The movie itself is an East German/Polish co-production, and a few other movies from what was then the other side of the Iron Curtain have made it on to the series. In some ways they're a refreshing change of pace: the production values are lavish compared to everything else shown on the series, even if the movies were minor enough over here that it was easy to get the rights to them, but of course they're still peculiar enough to enjoy in the Mystery Science Theater fashion. Things open in the distant and futuristic year of 1985, when a "spool" is dug up in Asia that proves to be of extraterrestial origin, connected to the "Tunguska Event" of 1908. When it turns out that the spool came from Venus, the only thing to do is launch the "Cosmostrator," a rocket ship that looks like a distant chrome abstraction of a cathedral. (I had wondered while watching the episode if it was also, perhaps, a very streamlined echo of the Liberator from "Blake's 7," but on finding a picture of that later ship the resemblance didn't seem perfect.) An international and interracial crew of eight distinguished scientists and one chess-playing robot resembling a tiny tank make the journey, discovering on the way that the spool in fact describes an attempt by the inhabitants of Venus to destroy the Earth. Landing in the swirling black fog of Venus ("Someone with a very different vision made this movie, guys.") and deploying their exploration vehicles, though, the crew finds abandoned structures and works out at last that the inhabitants of Venus have already destroyed themselves in a nuclear war. In the meantime, black sludge has pursued three of the cosmonauts (in individually coloured space suits) up a spiral tower until one of them shoots at it, whereupon the film runs backwards and they can make their getaway. Unfortunately, to make their escape from Venus itself the African and Chinese cosmonauts have to do something in one of the Venusian relics (the dialogue's becoming not quite clear by this point), and the "Cosmostrator" is flung into space even as a third cosmonaut is flying off on a rescue mission. For all of this ambiguous eastern European statement of a cliche usually more thrown at Hollywood, though, at least the female Japanese cosmonaut survives, and the remaining cosmonauts return to Earth sadder but wiser.
The episode itself is from the second season, and Joel is in a cyan jumpsuit one show before he dons his iconic maroon outfit. He starts off by "adjusting Tom's sarcasm sequencer," and, after not getting in digs on Pia Zadora (which makes me think ahead to "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians") and Dan Quayle, Tom really cuts loose on Gallagher. For the rest of the episode, Tom's "riffing" does indeed seem more sarcastic than usual, and in the final "host segment" flash powder goes off inside his head. Other host segments include Crow and Tom building a new robot that "talks in foam," the slightly surreal appearance of a gorilla in a spacegoing cage, and Tom narrating a commercial for "Klack Foods," which somehow makes me think ahead to the "fighting men 'n' monster set" commercial of "Gamera Vs. Barugon." It does seem true that there aren't as many "quotable riffs" as in later episodes, except perhaps for the first scenes on Venus, but somehow this particular outing still seems entertaining in a pleasant way for me.
The DVD also contains the first of three parts of a retrospective of the show, with Joel Hodgson and the rest of the cast and crew talking about the beginning of the whole thing. Joel gives the same explanation of his very first concept as he did in his convention introduction to "The Green Slime," and there are snippets of the primal host segments for it as well as startlingly clear glimpses of the "KTMA title sequence." It's interesting, and it whets my appetite for the next two parts.