The Catacombs Catacombs Reference Library
Ultimate DVD

Ultimate DVD magazine was a UK DVD review magazine, edited by David Richardson. Both Richardson and Houldsworth also worked on sister magazine TV Zone; Richardson would later become a director of audio drama company Big Finish, who eventually produced Space: 1999 audio stories.

Another Time, Another Place

by Richard Houldsworth
Ultimate DVD #18, June 2001, p22-23

Space: 1999's predictions of a moonbase, flared trousers and nuclear disaster may have been off the mark, but it was still a great sci-fi romp

Made at Pinewood Studios almost three decades ago, Space: 1999 was well ahead of its time. Depicting a millennial year of advanced space flight, inter- racial harmony and a vast moonbase, Gerry Anderson's sci-fi series might have been poor at prediction (in 1999 we were more concerned with late trains and war in Europe), but it was a hugely enjoyable romp. Lasting just two seasons and 48 episodes, it was the most expensive television series of its day and a bold attempt to popularize an unfashionable genre. There's little doubt that, had the series launched after the Star Wars boom of 1977, its longevity would have been assured.

Space: 1999 began life as the second series of Anderson's live action alien invasion drama UFO. With US investment into the project, so the creative emphasis gradually changed, resulting in a fully-fledged outer space adventure concerning the residents of Moonbase Alpha, who are cut off from Earth when a nuclear accident propels the moon out of orbit and into the depths of space.

With the promise of a network slot in America, Anderson was persuaded to accept two American actors in the lead roles of Commander John Koenig and Dr Helena Russell. The producer flew to California and met with then-married couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who were best known for their starring roles in Mission: Impossible.

"The thing I loved about the concept was that we were not there because we wanted to be," recalls Bain. "The accident that thrust us into space was unexpected and whatever we encountered we had no way to cope with. We were ultimately homeless, looking for a place that would accommodate us, and there was something quite romantic about that. The best scripts were the ones that kept to that."

Moving their family to London for two years to film the series, the Landaus learned to cope with culture shock.

"The first day we started shooting, we were in the middle of a scene and everybody left," says Bain. "Martin and I wondered if we'd done something wrong, but the tea trolley had arrived. We hadn't seen anything like that before!"

Hard Times

Nothing could have prepared them for the political climate: in 1974 England was in the middle of a miners' strike, which brought much of the country to a halt with a three-day week. Prentis Hancock, who played Controller Paul Morrow, recalls these difficult times.

"We had petrol coupons to get to work and our own power system was brought down from Birmingham so we weren't on the National Grid," he offers. "There were enormous logistical problems all the time and the series took much longer to make than originally scheduled. It was supposed to take 11 months and in the end it took 15."

Despite the challenges, the first season of Space: 1999 is immaculately produced, with a line-up of strong stories complemented by then-state-of-the-art (and still impressive to this day) special effects, depicting Moonbase Alpha, its fleet of Eagle carriers, and a host of visiting spaceships and exotic alien worlds. A number of internationally renowned guest stars also lent the show credibility, including Julian Glover, Roy Dotrice, Margaret Leighton, Christopher Lee, Brian Blessed, Ian McShane, Joan Collins and Peter Cushing.

"I think within the business there's less awe and wonder than you might expect," says Hancock of his perspective of working with such stars. "We're just doing our job. When you have to be there at six in the morning it's a great leveller."

The most memorable instalments include Breakaway, the opening story in which the moon is blasted into space, Death's Other Dominion, in which the Alphans are offered immortality, and Dragon's Domain, a flashback story concerning an octopus-like creature that consumes unwary space travellers.

"That was an attempt to take on the whole issue of monsters in a creative and constructive way," claims scriptwriter and the show's story consultant Christopher Penfold. "I felt quite pleased with it. The special effects in view of what we have seen in Alien and Star Wars now look laughable, but in a way it didn't matter."

Spaced Out

Best forgotten: the dazzlingly surreal Ring Around the Moon, and the ridiculous Space Brain, in which the moonbase is flooded with deadly foam.

"We had machines from Heathrow Airport that lay foam down quickly and can take it back up quickly," says Hancock of that episode. "Charlie Crichton [the director] was there shouting, 'More foam, more foam' and we were there in it dressed in spacesuits and it was going over our heads and it was getting very skiddy in there. At the end of a long afternoon Charlie was wading in and pulling people around and directing them."

Defying the old adage 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', the subsequent second season actually undermined much of the strengths of Space: 1999's first year. Three of the lead cast (Hancock, Barry Morse, Anton Phillips) vanished without trace, scripts were given an almost cloying humorous slant, Catherine Schell was introduced as the flashy shape- shifting alien Maya, and stories were less about philosophy and concentrated more on bug eyed monsters of the week. The results were frequently disastrous, and within a few weeks most ITV stations were dumping the series into a graveyard Saturday morning slot.

However, even after nearly 30 years, the quality of the first series stands up on DVD, and Carlton have done the show's many fans proud with the wealth of added content. While not as well remembered as the Anderson's puppet shows, Space: 1999 deserves another visit, and as a foray into live action film-making, it certainly can be deemed a success.

"When [the first episode] had been edited together there was a first cast and crew showing at studio seven in Pinewood," confides Hancock. "I remember we came out and one of the special effects guys, who'd worked with Gerry for years on the puppet shows, said, "You see: it does work better with actors!"

DVD Review

by David Richardson

The Episodes

Having established their reputation in the '60s with a host of action/ adventure puppet shows, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson moved on to more mainstream live action sci-fi in the '70s. One of the results was Space: 1999, dubbed the British version of Star Trek, which saw the Moon blasted out of Earth's orbit when an atomic waste dump on the lunar surface ignites. Thrust into the depths of space, the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha embarked on a voyage through the unknown.

Husband and wife acting team Landau and Bain lead the ensemble cast as Commander John Koenig and Dr Helena Russell. He's eternally stoic, she's as stiff as her hair-do, but their formal approach to the material works, and the mixed ethnicity of the support cast pays dividends, although we're sorely lacking in babes and hunks. To its credit, the show still looks glossy after 26 years, the plain, sterile sets seem futuristic - yet the show is set two years ago, and the effects remain rather special.

Volume One opens with the establishing episode Breakway- dark, exciting and tense - although newcomers may be put off by the next three episodes on the disc (Matter of Life and Death, Black Sun, Ring Around the Moon), which are all uniformly unremarkable.

Disc Two has the pick of the crop: doppelgangers in Another Time, Another Place, the surreal Missing Link (with Peter Cushing) and Guardian of Piri, plus the sublime Earthbound (with Christopher Lee) in which, for once, the aliens are the good guys. But they do look like members of a glam rock group.

Volume Three has the chilling Force of Life and Alpha Child, the odd The Last Sunset (air comes to the lunar surface!) and the excellent Voyager's Return, in which a space probe from Earth wreaks havoc.

Top TV sci-fi; if you can forgive the surfeit of bushy sideburns and flared trousers. 4/5

The Extras

Carlton have done a great job. The Menus reflect the show's style, with a CG Eagle transporter landing on a moonbase, while a screen offers a 'This disc' preview of dynamic clips. Scene Access is also very special: animated snippets, set into a CG-recreation of a corridor monitor screen on the Moonbase.

The transfers are excellent: sharp as a pin and free of dirt (unlike most of the TV airings for the series), although the sound lacks density - if only they'd splashed out on a 5.1 remix...

Disc One contains Original Publicity Brochures, 15 well-captioned and stunning Production Drawings, and Character Bios for the leads (which give more information than you'll find in the series...)

Disc Two covers Original Memorabilia (tie-in annuals and comics), has photos of the Roy Dotrice This is Your Life edition (he was nabbed on the set) and offers a seven-page overview of Moonbase Alpha.

Disc Three looks at Novels and Authors (analyzing the spin-off books), has a Production Stills Gallery (22 images, of props, sets and on-set shooting) and a look at the Eagle Spacecraft (six pages of text).

With four episodes a disc for £15.99, these releases are pretty good value too... -3/5


Breakaway- Chapter 8

The defining moment, when the nuclear dumps explode: a tremendous display of pyrotechnics...

David Richardson


by David Richardson
Ultimate DVD #20, August 2001, p59

The Episodes

A further 12 episodes of Gerry Anderson's thrilling sci-fi romp in which the Moon - and a human outpost - are blasted into the depths of space. The cream of the first season is here: Death's Other Dominion (immortal humans on an ice world), War Games (a surreal alien mind-game in which Moonbase Alpha is obliterated), Mission of the Darians (a devastated utopian society reverts to cannibalism) and Dragon's Domain (a rare, and entirely successful. excursion into monster-of-the-week territory). With a stellar guest cast (Joan Collins, Leo McKern. Margaret Leighton...) this is spectacular. if uniformly earnest, futuristic entertainment.

The Extras

The smartly rendered CG menus continue to impress. but the rather poor covers leave something to be desired. Navigation through a Moonbase Alpha blueprint leads to well devised and unusual extras, Volume 4 contains Memorabilia (three text pages on Space: 1999. themed records), plus Director Profiles. which reveal the calibre of talent working on the show. including Charies (A Fish Caned Wanda) Crichton. There's also a two-minute clip from a mid-70s edition of Horizon, which shows effects whiz Brian Johnson filming "Alpha Moonbase" and its "intricate Moon buses" (sic)!

Volume 5 has nine pages of production team profiles. and three Trailers for Alien Attack - a cash-in move that was cobbled together from Space: 1999 episodes. These teasers are as cheap as the concept, and it might have been nice to have included the specially-shot "framing sequences" from the films here. More Memorabilia looks at 1999 ice lollies and an exhibition of props in Blackpool.

The last volume contains the original Writers Guide (30 text screens) with costume designs and concept sketches. plus six pages of effects Storyboards for the pilot episode.

An impressively researched collection.


Volume 6 - Dragon's Domain

Chapter 4 - Space-ship Graveyard

Human astronauts are on the menu...

David Richardson


by David Richardson
Ultimate DVD #25, Jan 2002, p93

The Episodes

Chucking the baby out with the bathwater, Gerry Anderson re-tools his bold but wholly non-prophetic '70s sci-fi series, losing three regular characters, re-designing the sets and hiring Fred Freiberger (often referred to as the man who killed the original Star Trek series) story editor. Oops.

Humanizing the main leads, starting with Landau's Commander Koenig and Bain's Dr Russell, isn't a bad move, and new additions Schell (as alien shapeshifter Maya) and Anholt (as Tony Verdeschi) bring a new joie de vivre to the plate. And while the concept remains the same (humans on a moonbase, which has been blasted into space), the scripts range from mediocre to terrible. There's the odd high point: Maya's introductory story The Metamorph, ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan as a frozen terrorist in The Exiles, and memorable turns by guest stars Lee Montague and Patrick Troughton in Dorzak and The Dorcons respectively. But there are too many tales about space clouds, too many inconceivably awful bug-eyed monsters and a complete absence of any wonder out travelling through the stars.

Bland, pedestrian and too darn silly - yet endearing all the same.

The Extras

The digitally remastered pictures are sharper than ever before, but I thought the sound lacked bass. All 24 episodes fit neatly over six volumes, and hats off to Carlton for excavating some remarkable rarities from the vaults.

Top of the extras is disc four's selection of vintage interviews (29 minutes), with Anderson, Freiberger, designer Keith Wilson, Landau, Bain and Schell in turn chatting on the set or on location. The producers seem a bit cheesed off, but the actors ooze charisma and intelligence, although almost everyone brandishes a ciggie as though it's big and clever. Try listening to Landau's comment, "1999 is only 23 into the future!", without smirking.

Each disc has an Photo Gallery of rare on-set shots from the relevant episodes, there are several season Trailers (with Landau and Bain talking to the camera and behaving like the Richard and Judy of outer space), character Bios for Tony and Maya (disc two), and a look at the book adaptations of this series (disc three, but who invented the god-awful title Mind Breaks of Space?) Disc four has a Trailer for Destination Moonbase Alpha, a theatrical film cobbled together from two episodes, while disc six includes 13-minutes of old footage in which effects master Brian Johnson talks us through storyboards, model building and effects shooting on the Bray soundstage. Some Deleted Scenes are reconstructed with scripts and photographs and disc five has a dreadfully sexist interlude from The Seance Spectre. Disc one offers a key scene explaining the absence of season one regular Victor Bergman (Barry Morse) from The Metamorph, and a trip through fashion history in The Exiles.


Disc One - The Metamorph

Chapter 8 - No Choice for Maya

Confronted by the evidence of her father's actions, Maya has no choice but to help Koenig defeat him... Things explode, Brian Blessed shouts,

David Richardson