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Space: 1999

Entry updated 4 April 2017. Tagged: TV.

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UK tv series (1975-1977). A Gerry Anderson Production for ITC. Created Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Producers Sylvia Anderson (season 1), Fred Freiberger (season 2). Executive producer Gerry Anderson. Story consultant Christopher Penfold. Special effects Brian Johnson. Two seasons, 48 50-minute episodes in all. Colour.

This UK-made series, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson – who had previously produced a number of Television series (Stingray, Thunderbirds and others) with "SuperMarionation" puppets and UFO and the film Doppelganger (1969) with real actors – was obviously inspired in part by the success of Star Trek. The format has a group of people – live actors again – travelling through the Galaxy, visiting various planets and encountering strange lifeforms; but, where the Star Trek characters travelled on a highly manoeuvrable Starship, the Space: 1999 personnel do their interplanetary wandering in the Moonbase Alpha installation, located on Earth's runaway Moon. This unwieldy gimmick must have caused many frustrations to the writers as the unpowered World Ship, careering through space with only the initial momentum provided by a gigantic thermonuclear blast, must necessarily arrive at a succession of interesting ports of call where adventures may occur; a "mysterious unknown force" was occasionally invoked. Despite good special effects and sometimes imaginative sets the series, with its stereotyped characters and humourless scripts, was remarkably wooden, eliciting predictable jokes about puppets. The other major flaw was a scandalous disregard for basic science (see Scientific Errors): Stars are routinely confused with Asteroids and, as already indicated, the Moon's progress through space defies the laws of Physics. The series was cancelled in 1977, though one episode was delayed until 1978. The regular cast included Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse (season 1), Nick Tate, Catherine Schell (season 2), Tony Anholt (season 2), Zienia Merton. Directors included Ray Austin, Lee H Katzin, Charles Crichton, David Tomblin, Val Guest, Tom Clegg. Writers included Christopher Penfold, Johnny Byrne, Terence Feely, Donald James and Charles Woodgrove (pseudonym of Freiberger). The series did better in the USA than in the UK, perhaps because of lower expectations, perhaps because of the deliberately international cast.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, eight episodes were cobbled together in pairs and recycled by ITC in the guise of four made-for-television movies; the words "Space: 1999" nowhere appeared in their titles. We have been unable to trace any theatrical release. The movies are: Alien Attack (1976) directed by Charles Crichton and Lee H Katzin; Destination Moonbase-Alpha (1978), directed by Tom Clegg (based on a two-episode story, "The Bringers of Wonder", by Terence Feely); Cosmic Princess (1982), directed by Charles Crichton and Peter Medak; and Journey through the Black Sun (1982), directed by Ray Austin and Lee H Katzin (based on the episodes "Collision Course" by Anthony Terpiloff and "The Black Sun" by David Weir).

The Making of Space 1999: A Gerry Anderson Production (1976) by Tim Heald is a nonfiction study of the series and its production. A number of novelizations also appeared, as follows. Brian N Ball wrote The Space Guardians (1975). Michael Butterworth wrote Planets of Peril (1977), Mind-Breaks of Space (1977) with Jeff Jones, The Space-Jackers (1977), The Psychomorph (1977), The Time Fighters (1977) and The Edge of the Infinite (1977). John Rankine (Douglas R Mason) wrote Moon Odyssey (1975), Lunar Attack (1975), Astral Quest (1975), Android Planet (1976) and Phoenix of Megaron (1976). E C Tubb wrote Breakaway (1975), Collision Course (1975), Alien Seed (1976), Rogue Planet (1976), Earthfall (1977) and Earthbound (2003).

Despite being among the worst sf television series ever produced, Space: 1999 retains a loyal if small fan base. As a result of the publicity generated by the series in the 1970s, much Tied merchandise was produced in the US; this included diagrams of Moonbase Alpha in folders, plastic model kits of the Eagle shuttle craft, and two short-lived Comics from Charlton Comics. A brief fan-produced finale for the cancelled series, scripted by series screenwriter Johnny Byrne and included in several video releases, is Message from Moonbase Alpha (1999). Even today, rumours persist of efforts to launch an updated version of the programme. [JB/PN/DRL/GSt]


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