Viewed as science fiction -- a realistic prediction of future events based on known scientific principles -- Space: 1999 was a dismal failure. While the basic setting of Moonbase Alpha, and many of the spacecraft depicted, were all of sound mind and body, the stories themselves blatantly ignored everything known about celestial mechanics and allowed the Moon to wander wherever the script writers needed them to go.

Now, take a step back. Don't view it as science fiction. View it as space fantasy. Forget reality, or even verisimilitude for a moment.

Viewed in this light...well, to be dreadfully honest, the show still doesn't fare extremely well, but it doesn't fare nearly so badly, either. It places its regular characters into situations that stress them, horrify them, drive them to the breaking point, to see what they do to retain their humanity. The first series, in particular, spends a lot of time dwelling on what it means to be human when all the usual trappings of humanity have been stripped away; when everything around you is not merely alien, but contradicts everything you thought you knew.

Could they have done it better? Probably. But if you set aside your preconceptions of what "science fiction" has to be, you'll find there's actually some good storytelling going on under all that glitz. Yes, even in the second series.

This was a mid-70s drama set on a fictional celestial body called 'The Moon' which, supposedly, orbits the Earth in the present day - but on September 13th, 1999 in a parallel universe, it is sent flying into space by exploding nuclear waste, complete with Moonbase Alpha and its stoic crew. Many adventures ensued, usually involving beige jumpsuits with flared trousers. Although hyped in pre-publicity as a more hard-edged, down-to-earth version of 'Star Trek', it combined the scientific accuracy of 'Teletubbies' with the gripping drama of... 'Teletubbies', again.

Space: 1999 was created by Gerry Anderson of 'Thunderbirds' and 'Stingray' fame, and was his second live action series for grownups, after 'UFO', which many people believe to be a prequel of '1999'. The show was produced by ITC, who gave the world 'The Saint' and 'The Persuaders' amongst many other past glories; an unwise move into feature films culminated in the massive and total failure of 'Raise the Titanic' in 1981, and although ITC continued to exist, it was essentially an office and some letterheaded paper thereafter. Gerry Anderson's decline followed a similar path, and Space: 1999 was the first really serious mistake of his career.

Space: 1999 had proper actors and an enormous budget, with production values that made it the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' of its day (like that show, '1999' was sold to syndication). The production design was impressive, and the show attempted a realistic depiction of then-futuristic technology which still looks quite plausible nowadays - the 'Eagle' spacecraft, in particular, resemble something that NASA might produce today, if they had the money, and a moonbase. Indeed Brian Johnson's Eagle and Hawk spacecraft became the series' iconic images, and are both fascinating designs that spawned best-selling Airfix kits and several modern-day webpages. The rest of the show's modelwork was inspired by '2001', and went on to inspire 'Star Wars', but in the days before computerised motion control, the illusion usually fell apart when things started to move.

Apart from the looks, however, Space: 1999 was something of a disaster. As with 'UFO', the characters were flat and dull - realistic maybe, but not particularly entertaining - whilst the plots were humourless, downbeat, and usually involved several of the cast and much of the moonbase being blown up, although it was always fixed next week. It was as if Gerry Anderson believed that the way to make television for adults was to make Thunderbirds but with the humour and humanity sucked out. His marriage to Sylvia Anderson was failing at the time, which might explain the frosty emotional deadness at the core of the series.

The musical score was by Barry Gray, and was possibly the most intrusively inappropriate score for a television programme of all time ever, combining funk-rock with melodramatic light orchestral music. The main theme is extremely memorable, but seems to belong to something like 'The Sweeney' or 'The Professionals' rather than science fiction.

Series one was very expensive and quite popular in the UK, although less so in the States; series two was overhauled considerably by Star Trek's Fred Freiberger and was almost a different show. It introduced a shape-shifting woman and lots of monsters in rubber suits, and is painful to watch nowadays. Both series are painful, in fact, but at least series one had a certain self-belief, a certain minimalist verve to it. Originally the show was scattered throughout the ITV shedules in the UK, although the BBC bought it in the 1990s and repeated it in remastered form.

Despite this seemingly damning appraisal, the series is likeable enough in a dystopian mid-70s way and, in its defence, a couple of the episodes - the one with the green, tentacled monster that had a big eye, and the one with Christopher Lee and the cryogenic suspension tanks - were quite good, scary fun. The shows were released on DVD in 2001, in which format the wires holding up the spacecraft became sadly visible.

It's also worth noting that the series featured a riot of dated 'futuristic' fonts; Data 70, Countdown, various flavours of Futura and the classic, mid-70s civic centre / council building Eurostile.

The Alpha moonbase sets and the Eagle ships and all the other "realistic" stuff was designed and built for the second season of UFO. At the time UFO was extremely successful, actually reaching #1 in the USA, I don't know how well it did in England.

Because the sets were designed for a secret advanced government organization in the present day, they all appear to be near-future equipment and a high degree of realism. But the show certainly went far into the fantasy realm, and even human technology introduced in it appeared to be centuries advanced over the appearance of the sets.

UFO was unexpectedly cancelled (the story I heard is that the American TV network moved it against Dallas and it suddenly bombed). This does not explain why the powers that cancelled UFO were willing to fund a similar and just as expensive show by exactly the same people, but the sets and creators were all reused with a new plot and that is where Space 1999 came from.

"I gave up on the number of Eagles destroyed. The worst career for life expectancy was probably an Eagle pilot. "

-- From the The Space:1999 Population Countdown web page (

Space: 1999 had its origins in a follow-on series to UFO called UFO: 1999. The concept was the moon was no longer tethered to Earth by the pitiful forces of gravity and orbital mechanics. It was transformed into a giant moveable, errr, death star upon which there was a massive base and an array of really massive weapons. This planetoid size, errr, base-star would fight the UFO menace in space, making the UFO Gorgon Men pay in their cold green space blood. Give 'em a taste of hell in deep space for a change.

Creator Gerry Anderson liked the moon setting as he felt a purely space-and-moon theme would make the special effects easier in a way. One didn't have to create Earth-like backdrops. This is not to say UFO: 1999 would skimp on the effects. There would be no Doctor Who style monsters made from shredded green trash bags. That would have to wait until Season Two of Space: 1999. On the contrary, boyee, the raison d'être for the all new UFO: 1999 was to make a bigger budgeted, more effects intensive series.

However, UFO's ratings were waning in the USA. While it was popular in the UK, the planned budget for season two could not be recouped with just a British audience. An American audience was absolutely needed. Anderson consulted with ITC's American representative in the USA named Abe Mandell. Mandell agreed FX were where it was at with American audiences but UFO wasn't the right, errr, vehicle. Another concept was needed.

Anderson still felt like creating a show set just on the moon. How would Earth be kept out of the picture, wondered Mandell. The Earth would simply have to go, quipped Anderson. They'd simply blow it up. Mandell put the kibosh on that idea. He felt blowing up Earth would alienate American viewers as the American viewer would eventually work out that a blown up Earth implied a blown up America. Anderson then mused if the Earth couldn't be blown up, then what about blowing up the moon in such a way as to get it away from the problematic Earth?

Well, that's a show!

Anderson and his wife hammered out a half hour pilot called "Zero G". By all accounts it was silly and putrid. It was reworked by a script editor into an hour length script called "The Void Ahead". The script editor did not last long and was replaced by American Edward Di Lorenzo and Irishman Johnny Byrne. They proved to be a writing team on par with Lennon/McCartney or maybe at least Dr. Who's Douglas Adams/David Agnew. They went on to pen 13 out of 24 scripts for the show's first season.

Anderson was also taken with the husband/wife team of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, last seen together acting as a team on Mission: Impossible. He offered them the roles of Commander John Koenig and Doctor Helena Russell (I'll let you work out the sex/name relations to figure out which role was offered to Landau and which role was offered to Bain).

To create the costumes, Anderson made a curious choice. He hired Rudi Gernreich, a designer who created a small kerfuffle in the fashion world when he created the topless bikini (monokini) in 1964. (Also, Gernreich is generally accepted to be the inventor of the thong-backed bathing suit in 1974.) Even more curious Gernreich named his Moonbase Alpha uniforms "Century 21 Fashion", despite the show's title which firmly set the show a full year (or two full years as calendar pedants will tell you) before the 21st century. The name probably is a nod to Gernreich source of inspiration, which was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001: A Space Odyssey probably did a lot more to influence Space: 1999 than just costume design. Much of the first season's stories seemed an endless and confused quest to capture 2001: A Space Odyssey's confused themes of man and metaphysical questions of his place in the universe. Unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey -- which left you with a Star Child at the end and a mind going "Okay, what the fuck?" and "This might have made more sense if I didn't pass on that blotter" -- Space: 1999 tried to offer commentary. Yeah, no shit.

Commentary was provided by Canadian actor Barry Morse playing the role as humanist/philosopher/scientist Professor Victor Bergman. Morse, a trained Shakespearean actor and '50s TV character actor, typically got the best lines. ("We believe that revenge sanctioned by authorities is also a sign of a debased culture.") Morse explained his character's thoughtfulness was a result a back story Morse invented for his character. Bergman was an Eastern European who had survived the Nazi holocaust as a boy.

The second season was a bit of a shake up. Since Jeri Ryan was a still child and still too young to get breast implants, Anderson tried to sex up the show with an alluring shape-shifting alien called Maya. Also the navel gazing was dumped in favor of action-packed plots full of blazing guns, fisticuffs, and monsters made from shredded garbage bags.

Naturally, Professor Victor Bergman had to go. He, along with characters Paul Morrow (aka the guy with the thick Mark Spitz mustache) and David Kano (aka the black guy) were unceremoniously spaced. No explanation was ever given for their disappearance, although a book called Moonbase Alpha Technical Manual explains that these characters were killed between the two seasons. Morrow and Kano died, plausibly, in Eagle crashes. Bergman died when his space suit malfunctioned.

Maya proved to be one of the rare improvements made in the second season. She was sexy and provided the Spock/Data/7 of 9 alien with super abilities thrill.

ITC was being backed by Italy's RAI and as a nod to RAI's financial backing they added an Italian security chief character named Tony Verdeschi.

Moonbase Alpha began with 297 people. As the "Space:1999 Population Countdown" web page reveals by the end of season 2 some 47 people are shown being killed. Moonbase Alpha then had a maximum population of 250 by the end of the series. No accounting is made for deaths that might have resulted in episodes where bad space people blew up various parts of the moon station. Strangely in the second season, the most violent and action packed of the two seasons, Moonbase Alphans seemed to enjoy a charmed existence: no Alphans were shown killed for 12 straight episodes!

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