Posted January 21, 2015on:
Space 1999 is a Science Fiction TV show that ran for 2 seasons from 1975 to 1977, and starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain of Mission Impossible fame, and English-Canadian stage actor Barry Morse.
From a science point of view, the premise of the show is absolutely ridiculous, but from a social science point of view I found a lot of things to be fascinated by. Moonbase Alpha is a research station on the Moon, whose technicians also periodically check on nuclear waste storage facilities on the far side of the moon. Radiation has built up, and there is a massive explosion, causing the Moon to get knocked out of orbit and go shooting off through the galaxy. Ok, that’s the ridiculous. The fascinating is that none of these people are astronauts or explorers. They are scientists, astronomers, field technicians, nuclear waste specialists, a handful of shuttle pilots, and the necessary physicians, accountants and bureaucrats needed to support the staff of a science station. They were all expecting to go back to Earth after their however-many-months stint at the station was over, and now they are involuntarily hurtling through the galaxy. Instantly, we’ve got some interesting psychology going on.
As the runaway Moon whizzes past planets, they have time to observe and send down shuttles to explore. (offering unlimited opportunity for an adventure of the week/monster of the week television show!) Realizing they may never get back to Earth, they hope to find a planet to settle on. Yes, it is patently ridiculous that the runaway Moon’s random path would take it right past a new planet every few episodes, but just go with it. If you can’t swallow that plot device, you’re not going to make it very far into the series.
If you can get past the silly parts of the show, you’ll find Space 1999 has a Star Trek: Voyager meets Firefly vibe. You’ll find yourself saying “this is so ridiculous!”, and then really enjoying the show.
Martin Landau plays the intrepid Commander John Koenig, and Barbara Bain plays Doctor Helena Russell. Barry Morse’s Professor Victor Bergman quickly became my favorite character. Unlike Star Trek’s Bones, Dr. Russell is an expert in nearly everything, diagnosing medical problems as effortlessly as she diagnoses psychological problems, horrible dreams, and concerns of time dilation. An equal to Commander Koenig, he often requests her advice. The show is mostly played for high drama, and Barry Morse brings an air of lightness and relaxedness to his scenes. His Professor Victor Bergman is often the voice that questions what’s happening, wants to know the “why” behind everything. I especially enjoyed his interactions with the lead computer tech, Kano. Kano wants to depend on the computer for everything, while Victor does calculations by hand on a white board, and his calculations include intuition – something the computer doesn’t have. Their main computer is hilarious by the way (although I’m sure it was high tech for the time) it is a wall of knobs, buttons and a few screens, and you type in a question and it either voices the answer or spits out a cash register receipt with the answer.
I got a kick out of the technology of the show. No Star Trek style communicators here, everyone carries around something called a CommLock. It’s a video call communicator, and a door lock remote control, and I assume it’s keyed to your permissions, so not everyone can just walk into Koenig’s office, and other people can’t just walk into your quarters. What happens if you don’t have your CommLock on you, and you need to get through a door? You can’t get through, as is seen in the episode “Another Time, Another Place” (which I call the “screaming girl” episode).
As the story progresses, it becomes clear they are never going to get back to Earth, and you can see the chain of command breaking down, and people starting to treat each other like family members rather than co-workers. In the episode “Black Sun”, the Moon has fallen into the gravitational grip of a sort of black hole. A shuttle of survivors is sent away, and there is a very moving scene of Koenig and Bergman sitting in Koenig’s office, drinking and waiting to die. It felt a little like the Firefly episode “Out Of Gas”, albeit it with a very different method of solving the problem at the end of the episode.
If you go into Space 1999 expecting good science, you are going to be disappointed. Many of the episodes fall into the formula of the discovery of an interesting planet, or alien, or anomaly or whatever, followed by discussion and investigation, followed some completely ridiculous plot device that doesn’t make any sense at all that solves their problem. Once I came to peace with the fact that the so called scientific conclusions of most of the episodes don’t make any sense at all, I was able to enjoy really it as a scifi-fantasy show. I’m working my way through the first season, and as I’ve heard many of my favorite actors leave at the end of the 1st season, I expect I’ll stop watching there.
Did you enjoy Space 1999? think I should keep watching?