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Space: 1999

Space: 1999 (ITC Entertainment, 1974 - 1977) was a science fiction television show produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, famous for Thunderbirds and U.F.O. The first attempt since the demise of Star Trek at doing a large-scale science fiction weekly series, the show drew a great deal of visual inspiration from the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. The show's special effects director Brian Johnson had in fact previously worked on both Thunderbirds (as Brian Johncock) and 2001.

The series premiered in 1974. There were two seasons of 24 episodes each made by Gerry Anderson for ITC Entertainment. The first season was co-produced by the Italian state broadcaster, RAI. In Britain the series was originally seen on ITV stations but never simulcast nationally. In the US it was syndicated.

The stars were American actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who were married at the time and had previously appeared together in Mission: Impossible. The series also made Australian actor Nick Tate quite popular. There were guest appearances by the likes of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Ian McShane and Brian Blessed.

The show involved the plight of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha following a calamity in which a massive series of nuclear explosions sends the Moon hurtling out of Earth's orbit and into deep space. (Isaac Asimov was quick to point out that any explosion capable of knocking the moon out of its orbit would actually blow it apart, and probably send billions of tons of debris crashing down onto the Earth as well.) The moon in effect becomes the "spaceship" on which our heroes travel, looking for a new home. A "space warp" conveniently serves to explain how it is the Alphans manage to meet so many alien civilizations instead of spending most of their time drifting through the interstellar void.

With such an implausible premise, it is not suprising that many of the scripts were far-fetched as well. And, presumably taking another page from 2001ís book, the series tended to explore mystical and metaphysical themes rather than scientific ones. Yet many of the first season's episodes were striking.

The cynical "War Games", said to be the highest-budgeted single episode of any TV series up to that time, was an overt commentary on humanity's combative nature. Alpha finds itself under attack by an unstoppable alien force that kills most of its population. Yet in another of the series' metaphysical twists, the Alphans are given a second chance at the end, and time is reversed to mere moments prior to the attack so that Commander Koenig (Landau) can rethink his fateful decisions. "Dragon's Domain" and "Force of Life" were more typical variations on the alien monster theme, but executed impressively. However, most of the writers seemed to have very little knowledge of astronomy, which might seem to be a minimal requirement for a series set in space, and the action was often surprisingly slow-moving for an adventure series.

The second season was problematic. Producer Fred Freiberger was brought in, and made numerous changes that upset the series' continuity (which was shaky to begin with) and angered its fans. Most of the first season's cast was dismissed, with only angry viewer reaction keeping the popular Tate from getting the axe. Freiberger, evidently wanting his own Mr. Spock, insisted that an alien join the regular cast, and this led to the addition of Catherine Schell as the shape-changing Maya.

The fans liked Maya. But the stories in season two were notably inferior. Landau was especially unhappy. The episode "All That Glisters" sparked a major confrontation between Freiberger and the cast. Landau disliked the story so strongly he reportedly nearly left the show, and wrote the following notes on his copy of the script: "All the credibility we're building up is totally forsaken in this script!", "...Story is told poorly!", and "The character of Koenig takes a terrible beating in this script—We're all shmucks!" Landau contrived to appear in fewer and fewer second season episodes, leaving Tony Anholt to pick up the role of action hero as Security Chief Tony Verdeschi. In an interview, Anholt revealed that the more the cast complained about a script's flaws, the more intractable and unyielding Freiberger became.

The show fizzled after the second season, and fans were upset by the lack of narrative closure, particularly in that the ultimate fate of the Alphans was never resolved. Years later, a short film titled "Message from Moonbase Alpha" was produced by fans and written by series scribe Johnny Byrne. Featuring a moving eulogy performed by series regular Zienia Merton (Sandra Benes), it told of the Alphans finally colonizing the planet Terra Alpha and saying their final farewells to Earth.

The entire series, including the "Message from Moonbase Alpha" short, has been released on DVD.

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