Space: 1999 Volume One

At the beginning of February I wrote about the fun I had listening to the Big Finish Audio adaptation of “Breakaway,” the first episode of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series, Space: 1999. Big Finish is well known for their Doctor Who audio adventures, which typically feature actors from the series reprising their roles in brand new stories. Many of the Big Finish audio productions are notable for being on par, and in some cases, even better than the televised episodes. Unfortunately, actors such as Martin Landau and Barry Morse are no longer with us, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Big Finish cast all new actors to play the parts in their Space: 1999 adaptation. I was quite impressed with Mark Bonnar as Commander John Koenig, Clive Hayward as Professor Victor Bergman, and especially Maria Teresa Creasey as Dr. Helena Russell. As such, I was really looking forward to this month’s release of Space: 1999, Volume One which featured two original episodes and one remake of a classic episode in audio format.

Space: 1999, Volume One

The recording opens with a story called “The Siren Call.” In the original televised version of “Breakaway,” an important plot point is that Earth and the moon are receiving a signal from aliens on a planet called Meta. We then never hear anything more about Meta. In the Big Finish version of the opening story, the signal from Meta is tied directly to the moon leaving Earth’s orbit. That version of the story ends with the moon approaching Meta. This story resolves the Meta storyline. Aliens from Meta make contact and even seem to welcome the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha. The only problem is that the first ambassador to the Moonbase is a fellow who walks and talks but has no heartbeat. The Alphans need a new home now that they find themselves so far from Earth, but they begin to wonder if Meta will prove as inviting as it first appears.

The second recording is a remake of the classic episode “Death’s Other Dominion.” In this story, Moonbase Alpha encounters a group of human survivors on a distant, frozen world. By all appearances these are the survivors of an expedition to the outer reaches of our solar system who had been lost seventeen years before. The only problem is that someone on the planet is also trying to warn them away. When Koenig, Russell, and Bergman investigate they find the survivors, but discover that somehow they had not only been sent deep into space, but launched far back in time! The probe survivors are over 900 years old. The story ends up being an interesting look at immortality. In the original episode, Brian Blessed gives a wonderful performance as Dr. Chaney Rowland, the leader of the survivors. Chris Jarman takes up the role here and sounds very much like Blessed.

The final episode in this set of stories is called “Goldilocks.” Moonbase Alpha discovers a planet in the so-called Goldilocks Zone of its star. It looks like a good place to settle. Commander Koenig leads a team, which goes down to investigate. They find a very nice planet and pleasant, telepathic people who learn human language very fast. They also find a horde of vicious, reptilian monsters who would be happy to eat humans. If that weren’t bad enough, it seems they awoke an even bigger menace on the planet. Will the Alphans have to run away like Goldilocks did to avoid being eaten?

Overall, these episodes were good fun. They do a great job of capturing the original series’ tone and flavor. If you’re a fan of Space: 1999 this will give you two new episodes to enjoy. What’s more, “Death’s Other Dominion” puts a new spin on the themes covered in the original episode. I only had one disappointment and really that was because “Breakaway” set such a high standard. In the new “Breakaway,” writer Nicholas Briggs came up with a clever, creative way to send the moon on its journey. In this set, I’d hoped the writers would explain why the moon travels from planet to planet so quickly. The moon doesn’t seem to be moving a significant fraction of the speed of light, so one would expect it to take centuries for the moon to move between systems. Instead, it seems like it only takes days or weeks to move between systems. Perhaps it’s now in an open star cluster where stars are closer than they are in the solar neighborhood, or maybe the speed of encountering new planets is a mystery to the Alphans, too. I could imagine some good story potential here, and hope they do explore some of that potential in volume two.

If you’d like to purchase Space: 1999, Volume One, you can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-01-2320. Big Finish also has a free 20-minute excerpt from “Death’s Other Dominion” at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-death-s-other-dominion-excerpt-2458.

Revisiting Space: 1999

I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on September 13, 1999. Or, at least, they would remember that momentous day if the events of the television show Space: 1999 had come to pass. In the show, that’s the day a nuclear waste dump exploded on Earth’s moon sending it out of orbit and on a long, harrowing journey out of the solar system. I recently found myself thinking about Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s series. I remember watching it when it first aired, but it occurred to me that I didn’t remember many details about the series, so I went back and watched most of the first season’s episodes.

The first thing that occurred to me as I watched the series is how much it owed to two sources: Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and Sylvia and Gerry Anderson’s previous live-action television series, UFO. The show reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the sense that it’s less about space as a setting for the story’s action as it’s a place where mankind will encounter phenomena that will stretch the mind and maybe even spur the next stage of human evolution. The uniforms, the moon base, and the overall feel of the show reminded me a lot of UFO and I’ve read that some elements of the series were, in fact, originally developed for a second season of UFO, which never materialized.

The science of Space: 1999 is much maligned. Isaac Asimov once famously remarked that an explosion big enough to knock the moon out of orbit would destroy it. Physicist Kevin Grazier has taken a much more balanced approach and calculated the energy it actually would take to knock the moon out of Earth’s orbit. He notes that enough energy to knock the moon out of orbit would be highly improbable and also remarks that getting the moon to leave Earth’s orbit isn’t as hard a problem as getting the moon to leave the solar system. You can read Grazier’s thoughts here: https://www.gerryanderson.co.uk/science-of-space-1999/

In his article, Grazier does point out one way in which Space: 1999’s science was ahead of its time and that was it’s presentation of rogue planets. In the series, the moon encounters numerous planets away from the sun wandering by themselves with no nearby star. Rogue planets were pure speculation when the series was created, but we now know them to be something that does exist. We still do have a science issue in that some of these rogue planets seem to support human-like life, despite the lack of a nearby star.

Part of how Space: 1999 sells its improbable physics is by giving us some of the most believable tech I’ve seen in a science fiction series. The Eagle spacecraft look like the kind of things you might have expected NASA to have developed if they had continued building on the Apollo program. The only real problem with the Eagles is their use in atmosphere and high gravity worlds as the series progresses. I believe them on the moon, but not necessarily flying through dense planetary atmospheres. The comlocks that people use to unlock doors and talk to each other feel like the kind of combination remote control, video cell phone that could have been developed in the 1990s.

One of the things I found remarkable about revisiting Space: 1999 was the quality of the cast. Of course, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse all had wonderful, understated performances. They felt like humans coming to grips with the weird reality they found themselves in. I had forgotten that actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared in the series. Speaking of Cushing and Lee, I had forgotten how well the series did at presenting science fiction horror. The denizens encounter some truly frightening situations such as aliens who take over people’s bodies, or implacable tentacled aliens who dine on people’s flesh and spit out corpses.

One of the episodes I found especially interesting was one called “The Guardian of Piri.” In it, Catherine Schell plays an alien who convinces the Alphans they can have complete contentment if they settle. Much of it reminds me of the kinds of visions John Mark Ellis experiences in Children of the Old Stars and the Cluster’s eventual takeover of Earth in Heirs of the New Earth. The structures on Piri are even spheres, reminding me of the Cluster. Although I don’t remember the episode specifically, it does make me wonder how much the episode seeped into my subconscious and was reprocessed in my story.

So, where was I on September 13, 1999? I was working at New Mexico State University on the 1-meter telescope project based at Apache Point Observatory. We were about a month into a new semester, which meant that I was probably busy getting classroom demonstrations ready. I was also working on the novel Children of the Old Stars and thinking about some of the more metaphysical topics I wanted to explore in my series. You can help me create the new edition of my novel by supporting my Patreon campaign at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers