|Space: 1999 character|
Zienia Merton as Operative Sandra Benes
|Portrayed by||Zienia Merton|
|Date of birth||3 May 1973, Brunei, Borneo|
Sandra Benes is a recurring character in the British science-fiction television series Space: 1999. She is of Western European/Burmese origin and is in her late twenties. Her role was played by actress Zienia Merton.
Sandra Benes' assignment on Moonbase Alpha was that of a senior data analyst attached to the Service Section with a post in Main Mission. Often appearing at command conferences, her role was to assemble and summarize relevant data for the senior staff. In several episodes she summarized the findings of scientific surveys of alien planets for Moonbase Commander John Koenig, and Moonbase scientist Professor Victor Bergman. She was also responsible for monitoring telemetry transmitted from the Eagles' on-board computer during survey missions, working in conjunction with Technical Section head David Kano in data assimilation and assessment duties. In Series Two, her responsibilies were seen to include operation of the Moonbase communications system. The fan-produced Moonbase Alpha Technical Journal would state that Sandra's research-engineer father had invented and perfected a communications device capable of transmitting at 'interstellar-strength'. The use of the interstellar frequency on Alpha is mentioned in first series' episodes "Collision Course", "Death's Other Dominion" and "Space Brain".
She was portrayed as a capable young woman, sensitive and somewhat shy. In a crisis or stressful situation, cast, crew and fans refer to the Sandra Benes character as the series' 'emotional barometer'; she was the character seen ear-piercingly screaming and even fainting on various occasions.
Prior to her tour of duty on Moonbase Alpha, Sandra was engaged to be married to Peter Rockwell, a pilot. After the Moon's catastrophic departure from Earth orbit, she was seen in a relationship with an astronaut named Mike Ryan. After his death, she became romantically involved with Main Mission Controller Paul Morrow. Sandra and Morrow were even seen to be married with two children in an alternative future where the Alphans had returned to settle on a devastated Earth. His unexplained death between Series One and Two affected her greatly, as she does not become involved with another Alphan in Series Two and as seen in the featurette Message From Moonbase Alpha.
The character was originally intended to be of Italian origin (as Gerry Anderson had agreed with RAI, an Italian production company which provided partial funding for the first series, to feature Italian actors in prominent roles) and would have been named Sandra Sabatini. Merton's subsequent hiring caused American director Lee Katzin to decide that her elfin appearance and exotic accent did not suit the character concept and rechristen the character 'Benes' (after a delicatessen he frequented in the States).
One of few featured characters carried over to the second series, Sandra's character was downgraded in the show and appeared in only half the episodes. In an interview, Zienia Merton revealed that the producers elected to not offer her a contract for the second series. After three episodes, unhappy with her new 'day player' status and reduced participation, she left the show to pursue other interests. For the next several episodes, she was replaced by a new character named Yasko (Japanese actress Yasuko Nagazumi) without explanation.
Mid-series, she was persuaded to return by Barbara Bain, who was concerned that upcoming episodes (written to be produced concurrently by dividing the regular cast between them) would not feature any actors from series one. She was also promised an increased role in all subsequent episodes.
The character returned in "Catacombs of the Moon" and was now exclusively known as 'Sahn'. (Even her security badge listed her as only 'Sahn'.) The use of the diminutive 'Sahn' caused confusion in some of the episode novelizations, where the authors erroneously made her character male due to misinterpreting this name change as a different character. (An examination of the script for the fifth episode "Journey to Where" reveals amended script pages using 'Sahn', indicating the name change had been planned to start in this story had the actress appeared in the episode.)
In the latter episodes of the second series, Sahn was featured more centrally—and demonstrated a never before seen expertise in electronics. In "The Beta Cloud", she instructed astronaut Bill Fraser how to construct a high-voltage cable barrier to defend Alpha's Life Support Center against an alien adversary. She also conducted a systems analysis of Alpha's main computer hardware during "The Seance Spectre" when searching for a suspected malfunction.
Sahn again disappeared without explanation at the end of Series Two when Zienia Merton departed the series after receiving the offer of a film role and made the (correct) assumption there would be no future for Space: 1999. American actress Alibe Parsons would appear as Sahn's replacement/substitute for the final three episodes playing a Command Center operative named Alibe.
In 1999, Zienia Merton reprised her role of Sandra Benes in a short film entitled Message From Moonbase Alpha which premiered on Sept 13th, 1999 (the date of the moon's departure from Earth) at the Space: 1999 Breakaway Convention in Los Angeles; in it she told of how the moonbase's life-support systems were failing after over two decades in interstellar space, and that Moonbase Alpha's personnel had decided to move to a nearby planet, Terra Alpha, and colonize it. The film was intended to provide a final "goodbye" to fans of the series 25 years after it was originally aired.
- Space: 1999 episode "The Bringers of Wonder"
- Space: 1999 episode "Black Sun"
- Space: 1999 episodes "Another Time, Another Place", "Alpha Child", "The Last Sunset", "The Full Circle", "War Games"
- Space: 1999 episode "Another Time, Another Place"
- Space: 1999 website 'The Catacombs'
- Willey, Martin. "Breakaway: 1999 Convention Report". The Catacombs: International Guide. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
- Message from Moonbase Alpha article