1 9 7 5 – 1 9 7 8 (UK)
48 x 60 minute episodes
Space: 1999 cost around $300,000 per episode and it showed. The show – a semi-sequel to a previous Gerry Anderson production, UFO – was visually stunning and yet one of the biggest flops in TV history.
On 13 September 1999 (20 odd years into the future at the time of production), the colonised moon was blown out of orbit by an explosion in a nuclear waste dump on its dark side. It’s always the nuclear waste dump, isn’t it!
Moonbase Alpha – a research colony on the surface of the moon – and its crew of 300 were subsequently sent spinning off into space, and their subsequent adventures throughout the galaxy brought them into contact with giant man-eating squid; moving rocks that murdered humans; cosmic gas clouds; blobs of living foam; sexy robots of the planet Pirl; a man-turned-machine name Gwent and the fearsome and mythical Arra (played by Margaret Leighton), queen of the planet Astheria.
Alpha was headed by Commander John Koenig (pictured below) and chief medical officer, Doctor Helena Russell (pictured above right), played by real-life husband and wife, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.
The plotlines were depressing and the crew of Moonbase Alpha seemed to constantly lose their battles.
There were lots of futuristic weapons and gadgets like laser beams, Queller Drive engines, Camelot Locator beams and a talking computer – which, in moments of danger, would say helpful things like: “Not enough data to formulate parameters. Human decision required”.
Other key crew members included Professor Bergman (Barry Morse), a brilliant scientist with an artificial heart; Chief Space Pilot Captain Alan Carter (Nick Tate); and Maya (Catherine Schell), a female alien “shapeshifter” from the planet Psychon who could transform herself into other forms (an orange tree, a lion, a gorilla, etc) for short periods of time by rearranging molecules.
The show arrived on TV screens in 1975 amid a huge splash of publicity. There were spectacular special effects by England’s Brian Johnson, and even the futuristic, unisex jumpsuits they all wore were by the famous designer Rudi Gernreich.
The series was set to run in more than 100 countries around the world. Nevertheless, all three American networks turned it down so the English producers took it directly to individual US stations, via syndication, and got it scheduled in practically every city in the country.
After initial curiosity viewing, audiences realised that Space: 1999 had the same problem as most space epics: all hardware and no character development.
The lovely Miss Bain, for one, walked through her role like a zombie. There was a suggestion from some quarters that Gerry Anderson may have solicited more emotive performances from some of his original marionettes . . .
There were efforts made to remedy this in the second season, as Koenig and Russell developed a more explicit love life, but by then it was too late. Space: 1999 never became the hit its makers anticipated, and production was stopped after 48 expensive episodes.
For all that, I loved this show and heartily recommend it to you for the production values and space ephemera alone.
Martin Landau died in July 2017. He was 89. Gerry Anderson died in 2012.
Commander John Koenig
Dr Helena Russell
Sandra “Sahn” Benes
Prof. Victor Bergman
Dr Ben Vincent
Dr Ed Spencer