Space: 1999 was a revolutionary science fiction production for its time, and like every decent science fiction show past and present, was both critically acclaimed and panned. The Wall Street Journal said “Space: 1999 is like Star Trek shot full of methedrine (a methamphetamine). It is the most flashy, gorgeous sci-fi trip ever to appear on TV…” and the San Francisco Date Book said “Space: 1999 is a visually stunning, space-age morality play…“, while others described it in a less flattering light saying its acting was “wooden” and its plots were “poorly paced“.
Science fiction luminary Isaac Asimov even weighed in on the series, criticising some aspects of the show while praising others, saying that any explosion big enough to push the moon out of orbit would destroy it – but that it deserved to be congratulated for its realistic production design and authentic depiction of movement in a zero-g environment.
While Space: 1999s premise was fantastic, the production crew tried very hard to project forward, realistically, into the near future to design and build sets that were familiar and functional. Moonbase Alpha looks like something our space agencies would build if we had artificial gravity and were placing a base on an inhospitable world, and the beautiful Eagle Transporters are still praised today for being the most realistic space vessels ever created for a science fiction production.
Space: 1999 is still gaining new fans some 40 years after its last episode aired, despite some of the very average (and occasionally really bad) stories that popped up in its two year run, and despite how dated the uniforms look (not to mention the black and white television screens peppered throughout the base).
Why is this 40 year old show still collecting fans? It was, and still is, different to anything that had gone before it and everything that has since followed it. It didn’t have the slightly fake, glossy look of an American production, and it was visually beautiful and atmospheric. The show often left questions up in the air and allowed audiences to come to their own conclusions instead of preaching to them or treating them like children. Perhaps that was thanks to the unique creative sensibilities of the British and Italians behind the production, and the different ways in which those countries approach the art of film-making?
Space: 1999 was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and in its first year was co-produced by the British television broadcaster ITC and the Italian television broadcaster RAI. The second series was exclusively produced by ITC.
Gerry and Sylvia were prolific creators and producers and often worked in concert with Sir Lew Grade (the Ukranian born British media impresario). Some of their most successful shows specialised in what the Andersons called ‘Supermarionation‘.
Gerry Anderson was born on the 14th of April in 1929 and passed away on the 26th of December 2012. He was a visionary, and an English television and film producer, director, writer and voiceover artist.
Many of his shows were done with his former wife, Sylvia Anderson.
Sylvia was born on the 27th of March 1927 and passed away in March of 2016. Like her former husband, she was a film and television producer, writer and voice actor. She was also a costume designer.
Sylvia and Gerry separated in 1975, and announced it at the wrap party for the first season of Space: 1999. According to sources, their marriage began breaking down during the production of the first season.
They eventually divorced in 1981.
Space: 1999 starred married American couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who had previously worked together on Mission: Impossible. While the thought of working with your significant other is often frightening for many, they fell in love with the experience. As a result, after their time on Mission ended, they started actively looking for another project to work on together, and stumbled across Space: 1999.
The combination of strong characters and challenging story lines impressed both actors and they signed onto the series, advocating for it and working hard to ensure it’s quality for the entirety of its run.
Their commitment to Space: 1999 would bring them into conflict with the producer who took over creative control of the second season, but their passion for the project pushed them on and had them frequently challenge what they knew to be bad creative decisions. They weren’t listened to, but despite that both Landau and Bain kept trying to hold the behind the scenes decision makers to account.
It wasn’t just their commitment to the show they starred in that made them stand up for it, it was their love for the fans of the show and Gerry and Sylvia’s original vision.
Space: 1999 wanted to be mature science fiction. It aimed to challenge audiences, taking to heart the ambiguity and fears of the 1970s and acknowledging them, while also suggesting that there was hope. The Alphans were lost in deep space, but there appeared to be something mysterious and benevolent looking out for them and subtlety guiding the trajectory of the moon. While that mysterious tone permeated the first season, it was abandoned in the second season for more action oriented stories.
It was in its second year the series faltered, and it’s fans started to ask “why?” Fans loved the show because of it’s philosophical view, it’s unresolved mystery and it’s strong characters, despite what some US interests in the show believed.
The abrupt unexplained changes, like the loss of major characters, the abandoning of the command centre in favour of a smaller set, the changes to uniforms, and the stark thematical differences between both years didn’t make sense to returning viewers. The show became an alien of the week shoot ’em up that had more explosions in it than thoughtful discourse and intelligent solutions.
There were some gems in the second season, and that season also brought us two wonderful new characters in Maya and Tony Verdeschi, but it was a very different show to that which was originally launched in 1975.
While there were plans for a third season (and a spin-off show that focused on the character of Maya who had proven to be a fan favourite), the third season never happened and no one really knows why.
ITC had planned for it, it had even begun promoting the third season during the end of the second season’s run. Season three was going to be 13 episodes, with a 13 episode spin-off.
Perhaps the antagonism between the stars of the show and it’s new producer influenced its cancellation? From all reports, there certainly seems to have been a significant breakdown in relationships and one that might have made investors cautious.
Wikipedia has an incredibly comprehensive entry on Space: 1999 and everything that happened to the series. To read it, click here.
Mentioned elsewhere on this site, John Kenneth Muir, the author of the excellent Exploring Space: 1999, gives a thorough overview of both the series and the events that defined it, as well as a comprehensive episode guide. To buy the book, click here. I highly recommend it. It gives you some thought-provoking and well researched information on the series.
Regardless of the behind the scenes tensions and the changes that happened on screen, Space: 1999 developed a loyal fan base – one that still exists today and has grown as new fans discover the series in reruns.
If ever a series deserved a remake, it’s this one. Though the story would need to change slightly to fit into modern expectations and historical events, Space: 1999 had promise and still does.
Hopefully ITC sees that and gives this show the chance it needs to shine.