Space: 1999

I’m frightened to report that I popped an episode of Space: 1999 tonight into the VCR, specifically, “Dragon’s Domain”.

Space: 1999 was a childhood favorite of mine, and I still had fond memories of it in young adulthood – but at that point memories are all they were, since I hadn’t seen an episode in years at that point. In the 90s I found a couple of videotapes of episodes at an SF convention and plonked down some ridiculous price to pick them up.

They’re, you know, not very good.

The acting could be best described as “wooden”. Martin Landau shows less range than William Shatner at his most Shatnerian, Barbara Bain seems vaguely similar to Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, and Barry Morse seems like a slightly drugged Isaac Asimov. Eeg.

The story involves a carniverous, hypnotic, disappearing space alien which lives in a sargasso of spaceships which somehow moved itself from the edge of Earth’s solar system to a location much further away. (Though remember that this is the series in which the mon is blasted out of Earth’s orbit at faster-than-light speeds, and yet which slows down to sublight speeds when it enters another solar system.) The creature is defeated through nonsensical means (with an axe).

And honestly this is pretty typical of an episode of the first season of the series. The second season turned from emphasizing the horror of outer space to becoming an action/adventure series, but it wasn’t really either an improvement or a decline; the whole series was just fatally flawed.

And yet, watching this episode tonight there are brief moments when I think, “This could have been cool.” The laser pistols are neat. The scenes with the Eagles flying above Moonbase Alpha evoke a certain feeling, that humans are surviving even in this barren environment with only a bleak hope. The notion that by this episode they’d been drifting in space for over two years. And of course the Eagles have that cool modular design. There’s also a throwaway moment when Commander Koenig (Landau) mentions that his predecessor on the base had left a bunch of junk in his office which Koenig was going through and salvaging, which made me think that of course any human habitat is going to build up junk as people fail to clean it out, but in these peoples’ circumstances that trash could be treasure indeed. The series is completely oblivious to the more profound implications of these little ideas, it’s just an adventure series. But still.

Sometimes I daydream what it would take to try to resurrect Space: 1999 as a serious science fiction series. It’s a mind game, since the series is so ludicrous by any serious SF standards, far more so than the original Battlestar Galactica was. You could have an experiment with an alien device go awry and drop the moon into the network of wormholes across the galaxy. Really play up the challenge of trying to keep 300-odd people alive on the moon using technology which we might actually achieve in a century or so, and how their mental state changes when living in isolation from the rest of humanity for years. Have some really alien aliens, not just guys with big hair and forehead bumps, or even just pull in the old chestnut of humans on Earth just being an offshoot of an older, starfaring species (which popped up in the original series, too). I’m not saying it would be a great series, but what would it take to try to make it a good one?

All very silly, I know. Space: 1999 will remain a bad TV series which has been mostly forgotten by almost everyone who ever watched it. But somehow there’s just enough there to make me think stuff like this, that maybe there’s something here that could have worked, in other hands, given a different treatment.

After all, something makes me pop that videotape in once in a while to watch an episode. That’s not something I ever feel moved to do with, say, The Six Million Dollar Man.

6 thoughts on “Space: 1999”

  1. Something that made me giggle as a kid: unspooling a cassette tape, and realizing that the evil telepathic monsters on that week’s Space: 1999 episode were just people covered in unspooled tape.

    Didn’t Space: 1999 feature a telepathic female called Maia, with funny beaded eyebrows and a ton of blusher on her cheeks? Or was that some other late seventies sci-fi show?

    I never bought videotapes, but I did run across a couple of tie-in novels in a charity shop. They were really short novels, and the middle part of the book was stuffed with about 16 pages of black-and-white publicity pictures from the TV series. They were pretty fun reads, if I remember rightly.

  2. I still have my “Space: 1999” lunch pail, although oddly I never watched it that much as a child. (Although I do have fond memories of staying up late to watch Quark. I dare Ron Moore to do a re-imagining of *that* show…)

  3. Space: 1999 is a guilty pleasure for me, for some reason. I know it’s bad and cheesy and most of its stories just don’t really work very well if you think about them for more than about a quarter-second.

    And yet, some of the things you pointed out bring me back to it periodically. The design of the moonbase itself, and the Eagles, still hold up remarkably well, even if the costumes do not. There are occasional, serious attempts to suggest the hardship of the situation, the claustrophobia inherent in knowing that you might never be able to breathe unrecycled air ever again in your life and that these 300…oops, 299…oops…270 people are the only human faces you’ll ever see again, and every week someone else dies.

    I also wonder if there would be any way to do a “Galactican” reinvention of this show, but I really don’t think you could. I think you could do a serious SF show about a stranded colony on an unterraformed world or moon, but not as a open-ended series. Because if you’re trying to be serious about it, you won’t have alien-of-the-week or even crisis-of-the-week. Most of the time, life would actually be pretty dull, assuming the colony survived the initial separation, however it occured. But you probably could do a limited series or miniseries focusing on the crisis itself.

  4. iamza: Yeah, the series ran for two seasons, and Maia was in the second season. I used to have a full set of the novelizations, plus the “making of” volume, but I chucked them years ago. They’re still pretty easy to find through used bookstores.

    John: Quark! Ha! Another marginal semi-SF series right along with The Fantastic Journey and Otherworld! Not to mention the execrable Space Rangers.

    Unfortunately (?) Quark was basically rendered obsolete by the far better parody Galaxy Quest.

    Mikey: I think to do an ongoing series you’d have to contrive something fantastic to make it work, e.g. the wormhole idea I mentioned. Or some sort of phenomenon a la Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.

    This sort of points out the meta-flaw in Space: 1999: It’s a generic science fiction adventure series, the things that make it unique are really incidental to the basic thrust of the show. It treats its setting as a generic near-future setting (obviously inspired a great deal by 2001), it has generic characters who are there to solve fairly generic adventure problems, and even the title is remarkable generic, not really saying anything about the series. Even Star Trek has a more descriptive title! All the neat stuff is below the surface, unfortunately so far below that it’s pretty well smothered.

  5. I actually started working on a treatment or bible for a revised Space:1999, doing something similar to what’s been done with BSG. I still have a bunch of notes for it and I’d love to have it see the light of day someday.

    In the interim, I’m hoping to have a short article published at Geeks of Doom (website) called 10 Ways To Make A Kick Ass Remake of Space:1999. Which makes it doubly odd to see this cool post from you, Michael.

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