September 13, 1999. A date that will live in… geeky sci-fi history.
Why? Because that was the day that the moon was ripped from Earth’s orbit by a nuclear explosion, of course, sending it – and the crew of Moonbase Alpha – speeding out of control into the unknown universe. You may have missed it on the news…
Ah, yes – Space: 1999. Along with Star Trek and Starsky and Hutch, it is one of my earliest memories of watching proper, grown-up TV.
It was another cheesy,sci-fi classic from the fertile mind of Gerry Anderson. Like its predecessor, UFO, it was a live-action show, rather than a puppetry series like the ones that had made his name (Thunderbirds, Joe 90, et al).
Although it was a British show, financier Lew Grade insisted on American stars, to make it easier to market in the US, and so the then-married Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (left), who had previously appeared together in Mission: Impossible, were hired to play the lead roles of Moonbase Commander John Koenig and doctor Helena Russell.
Space: 1999 ran for two seasons, beginning in 1975, and to a six-year-old Choob it was jaw-dropping stuff. It was a while ago, so you’ll forgive my hazy memory, but I’m fairly sure I saw Space: 1999 on ITV before I saw any Star Trek reruns on BBC1, so it was truly unlike anything I had ever seen.
People living on the moon! Then speeding through space on the moon! Meeting aliens! And flying around in their uber-cool Eagle Transporter spacecraft (right)! What wasn’t to love?
Sure, the costumes and sets look dated now, though not quite as badly as Star Trek, but back then they were cutting edge.
As were the cool “knuckle-duster”-style laser guns they used and the communicators with the built-in tiny TV screens (which also, I seem to recall, doubled up as remote-control door openers – why the doors didn’t just open as they approached, a la Star Trek, I have no idea, but there you go).
Nowadays, of course, I am all-too aware that the physics of the show made no sense whatsoever – an atomic explosion powerful enough to shift the moon’s orbit would have reduced it to rubble and, even if you ignore that problem, the moon would not travel fast enough to get very far before everyone on the base died of old age.
[More pragmatically, it is slightly depressing, looking back, that given the post-moon landing 1970s optimism about the future of space exploration, we are now another decade further into the future than the 24 years Space: 1999 envisioned and even something that seemed so mundane and attainable within a quarter of a century back then, a base on the moon, is still the stuff of science fiction and no closer to reality.]
But I don’t care about how ridiculous the premise was. It looked cool and it was pure, glorious, escapist sci-fi fun at a time when there was very little genre TV being produced.
Star Trek had ended a six years earlier and it would be two more years before Star Wars would kick-start a revival of interest in the genre – with the original Battlestar Galactica in the US and Blake’s 7 in the UK the first major, successful attempts to cash in. So Space: 1999 was an ambitious show that was, in some ways, ahead of its time.
And, of course, the reason we are here, is that it had one of the great TV theme tunes. Well, it did for one season anyway. The brilliant, bombastic, mega-dramatic original theme by long-time Gerry Anderson collaborator Barry Gray was replaced by a more contemporary theme by Derek Wadsworth. The new theme wasn’t dreadful – it just wasn’t a patch on the original.
That said, the visuals of the season two opening titles were arguably an improvement on the season one effort, which mainly featured dull fairly static portraits of the stars, together with a montage of scenes from the coming epiosde (a once-common US TV tradition recently revived by the reimagined Battlestar Galactica).
Anyway, make up your own mind about which was best. Enjoy!
Season one opening titles:
And here are the opening AND closing titles from season two: