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Creative Computing reviews Space 1999

Creative Computing was an early computer magazine, launched in 1974 aimed at the educational market. When the Altair 8800 was announced in 1975, it began to cover the home and hobbyist programmers. Much of the magazine was given to program listings and explanations, but it also included the odd science fiction review, including this article by Ruth Glick in the January/February 1976 issue (Volume 2 number 1, p83).


By Ruth Glick Columbia, Maryland

As a substitute for Star Trek reruns, this season's non- network science fiction series called Space: 1999 just doesn't make the grade

How come? Hasn't it got spectacular special: effects like the moon blasting out of orbit, plenty of action, and Moon Base Alpha uniforms designed by Rudi Gernreich?

True. But these are only superficialities - the external trappings of T. V. science fiction. Unfortunately, Space: 1999 also has infantile plots, boring characters, ridiculous motivation, poor story construction, gadgets for their own sake and a whole wax museum full of unexplained and unbelievable monsters.

Comparing the new show directly to a successful series like Star Trek is a good way to illustrate the problems. Let's look at a memorable Star Trek monster - the horta - for example: It wasn't just a mindless beast menacing a group of miners. During the show, its intelligence was established. And was given believable motivation - that of a mother defending her young.

On the other hand, Space: 1999's second episode treated the viewer to an old-fashioned horror show featuring an over-sized hydra that sucked in human victims and spit out their charred remains. But no attempt was made to explain what the monster was, where it came from or why. Similar objections can be raised to the other monsters Space: 1999 parades on the T. V. screen almost every week. Each is simply a deus ex machina brought in to foster a particular story line.

Lively characterization is another missing element in Space: 1999. One of Star Trek's biggest appeals was the crew of the star ship Enterprise. Spock, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Uhura and the rest still have a passionate following today because of their well-defined, complicated personalities.

The staff of Moon Base Alpha also comes in an inter- national assortment of colours. But there's no one the viewer really wants to root for. The female lead, played by Barbara Bain, is colourless and wooden. And the other cardboard characters, with the exception of the base's Commander Koenig, are like interchangeable pawns moved about by the plot.

Koenig himself is another problem, Unlike Star Trek's Captain Kirk, who was allowed some human fallibility, he's never wrong. And his dependable infallibility makes it possible for the viewer to figure out very quickly where the plot of any given Space: 1999 episode is leading. Of course, being able to unravel the, plot quickly is a definite handicap, since the stories on Space: 1999 usually drag - with long slow scenes that barely advance the action. Take the space expedition at the end of which that over-sized hydra was lurking. For 10 minutes there was no action. To make the sequence even slower, it was told as a flashback, unaccountably narrated by Barbara Bain, who wasn't even present during the expedition.

Repetition of plot devices is another deficiency. One week Alpha is being menaced by a blinking blue light. The next week it's flashing a green light. And, in every episode so far the script dredges up the danger of radiation leakage. It's possible to point out a lot more problems - especially with the show's hardware. First, there are those ridiculous little gadgets that the base personnel use to open doors. You'd think that man would have invented something better than a glorified key by the year 1999. Imagine if one dropped off someone's belt and he were trapped in a room for days before being missed.

Or what about 'the use of computers in Space: 1999? Maybe they don't have the technology to match Star Trek's "library computer." But they should be able to do better than a machine that prints out its hard copy - on what looks like adding machine tape.

And then there are the hand weapons - which are almost identical to present-day staple guns - except that they shoot energy rays instead of Staples.

It's obvious that far less thought went into designing believable equipment for Moon Base Alpha than for the star ship Enterprise.

However, Space: 1999 does have it all over Star Trek in the special effects department. Their moon landings, space-suited lunar surface sequences, and atomic explosions are unbelievably good T. V. production.

But they don't have the scientific accuracy to match the effects. Isaac Asimov took about 1500 words pointing out these problems in a New York Times review of the show more than a month ago. His biggest quarrels were with the number of planets Moon Base Alpha has encountered in such a short time and with the show's inaccurate references to a "dark side of the moon."

With a highly successful model like Star Trek to crib from, the producers of Space: 1999 should have come up with some satisfying science fiction drama. Too bad that what they have is a bunch of spectacular special effects in search of a decent story line and a few interesting characters.