Look out for that Moon — Space 1999 [TV Series]

Space 1999

Original Aired: 1975-1977
(Two Seasons)
Available on: Tubi

I was too young and uninterested in space when Space 1999 first-aired on American television in 1975. I only know the show from its toys. A childhood friend had a toy Eagle, one of the show’s spaceships produced by Mattel. I had no clue what the show was about. It’s not surprising, a lot of people missed out. Space 1999 was a British made television show and the most expensive series produced in Britain at the time. Its creators attempted to sell the show to the major U.S. networks, but none picked it up. Instead, it sold directly to local stations, independent and affiliated, mostly in large cities, so not everyone got to see it. Thanks to modern conveniences, I’m now able to watch both seasons with minimal interruptions on Tubi, an ad-supported streaming service.

Space-1999-toys
Mattel Eagle Spaceship – catacombs.space1999.net

The premise of Space 1999 challenged the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha to survive as the Earth’s moon, which they were on sailed uncontrollably through space. It’s a disaster movie in space. Before the moon set its own course away from planet Earth, it was used as a dumping ground for nuclear waste. Moonbase Alpha, a scientific research center located in one of the moon’s craters, was the operating facility that handled its disposal at the dumping facilities on the other side of the moon. The moon had two dumping sites. The first site was full and no longer visited, and the second site in use. The series begins with a strange spreading sickness and the arrival of a new Commander at Moonbase Alpha. The source of the sickness is radiation, leaking from the nuclear-dumping sites. With little warning, Site One nuclear waste dump explodes, signaling that Site Two is close to doing the same. Site Two, with its greater volume of waste, erupts on September 13, 1999, pushing the moon out of the Earth’s orbit with great speed. With no means to stop or return to Earth, the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha have to learn to live on their own in space as the moon hurtles through space uncontrollably.

Space-1999-base
MoonBase Alpha – catacombs.space1999.net

The show stars Martin Landau as John Koenig, leader of Moonbase Alpha and Barbara Bain as Doctor Helena Russell, head of the Medical Section. The last time I saw these two actors, they were staring in Mission: Impossible, Landau playing Rollin Hand, “The Man Of A Million Faces,” and Bain as the beautiful Cinnamon Carter. The cast changes a little from one season to the next, but not the main stars. In season one character Alan Carter, third in command, chief pilot played by Nick Tate, Victor Bergman, science adviser played by  Barry Morse, Paul Morrow, base second in command and Main Mission controller played by Prentis Hancock, and Sandra Benes, data analyst played by Zienia Merton all played supporting roles with a reasonable amount of time in front of the camera. In the second season, new cast members were introduced, and others let go. New characters added included Maya, played by Catherine Schell, a metamorph shape-changing alien from the planet Psychon and Officer Tony Verdeschi, played by Tony Anholt. Maya replaces Victor Bergman taking over the science roll, and Tony steps in replacing Paul Morrow as second in command. Though no matter what season it was, each character wore the show’s fashion-forward single-colored sleeve uniform.

Space-1999-Sleeve
Season one uniform – catacombs.space1999.net

The uniforms in Moonbase Alpha didn’t alter much with each season. They are taupe with the left sleeve, a solid color, designating their section on Moonbase Alpha. Black represents the Commander. Only John Koenig wore a uniform with a black sleeve. Light orange-red, also known as “Flame” was worn by members of Main Mission, which dealt with internal systems and external operations. Brown or “Rust” color sleeves were part of the Technical section. These duties included computing staff, power section engineers, maintenance crew, etc. Yellow represented the Service section comprising of data analysts, hydroponics personnel, and other science departments. Orange sleeves were worn by Eagle Pilots as part of the Reconnaissance Section. Medical staff had white sleeves, and security had purple. In the second season, the uniforms got refined. Jackets were added, covering up their signature sleeves and colored turtle necks. The jackets varied, and not all of the characters worm them. Luckily the jackets didn’t restrict the Alphan’s reach for their favorite pieces of tech worn at their sides.

Space 1999 has three pieces of technology that are unique to the show, Eagles, Moonbase Alpha’s spacecraft, Comlocks, which acted as communicators and door openers, and their stun pistols with the most usual shape.  Eagles are the most recognizable out of the three.  Numerous models and toys have replicated its long, odd shape.  The Eagles were Moonbase Alpha’s only interstellar vehicle. They were short-range spacecraft capable of surface landings. The center sections, which store cargo or personnel, could become detachable and interchangeable with other Eagles. Eagles were utilitarian space vehicles and not starfighters, though they are equipped with a laser for defense. Their movement is clunky. Almost like they were attached to two strings, one in the front and one in the back and manipulated like a marionette. It wasn’t perfect, but that’s what Moonbase Alpha had available to them.

Eagle, Comlock, Stun Gun – catacombs.space1999.net

The next two unique looking items are equally recognized from Space 1999. An Alphan’s Comlock, worn at the hip, were multifunctional devices. They acted as a communication device, a tiny television screen at one end you’d talk in to, and automatic door openers. Everybody in Moonbase Alpha worn a Comlock. They had to if they wanted to leave the room or enter a new one. Well, at least in season one. By season two, Comlock’s opening doors were shown less. The other was an Alphan’s personal defense, stun pistol, which looked like a staple gun. It could stun or kill. Moonbase Alpha had other weaponry, but the personal stun gun was widely carried and used.

The show’s sets and their use of lighting also changed between seasons. The vast control room of season one was condensed to a much smaller set taking away one of my favorite features, a translucent mid-century rounded wall that was lit with a host of monochromatic colors depending on the scene’s mood. Color played a big role in the show. Be it from the uniforms with their colored sleeves or the dramatic monochromatic lighting of walls and windows. The use of color emotionally sets the mood and tone of each scene. In the second season, there was less dramatic lighting effects and more outdoor scenes. As shown below, these vibrant pops of color brought life to the dull white walls and halls of Moonbase Alpha.

Space-1999-Color
Images from catacombs.space1999.net

The writing in Space 1999 could have used more color. Episodes were terribly written and presented. It was common for an episode to begin with an underdeveloped beginning, provide little explanation other than we need to blow this up or shooting lasers at it. Seldom did Commander Koenig use diplomacy despite claiming to come in peace. He made the special effects department very busy. There was hardly an episode in the first season that didn’t have an explosion. Thankfully the second season’s writing improved significantly, but the episodes were still weak. Season one focused mostly on the threat and little on the characters. In season two, characters got space to breathe and develop. A romance blossomed between Commander Koenig and Doctor Russell, and Tony Verdeschi’s attempt to brew a palatable beer became a running joke.

The biggest change for me was the show’s introduction and theme song. Season one’s opening began with an intense booming orchestral arrangement with gravitas. It then transitioned into a classic “boom chicka wah-wah” rhythm with a disco beat found in action shows of the time. The song transitioned in and out of these two styles, while snippets of the current episode flash on the screen. It’s an intense intro with a lot of power and action to it. In the season two opening, it completely changes. The theme song became lighter, with less action and more tv drama with an orchestral synthesized sound. The song plays over a visual sequence that tells of how the moon broke away from the earth. Following the show’s intro, a voice-over of Doctor Russel introduces the episode with a status report. It’s a quicker intro, half the time of season one. Personally, I like the action pack wah-wah filled first season intro the best.

Space 1999 would make an interesting RPG setting for a science fiction game. The occupants of Moonbase Alpha were always searching for a planet to settle and constantly running into aliens or problems. Their biggest obstacle was the rate of speed that the moon moved. It moved so fast that when a planet was in range, Alphan’s had to act quickly. It was a race against time to explore the planet before Moonbase Alpha was out of range of their Eagles. Alphans out exploring had to be quick, or the moon would leave them behind. It’s interesting to note the single-colored sleeved uniforms are similar in theme to Metamorphosis Alpha RPG that uses colored armbands, which also dictate the wearer’s affiliation. One wonders if this show was an influence on the game. The two premiered so closely to each other.

Would I recommend binge-watching Space 1999? God no. I can’t believe I stuck it out for both seasons. Apologies to anyone who grew up and loved this show. Space 1999 has a great premise, but it was poorly executed. Other than its great visual and use of color, there isn’t much to get out of this show. The stories were poorly written, and the acting was not very good. If you dig 70s TV theme songs with that special “boom chicka wah-wah” sound, you’ll enjoy the intro to season one like I did. I’d suggest watching an episode or two and leave it at that. Space 1999’s concept of an out of control moon with a manned space base on it, is a great premise. I only wish the stories and acting lived up to it.

~Stephen Pennisi

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Heruca says:

    This show could use a modern reboot, like they did with the original Battlestar Galactica.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree. Great comparison. The original BSG had some great concepts, but was hobbled by the broadcast TV tropes of the time. Yeah a Space 1999 reboot, if done with the passion and creativity of 2000’s BSG… Wow, that could be a winner!

    Like

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