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First series - Second series - Analysis and opinion
|This site is intended to be something like one of those unauthorized episode guide
books, but hopefully a bit more free and loosely-structured - perhaps you can think of it
as a free-form improvisation around the themes and ideas of the series, rather than a
formally-structured composition. However, there are still some basic rules: each episode
has its own entry, and the information compiled there will be loosely organized under
the following headings:|
Attention All Sections Alpha:
|This section is the general viewer's guide to the episode. So following a very
brief synopsis, I'll go on to note my impressions and observations, and examine the episode
from a visual and aesthetic viewpoint. Ideas and concepts and imagery that are introduced
for the first time will be discussed here. I'll talk about the design work and the special
effects. I might pay attention to the music; the guest cast and the quality of the acting;
interesting things in the script and direction. Basically, anything that stands out about
the episode or makes a new contribution to the development of the series.|
The Big Screen:
|This is where it gets much more in-depth. In this section, I'll be detailing the
"facts" about the world of Moonbase Alpha: what we learn about the background and history
of the characters; and about the (then)-future world of 1999 Earth - the politics, history
and technology. (I'll also consider those predictions the show got right, as well as those it got
spectacularly wrong.) This is also where I'll record what we learn about the vast universe into
which the Alphans are plunged: about strange worlds, alien beings, mysterious entities and
space phenomena. It's also where I may indulge in a bit of my own speculation -
extrapolating from what we learn in the show itself to try and piece together how things
might actually work in the Space: 1999 universe. [A brief note
about provenance is necessary here: all the information in this section will derive
primarily from what's on screen. A lot of "facts" about all Gerry Anderson's tv shows
come not from the episodes themselves, but from various background materials - writer's
guidelines and publicity brochures, for instance - and this tended to get picked up by
the writers of spin-off annuals and comics, eventually getting quoted so much that young
fans would have taken it for the truth. After all, with no DVDs available and very few
tv repeats, it's these additional sources that gave the shows some degree of permanance.
You wanted more Thunderbirds adventures, you had to create them yourself with your
Dinky toys, or read TV21. It's not hard to see why the information printed there would
come to seem more real than the episodes - especially when there was no easy way to check
back what had been established on the tv. There are certainly a lot of biographical details
of the characters, and technical specifications on the vehicles and equipment, which have
seen print over the years, but were never mentioned in the shows themselves. My old
Space: 1999 Annual for instance tells me that Koenig was born in 1959 - this is
possible, it would only make him a few years younger than the actor who played him, but
it's not confirmed on screen so I can't regard it as real. Where such background material
might come in handy would be where, say, an interview with the writer explains some of
what he intended that perhaps didn't come off too clearly on screen - likewise, I may
occasionally draw on draft scripts and synopses to illustrate what the writers may have
Human Decision Required:
|And finally, this section is where you'll find the most serious analysis. This is
where I'm concerned with how Space: 1999 speaks to me as a viewer. I'll be
speculating a lot about what the episodes actually mean - what I think the writers were
trying to say and what might have influenced them.
I'll also be looking at the more bizarre aspects of the series (which, perhaps not surprisingly, are those aspects that most alienate the majority of sci-fi fans). I'll be arguing that Space: 1999 is not a hard science fiction show, but an existentialist fantasy that uses the unknown reaches of deep space as a metaphor for the unfathomable depths of the soul and the human psyche. The Alphans often find themselves at the mercy of phenomena beyond their comprehension and their scientific understanding. [A lot has been said about the lack of scientific accuracy in the show. Indeed, it seems to be the main complaint that sci-fi fans level against it, even today - and for those who go out of their way to criticise the series, this provides a readily available stick to beat it with. It's not as though it doesn't happen in other shows. Most popular science fiction programmes contain scientific "errors" of their own, and these can usually be excused for the sake of dramatic necessity. Fans are quite prepared to overlook these faults in their own favourite shows - so why pick up on this aspect of Space: 1999 as such a major transgression? (So desperate were some critics to find fault, they even resorted to making a big thing of the fact that sound can be heard in the vacuum of space - as if Space: 1999 was the only show to ever do that!) I think a lot of the problem is that the series cloaks itself in all the trappings of a hard sci-fi show, and these cultural signifiers lead the audience to expect it to conform to the "rules" of the genre. Instead, it deliberately plays with and subverts these conventions - this is another of the show's strengths for me - but perhaps this very uniqueness prevents the critics from getting a handle on Space: 1999; they can't judge it according to the usual standards of tv sci-fi, so latch onto the science as an easy target instead.] So, one aspect I'll be devoting some time to is the depiction of science in the show - examing the most glaring breaches of the laws of physics - and trying to piece together how the Alphans' universe actually works.
One thing that's clear: there are higher forces at work in this universe. An article in a 1976 edition of Starlog magazine coined the expression "mysterious unknown force" as a catch-all description of this aspect of the series - but this is somewhat simplistic. Certainly, something is influencing the Alphans' destiny in the first series, something that occasionally intervenes to determine the course of events. This lends a metaphysical (one might almost say religious) edge to the programme, which certainly makes it stand apart from other science fiction shows of the period. (And indeed, it attracted a lot of criticism at the time.) I find this one of the most interesting aspects of the series, so I'll be exploring this in some detail.
Space: 1999 is full of bizarre and extraordinary events, quite unlike those in any other science fiction show. The Alphans encounter phenomena beyond our comprehension; their destiny is shaped by mysterious forces; and nothing is quite what it seems. Several episodes, particularly in the first series, are left completely open-ended and lacking in any sense of narrative closure. (And yes, this is something else that totally alienated the science fiction community in 1975.) So, I'll examine all the strange events and incomprehensible endings, and try to offer my own explanations of what's really going on. Again, this will feature a good deal of my own speculation; and where possible I'll try to tie this together with the actions of higher forces and the more glaring scientific errors. [Thinking about some of these elements of the series, I do wonder whether Space: 1999 was simply ahead of its time. In the last couple of decades, we've seen shows come along which have redefined the nature and expectations of tv sci-fi: shows like Babylon 5, which wears its own metaphysical sub-text on its sleeve - it's pretty much about the interaction of ordinary people with the "gods"; shows like The X Files, which almost seemed to revel in having no narrative closure whatsoever - yet became a massive audience hit. I have to wonder whether Space: 1999 might not have been more successful had it come along twenty years later...]
Sir Arthur Eddington is supposed to have said: "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." The creators of Space: 1999 made television's greatest attempt to disprove that maxim - exercising their imaginations to present a vision of a strange, unknowable and truly alien universe. It's a unique and unusual series, one that requires the viewer to do a lot of work, to let go of preconceptions and immerse himself in the drama, to find the meaning rather than to passively absorb a typical genre plot. So, I'm going to explore each episode in search of its meaning. I really do think that Space: 1999 is something you either "get" or you don't. I know I'm unlikely to change anyone else's opinion of the series, but I can at least articulate my own.
A short note on style: if you've read this page and the introduction, you'll see that I have a tendency to go off at tangents - I don't regret this, as I'm championing Space: 1999 as a series that expands the consciousness and makes the viewer think. I also believe that the show's place within an historical and cultural context is as important to its meaning as what happens in the episodes themselves. However, in order to distinguish these digressions from the main body of the text, I've presented them in a different colour and a smaller font size (if this were a book, they'd be footnotes).
For the first series, I'm listing the episodes in my own preferred running order, as this is the way I like to view the series. There's an in-depth discussion of this sequence elsewhere on this site. The second series has a chronological order, with most of the episodes having a stated date. (This does throw up a few continuity errors however.) For ease of reference and comparison, I also list the episodes in the order of production, which is how you'll find them arranged on the DVDs for instance.
First series episodes