Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Discuss: Space:1999


Karen: I'm sure most of you recall this late 70s British science fiction show. I remember eagerly anticipating its arrival in the U.S., as I was already a fan of two other shows produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (Thunderbirds and UFO). Unfortunately it was shown late on Sunday nights in my neck of the woods, making it difficult for me to see regularly. It only lasted two seasons. It certainly had its own style and the Eagle spacecraft are quite memorable. But the episodes I saw always left me a bit cold. Did you watch Space:1999? What did you think of it?

21 comments:

david_b said...

Space:1999 was actually a pretty successful show, as 70's hourlong science fiction shows go. The first year did grab a lot of obvious influence from 2001, where you actually had to 'think' about symbolism and what the endings meant, delving often into metaphysical explanations and such. No cute characters or over-hamming acting, just straight, mature space-based sci-fi.

It came close to securing a national network here in the States, but thankfully not securing one allowed what initially meant less network involvement (which plagued Trek..). Sold to over a hundred other countries, it's merchandising sold pretty well.

I loved the original concept, of a base of people not anywhere near ready to explore the cosmos, being trapped on a moon out of control. Obviously liberties were taken for believability (leaving earth orbit, etc..), pretty much on par with 'transporters' and 'warp drive' on another show..

There's HUGE online forums for Eagle fans, building scaled models and blueprints (I was on one for a few years..). I was even blessed to discuss religion with Barry Morse at a 1999 con down in Tampa just a year before he left us. What a great soul he was.

Unfortunately, the ITC offices in New York started meddling in later episodes, requesting changes, etc.., which hurt the show. A lot of these format changes went into the 2nd season to 'Americanize it', which I didn't like as much.

As what happened with Buck Rogers, once the creative teams start insisting it become more 'star trekish', it's essentially what you end up with. Catherine Schell was a wonderful actress, but I never warmed to the 'Maya' concept. I prefer the truer 1st Season, which STILL has the best opening sequence ever done for a sci-fi show.

Most affiliates premiered the show in late-night slots due to it's scariness; I thought it worked beautifully for it, adding to the overall creepiness of aliens and creatures.

It's still my all-time favorite show for many reasons, most of which is because it came at a time when I read it's premiere approaching, enjoyed it and it's merchandising, and unfortunately saw it go.

The ratings of the 2nd Season were good enough to schedule production of Year 3, but apparently Sir Grade changed his mind and instead funded the likes of 'King Kong' and other feature films instead.

Anonymous said...

sucked eggs

Karen said...

Thank you for your insightful comment, anonymous.

Sheesh.

Karen said...

David, you obviously know and love the show. Re the attempts to "Americanize it", didn't that really start with the casting of Landau and Bain as the leads? There were plenty of suitable British actors they could have cast. I can only assume they were cast as to draw in Americans, but I doubt they had much impact. The effects were probably more likely to draw in Americans -and all other audiences.

david_b said...

Yeah, I loved the 'anonymous' comment as well, always insightful, not long-winded.

The wikipedia page as more in detail, but for Sir Lew Grade to invest the multi-millions in the show's production (which originally was intented to be UFO's 2nd season..), he needed guaranteed big international names. The Landaus weren't always easy to work with and were expensive, but once selected were very supportive (Robert Culp and an American actress were next in line if the Landaus declined..). Thus, this became a vehicle for the Landaus, hence their enormous screen time over other actors.

UFO was supposed to be given a second year, but their initial season's episodes were filmed in two batches; following the first batch, ratings for CBS were high, but fell considerably after the second batch aired, hence a new direction was requested.., and the new production had to be totally without Earth ever involved, hense the blast into the cosmos.

Like most Anderson productions, Sylvia was the creative one, and the first year's moody artistic photography and classical music cultivating a 'majestically somber' tone, call it what you will, was hers and was very effective. Once she left, Gerry was advised to bring in an American producer, american writers, etc.., removing it's own sense of original style and pacing and grafting in trek themes. The ITC input was also flim-flammy, 'cut down the monsters', then 'hey, what happened to the monsters..?'

Half-way through the first season, financial deals were made with Italy to cast more italian guest leads as well. I liked the episodes near the end of Year 1 which were more narrative in style, either by Bain or Landau..

humanbelly said...

Hmm. I could probably do worse than to pick this up on DVD and have a viewing-frenzy. Can't really make any informed opinion otherwise, 'cause I haven't scene the show since. . . 1977-! And while I remember liking it alright, I distinctly recall never buying Martin Landau in the role that I assumed to be a "man of action". Trite, shallow-- I know, but the only visual image I've retained is the absurd way he would throw a punch--- very much the fisticuffs version of "throwing like a girl" (I'm sorry, I'm sorry-- I know I'm careening off the rails here. . . ). And Barbara Bain was just so. . . icey. Mind you, competent, intelligent, committed-- but wasn't there an episode where we were supposed to be overwhelmed by her unsuspected beauty or warmth or something (w/ gauzy filming and her in flowing chiffon-y robes)? And I remember thinking, wow, this is an awful stretch. . . not quite buying it. . .

But hey, DaughterBelly and I managed to fall in love w/ The Tomorrow People. . . so I can be sucked into ANYTHING-!

HB

Dougie said...

As david_b says, 2001 is a massive influence on Series 1. Space is a hostile environment but also a trippy, metaphysical one. Quite a bleak, British New Wave viewpoint.

Space:1999 was very much promoted as an adult drama when I was a kid, going out at 7pm on Thursday nights.The "live burial" fate of Roy Dotrice, for example, remains a memorable twist ending.
The second series was shown in my region as a Saturday morning show however. STV screened it a year or two after the other ITV regions, I think. The funky pomp of the theme tune for Series One is among the most exciting 70s tv themes ever.

Edo Bosnar said...

Like humanbelly, the last time I watched the show was back when it aired in the States, when I was pretty little. So I only have some vague memory of it - which is a mixture of it being kind of cool but also a bit somber and sometimes genuinely scary.
I actually didn't know until recently it was produced by the same team that made UFO. Speaking of which, Karen, it seems that the Andersons had a habit of casting Americans in starring roles in their productions, as evidenced by Ed Bishop cast as Commander Straker in UFO. By the way, Karen, a question: you mention that you were already a fan of Thunderbirds and UFO when Space 1999 began to air, so I'm curious as to where you were able to see these series. I grew up in roughly the same part of the country you did (o.k. Oregon, but close enough...), and I only even heard of them with the dawn of the Internets - and only watched some UFO episodes a few years ago.

david_b said...

Karen, here's one for you...:

http://www.space1999.net/~catacombs/plus/dt/ufo.html

The Catacombs is THE most exhaustive guide to all things Alpha. That page is an excellent, thorough guide to how UFO became 1999.

Oh, and trust me, I can dutifully name as many series shortcomings (definitely more so..) as anyone else..

It's still my favorite.

I nearly busted my gut when in midst of an Army Staff call in Kuwait during my first deployment, out of the blue, two colonels murmured each other that 'this never happened on moonbase alpha'..

I nearly lost it.

Steve Does Comics said...

The problem for me with Season 1 of Space:1999 was that the theme tune and opening titles were so head-explodingly exciting that it was always a massive let-down once the episode actually began and was dull as ditch-water.

Still, despite the dullness, I still loved it. I used to buy the annuals, had two Dinky Toy Eagles and even made a model Moonbase Alpha from cardboard. I also once went to a Space:1999 exhibition, which was as disappointing as the show itself.

It's heresy to say so but I always preferred the second season, mostly because Catherine Schell was in it and I'd reached a certain stage of my life.

In Britain, the show suffered because different regions showed it in different time slots so it never had a chance of doing anything in the national ratings. In my area, they started showing it on Thursday evenings then committed suicide by moving it to Saturdays and putting it up against Dr Who. Then they just started randomly showing episodes, often without any warning in the listings. I'm afraid Gerry Anderson was rarely well-served by the schedulers.

Anonymous said...

My Dad got our first color TV in 1975 and the next thing I know is that I ran into the show by chance on a Saturday afternoon sometime in 1976. For a French kid at the time seeing this on telly meant that you were going to pick your jaw off the floor next, all we had at the time were the Invaders, the Avengers, the Prisoner and the six milion dollar man ( and of course French editions of Marvel and DC comics ).

Star Trek was never broadcasted in France until the 80s so we had nothing to compare it to.

Within that context it is impossible for a British kid - let alone a US kid - to assess the phenomenal impact this show had on the imagination of a 7 years old. Our imaginations were on fire and this thing with all its glorious special effects, high production values and funkey/spacey 70s guitar was something to behold.

After that nearly all of our live role playing games - up until Star Wars that is - focused on reenacting some of the episodes, and sometimes inventing new ones. We would use big staplers as substitutes for their zapper guns and I was one of two kids in my own time who was lucky enough to own a Dinky Toy Eagle transporter.

In retrospect it is easy to see that this was a revamped 70s Star Trek as even some of the scenarii were blatant rip-offs of the 60s Star Trek episodes but this thign had an edge which you will never find in 60s Star Trek, the first Space 1999 episode scared the hell out of me and I still clearly remember the episode where they run into an immortal alien or the episode where Christopher Lee acts as a psychedelic alien leader travelling with his tribe in what seemed to be a tomato shaped spacecraft.

Those were the days...

Garett said...

Great intro and music! Memories of the show itself are hazy, but I remember the spooky atmosphere. It reminds me of The Starlost--has anyone else seen this?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMAi6u4Ps5A
Starring Keir Dullea, created by Harlan Ellison.

Karen said...

Edo, IIRC, most of these British shows were shown on one of the Los Angeles PBS stations. I know for certain Dr. Who and later, Blake's 7, were on PBS. But it was almost always late on a Saturday or Sunday evening, for whatever reason. I could stay up late (11 o'clock!) on Saturdays but not Sundays.

Of course once I got in my teens my bedtime curfew basically disappeared. That's how I caught Blake's 7. But Space:1999 was on when I was still in grade school, so I missed a lot of episodes.

david_b said...

Karen, funny you should say that..

My affiliates here near Madison, WI had it on at 10:30pm (11:30 eastern), so the first year was always late, replacing the 'shock theater' type shows.., and it added to the creepy, at times jarring scenes.

And of course, most of the episodes had the dull, slow pacing, it seemed like all the characters were 'whispering' so suffice to say, my parents typically found me asleep with the TV still on.

But I loved the elegance of life on Alpha. Nick Tate as Alan Carter was always neat to watch for action and Eagle flying, contrasting Barry Morse who added a fine layer of philosophising to the proceeds. 'Course Sandra in a loincloth during the caveman episode didn't hurt much either.

Loved the 'Outer Limits'-style ending to 'Earthbound' as Dougie referenced. Simmons locked in his glass cabinet for the rest of his life..., with his laser just inches away in plainsight outside.

cerebus660 said...

I loved Space:1999 as a kid, even though it now seems quite slow and pretentious in comparison to more modern shows. BUT it had that wonderful title-sequence, the Eagles, a great '70s cast and guest stars, evocative music, and a unique atmosphere which made up for some nonsensical storylines etc.

...and the creature in "Dragon's Domain" is still one of the scariest things I've ever seen on TV...

William Preston said...

As a kid (born in '62), I loved UFO, which was both creepy (especially the dream ep and the one with the hippies and the crashed saucer) and exciting. It did always seem to be missing a reel; the storytelling was oddly elliptical. But I liked that kind of thing.

I was excited when Space: 1999 came along, in part because I'd loved Landau and Bain in Mission: Impossible. But the show felt flat, the costumes looked awful, Landau looked unhealthy, and the stapler guns they used for weapons looked terrible. The stories were sometimes interesting, but the show was unengaging. Bringing in the shape-shifter did add some interest for an adolescent boy (and his father), and I remember my disappointment when the show ended, but it wasn't on consistently, and it often left me cold.

Garett said...

Hey William, funny, I'd forgotten about the laser guns. I had one of those toys, and not having seen a staple gun yet, I thought it was one of the coolest laser gun designs!

Anonymous said...

Well, if Dr. McCoy could use salt shakers as medical instruments, then Moonbase Alpha could use stapler guns as laser pistols.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I loved this show but the first season was a bit cold. The departure of Barry Morse was a letdown in season 2. Did they ever explain away why he left in the series? I liked Mia or Mya or however it was spelled. The Meta-Morph reminds me very much of Odo on Deep Space Nine. Only the actress who played the shape shifter in this was very attractive.

I was sad that the show never had a finale of some sort. We never knew if they found a planet to settle on to live out the rest of their lives. Supposedly Gerry Anderson gave someone the rights to update the show in a new series called Space 2099. I wonder if the writing will be better for a modern audience. Most of all I wonder if Barbara Bain and Martin Landau are going to have a cameo appearance.

I can't wait to see if this update of the series lives up to expectations.

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, interesting; I only remember the PBS affiliate in Portland, which we could watch where I lived, showing Dr. Who (which I never got into). It may have been the case, like you mentioned, that some of these shows were aired really late, and I was way too young at the time to be aware of them or, naturally, allowed to stay up and watch them. Oh, well.

Tony said...

I loved this show when I was a kid, I think it was on either CBC or TVO, maybe CFTO here in Toronto. I just recently picked up a couple of box sets DVD's. @Garett- Yes I remember the TV show "The Starlost"- another favorite. That was a Canadian show. The complete series is available on DVD from Amazon. I have it, and watching it now, it's pretty cheesy, but it wasn't giving the chance to live up to it's potential.

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