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Space 1999 Season One

01/11/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Space 1999 Season One in the USA - or Buy Space 1999 Season One in the UK

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pub: Network B003XVGD68. Blu Ray Edition - 7 blu-ray disks 1200 minutes 24 episodes with extras. Price: GBP 79.99 (UK)) stars: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Barry Morse.

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It’s September 13th 1999. The moon is home to a fully operational base and a nuclear waste facility. They are sitting on the biggest bomb ever built by mankind.

Kaboom! and they are off. Destination unknown. They will sail across the universe. Seek out new life. Yada yada.

Coming less than ten years after ‘Star Trek’ and British made, this is bound to invite comparison. Made a couple of years before 'Blake’s Seven', it also invites comparisons over the special effects. ‘Space 1999’ was made with a view to an international market and has two American leads previously seen together in ‘Mission: Impossible’. Obviously, Gerry Anderson could foresee the future and ‘Space 1999’ was filmed on 35 mm and what a visual treat it is. I was stunned by the quality of the picture and how amazing Barbara Bain’s makeup was and is in blu-ray.

It is the look of the show that is most striking, less dated than I thought it would. The uncluttered and quite large set of Moonbase Alpha along with the quite dressed down costumes do not detract from this. One oddity is the giant zip over the shoulder of the ‘moon city’ all-in-one which is more for effect than practicality. The good thing is there are no ‘Star Trek’ mini-dresses here but also apparently no Velcro neither. As all Moonbase staff are created equal, there are a wide variety of nationalities represented in line with the idea that the nations of Earth are working together in 1999, an optimistic thought. Another point of note is how old everybody looks compared to the youth-oriented shows today. These guys were craggy compared to the practically pre-teens we seem to get all the time now.

Gerry Anderson is best known for his original and inspirational shows like ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Captain Scarlet’ and it’s the model work that holds up surprisingly well. Perhaps it is because it is not crude CGI which has superseded it.

The set designers have taken inspiration from previous films and shows especially the voiced computer. It’s female, so you might think ‘Star Trek’ but one of the designers had also worked on ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and this is reflected not only in the set design but also in the subject matter of this initial series.

My impression of the series out of the episodes sent to me is varied. I feel it aimed high and had a certain plan in mind. Anderson is very clear about his own goals and the accompanying documentaries and featurttes explain a little of this philosophy. Frankly, it is quite new-age and a bit hippy in places. There is a definite influence from ‘2001’ and the ecological anti-planet warmers. That makes it more relevant than you might first think and it also explores philosophical thought as expounded by Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse’s character).

An innovative opening montage of ‘this episode’ highlights is still being used today and it raises expectations of an action-packed 50 minutes. What you actually get is a leisurely stroll in modern terms. It’s surprisingly restful and makes me realise just how fast the pace of life is today. You do get a lot of exposition and no walk-talk. People stand still and have conversations!

‘Breakaway’, the opening episode sets up the series and introduces us to characters the producers hope we will come to love. It keeps the main characters to a minimum. We never meet all three hundred and eleven inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha and new characters are usually introduced to be killed off. In fact, if you see anyone new in the series it means they are about to become toast.

According to the documentary on Disc 7, which goes into detail about several episodes, the New York money-men appointed their own director, Lee Katzin, who nearly sank the project. His flabby two hours had to be trimmed into a tight 50 minutes. As edited by Anderson this is pretty much the start of an action-adventure series but from then on it becomes a lot more metaphysical.

There is some discussion about the order of showing the episodes and these discs follow the proscribed transmission order which should allow for development of the story arc and relationships. Originally, the show was transmitted in a muddled order which cannot have helped its viewing figures.

‘Black Sun’ is an homage to ‘2001’ and is ambitious but flawed by dismal special effects and is overly pretentious which no doubt didn’t go down well with the Saturday night viewers on ITV. We do have some excellent make-up effects but the sparkly Christmas decorations and fairy lights rather let it down as well.

‘Another Time Another Place’ is another ambitious episode which I rather like. It posits the idea of a split in time where the Moonbase Alpha crew meet their later selves on an Earth which has a totally different time-line. It comes across as intelligent and thought provoking.

‘The Guardian of Piri’ introduces actress Catherine Schell who became a series regular in the revamped Series 2 of the show, though not as her character in this. When Moonbase Alpha comes across a planet that seems to offer everything they desire they can’t be sure of anything especially as their own computer is offering misleading information. The highly decorated set brings to mind a cross between lollypop land in ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and the giant white balloons from ‘The Prisoner’. It looks like it should be made of sugar. Oh and Koenig gets a snog from Catherine Schell so it can’t be all bad for him. This is the one where the whole team except Koenig are in bliss and he has to fight against an almost overwhelming power. Also, Moonbase Alpha has a punchbowl. Yep, it’s party time, seventies style.

‘Space 1999’ is a period piece but it is unexpectedly fun to watch. I cannot remember whether I liked it on original transmission but I think it has travelled well through 1999 and beyond and it holds up better than might be expected. It does have a fanbase and they have kept the faith through the years. It is fun spotting what has changed about our expectations of future technology and also to ponder on how it might be re-imagined. There are some pretty famous guest stars as well who form a Who’s Who of British TV and film actors

I think ‘Space 1999’ was a bold venture and I’m glad I was a teen-ager when these programmes were made. Because it is played so straight I think it has held up better than the overly camp leatherette ‘Blake’s Seven’ and the sets don’t shake neither.

This boxed set includes all the additional features originally included in the Special Edition of the DVD as far as I can ascertain from my non-commercial selection of discs. The documentaries include an original special episode of ‘Clapperboard’ presented by Chris Kelly. There is also one that goes into some of the episodes in more depth. Small items include the advert for Lyonsmaid Space 1999 ice lollies and the ad bumpers from original transmission.

This is a pretty comprehensive package with something for everyone to spend some time on including commentaries on some of the key episodes. There are also interviews with cast and the original joint-producer Sylvia Anderson, Lady Penelope herself. The galleries of photographs included are now in HD. The DVD set is also being re-packaged and distributed but it appears there is no new content. It comes down to a question of whether you want the blu-ray edition and I have a feeling you will.

Sue Davies

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