Retrontario’s Cable TV Throwback: July 1985


We’re pleased to present another look back at Canadian movies on TV by our friends at Retrontario.

Canada’s canary into the Pay TV coal mine was a riveting pop culture jolt when it arrived in early 1983. Competing services FIRST CHOICE and SUPERCHANNEL were forced to combine resources just over one year later as FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL, now fondly remembered as the era’s primary delivery system for big ticket Hollywood titles, rare-as-hen’s teeth Can-con, and boobies. Here’s a taste of some of the more exciting moments this $15 per month service offered to content starved ‘80s eyeballs.

JULY 1985



One of FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL‘s most illustrious programming stunts was the multinational co-production “interactive” mystery MURDER IN SPACE, shot in Toronto on a shoestring budget and starring an array of cult stars like Wilford Brimley, Martin Balsam, Nerene “TODAY’S SPECIAL” Virgin, and David Cronenberg players such as Michael Ironside, Peter Dvorsky and Barry Flatman.

Airing in July of 1985, MURDER IN SPACE was a 90-minute thriller which invited viewers to solve the open ended mystery of whodunit, with the added incentive of $60,000 in cash and prizes (including a flight for two to London, a trip on the Orient Express from London to Venice, accommodation and return airfare courtesy of Wardair – remember them?).

Set on the international space ship Conestoga returning to Earth after a successful exploration of Mars, MURDER IN SPACE pit Michael Ironside’s gruff Captain Neal R. Braddock against his crew, with several murders, ’80s Cold War tensions, lots of suggested sex, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA stock footage interrupting what should have been a smooth trip home.

FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL promoted MURDER IN SPACE to the hilt throughout the month, airing numerous interstitials featuring “bonus” interviews with the crew of the Conestoga ostensibly offering up more clues as to who was the murderer.

PRIMETIME magazine, the FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL program guide, featured a pull-out entry form which allowed viewers to identify the four murdered characters, their nationalities and, bizarrely, “how murdered?”. It then asked the ultimate question – “Who Committed the Murderers?”


MURDER IN SPACE aired only twice during the month of July (on the 28th and 31st fact fans!), and with the closing date just a few weeks later, contest entrants were hard pressed to unravel the mystery and satisfactorily unmask the killer. God help anyone entering without the aid of a VCR, although Penguin books published a fairly useless tie-in novel.



Nevermind the tiny window of time available to crack the case, the cold hard facts were that MURDER IN SPACE was a complete piece of shit. Poorly lit, poorly shot and looking like a space shuttle set episode of CTV’s NIGHT HEAT, it was a chore to stay involved in the overly complicated plot, or to even care enough to think about it a moment beyond its cliffhanging closer.


On September 16, 1985, FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL aired MURDER IN SPACE – THE SOLUTION, a repeat of the film which tacked on a 15 minute ending in which (*SPOILER WARNING*) Wilford Brimley explained the gargantuan convolution which explained the whodunit as poor old Ironside sat in a jail cell staring at the floor. That was it.

Even worse, of the thousands of entries FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL received, not a single person was able to correctly guess the identity of the killer.


Craig Sutherland of Schreiber, Ontario came the closest, and won a free year of FIRST CHOICE*SUPERCHANNEL for his troubles.

murder in space vidmark vhs ad

Directed by Canuxploitation favourite Steven Hilliard Stern (THE PARK IS MINE, ROLLING VENGEANCE, NOT QUITE HUMAN), MURDER IN SPACE was at the very least a bold experiment for the Pay TV service, which if correctly handled could have resulted in a quite an interesting annual tradition (the original plan). Sadly, the deathly dull plod murdered any chances of a follow-up, and the embarrassment of the whole endeavour seems to still linger on today as the film is certifiably “lost in space” after a limited run VHS was released by VidMark in the late 1980s. Not even Shout Factory, who could probably put together an interesting set of extras, seem remotely interested.


Fans of the brooding Ironside are well advised to give MURDER IN SPACE a go, and as usual he manages to deliver all of his dialogue in the form of a threat, veiled or otherwise. It’s also fun to see sparkly Jody from TODAY’S SPECIAL interacting with VIDEODROME’s creepy Harlan (“North America’s getting soft, patrón, and the rest of the world is getting tough. Very, very tough”.) Beyond that, all that’s left is a massive heaving wasted potential.

  1. […] a high profile, nationwide competition to determine just that, is quite the failure.  As the Canadian B-movie website Canuxploitation amusingly […]