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Space: 1999 (ITC Entertainment, 1975-77) is a British science-fiction television show about the journey of the occupants of a Moon base after the Moon is knocked out of orbit by a nuclear explosion. The series was the last produced by the partnership of Sylvia and Gerry Anderson, famous for the TV series Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, and UFO. The Andersons’ marriage foundered during production of Space: 1999, and the end of production of the first series marked an end to their working association.
Space: 1999 was the first attempt since the demise of Star Trek in 1969 at producing a large-scale weekly science fiction series, and the show drew a great deal of visual inspiration (and technical expertise) from the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. The show’s special effects director Brian Johnson had in fact previously worked on both Thunderbirds (as Brian Johncock) and 2001.
It was the last in a long line of successful science-fiction series that the Andersons produced as a working partnership, beginning with Supercar in the early Sixties and including the famed marionette fantasy series Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and Joe 90, as well as the gritty live-action alien-invasion drama UFO. Space: 1999 owes much of the visual design to pre-production work for a never-made second series of UFO which would have featured a more extensive Moonbase. It has since become a cult classic, and is available on DVD.
Special effects, set design, costumes and music
The special effects in the show were highly regarded. The show featured many well designed and intricate scale models including the Eagle and the Moon Buggy, a lunar shuttle. Dozens of models for the various alien spaceships, along with the Mark IX Hawk from the «War Games» episode, were built by model maker Martin Bower, who would later also work on Alien, the 1980 production of Flash Gordon, and Outland. Special effects director Brian Johnson and most of his team went on to work on Ridley Scott‘s Alien, followed by Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Costumes for the first season were designed by Rudi Gernreich. The opening credits for the first season featured a dramatic fanfare composed by Barry Gray; it was Gray’s final composition for Anderson. The second season was scored by composer Derek Wadsworth.
Unlike the darkly lit sets often used in more modern science fiction, Space 1999’s Moonbase Alpha set design was typically bright, white, acrylic and quite unusual among the sci-fi genre. Signage in a space-age font, rarely seen today, was used throughout the sets to create the impression of a computerized environment.
In common with many Lew Grade presentations vying to break the American market, the first season of Space: 1999 used the cold open popular in US action-adventure series followed by an economical title sequence that managed to convey prestige for its two main stars (both separately billed as ‘starring’), give the audience some 30 plus fast cut shots of the forthcoming episode and explain the premise – all in just over a minute. The second season eliminated the montage of episode scenes.
Casting and guest appearances
Session musician Jim Sullivan made a cameo appearance in the opening sequence of «The Troubled Spirit»
The headline stars of Space: 1999 were American actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who were married at the time and had previously appeared together in Mission: Impossible. In an effort to appeal to the huge US television market, perhaps to sell the series to one of the major American networks , Landau and Bain were cast at the insistence of Lew Grade against the strong objections of Sylvia Anderson. Also appearing as regular cast members were Barry Morse (as Professor Victor Bergman in the first season) and Catherine Schell (as the alien Maya in the second season). The programme also brought Australian actor Nick Tate to public attention. Over the course of its two series the programme featured guest appearances by many notables including Christopher Lee, Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Ian McShane, Leo McKern, Patrick Troughton, Sarah Douglas, and Brian Blessed. Roy Dotrice appeared in the first episode as Commissioner Simmonds, and at the end of the episode it appeared that he would be a regular character, however by the second episode the character had vanished without a trace, only to appear midway through the first season in the episode «Earthbound», his only other appearance on the show.
The series premiered in 1975, although the first episode had actually been filmed in 1973. Live action was filmed at Pinewood Studios and special effects at Bray Studios. There were two seasons of 24 episodes each made by Gerry Anderson for ITC Entertainment. The first season was co-produced by the Italian state broadcaster, RAI. In Britain the series was originally seen on ITV stations but never simulcast nationally.
In the US, efforts to sell the television series to the major networks failed and as a result it was syndicated to local stations. In the months leading to the beginning of the fall (autumn) 1975 television season (in the US, September is traditionally the month in which new TV series begin), Landau and Bain participated in special preview screenings in select cities . Landau is said to have personally contacted editors of the widely read and influential TV Guide magazine in some markets to secure coverage of Space: 1999 in its pages upon learning of ITC’s somewhat poor promotional efforts. While most of the US stations which aired Space: 1999 were independent (such as powerful Los Angeles station KHJ-TV, Chicago’s WGN-TV and New York’s WPIX-TV), a handful were affiliated with the major networks (such as San Francisco’s KRON-TV, at the time a strong NBC affiliate) and sometimes pre-empted regular network programming to show episodes of the series; most US stations broadcast the episodes in the weekday evening hour just before prime time or on weekends.
The series was broadcast in 96 countries, mostly from 1975-79. However, in very few countries was it aired in its entirety and without long gaps between first run and rerun or even within first run, and rarely in a coherent episode sequence.
It was shown in Italy as Spazio: 1999, France as Cosmos: 1999, Denmark as Månebase Alpha, Portugal (broadcast in 1976 and 1977, it gathered a vast audience) as Espaço: 1999, Brazil as Espaço: 1999, Germany as Mondbasis Alpha 1, Spain as Espacio: 1999, Sweden as Månbas Alpha 1999, Poland as Kosmos 1999, Finland as Avaruusasema Alfa and in Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico as Odisea 1999. The series was also broadcast in 1976 in South Africa as Alpha 1999, dubbed into Afrikaans by Leephy Atlejees in Johannesburg.
Countries where the show was popular include Ethiopia, South Africa, Turkey, Greece, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Japan, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan. One of the first previews of the series was in Australia on the Seven Network in July 1975, but the station later split the first series into two seasons. The second season was shown in 1979.
In the UK, the episodes of the show’s second season were shown sporadically over a period of a couple of years, starting in 1976 while the last episodes still in production. In some regions the final first-run episodes appeared in 1978, more than a year after they were produced; in other regions of the UK, the second series was never shown. In many countries, including the US, UK and Germany, individual episodes were cut to reduce the running time.
The series has recently been broadcast on ITV4 and ITV HD in the U.K and on the Portuguese cable channel SIC Radical.
The underlying storyline of Space: 1999 centered on the plight of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha following a calamity on September 13, 1999 (hence the title). A huge nuclear waste dump on the far side of the Moon detonates in a massive thermonuclear explosion initiated by the build up of magnetic radiation which was released causing a nuclear chain reaction. The force of the explosion causes the Moon to be sent hurtling out of Earth‘s orbit and into deep space at colossal speed, stranding the 311 crew members, in effect becoming the «spaceship» on which our heroes travel, looking for a new home. During their interstellar journey, the Alphans encounter a vast array of alien civilizations, dystopian societies, and strange phenomena previously unseen by man.
The concept of traveling through space encountering aliens and strange worlds is similar to Star Trek and Lost In Space, although the production’s visual aesthetics were heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey. In another nod to Kubrick’s epic the first series of Space:1999 tended to explore mystical and metaphysical themes, although the re-vamped second series would centre on more «action-oriented» plots.Space1999 was and still is a series regarded as being made before its time and introducing technology like the communication device (comlock)showing the face of the person you are talking too something that has only been possible to the masses since the introduction of 3G mobile phones.
Series flaws and criticisms
Isaac Asimov pointed out that any explosion capable of knocking the Moon out of its orbit would actually blow it apart, and even if it did leave orbit it would take hundreds of years to reach the nearest star.
Harlan Ellison pointed out that any explosion on the far side of the moon capable of knocking it out of its orbit would not send it hurtling off into space, but rather crashing down upon the earth.
The moon would take many thousands of years to reach another star (or planet). The writers introduced various «space warps», including a «Black Sun», to abruptly shift the Moon to another area of space (often with other dramatic effects). The series occasionally implied there being an omnipotent entity controlling the Moon’s travel (presumably including the times when they enter planetary orbit and leave again).
Some series writers, including head writer Johnny Byrne, have stated that had the series been totally rooted in actual physics, the Moon would have never left orbit. Some suspension of disbelief — and physics — is required for Space: 1999 to work.
Rise and fall of Year 2
Following the departure of Sylvia Anderson after her separation and subsequent divorce from husband Gerry, Fred Freiberger was brought in to help guide the series as producer. Freiberger produced the third and last season of Star Trek and later seasons of The Six Million Dollar Man. Freiberger also produced 8 episodes of the first season of The Wild Wild West (including one in which Martin Landau guest-starred) before being dismissed. (To be fair, other producers that season—Collier Young, John Mantley and Gene Coon—did not last long, either.)
With Freiberger’s arrival, numerous changes were made for Year 2. The most visible change was the absence of Professor Bergman (Barry Morse). Morse’s departure was due to a salary dispute, but he was glad to leave, and told Anderson: «I would rather play with grown-ups for a while.» (Morse 2004, pp. 287-288) With Morse gone, this led to the addition of Catherine Schell as the resident alien Maya. Her character could provide «outside observation of human behavior» as provided by the character of Mr. Spock on Star Trek. Maya shared Spock’s logical approach to problem-solving, but differed in that she was a fully emotional person. Most importantly, however, her abilities as a shapeshifter, which allowed her to molecularly transform into any creature for an hour at a time, were designed to add a certain «wow» factor to the newly-revamped series. (Ms. Schell had previously guest starred in the Year 1 episode Guardian of Piri).
In addition to Bergman, Year 1 secondary characters Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock), David Kano (Clifton Jones) and Tanya Alexander (Suzanne Roquette) also disappeared from the cast (Paul and Tanya’s disappearance was explained in the Powys Media book The Forsaken by John Kenneth Muir). Dr. Mathias (Anton Phillips) was present in the first two Year 2 episodes, was mentioned in the third episode, and then also disappeared without a trace. His character was initially replaced by Dr. Ben Vincent (Jeffrey Kissoon), and by Dr. Raul Nunez (Raul Newey) for one episode, but towards the end of the season, the role of Dr. Russell’s colleague in Medical Center was filled by Dr. Ed Spencer (Sam Dastor). Like Dr. Mathias, Alan Carter (Nick Tate) was also to have been written out of the series, but he had become so popular with fans that he remained. Sandra Benes (Zienia Merton) remained with the series as well, but her name was shortened to «Sahn» and her character was rather minimized in its role, when she did sporadically appear. To make matters more confusing, the novelisations of the second series written by Michael Butterworth had Sahn referred to as an Asian male character. Butterworth didn’t realise Sandra and Sahn were the same character.
Along with Maya, Tony Anholt was added to the cast in Year 2 as Security Chief Tony Verdeschi, a character who neither appeared nor was ever mentioned in Year 1. His character was designed to serve primarily as a secondary male action hero, and to provide a romantic interest for Maya.
No on-screen explanations were offered for these cast changes. One scene in The Metamorph mentioning Bergman’s death was scripted and filmed, but cut from the final edit. The Moonbase Alpha Technical Manual explains that Bergman died due to a faulty spacesuit, an explanation also mentioned in passing in the Year 2 novel Planets of Peril. Likewise, it was mentioned in the Year 2 Writers’ Bible that Morrow and Kano had died in an Eagle crash between seasons, but this backstory was, again, never referred to onscreen. The Technical Manual also explains that Dr. Mathias, supposedly Alpha’s psychiatrist (although he seems to be more Russell’s assistant) transferred to another section of the base. Once again, this was never stated onscreen.
Other changes included the main titles and theme music. The montage of events from Breakaway and the episode about to unfold featured in Year 1 was dropped in favor of a special-effects sequence depicting the Moon being blown out of orbit into space. With Morse gone, Schell was featured in his place as a regular alongside Landau and Bain, and all three were depicted in action-oriented images as opposed to the mannequin-like stances Landau and Bain had assumed in the Year 1 main titles. New series composer Derek Wadsworth‘s new theme dropped Barry Gray‘s alternation between stately, orchestral passages and funky rhythmic ones in favor of a more consistently contemporary piece.
Rudi Gernreich‘s minimalist costumes were considerably modified from their original unisex design to include an optional skirt for women and much more detail work on the tunic portion, including stripes, patches and photo ID badges. In addition, colorful jackets – generally red, blue or orange – became part of most characters’ ensembles. The more expansive Main Mission set, with its balcony and glass windows revealing the lunar surface, was scrapped in favor of a more compact Command Center, supposedly deep underground. (Once again, this change was explained in the Year 2 Writers’ Bible and Technical Notebook as necessary for security, but never shared with viewers). The Medical Center and Alphans’ living quarters became smaller, while the interior of the Eagle Transporter was updated with additional buttons, flashing lights and viewscreens, while the Eagle also lost a section of corridor between the passenger module and the cockpit. The somber mood created in Year 1 by the effective use of light and shadow in the filming of Moonbase Alpha interiors was abandoned in favor of a generally brighter cinematography, and even the lettering used in signage and costuming—most noticeable on spacesuits and Eagle Transporter doors—changed to a simpler, less futuristic style.
Freiberger emphasized action-adventure in Year 2 stories to the exclusion of metaphysical themes explored in Year 1. Of Year 1, he commented, «They were doing the show as an English show, where there was no story, with the people standing around and talking. In the first show I did, I stressed action as well as character development, along with strong story content, to prove that 1999 could stand up to the American concept of what an action-adventure show should be.» (Starlog 40 1980, pp. 58-61) Since Year 1 was quite serious in tone, one of Frieberger’s ways to accomplish this objective was to inject humor into Year 2 stories whenever possible, but much of it seemed to fans as forced, especially at the conclusion of an episode, where the Alphans were seen as jovial and light-hearted despite whatever violent or tragic events may have previously befallen them.
Members of the Space: 1999 cast became disenchanted with the scripts. Martin Landau: «They changed it because a bunch of American minds got into the act and they decided to do many things they felt were commercial. Fred Freiberger helped in some respects, but, overall, I don’t think he helped the show, I think he brought a much more ordinary, mundane approach to the series.» (Starlog 108 1986, pp. 44-47). Under the pseudonym of Charles Woodgrove, Fred Freiberger wrote three episodes, The Rules of Luton, The Beta Cloud and Space Warp, known pejoratively as the «Woodgrove Trilogy» for its simplistic approach to storytelling. One particular episode (All That Glisters, which dealt with the threat of an intelligent rock) was of such allegedly deficient quality that it sparked a confrontation between Freiberger and the cast. Landau disliked the story so strongly that he wrote the following notes on his copy of the script: «All the credibility we’re building up is totally forsaken in this script!»; «…Story is told poorly!»; and «The character of Koenig takes a terrible beating in this script — We’re all shmucks!» Anholt revealed that, «the more the cast complained about a script’s flaws, the more intractable and unyielding Freiberger became.»
Year 2 did nevertheless fare admirably on CBC Television in Canada, airing in English in a family viewing period, late Saturday afternoons, with a mostly undisrupted run and rerun of all 24 episodes from September, 1976 through September, 1977. And Year 2 episodes ran in French Canada-wide during the same broadcast year, in early evening on Saturdays. Ratings were sufficient for a full additional year’s transmission of Year 1 in the English CBC Saturday programming slot in 1977-1978. Episodes of both Year 1 and Year 2 were repeated regionally in Canada in English and French through the early-to-mid-1980s, to an enthusiastic reception by the general viewing audience. YTV Canada broadcast both seasons with reportedly good ratings in 1990-1992, in a late Saturday afternoon airtime closely matching that of the CBC English network in the 1970s.
Alas, the presentation of Year 2 was not as consistent elsewhere in the world. Some Year 2 episodes did not air in the UK until nearly two years after they were produced. Plans were nevertheless put in place for a third season, including a spin-off series featuring Maya, but dropping ratings and a resulting lack of syndication and commercial sponsor sales led to the series’ cancellation. Landau later faulted ITC Entertainment president Lew Grade‘s foray into film production; the projected budget for the third season was, coincidentally, equivalent to the advertising budget for Raise the Titanic!, and it came down to one or the other (Starlog 108 1986, pp. 44-47).
The abortive year three
While the third season of Space: 1999 never actually entered production, the producers and studio were initially quite interested in continuing the show. As Year Two continued it became more and more apparent that this was simply not going to happen, and eventually the series simply came to a stop with the episode «The Dorcons». However, during the first half of the second series, a number of details about the shape of the third year began to emerge.
The third year would have been far shorter than the previous two, with only 13 episodes. This was intended as a budgetary compromise between the quantity and quality of episodes, similar to the way the BBC currently works with shows like the current iteration of Doctor Who.
Tony Anholt was displeased with both his character and his working environment and said that he would not be returning for a third year on the Moonbase. Hence, his character would have been absent as well.
Maya was considered to be the breakout character of the series, and very early on the producers began grooming her for her own spinoff show, which was at one point intended to run concurrently with series 3 of Space: 1999. Had this project gone ahead, Maya would have also been absent from Space: 1999. This «Maya» series was also intended to run for 13 episodes a year.
Koenig, Russell, and Carter were the principal characters who would have been returning for the additional season. It seems likely some new characters would have been brought in to flesh out the cast, but no details on this, or who they might have been, have surfaced.
Message from Moonbase Alpha
Filmed August 29, 1999 «Message From Moonbase Alpha» was first shown at Space: 1999 Breakway Convention in Los Angeles, California on September 13, 1999 — the day the events in episode 1 of the series were supposed to take place. «Message From Moonbase Alpha» is on the «SPACE: 1999 Bonus Disk» which is available in the US and Canada only. It is also on the UFO Space:1999 documentaries DVD produced by Fanderson.
The seven minute clip features only Zienia Merton reprising her role as Sandra Benes delivering a final message to Earth as the only crew member left while a massive exodus to a habitable planet takes place with the rest of the crew. This basically gave the series the finality it never had in its initial run.
«Message from Moonbase Alpha» is now considered by fans of the show to stand as the 49th episode, becoming part of the canon of the series.
may the force be with you