Space: 1999 (1975-1977)
September 13th, 1999: the freak explosion of atomic waste dumps blasts the Moon out of Earth orbit, hurling the 311 men and women of Moonbase Alpha into the far reaches of space.
Space: 1999 entered production in 1973, and would run for 48 episodes over the next two years. The series followed the adventures of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, a human colony stranded on the Moon after it gets blown out of Earth’s orbit by a massive nuclear explosion. Hurled off into deep space the Alphans must now struggle to survive in an overwhelmingly hostile universe long enough find a new planet to call home, while also exploring what it truly means to be human as their journey continues.
Born from the beginnings of a second season of UFO the initial concept went through many iterations before taking its final form, which maintained the pessimistic streak of its predecessor while also exploring abstract metaphysical concepts regarding humanity’s place in the universe in a way that no previous Anderson series had ever even touched upon. The show also delivered visual spectacle on a level never before seen on television, with breath-taking model effects sequences that leant an even greater sense of drama to the show’s high concept stories. These included conflicts with alien races, black suns, and most memorably of all flesh-eating monsters haunting deserted spaceships.
The show would also star two of the biggest names yet connected with any Gerry Anderson production with the casting of husband and wife duo Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in the lead roles of base Commander John Koenig and Chief Medical officer Doctor Helena Russell. Always on hand with a theory or two was Barry Morse as Professor Victor Bergman, while the rest of the cast included Prentis Hancock as Deputy Controller Paul Morrow, Zienia Merton as Data Analyst Sandra Benes, Anton Phillips as Doctor Bob Mathias, Clifton Jones as computer specialist David Kano, and Nick Tate as Captain Alan Carter, chief pilot of Alpha’s primary mode of transportation – the Eagle transporter. This iconic spacecraft was an instant favourite with fans of the show thanks to its attractive yet functional design, and created one of the most popular hobbies of any Space: 1999 viewer – counting how many Eagles get absolutely trashed over the course of the series. Along with the thought-provoking stories and dazzling special effects the series also boasted a superb line-up of guest stars, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Joan Collins, Leo McKern, and Brian Blessed, and while critics might poke fun at the idea of the Moon flying off into space the show’s fans soon learned to pick up on hints that this might just be part of some larger plan.
A second season entered production in 1975, but now with strong interference from ITC America, who regarded the first season as a failure and ordered substantial alterations going forward. When the series returned, now under the stewardship of infamous new producer Fred ‘Spock’s Brain is good enough to be the season premiere’ Freiberger, many fans were left confused and horrified by its drastic overhaul. The music had changed, the costumes had changed, the expansive Main Mission set was now replaced by the much smaller Command Center, and the focus was now firmly on action and excitement rather than the dialogue-heavy metaphysics of the previous year. The most notable change came with the loss of several regular characters including Barry Morse’s Professor Victor Bergman, and instead several new faces joined the cast including Tony Anholt as Security Tony Verdeschi and John Hug as Eagle pilot Bill Fraser. But the most important addition to the series was new co-star Catherine Schell as Maya, an alien genius with the power to transform herself at will into a variety of animals and men in silly costumes. Despite pre-publicity material promising that the new series would be BIGGER, BETTER AND MORE EXCITING THAN EVER the show struggled to find its feet again, facing further complications when ITC America insisted that goofy-looking monsters become a regular feature of the show. With such a stark contrast between the two years it’s often difficult to reconcile them as even being the same show, with most fans generally preferring the first over the second, but even the daftest episodes of the second year still produced some hugely entertaining moments and there’s no denying that everybody involved really was trying their hardest to make it all work. Several episodes towards the end of the run offer a tantalising glimpse at the heights the second year could maybe have reached more often, if only there hadn’t been constant executive interference.
Although often critically panned the series proved exceptionally popular around the world, so much so that there was even talk of a third season. But despite that never materialising, the 48 episodes of Space: 1999 are still beloved by audiences to this day. Some prefer the cerebral ultra-serious nature of the first year, others prefer the action and fun of the second, yet all Space: 1999 fans are truly united in one common belief; watching Eagles crash is awesome.
Despite the actual year of 1999 now being a distant memory the residents of Moonbase Alpha have continued their journey in various comics, novels and fan films, and with the 20th anniversary of the events of the first episode fast approaching who knows what other forms further adventures from Alpha might take? Regardless of what the future may hold for Space: 1999, the original series will always be celebrated for telling the kinds of stories that had never been seen on television before, supported by equally unprecedented feature-film style visuals. Space had never seemed so dangerous until 1999, and while it’s easy to dismiss the second season as a poor successor to the first, there’s much about it to enjoy if you’re willing to appreciate it on its own terms. To everything that might have been? To everything that was.
Further Space: 1999 Reading
Space: 1999 Series Details
Space: 1999 – Group Three/ITC/RAI – 1973/75
48 episodes x 50 mins
Executive Producer: Gerry Anderson
Producer: Sylvia Anderson
Directors: Lee H. Katzin, Charles Crichton, Ray Austin, David Tomblin & Bob Kellett
Director of Photography: Frank Watts BSC
Production Designer: Keith Wilson
Story Consultant: Christopher Penfold
Script Editor: Edward di Lorenzo & Johnny Byrne
Moon City Costumes Designed by Rudi Gernreich
Special Effects Supervisor: Brian Johnson
Special Effects Director: Nick Allder
Music by Barry Gray
Additional Music: Tomaso Albinoni, Jack Arel & Pierre Dutour, Giampiero Boneschi, Paul Bonneau & Serge Lancen,
Chuck Cassey, Frank Cordell, Vic Elms & Alan Willis, Robert Farnon, Beda Folten, Mike Hankinson,
Gustav Holst, Roger Roger, David Snell, Harry Sosnik, Jim Sullivan & Georges Teperino
Martin Landau, Clifton Jones, Andy Dempsey, Raymond Harris, Barbara Bain, Anton Phillips, Mike Stevens, Annie Lambert, Barry Morse, Suzanne Roquette, Robert Phillips, Binu Balini, Prentis Hancock, Loftus Burton, Sarah Bullen, Andrew Sutcliffe, Nick Tate, Tony Allyn, June Bolton, Barbara Kelly, Zienia Merton, Quentin Pierre, James Fagan