Space: 1999 Series One Special Edition Review

This Review...people of Earth...flight to Meta...danger of failing...Koenig...Moonbase Alpha...Dr. Helena Russell...Nuclear Disposal Areas...explosion...out of Earth's orbit...accelerating...let down...accomplished failure...unquestionably of the future...off-white flared uniforms...the Eagle...look into the odd deaths...The Day The Earth Caught Fire...nuclear disaster...also starring Barry Morse...September 13th 1999......Star Trek...Black Sun...Solaris...the gravity of their situation...metaphysics...Peter Cushing in gold makeup...wonderful-looking...thrills...languorous plotting...expensive set!

The people of Earth are preparing for the most important space mission in their history - a flight to Meta, a planet that has broken away from its star and is now approaching the edge of our own solar system. Remarkably, there appears to be signs of life from a radio broadcast picked up from Meta and there is a tangible sense of excitement at what the Meta probe may discover.That probe, though, is in danger of failing to meet its scheduled launch date and Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) is being seconded to Moonbase Alpha to uncover why there are delays in the launch preparations. What he finds is that many of the deep space pilots are undergoing a form of psychosis thought to be caused by the radiation that is being dumped on the dark side of the moon by authorities on Earth. At least that is the theory being forwarded by Alphans Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) and Prof. Victor Bergman (Barry Morse) but there is, as yet, no proof of this.

As Koenig comes under pressure from Commissioner Simmonds (Roy Dotrice) to hurry the launch of the Meta probe, he leads a mission to the Nuclear Disposal Areas, finding that the flight logs blacked out for two minutes, leading Koenig to assume that it is magnetic, not nuclear, disturbances that are causing the problems with the pilots. Koenig, though, has no time to bring a solution into effect - a nuclear explosion in Disposal Area Two forces the moon out of Earth's orbit and it begins accelerating out of the solar system. As the radio and television broadcasts from Earth fade into white noise, Koenig is faced with a decision to either abandon the moon and attempt to find a route back to Earth, which would be certain suicide, or to remain on the moon and locate a planet that would be capable of sustaining them. Could that be Meta?

Has any show ever disappointed as much as Space: 1999? Was there ever a show so beautifully designed that was subsequently let down by its writing, its casting, its guest stars and its dogged determination to be different? I would argue that Space: 1999 is an astonishingly accomplished failure and yet for reasons that I'll explain, I find myself drawn back to it, simply for the clean, crisp design that, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, is unquestionably of the future.

The pilot episode is an outstanding example of what Space: 1999 did so much better than other television science-fiction shows of the same era, such as Blake's 7 and Dr Who. The video calls, the sliding doors, the communicators with built-in screens, the off-white flared uniforms with brave splashes of colour and the functional lines of Moonbase Alpha were remarkably assured lifts from 2001. Where Heywood Floyd made a video call on a Bell Picturephone to wish his daughter a Happy Birthday, Koenig, who opens the series, like Floyd, on an approach to the moon, blithely carries on a conversation with Commissioner Simmonds as his Eagle approaches Moonbase Alpha. Even the Eagle, the spaceship that is employed for off-moon activities around Moonbase Alpha, is a masterpiece of design - functional in its ability to replace its central service unit depending on requirements whilst the cockpit exterior features the very best motifs from Thunderbird 2.

Koenig's arrival, like that of Floyd, is to troubleshoot and to investigate activities on the moon. Where one was concerned with a black monolith, Koenig's is to look into the odd deaths of a number of deep space pilots. Taking only that as his introduction to Space: 1999, the pilot episode, Breakaway is a hugely enjoyable piece of apocalyptic science-fiction. If the aim of that episode is to get the Moon out of Earth's orbit, Gerry Anderson, the Executive Producer of Space: 1999, does just that, employing, like The Day The Earth Caught Fire, a massive nuclear blast as the source of his catastrophe. Unlike that film, though, Anderson's nuclear disaster has the Moon accelerating out of our solar system and, with no means home, embarking on a mission to explore strange new...the similarity should be obvious.

Star Trek is, as you might expect, never far from Space: 1999. Koenig, like Kirk, is both eloquent enough to talk his way out of a confrontation with aliens but is also content to resort to action if the situation demands it. Russell has the passion of McCoy but Bergman has the friendship of the Commander, exemplified by their sharing of a drink in Black Sun. It is Bergman, though, who has been given Spock's talent for the scientific analysis of the situation. Similarly, there are all manner of Alphans willing to sacrifice themselves in the manner of Star Trek's Red Shirts. It would appear, as this first season goes on, that all but Koenig, Capt. Alan Carter (Nick Tate) and Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock) face certain death the minute their Eagle takes off into space. It certainly appears as though an Eagle is destroyed every third episode or so, which suggests that many dim-witted pilots are more than happy to fly off to a meeting with their maker, with none that remain ever learning to only co-pilot with Carter, who seems to return with nothing more than a small cut whatever the circumstances.

Indeed, the show looks much as you might expect a Star Trek series to look had one actually made it as far as being broadcast in the years between The Original Series and The Next Generation. But, equally, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris are never far from Space: 1999, mostly in the show's flirtation with what we might see as supernatural. Where Star Trek and the like had their aliens as being more powerful than us humans, or at least on a par, many of those encountered by the Alphans do no necessarily have better weaponry or more powerful spaceships, more that their evolution has seen them develop abilities that we would see as being godlike. In that sense, although their meeting with these aliens often appears to leave the Alphans looking doomed and their situation hopeless, these aliens are typically benign who look only to warn the Alphans of the gravity of their situation. Taking its cue from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, many of the episodes on this set end with a flash of psychedelic lights and a voice warning Koenig of the futility of his search for Earth. Whilst it is admirable to have a science-fiction television show that has its eye on something greater than planet-hopping, the occasional burst of action amongst the metaphysics and questions on memory, history and destiny wouldn't go amiss.

Of course, what Space: 1999 also shares with these films, Solaris in particular, is a pace that verges on stopping altogether. It is an exceptionally slow moving show, so much so that the scene in Force of Life in which the Alphans are frozen in time didn't really seem that extraordinary or out of character. I've long thought that Captain Scarlet, with its brisk 22-minute running time, was Gerry Anderson's best show, better even than the more celebrated Thunderbirds, which, with its much longer running time, always seemed dull in comparison. Each episode of Space: 1999 would have made a great half-hour episode but at fifty minutes apiece, much time can go by without anything ever happening.

This is would quite bad enough but Space: 1999 goes awry with its guest stars - it's an alien!...ah no, it's Peter Cushing in gold makeup - which, although it harks back to Star Trek, seemed out of place in 1975. In an era when Dr Who was battling the Wirrn in The Ark In Space, the less-than-impressive aliens of Space: 1999, its relaxed plotting and its suspect handling of strange alien encounters meant that the show was never the success that it could have been. And yet, simply because it is such a wonderful-looking show, I'm drawn back to it time and again. I don't think I even particularly like it but as I'll be arguing in a forthcoming feature, I don't think it's necessary for science-fiction to do much more than simply look great and, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, be undeniably of the future. In that sense, Space: 1999 works very well indeed but just don't expect the thrills of a Star Trek or a Blake's 7, more the languorous plotting of a Sapphire and Steel. That said, I do suspect that it's a failing within me that I don't appreciate it as I should, much as I think there's a fault in those who don't enjoy Solaris. I suspect this is better loved than it is with me and actually feel somewhat bad at scoring it as a six but try as I might, it's an acquired taste so be careful before buying this expensive set.



Episode Guide

Breakaway (50m30s): As mentioned above, Commander John Koenig arrives at Moonbase Alpha to ensure the launch of the Meta probe remains on schedule but he finds illness, psychosis and death on the Moon. As he investigates, a nuclear explosion rocks the Moon and sends it out of Earth's orbit, causing catastrophic disasters. With the Alphans having no choice but to continue through space, will they ever find a path back to Earth?

Matter of Life and Death (50m28s): When an Eagle returns from an abandoned planet, they are carrying an extra passenger - the husband of Dr. Helena Russell, Lee Russell (Richard Johnson), who was presumed dead after a failed mission to Jupiter five years earlier. He talks of the planet and although it promises a future for the Alphans, Lee warns them from going there but dies minutes later. Koenig and Helena Russell leave for the planet but find that danger awaits them.

Black Sun (50m27s): An asteroid looks to be heading safely past the moon when it suddenly changes course, narrowly avoids Moonbase Alpha and burns out to become a 'black sun', with which the moon is on a collision course. As the Alphans look to protect themselves with a magnetic shield, the black sun draws them ever nearer.

Ring Around the Moon (49m59s): Things are going well on Moonbase Alpha until, that is, the moon approaches the planet Triton, which traps the moon in a ring of light and takes possession of a number of the crew, including Helena Russell. Whilst appearing to work on behalf of Triton, including reprogramming the computer to allow Moonbase to be spied upon by Triton, Helena warns Koenig of the danger that Moonbase Alpha is in, which leads the Commander to lead a mission in an Eagle to Triton.

Earthbound (50m28s): With Commissioner Simmonds (Roy Dotrice) berating Koenig for his lack of interest in attempting to locate Earth and to plot a route home, the Alphans find that an alien spaceship is approaching the moon. Its captain, Captain Zandor (Christopher Lee), tells Koenig that they were fleeing a dying planet and that their craft was programmed to take them to Earth. Would this allow the Alphans to return to Earth?

Another Time, Another Place (50m29s): As the moon approaches a cloud of space dust, they undergo what feels to be an odd transformation and pass out. Waking some minutes later, they find their position in space has changed and that they are heading back to Earth. As they draw closer to home, though, strange, eerie things start happening and when an away team land on the Earth, they find it deserted but for their own future selves. What is it to come home only to find that it is not as you remember it?

Missing Link (50m28s): Returning to the moon on an Eagle from a mission to a nearby planet, Koenig crashes on the surface of the moon and lies unconscious. As a medical Eagle rescues the other occupants of the ship, Koenig's spirit awakes and leaves the ship and his body to return to Moonbase Alpha, where he finds himself alone and, as a ghost, unable to make contact with anyone. Soon, though, Raan (Peter Cushing) arrives and offers Koenig a choice - to stay with him and the beautiful Vana (Joanna Dunham) or to return to his body and his colleagues in Moonbase Alpha.

Guardian of Piri (50m22s): An alien planet, which seems to invoke feelings of ecstasy in those who approach it, takes control of Moonbase Alpha's computers. This draws the Alphans to the planet, where they appear to be in a paradise but where the only one to resist its lure, Koenig, can see only the eventual destruction of the Alphans.

Force of Life (50m25s): A strange blue light approaches the moon, which draws Koenig's curiosity but despite being able to see it, nothing registers on the instruments. As time slows down, freezing the Alphans, the blue light lands on Anton Zoref (Ian McShane), who now appears to have been selected as an instrument of destruction by an alien power.

Alpha Child (50m35s): A baby is born on Moonbase Alpha, the first since leaving Earth's orbit and although this should be a cause for celebration, the child grows at an incredible rate, leaving his mother terrified. Soon, though, the Alphans welcome the boy but, as they do, they are faced with a new threat - the arrival of a set of hostile alien spaceships. Are the birth of the boy and these visitors connected?

The Last Sunset (50m31s): When Carter's Eagle returns with a probe attached to it, the Alphans investigate it, finding that it has the means to bring a normal atmosphere to the moon. On activating in, fresh air breezes over the surface of the moon and rain, wind and sunshine follow. But is this all that the Alphans had hoped for or is there a crisis to follow?

Voyager's Return (50m24s): In a precursor to Star Trek: The Motion - this episode was made some four years before it - the Alphans encounter Voyager 1, the unmanned probe launched from Earth in 1977 (1985 here). Whilst Bergman is enthusiastic over the scientific information in Voyager, Russell remains cautious, justly so as death follows in Voyager's wake.

Collision Course (50m33s): As Moonbase Alpha tracks an asteroid that is approaching on a collision course, Koenig dispatches Carter to destroy it with a nuclear charge, which he does so but passes out on his return. As Koenig leaves to rescue Carter, they see an enormous planet heading for the moon and both begin seeing visions of a ghostly woman called Arra (Margaret Leighton). As Koenig investigates, he finds that Arra holds their destiny in her hand but is their meeting only random chance?

Death's other Dominion (50m30s): Brian Blessed stars as Dr. Cabot Rowland who, alongside Capt. Jack Tanner (John Shrapnel), rules a barren planet covered in ice, the path of which will cross that of the moon. As they do and the Alphans fly down to meet Rowland and Tanner, how is it that the two men appear to have once been inhabitants of Earth?

The Full Circle (50m36s): The Alphans' knowledge of time and space are of no benefit to them as they pass through a time warp, travelling back some 40,000 years to view themselves as a tribe of cavemen, hostile to their arrival.

End of Eternity (50m28s): During a trip to an asteroid, the Alphans use explosives to clear a path into its interior but, in doing so, they unleash a killer, Balor (Peter Bowles), who had been imprisoned within it. Balor, though, like his people, is immortal...how can the Alphans stop him?

War Games (50m27s): When three alien spaceships are seen in the vicinity of the moon, Koenig sends three Eagles to intercept, ordering them to attack when the three ships adopt an attack formation. On destroying them, though, Carter claims that it was too easy and so it seems, with Moonbase Alpha now at war with the alien presence. Is this the end of Moonbase Alpha?

The Last Enemy (50m28s): Moonbase Alpha detect two planets orbiting a distant sun, who remain on its opposing sides invisible to the other. As they approach, though, the Alphans find there is an ongoing war between the two, in which, as they are approached by a battle-class craft, they are now a part of.

The Troubled Spirit (50m34s): Whilst the Alphans are entertained by a musician, a seance takes place in the gardens, causing one young man, Dr. Dan Mateo (Giancarlo Prete), to collapse, leaving his spirit free to haunt Moonbase Alpha, wherein he brings death to those who opposed his experiments.

Space Brain (50m31s): Moonbase Alpha spots an alien mass heading through space on an intercept course with the moon, finally sending an Eagle to investigate. This, however, vanishes and Koenig orders Carter to take another, whilst, on the moon, Victor and Helena investigate the arrival of an object from the alien, which leaves the Alphans in danger.

The Infernal Machine (50m22s): Moonbase Alpha receive a call for help from ship approaching the Moon, who refuses to listen to warnings from Koenig. As the Commander, Bergman and Russell enter the visitor's craft, they find it occupied by the Companion (Leo McKern), who remains under the control of Gwent, a living machine and one too vain to bow to Koenig's wishes.

Mission of the Darians (50m19s): The Alphans receive a distress signal from an enormous spaceship, the SS Daria, which has been travelling through space for over 900 years. In that time, some of the Darians have become barbaric, others enlightened, including Kara (Joan Collins) but how have they prolonged their lives as long as they have and are the Alphans at risk?

Dragon's Domain (50m26s): A member of the crew, Tony Cellini (Gianni Garko), experiences nightmares before attempting to steal an Eagle, both of which seem to be related to a past mission that he carried out that resulted in his finding a graveyard of lost spaceships and a monster. When the Alphans find a similar spaceship, Koenig must consider if the monster is real or a figment of Cellini's imagination.

The Testament of Arkadia (50m21s): Without explanation, the Moon comes to a dead stop and Moonbase Alpha loses all power, rending the base inhabitable. Could a nearby planet explain what is happening...or what has already happened, given that the Alphans find the origins of life on Earth within caves on its surface.



Transfer

As the screenshots below should confirm, Space: 1999 really does look much better than it did on the original Carlton release, with the picture looking less sharp - it was too sharp on the old release - brighter and more detailed. This release also looks to have been framed differently with more information at the edges of the screen.

The Old Carlton Release

This New Network Release

The Old Carlton Release

This New Network Release

The audio track is presented both in its original mono as well as a 5.1 remix and, although nice, the use of the surround channels doesn't add much to the experience. Both audio tracks do sound much better than the old Carlton release so in terms of both sound and picture, this is a distinct improvement. There are, though, no subtitles on any of the episodes, which is really very poor.



Extras

Commentaries: Following his recording of a commentary track for the new series of Captain Scarlet, Anderson is back for the pilot episode of Space: 1999, Breakaway, as well as one near the end, Dragon's Domain. As on Scarlet, Anderson is rather subdued and more technical than one would hope for but he does offer plenty of information - on the production more than trivia - should that be what you're interested in.

Trivia Tracks: Taking the form of a subtitle track, this presents a little background information on the making of the episode, such as where it was filmed, the credited and uncredited cast and crew and the music score. It's not particularly interesting and nor will you learn much but, on its own, it actually says much about the production of the entire series. There are two such tracks included in this boxset - one on The Last Sunset with the other on Space Brain but the type of content is similar between the two.

Music Only Tracks: This is available on all episodes except Breakaway and Dragon's Domain - the two episodes with a commentary by Gerry Anderson - but is unremarkable, offering much silence between the occasional burst of gloomy disco that featured heavily in Space: 1999.

Concept and Creation (12m36s): Featuring an interview with Gerry Anderson as well as footage from the show, this gives a background to the show, including Anderson's casting of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain - then husband-and-wife and fresh from Mission: Impossible - as well as his commitment that not only would any scenes be set on Earth but that they couldn't. Hence the Moon leaving Earth's orbit.

Special Effects & Design (16m49s): The visual effects on Space: 1999, although now a little shaky, were superb for 1975 and this feature looks at how they were produced, featuring interviews with Gerry Anderson and Brian Johnson, the special effects supervisor who had previously worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey and would later supervise the effects on Alien, thus explaining some of the similarities between Space: 1999 and those films. Much time, as it should be, is given over to the Eagles but a lot of the visual effects are talked about.

These Episodes (70m58s): Gerry Anderson and Script Supervisor Christopher Penfold are on hand to look back at ten episodes - Breakaway, Black Sun, The Last Sunset, The Full Circle, War Games, The Troubled Spirit, Space Brain, Mission of the Darians, Dragon's Domain and The Testament of Arkadia - to talk about not only the behind-the-scenes production of these particular episodes but also to explain the plotting of each episode. In the case of Black Sun and its confusing final scenes, this explanation is most welcome.

Guardian Of Piri Remembered (1m36s): Catherine Schell, who would appear in Season Two as shape-changing Maya, has been interviewed for this, which looks back at the costume she wore as the seductive Servant of the Guardian.

Clapperboard (38m56s): This is an episode of the Granada film show for kids from 1975 and is hosted by Chris Kelly from a Moonbase Alpha that is deserted but for Gerry Anderson and himself. The quality of the episodes are far from being broadcast standard and Anderson is really only present for the first half of the show, which devotes as much time to his other work as it does to Space: 1999, before, in the second half, Brian Johnson guides Kelly through his model work and the various versions of Eagles that are used in the show.

Trailers: Two are included, Alien Attack (1m34s), which appears to be an edited compilation of Breakaway and War Games, and Journey Through the Black Sun (1m49s), which, again, appears to be Black Sun and Collision Course edited into a single episode.

Textless Generic Titles (1m39s): The title gives it away - this is much the same as the title sequence that appears in the show but includes no text and rather than it being, "This Episode!", it features number of scenes from the entire season.

Alternative Opening And Closing Titles (2m54s): Not vastly different, actually, other than the font used for the onscreen text being somewhat less impressive - more rounded, psychedelic and cluttered.

Barry Gray's Original Demo (1m18s): Without question, Space: 1999 has one of the best themes from a television show - drama, disco and funk, the likes of which you simply don't get outside of a Bee Gees album - and this allows you to listen to Gray's original demo. Download the proper version from TV Cream and relive the Alphans doomed quest to find a home.

Martin Landau and Barbara Bain Introduction (1m50s): We certainly didn't get this - the two stars of the show appearing before the broadcast of Breakaway to explain the concept of the show. It being on ITV, I expect we were unfortunate in getting a getting continuity announcer to introduce the show and in the case of UTV, that was probably Julian Simmons...even back then!

Visual Effects Plates (11m35s): Lovely on a continuous loop, this just plays some stately visual effects from the show with a backing of mood music. The very thing that would go down well with a playing of Dark Side Of The Moon should you have a roomful of serious, bearded young hippies to hand. And who shouldn't...ought to be one in every household.

Selected Scripts (x13): Available in PDF format, thirteen scripts are included, which is more than half of the first season. The full list is Breakaway (The Void Ahead), Black Sun, Another Time, Another Place, Missing Link, Alpha Child, The Last Sunset, Voyager's Return, Collision Course, Death's other Dominion, War Games, The Last Enemy, The Troubled Spirit and The Testament of Arkadia.

Space: 1999 Annual: Superb...a fantastic extra on this DVD and worth at least £1.35 of the purchase price, which, oddly, is what it would have cost you in 1977. I actually think I have a copy of this at my parents' house and that mine has been looked after better given Sellotape holding pages 11 and 12 together. The annual could have been better but it's a wonderful idea to have it here and, I suspect, what many fans of the show will appreciate having. It is, like the scripts, available in PDF format.



Overall

Granted, I feel something of a plum for having bought the old Carlton set for £85 or thereabouts when it came out only four years ago, moreso for having to buy it disc-by-disc for the release of Season One. This, though, is an improvement, not only in terms of the picture quality but for the set of bonus features - love that annual! - that have been included. The price, though, is a shock given that CSI: New York, which I recently reviewed for the site, is also a seven-disc release and is available for less than £30 from CD WOW. This seven-disc set is nudging £80 at some online stores, as low as £55 at others so go shopping prepared to do a little groundwork before clicking confirm.

Film
6 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 21/04/2018 04:06:44

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