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Alpha Males and Females - Space: 1999 The Complete Series on Blu-ray Part 1

  Ah, remember September the 13th 1999 when the Moon broke out of Earth's orbit? All those earthquakes, and Yugoslavia was particularly badly hit. We never did see the Moon again, did we? All those people on Moonbase Alpha lost forever! Wait a minute, that didn't happen, did it? According to the nineteen-seventies science fiction series Space: 1999 (1975-7), however, it did, or rather it would, as one of the most expensive television programmes up to that time saw to that in its pilot episode Breakaway, new boss Commander John Koenig (Oscar winner to be Martin Landau) arrives to take over on the base and solve a madness affliction that is killing the pilots. There he meets Dr Helena Russell (Barbara Bain, who Landau was married to at the time) and Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse, from The Fugitive) and all the other series regulars as in a freak accident, a nuclear waste dump explodes and sets the satellite hurtling into deep space, potentially towards a new planet. It was an arresting, high concept beginning to a show that was both of those things.

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were the masterminds behind this, having adapted it from a planned second series of UFO; when that didn't come to fruition, the Moon idea was kept on for a fresh approach. The episodes were largely self-contained, but there was some plot carried over from one to another, so in the second, A Matter of Life and Death, the travellers arrive at a possible new home and set about investigating - but what's this? When the reconnaissance craft hits an apparent burst of energy, the pilots are found unconscious and an extra passenger is there who somehow is Dr Russell's late husband (Richard Johnson, from The Haunting), gone these past five years. How did he get there, and what message does he have for the Alphans? That was very much the style of the first season, where a mystery was at the heart of every storyline, in a manner that harked back to 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than Star Trek as this was often compared to (more legitimately in the second season). So much so that Stanley Kubrick was purportedly much aggrieved when he started to watch.

He would presumably have had a fit at the third instalment, Black Sun (any possibility that Pearl Jam saw this episode is up for debate), where the Alphans find themselves on a collision course with a dark star that is inexorably drawing them towards it. After disposing of this week's guest star Paul Jones (Manfred Mann lead singer, star of Privilege and, erm, Beat the Teacher) with unseemly haste, we get down to the nitty gritty of hanging about waiting for the Moonbase to be destroyed. As this was early in the run, as you may expect this does not contain as much suspense as perhaps the producers would have hoped, and as Bergman devises a forcefield that may or may not hold (spoiler: it does), we have to wave goodbye forever to six of the team as they head off on an escape mission (spoiler: they come back). After that there's some discussion of a "cosmic intelligence" as Victor and Koenig get wasted on booze and cigars, and a resolution that leaves this looking for all the world like a Christmas episode. Watch for the Professor's bitchy friction with regular supporting character Kano (Clifton Jones), too.

Ring Around the Moon was next, where a massive alien intelligence, resembling a giant, glowing eye brain, impedes our heroes as it takes over the body of one of the staff (who numbered three hundred and eleven when we began, we were initially told) to transmit vital information about their travels to the heart of its supermind. That computer, as you may imagine, was about the size of a portacabin, but only had one keyboard which to make things difficult for anyone not well-versed in programming and IT did not feature any letters or symbols on it; they rely on it an awful lot in this show, and it speaks, too. Someone else they relied on was Gloria Grahame looky-likey Dr Russell, who maintains her record of not having a single ash blonde hair out place no matter what happens to her, as seen here when she is taken over by the alien herself in symbolic sequences. Bergman with his squeaky pen and Perspex drawing board works out that an overload of the wrong sort of information can stop the invader in its spacefaring tracks for a tale that has trouble getting into higher gear, though continued the combination of thought laced with action the Andersons were keen to aim for.

Earthbound saw the return of a character we were introduced to in the first episode, Simmons, played by Roy Dotrice (TV's Beauty and the Beast), who as a politician and this being the antiauthoritarian seventies, is not a sympathetic character. In fact, we're reintroduced to him carping at Koenig for not doing enough, not doing enough if Simmons was in charge at any rate, and when a spaceship appears close by containing Zantor (Christopher Lee, looking very Saruman-like) and his band of peace-loving aliens on their way to Earth, he realises there is an opportunity here for the taking. Incidentally, this was the first time we had seen a spacecraft that was not an Eagle, the Moonbase's traditional mode of transport, and it was rather dinky. All this is leading up to a killer twist, one of the series' most memorable, that indicated The Twilight Zone was making an impression on the writing team, for this plot at least, and many have observed the fate of Simmons was one of the most haunting they had ever seen in television sci-fi. Also, for the first time Barry Morse got his face in the opening titles.

Judy Geeson (Brannigan, Inseminoid) was the guest star in Another Time, Another Place, which kicked off with the Alphans doing what they liked to do best: falling over. Seriously, not one episode went by with at least one of them propelled across the room, and if they could do so en masse then so much the better. The reason this time was a mysterious swirl of light that causes a split in time, with another Moon breaking away from the one we were familiar with and careering off into the void. Soon they realise they are many light years from where they started, but paradoxically appear to be, well, exactly back where they started as they move into orbit around Earth. Meanwhile Judy goes berserk and Barry Morse proved why he was hired because he could make any old rubbish in the dialogue he was given sound scientific and therefore plausible. His reasoning is that this is the Planet Earth that could have been, but not necessarily is, and the landing party have a surprise waiting for them, though not before a genuinely eerie segment when Koenig and chief henchman Alan Carter (Aussie stalwart Nick Tate) visit the parallel Moonbase and discover it long abandoned.

We had Christopher Lee on the show, now we had his old Hammer cohort and good friend Peter Cushing, though he had more to do on the villainous side than the stoic Lee had been given in his outing. Nevertheless, Cushing's Raan in Missing Link was not wholly evil, he was merely clinical to a fault as we visited that old sci-fi trope, what happens when a human is treated like an animal and subjected to a form of vivisection? The opening saw a team returning in an Eagle after a bit of a scare on a new planet, but they crash and Koenig is knocked into a coma. What we see is really happening: his mind has been kidnapped by Raan to experiment on, showing him what the planet actually looks like - it has a civilisation - and then testing him in various scenarios to test his emotions, the theory being that intellect is more significant that feelings. There was not much more to the plot than that, though the opening ten minutes or so once again demonstrated that a science fiction setting can be just as eerie as a haunted house as Koenig wanders through a deserted Moonbase, with the sense he is being watched, which he is. A minor entry, despite the guest star.

The Guardian of Piri was an improvement, and there was a good reason for that, as anyone who had enjoyed a certain first season Star Trek episode would be aware, for it was essentially a lift from This Side of Paradise, cheekily making Koenig into a Captain Kirk stand-in. Koenig could turn on the action when needed, but he was, under Landau's reading of immense integrity, a shade too stuffy to convince as the first man you would go to if you were about to defend yourself in a physical fight, yet the star managed to achieve this without eclipsing the efforts of William Shatner. Let's face it, when you want to watch a vintage TV show adapting the myth of the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey, you'll likely go straight to the Enterprise's adventures rather than the Moonbase, but thanks to some bizarre, striking design choices, the planet the crew are brainwashed into leaving for is one of the stronger instalments. It also had the novelty of the alien intelligence represented by Catherine Schell, an actress who would become very important in the second season. Nice work all round, though when operations manager Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock) wields his guitar, we worry.

We were in monster of the week territory for the next effort, Force of Life, a style that this series would increasingly adopt over its two seasons. The monster in this case was Lovejoy, another of those characters who have been on the base all this time but we've never met before, but thanks to a meeting with an alien presence becomes a significant player in the story. Ian McShane, for it was he, is an innocent worker in one of the nuclear generators who is going about his business when a mysterious blue glow appears - tracked by their mission control - and "infects" him, playing havoc with his body temperature and causing him to absorb energy. In practice, this means he stalks the corridors and freezes people to death with his killer touch, and also in a neat, simple effect causes the lights to go out when he passes by. His girlfriend (Gay Hamilton from Barry Lyndon) implore him to see sense, but he is not in control of his faculties and you can probably guess how it ends, these Anderson shows did love their explosions, and it was the seventies, so the Energy Crisis was in everyone's minds anyway. The ultimate, peaceful acceptance of the alien's havoc did seem curious.

In 1975, the big movie at the box office was The Omen, and the episode Alpha Child might have appeared to be a cash-in on that phenomenon, but it was actually filmed some months before the blockbuster was released. The plot had it that the first child has been born on the Moonbase, a bouncing baby boy, but what's this? Mere moments after being placed in its incubator, and its mother settles down for some rest (the father died months before, another casual indication to how dangerous life is on the Moon), Dr Russell is alerted by her screams - the baby has transformed within seconds into a five-year-old boy! Although baffled, they encourage him by giving a guided tour, only Koenig suspecting something is up (maybe this was more Damien from Only Fools and Horses than The Omen?). Sure enough, now the creepy kid, who cannot speak or hear (supposedly), has another growth spurt and turns into skimpily-dressed Julian Glover (Scaroth in Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) who announces he and his fellow aliens are taking over the Alphans' bodies. But a repurposed Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey approaches! Spot Rula Lenska, too.

The Last Sunset sees the wanderers finding, yes, another habitable planet, but before they can make a bid to land on it to explore and see if it is suitable, the residents send up a probe that attaches itself to Alan's Eagle. On return, it fills the Moon's landscape with a breathable atmosphere and begins to render it habitable itself, complete with rain and, er, sandstorms (cheers for that) which gives the Alphans a ray of hope that here is a chance to live not cooped up indoors, but in a sunny climate where they can play badminton (that's what Alan does at least). Meanwhile Paul and Sandra (Zienia Merton) are seeing their romance grow, could they be a new Adam and Eve? Not if they crash an Eagle while scouting and Paul goes berserk on magic mushrooms that he found in a state of desperation for want of food and sustenance. His mania was the most entertaining part of the episode, highly amusing when he starts throwing his cast members around, though just as Star Trek had its The Flight of the Phoenix tale, so does this climax with a very Captain Kirk fistfight for Koenig to indulge in. The titular sunset is quite a nice moment of poignancy, however.

The launch of the Voyager probes in the seventies caught the public imagination, to the extent that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was inspired by them, but a few years before there was this, Voyager's Return, which had one of the probes, now in deep space, thus encountered. As a warning of what is about to occur, one of the Eagles sent out to have a look explodes, yet another example of the Moonbase's craft being destroyed which happened so often you began to wonder precisely how many they had in reserve, to the extent the Moon was hollowed out with an Eagles factory. Anyway, the Voyager probe here is responsible for countless deaths thanks to its deadly propulsion drive (whatever happened to health and safety?) yet as luck would have it the scientist who designed it, Queller (Jeremy Kemp from Top Secret!) is an Alphan and can convert it to good use. He was a Werner von Braun type who must weigh up the slaughter at his hands with the potential for good he carries, tricky when aggrieved aliens are involved in a rather dry tale of ethics that nevertheless had time for the regulation things going boom.

Collision Course offered the chance for Landau to act against a legend of British theatre, Margaret Leighton, in what would be her final television role before multiple sclerosis ended her life in 1976 - she had one more film appearance in Trial by Combat to come, but as she could no longer walk it was clear she was only able to act sitting down, and so it was here. This would have been fine if the dialogue she had been given to spar with Landau had been sparkling, but this was a stodgy episode where her Arra character, one of those alien intelligences who take human form the better to communicate (and the better for the casting director to hire a recognisable name), failed to lift the proceedings as she took on an ethereal role in the drama. The plot had it that the Moon, after all those planets it (somehow) managed to go into orbit around before peeling away back into the galaxy once again, was now going to collide with one of them, and drastic action needed to be taken, even to the extent of setting off another explosion (always with the explosions) to alter the Moon's course. Arra wanted them to collide, but it was the only last ten minutes that were exciting.

In Death's Other Dominion, the Moon makes contact with another outpost of galactic civilisation, this time on the ice planet Hoth (or something), but when the four-person crew ventures down there, the conditions are so cold they are almost killed. What they don't know is the people who have called them here, and indeed rescue three of them (Koenig, Russell and Bergman) while Alan crawls his way through the foam, sorry, snow back to the Eagle that brought them there, have organised it so they will never leave without the say-so of their big boss man Dr Rowland. He was played by Brian Blessed, always a welcome sight in science fiction, and larger than life as always as the hail fellow well met villain who secretly performs experiments on his fellow castaways in search of eternal life. Which they have already, having fled a disastrous expedition to Uranus (pronounced the old way, double entendre fans), and the world they are on has made them live eight hundred years. Are the Alphans tempted? They are, despite John Shrapnel as the original Captain in an extraordinarily over the top performance of (deliberate) cod Shakespeare. Another good twist here.

The series went on location for the first time in The Full Circle, in Black Park naturally, site of many a British movie or TV show needed a patch of woodland, which is precisely what the planet visited here needed. This is often held up as one of the most ridiculous episodes in a programme that could get very silly indeed, and it does come across as if someone decided to adapt Space: 1999 as agitprop theatre by way of One Million Years B.C., only without Raquel Welch (or Valerie Leon, who was in the previous episode). The storyline was one of those expeditions to an unfamiliar planet, which appears to have no life, but the first lot who went from the Moon have strangely stopped answering their radios, and a caveman has been found in the Eagle that has been retrieved, so obviously something is afoot. That something was a mist that regressed all who passed through to cavemen times, cue lots of screaming, grunting and naked aggression, a lot aimed at poor Sandra as she is tormented by primitives Koenig and Russell. The excellent Barry Gray, who provided the classic theme tune, served up some traditional hitting sticks together music this time.

The pretentiously-titled End of Eternity proved a lesson for the Alphans not to "meddle" and leave well alone, something they conspicuously failed to do for the rest of the series. Still, if they did then not much would happen, and we would not get the novelty of seeing guest stars like Peter Bowles somewhat incongruously cast as baddies. Here a team is despatched to investigate a large asteroid that has drifted nearby, and find that there is a door in it, which naturally they open and discover a chamber inside. It houses some paintings depicting carnage on a massive scale (note to Alphans: this may not be a good sign) and a body that has been mangled when the explosive charges went off to open the door. They take the body back for an autopsy, only for him to make a remarkable recovery and, in the person of Bowles wearing a black, floaty number and silver platforms, starts flinging people around. Once he has calmed down, he spins a yarn about being immortal but banished by his race for trying to "improve" their nihilistic lot, though he has soon turned on the megalomania. Sitcom star Bowles was surprising good as the silky threat.

War Games, nothing to do with the same-titled, last Patrick Troughton Doctor Who story of the sixties but not a million miles away in concept, started off a half hour of action as Moonbase Alpha picks up approaching ships on their monitors, then realises they are Earth battle craft which are on their way, apparently to attack. Koenig does not have long to judge the threat, but as they are advancing and not responding to their calls over the radio, he orders Alan to attack in a small fleet of Eagles, triggering an all-out assault on the base that sees them waging a losing war, the base being blown to bits and the casualties skyrocketing in numbers. All very tense, but even if you had never seen an episode before, you might suspect they were not going to destroy the concept of the show in one fell swoop, which would likely twig you to the fact that there was going to be a "surprise" ending. That was only underlined when Koenig and Russell go to the nearby planet to negotiate with two bald aliens, played by Anthony Valentine (TV's Callan and Colditz) and Isla Blair (Taste the Blood of Dracula, The History Man), resulting in a rather listless philosophical discussion.

More war was underway in The Last Enemy, when the Moon showed up at a solar system with two planets hidden from each other on either side of their star, somewhat similar to the Andersons' feature film Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, only here the two populations are not only well aware of each other's presence, they actively detest it. While one planet was led by men (we only see one), the other was apparently populated by women, which gives rise to the well-worn cliché where one of them (Caroline Mortimer, Juggernaut) arrives on Alpha, then takes off her motorcycle helmet to reveal - gasp! - a woman! In fact she is dressed for a ride on her Harley, in contrast to the Alphans, who as ever were decked out in threads designed by fashionista Rudi Gernreich as credited in every single season 1 episode, presumably so viewers would see his flared beige visions and think, yes, must have a set of those or something like it. The fact you only see people dressed like that on this show should tell you how well that went. As for this story, diplomacy was the order of the day, well, until the desire for 'splosions took over.

Although there was plenty of science fiction manufactured in the seventies, it would often cross over into other genres to keep itself fresh as far as ideas went, and horror was fertile ground for precisely that. As many mainstream sci-fi works carried with them the ability to be scary, especially in Britain (from children's serials like The Changes to the obvious family shows like Doctor Who), Space: 1999 was not immune to such rigours of narrative and therefore we were served up episodes like The Troubled Spirit, which started with the Alphans spaced out during some moody guitar (sitar?) music at a concert, then panned away to a nearby lab where a plant séance was occurring. A what? Yes, one of the scientists has unleashed the psychic power of vegetation, and with it a horribly mutilated apparition of his future self with a nasty habit of killing off anyone who tries to stop the experiments. He was played by Giancarlo Prete (Street Law, The New Barbarians), another neat instance of the Andersons' international casting, and his girlfriend was the final screen appearance of Hilary Dwyer (Witchfinder General, Cry of the Banshee) before she retired to become an agent and mother.

There was an Italian in next episode Space Brain too, Carla Romanelli (The Sensuous Nurse, The Lonely Lady), but she had next to nothing to do, perhaps an indication of why the hoped for Italian audience for the show never materialised. But it was the other guest star who was more interesting, for he was Shane Rimmer, the Canadian stalwart of "that guy" performances who became something of a mascot for various Anderson projects down the years, voicing Scott Tracy on classic puppet series Thunderbirds and its spin-off movies the most prominent of those. Here he fell victim to the titular Space Brain, a vast amoeba of intelligent energy which announces itself by taking over the Moonbase computer and causing it to display and print out symbols no one there can interpret. They even turn the computer off and back on again, but it makes no difference - maybe they should have deleted cookies? Anyway, apart from Rimmer, this was celebrated as the story with the foam flooding the base leaving it looking like the inflatable on Cheggers Plays Pop, only more dangerous. Also notable for informing us the Alphans passed the time between encounters with jigsaws.

The Infernal Machine saw yet another visitor to the Moon, though not one who walked the corridors of the "Moon City", as the costume credit insisted on calling it. The crew see another craft approach, and what do you know, it's another of those apparently all-powerful aliens, only this one is the spaceship itself - and it has taken over Alpha's computer. It wants supplies, or it does initially, so orders Koenig, Russell and Bergman over to where it has landed to come on in and make themselves comfortable, or else. Once aboard, the trio meet the owner of the voice they have been hearing, and he is Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey, The Prisoner) decked out in long white wig and beard, but it turns out this is merely "companion" to the machine, and he's not long for this world (or this universe). There follows the expected battle between the Alphans and the visitor, with more Eagles getting blown up and also some new vehicles we hadn't seen before, with the added threat that the machine wishes to keep the three crewmembers around for eternity as replacements for his late companion. Lots of talk, but McKern's rich tones compensated.

The expert model department were evidently hard at work for the episode Mission of the Darrians, where a hundred square mile spaceship was required, and what a nice job they made of it, too. The Alphans send out a team to help after a distress signal is heard from it, but when they arrive they are drawn in by a tractor beam and forced to disembark their Eagle to investigate, splitting up inadvisably to do so. Koenig and Bergman end up stunned, then brought into the presence of none other than Joan Collins (it was her turn to wear the luxuriant white wig this time) who explains she and her fellow Darrians need the Alphans to survive their journey to a new world. Meanwhile, illustrating that all is not well on this craft, Russell and a disposable security man are captured by primitives led by Aubrey Morris (A Clockwork Orange) who set about a process of sacrifice with a disintegration unit. The truth of what the relationship between these folks and the Darrians was suitably ghastly, but most viewers would be getting a kick out of watching Collins, at the pre-Dynasty stage of needing the work, as an alien and bringing a regal air to her despicable dealings.

Dragon's Domain was probably the most celebrated episode of Space: 1999, thanks to it sticking in the mind when it turned out to be the scariest. Originally intended as a starring role for Nick Tate's Carter, Spaghetti Western regular Gianni Garko took the part instead when Landau argued he was the lead and should not be upstaged, so differences were settled and this new, one-off character was introduced having nightmares which hark back to a harrowing experience as part of a deep space mission to an Earthlike planet. Not that they reached the planet, for they are caught in a "spider’s web" of spaceships where a horrendous monster appears and strips the other crew (including Grange Hill's Michael Sheard) of their flesh in a sequence that generated nightmares for real in younger viewers. Dr Russell is drafting this report on him (on a typewriter!) because he was not believed at the time, but now the Moon has drifted close to what appears to be that same web: could the hapless madman best his own personal Moby Dick? Not without the help of Koenig. This was notable too for the flashbacks to the Alphans before they were stranded in space.

The last episode to be produced in this first run, though not necessarily the first to be broadcast as that order varied with the stations showing them, was The Testament of Arkadia which took a religious, sort of Erich Von Daniken approach to its tale of the Moon being stopped dead by proximity to another world they have encountered. With the power running out, they send an Eagle staffed with the top scientists to have a look, and find a group of skeletons in a cave on this barren planet that, according to an engraving, the majority of the population left hundreds of thousands of years before. Then two of the party, played by Orso Maria Guerrini (Keoma, The Bourne Identity) and Lisa Harrow (Star Maidens, The Final Conflict), have a vision that imparts to them important information that prompts them to behave like religious fanatics and try to stay behind. For a series finale, it was oddly muted even with the true believers on the rampage, and ended things with Koenig getting philosophical in his handwritten journal. But for series two, wave goodbye to philosophy and Victor (and Paul, and Kano), because with a new producer in charge, things were about to change.
Author: Graeme Clark

 

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Last Updated: 18 March, 2006