The Catacombs The Production Guide
Set visit

Martin Landau- Talking about Space: 1999

This interview appeared in the Nick Tate newsletter issue 1, and was recorded on the set of The Dorcons on 9 December 1976 by Pat Jenkins.

Tony Anholt, Pat Jenkins, Martin Landau, Catherine Schell, Carole Abbs, Nick Tate, 9th December 1976

Tony Anholt, Pat Jenkins, Martin Landau, Catherine Schell, Carole Abbs, Nick Tate, on 9th December 1976

Pat Jenkins: When we visited the Pinewood studios for the second time Martin Landau kindly agreed to talk with me about Space 1999 - and I recorded the conversation on tape. I was most interested in his opinions on the first and second series, and what struck me in particular was that like me he had really liked the "look" of the first series.

My opening question was a complicated jumble that added up to asking him for his opinions on the merits of the first and second season, and which he preferred, I'm reporting in his words, though I have edited what he said and re-arranged it, but I wanted to keep his style as much as possible.

That is a very complicated question and a complicated answer is necessary so I'll try to answer it as succinctly as I can. I feel that the look of the show has been changed. Frankly I preferred the first season in that specific area because I think that it looked like nothing else I'd ever seen before. There was a kind of an interesting mellow look to the place. Anything that was alien then stood out as having a definite kind of colour, as being very different. The contrast was very clear. I feel that many people probably didn't see it that way, in that they felt if you're doing the show in colour then you should show a lot of colour.

The Command Center was changed - now the reason for its going underground was a logical one. That is - when the base was originally created it was a station attached to the earth as such ... but hurtling through space at ridiculous speed having a place with windows isn't ... exactly ... So making it underground and making it more compact - well in that context that set as is actually works better for the show in terms of making the action a little tighter. The use of more colour on the set is something else. I preferred the blandness of the other.

Interestingly Mission Impossible, for instance, had a sequence in it always at the top of the show. It was a black and white sequence in a colour show. We all wore blacks, greys or silver against a black and white set and the only other colour in the entire set would be the hair colours of the people which varied. It stood out from the rest of the show as result having a definite look and a definite style.

Again - going from let's say the Command Center to a very colourful commercial - I tended to like that, and then going back from the colour again to those creams and beigy colours .. I also think that against that background the little bit of colour - the little splashes on sleeves stood out and became important. So from an aesthetic point of view I did prefer the look of the first series.

I do think of course that the jackets etc. have helped in a way - even though that may sound like a contradiction, But in the first season we had no pockets for instance. If we ever had bring a prop in we had to either carry it, or find it there. So some of these changes I think were good - though they did affect the visual look - they also made it a little more practical for us to function.

Now - in terms of some of the other things - the addition of the alien character. One of the problems of course in dealing with science fiction is that many writers are employed to write scripts. Just to keep a consistent thread going, I mean one needs say someone like Freddy F to take the bumps out and inconsistencies and we on the floor also say "he can't do that, that is not typical of the character, he just wouldn't do that". The addition of an alien character in theory is very good. It can be very good and often is. And then sometimes I feel it's overdone.

If you are doing a show like Kojak or The Streets of San Francisco you know what your adversary is always ... I mean if you're a New York policeman you pretty much know in five years time what you're dealing with, There may be a variation on the theme but those people are pretty clear to you. Science fiction, the very nature of it, the analogical aspect of it is that you don't take a right turn — you do a 45 degree turn, sometimes then a 180 degree turn because something is introduced immediately. Now to try to keep a level of reality is awfully difficult because if you're talking to bouncing balls ... I mean — they only take on life when you relate to them as living and as being let's say threatening. An object like in Brian the Brain which is a computer on wheels. You know in actuality there is no person there. What you have is a box that you very clearly know is made in the prop department and so giving it credence is really up to you. Creating a reality and a level of reality is often a difficult thing in that there is always a danger of making it look like a comic strip, I mean doing a little too much or a little too little. That balance is really difficult.

Sometimes I think a character like Maya in a science fiction show can be quite interesting, but there are times when I feel it has been misused. It really depends on the script. Letters I've got from science fiction purists like the idea and again like pretty much the shows that I liked where it was used let's say within a certain kind of reality and not overdone.

I felt that there was a lack of interchange between people in the first series — you know you can call that humanity. I like to see battle front humour if you will — when people are in trouble they do often say things that kind of try to lighten the tension. I would still like to see more things thrown away — people walking down the hall saying things that are a little more human, day to day, so that when let's say jeopardy presents itself, which it does very quickly usually, there is more of a contrast.

You know 25 years is not a very long time ahead, my character was born in the 50s... If we wanted to go into deep space as we are, we wouldn't be able to neither technologically nor emotionally are we prepared, It was an accident that forced us out there (in Space 1999) and having to function in conditions that are totally alien to even our training — and then running into let's say civilisations and possibilities that may be millions and millions of years ahead of ours; dealing with intelligences that are far beyond ours. It is all really beyond our grasp in a sense and I think too often we let that fact slide by, it was overlooked.

Well - I'll mention Star Trek — it's not a dirty word is it? Star Trek was never successful at all in its first run in the States. We were very close to Gene R, and the other people involved having worked on the next two stages in the very same studio where Star Trek was shooting for 3 years. Whereas Mission Impossible was always in the top 10 - generally in the top 5 TV programmes, Star Trek was way down. If they were in the top 40 they were lucky. It managed to hold on for 3 seasons because people actively tried through campaigns to keep that show on the air because it was unlike any of the other shows on TV

We have actually done better in our first 2 seasons of Space: 1999 than they did in their first 3. I think Space will grow in popularity, it is conceivable we may shut down for a year or two and then a wave of interest arise and more and more people miss us and get tired of re-runs. I think the campaign can be very effective — it may not succeed in getting any. more episodes of Space produced, but there again it could. There are an awful lot of sci fi fans out there and if they really got together and said, hey, we see enough police shows!