The Catacombs Catacombs Reference Library

LaserViews - December/January 1991
by Scott Michael Bosco
Article Source Provided by: George Lee

September 1999

The most devastating explosion in the history of mankind (blasts the moon out of orbit). 311 men and women are marooned and isolated on a terrifying journey through space. Pitted against extraordinary life forms and hostile environments, their spectacular odyssey begins here.

In 1973, when the Independent Television Corporation choose to enter the SCI-FI "space-program", they knew it had to be big and original. The best American and British actors, writers and technical people were assembled to make what would eventually be known as Space: 1999.

This was a massive undertaking for its day. It had the highest budget ever for a space Sci-Fi series in the history of television. The cost was an unheard of 6.5 million dollars. The series also boasted more sets,-both interior and exterior-than any other television series.

The "very special effects" were done by Brian Johnson. Brian is known for his work on 2001: A Space Odyssey and later, Alien, The Empire Strikes Back and The Neverending Story [Johnson did not work on Neverending Story; Nick Allder did]. The special effects were shot on 35mm film, not video tape, making them the most elaborate ever done for television. The show reunited Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, together for the first time since their marathon run on Mission: Impossible.

The first show, entitled "Breakaway", was written by Emmy nominee George Bellak. He also worked on such shows as The Defenders, Cannon, Playhouse 90 and Studio One. Among the directors was Academy Award Nominee, Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda). He directed 9 of the episodes of the first season and 7 for the second season. To make sure the main characters were "fashionably" dressed, leading designer, Rudi Gernreich created the Moon City costumes.

Among the guest stars appearing in various episodes were such notables as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice (Beauty and the Beast), Ian McShane (War and Remembrance), Joan Collins (Dynasty), Billie Whitelaw (The Omen), Freddie Jones (The Elephant Man), Sarah Douglas (Superman II), Lisa Harrow (The Final Conflict: Omen III) plus many more from the British stage.

With all this power behind it, it was obvious that Space:1999 was more than another television series-it was a phenomenon.

This television phenomenon will continue beginning in December when Image Entertainment will be releasing the first few episodes in what will be the entire Space:1999 series on laser disc. Each disc will hold two complete episodes. There will be 23 discs; containing all 46 episodes! This will make Space:1999 the largest series ever committed to laser disc.

What makes these releases even more important is that these are totally new transfers made from prints struck from the original European 35mm negatives. The 35mm prints surpass in sound and picture quality the 16mm prints which were used for the show's initial airings. The episodes will have a digital mono soundtrack; an improvement made on the show's original soundtrack.

If all that wasn't enough... something that the producers never considered during the show's original airing was the commercial air time between Europe and the States. To solve this problem, episodes were edited for the U.S. Then, depending on the city, certain stations made further cuts, thus making the stories impossible to follow and causing characters to react without reason. In some cases, as much as 10 to 12 minutes were cut from each 52 minute episode. But now that transfers were done from European sources, they are now complete and uncut for the first time in this country.

When Space:1999 was first introduced to the public, no network would touch it. One reason was its expense. Undaunted, the president of I.T.C., the Independent Television Corporation, decided to create their own network - a Space: 1999 network - comprised of all the other words a syndication. Now this is no big deal today, but in 1973 it was a milestone.

The show was a success. As a result, a second season was ordered called Series Two in England.

Changes were made, new characters brought in, others dropped. In fact the cult following, which has grown through the years, is divided between Series One and Series Two. If both seasons are combined and seen as one-an epic storyline unfolds that is truly unique and ground breaking for television Sci-Fi.

In Series One, we are introduced to the characters and their predicament. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain portray Commander Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell. Both were on the moon when it blasted out of earth's orbit by a massive nuclear explosion and hurled into deep space. From this point on the characters face different adventures and alien contacts.

What made this show different is that the characters were trapped. Unable to navigate their course or stop for R&R; their situation was grim. They were scared and basically innocent of other life forms. One reason it was set in the not too distant future was for audience identification. These were not beings in the 23rd century; advanced and super-civilized. These people represented us. We experienced what they experienced, and eventually came to terms with the problems and predicaments being faced.

For instance, in the First Season we learned that the moon's being ripped out of orbit may not have been an accident as it appeared to be. In the episode "Collision Course", it was suggested that the moon leaving orbit may have occurred for a reason. In another episode,"Black Sun", a guiding force may have come into play intervening in an extremely powerful way. And in "Testament of Arkadia", another possibility just as mystical as the rest was set forth.

During the series, we saw how lessons of living in space are learned. We also learned our place in it. In "The Guardian of Piri", things were not as they appeared to be. The Alphans learned that a new home is something that must be achieved-like salvation. Bright lights don't always mean deliverance-as in cults. And even in the future there will always be an evil to cast out as in "End of Eternity". Of course in travelling the galaxies, one must remember to respect all forms of life, no matter how big or how small.

Although all this might seem heavy handed, it isn't. There is plenty of adventure. In fact the Second Season is just that: "More Exciting Than Ever", the promos read. There is also the addition of a new character called Maya played by Catherine Schell.

In "The Metamorph", Maya was introduced as an alien woman from the planet Psychon with the power of molecular transformation. This of course opened up totally new story ideas and confrontations.

The Second Season was lighter, straight forward, and a time line was added letting the audience know exactly how long the Alphans had been adrift. Since time had passed, it was only natural that they became accustomed to their situation, trying to make the best of it and using what they learned with confidence, towards new problems. Under all this, there were still the basic fears and hopes: the hope of rescue as in "The Bringers of Wonder" and "Journey to Where", and the fear of being lost and separated in "Space Warp". Even Maya's planet's past caught up to her and the Alphans in "Dorzak" and "The Dorcons". Then there's an incurable disease that plagued another planet with "The Mark of Archanon".

Since it was released through syndication and no network stations, Space:1999 dared to show what others could not. In "Dragon's Domain", a creature consumes its victims, then dispels the remains in a most gruesome manner. This never would have passed major network censors in its day, though it may seem tame by today's standards. As with all good Science Fiction, these stories made statements about our world today and perhaps tomorrow. They made us examine ourselves and our world without pointing a finger. They showed us what might be without it ever happening-and perhaps, be thankful for it.

From the beginning everything about Space:1999 had to be big. Although it only had a two year run, it made its mark and its audience. Whichever season one picks, the show is one of the few originals in television. Now with the forthcoming release on laser disc, a new generation will experience it as the original never dreamed possible...transporting us into the future with the help of laser light.

Thanks to Robert Ruiz