Review by Bob Eggleton
SPACE:1999 Episodes 1-12. DVD Format. Released via A&E Video, Carlton Network UK.
I have to confess that I'm a fan of Gerry Anderson's shows, especially Fireball-XL5, Stingray and Captain Scarlet. I think Space 1999 came along too late for me to enjoy, but Artist Bob Eggleton doesn't suffer from that handicap, as his in depth review of the recently released DVD set shows - Editor
Starring Martin Landau(Cmder John Koenig),Barbara Bain(Dr Helena Russell),Barry Morse(Dr Victor Bergman), Nick Tate(Astronaut Alan Carter),Zeinia Merton(Sandra Benes),et al. Guest stars: Christopher Lee,Peter Cushing,Jeremy Kemp,Julian Glover,Roy Dotrice. Executive Producer Gerry Anderson, Producer Sylvia Anderson. Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Directors:Ray Austin, Charles Crichton,Bob Kellet,et al. Music by Barry Gray,et al.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, after having created a season of the often dour and moody (but great!) show UFO in l970, started thinking of a sequel to that series: UFO:1999. The show was to be the further adventures of S.H.A.D.O. defending earth from alien menace and, venturing further into the universe to do so, via the new adventures being springboarded not from earth but a massive moon base. UFO was a huge hit in Europe. In the US, it got off with a bang but steadily foundered due mostly to the fact that the stations to which the show was syndicated to had no idea what to do with this not-exactly-upbeat show of aliens steadily taking over earth. Europeans LOVE dark, nihilistic SF like this. However, the US distributor called much of the shots. They decided that UFO's were out. They liked the moonbase, just get rid of the UFOs. SPACE:1999 was born.
The show's makers decided that in order to take earth out of the picture and still keep the moonbase concept, the idea was to somehow send the cast into the unknown with little hope of returning to earth. Logically, from a story point of view, the concept of blowing the moon out of earth's orbit seemed the best way to go. Admittedly, the writers thought the science behind this was...stretching things...a bit. A concept that has repeatedly and unfairly gotten the show lambasted for 25 years in many SF circles. For many "hard science" guys it always tops their "five worst" shows list. The creators at one point said "We knew it would be probably impossible for such a thing to happen...we just kept coming back to that idea because it was so outrageous and no one else had done it". The show was filmed in l973 and into early l974 and broadcast in the UK in Fall 1974 and the US about a year later in l975.
Well, here we are, two years beyond the fateful year of 1999 and, we have SPACE:1999 on DVD (and VHS, but a different release schedule) from A&E who have had incredible success marketing MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS, THE AVENGERS and THE PRISONER shows in the same way. SPACE:1999 topped their online poll as to what "lost" British TV show to release next. Carlton Network in the UK had acquired all of the lost Gerry Anderson shows-puppet and live action, and "proudly brought them home to England" (from a "corporate oblivion" someplace in Canada) and promptly released several onto TV. The DVD's have been digitally cleaned up in both visual and audio aspects. The DVD's are especially nice and a better deal for the money spent: You can get 12 episodes for just about the same price as the 6 VHS episodes would cost, and obviously you get six more to boot. The episodes are released in the UK release order, NOT the US release order which may at first throw some who remember what was shown when.: Example-"Dragon's Domain" was shown as the 2nd episode in the US but, one of the last in the UK.
Honestly, I liked SPACE:1999. I was thrilled to own the DVDs and await the next 12 episode release which actually contain some of the better episodes such as "War Games", "Dragon's Domain" and "The Testament of Arkadia". The show had a terrific Barry Gray score but would often use bits and pieces of classical and "modern classical" and New Age tunes from time to time. It's nice to see a show that was done way before the now overused CGI effects became commonplace. They used models and miniatures, a hallmark of Gerry Anderson media including THUNDERBIRDS (slated for release at the end of Feb on A&E DVD/Video and yes I have ordered those as well). The DVD remasterings are gorgeous. Most of the episodes are taken from original 35mm prints, and are as shiny and new as they looked 25 odd years ago. Even some lost footage has been restored, as the US versions had been badly cut to make time for commercials. The sound has also been restored beautifully as well. These are a real treat. I always got a kick out of the endless supply of Eagle spacecraft and, that the female voiced computer (known as "Computer") would spit out register receipts that would tell the Alphans anything. I don't in any way view SPACE:1999 as outdated, in fact, I think the show was ahead of it's time. Give it a look see again, forgive it's "science" if you must, but take it for what it is: fun.
"Breakaway" the first show- detailed how a creeping radiation poisoning was driving some members of Alpha Moonbase mad and, how earth's nuclear waste dumps started overheating to eventually start a chain reaction, blowing the moon away from earth. The FX, for their time, are spectacular. Gerry Anderson's crew always had a stellar reputation for miniature FX and alien planetscapes, etc like no other TV shows could even come close to, going as far back as their first productions: Stingray and Fireball XL-5. A pyrotechnical spectacle sends the moon away, at a vast rate of speed into the unknown and toward a mysterious signal from the planet Meta...
"A Matter of Life And Death" was the show's 2nd outing. The moon comes across an alien planet the Alphans name Terra Nova with the prospect of settling the population of 300+ there. Helena's long-lost and presumed dead astronaut husband Lee Russell mysteriously reappears and warns them they cannot go to the planet. Of course, the stubborn John Koenig does not heed his warnings, nor the warnings of Victor Bergman who has found that Lee Russell -who has by this time "died" again-seems to be reversing polarity, becoming anti-matter. A team lead by Koenig lands on the planet and finds a paradise, but suddenly not only does the Eagle they arrived in start to disintegrate but the moon itself explodes. Everyone -except Helena- is dead...or are they???.The episode leaves you with more questions than answers- but that was a hallmark of SPACE:1999 - that MAYBE we don't have all the answers and that space is a fairly mysterious place... It is still a haunting story with good performances by all.
The next episode, BLACK SUN has the moon being sucked into a black hole. The physical rendering of the black hole-never before done in an SF movie-is actually on target-a huge black disk with stars seemingly hugging the edges-in fact the gravity bringing the light of the stars toward the event horizon. The Alphans resign themselves to death, basically, with the thin hope that Victor Bergman's force shield (where DOES he get that technology!) can counter the gravity of the black hole which keeps exponentially increasing. A life ship Eagle is sent with supplies and a small handful of people, in the opposite direction in a vain hope to leave a legacy of the Alphans...as the moon and base are sucked through the black hole, Victor and John watch themselves age vastly. In what appears to be "minimalist FX" (Xmas Tree glitter icicles!) the two see the "other side" of the universe. A female voice appears, Victor asks "Are you God?" and she basically tells them they are part of a much bigger picture. We are left to ponder "was it all a dream?" as John and Victor wake up to find their moon through the black hole and into another universe and everything just fine and okay. Soon after, the lifeship Eagle appears and returns to the moon with Helena saying cryptically "Someone...got us home". Once again, all science aside, it was a haunting episode that crosses the line of science and into spirituality and just plain...faith. In several episodes an almost religious feel was more than just implied, a feeling that, when science fails, just rely on plain faith and hope. It's one of my favorite episodes simply because for it's time, nothing like it had been attempted- let alone a meeting with God.
The highly surreal "Ring Around The Moon" starts off Disk Two of Set 1. An alien probe appears and the Alphans find their moon locked in orbit around it. The probe is a bizarre ball of orange light that has an eye in it that can see any one of the Alphans at any time. This episode sported an excellent music score that unlined the alien presence. The probe attacks via a mental invasion that leaves several Alphans dead-"their brain tissue melted"-and eventually Helena is taken over by the probe and used as a conduit to supply information about the planet earth. It is discovered the probe is from a long-dead star, it's paranoid makers having sent it to find out about the human race and destroy it, before they threaten the alien race. However, the probe is unaware of the fact that it's purpose is no longer needed....
In "Earthbound" a spaceship carrying benevolent aliens crash lands near Alpha Moonbase. Helena attempts to revive one of the aliens and accidentally kills it in it's hyper sleep chamber. The rest of the crew awakens and we are introduced to their leader, Captain Zantor (Christopher Lee). He realizes she didn't mean to kill one of them and only asks that his fellows have rest and refreshment and then they must proceed on-to earth! They were members of a dying race that spread out in small ships in all directions headed for habitable worlds and they offer to take one Alphan with them now that they have an empty chamber. Koenig assigns the computer to make a logical and sound choice...but Commissioner Simmons (Roy Dotrice) who is quite homesick, gets a little desperate. It's great seeing Christopher Lee in just about anything, let alone playing an alien. One thing can be said for SPACE:1999, it's guest stars were usually from movie-quality stock, rare for a TV show.
In "Another Time, Another Place" the moon passes through a rift in space and seems to split into two moons-with all the Alphans mysteriously splitting as well, except one. After the event, Regina Kesslann (Judy Geeson) begins to have serious mental problems and appears to have knowledge of some future where Alan Carter and John Koenig are dead. Eventually, the moon appears to be headed toward earth!! It locks into earth orbit but the Alphans soon find this earth is a destroyed world. It is also discovered that there appears to be a twin moon on the other side of the earth-a moon which is rapidly gaining on them for a collision! A recon party finds another Alpha-deserted and abandoned-and a dead Koenig & Carter. Landing on the earth, in the most likely habitable area, Koenig, Carter and Helena find the "other" Alphans who claim they have been there for five years. The "other" Bergman explains that a rift has occurred and that they cannot stay on this earth, that in fact, it's not the earth that was ever inhabited by humans and that they must return to their own moon and be there for the collision so that time may adjust itself. It's another "more questions than answers" episode, which in the context of it's own story, is sort of like a mood piece: it just is. We don't know why.
In Disk 3 of Set 2, the bizarre "Missing Link" starts off with John Koenig being kidnapped from his body to the planet Zenno and is the subject of experiments by a scientist Raan (Peter Cushing) who is looking for the connection between his race and the human race. He is looking for the human factor-the ability to have hope-in order to get his answers. This episode has some terrific matte shots and visions of an entire civilization made of light energy.
In "The Guardian of Piri" another surrealistic episode, the moon comes across a seemingly lifeless planet with bizarre but beautiful remains of some alien race. However, whenever anyone is exposed to the "eye" of The Guardian of Piri, they become hypnotized into apathetic vegetables. Eventually, all the Alphans -save for John Koenig-abandon the moonbase for their desires on Piri and, the beautiful and scantily clad Servant of The Guardian (Catherine Schell, who would later star in Year 2 as a regular) tries to convince Koenig to do the same.
"Force of Life" is a hard episode, with Ian McShane portraying an Alphan who has been taken over by an alien force that craves heat and energy of any kind, sucking it out of people and Alpha's nuclear core if necessary.
"Alpha Child" starts off Disk 4 of Set 2, and tells the tale of Alpha's first born child who suddenly begins growing at an alarming rate and gaining more information as he does. Soon, an alien ship appears and the child becomes a full grown adult named Jarak (Julian Glover), his mother is killed and is transformed into Jarak's mate. They are the first of an intergalactic group of fugitives who seek to use the Alphan's bodies to hide from their pursuers. The episode "Galaxy's Child" from the much later STAR TREK-TNG, strangely resembles this episode.
"The Last Sunset" next on the disk tells the story of the moon encountering the planet Ariel and, suddenly, as the Alphans plan a possible exodus to the planet, strange containers rain down onto the moon's surface and bring with them- an atmosphere! The beings on the planet Ariel do not want the well-intentioned Alphans so, they attempted to give them what they desired most: an atmosphere for the moon and thus, they STAY on the moon which is hoped would go into orbit around Ariel. The continuity in this particular outing is very strange. For one, right after the air forms around the moon, we learn the moonbase has pull down windows complete with HANDLES that we've never noticed before Why would anyone install pull down windows on a moonbase with NO AIR outside to begin with? Then, when the atmosphere does not work out, the aliens remove it because the moon is headed away from the Ariel sun and into space. Despite all the chaos of getting back IN before the air is gone, we notice that those handles on the pull down windows are GONE at the end of the episode. Man those engineers work fast!
"Voyager's Return" is the last episode on disk 4. Voyager is a probe launched from earth sometime before the moon left orbit. It has amassed much knowledge and is returning to earth (and this was written WAY before STAR TREK:THE MOTION PICTURE!) and uses a "Queller Drive" to traverse the vast gulf of space. It has however malfunctioned and the drive- which literally destroys everything in space around it- is threatening Alpha as Voyager has homed in on the moon as a returning point. It turns out that the creator of Voyager is living on Alpha (honest, this really WAS written before Star Trek:TMP) and orders the probe to turn off it's harmful particle effects. However, an alien race who's entire system was destroyed by the probe has followed it and plans to destroy Alpha and then head for earth and destroy that as revenge.