year, though. Apart from Sandy, the UNTIL personnel were only contracted for five episodes: "Day" and the season closer. Nicholas Courtney was kept on for six. The second and the fourth stories, in a break with the last two years' tradition, would be set on alien planets. Maggie Allen explains the rationale: "I felt, and I'm probably wrong, that we would soon run out of steam doing just alien invasions, mad scientists and the Controller every time we turned around. It worked wonderfully for two seasons, but I thought it was important to pep up the series from a dramatic angle each year by making some changes." It was explained that the SARDIT was being operated by remote control from Chumran by the Watchers, who needed Colonel X's help on other planets.
The second story of the season also brought back old enemies, the Vikings, in a story written by their creator, Tony Williamson. His script, "The Federation," was intended to introduce viewers to a second Colonel X "family" of recurring ideas, set 500 years in Earth's future. In any event, the space federation did not capture audience interest in the same way that UNTIL did and little was done with the notion.
In this two parter, Colonel X and Sandy are whisked to an outpost in the far future where a galactic tribunal meets to decide both the fate of the villainous Viking race and the application of a low-level technology planet to join the Federation. Joanna Van Gyseghem recalls the story to be a classic in its own right. "I think it made for great television drama to see Colonel X pleading for the lives of his old enemies, because the galactic police were going to exterminate them all."
"It did wonders in establishing Colonel X's moral code," Jayston says. "We'd already seen some of that in the first season with the cave monsters, but this was something else. The Vikings were utterly ruthless and viewers of course started on the Federation's side, wondering why Colonel X was trying to stop them killing off the Vikings." The rationale behind his actions was given in a chilling speech to Sandy.
COLONEL X: Look, I know the Vikings even better than you can imagine. I even met this Varga fellow years before. They're ruthless monsters, beneath contempt and capable of the most utter and base cruelty. But they are, despite everything else, sentient creatures and this so-called "perfect society" wants to wipe them out utterly because of their different beliefs and culture. It reminds me of an unfortunate incident in your planet's history just a few decades ago. You do remember Adolf Hitler, don't you?
Returning to the series in the role of Varga was Tom Baker, now playing the part of a warrior in chains pleading for the life of his people. The chemistry between Jayston and Baker was perfect, and the closing moments of the story, in which Varga, his people saved but condemned to a life in prison for his crimes, realizes that his only ally and friend was actually his old foe in a new face, are sublime. Nevertheless, the story did not go over as well with the public, partially due to the heavy subject matter, but perhaps also because the plotline was a largely static one, with several lengthy talking scenes amid the political intrique.
The next story couldn't have been more different. "Colonel X and the Sea Monsters" was a follow-up to season seven's Pre-Cambrian adventure, also written by Dick Sharples and featuring the awakening of similar reptile creatures from Earth's past--actually a rival species more bent on war than science. Leading the creatures is the Controller, who has escaped from an Interpol prison. Colonel X and Sandy must face the threat without help from UNTIL, since they are almost isolated on the Isle of Wight with Sir Edward, who accompanied them to the Controller's prison fortress.
The story was very action-based and, thanks to filming assistance from the Navy, looked hugely expensive. The storyline featured very impressive monsters and fast-paced excitement. Rarely has an "X" story moved at such a breakneck speed.
After this return to Earth, Colonel X was back in space running an errand for the Watchers in "The Might of the Terran Empire," a three-parter by Trevor Preston and PJ Hammond. This story, set some decades prior to the "Federation" story seen earlier in the season, went a long way towards establishing a strict "continuity" of Earth's future. Chronologically speaking, it was the first of four loosely linked serials that explained how future Earth went about joining the Federation, while the story broadcast earlier this year would be the last part of that storyline.
According to Don Shaw, there was no direct production decision to explore this world of the future, things just evolved that way. "In our third year," Shaw explains, "we had two stories set in the future and I linked the two with dialogue in the second one. The other two future stories we did then sort of fell into place as other chunks of the future history. I'm not sure casual viewers ever caught it, but the fans did and it gave the series a rigid structure for telling tales set in the future."
This story, dealing with Earth's colonialism, saw conflict between our planet and a galactic alliance over territories and Earth's handling of native populations. In the best Dick Sharples style, there were no clear cut good and evil characters, and it was somewhat surprising to see the humans committing acts of what we would call villainy.
Back on Earth for the season's last episodes, "The Fall of Atlantis" saw a welcome return from UNTIL after eight episodes off. In this story, very loosely linked to season four's "Mad Scientists and Atlanteans," Colonel X erroneously supposes that the Controller and the Cleric have joined forces after a battle with the Controller's henchmen results in the discovery of Atlantean technology. (Atlantis, the Colonel informs us, was the Cleric's primary base of operations.) Colonel X, Sandy and Henderson stow away in the Controller's SARDIT as he returns to Atlantis, but the Colonel does not get the chance--yet--for a return bout with his dangerous foe. Rather, they get involved in a scheme by the Controller to destroy Atlantis with technology from the 1970s, and destroy modern society with the near-magical technology of Atlantis. The Colonel reprograms the Controller's SARDIT to ensure that it never returns to Earth. Indeed, it does not for several seasons.
Shooting on the season had run long due to a three week break between "Sea Monsters" and "Terran Empire," so recording did not finish until December 1971, two weeks before transmission. As recording wrapped, Maggie Allen recieved a phone call from Tony Hancock, the agent of Tony Barwick. The two had seen a new season preview in the Radio Times and demanded to know what the BBC thought they were doing using Barwick's copyrighted creations, the Mechanoids. A settlement was immediately reached, providing Barwick with a guarantee of at least two episodes' work each season. It seemed that, quite without any intention of doing so, Allen and Shaw had completely resurrected the Mechanoids to terrify a new generation of children.
Go to Season ten.
Return to The Writer's Guide.
This is a work of fiction. Professor X never existed and none of the names quoted within (in many cases real actors/writers/etc.) ever worked on this series.