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To Everything That Could Have Been...

Authors: John Pasiakos
Categories: Non-Fiction
Show Year: N/A
Rating: 0
Date: 2004
The author's personal feelings about Space 1999.
This is an anecdotal review of Space 1999. It is about what I feel the show lacked and where it succeeded.
Average Rating: 4.0/5 (based on 1 reviews)

Space : 1999 was one of the major sci-fi shows of the 70's. It broke new ground in the special effects department and it was the precursor of Star Wars. Thirty years later, it still attracts much criticism as well as praise. Innumerable articles have been written and tons of ink have been used up to convey the opinions of fans and critics across the globe.

In this article I am going to state my views (in an anecdotal way) on what made this show special to me as well as what could have been done to improve it and thus make it an all-time hit that could have lasted beyond the two seasons it did. I shall not refer to its historical aspect nor shall I go over its basic premise in great detail. I take it for granted that the people who are reading this are familiar with the series. If not, then they can check it out at www.Space1999.net, a wonderful site that covers the series exhaustively.

Space : 1999 was the brainchild of British husband and wife producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. They were famous in the 60's for their Supermarionation sci-fi shows like "Thunderbirds" and "Captain Scarlet" which used no real actors but advanced electronic puppets and cutting-edge special effects. Space : 1999 was the second show with real actors, the first being "UFO".

The basic premise of Space : 1999 was quite unique at the time. After the Third World War in the 80's (remember this show was made back in the 70's so the 80's was still in the future), mankind united and built Moon base Alpha on the near side of the moon in the crater Plato. Its raison d'etre was the exploration of deep space as well as the monitoring of the atomic waste that was shipped from Earth and buried in the far side of the moon. Unbeknownst to the Alphans the atomic waste reaches critical mass and explodes sending the moon careening off into deep space along with the three hundred and eleven men and women scientists on board.

Every week we followed the adventures of commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Dr Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse), pilot Alan Carter (Nick Tate), controller Paul Morrow (Prentis Hankock) and other Alphans. We also met strange aliens, hostile and benign, as well as strange alien planets and worlds out there in the uncharted domain of outer space.

For a start, I have to admit that when I watched the show back in the 70's, I was overwhelmed with its tremendous epic qualities as well as its production values. I was a ten-year old kid in 1976 when the show first premiered on Greek television. Even in my black and white television set it looked first class. No one had ever seen anything like this before or after in retrospect and I remember all the kids in the neibourhood disappearing from the streets to watch it every Friday night.

Back then I was just starting to learn English and besides the Greek subtitles on the screen I had no information as to the makers of the series, the writers, the producers, etc. There was no information about the creative aspect of the show anywhere to be found here in Greece at that time. No magazines, no articles, no fanzines, not even pictures of my favorite stars ever made their appearance. To tell the truth, I did not care about the creative aspect of the series since as a ten-year-old kid all I cared about was the slam-bang, shoot-them-up, crash-another-Eagle aspect. And in that sector the series succeeded admirably.

I remember being scared plenty a time due to the claustrophobic atmosphere the show depicted, especially the first season, together with the elements of horror it often incorporated. The filming techniques were outstanding, capturing that element of strangeness and surrealistic immediateness, which catapulted me right into the action. I felt I lived on moon base Alpha and walked its often-dark corridors along with commander Koenig, Dr. Helena Russell, professor Victor Bergman and rogue pilot Alan Carter. The episodes were fun and exciting with the definite dose of escapism that science fiction ought to provide to a dreamy kid who wanted to forget about school and the cruelties of life. The two years of 1976 - 1978, when the show was on, were the happiest of my life. Afterwards, the series were canceled much to my great consternation, I moved to the United States, I went through the culture shock and the difficulties of adjusting and adapting in a different country and then ... I grew up.

Here I am today, almost thirty years after the show first premiered on Greek TV, back in my country, reaching the age of forty but feeling like that kid of ten I knew back in the 70's whenever I watch the Space : 1999 DVDs. I never dreamed I would have the whole series at my disposal and watch it with my kids. How strange life is! Once again, John Koenig and company repeat their plight up there on the screen in full color this time and digitally restored! Ah, technology! It is a God-given gift to man. Is Space : 1999 still my favorite series though? You bet your life it is! But, as a grown up now I wish some things were done differently! Let us see.

Well, one thing that hits me now as I watch the series thirty years later, is the fact that I care about its creative aspect. I care about the quality of the scripts and the character development as much or more so than the special effects. And this is where I find the Achilles heel of the series. Where are the characters? What do we know about them? How can we really care with so little to go by? I always laugh when I read Barry Morse's comments on the series about the characters. He mentions how Gerry Anderson commented on how well the uniforms the characters wore looked and when Martin Landau and Morse asked him about their characters, he looked puzzled and went on commenting on how well the boots looked! Which is to say that character development on the show had a serious problem.

I was watching "Star Trek - Deep Space Nine" the other day and particularly the fourth season episode "The Visitor". Wow! It really brought tears to my eyes! Its poetic aspect, its humanity, the acting, its intelligence, its dignity, its inspiration and its character development are extraordinary! How sad I feel when I contemplate that 1999 had all these values but left them almost unexplored! Where can we see Koenig reminiscing about his past life and what it could have been? Where do we see the fears, prejudices, vice, iniquities, dreams and aspirations of the characters? Who and what did these people leave behind when the moon was hurled into outer space? Did they have wives, kids, and loved ones, people they hated and admired?

On second thought, episodes should have concentrated on these aspects and less on special effects and the aliens of the week. Science fiction is successful only when it is about humanity and people and describes the human psyche, be it through aliens or other devices. I would love to have seen the commander reminiscing about the time he was on earth with his wife and how the war had taken her from him. I would love to have seen him by her grave bidding the last goodbye before rocketing to Alpha. (I have written such a short story to be read at Space 1999 fiction archive under the title "The Long Goodbye"). The drama of these moments and the acting of the wonderful Martin Landau would have made the series outstanding. Instead, we were treated with a lot of eye candy but not substance. The series had poetic, dramatic and visionary elements but alas, they were never allowed to grow.

The mystical element that lurked in the first season and made the series unlike any other at the time was castrated in the second one for more action-oriented episodes. Should the undermining theology have been allowed to flourish and grow, it would have made for excellent TV. It was the precursor for the Star Wars mysticism as well as the DS9's. The first season series did well for not being forthcoming with all the answers and letting the viewers decide. Episodes like "Collision Course" are excellent and would have been exceptional had there been more character development.

Looking back in retrospect, according to many critics, the science of the show was not up to par with the accepted scientific theories of the time. It has been severely criticized for its "lame" view at the universe and its scientific blunders. I find this criticism unwarranted to say the least, because Space : 1999 was not a scientific documentary written by scientists for scientists but a television show which aimed for pure entertainment and on that aspect it succeeded admirably. What is more, it stimulated viewers like me to take an interest in science and read up to find out more about the universe we live in. The producers did well enough by not providing all the answers to the riddles the Alphans encountered in their voyage through space. This way, the viewer could decide for himself and bring his own interpretations to the questions posed by the series.

Another aspect that could have been handled differently though is the believability factor. Whereas the first season series did an admirable job at that, the second one threw it to the wind. I believe the character of Maya would have been more acceptable had the producers given her the time to grow. The character of Odo in DS9 was pictured after the character of Maya but he was not a cardboard character like the latter. We got to know what made Odo tick; his likes and dislikes, his fears and aspirations his qualities and vices. He came round as a three-dimensional persona even though his premise is just a fantastical gimmick. Through him we learned about humanity and what is special about it. What do we learn through Maya? Very little indeed! Yet, the irony is that we get to know more about Maya than any other character on moon base Alpha.

Despite all the criticism above though, Space : 1999 has a special place in my heart. In a rare character developing moment, Victor Bergman and John Koenig sit by the stairs of main mission toasting each other as they wait for the moon's implosion upon entering the black hole. "To everything that could have been", says Koenig raising his glass, "To everything that was", retorts Victor smiling both at the human frailty and the strength of the spirit. Well, here's to you too my heroes for being around all these years, for inspiring me with your strengths and weaknesses and ushering me into the wonderful realms of science fiction. May your journeys into the unknown universe be full of discoveries about the Cosmos as well as the inner space where what means to be human really lies waiting to be found. And, here's to you too my brothers and sisters out there, my fellow Alphans, the fans of Space 1999 who have kept it alive all these years. As I raise my glass of reminisce to toast you I cannot help but reiterate the words of Victor: "Here's to everything that was!"


Copyright (c) 2004. Reprinted with permission.
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Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
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