Gerry Anderson’s interstellar journey began with a disaster. A nuclear explosion on the moon shot it out of Earth’s orbit, hurtling the moon into a journey never thought possible. On the surface, the crew of lunar base had limited resources and no way home. Instead they chose to embark on a mind-blowing adventure that challenged the spirit and mind.
Space: 1999 controversially took the place of Star Trek on the airwaves in the United States and was similar yet totally different to Roddenberry’s vision. Each week opened with a disco-themed introduction granting the viewer a glimpse of what was to come, be it a trip through a black hole or attack from an energy vampire and each week it got weirder. The cast was a mish-mash of stars to American viewers such as Barbara Bain and Michael Landau (both known from Mission Impossible) along with well known actors in the UK including Prentis Hancock (who had starred in several Doctor Who episodes). In the first series Barry Morse played the role of spiritual adviser to the cold and obstinate Commander John Koenig which was odd given that he was the scientific genius,Prof. Victor Bergman. However, without Bergman’s steady hand on Koenig’s shoulder, there were many plots that would not have gone well at all.
At the time, Space: 1999 came under fire as being slow and ponderous, but in retrospect it has aged phenomenally well. Initially intended as a sequel to the popular Gerry Anderson series U.F.O. (which is also a stunner), it was reworked into something very different to appeal to a specific audience. The second series of Space:1999 was screened after a long hiatus and a shift in direction. Gone was Morse and several other key characters, replaced by Tony Anholt and the alluring Catherine Schell who played the shape-shifting alien Maya. The tone was more action-oriented, and the quality was the same, but it is still enjoyable (though strangely not available on Blu-ray). I had to get my copy of a beautifully remastered set from Australia!
The special effects were stunning, the scripts daunting and the direction spellbinding, but to be frank the audiences of that era just were not ready for anything like Space: 1999. Re-watching it now on glorious Blu-ray, I have a better idea of Anderson’s cinematic notion, but the idea of watching this on a small TV or with poor UHF reception just ruins it.
In any case, we can all rest assured that the moon did not, as it happens, hurtle out of orbit that 13th of September in 1999. But we can imagine the possibilities if it had… and if we all wore color-coded leisure suits on the moon.
Neil Norman – Space 1999