These days American sci-fi shows such as Lost, Heroes or the remake of V are full of eye-popping special effects. Even our own new version of Dr Who is top quality. All of these shows uphold excellent production values, generally feature a fine quality of acting and have gripping storylines. That’s not always been the case of course in the 60s and 70s I guess you could have one of the two, but rarely both.
Take Star Trek The Original Series for instance flimsy sets that even a weakling Klingon could smash up in just a few minutes and rubbish special effects but great acting and powerful, effecting storylines played out by characters that seemed real and evoked our complete empathy episode after episode. The Dr Who of the 60s and 70s had the same problem.
So when Space 1999 came around in the 70s created by Jerry Anderson (Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Terrahawks) with its state-of-the-art special effects and a top notch team of actors including Martin Landau and Barbara Bain you’d think that it’d be the finished product, yet it simply wasn’t. The truth is, is that it’s totally bereft of decent characterization and features the most absurd plot and storylines.
Martin Landau is Space 1999‘s main character, Commander John Koenig but I’m telling you now he’s no gung-ho Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) of Enterprise, hell he’s not even as exciting as the rather wooden Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) of Deep Space Nine! As a lead character he’s extremely weak and I don’t think that many of the other characters would ever take orders from him. He rarely shows any real emotion and the command decisions that he makes are frequently wrong which result in his crew members being killed. Worse still is Barbara Bain as Dr Helena Russell who could have been a model sorry I mean a mannequin an actress with fewer facial expressions I’m yet to see and her character is pretty darn useless to boot. She makes Star Trek’s Leonard He’s dead Jim / There’s nothing I can do McCoy look like a top rate doctor.
But wait who’s this other guy, he’s crazy, completely the opposite of the two
Barry Morse as Professor Bergman bouncing of the walls, coming up with mad plans and talking complete psycho-scientific-babble. He might actually be space-crazy, but he might just be trying too hard to make up for Landau and Bain. But at least he’s making an impression.
So what’s the series like then? Well it’s unbelievably dull to be honest, I couldn’t summon up any interest in what was happening to the characters, any interest in whether they lived or died. The plot is horrendously far-fetched astronauts are living on a moon base are blasted into space when there’s a nuclear explosion (a really, really big one) and the entire moon is blasted out of orbit and the moonbase and the moon itself become a sort of comet / moving planet / spaceship type thing which sort of flies off into space. And that’s just the silly pilot episode Breakaway, there’s plenty more stupidity to come in the subsequent episodes such as Matter of Life and Death (snooooooze), Ring Around the Moon (daaaaft), Guardian of Piri (Piri Piri sauce? Ha hah ha) oh please stop . 24 episodes . you must be joking? And a second series still to come.
Fun comes in the form of guessing games. Which character will have their mind controlled by an evil force this episode? How many inconsequential crew members will die in a single episode? And how many of the reconnaissance ship (Eagles) will get completely blown to bits this week without actually harming the hapless pilot Captain Alan Carter (Nick Tate)?
I imagine that if you’re someone that saw the series when it first aired that this boxset of 7 discs (including a whole disc of special features) will be money well spent and very enjoyable in a nostalgic sort of way but it may well baffle and irritate newcomers. Also if you get the feeling that the episodes don’t run sequentially you’d be right, goodness knows why.
But it’s not all bad news. There are some huge and genuine positives of this boxset. The DVD had excellently restored picture quality (digitally restored from new high definition transfers) and the newly remixed Dolby 5.1 sound, but the Blu-ray is even better. Colours are bright, images are crisp and in beautiful focus. The sound is almost breathtaking and the overall restoration job is a bang up job. So if you’re a fan of the series, you’re in for a real treat. This is the way Space 1999 was supposed to look and sound. You’ll almost believe that you are on the moonbase itself, well until you see one of the dodgy special effects at least.
Commentaries: A rather quiet and lifeless Anderson. More technical stuff that you might expect or hope for it tends to be a little bit tech-heavy and boring. Loads of production information. As I didn’t really enjoy the episodes of the series, these were very difficult to listen to. Best let to those who are fans of the show but even then, commentaries can be fairly dull and these are no exception especially as there is only one voice. Commentaries are definitely better in my opinion when there are a group of people and there’s scope for different views and conversation.
Trivia Tracks: Subtitle track providing background information on the making of the episode. Filming location. Credited and uncredited cast and crew. Information about the music score. Not the most interesting thing that you will ever read, but I’ve never seen a text commentary that is, weird concept really. Two tracks included in this boxset on The Last Sunset and Space Brain.
Music Only Tracks: On all episodes except Breakaway and Dragon's Domain - the two episodes with a commentary by Gerry Anderson really, what’s the point of this? - Huge periods of silence.
Concept and Creation (12m36s): Interview clips with Gerry Anderson mixed with footage from the show. He explains how things were done and uses clips from the show to almost illustrate what he’s saying. He tries not to be smug about a few things but ends up failing and looking pretty pleased with himself.
Special Effects & Design (16m49s): Apparently all the special effects were amazing and top of the line for 1975 unfortunately they look terrible now and I maintain that Star Trek 10 15 years before had looked before in many ways.
This feature looks at how the FX shots were produced, featuring interviews with Gerry Anderson and Brian Johnson - the special effects supervisor from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mention is made of the sets being like giant lego kits and how many of the props and sets were re-used. He discusses how he used to look for spaceage-looking objects for use of set, notably a fairly un-spaceage next of steel tables.
Discussion of how different storyline developed and where the inspiration for them came from and how they were storyboarded.
These Episodes (70m58s): Gerry Anderson and Script Supervisor Christopher Penfold discuss ten episodes - Breakaway, Black Sun, The Last Sunset, The Full Circle, War Games, The Troubled Spirit, Space Brain, Mission of the Darians, Dragon's Domain and The Testament of Arkadia. About 7 minutes per episode.
Behind-the-scenes production and plot details of each episode and explanations of some storylines.
Guardian Of Piri Remembered (1m36s): Catherine Schell talks about the costume she wore as the Servant of the Guardian and says how everything she said was basically ignored by the costume designer and how she wasn’t happy with the costume.
Clapperboard (38m56s): This is an episode of the Granada film show for kids from 1975 and is hosted by Chris Kelly from a Moonbase Alpha that is deserted but for Gerry Anderson and himself. Please, please, make it stop this is even worse than the real show.
Trailers: Alien Attack / Journey Through the Black Sun.
Alternative Opening And Closing Titles: pretty much the same as the ones that were used.
Matter Of Life And Death
Ring Around The Moon
Another Time, Another Place
Guardian Of Piri
Force Of Life
The Last Sunset
Death's Other Dominion
The Full Circle
End Of Eternity
The Last Enemy
The Troubled Spirit
The Infernal Machine
Mission of the Darians
The Testament Of Arkadia