Space: 1999 Vol 4-6 Review
I was looking forward to reviewing these discs, but I have hit a stumbling block. I have already said 90% of what I wanted to say about the series in my first review here. Now I could just copy and paste whole chunks of the original review, but that feels cheap. I could also go on a rant about how everyone ignores Space 1999 and it’s an absolute classic, but that would be very dull. I tell you what; I’ll just wing it. I won’t tell the site bosses if you don’t.
The second half of the first season continues in a very similar vein to the first. The moon is still careering through space, the Alphans still can’t find a new planet to settle on and Dr Bergman still sounds like he has been overdoing the Valium. Again these are all self-contained stories with no lavish two-parters or to be continueds…
This is the second set of discs from Carlton covering the last 12 episodes of season one. It has to be said that the formula didn’t change too much throughout the season. The second half seems to have far more “guest stars”, which adds quite a bit of fun as you sit there saying “ooh look it’s....” every five minutes. The production values are also pretty much identical throughout. I only spotted one cheap show and I have to say there are several episodes that look a lot more expensive than anything earlier in the season (see War Games).
The quality here matches and in places easily surpasses the first half of the season. The characters are well established and you know exactly what to expect from them. The science techno babble is kept to a minimum, which is good as the science is very dodgy at the best of times. The best thing about this series is that deaths are far less predictable. Sometimes a new actor will pilot an Eagle and you will automatically think, “He’s dead”, but no, he survives. At other times main characters were in such peril I was sure they were about to be killed off. This keeps you on your toes throughout.
Again the acting is of a fairly high standard although there are some dodgy moments. Landau is excellent as Koenig and his presence really holds the whole thing together. Barry Morse is great as Viktor Bergman, the most relaxed scientist I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately Bain if anything is getting worse. If her voice gets any more soft and breathy she’ll sound more like Luscious Linda on 0898 625342. Luckily she doesn’t usually have too much to do, which is a blessing.
Now for the traditional rundown of episodes. There are four episodes on a disc and three discs in total.
Episode 13 – Collision Course – A fantastic episode. Moonbase Alpha is on a (you guessed it) collision course with a planet. Koenig and Alan Carter have had strange visions of an alien woman and are determined that the collision should take place. Of course the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha are appalled at the prospect and want to detonate nuclear charges to divert their course. This really is a tense episode and you don’t know what is reality until the final moments. The guest star here is Margaret Leighton (who?)
Episode 14 – Death’s Other Dominion – Brian Blessed guest stars in another great episode. The Alphans discover an ice world that has a colony of humans living on it. They go down and of course not everything is as it seems, some of the colonists are happy, others mad and others seem just plain devious. This episode has some truly disturbing moments and covers some very interesting themes. Performances are very strong and Blessed is on top shouting form. If anyone can tell me who the mad colonist is who witters on, I’d be most grateful; it’s driving me up the wall.
Episode 15 – The Full Circle – Well we were due a rubbish episode and this one doesn’t disappoint. The Alphans have come across a planet that seems ideal to settle on. Unfortunately their scouting party has vanished. Koenig and the main crew go down to find them and they too disappear one by one. Finally a third scouting party goes down and discovers nothing but violent cavemen on the planet and a mysterious mist. The reason for the disappearances is eventually revealed and it’s absolutely the worst plot idea ever. To add insult to injury nothing is explained and the episode ends with a Star-Trekesque jokey comment and a freeze frame of the crew laughing!
Episode 16 – End of Eternity – The last episode on Vol 4 and a fairly average one at that. Peter Bowles is the guest star (no really!) who plays an Alien who is freed from inside an asteroid that has been drifting through space. He claims to be a friendly sort, but we all know he was imprisoned for a reason. Not too bad, but I can’t take Peter Bowles seriously as a bad guy.
Episode 17 – War Games – Alpha comes under attack from an alien force present on a nearby planet. This is the most action packed and special effects laden episode of the entire series. Eagles in full scale combat with alien forces. This is a great episode full of surprises and some real shock moments when you think, “They can’t possibly do that!”. Unfortunately the ending is a little trite but you can’t have everything.
Episode 18 – The Last Enemy – Another effects extravaganza that blows the budget. Alpha approaches two warring planets that have no direct line of sight to each other. Unfortunately Alpha finds itself playing piggy in the middle. A fine episode but seems a little pedestrian after War Games.
Episode 19 – Troubled Spirit – After the last two episodes this one is entirely based on set with no real effects shots. This wouldn’t be so bad if the plot was any good. Mind you any episode that has a synopsis that says “While attempting to communicate telepathically with his plants” is never going to raise expectations too high. The episode is dull, unbelievable and badly acted.
Episode 20 – Space Brain – The last episode of Vol 5. The title doesn’t sound too hopeful but the episode is actually a cracker. Alpha is heading towards an unknown phenomenon (when isn’t it?) that seems to be taking over Alpha’s computers. Some of the themes handled here are fascinating and some good performances all round make this episode a stand out.
Episode 21 – The Infernal Machine – Leo McKern guest stars here as Companion, a human traveller who accompanies his computer master through the galaxy. They are low on supplies and are demanding them from Alpha. Koenig is understandably not keen to hand them over and the usual conflicts ensue. This is another great episode with some impressive model work throughout.
Episode 22 – Mission of the Darians – This time Joan Collins guest stars as a member of a dying alien colony. Alpha comes across a twenty-mile long colony ship containing the last surviving Darians. A distress call summons the Alphans and they investigate. What follows is some of the most disturbing ideas put forward by Space:1999 in it’s entire first season. Unfortunately Collins is not suited to the part and detracts from what could have been a top-notch episode.
Episode 23 – Dragons Domain – Just as the series is drawing to a close it starts to up the quality a notch or two. This episode is presented as a series of recollections of Dr Russell. Tony Cellini, a brilliant pilot, is haunted by visions from his past. As the only surviving member of a deep space probe he is roundly blamed for its failure and no one believes his outlandish stories of what actually happened. The visions become more and more real until a suitably dramatic climax is reached. This is probably the best episode in the series. There are a lot of flashbacks to the crew before they left Earth and a lot of character background is fleshed out here. Having seen this it is a shame that the producers were forced into a different direction with Season 2 as here they prove that they were constantly expanding their horizons and not getting bogged down in a “formula show”.
Episode 24 – Testament of Arkadia – The moon stops dead in space and Alpha is seemingly doomed. A nearby planet may hold the key. Koenig and the rest of the crew head down to the planet to try and solve the mystery. In actual fact they end up with more questions than answers. This is a strange episode to end the season. It is a slow paced piece that is full of intelligent plotting. I was expecting a more whizz bang ending, but this series has pleasantly surprised me on more than one occasion, and this is no exception.
I think I’ve probably said it all now. This series is fantastic. Anyone with a vague interest in good Sci-fi should give it a shot. Good production values, movie quality model work and a complementary cast.
These 12 episodes are split between three discs that can be bought separately or as part of the box set. The presentation is identical to the first three discs, using the same great animated menus and interface. Again each episode is split into 8 chapters.
Picture quality is pretty much identical to the first three discs. It is non-anamorphic 4:3 as shown on TV. Print damage is minimal again but there is noticeable grain in places. The brightly lit sets help enormously and everything looks sharp and colourful. As before the darker scenes let the transfer down with a poor black level and much increased grain. Also the artifacting problems of the first three discs are present here as well, seems Carlton can’t get a higher bit rate with four episodes per disc. Again I have marked the picture quality fairly high, as this is a transfer from a 26-year-old TV program. Given the fact that some modern TV programs have had worse transfers this is no mean achievement.
The sound is again as good as the other three discs. Nice and clear sound with audible dialogue. This is DD mono again, but perfectly adequate.
The extras this time round are slightly improved. Again each disc has different extras, they are mostly textual but this time we do have a couple of video pieces, which are a pleasant surprise.
Volume 4 has a text section that gives a rundown of a whole load of Space:1999 memorabilia including bubble gum cards and dinky toys. There are some good photographs in this section. Next we have director’s biographies. This is a detailed list of all the directors and their work before and since. There are some interesting entries here. Finally we have 3 minutes of behind the scenes footage. Very short with a tantalising glimpse of the special effects techniques used in the series, I just wish it were longer.
Volume 5 has three Alien Attack trailers. These were for the Space:1999 “film” (which was in fact two episodes stitched together). This section also explains how the film came about and gives details of the other Space:1999 film. The crew biography section contains C.V.’s for selected scriptwriters, editors and tea boys. Next up is a Blackpool exhibit film, which is an interesting curio. Finally we have a Lion’s Maid ice-lolly ad, which is suitably camp.
Volume 6 has a long text article outlining Gerry Anderson’s production brief. This is an extensive document and makes for fascinating reading. The other extra on this disc is a set of storyboards for a sequence from the pilot, Breakaway. A good selection of storyboards, but this seems a little too much like filler.
My opinion hasn’t changed. If anything the second half of this series is better than the first. This is a true Sci-fi classic sadly overlooked by most people. Carlton deserves a huge pat on the back for these discs. The picture is as good as it could have been, the sound is appropriate and the extras have improved markedly. I still think a retrospective documentary would have been nice, but you can’t have everything I suppose. To anyone wavering over this one, go and buy any disc in this series and I bet you are hooked.