Doctor Who fans can argue for hours over who was the best Doctor. James Bond aficionados have similar debates over the best 007. Star Trek fans can debate at length whether the Next Generation or the original series is the best Trek – a waste of time, since obviously it’s Deep Space Nine. Space:1999 fans however are faced with a debate that occurs in very few shows; do you prefer the first or second season? To those unfamiliar with the series this may sound a strange question but most fans knows that the two seasons are so different from each as to almost be different shows entirely, and the story of how one became the other is another example of how quickly things can go wrong behind the scenes.
Space:1999 first aired in the autumn of 1975, but by this time it had been more than six months since filming had concluded on the first season. As they went their separate ways the cast and crew certainly expected to be getting back to work again around August or September 1975, but as September came and went with no sign of a second season being commissioned all involved began to believe that the series had been cancelled. During this downtime, Gerry Anderson assigned Space:1999 writer and script editor Johnny Byrne to provide a critical analysis that summed up the series’ strengths and weaknesses in the hopes that (should a second season by commissioned) the production could learn from past mistakes going forward. Additionally, Byrne and fellow writer Donald James were also working on possible scripts, with James contributing The Exiles and Byrne The Biological Soul (eventually filmed as The Metamorph), Children of the Gods (which would never be made) and The Face of Eden (later to be filmed as The Immunity Syndrome).
In late October 1975 ITC indicated to Anderson that they would be willing to go ahead with a second season, on one condition – that an American head writer be assigned to reformat the series for an American market, in the hopes of getting the crucial network sale that season one had failed to achieve. Anderson agreed, and headed to Los Angeles to interview potential candidates for the position. His choice was a controversial one; Fred Freiberger.
Freiberger’s television writing career had begun in the 1950s and had encompassed such hit shows as Bonanza and Ironside plus several Saturday morning cartoon series, while he had also held the role of producer on the first season of The Wild Wild West and (most importantly) the third season of Star Trek. The latter would seem to make him the obvious choice to revamp Space:1999 with a more American flavor – although the third season of Star Trek had also been its last. This hadn’t entirely been Freiberger’s fault, since the season had also suffered from budget cuts, a poor timeslot, and an unhappy cast and crew, but there’s no denying that during his stewardship of Star Trek the series produced some of its very worst episodes and scenes.
Regardless, ITC seemed happy with the arrangement – for about five minutes. Then they officially cancelled the show altogether.
In an eerily similar situation to the one Anderson had found himself in following the cancellation of UFO 2, he and Freiberger searched for a hook that would make the second season irresistible to ITC. That hook was to be the addition of a new alien character, the scientific genius Maya. The bait was taken, and in mid-December 1975 Lew Grade announced that a second season of Space:1999 would indeed be entering production. Since ensuring success with American audiences was even more of a concern than usual, while perhaps also looking to absolve himself of any blame should the changes to the show prove unpopular, Gerry Anderson offered Freiberger the job of producer – and he accepted.
On arriving in London, Freiberger had the opportunity to review eight episodes of the first season and presented Anderson with a document containing his recommendations as to the changes he felt ‘needed’ to be made. While hugely impressed with the look of the show he felt the characters lacked warmth and personality, and that the series could only benefit from a more humorous approach to their relationships going forward.
However, his belief that the show’s primary focus should be on its characters conflicted with one important fact; he didn’t actually like any of them. Thus, with the exceptions of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, he proposed replacing the entire cast with younger and more dynamic characters. Gone for good were Prentis Hancock (Paul Morrow), Clifton Jones (David Kano), and Suzanne Roquette (Tanya), although none of the actors were actually fired – they just weren’t asked back. Despite apparently not being a hit with Freiberger, attempts were initially made to include Barry Morse’s much-loved Professor Victor Bergman in the second season. Negotiations continued throughout December 1975, with Morse initially rejecting an offer that would see him take a 33% pay cut (while also losing his transport to and from Pinewood Studios) and then making a counter proposal that was also rejected. When further attempts to contact Anderson proved unsuccessful Morse then instructed his agent to accept the original offer – only to be told that “other plans have been made”. Barry Morse’s diary entry for Wednesday December 17th 1975 – and thus his association with the series – ended with the words “Space:1999 all over!”
Aside from Landau and Bain, several other first season cast members survived this mass cull; Nick Tate’s Alan Carter was retained when it was realized that ITC received more fan mail for him than any other cast member, and that it was important to keep one or two familiar faces around. However, the returning actors would find that instead of being under contract to appear in almost every episode (as had been the case on the first season) they would simply be called to work here and there if needed. This, coupled with a significant pay cut due to the second season’s lower budget (caused in part by the loss of financing from Italian state broadcaster RAI) meant that Anton Phillips (Doctor Mathias) would leave the show after just two episodes, and Zienia Merton (Sandra Benes) after three – although she would later be convinced by Barbara Bain to return.
Freiberger’s response to concerns about these sudden unexplained disappearances (plus those of Bergman and co, not to mention all the other cosmetic changes imposed on the show) remained the same – “nobody’ll notice” – and the most obvious example of this casually approach to maintaining continuity of characters in the form of the replacements for Mathias and Sandra.
While we’d like to imagine that it’s just a coincidence that Doctor Ben Vincent and Yasko look very similar to their predecessors, it certainly fits with Freiberger’s “nobody’ll notice” attitude that this might have been a specific casting instruction; providing they look a bit like the old characters and are doing the same jobs, who really cares which actors fill those roles? As if to confirm this, during the production of The Mark of Archanon actor Jeffery Kissoon was apparently unavailable to play Vincent and so replacing him for one week only was actor Raul Newney as Doctor Raul Nunez (presumably so named because it only involved slightly less imagination than calling him Doctor Find Another Black Guy ASAP).
Throughout the second season the jobs of Moonbase Alpha’s deputy chief medical officer and communications officer essentially became revolving door positions as various actors came and went, hinting that perhaps the newcomers too found the situation as untenable as their predecessors, but it wasn’t until production on the second season was almost complete that the casting process would dare to think outside of the Mathias and Sandra models for these roles. The romantic relationships between Koenig and Helena and newcomers Tony and Maya would also receive much focus in the new season, but aside from the characters other notable changes to the series included a new composer (with Derek Wadsworth replacing Barry Gray) and the loss of the expansive Main Mission set in favour of the smaller Command Center. This was another of Freiberger’s suggestions, as he believed that a smaller more enclosed set would give the show’s characters a greater sense of immediacy to the viewer – but as it turned out, the new set would prove visually restrictive for directors.
All this resulted in a series that made no reference to the first season at all, with the only shared element between them being the fact that the Moon was blown out of Earth’s orbit in the year 1999. As discussed previously it’s difficult to reconcile the two as being part of the same series, thanks to the cast changes and the switch from a vaguely metaphysical and spiritual storytelling approach to a more action-heavy one, and any attempts to do so in the scripts (such as explaining away Bergman’s disappearance due to his dying in a faulty spacesuit) were dropped before they reached the screen.
Freiberger’s arrival also coincided with the departure of one of the most important creative forces of the Gerry Anderson universe; his wife Sylvia. Although the couple would not be divorced until 1981, their split at the end of production on Space:1999 season one saw Sylvia also cut ties with the production entirely and pursue her own separate life and career. Gerry Anderson was a man with big and exciting ideas, but many people who worked on his shows have commented over the years that he didn’t always handle people well and that Sylvia was the person to talk to if you had a problem. Without her familiar presence to advise and reassure the team the set of Space:1999’s second season was reportedly a much less happy place to work than that of its first, with Martin Landau in particular being extremely dissatisfied with the poor quality of scripts like All That Glisters and A Matter of Balance. Fred Freiberger would listen to his complaints, but they only made him more determined that the show was firmly on the right track.
As always the production was constantly subject to the whims of ITC New York, and the regular visits to the set of American executive Abe Mandell. On one such visit made early in the second season, during which he viewed several completed episodes of the show, he was horrified to discover that the series didn’t include any monsters – which were apparently all the rage in American shows at the time. Dutifully, the Space:1999 production team began throwing together a variety of monster costumes which were soon terrorising the Alphans on a weekly basis –until Abe Mandell made a return visit and demanded to know why all these monsters had been added to the show? Nobody in America wants monsters anymore!
When the second season began airing in Autumn 1976 fans were presented with a ‘new and improved’ Space:1999, but for many it was a significant downgrade from the show they were used to. Not only did all these changes occur without any on-screen explanation or even acknowledgement that the first season had ever occurred, but the process of ‘Americanising’ the show had robbed Space:1999 of many of the unique qualities that had caught their imagination in the first place. It was now just another sci-fi action series; at times a reasonably good one, but for many fans the magic had been lost. The show had seemingly been fixed to the point where it had become irrevocably broken. As production began on the final episodes of season two, it was clear that there would be no season three; despite all these ‘improvements’, the show had once again failed to achieve a network sale.
Nowhere in the Gerry Anderson story is the power and influence of the American market more keenly or more tragically felt than in the story of Space:1999’s transformation from season one to season two. While many fans (of both Star Trek and Space:1999) have pointed the finger of blame firmly in Freiberger’s direction his nickname of ‘the serial killer’ is perhaps undeserved when it comes to 1999 since the series was essentially dead before he even arrived on the scene, and was only revived thanks to the addition of a character that he helped to create. He certainly isn’t to be entirely absolved from blame, of course, but the majority of it would have be laid at the door of ITC in America for failing to understand the series they already had and their decision to twist it into something it was never meant to be. Gerry Anderson himself also commented in the years following the show’s cancellation that he regretted simply handing over the reins of the series to Freiberger and not standing up to the demands of ITC New York, although it’s hard to see to what extent he could have achieved the latter with any chance of success.
While it may forever remain a poor successor to the first in the eyes of many fans, the second season of Space:1999 isn’t without its charms; the problem is that unfortunately you sometimes have to wade through a lot of dross in order to find them. Knowing that the second season we got came very close to not existing at all makes it hard to actively hate (surely you’d rather have 24 more episodes featuring a somewhat different John, Helena, Alan and Sandra than nothing at all?)…but for many fans, it’s even harder to accept that such a unique and special series could be so traumatically reshaped into something that seemed so ordinary by comparison.