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Space:1999 – the ‘original’ Breakaway and Black Sun!

The first episode of Space:1999, Breakaway, entered production in November 1973. While the episode was scheduled to be shot within ten days filming would eventually conclude after twenty-three, with the overrun also sending the show massively over-budget at a time when it could ill afford to waste money. While it’s tempting to be generous and say that this overrun was the result of teething troubles – an understandable occurrence on such a huge production – the truth is somewhat more specifically aimed at one member of the production team; the episode’s director, Lee H. Katzin.

A man whose directing pace could perhaps be best described as ‘leisurely’.

Katzin came highly recommended by ITC New York, who considered him to be the best pilot director American television had to offer. Among his previous credits were episodes of The Outer Limits, The Wild Wild West, Mannix, and Mission:Impossible – so his assignment to Space:1999 was warmly welcomed by Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, two of the stars of the latter show. However, Katzin’s determination to do the very best job possible came with a meticulous perfectionism that perhaps wasn’t compatible with the constraints of filming a weekly television series.

His desire to make Moonbase Alpha feel like a real place is particularly most notable in Breakaway; many of the characters Koenig calls from his office or on his commlock aren’t instantly on the other end of the line waiting to speak, they often have to take a moment to walk into shot before answering. Several screens in Main Mission show activity in the outside corridors, and the base’s clocks (which in later episodes remained static, often stuck at 12.00 hours) are seen moving in real time (such as during Koenig’s argument with Simmonds). Such attention to detail was commendable, but these and many other things (including his decision to shoot multiple reaction shots for all characters from all angles) led to Katzin’s original cut of Breakaway running for over two hours.

Once the episode was finally completed Katzin screened it for Gerry Anderson, who later recalled viewing the first cut in his biography What Made Thunderbirds Go; ‘It ran for over two hours,’ he remembers, ‘and I thought it was awful. (Katzin) went back to America, and I sent a cutting copy of the episode to Abe Mandell. Abe phoned me in a fit of depression, saying, “Oh my God it’s terrible – what are we going to do?” I wrote a lot of new scenes myself, and these were filmed over three days. I’m pretty sure I directed them myself. I then totally recut the episode to 50 minutes, integrating the new footage.’

The process may not have been quite as easy as Anderson made it sound, as he would first have had to cut approximately seventy minutes from the episode before getting work writing and filming the new scenes to fill the gaps. These re-shoots took place between production of Matter of Life and Death and Black Sun, another Katzin-directed episode that massively overran its allocated production schedule. Initially envisaged as a two-week shoot Black Sun would ultimately take three and a half weeks to film, likely resulting in another overly-long episode. As a result of this overrun, which once again resulted in costly re-shoots in order to produce a version of the episode that would satisfy both audiences and the executives at ITC New York, Katzin would be asked to depart the series.

Reports vary as to whether or not he was actually awake to hear the request.

Although the final televised versions of Breakaway and Black Sun are both regarded as among Space:1999’s very best episodes, many fans have wondered over the years; what happened to the original extended cuts of these episodes, and does the trimmed material still survive today? Surely it wouldn’t have been thrown out…would it?

“Why not? I was.”

Unfortunately, without being granted unrestricted access to the archive itself to see what may be in there, there’s no way to be 100% sure exactly what has survived. However, it’s important to remember that what we would think of as the ITC ‘archive’ (including every Gerry Anderson series from Supercar through to Space:1999 plus countless other non-Anderson television series and films) changed hands several times following the collapse of parent corporation ATV – and some of the hands it has ended up in since then have been less than careful with it.

In 1995 the archive was sold to Polygram Video, and although Polygram were keen to exploit the episodes themselves via home video releases and television broadcasts they were reportedly less keen to retain material that they regarded as extraneous. Many rumors have circulated over the years about the destruction of such material as audition footage for ITC action shows Man in a Suitcase and Department S, plus the textless end titles of Fireball XL5, while more than one eyewitness visitor to the archive even reported seeing episodes of Sapphire and Steel and Emergency Ward 10 being used as doorstops! Although the archive was soon sold on once again (firstly to Carlton, then Granada Ventures) and is now firmly back in the hands of ITVplc, the archive was almost certainly much thinner after its time with Polygram and we’ll likely never know what other rarities were junked around this time. Had it even been kept to begin with (and since it was never intended to be seen again there’s no reason why it should have), might the first cut of Breakaway be among the casualties?

However, some material from deleted or alternate takes of scenes from Breakaway does still survive and is easily available to fans – with some of them even appearing on the show in unexpected ways! The This Episode sequence on Breakaway offers a few brief tantalizing glimpses at deleted material, including a waste pod colliding with the perimeter fence as an Eagle attempts to escape Nuclear Waste Disposal Area Two. Additionally, the destruction of the Generating Area at the end of Force of Life included several deleted (and a few repeated) shots from Breakaway as hapless Alphans get thrown around the corridors and the Meta Probe operations room. There was also an alternative opening title sequence that (although very similar to the final version) made use of unseen material from Breakaway.

The Moon on fire; an unused effects shot from Breakaway.

Another source of deleted and alternate takes of model effects from across the series is World Backgrounds, a company that specializes in selling stock footage to various television and film productions and which has been offering Space:1999 and UFO model shots in their catalogue for many years. Many of the Space:1999 clips that have turned up in music videos, films, and other television shows were all sourced from here, and recent DVD and Blu-ray releases of the series have included some (but not all) of the World Backgrounds footage. These include alternate takes that differ only marginally from those seen in the episode, to some very different material – such as shots of the Moon in Breakaway and The Exiles that appear to be actual Apollo footage!

The most exciting discovery for fans hoping to get the chance to experience full deleted scenes from Breakaway came in 2010, and from a rather unlikely source. Some time after production on the episode concluded, tapes featuring on-set audio of various takes were donated to a film school for students to practice with – i.e. record over! Luckily, one of these students (Simon Rhodes) was also a Space:1999 fan who recognized the value of these tapes and was given permission to keep them, with model-maker David Sisson later uploading them to his YouTube channel across sixteen videos and over forty-five minutes of material (starting here);

Gundlach, we hardly knew ye.

While much of this material again featured alternate takes of scenes that appear in the finished episode, albeit with many of them including deleted lines of dialogue and much on-set banter, there were also several notable moments that were entirely absent from the final televised Breakaway. Among these were a television interview given by Commissioner Simmonds (with Shane Rimmer playing the interviewer) viewed by Koenig as he traveled to Alpha, Michael Sheard’s brief appearance as waste depot controller Gundlach, a meeting between Gorski and Koenig in the latter’s quarters, and the revelation that Gorski had an obvious (and unreciprocated) attraction to Doctor Russell.  It may difficult to make out what the characters are saying at times, but these tapes are well worth a listen if you’re looking to get even a small taste of what was cut from the extended version of Breakaway.

As for the question of whether or not the full versions of the original Breakaway or Black Sun still survive…it would seem reasonable to assume that if they did still exist then we might have seen something of them by now, but television and film archives can sometimes turn up lost treasures just when you least expect it! Until someone presents us with definite proof that extended versions of these two episodes were both destroyed, we prefer to believe they’re still awaiting rediscovery on some dusty shelf at the back of an archive vault – or perhaps in their own ‘survival ship’!

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe not far from here, Black Sun just entered its 45th year of production.


Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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