By Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and TV Writer
The year is 1975. I’m one year-old in Canada, but somewhere out there, on a British soundstage, a producer mostly known for some TV hits involving puppetry and miniatures decides he’d ride the post Star Trek vibe from the Americas and film a series in which a lunar base tasked with storage and oversight of Earth’s nuclear/atomic waste in the year 1999, gets flung out into the unknown when an explosion sends the moon off orbit and into the galaxy, stranding the 300 or so crewmen of Moon Base Alpha.
In other words, welcome to the two-season show Space: 1999, period-appropriate kitsch and all.
The first season’s premise wasted no time injecting its storylines with myriad villains and bizarre aliens as the moon traveled through solar systems, black holes and other celestial obstacles. With stoic leadership by Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) and a crew of capable scientists and specialists (including Barbara Bain, Barry Morse, Nick Tate and several others), the team manages its resources in the hope of surviving and thriving out in the cosmos, unable to return home, likely assumed dead by kin.
The series strikes a much more cerebral tone than its popular American sci-fi cousin, at least in the first season, where rational discussion and problem solving saved the day rather than pompous, Shatnerian fisticuffs. Then again, this didn’t help ratings as seasoned “Supermarionation” producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons) struggled to carve themselves a piece of the North American market.
This led to a need to reach out to former Trek producer Fred Freiberger, known for his involvement in the final season of Trek‘s three-year run in which he’d been left with a reduced budget, an unenviable time slot and impossible deadlines, was brought in by the studio to replace Sylvia Anderson and spruce up the storyline and bring some much needed va-voom to a much too intellectual British piece.
This, alas, resulted in a variety of all-too noticeable changes, both in cast and storylines, with entire sets of actors going missing in favor of alien expats, and adventurous scripts that threw away substance in favor of action pieces and predictable denouement.
This didn’t go very well with the audience who’d been used to a tight knit group of actors with passable chemistry, only for nearly all but leads Landau and Bain (both veterans from Mission Impossible TV days) to be replaced or omitted altogether, this in a setting where the crew is supposed to be limited, but somehow bringing us to a point where we had to assume we hadn’t yet seen a huge chunk of the 300 or so crew people on this stranded company of space castaways.
I’ll say one thing about the show;s production values: much of it derives from Stanley Kubrick’s neo-retro futuristic setting a la 2001: A Space Odyssey, what with its monitors, egg-white pastels and bell bottom uniforms. That said, despite the stylistic choices, Space: 1999 did prove to be a launch platform for now-seasoned British actors of all sorts while allowing established TV names to flex their space muscles, with bit roles played by the likes of Sir Christopher Lee, Ian McShane, Roy Dotrice, Brian Blessed, Joan Collins, Julian Glover, Jeremy Kemp, Leo McKern, Peter Cushing, Sarah Douglas, Freddie Jones, Patrick Troughton, David Prowse and countless others.
Now, if you’re a seasoned sci-fi fan, you’ll have recognized the above roster as having played iconic pop culture roles in the last half century. To see them on a campy sci-fi show is nothing short of fascinating, a veritable slice of history, however obscure.
The complete series comes with a number of featurettes, including interviews with Nick Tate, Catherine Schell (who played the alien shapeshifter crew member Maya in Season 2) and a number of pieces on toy collectibles, set design, costumes, special effects and the like.