Exploring Space:1999: An Episode Guide And Complete History Of The Mid-1970s Science Fiction Television Series by John Kenneth Muir (book review).
‘Space 1999’, like ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Terrahawks’ was one of those rare Gerry Anderson productions that actually made it to a second series. That the second series welcomed producer Fred Freiberger who decided to take the show in a direction that more closely resembled ‘Star Trek’ has been debated about by fans for years. What is clear was that a promising television show that had provoked serious questions about mankind’s place in the universe suddenly felt more like a monster of the week show. It is the troubled production history, as well as an examination of each episode that can be found inside John Kenneth Muir’s ‘Exploring Space: 1999’.
‘Space: 1999’ sprang out of ‘UFO’, Anderson’s alien invasion drama, that had its own moonbase. When the second series of ‘UFO’ fell through, Anderson realised that he could retain the money spent on sets by creating a new series in its place. With backing from ITC and an Italian television network, Anderson was able to produce twenty-four episodes of his space-based story of survival and strange, cosmic encounters. The upshot of this, though, was that Anderson struggled to sell the show to the US networks. Essentially, this was a show the networks could have no input in screening. It was only down to Abe Mandell, a vice-President at ITC, travelling across America selling to local stations that ‘Space: 1999’ found an audience in the US. It was a hugely successful approach to broadcast and sales that was later emulated by ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’.
Muir does a good job of presenting the twists and turns that ‘Space: 1999’ had to face in getting its production underway. Most notoriously, Anderson spent a long while courting Martin Landau and his wife, Barbara Bain, to come to dreary England to work rather than living in Los Angeles. Despite these problems, ‘Space: 1999’ is a gorgeous series to look at, the production values in the set design and model work are, as you might expect from Anderson, fantastic. The recently released blu-rays confirm this. However. it was the rest of the show that perhaps stood in the way of the programme achieving true greatness. Fred Freiberger thought that the show was too ‘talky’ and lacked action. This rather begs the question of whether he saw any of season one at all in preparation for joining the show.
Muir has detailed each episode with a full synopsis, called out the guest cast and then provided a commentary as to what he sees as the episode’s salient points. For example, in his analysis of one of my favourite episodes ‘Black Sun’, he rightly explores its themes around man’s relationship to the cosmos. In his opinion, the ‘mysticism’ portrayed in the episode holds back too much from the audience and leaves too much to the imagination. For me, that’s the best thing about that story, it really is up to you in to interpret what happens to Moonbase Alpha in much the same way you can only guess at what happens to Bowman in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ once he enters the stargate.
One of the things that Muir does often is to compare the events of the episodes to those of ‘Star Trek’, not just the ‘Original Series’, but also ‘Next Generation’ and ‘Deep Space Nine’. These comparisons are relevant present in context, but it helps if you have a working knowledge of these shows in order to understand the commentaries fully.
The book concludes with a guide to other critical commentaries the show has received, most infamously by Isaac Asimov in his review entitled ‘Is ‘Space: 1999′ More Fi Than Sci’. The review is printed in its entirety in the book and criticises the programme’s ‘flexible’ relationship with reality. Again, Muir draws attention to ‘Star Trek’ by detailing ‘Space: 1999’s ‘feud’ with the show.
This is a concise but interesting critical analysis of ‘Space:1999’ and, if you’re a fan of the show, is well-worth picking up. Readers who want a more in-depth history of the production may prefer Robert E Wood’s ‘Destination: Moonbase Alpha’ instead.
(pub: McFarland, 1997, 2015 reprint. 209 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £18.50 (UK), $19.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78642-276-0)
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