Space 1999 Sn 1 on Blu-ray

Monday, 25 October 2010 08:00

Back in 1975, the year 1999 seemed a long time in the future. While American television science fiction had tended to paint a rosy picture of what was just around the corner for us, the British take on the genre was always more circumspect, taking the attitude that mankind wasn’t quite up to being able to safeguard itself from the dangers of the burgeoning technology it had created.

Indeed, the issue of nuclear waste from power stations was just coming into focus – it was a more innocent time before the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters.  However, step forward Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The solution to storage of dangerous compounds with a half-life of thousands of years was to pack it off to the Moon.  And that’s when the problems begin in Space: 1999, now released on Blu-ray.

Space: 1999 Season One on Blu-ray - Just Like You're On The Moon!The Andersons are of course renowned for their visions of the future. The success of their previous live-action TV series, UFO was the direct inspiration for Space: 1999.  Indeed, at one point the adventures of the crew of what would become Moonbase Alpha had originally been devised as a second season of UFO.  Faltering ratings of that show Stateside, after an impressive start, put paid to that possibility, which was already in pre-production.  So, rather than throw everything out, the ruminations were adapted to become a totally new format.

Given that the show was filmed on 35mm stock, this Blu-ray release really does look like it was filmed only yesterday.  You feel you have far more clarity for the incredibly big topics covered in the over-arching narrative, including man’s ultimate place in the universe, and also the fact that if there are other beings out amongst the stars, they are every bit as likely to be so far in advance of us as being at a point way behind us in the evolutionary process.

Space: 1999’s theme of the inability for man to be able to fully understand what he’s doing to himself and his surroundings is something now taken up by the green movement across the globe (albeit with many red herrings being followed, as they are manipulated into chasing shadows on so many topics by the ruling elite). Our story begins when a build-up of a previously unchecked form of radiation leads to the nuclear waste dumps on the Moon detonating. The resulting blasts propel the Moon out of orbit and take the Alphans on a voyage of discovery across the stars.

The multi-cultural crew of Moonbase Alpha would, for their first 24 episodes, be involved in a series of action-packed but incredibly cerebral adventures. Story Consultant Christopher Penfold is very open in stating that his own vision for the show was to delve into metaphysics, touching on not only the meaning of life but also the nature of reality itself. 

Interviewed in the Gerry Anderson fan club Fanderson’s magazine FAB, Penfold said: “I was certainly interested in the idea of making popular the kind of science fiction which dealt unashamedly with metaphysical ideas. And in the first series of Space: 1999 a lot of episodes, not all of them, but a lot of them, confronted some of those issues head on. I think they made very good programmes.”

Those who have studied the work of David Icke will be very familiar with such concepts – once you have watched the episode “Missing Link”, which features Peter Cushing as an alien scientist, take a look at the following YouTube clip - the story will take on an entirely new meaning, as well as improving your understanding and appreciation of it.

 

There is an underlying message about challenging whether our journeys in life are pre-ordained and, if we allow ourselves, we will be guided to doing the right thing.  One such episode is “Collision Course”, where an alien played by acting icon Margaret Leighton persuades Martin Landau’s Commander John Koenig to do nothing, as a planet careers towards Moonbase Alpha. It defies all logic to let what will be happen, but the outcome proves to be for the best.

The over-arching concept of season one leads directly to what should be seen as one of the final episodes of its first run, “The Testament of Arkadia”.  You do get the impression in several episodes that the flight of the Alphans is being governed by some sort of guiding force, a hand of the universe seeking to move them forward to a discovery of the nature of mankind and its history spanning millions of years. “Arkadia” takes this to its logical conclusion.

All of this touches on an aspect of Space: 1999 which occasionally gets discussed – the best order to watch the episodes in. Fandom for The Prisoner has had this chestnut as a mainstay of its activity for decades, but given that there is definitely a map for the series, and indeed character development to consider too, we know for sure that both production order and original screening order do not cut the mustard in satisfying the programme’s internal continuity.

We’ve had a go at trying to address this in our own Season One Episode Guide.

Those into such things will see that by putting the episode “Earthbound” second, the priority was to get rid of Commissioner Simmonds (Roy Dotrice) – who appears only in this episode and the pilot, “Breakaway”.  Having him on Alpha and not interfering in everything is unimaginable, so having episodes sandwiched between these two makes no sense.

Then, there has to be an incident which takes the Moon far away from Earth, explaining the entirely different solar systems Alpha encounters, so “Black Sun” moves up the episode order.  From that point, episodes are selected so as to keep stories with similar themes and concepts separate in the running order, providing variety for the viewer tuning in week after week.  Many will argue that “Voyager’s Return” should be a lot earlier in the run than where we’ve placed it, but it’s assumed that Voyager MUST have been some considerable distance from Earth, or our planet would have got its comeuppance already!

There is an excellent project to check out called Space: 2099 – which is looking to do a “Star Wars” on the original series and enhance it with re-editing to improve continuity, remove mistakes, improve the existing effects (rather than replace them) and tighten up the pace of stories.  They make an excellent case for making “War Games” the season one finale – renamed “Sidon’s Revenge”, which gives you a good clue as to the fact that they link this story to a previous episode – this also makes a fine bridgehead to explaining the radical changes that would be seen at the beginning of season two.

Attendees at the Cult TV Festival in 2005 were given a sneak preview of the quality of the High Definition transfers that have eventually become this Network Blu-ray release, and here they are for the first time, with the timing being perfect as Blu-ray finally begins to take off as a medium.  For those who aren’t yet sold on Blu-ray, Network has made the package irresistible by the inclusion of the following special features:

  • Digitally restored, High Definition transfers
  • Dolby 5.1 tracks
  • Original 'as broadcast' mono track
  • Music-only tracks on all episodes except “Breakaway” and “Dragon’s Domain”
  • Gerry Anderson commentary on “Breakaway” and “Dragon’s Domain”
  • English subtitles for the hard of hearing
  • Extensive HD image galleries of rare and previously unseen stills
  • HD image galleries of bubble gum and cigarette cards
  • HD restored, textless titles
  • HD, digitally restored version of the season two premiere “The Metamorph”
  • “These Episodes” - featurettes (selected individual episode analysis – expanded versions from those seen on the previous Network DVD release)
  • “Memories of Space” - Featurette
  • Sylvia Anderson - Interview
  • Series One Textless Generic Titles
  • “Horizon” - Behind the Scenes Footage
  • “Concept and Creation” - Featurette
  • “Special effects and design” - Featurette
  • Text episode commentaries on “The Last Sunset” and “Space Brain”
  • Clapperboard - Two part special on the works of Gerry Anderson from 1975
  • “Guardian of Piri Remembered”
  • Barry Gray's Theme - Demo
  • Alternative Opening and Closing Titles
  • Martin Landau and Barbara Bain US Premiere - Intro and Outro
  • Special Effects plates and deleted Special Effects scenes - with music track
  • “Alien Attack” - Trailers
  • “Journey Through the Black Sun” – Trailer
  • Advert Break Bumpers
  • Lyons Maid Ice Lolly Advert
  • Script PDFs
  • Annual PDFs
  • Commemorative Booklet

Note the inclusion of the season two premiere “The Metamorph” on this set, although this was not available on the preview discs supplied.  The one alarming aspect to this is the rumour that it is expected to be some considerable time before the entirety of season two gets its own release by Network, either as Blu-ray or DVD.

Nevertheless, if like me this will make the FOURTH version of season one that I will own (VHS, Carlton DVD, Network DVD and now the Blu-ray), the upgrade is worth it for anyone who has previously purchased. For those who have never jumped aboard the Space: 1999 bandwagon, this is probably the time to do so. 

There has always been criticism about the fashions and acting from detractors of the series, even indeed from long-standing Anderson fans who believed it wasn’t a patch on what had gone before.  The fashions have to be put into context of this being a production of the mid-1970s – Rudi Gernreich may have been famous for the topless bikini (no, really), but that really didn’t make him suitable for designing what is effectively a wardrobe for astronauts! It was a decision taken for the possible PR advantages, and in the end no PR would have made up for the flares on the costumes simply being a dumb and impractical idea.

As for the acting, whether it’s a combination of watching on a 50” screen with Blu-ray engaged, or having chance to do an honest reassessment, it has to be said that Martin Landau and Barry Morse, as Koenig and Bergman respectively, put in some of the best performances probably ever seen on television. You believe in them as human beings, and you appreciate that they are reacting to some incredible situations in the way that real people would.

Prentis Hancock gives his Paul Morrow character a real chip on his shoulder that I had never actually picked up before, Nick Tate’s Alan Carter brings Australian bravado to what must be considered one of the small screen’s finest action heroes, and Anton Phillips manages to create something out of nothing with his Dr Bob Matthias character.

Barbara Bain’s Dr Helena Russell, however, just doesn’t convince you that she is one of the foremost experts in her field, not having enough steel to handle the situations that she finds herself in.  Clifton Jones plays David Kano as a bumptious computer geek who you really wish would stop talking the moment he starts to do so, and poor Zienia Merton is saddled with a character in Sandra Benes who is little more than a lunar secretary. But maybe this was the point that Space: 1999 was trying to make in this first season – you can be an ordinary person and work on the Moon, not everyone has to be heroic or dynamic to be able to do a good job.

In that lies the essence of Space: 1999 Season One ... it really is a human adventure. By that, I mean it differs from previous Anderson shows, which were directed towards action and plot rather than characterisation, which is where this series scores.  It's SF for adults, and there is very little of that to check out from 20th century telly.

On the subject of what’s coming soon, 15 November 2010 sees the release of the Michael Praed era of Robin of Sherwood on Blu-ray – the possibilities are endless as to what may follow on this pristine format. And although the second season of Space: 1999 is long overdue the Network treatment, my pennies will be more joyous going in the direction of a Blu-ray edition of UFO – after all, that is the true origin of Space: 1999!

The Space: 1999 Season One Blu-ray release comes out on 1 November 2010, runs to 1,200 minutes approx across seven discs, and has a series of different limited edition packaging to choose from. It has a ‘PG’ certification, and a RRP of £79.99, or you can order it for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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