Space: 1999 – Breakaway

‘Breakaway’

Space1999_ThumbWritten by George Bellak (and Christopher Penfold), directed by Lee H. Katzin
Transmitted on 4 September 1975

Gerry Anderson and Lew Grade had a long standing professional relationship of success. After years of working with puppets, Anderson earned a live action production with the startling and impressive UFO, a program that was as hard-hitting as it was fantastic, dealing as it did with a secret internationally funded organization designed to fend off mysterious alien invaders from a dying world looking to extend their lives by stealing human organs. Following the success of UFO first year, Gerry Anderson and Lew Grade planned an even more ambitious second series that would take the fight against the organ harvesting aliens to a new level with the advent of a moon base from which the Interceptors would engage the enemy. Alas, this was not to be when Grade and the suits had a change of heart and decided to scrap the notion. But it would be such a shame to abandon all the hard work begun on the second year of UFO. Work began on what would become Space: 1999, a science fiction epic that found its own cult following and continues to find new fans today.

The series starred husband and wife team Martin Landau and Barbara Bain who were coming off of Mission Impossible, a wildly successful series in the US and UK. The notion was that with them signed on as the leads, the program was a guaranteed hit. The budget was tremendous and the ambitions high on what still looks like a lavish TV production. Imagine Kubrick’s 2001 translated into a weekly TV series and you have the beginnings of an idea what this looked like. With designer clothing, furniture and sets, it remains one of the most eye catching TV programs of its era. Following in the footsteps of Star Trek, Space: 1999 is a much more polished and professional looking series at times, yet it is also so cerebral that it can easily leave the viewer in the lurch.

The pilot involves a roving planet called Meta and the desperate attempt to launch an expedition there from Moonbase Alpha. Commander John Koenig (Landau) is sent up to take control of the situation, but finds that the conditions are far worse than he was led to believe. Radioactive waste has been shipped to the moon for some time and carefully monitored, yet the astronauts piloting the Eagle Transports across the lunar surface are coming down with what appears to be radiation poisoning. The cover story is that they are sick but recovering however, John soon discovers from Doctor Helena Russell (Bain) that this is not the case. The astronauts who are afflicted are seen to deteriorate rapidly as their body functions slow and their brain functions halt altogether.

Koenig makes the difficult decision to stop everything from the waste shipments to the Meta probe launch preparations while the cause of these deaths is identified and stopped. He is aided by Professor Victor Bergman (played by the brilliant Barry Morse) and soon realizes that the problem involves the magnetic properties of the moon as well as the radioactive waste. Moonbase Alpha is essentially a time bomb. Before they can manage to ‘defuse’ the bomb, it erupts and catapults the moon out of orbit and into space. Rather than plot a path back home (where no doubt untold cataclysms are occurring thanks to the loss of the moon), Koenig informs the crew that they will venture forth on a bold adventure into the unknown, looking for a new home.

space1999

Like many guys my age, I was vaguely aware of Space: 1999 from syndication, but mainly episodes from the second series that saw the loss of Morse as well as the more soulful and cerebral plots from people like George Bellak, Christopher Penfold and Johnny Byrne. I was lucky enough to find a rare out of print edition of the first series put out by Network in high definition with polished picture quality and shocking sound levels. I cannot imagine watching a program as dense and lush as Space: 1999 on a small TV screen in the kitchen over a Hungry Man TV Dinner (as most likely did). The scope is just so vast and the reach of the production staff impressive.

The plot of Breakaway is awkward and veers from idea to idea, not a great way to open a new series as the focus shifts from introducing this new world to the discovery of Meta to the deaths and radiation scare in just one installment before everything goes to pot and our heroes become reluctant castaways on a giant desert isle (if you will). All that said, it is immensely impressive.

The plotting of the pilot ran to two hours and had to be trimmed back to 45 minutes after the studio saw it just did not work. The filming process was incredibly difficult with the first scene seemingly refusing to get shot in the studio. Space: 1999 was a tense production and it shows, the actors struggle to find their way just as the plot choppily makes its way to completion. Several times during my first time through this one I kept asking myself ‘who was this made for?’ but then I kind of broke through a barrier and realized that I was the ideal audience.

There is very little excitement or action. In fact, aside from the destruction of a couple of Eagle transports and thew zapping of an astronaut gone mad, not much happens. But the tone is very adult and sophisticated with the dead-faced irradiated victims lit in the ghostly greens and blues of the sick bay until Dr Russell pulls the plug making a specific impact. It’s also complex as Koenig must deal with the concerns of bureaucrat while the death toll rises and Earth command seems anxious to keep the situation secret and contained. This is not the perfect society of Star Trek nor is it the intergalactic ghetto of Star Wars… it’s much more multifaceted than either and as a result it will either grab you or it won’t.

Recently released on Blu-ray, Space: 1999 is making a bit of a splash on the home video market as fans of other sci fi programs are eager to add variety to their library. That’s great because this is not only a very intelligent and thought-provoking series but it is also a visually experimental program that at times threatens to blow the viewers mind. It is also very human with more fully developed characters than viewers were used to. Prentis Hancock as Controller Paul Morrow (I’m actually quite fond of Prentis Hancock and really enjoy his performances here), Zienia Merton as Sandra Benes, Nick Tate as Captain Alan Carter and Lon Satton as Benjamin Ouma are just some of the supporting cast members that breath life into these episodes with their presence.

Although why the great Philip Madoc was only in a scant two minutes tops as the outgoing Lunar Base Commander I cannot figure out.

If you missed out the first time, this could be the ideal year to take a trip to the moon with Space 1999 and see just how far out TV sci-fi could get once upon a time.

Buy Space: 1999 on Blu-ray

Exploring Space 1999: An Episode Guide and Complete History of the Mid-1970s Science Fiction Television Series

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9 thoughts on “Space: 1999 – Breakaway

  1. Nice review. “(it) at times threatens to blow the viewer’s mind”. It’s not bad but I wouldn’t go *that* far! It’s sobering to think that the pilot was so troublesome to write and make; Christopher Penfold believes that he came up with the idea for “the nuclear waste dump on the moon to go out of control” which is a pretty key concept for the show, one would assume that was part of the show’s initial format. It’s a surprise it worked as well as it did. You are spot on about the muddledness of Breakaway (originally The Void Beyond), a legacy of its troubled development. I’m not sure I agree about the depth of the characters though (Victor Bergman perhaps aside), I think Space: 1999 always had trouble with character development and a certain dourness (something they attempted to alleviate in Season 2 with…mixed results). I enjoy the show especially when it got weird but I find UFO superior. A great barrier for modern audiences is the idea of the moon being blown out of orbit with relatively little effect on the moonbase in the first place :). But, as I say, I like it flaws and all. Fine effects too. Let’s just say we disagree about Mr Hancock’s acting…

    • I have never seen this show. As you can guess everyhing I have read about it has been pretty negative. It is odd that Martin Landau was asked if he wished he took the role of Spock instead of Nimoy. He said he felt the character wooden did not emote and was not really much of a role.

      Mister Landau does not know much about Spock. He is entitled his opinion but he should at leas get his information straight. The character is far more complex than just a walking computer. From what I have read his own character on this show probably had a lot less depth than Spock. So it is not like he has not played one dimensional characters. This was probably more of the writers fault than his. He is a taleneted actor despite being a Spock basher.

  2. Well, there are reasons why the original Star Trek endures (even with the pointless CGI additions to the recent blu-rays/dvds) while Space: 1999 is relatively little known! You have to bear in mind that Landau would’ve been up for Spock in the *pilot* and the character only developed with Nimoy in the role. Nimoy invested in it, whereas Landau would’ve probably felt embarrassed. We can just be grateful that Nimoy and the writers turned Spock into the icon he is. Also, even Nimoy got sick of being identified so much with the role once. That said, Space: 1999′s characters may not be particularly charismatic but it is, at its best, an entertaining series even if sometimes for amusing reasons. Don’t forget that Star Trek had some atrocious episodes including most of the Fred Freiberger-produced Season 3, and who produced Space: 1999′s second season? Freddy-baby!
    Ironic that Nimoy actually became Landau’s replacement – as resident master of disguise – on Mission: Impossible.

    • Hal you beat me to it. I was going to mention both the fact that Fred was producer both the third season of Star Trek and the final season of 1999 and that Nimoy replaced Landau who left with his wife after season 3.

      Here is another connection. Captain Garth from the 3rd season episode Whom Gods destroy also was in a great episode of Misson’s third season called The Mind of Stephan Mikos. Is that right? I have only seen a handful of those episodes but that one is often cited as the best Mission episode. It was pretty good. Nimoy wrote a memo to the studios saying it was ripped off of Dagger of the Mind from season 1. Jamieson here did a review of Dagger. You should read it if you haven’t.

      He also complained that Spock could have found a better to tell the real captain from the fake than asked them to fight.. He was protective of that character. Many actors who played Vulcans either make them one dimensional characters or in the case of the last series Enterprise gave T’pol contradictory behavior. That whole series really made Vulcan’s look bad. I heard Abrahams killed off the planet. Maybe he did not how to undo the damage that show had done to the race. I am joking.

  3. The actor was Steve Ihnat, he was also memorable in one of the few good stories from the second season of The Outer Limits, a two-parter entitled The Inheritors. I must have seen The Mind Of Stefan Miklos years ago, it is seen as a classic and Ihnat does a fine job.
    Whom Gods Destroy is possibly my favourite episode of 1968-69 Star Trek, it’s so over-the-top and the nuttiness of it (no pun intended regarding the asylum setting) drowns out the flaws and illogicalities. Ihnat chews the scenery takes on Shatner in the melodramitic stakes – and wins! Ihnat’s fantastic in that, plus Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig is very sexy even though she’s *green*… I wish her character didn’t die though.

    • Peter David did a interesting sequel to Whom Gods Destroy in the Star Trek comics. This concluded the end of the first DC series until it was rebooted a year later and david came back. I am not sure if Captain Garth ever appeared in other licensed fiction. No wait there are two more. A Garth of Izor novel from 2003 and a Garth from alternate universe. So technically he only made one other appearance any prose or comics. I don’t know about fan fiction.

      Interestingly I was looking up another guest character, Richard Daystrom from season 2 “The Ultimate Computer”. I thought he was a interesting character. However he only made two appearances in tie in fiction. One of was his mirror universe self in a recent novel I have not read. Oddly enough his own “real” appearance was in a book by Peter David called the Rift, which I recommend. Odd that David was one of the few authors ever to do more with either of these characters. There is one more semi appearance in story about a computer made to believe it is Daystrom. So if you include that, he and Garth are tied.

  4. Ah, yes I read The Rift years ago – and still have it! I was something of a Peter David fan (still am). I enjoyed A Rock and a Hard Place, which at the time seemed to me to be a thrilling and quite hard-edged type of Star Trek:The Next Generation novel. I also liked Vendetta (a Star Trek “Giant” Novel, as they termed it) a Borg story much better than the later First Contact with a female Borg years before Seven of Nine; David also dealt with Guinan far better than the mediocre Generations did. David’s novels often had a nice balance of humour and drama, though it’s been years since I’ve read a new book of his (possibly a decade and a half if not more unbelievably). I never cared much for Imzadi or its sequel though but I always was more interested in Picard and Beverly than Troi and Riker.

    • Vendenta is first on my too read list after I finish my original series novels. I not interested in Imadzi though I have a copy from way back. Riker was a character that came off as dislikable to me. So reading nearly 400 pages of him does not seem like fun. David said in a interview that he they first objected to him using a female Borg at first but then let him do it.

      As for David he started his own line of Star Trek books back in 1997 called New Froniter. I only read some comic books based on that series. It includes minor Next Generation characters plus his own creations. A few appeared in children’s Starfleet Academy series. I just read the first book last week. Worf and his adopted brother enter Starfleet It is decently written for a kids book.

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