by Richard Bendell
The best way to summarise is that either you "get" what Space: 1999 is all about or you don't.
Year One (Series One) was sci-fi fantasy of the highest order and was an incredible blend of mood, music, amazing sets, props and model work along with fantastic, even metaphysical/mystical stories that didn't merely take you there but actually PUT you in the action amongst the wonder and horror that the Alphans were facing. Admittedly, this is much heavier fare than what most TV viewers are looking for... simple, escapist, campy sci-fi this was definitely not. Year Two took that approach and while it had some successful moments (I'd say 1/2 of the 24 shows are fairly good, the other rather sub-par) it is pretty much a different and almost unrelated show and I leave that for others to comment on.
Up until that time, the only TV sci-fi/fantasy shows that had been so daring in their approach to tackle stories and situations that could be so dire for the characters involved were The Twilight Zone and the original Outer Limits. However, those shows involved a rotating set of stories with new actors and actresses. Thus, each episode presented a fresh set of characters and circumstances with a different set of problems and history to learn but without the psychological guilt and weight that resulted from the mistakes of previous episodes.
This of course made 1999 unique outside of perhaps MASH and All in the Family where viewers would continually recall tragedies or failures from previous episodes that would hang like a cloud over all future episodes giving the show itself a darker more pessimistic outlook. However, those shows relied on heavy doses of comedy to lighten the mood, something that 1999 rarely ever had.
Yes, Year One of 1999 is rather heavy viewing but in spite of this in 1975, as a 10 year old, I became an instant and life-long fan of the show while watching premiere of the first episode Breakaway. The 23 episodes that were to follow were a magnificent journey into the unknown that has never been replicated by any other TV show I have seen before or since. The show is certainly not perfect as one becomes quickly familiar with many faux-pas such as certain sets not corresponding with the model work but the show has aged remarkably well and the DVDs, with their generally excellent picture quality, reveal a quality of production nearing that of full-feature movies.
And complaints about poor science don't diminish its impact. I've always taken the mind-set approach of imagine if this could happen... the kind of leap of faith that we do with accepting all the abilities of Superman. Thus, if the moon was blasted from earth orbit and transported into another part of our universe where our known laws of science and physics don't always apply then these are the stories of what could happen to these men and women of Alpha and that we don't always learn the answer of what really happened or why.
I find this a better, even more realistic approach than that of so many Trek episodes where they technobabble the viewer to death every episode coming up with unbelievable solutions to every problem under the sun in a matter of hours every episode. Even in today's world we often don't know exactly what happened such as the exact reason why the latest shuttle burned up in re-entry... we have a good idea but will likely never know the complete answer.
Thus, for me Year One is like having 24 mini-movies and when one looks past its flaws you see a show that was unbelievably brave in its presentation. I find the acting to be reserved but quite intense at the same time... definitely not wooden. Also, the show abounds in caring character moments but they are very subtle such as a touch of the arm or holding of a hand, slap on the back or a subtle glance and smile. And significantly, it showed some of the most shocking scenes of any TV show in history such as the trapped Commissioner at the end of Earthbound, the laser-fried Alphan in Force of Life, the unfortunate scientist who lost his immortality in Death's Other Dominion or the life-sucking tentacle monster in Dragon's Domain.
Nearly every episode has an "always remember that" moment and that ultimately is the legacy of Space: 1999. It was incredibly memorable and set new standards for what could be achieved and if many deem that that it failed at least it had the guts to try.
On that note I say to the uninitiated "GIVE THE SHOW A TRY!" If you approach it with an open mind and enjoy it for what it is instead of what it isn't you'll probably be pleasantly surprised. Often there is a great deal more going on under the surface that you don't always pick up on until repeated viewing and the show really starts to hit its stride after the first ten episodes or so.
Some of my favourites are:
Space: 1999 copyright Granada Ventures