|Space 1999: 30th Anniversary Edition Megaset (2007)
Starring: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse, Catherine Schell, Nick Tate, Zienia Merton, Anton Phillips, Prentis Hancock, Clifton Jones, Tony Anholt
"Many things — beating with a rubber truncheon, water torture, electric shock, incessant noise, reruns of Space: 1999 — may cause agony as they occur yet leave no enduring injury.”
– Hudson v. McMillian, U.S. Supreme Court, 1991
When I was a kid, one of the first toys I really remember loving was the Eagle, the iconic spacecraft from “Space: 1999.” Given that the show was syndicated and only lasted for two seasons, I’ve long suspected that it was something my parents got on sale, but that’s hardly the point; when I look back on my childhood, that Eagle comes second only to the Death Star as the favorite toy of my youth. As such, I’ve held a soft spot in my heart for “Space: 1999” for quite some time. When I got an email on Sept. 13, 1999, informing me that a massive thermonuclear explosion had occurred on the far side of the moon, sending it hurtling out of orbit and into deep space, I laughed out loud.
Looking back at the series, it’s easy see why those who don’t have such fond memories of the show can’t exactly grasp what’s so great about it, but from the perspective of a sci-fi fan, it’s at least as good as anything else that was on at the time. For a syndicated series, the production values and special effects were pretty decent, echoing “2001: A Space Odyssey” far more often than “Star Trek.” The acting is relatively solid as well, featuring Martin Landau and his then-wife, Barbara Bain, in the lead roles of Cmdr. John Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell, respectively, and a cast filled out by exemplary British thespians like Barry Morse (Professor Victor Bergman), Catherine Schell (the shape-shifting alien known as Maya) and many others. Basically, the rule of thumb is that if you can get past the basic concept of “Space:1999,” you’ll enjoy the ride. But, that having been said, I’m a fan, and it’s hard even for me to apply my suspension of disbelief on such a tremendous level.
Though touched on in our opening paragraph, let’s reiterate the information again for maximum comprehension: there’s an explosion on the moon so powerful that the moon itself is actually knocked out of orbit and into space, leaving the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha to travel the universe at the whim of wherever the moon chooses to go. That’s right, they’re taking a ride on the freaking moon! It’s an absolutely ludicrous concept, and it’s one that no less a science fiction authority than Isaac Asimov dismissed, saying that any explosion capable of knocking the Moon out of its orbit would actually blow it apart, and that even if it did leave orbit, it would take hundreds of years to reach the nearest star.
I’m not doing much to sell you on the show, am I?
Well, look, here’s the thing: “Space: 1999” might not be the best sci-fi series of all time, but it definitely has moments where it’s well above average, and they’re split between the show’s two seasons. Looking at this complete set, you can see the very clear dividing line between those seasons, with the first year focusing more on intellectual-driven plots and the second steering in a more action-dominated direction. It’s more than that, though; while Season Two begins with the introduction of Maya into the crew’s ranks, the character of Professor Victor Bergman has mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from or even mentioned again. (It’s reported that the shooting script for the Season Two premiere contained a line referencing Bergman’s death, but the dialogue never made the actual episode.) You may well find that Season One contains more highlights, if only because the plots tend to be more unique and creative, but, as a kid, I still remember how cool I thought it was during the second season when Maya would change into all these different animals. Even 30 years later, the artsy and creative – read, “inexpensive” – way they handled Maya’s transformations remains worthy of praise.
If you’re looking for the episodes with the best guest stars, you’ve got a few to choose from. “Force of Life” features Ian McShane (Al Swearengen from “Deadwood”) as a Moonbase Alpha crew member who’s turned into an energy-absorbing being by an alien; Christopher Lee plays a long-haired alien in “Earthbound;” and Brian Blessed (Prince Vultan from “Flash Gordon”) pops up in two separate episodes (“Death’s Other Dominion” and “The Metamorph”), playing a different character each time. Joan Collins gets to strut her sci-fi stuff again in “Mission of the Darians,” while the man who played Grand Moff Tarkin – Peter Cushing – pops up in “Missing Link.” Those with a keen eye for directorial credits will also note that Charles Crichton, the man who helmed “A Fish Called Wanda,” is responsible for directing several episodes of “Space: 1999” as well. Similarly, sci-geeks will undoubtedly note the appearance of Fred Freiberger as a second-season producer. He also worked on “Star Trek,” “The Wild Wild West,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.”
Try to forget that whole they’re-flying-through-space-on-the-freaking-moon thing and just enjoy all the other bits about “Space: 1999.” Despite its scientific flaws, it was a highly creative series, and, all things considered, it looks a hell of a lot more realistic than “Star Trek” ever did.Special Features: If you picked up the megaset released by A&E several years back, the only thing new you’re getting here is a much thinner packaging. By moving to the slimline cases, this 30th anniversary set takes up considerably less room on your shelf than the previous edition did. If this is your first step into the world of “Space: 1999” on DVD, however, you’ll be pleased to find a considerable wealth of special features. In addition to vintage interviews with the cast and crew, along with original behind-the-scenes featurettes, there are a few audio commentaries, as well as promo spots, trailer galleries, and the like. The best feature, however, is unquestionably “Message from Moonbase Alpha,” a seven minute film written by longtime show writer Johnny Byrne, starring Zienia Merton, playing her original series character, data analyst Sandra Benes. The film basically provides closure to the series, explaining how the characters’ adventures came to an end. It was made for a fan convention, but it was so well received that it has since come to be accepted as canon.