Space: 1999 (1975) — Prince never prepared us for this

“Now we’re sitting on the biggest bomb man’s ever made.”

Justin’s rating: Still more plausible than Moonfall

Justin’s review: Thanks to the popularity of Star Trek in the late ’60s, the space race, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a general growing acceptance of scifi in pop culture at the time, one can understand why the 1970s became a fertile testbed for various intergalactic-themed projects. One of the most interesting of these was England’s answer to Trek: a two-season adventure through the cosmos called Space: 1999.

I mean, doesn’t it put a smile on your face to think of a time when the years 1999 and 2000 were so futuristic that it would make your title pop to put them as an suffix? And now, if you do so, people assume you’re running a retrospective series on VH1.

Having never seen Space: 1999 myself, I took the challenge of this theme week to scope the first two episodes of season 1. On the dark side of the moon in 1999, a rather puny explosion at a nuclear dumping site proves to be enough to propel the entire sphere out of Earth’s orbit — and out of the solar system itself.

This is a slight bummer to the 311 inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, led by John Koenig (Martin Landau), but they make the best of it by exploring the cosmos — usually with their signature Eagle spacecraft and fancy moon buggies. A lot of the action takes place inside the walls of Alpha, with all of its high-tech corridors and remote controlled doors.

I’ll confess that I had really low expectations of this show, as the BBC never sported the highest of budgets or production values back in the day. So I was stunned at how good this looked. Space: 1999 may have come out at the best of times, pulling together the sleek retro scifi designs of the ’50s and ’60s while adopting the brighter earth tones that I’m pretty used to seeing in, say, A New Hope. The Eagle spacecraft looks like something that NASA might have created, and the tan uniforms (with their one off-colored sleeves) are about as attractive as could be from this era. It’s perhaps one of the best retro-futurist designs I’ve seen, even down to the model work (which was done by the same studio that would end up doing Alien a few years later).

Developed by a husband-and-wife team, this show is split into two very distinct eras: the more scientific and thoughtful season one, and the studio interfering monster-of-the-week season two. As there was no season three, we can infer that the change in tone (not to mention sets and cast) was not a good idea.

From what I’ve observed after the first few episodes, Space: 1999 is far more 2001 than Star Wars. There’s a lot of thinking, talking, and deducing — and very little in the way of pitched laser battles and Death Star trench runs. While it has its fans who still hold up this show as one of the best from its time, its lack of memorable characters — your Captain Kirks, Han Solos, or Starbucks — contributed to the cultural amnesia that surrounds this show.

Still, Space:1999 worth revisiting as one of the best episodic scifi series to emerge from the ’70s, as long as you restrict yourself to the first season.

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