Great 1970s TV: Space: 1999
For two glorious seasons in the mid-1970s, televisions all over the world got to display Space: 1999. It was the creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who people of my age know from their marionette science fiction show Thunderbirds. They were the small-scale, Brittish Sid and Marty Krofft. But Space: 1999 was rather different from their work in the 1960s in being live action. They’d been doing this for a while, but Space: 1999 is the best known. And for good reason: it’s a very fun show.
It starred husband and wife actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. He was Commander John Koenig and she was Doctor Helena Russell on Moonbase Alpha. In this future, the moon is used as a dumping ground for nuclear waste. But about halfway through the first episode, the nuclear waste creates magnetic radiation resulting in an explosion that throws the Moon out of Earth orbit. They are so far away by the time that they regain control that they decide to spend two seasons (48 hour-long episodes) looking for a new planet to live on as they struggle to survive on the Moon as it makes its way through the universe.
Space: 1999 Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Science
Now I know what all you science buffs are thinking, “What? Wait a second… What? They’re on the Moon and it’s… What?!” Yeah, none of it makes sense. They are constantly running into planets, which makes no sense because it would imply that they are in a different solar system. And they are! They’re in a new solar system just about every episode, despite the fact that, you know, solar systems are really far apart, and the crew has no control over where the Moon is going.
But this wacky disregard for science is actually kind of refreshing. For one thing, they don’t make up excuses for why this is all reasonable. I could just imagine what someone would do with it today, “The magnetic radiation explosion created a wormhole in the center of the Moon so they are constantly being transported to different parts of the universe.” Personally, I’m thrilled that I don’t have to listen to nonsense about trans-warp speed, as if that made any more sense than the Moon traveling randomly from solar system to solar system week after week.
Other than this, it’s all pretty much like Star Trek. But there’s less pretense to it. One thing that’s always bugged me about Star Trek is this idea of more evolved humans, even when they don’t act any more evolved. And the original Star Trek had its stupid Soviet Empire proxy in the Klingons — actually more pernicious propaganda than you got from the John Birch Society newsletter.
The Two Seasons
The two seasons are really different because other than the two stars, they fired pretty much everyone who starred the first season. That was particularly sad with the character of Professor Victor Bergman. Maybe it’s just my age, but I really like that character. And Barry Morse was great in the role. It’s rare that you see adult male relationships as we did with Bergman and Koenig. And in an industry that idealizes youth, it was nice to have a major character who was almost 60 years old.
The Second Season
The show was apparently going to be cancelled after the first season, but Gerry Anderson and Fred Freiberger pitched the idea of adding an alien character. So Bergman was out and Maya (Catherine Schell) was in. She was nominally the science officer, but mostly she was just there to turn into any creature she wanted to. These shape-shifting characters always strike me as a trick. They are so powerful from a plot standpoint, the problem is more how to avoid them from fixing every problem that comes along.
But Maya was a good character. She showed up in the first episode of the second season “The Metamorph.” In it, she plays the dedicated daughter of Mentor (Brian Blessed! He was also in the first season episode “Death’s Other Dominion.”) who tries to use the humans to save his planet. He fails, but in his dying words, he tells Maya to save herself. So she joins the crew because the Moon is better than nothing.
The second season is distinctly less interesting than the first. So it isn’t surprising that it was more successful commercially. I guess they were going to do a third season, but there was so much bad blood in the production that nothing ever came of it.
Regardless, the show is quite a lot of fun. I’m not clear why it isn’t better liked. You can find a lot of episodes on YouTube if you search. At the moment, there are a lot more full episodes of the second season. But you never know when these things will suddenly disappear.
You can also get the show on DVD in various combinations. Of particular note is Space 1999: Megaset. That’s 16 DVDs with 48 episodes. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it has a whole lot of extras — but it does have a reasonable number.
Purchase Space: 1999
There are a lot of good ways to get Space: 1999. Unfortunately, no release pulls everything together. If you just want to watch the series, there are many streaming services that offer it. Of particular note is SHOUT Factory TV, which is free on desktop computers and offers the entire series.
SHOUT Factory (2019)
The most recent release is from SHOUT Factory. It is available as a DVD and a Blu-ray set — strangely each having 13 discs. The colors are better on the second season than the first, but this was true of earlier releases. It offers two audio tracks: the original broadcast mono and a 5.1 track, but it is inconsistent.
This version comes with a bunch of extras from old material:
- Gerry Anderson commentary on “Breakaway” And “Dragon’s Domain”
- “These Episodes” — interviews with cast and crew (99 minutes)
- “Memories Of Space” featurette (8 minutes)
- Sylvia Anderson interview (17 minutes)
- Catherine Schell interview (2 minutes)
- Vintage Year Two Interviews (30 minutes)
- Vintage Brian Johnson interview on special effects (3 minutes)
- Behind the scenes footage with Brian Johnson (7 minutes)*
- “Concept and Creation” featurette (18 minutes)
- “Special Effects and Design” featurette (18 minutes)
- Landau and Bain TV promos (2 minutes)*
- Year one (12 minutes)* and year two (2 minutes)* promos
- Trailers for two “features” (5 minutes)*
- Blackpool “Space City” Exhibition Advert (39 seconds)*
- Lyons Maid Ice Lolly Advert (28 seconds)*
- Photo Galleries (31 minutes)*
There is also a 16-page booklet with information about the episodes and other stuff. And the following is newly created for this release:
- Barbara Bain interview (11 minutes)
- Nick Tate interview (17 minutes)
- Kevin Connor interview (9 minutes)
- “Moonbase Merch” with John Kenneth Muir (11 minutes)
- Anthony Taylor commentaries on “Dragon’s Domain” And “The Metamorph”
- Scott Michael Bosco commentary on “Ring Around The Moon.”
30th Anniversary Edition Megaset (2007)
That was the good news. Now for the bad news.
In 2007, A&E Home Video released a 30th-anniversary edition on 17 DVDs. It doesn’t come close to the SHOUT Factory release. But it does include all the stuff listed above that I marked with an asterisk.
Unfortunately, it comes with a number of things that are not on the SHOUT Factory release. Most are pretty minor. But there are three commentary tracks that would be nice to have:
- Sylvia Anderson on “Testament of Arkadia”
- Writers Johnny Byrne and Christopher Penfold on “Dragon’s Domain”
- Scott Michael Bosco on “Death’s Other Dominion.”
If you are an insane fan, you could get both.
Single Season Releases
You can also get the two seasons independently but it isn’t usually a good deal. The first season discs are the A&E 30th-anniversary releases and so have the comparable extras. There is no Blu-ray release (region A-1) of the second season. The A&E release has few extras. I don’t know of any with the Lionsgate release.
Information about the series itself:
- On Air: 1975 – 1977
- Length: 50 minutes
- MPAA Rating: NR
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Film: 35 mm Spherical Color
I must provide my usual disclaimer: even the smallest of films involve Obviously, so many more people are involved in the making of a film. But here are some of the most important:
- Creators: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson
- Director: Charles Crichton, Val Guest, and others
- Producers: Gerry Anderson (Executive Producer); Sylvia Anderson (Year One), Fred Freiberger (Year Two)
- Screenwriters: Johnny Byrne, Terence Feely, Fred Freiberger, Donald James, Christopher Penfold, Anthony Terpiloff, and others
- Actors: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse, and Catherine Schell
Afterword: Goodbye Sylvia Anderson
Sylvia Anderson died just last year. She produced the first season the Space: 1999. It was during this period that she separated from Gerry. She left the world a lot of great work.