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Novelisations: Michael Butterworth

A letter to Mary Tchir, 1978, and an article for the Nick Tate club, also 1978

When ITC Television first approached Wyndham Books (then Star Books) to negotiate to have the new series novelised, filming on the episodes had only just commenced, with about two actually filmed. I was then approached to write the books, but in order to ensure publication at the precise time of screening in this country, they had to be written very fast- one per three weeks in fact.

When the time came to start I discovered that I only had four scripts- Pinewood Studios where the programmes were shot were not prepared to release all the scripts because all the scripts weren't written; indeed, as I have already said, the programmes weren't even filmed. I had to fit four scripts to a book and somehow make a novel out of them (my brief from the publisher) so I set to with the first four scripts (they weren't in chronological order) and did the best I could with them.

By the time I'd got to the next book (Mind Breaks Of Space) I had to wait for more scripts to be written. In many cases, the preliminary scripts were sent to me (ie not the final drafts), thus, as many of the cast were not then hired, I had to work with names like Simon Hayes, and got to thinking that Sahn and Sandra were two different people. I had to invent dates and many technical details. I had to do all the visualising because the scripts offer very little of this: therefore my descriptive details will often (mostly) vary from the actual films themselves. I got to see a few of the actual programmes at odd moments throughout the writing of the books but nothing like the number I should have seen, as most hadn't been shot. I got the first one (The Metamorph) mostly right because this was the first one they shot and I got a chance to see a prescreening.

In short, I did everything possible to do as good a job as I could, because I knew that fans of the programme would not be satisfied unless I did. But it was impossible, and the end result is that the books are really quite different and should be read as such. They have more than 50% of my own invention in them and often, in order to make the stories fit into a "novel" (which I'd been told to do), I had to bend the stories and alter what the characters said, and have them do things they didn't do or else do them in the wrong order, and so on.

As regards the characters: I had little to go on save the scripts and as many of them were new I had to invent them to a certain extent. I didn't actually realise, for instance, that Tony is supposed to be tough. I realised he was probably Italian or at least looked Italian so I tried to give him a fiery temper and an emotional mind.

I tried to put as much as I could into them in the time limit I had, and not just hack out rubbish like I think many a writer would have done.

Michael Butterworth

Space: 1999 : Space Prophecy

by Michael Butterworth

The red fog obscuring Carter's vision windy cleared away and the faces of the instruments on the Eagle central panel wavered into focus. The faces appeared cold and indecipherable. They seemed to stare blankly in at his still churning mind. Then, with a sudden stab of panic he realised that they had all gone haywire. The numbers were large end meaningless. The needles were all jammed sharply to the sides of their casements...

The ship had gone out of control.

Its shuddering mass was nose-diving toward the massive expanse of flame that constituted the Death Star's surface...

And so it goes on. Space: 1999 will surely never die, for there are a multitude of worlds to explore and endless universes to explore them in. And, more important, the younger viewers who are caught up by its magnetic will, once they are grown up and settled in safe, sweet suburbia, only remember the adventures, the monsters and the characters (as well as the actors and actresses) who made it all possible. They will want to revive it.

Star Trek, the only comparable TV series of this kind, has already been revived twelve years after its first ever appearance and nine years after it had ceased "forever". The actors and actresses have grown older, and there have been difficulties obtaining replacements, but the show will go on. In time, the show's best years will undoubtedly prove to be the original years, and I'm sure that whatever happens to Space: 1999 in the future, the same will be true of it. Nick, you might be dead and gone when they finally bring out a third series, but your name will live on forever in the television science fiction halls of fame as the one true and only and authentic Alan Carter!

So, what I am getting around to saying is, that I enjoyed working on the six books that I wrote based on the Second Series - and I hope that the fans of Space: 1999 have got as much pleasure out of them as I did, and as Ted Tubb, Michael Ball and John Rankine gave to them as authors of the First Series. (Now the bad news!) One day, though, I hope they will enjoy better sales from the wider public than they have currently achieved!

Which brings me, by way of preliminary observation, to what must surely be the direst drama that Moonbase Alpha and its crew of reluctant explorers have yet had to face. The sad story of Space: 1999 Series Two is that the programme did not appear be fire the public imagination, either in America or the UK, to anywhere near the extent that the First Series captured it. A sad fact, because the First Series did show such promise, and, though not as smooth and predictable a formulae as Star Trek, had instead a more varied, interesting and "truer" ambience - an overall achievement that was heightened in the Second Series.

Space: 1999 was more like fantastic reality blended with fantasy. In other words, its creators built on known facts and real achievements (the Apollo Moon landings, the dangers of atomic waste, and so forth). It was credible; and even when it was incredible (to keep the bug-eyed enthusiasts glued to their seats), it was unusually well conceived. Star Trek, on the other hand, was more or less sheer fantasy and (though as enjoyable) for me was less substantial. On the whole, the production and effects give to Space: 1999 were tighter and more spectacular.

So what went wrong? There are "pluses" and "minuses" for both Star Trek and Space: 1999, but in my opinion the one factor which ultimately made Star Trek the more popular with wider viewers was the fact that its producers didn't try as hard at being innovative; they settled for a less complex but more sophisticated formulae. An approach which makes Space: 1999 the more viewable so far as I am concerned. I like experiment and I like to see improvement on what has gone before. Space: 1999 fitted this bill. But having analysed it, there is no reason why two good, albeit essentially different programmes, should not thrive side by side, and I feel that the real cause of Space: 1999's "ailment" was not that it was "worse" or "better" but that it arrived on the scene fractionally too late.

When Star Trek first appeared, it was unique of its kind, and played to almost no competition, but by the time the first Space: 1999 programmes were bring aired, the market was already getting saturated. When the Second Series appeared, last year, it coincided with the advance wash pushed our by an even "newer" level of drama and action - Star Wars. The TV machinery had moved on, and Space: 1999 unfortunately didn't receive the blanket coverage and peak slotting that the TV media and its capricious viewers had seemed to promise it- and which it really deserved.

But Time will prove to be a better judge than a mere mortal, and, as I started out by saying, there will always be a viewership who will favour Space: 1999 and, who knows, pass it on into mythical posterity for the benefit of generations to come. Space: 1999 certainly wasn't a failure. It belongs to an era of television sci-fi which finally died in 1977. There is nothing comparable in terms of originality or production on today's screens, largely because of a growing cynicism on the part of the makers. Television, at least as far as sci-fi goes, is relinquishing its hold on the cinema goers who are now making their way back to the big screen.

What actually interests me most about Space: 1999 and the other popular science fiction entertainments, though, is not that fact but the nature of their appeal; and also the way they "prepare" humanity for the real live adventure into space. Space: 1999, Star Trek and now Star Wars, and their numerous forebears like Flash Gordon and Journey Into Space, all try to show a mass audience what it is really going to be like for mankind when he starts to build space stations in earnest and colonise other worlds in our universe. By 1980, one has to remember, earth industry will be firmly involved in the exploitation of near space for the benefit of mankind; 60 flights per year are planned by NASA for their Space Shuttle programme (one shuttle, significantly, is to be named the US Enterprise), and more space platforms are to be built to provide the facilities necessary for a permanent human presence in space.

This in where the role of Nick Tate and other actors and actresses, in playing their part in these films, is so important. With their personalities and their following of fans, the help to humanise space. They help to show that space exploration is not simply hardware and technical sparks; not simply a boffin's paradise. They pave the way, after the scientists have done their bit, for the rest of humanity.

I firmly believe that it is our destiny to fly amongst the stars, for by remaining on Earth we are putting all our eggs in one basket; a global disaster, man-made or natural, could wipe out humanity at a stroke and make all our achievements to date seem as nothing. On the other hand, if we could exist in space as well, then we would have a greater chance of survival.

For the moment, though, not everyone has the chance to fly up in a rocket ship, so what better way to experience space flight than through the imagination? When I got offered the job of writing the books for the New Series, this was the spirit in which I approached them.

"Alan Carter" the voice boomed at him as the cabin began spinning slowly around. Now the heat from the star's surface was beginning to burn through the Eagle's shielding system and raise the temperature inside the cabin. The control screen showed that the moon craft was now enveloped inside one of the huge, thousand mile bursts of flame that were erupting from the star's surface.


Carter tuned him head round sluggishly to try one last time to discover the source of the Voice. But to no avail. The Voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. Weakly, he lifted his commlock and punched out Koenig's frequency. The Commander's tense face appeared instantly.

"John, don't tell it..."

"Alan, I must..."


He snapped off the picture and began smashing the commlock against the hard surface of the console in front of him in an irrational attempt to prevent Koenig from revealing the whereabouts of their home. In the mounting heat, he was already losing his senses...


The third in the Hawklord trilogy was not published until 1994; Edge of the Infinite was not published by Star at all. Butterworth founded the publisher Savoy in 1976, and prosecuted on obscenity charges for their publications. In 2006, his Space: 1999 novels were edited, expanded and republished in a single volume by Powys.