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Over the Moon - Space: 1999 The Complete Series on Blu-ray Part 2
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Over the Moon - Space: 1999 The Complete Series on Blu-ray Part 2

  Hello, what's this? It's still Moonbase Alpha, but there are notable differences: No Professor Bergman (Barry Morse had declined to be in season two), different sets and costumes, Sylvia Anderson no longer on board as a producer - though her soon to be ex-husband was - and the great theme tune had been replaced by an equally bombastic if not as catchy Derek Wadsworth one. All this was down to new producer Fred Freiberger's involvement, a controversial figure in science fiction television for he gained the reputation as the man who put an end to both Star Trek in the sixties and The Six Million Dollar Man in the seventies - and Space: 1999 too. He preferred action to thought, so brought in Maya (Catherine Schell) as episode one's titular The Metamorph, changing her shape at will. She was the daughter of one of those tyrants (Brian Blessed again) this series loved to present, and once he was overthrown she joined the Alphans in their adventures. The consensus is this second outing was less impressive than the first, but was that true?

More tyrants appeared in the second episode The Exiles, very much in the template of a series one plot as the Alphans are approached by what they believe to be missiles, but are in fact capsules: on opening one, they are surprised to find in suspended animation a Blue Peter presenter. Peter Duncan was that man, back when he was making his living as an actor and not a presenter, and he seems nice enough even if his form-fitting spandex outfit leaves little to the imagination, and the same goes for his character's wife (Stacy Dorning from The Adventures of Black Beauty). They want the rest of their people revived and think this is the place to do so, but Martin Landau's Koenig is suspicious, and rightly as to nobody's surprise Duncan and Dorning turn nasty. This was all very well, but the Freiberger influence appeared to be to introduce more Star Trek elements like a "Captain’s Log" narration, therefore too there were scenes for humorous (i.e. cringe-tastic) asides such as Maya turning into Barbara Bain's Dr Russell for the Commander to kiss them both and work out which was the real Helena.

Third up, One Moment of Humanity, that's right, the Alphans meet more all-powerful megalomaniacs, led by an android Billie Whitelaw (The Omen, Hot Fuzz) who whisks Dr Russell and new regular Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt: The Protectors, Howard's Way) to her home planet Vega for further examination. The Vegans have turned the power off on the base to stop the humans meddling, and the crew are beginning to freeze to death, but Helen and Tony aren't having a great time of it either as the androids, including Whitelaw's sidekick Leigh Lawson, may dress like Greek gods and goddesses but they have no noble intentions. As revealed by Geoffrey Bayldon (Catweazle, Asylum), one of their human slaves, the Vegans want, not to find out what is this thing you call love, Earthman, but what is this thing you call violence and hate, and if their captives demonstrate it they will follow suit. This rather moribund episode climaxed in a bizarre dance sequence choreographed by Lionel Blair, which should give you some idea of how effective that was dramatically, though it represented more of the lightening up of Russell since the first series.

Something different was fourth with All That Glisters, which featured not one scene on the Moonbase whatsoever as a team made up of series regulars plus Oirish-accented guest star Patrick Mower (The Devil Rides Out, Target) travel to a planet in search of a vital but made up material named Milgonite. What they find astounds them, though it may have you more likely rolling your eyes in the episode many of the cast named as their least favourite since the monster here was a big lump of rock. Not an ambulatory lump of rock as in a certain Star Trek episode (yes, that show again), it just sat there in a cave, glowing gold and having the occasional piece blasted off it by the laser guns the crew had with them, though some peril was introduced when Tony was rendered unconscious by one of this series' patented coloured spotlights to represent rum doings where aliens were concerned. To make matters even more ridiculous, the plot arranged to have Maya turn into a rock as well to attempt communication - and the thing refused to comply, thus dragging out the storyline ever further. You could cut Space: 1999 a lot of slack if you were a fan of this type of material, but this was a shoddy fifty minutes of television however you looked at it.

Better was Journey to Where, a time-travelling yarn where contact is made with Earth. However, the Moon has been drifting through space for the equivalent of decades, though months have passed for the wanderers, and Koenig is initially sceptical that this message is hailing from where it claims. A couple of pointed, factual questions later and it is confirmed: it is their home calling, and what's more they can transport the stranded back there, where according to the scientist in charge (Freddie Jones: Children of the Stones, The Elephant Man) and his colleague (Isla Blair again) the world has been blighted by pollution, but everyone lives safely in huge, domed cities. Almost safely: when Koenig, Russell and Carter (Nick Tate returned) try the device, an earthquake occurs that hurls them back to Scotland twenty-five years after the Battle of Bannockburn where they are mistaken for the dreaded English. Although straining credibility to ludicrous levels, the spirit of adventure was present in this one, and for a change the comedy asides were not too bad because the cast appeared happy with them. Nicely played, too, was Maya's unspoken sadness at losing her new friends.

What would this show be without its overripe performances from British character actors? One of the ripest came from Willoughby Goddard (The Wrong Box, Porterhouse Blue), that massively corpulent, fruity-voiced thespian, a regular on stage and a frequent presence in period drama on the television, here trying something a little different for The Taybor, which he played; he did not often get to wear purple makeup and a practically pyramidal wig. He announces himself as a trader to the Alphans, but as ever Koenig is wary of strangers, having been bitten too many times by apparently friendly visitors who turn out to be nothing of the sort. With that in mind, we are not exactly shocked when The Taybor's generous nature is revealed as wholly self-serving, and all those fascinating objects he has available for trade are simply a ruse so he can get his hands on Maya, who he treasures even more than the Alphans treasure the hyperspace jump drive on his spaceship. Pausing for a scene where they Moonbase crew create an android Maya in the hopes he will be happy with that (how did they manage this, then?), the rest was a fun showcase for Goddard.

Freiberger opted to pen a script of his own for the next episode, The Rules of Luton, which did not feature the heroes taking a trip to Bedfordshire to check out the airport, or the carnival for that matter, but a planet by that name, rather absurdly picked by the producer when he saw a sign on the M1 motorway. It's pronounced differently in the programme, anyway. As far as the plot goes, Koenig and Maya are stranded on the planet when the Eagle they arrived in had to go for repairs, and when they pick a berry and a flower respectively they are told by a stentorian bellow that they have broken a sacred law and must now die. This seems an overreaction, to say the least, but engages the duo in a battle with three aliens who have also broken the rules, another demonstration of the series' particularly grotty style of monster design, and also more regrettably another example of the lifting of inspiration from Star Trek, in this case the fan favourite episode Arena where Captain Kirk had to wrestle a bloke in a lizard suit. There was a chance for a heart to heart between the Commander and Maya, which was nice (World War III in 1987!), but it was awfully derivative.

The Mark of Archanon focused on another repeated notion in this series, waking up a sleeping threat and having it wreak havoc either on the base or wherever the Alphans happened to be at the time. In this case it occurred when Alan and a colleague were mining for minerals and broke a cave wall apart to reveal a couple of bodies behind a forcefield; when Verdeschi manages to break the field during a cave-in, the incarcerated are revealed to be dazed but alive and taken back to the Moon. Tony happens to be in charge in this episode because Landau and Schell were away in Luton - no, not that Luton, the other... anyway, for that reason Koenig and Maya appear intermittently as they negotiate their Eagle around an asteroid storm. The two survivors, meanwhile are an Archanon peace bringer (John Standing: The Psychopath, V for Vendetta) and his son (Michael Gallagher) who have been banished because they suffered a hereditary blood disease that rendered them mindlessly violent. We can tell this may not end well, but most notable was how Australian Alan became in this instalment, even if he was teaching the boy American football (pretend it's rugby).

The next episode stuck in the minds of all those kids who enjoyed The Wombles on children's TV, for voicing the titular Brian the Brain was none other than narrator extraordinaire Bernard Cribbins. He became best known for co-starring with David Tennant's Doctor Who to a more recent generation, but he had a long career in popular films and television, though to hear him portraying a villain in much the same way he portrayed his more benevolent characters was an inspired choice (he also appeared in person closer to the end). Brian is a computer from Earth the Moonbase comes into contact with then it "blinds" their instruments and makes them believe they are on a collision course with a planet, but Koenig and Russell venture onto the ship carrying it and find a large box with a head, complete with flashing lights, that introduces itself as the apparently friendly computer seeking its missing crew. Cribbins not only managed to be cheerfully sinister, but piled on the pathos too when Brian was bested, highly unusual not only for this show but many of the small screen sci-fi efforts of the seventies. He made this possibly the eccentric highlight of season two.

However it was business as usual for the next episode, New Adam, New Eve, business for Freiberger being ripping off his old episodes on Star Trek, here the Who Mourns for Adonis plotline where the Enterprise encounters God, or someone who acts like and thinks they are God, that was. For some reason William Shatner liked this concept so much that he used it in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier; it was ridiculous there, but Space: 1999 gave it a run for its money in the ludicrous stakes as the "God" here, played by Guy Rolfe (The Stranglers of Bombay, Sardonicus) with a Fu Manchu moustache and purple robes, predictably does not take long to be figured out by the four-person team he escorts back to his so-called Garden of Eden. He wishes Koenig, Russell, Verdeschi and Maya to procreate, but not in the most obvious pairing for extra dramatic tension that isn't there since we are aware they didn't fancy one another in that combination, but the real absurdity was how the beat the self-proclaimed Almighty through his fear of the dark. Somehow he managed to travel through space with this phobia, but it was slightly amusing to see this smug alien's terrible plans go so awry.

No less silly was The Catacombs of the Moon, where apparently it was safe to breathe under the surface because the characters we see never wear spacesuits. This one led with a religious fanatic engineer (James Laurenson: The Monster Club, Pink Floyd: The Wall) who is convinced that the Moonbase is due to be destroyed by fire any time now, nobody believes him but it doesn't stop him harping on about it at every opportunity, when he's not going on about his wife, that is. In a point of interest for comedy fans, she was played by Pamela Stephenson (Bloodbath at the House of Death, Superman III) who was about to be very famous in Britain as the female member of satirical sketch show Not the Nine O'clock News, but back when this was made, she was starting out as an actress. Anyway, this wife has heart troubles and needs a transplant, so Russell and new regular Dr Ben Vincent (Jeffery Kissoon: Grange Hill, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) slave away over a mechanical device to keep her going while Alpha suffers under a heat cloud and the engineer causes mayhem with his mania. The best you could say was this treated the characters with kindness.

Next up, The AB Chrysalis, and what do you know, it's time for Moonbase Alpha to be in peril once again, yes it was another instalment where the future of the Alphans' home was very much in doubt, except it wasn't, its destruction was about as likely as the Starship Enterprise getting blown up (on TV, granted they pulled that trick all the time in the movies). One supposed we should be thankful they weren't stuck looking for more rare minerals or ore, which happened with surprising regularity in series two, but it was massive energy waves emanating from a planet ringed by a number of moons that was the source of the problem. Tony wasn't in this one, Anholt having taken up most of his shooting schedule on the previous episode, and equally Alan wasn't in that one but was in this, if you were taking notes on the cast. What we did get when Koenig, Maya and Carter investigate were bouncing ball robots reminiscent of the Zeroids from Anderson's eighties series Terrahawks, then a naked Ina Skriver (Take an Easy Ride, The Golden Lady) and Sarah Douglas (Superman II, Return of the Living Dead Part 3) for a philosophical exercise in action vs inaction. It's OK, we didn't see much.

Now, the one thing you can depend on in a science fiction TV show is that sooner or later there will be an evil double episode, and Space: 1999 did not disappoint. Sure, Star Trek had one of those as well, but they have been so prevalent across the medium, presumably because the producers don't need to pay the salary of a guest star for a change, that you couldn't really blame Anderson for giving the concept a go himself. Predictably, it was Koenig who was duplicated when a glittery asteroid is seen in close proximity to the Moon and he and Alan head off to investigate, intrigued because it has a breathable atmosphere (maybe not that shocking when just about everywhere they visited that was not in actual space had that as well). Carter is left behind when the Eagle suspiciously malfunctions, but Koenig goes exploring in a hall of mirrors and his (almost) exact twin appears, knocks him out and takes his place back at base. A neat touch here was that the main cast aside from Alan did not believe the evil version was who he said he was, but frustratingly could not prove it: someone knew their Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Freiberger was back on script duties for next entry The Beta Cloud, one of the instances where his belief that the series needed more action was put into play. When you see the guest star is David Prowse (A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars), you know immediately the nearly-seven-foot-tall bodybuilder will not be playing an intellectual, and so it was we never saw his face for the duration as he climbed into his costume (sort of a fanged and hairy frog-man) and proceeded to fling the Alphans around the base. This was one of those where Freiberger was patently shuffling his cast around to make his resources stretch that degree further, so once again Landau was sidelined as he and Bain fell victim to a space cloud's machinations and spent most of the time offscreen and unconscious. This left it up to Tony and Maya to marshal the resources of the crew who remained awake, including semi-regular Bill Fraser (John Hug) and stop the beast before it wipes out all life on the Moon, easier said than done when it proves invincible. Notable for the pair sharing a romantic declaration of love when things were at their bleakest, before a comedy return to normality.

For Space Warp, it was once more the brainchild of Freiberger penning the screenplay, and as above the action quotient was ramped up, to the extent of using the same monster outfit (sans Prowse) for a substantial stretch of the plot. The warp of the title was a device to get Koenig - and Verdeschi - away from the base yet again, so that they could have the excuse of keeping their scenes to a minimum and still justify saying that Landau was the star, even though he was increasingly giving way to the supporting artistes. That pair are stuck light years away from the Moon thanks to the condition that sends it hurtling through the void, and on finding an abandoned ship that suffered the same fate as their Eagle, they set about catching up with their pals. Meanwhile, it was Schell's turn for a break as Maya endures a fever as a result of that warp and spends most of the time as a man in a grotty monster costume - or two. She also turns into what looks like a Viking. There was some entertainment in seeing her go berserk, but this was awfully similar to the entry that had preceded it, and the sense of padding the running time out with action was noticeable.

Doctor Who fans would find alarm bells ringing when they saw the writers' credit on A Matter of Balance, with its punning name, for they were Pip and Jane Baker, often blamed for some of the worst stories on that programme in the eighties, which saw its decline. This was unfair, as they were no worse than some of what was dreamt up for the Doctor to conduct, but this has led their Space: 1999 episode to be judged rather harshly retrospectively. As it turned out, you could recognise it for trying something different, as the characters were not stuck battling a Godlike being or preventing the destruction of the base, for the focus here was on a teenager, Shermeen Willams, played by tragic Lynne Frederick (The Amazing Mr Blunden, Phase IV). She would soon gain notoriety as Peter Sellers' last wife with a terrible reputation as a consequence, continuing to her early demise, but it has generated interest in her, and this yarn is part of that where her schoolgirl crush on Tony (still labouring under the home brew gags) leads her to fall under the influence of a scantily clad and bald Stuart Wilson (Lethal Weapon 3, Hot Fuzz). With anti-matter confusion aplenty, it was at least novel.

We open The Bringers of Wonder Part 1 with Koenig going completely bananas, a recurring theme in this episode, though later on there is method in his madness. He is piloting an Eagle as if it was a hot rod and he was a boy racer, and back on Alpha the crew are understandably concerned, especially when he crashes the craft near a nuclear waste dump, so he is rescued and taken to Dr Russell who places him in a contraption to relax him and find out what's gone wrong. As she is doing this, the instruments indicate a ship approaching: it lands, and out pour a bunch of the Alphans' old buddies and relatives, to everyone's delight. There follows scenes of catching up, good natured ribbing, and sentimental reunions, enhanced by the news that Earth now has faster than light vehicles and can take the wanderers home at last. Yeah, we've heard this before, and we have good reason to believe that there's as much chance of that as Dr Sam Beckett making the leap... home on Quantum Leap, but hope springs eternal. Then Koenig wakes up and is escorted to the Command Centre to meet and greet - and he is horrified!

Following on as you might expect, The Bringers of Wonder Part 2 was a demonstration of that particularly American trick of series television of the seventies, which was to make self-contained episodes for the whole season, then throw in a two-parter to keep the audience on their toes, as well as giving them a motive to tune in next week to find out what happens next. You might have thought Batman in the sixties would have been a pattern to follow, a bunch of stories lasting over two episodes, but it seems US TV declined to present such a hook, so you would be offered one tale per hour-long slot, and then at some point in say, The Incredible Hulk or The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries there would be a cliffhanger. Perhaps the producers felt overdoing that was too close to soap opera, but it was highly effective in this Space: 1999 effort, and one of the highlights of the entire show, illustrating what could be done with the format and really shines with excitement, action, weirdness and a set of great, disgusting slime monsters. Plus the mind control idea was rarely better used in any sci-fi of this era.

Back with the fifty-minute plots with The Lambda Factor, though again an interesting aspect was the writer's credit, he being Terrance Dicks, the legendary Doctor Who scriptwriter and script editor who had overseen some of that shows glory days during the seventies. Here he adapted himself to Moonbase Alpha with little friction, but his efforts were unlikely to go down in science fiction TV history as an absolute classic. It was the old psychic powers trouble blighting the crew this time, thanks to a lambda wave storm they have drifted into that creates a series of supernatural abilities in select team members; as this was the decade it was, these exhibited themselves in the sort of thing psychic researchers were delving into as they investigated the possibilities of ESP, something that has not been proven to this day, but influenced a whole raft of fantastical fiction of the time. Deborah Fallender (Jabberwocky, Rock Follies) was the focus of the effects, unleashing a proto-Akira set of powers that caused the requisite disaster which was sorted out by the end thanks to Koenig (who has been hallucinating himself) calming her down. People still died, mind you.

Like the previous episode, The Séance Spectre featured no monsters (unless you counted what Maya got up to) but it did have an interest in psychics and the paranormal as a group of four crewmembers have been holding seances to ascertain what Koenig has been trying to keep secret: that there may be a planet in the vicinity capable of sustaining life. However, this time the special powers were given short shrift as it quickly becomes clear these insurgents are deluding themselves under their leader, mad Scotsman Sanderson (Ken Hutchison: Straw Dogs, Blonde Fist), who has allowed his hopes for a better future to blind him to the fact his goals are not only wholly unrealistic, but dangerous as well. He was a forceful villain, not entirely unsympathetic (Dr Russell explains the strain of space life is taking its toll), but willing to destroy in order to get his way, including killing Commander Koenig if he can. There was a rich seam here of exploring the psychological effects of living on the base and how many may start to take serious umbrage at Koenig's leadership, but when you boiled it down Sanderson was basically a monster of the week without a costume.

Dorzak was named after the villain played by Lee Montague (Mahler, The Legacy) who was apparently so powerful the lead actor in the series couldn't appear in his episode. No cutaways to Koenig in an Eagle while he negotiated a cosmic menace of incidental magnitude, Landau simply was nowhere to be seen, allowing his supporting cast to carry the story when an alien ship from a society seemingly led by women lands on the base, their leader (Jill Townsend: Sitting Target, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution) informing Tony (who was doing more about the base than Koenig was at this stage) that they are holding deadly, psychic criminal Dorzak, and they need medical attention after he briefly broke free. However, this chap is a Psychon, and so is Maya, so she refuses to believe that he could be evil, which in truth makes her look pretty stupid as the same thing happened with her father at the start of the season. Only Carter is willing to accept Dorzak can control minds and will be having that effect on Alpha, in a tale that managed efficient if predictable tensions that must have had Landau worried they could carry on perfectly well without him (he was filming elsewhere).

And the elsewhere he was filming was the next episode, Devil's Planet, which in turn featured none of the regulars who had been in the previous entry (aside from footage used to look into Koenig's mind by the baddies). It was more or less a showcase for Landau, getting a whole story to himself, yet he still managed to spend a fair chunk of it unconscious yet again, which was becoming a habit with Koenig. The plot was that Koenig and a personality-free supporting character, the equivalent of a red shirt in Star Trek only with a few more actual lines, arrived at this forest moon but didn't find Ewoks, they found a bunch of dead bodies littered around a cabinet. It is soon clear these grey-suited folks are prisoners who are promised a chance at escape by "beaming" over there via the box, but collapse and die within seconds. This is down to the schemes of the planet's sadistic leader, Hildegard Neil (The Man Who Haunted Himself, A Touch of Class), who treats the captives like playthings in a dominatrix manner, and that includes Koenig who must find a method of escape. The politics of this were murky, but it had a patented Space: 1999 impossible situation to navigate.

That woodland set with all the foliage and boulders was pressed into service once again in The Immunity Syndrome, where the Alphans, for the umpteenth time, find a planet that looks hospitable and set about conducting tests to back up their theories, though by this point you could guess how well this was going to go. Sure enough, one of the survey team goes nuts and attacks Tony, leading to one of those stuntmen brawls so beloved of this series, but whatever affected the crewmember affects Tony too, and he has soon gone feral, launching himself through the undergrowth and shooting his laser gun (that distinctive n-shaped design unique to the show, with two settings: stun and kill) at anyone who crosses his path. As if that were not bad enough, the previous readings that indicated the water and fruit on the planet were perfectly safe prove hopelessly wrong - or have the surroundings gone orf terribly? What could be causing this? If I said, disembodied voice, would you now where we were at? This featured a welcome item of female emancipation when it was Dr Russell and Maya who mounted the rescue operation rather than the blokes.

For the last ever episode, it looked initially as if Anderson and Freiberger had enough of Moonbase Alpha and wished to trash the place outright, as the episode The Dorcons opened with said aliens opening fire on the crew and almost destroying their home in the process. The reason? They want Maya, for they were mortal enemies of her Psychon race and are determined to wipe them all from the universe, and as she is pretty much the final survivor, they are after her blood. Or rather, after her brain, as the leader needs it to survive as Koenig beams aboard their spaceship in a stowaway move to persuade them otherwise and rescue his friend. There followed what can best be described as court intrigue, with the three main Dorcons conspiring against one another: former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton as the head, Ann Firbank (Accident, Tales from a Flying Trunk) as his partner, and (tragic) Gerry Sundquist (The Music Machine, Don't Open Till Christmas) as the usurper. More unconsciousness followed as Koenig outmanoeuvred what appeared an implacable foe, and that was the lot, inconclusive but then they were anticipating a third season that did not materialise.

Space: 1999 can be best called to mind as one of the most unmistakably nineteen-seventies science fiction shows of all time, if not the most, for better or worse. With its superb model work by Brian Johnson, it certainly looked the most distinctive, and its fans rightly lament that it did not continue, because it would have been genuinely interesting to see where it would go, though a short fan film brought the tale to a close many years later. But if you want to relive the concepts of seventies sci-fi, or try them for the first time, Network's Blu-ray box set of the entire series is ideal, with extras including galleries, music only tracks, and a series two episode scored like series one.
Author: Graeme Clark

 

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Last Updated: 18 March, 2006