April 30, 2000
Space: 1999 is a sci-fi series made in England in the middle 70's, about a runaway moon, how its 311 inhabitants were stranded there, and what they had to do to survive.
The series is a mix of '2001: A Space Odyssey', dark horror and philosophical/theology questions. It shows a cold, unsafe, unfriendly universe, where man is not controlling everything, but rather being a pawn in the hands of fate. Some episodes do have a claustrophobic and truly oppressive mood.
Space: 1999 is set on Moon base Alpha, a combination of scientific research colony, launch pad for space exploration missions, astronaut training ground and a watch site for silos of atomic waste. Let's not forget that S1999 is a child of the Space Age, being produced some years after the Apollo missions, when a comeback to the Moon and a construction of a moon base before the year 2000 seemed very plausible. The idea of the atomic silos not only tries to point a solution for the problem of nuclear waste, a constant worry on the 70's, but it will later serve as plot device to throw the moon out of orbit.
The series starts with 'Breakaway', the episode where the moon is separated from the Earth by a huge nuclear explosion on September 13, 1999 and is divided in 2 series of 24 episodes each.
Speaking in terms of set design and special effects, one can say those were pretty good for the middle 70's and still are today. Unlike other series, that look aged and cheap after 10 years or so, Space:1999 looks almost as good today as it was in 1977. The reason for this was the idea of trying to put on the TV what '2001' has done in the cinema, but this time with a smaller budget.
The sets are wonderful, combining functionality with a touch of Italian design. Most of the moon base overall design was under the influence of '2001' Clavius base. The leading man on the special effects crew was Brian Johnson that later would work on films like 'Alien', 'Aliens' and 'The Empire Strikes Back'. His most impressive idea was the "Eagle", the standard moon base spacecraft. It's a masterpiece, using a simple and very believable design, something that look like it could be accomplished today. All moon base is as sterile as you could imagine a science base is. Everything from travel tubes, hangars, corridors, personal rooms is devoid of warm and personal touch.
The leading actors were Martin Landau, Barbara Bain (from 'Mission: Impossible') and Barry Morse (Lt. Philip Gerard from 'The Fugitive') and later Catherine Schell. The secondary actors do they part well and there are stories to allow even the unknown alphans to take the lead, instead of only pointing out on the three main characters.
Most of the series successful episodes were the ones that had a very dark or a very philosophical issue, mainly 'Black Sun', 'Another Place, Another Time', 'End of Eternity', 'Dragon's Domain', 'Force of Life', 'The Last Sunset', 'Troubled Spirit'. On many of this episodes there are no planets nearby, the plot is set on deep space with their own moon base becoming no longer a home, but a death trap for its inhabitants.
Who would I recommend to see Space:1999 ? To anyone that was able to understand the last 30 m of '2001' without reading the book and to the ones that liked 'Dark City'. The hard-core episodes pointed above will most sure please them. They mix horror and suspense on a level that was never seen before in sci-fi series.
Not all episodes are the same, the first ones after 'Breakaway' clearly shows that the screenwriters were trying to draw a path for the series, instead of throwing the same old plots. But after 3 or 4 episodes Space:1999 steers in the right direction, drawing his own terms and conditions. It asks questions about the role of man in the universe, life, truth, conscience, guilty.
So if you just love sci-fi for action, stay clear of Space:1999. Alpha was not a military vessel, but a bunch of scientists on a runaway moon trying to survive on a dark universe. Even the episodes that have more action like 'Dragon's Domain' and 'War Games' will give you something to think, and have some philosophical meanings attach to them instead of just plain no-brains action. Don't expect the normal Hollywood happy ending either, because at the end of most episodes you'll have a sense of loss and despair.
The series is now available on VHS, laser disk, and DVD (Europa/America/Japan).