The Catacombs Space: 1999 Catacombs Series Guides
Science Of Fiction

A look at the science in Space: 1999 by Martin Willey


The aliens in "Space: 1999" were predictably very human. Bizarre make-up and effects are expensive, often unconvincing and inflexible. Human audiences will always find humans dramatically more interesting than weird objects. Therefore outlandish creatures were rarely attempted. Even the Chrysalides in The A B Chrysalis looked completely human, despite living in a chlorine atmosphere and rejuvenating themselves in a chrysalis stage whenever they became old. A few unusual aliens were attempted. The humanoids in War Games had large bald craniums to indicate large brains and lived for a thousand years; the similarly long-lived Zennites in Missing Link had glossy green skin. There were plenty of hairy and scaly monsters in Year Two, all looking like men in rubber suits.

The series contained its own logic for explaining the number of humanoid species on different planets, showing various aliens travelling through space to colonise other worlds. These included the Kaldorians in Earthbound, the Darians in Mission Of The Darians, the Psychons in Dorzak, and the Arkadians in The Testament Of Arkadia, who started the human race on Earth. Given the paleontological and archaeological evidence of human evolution on Earth, it is clearly impossible that mankind is descended from alien astronauts, but at least the series is suggesting why so many of the aliens it shows are so similar to Earth humans. Intelligence could evolve in parallel ways on unrelated planets, leading to similar forms. Dextrous, co-operative animals might find an ecological niche for intelligence in complex and dynamic environments. Lacking specialisations, they would need to compensate by creating social structures and tools. The increasing importance of communication would lead to the evolution of language and symbolic logic. These broad factors could favour upright ape-like species on disparate planets to evolve intelligence.

More unusual depictions were scientifically fair, although they raised many questions about the life styles and evolution of these beings. The aliens in The A B Chrysalis enter a pupal stage when they grow old, rejuvenating themselves. Presumably they could live forever, although they are still interested in sex. The larren in The Bringers Of Wonder and another creature in Space Warp could live in vacuum on the surface of the Moon by storing air "like a camel stores water"; these animals must come from strange environments which have both thick oxygen atmospheres and no atmosphere at all. Presumably these aliens had been artificially modified for such life styles by themselves or others. The jelly aliens in The Bringers Of Wonder can also live in vacuum and live on hard radiation, somehow unaffected by the molecular and atomic damage that radiation and atomic explosions entail.

Space Brain featured an intelligent space cloud. Complex organic compounds and magnetic fields can exist in interstellar nebula, so the concept of a living cloud is surprisingly plausible. The energy being in Force Of Life is not unbelievable, but the incorporeal entity in The Beta Cloud stretches credibility when it constructs a mechanical robot and tries to steal an electrical component. There were also several metaphysical depictions of aliens, such as the voice in Black Sun, the entity in The Immunity Syndrome and what Arra's people become in Collision Course.

Some aliens were implausible. The rocks in All That Glisters are intelligent, fire energy beams and fly Eagles, and they can control human bodies. This is very impressive for an immobile, inflexible creature that lives by passively absorbing water like a plant. Of course, The Rules Of Luton did show intelligent plants, capable of making the entire planet disappear. The planet was ruled by a few unconvincing conifer trees, although bushes, vines and even grasses were intelligent. Earth plants lack a nervous system (this is one way to distinguish them from animals), and hence lack independent movement and brains. Apparently these plants had fought a giant battle with the animals and won. Strangely, they had also killed clearly carnivorous dinosaurs which would not have been interested in eating plants. However, some plants bore fruits and flowers, and so were dependent on animals to pollinate them and distribute their seeds. Animals are also important in nutrient cycling, so their extinction was an act of ecological suicide. The Troubled Spirit also claimed plants have nervous systems and respond to pain, hunger and even happiness. The inspiration for this were some discredited experiments by Cleve Backster in 1966 which used a lie detector to measure plant reactions. It is, of course, complete nonsense.

The most improbable alien species were the Psychons. Maya had a remarkable knowledge of Earth animals, including lions, tigers, panthers, monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, foxes, dogs, hamsters, mice, stoats, owls, kestrels, parrots, doves, caterpillars, beetles and bees. And she is able to transform herself into any of them for a limited period, before transforming back into herself. Although she is described as a metamorph, the process does not involve a pupal stage, but rather an instant reorganisation of her molecular structure. Even if this were possible, she could not change into anything larger than herself as this would violate the conservation of mass and energy, a key law of physics. If she did change into anything smaller, using her extra mass as energy, she would have to change back into an even smaller version of herself. The brains of these other animals are very different to a human brain, so she would have to retain much of her own brain somehow wired into the animal brain in order to retain her own intelligence and consciousness. This would be very difficult in a bee, for instance.


Alien societies were rarely portrayed in any detail. The Alphans usually encountered a few individuals rather than a large complex culture. All were more advanced than Earth in 1999; even the rocks in All That Glisters worked out how to operate an Eagle in minutes. Many societies were clearly based on Western models. The vast empire of The Dorcons was an Imperial Roman Empire in space, although the galactic scale would make it impossible to administer. The Archanons in Mark Of Archanon were interstellar missionaries, and The Taybor was an intergalactic merchant venturer. The one genuinely alien society was that of the aliens in War Games, in which individuals were absorbed into a group mind.

Remarkably, almost all aliens speak late twentieth century English, although a few take some time to learn it (Alpha Child, The A B Chrysalis and The Immunity Syndrome). Presumably others learnt the language by telepathy or accessing the Moonbase computer, although it is hard to explain how many aliens learnt English: alien make recordings in English long before the Alphans arrive in Mark Of Archanon, Space Warp and The Immunity Syndrome. In Space Warp and One Moment Of Humanity we even see Roman numerals. Only twice is language a problem: Journey To Where, where the Alphans encounter 14th century Scots speaking Gaelic; and The Testament Of Arkadia, where the Alphans find an example of Sanskrit, an ancient Earth language.

The basic format of Space:1999 raises some fascinating issues related to social and human factors.

Having a small and isolated population of only a few hundred, Alpha is sure to face many limitations and constraints. Expert skilled labour, tools and specialised equipment are all in short supply. Supply cannot in any way be related to need or demand in such a small closed society. In order to survive, the Alphans will have to recycle as much as possible and rely on each other's skills. The Alphans will have to become "generalists" with each individual possessing a sound working knowledge in many overlapping fields of expertise. The use of artificial intelligence "expert systems" (sophisticated computer software that combine a vast database of information with a powerful decision support capability for interpreting complex data) may alleviate the problem to some extent. Basic power and life support resources can probably be extracted from lunar soil. Nonetheless, it seems full matter and information closure will not be feasible for such a small closed system; e.g. advanced microelectronic components that fail would have to be imported from Earth. If all replacements have to be mined, extracted and manufactured on the Moon, thousands of kilograms of lunar soil will have to be processed for every kilogram of output and the production process would be enormously complicated. Therefore, Moonbase Alpha itself probably only has a finite life span. The Alphan community will survive only if it finds another planet to colonise before the lack of spare parts grounds the Eagle fleet for good.

Most Alphans carry out work that can be described as "support services" - maintenance, operation and repair of life support and transportation systems in particular. Information processing, administration, health care and training would also be important positions. Children born on Alpha would face fairly tight career constraints; adolescents entering the workforce would be expected to take the positions that need to be filled. In small tribal communities of closely-related people on Earth, this frequently results in "hardship on no one" decision-making which attempts to place the least burden on the least number of people. For example, youths that have to pick a career deemed important by the community might still be allowed to pursue secondary specialities of their own choosing. Since each individual entering the workforce is of immense value, there would be little room for "police actions" such as imprisonment of dissidents (this is actually alluded to in The Seance Spectre, where Koenig goes out of his way to accommodate Sanderson). Social harmony, cooperation, compromise and diversity would probably be more important factors than democratic individualism when making decisions.

Long-term social planners on Alpha would also have to take into account genetic variation and the negative impact of inbreeding since the gene pool is isolated. Women wishing to have children may do so only if Alpha can accomodate additional inhabitants, and the first few generations from such a limited gene pool may require special measures to prevent inbreeding, even, at worst, a eugenics programme.


The series did make a number of strange changes to Earth history. In The Full Circle the Alphans regress into Cro Magnon cavemen of about 40,000 years ago. The Cro Magnon were the first true humans, replacing the Neanderthals, using sophisticated stone, bone and horn tools and creating cave paintings. The episode makes one major error: the Cro Magnon would have possessed language. Later, some time after 25,000 years ago, colonists landed from the planet Arkadia, speaking Sanskrit, according to The Testament Of Arkadia. As has been stated, mankind is clearly not descended from aliens. Sanskrit is a root language of various Indic tongues, and is in turn descended from a common Indo-European tongue. However, there are many African, American and Asian languages which are not related to these. Also, as Arkadia is supposedly a million light years from Earth, the Arkadians must still be travelling.

Other aliens visited frequently thereafter. The Tritonians appeared to the ancient Egyptians as they built their pyramids, about 3000 B.C., according to Ring Around The Moon. In New Adam, New Eve Magus made a string of dubious claims. About 1300 B.C., Magus claimed he was one of the magicians who contended in magic with Moses, appearing again as Simon the Sorcerer, offering to buy the power of the apostles, and then as Merlin about 500 A.D., sorcerer to King Arthur and a figure derived from Myrddin in Celtic mythology. At 1000 A.D. the Archanons paid a visit (Mark Of Archanon), and in 1339 three Alphans arrived in Scotland (Journey To Where). Magus reappeared from 1503 to 1566 as a French doctor and astrologer called Michel de Nostredame, earning a reputation as a prophet to the gullible. Journey To Where claimed that the first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, was unmarried in 1961, whereas in real life he was married with two young daughters.

History diverges radically after the mid-1970s when the series was made. The space programme progresses rapidly, with Moonbase Alpha being built in the early to mid 1980s, the unmanned Voyager probes in 1985, and the Uranus expedition in 1986. A world war in 1987 leads to global reconciliation (the real-life end of the cold war in the end of the 1980s does have some echo, although the process and the outcome bear little resemblance). According to the newscaster in Breakaway, Yugoslavia still exists to be devastated by earthquakes, while the reality was a brutal political breakup which couldn't be more different from the optimism of The Rules Of Luton. According to the series, politics and antagonism continue in the space programme's struggles for funds (Breakaway and Dragon's Domain). While the funding bodies seem to be international, the ethnic mix of the base is clearly Euro-American, with little involvement from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa or Latin America. The series is contradictory about the state of space exploration in the 1990s: 1996 sees an ambitious and well publicised mission to the distant planet Ultra in Dragon's Domain while an interstellar mission with several spaceships, in Brian The Brain, is forgotten.

By the time of the Breakaway, the Sahara desert has been reclaimed, after 25 years of effort (in reality the converse is true, with climatic and human effects rapidly expanding the desert). Journey To Where described a catastrophic future after the Moon left orbit. The pollution of the 21st century poisoned the environment and made humanity retreat into giant enclosed metrocomplexes. Unfortunately, this timescale may be optimistic, considering the pollution of the 20th century. The destruction of the ozone layer already leads to increased radiation reaching the surface, making it dangerous to be outside. Metrocomplexes are only mentioned in the former United States; presumably third world countries could not afford to build such shelters and were left to die. In 2120 the Texas City metrocomplex contacted Moonbase Alpha.

The Moon had returned to Earth in an earlier episode, Another Time, Another Place. This was Earth at an unspecified time in the future, with "major geological changes"; plate tectonics have evidently shifted the continents into new climatic zones, with Europe in ice age and North America in desert. Humanity seems to have survived these changes, and a nuclear war (or Chernobyl-type accident) in southern U.S.A. and Mexico which left those areas as radioactive ash. One habitable area remained, Santa Maria in California (situated between San Francisco and Los Angeles). A civilisation flourished there, then died completely before the Alphans returned.

Contents copyright Martin Willey