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|By way of introducing what this site's all about, I'm going to start with a
bold statement: Space: 1999 is the most mind-blowing show ever put on television.
Already, I can sense a lot of heads being shaken at that. Not everyone's going to agree
with me, and that's fine. We're all different, and we can't be expected to appreciate the
same things. I really wouldn't expect my words here to suddenly persuade anyone to like the
show. Space: 1999 is like any work of art: it either speaks to you, or it doesn't.
What I'm doing here is explaining something of how it speaks to me.
This has developed from a number of discussions in which I've participated over the years on various web forums and bulletin boards. Just recently, I was confronted with a new thread about Space: 1999, in which the first post opened with the words: "Why exactly does this show have a fan base?" So not only criticising the show itself, but personally attacking those who might like it before they've even had a chance to say why: an attitude pretty much guaranteed to get my back up! And yet, as I indicated above, I'm not in the business of proselytizing for Space: 1999, even if I do seem to end up defending it. The trouble is, all my attempts to answer that original question (why I might be a fan of the show) were met with other people's perceptions of what was wrong with it, and by implication (or sometimes by direct statement...) why I was wrong to like it. I think a lot of the problems that people have with the show stem from them regarding it as just another generic sci-fi show, and expecting it to play by the rules of the genre - when in fact it's something quite unique and has its own rules. I'll be examining that as we go.
Another thing I've noticed during net discussions is that even some of the show's fans seem to want to damn it with faint praise - many set out to excuse their love of the show (as if they need to do that...) by saying that they watched it when they were younger, and there was nothing better on at the time. ("It was the pick of a bad crop," one of my correspondents said, referring to the general state of 1970s tv sci-fi.) And one of the largest Facebook groups dedicated to the show actually calls itself "Space: 1999 - A Guilty Pleasure". It's not an attitude I can really identify with - although I know I saw some of the original transmissions, I really don't remember very much about them. (I was around six years old at the time - the theme music and the spacecraft stuck in my mind, however.) It's my perception - I'm not sure how accurate - that the show was broadcast as Saturday morning children's programming, at least in my ITV region. I suspect this was because of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's history as producers of children's television programmes (Thunderbirds and its kin), and the general attitude of the ITV schedulers that science fiction was for children. [And that's certainly true in the 1970s: Ace of Wands, Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, Children of the Stones, Sky... all kids shows. It's not until we reach Sapphire & Steel at the end of the decade that we get something shown in an evening slot - and even that had originally been conceived as a children's programme! The Andersons' own 1970 show UFO, despite obviously being one of the most "adult" science fiction programmes ever produced, also got dumped on Saturday mornings before World of Sport.]
So there I was, six years old and barely registering what the show was about, beyond being wowed by the pretty pictures. In retrospect, it seems I must have expressed some appreciation at the time, since that Christmas my parents bought me a Space: 1999 Annual and a toy Eagle Transporter. As those are the only items of merchandise I had at the time, it would seem I moved on to a new craze pretty quickly. [Or more likely, it was just the show of the moment, a bare flicker across the consciousness - compared to the large number of Six Million Dollar Man toys I had around that time for instance. We didn't get the second series in my region, so Space: 1999 just came and went for me.] Owning that Annual was interesting though, as it provided a photo resource that backed up whatever vague memories of the show I still possessed, and filled in all the background, so even without seeing an episode for the next 15 years, I knew all about the setting and who the characters were. I also had a Look-in Annual with an article on Gerry Anderson, so I knew that Space: 1999 was part of a long lineage of shows he'd produced. (Actually, that's neither as true nor as important as some Anderson fans would have you believe, but I'll talk about that later.)
It seems that Space: 1999, though obviously fondly remembered, was ultimately not much of a success in Britain. One wonders how much that can be blamed on ITV's (usual for the time) treatment of the show. A proper network screening would have helped. [ITV's fractured regional structure, while a good thing in so many ways, did seem to conspire against many shows becoming deserved successes. You'd think that the ITC series - often glossy, expensive-looking and shot on 35mm film - would have been natural flagship shows and guaranteed a network screening; instead, the various regions did their own thing, showing them at different times and days to suit their own whims. Were they perhaps resentful of ATV's success and Lew Grade's obvious clout in the industry?] Whatever the reason, the general critical consensus in subsequent years was that Space: 1999 had been awful. Here's what Roger Fulton has to say in The Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction: "...the show was marred by po-faced acting, wildly implausible plots, one-dimensional characters and an almost total lack of warmth and humour". Armed with only a few vague childhood memories, and an admittedly very nice Dinky toy, I wasn't in a position to disagree. The fact that I could barely recall the series meant it couldn't have been any good, could it? [It's interesting though to speculate whether negative critiques like that have informed the opinion of the show held by many sci-fi fans; it certainly seems odd when I see very similar comments regurgitated time and again, often practically verbatim. Does fandom have a sort of race memory into which a consensus opinion permeates until it becomes an unshakeable conviction...?] The series was more successful in overseas markets, picking up a following in Japan and the USA, for instance. (This turned out not to be a blessing in the long run, however...)
But that's the story of my first brush with Space: 1999 - something I watched as a child, and then largely forgot for the next 15 years. I stress this to demonstrate how the childhood nostalgia that affects so many of my correspondents is not my reason for liking the show - no guilty pleasure for me! This is the story of how I came back to Space: 1999 as an adult viewer - and was blown away by it.
The early eighties saw ITV repeating many of the Andersons' puppet shows, which I loved. [I was still only in my early teens at this point, so I just enjoyed these series for what they were. Nowadays, I tend to be more critical of them. They're certainly a lot of fun for their kitsch nostalgia value; and it's interesting to watch the development of the filming technology and special effects work.] Now, it's interesting that even then I knew what Thunderbirds was, so I'm presuming I must have seen some earlier repeats in the mid to late seventies - or maybe I was just going by what I'd learned from that Look-in article. I recall too a big burst of publicity and excitement surrounding the arrival of Terrahawks, which again I was probably at the right age to watch uncritically.
But move on a few years: by the time I started at university, Space: 1999 was but a distant glimmer. It seems to me now that I retained far stronger memories of UFO, ten years or more after I'd last actually seen an episode, and had convinced myself that it was the Andersons' single greatest work. When my local ITV region started a late night rerun of that series, I was relieved and gratified to discover that it really was as good as I remembered. (Although ironically, in retrospect, it appears that my "strong" memories consisted of just a handful of sequences from two episodes. Still, they must have made an impression on me...) By this time, I was also starting to read a lot of the critical opinions on Space: 1999, and without actually being able to see the show again, it was all too easy to be convinced that it was the series where the Andersons lost it big time. [At that time, the most I could have hoped for was that ITV might repeat it, possibly as a late night filler in the same slot as UFO. The notion that in just a few more years, I'd be able to go down the High Street and buy the whole series on video, seemed quite inconceivable then.] I had in fact seen one more episode of Space: 1999 since the seventies - I caught a second series repeat when I was on holiday once (in a different ITV region), but that did nothing to revive my interest. In fact my overriding memory is of being disappointed that the theme music had changed.
So what happened to change my mind? By the time I was in my early twenties and working, I was also starting to cultivate my interest in archive and "cult" television. [This had really been started by Channel 4 repeating things like The Avengers and The Prisoner, but now we started to see proper video releases of these classic shows in their original episodic versions rather than clunky compilations as had happened at the birth of home video. ITC, despite owning a vast archive of stylish and popular series, had been pretty slow to capitalize on the video market; by the early nineties, they were only just starting to exploit their back catalogue by putting out tapes of their more famous shows. Unfortunately, this was all pretty slapdash, often using poor quality prints.] In 1991, the BBC acquired the rights to repeat Thunderbirds. I think they saw it as a relatively cheap filler programme. Amazingly, it became a phenomenon all over again, famously creating a demand for new merchandise and catching the toy manufacturers on the hop and ill-prepared for that Christmas. [It's interesting to speculate why this happened. It had been around 25 years since the series was originally shown. That's a whole generation in archaeological terms. Anyone who'd seen previous repeat screenings (like me) would have had some familiarity with the show still, even if they hadn't seen the very first transmission. Now, there was a generation for whom it was genuinely something new. Will we see a third coming of Thunderbirds some time around 2015? It'd be nice to think so, but somehow I doubt it. The children of the nineties will have the show on DVD, so by the time they're parents, they'll be able to show it to their kids at any time. It'll never have that sudden wonderful novelty value again.] The success of Thunderbirds led to Gerry Anderson becoming a household name once more, something he was pretty quick to capitalize upon. (No doubt it helped him to secure the funding for Space Precinct - every silver lining has a cloud...) In early 1992, he embarked on a lecture tour to talk about his career. As the tour took in my local arts centre, I decided to go along. Anyone who's heard his DVD commentaries will know Mr Anderson is not the most engaging speaker in the world, but he did alright here - I expect his script had been written for him, and he'd learnt it by heart. There were some well-worn anecdotes, and even some self-deprecating humour. He talked about the various shows he'd made, illustrating them with clips on a large video screen. Of course, I was familiar with most of the series from the repeats of a decade before; and I had all of UFO on tape, it had become one of my favourite shows. Then we came to Space: 1999. Remember, this was largely new to me: I knew about the background of the show from my old Annual, but not what it was actually like. Bearing in mind how much I loved UFO, I really had to wonder what Space: 1999 was like, and whether those criticisms I'd read were really justified. Unfortunately, the clip Gerry showed wasn't much to write home about - just the first season title sequence (I still remembered the crashing Eagle, and I loved that theme music) and a fairly basic scene in Main Mission (from Matter of Life and Death if you're interested). By themselves, these glimpses shouldn't have been enough to awaken an interest in the series.
On the back of the lecture programme was an advert for video releases of Anderson's shows, including some volumes of Space: 1999. Bear in mind that I was starting to re-discover "cult" tv series through repeats and buying the odd video; something must have intrigued me enough about Space: 1999 that night, that I decided to find out more. (It didn't seem likely that the show would actually be repeated; eventually, following the success of Thunderbirds, the BBC would pick up the rights to most of the other Anderson series, and several of the ITC thriller shows as well - but I couldn't have known that then.) The next day I went into town and bought the first four tapes (all that was available at the time). I really had no idea what to expect. For a start, the first episode wasn't on the first tape (due to a complicated release rights arrangement, I later discovered). Still, I knew enough about the series to be able to cope without that basic exposition.
Another oddity was that the episodes were released in a seemingly random order that ITC seemed to have devised for themselves - it really made little sense in terms of the series continuity (in as much as continuity actually exists in an ITC show - still it prompted me to think about the what the right order might be, something I've discussed in a separate essay). But it meant that I saw The Infernal Machine, Dragon's Domain, The Testament of Arkadia and The Troubled Spirit right at the beginning of my exposure to the series. I really couldn't ask for a better introduction to Space: 1999. I was hooked. Within days, I had watched and re-watched my four tapes, and was anxiously awaiting the release of the subsequent volumes.
Can I describe why Space: 1999 has had such a profound effect on me? Not in a few words - and that's really what this site is all about. I'm going to talk about what the show says to me, the way it touches my soul and expands my mind's horizons. There's something unique and totally compelling about Space: 1999, which made it the one series that went back into the video time after time (so much so that my tapes actually wore out - was I glad when the DVD came out...) There are certain rare works of art, I think, which grab you on an instinctive, fundamental level - that seem so atypical of their particular medium or genre, you've been unable previously to conceive of them being done that way. So when you finally do come across them, it's such a revelation that it affects the way you look at the entire medium from then on. Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! completely changed the way I viewed film, for example, while The Fall's album Perverted by Language did the same for pop music; viewing the first series of Space: 1999 was another such cultural epiphany. [And yes, it's important to make that distinction. As will become apparent, nearly everything that makes the show special to me was lost in drastic revisions made for its second series.] It's an astonishingly different series from any other sci-fi show before or since, and for that reason alone, I think it's worthy of my attention. It's breath-taking, spell-binding, and awe-inspiring. And that's why I'm a fan.
This site is not an episode guide to Space: 1999 in the conventional sense. If you want cast lists and plot summaries and behind-the-scenes details, there are plenty of other sites and books available that will tell you all that. Not that you won't find some of that information here - I just want to make it clear that this isn't a one-stop resource for Space: 1999 information, but something rather more subjective: an aesthetic, philosophical and spiritual study. I want to try and examine the effect the show has had on me, so I'll be looking at each episode from my own personal perspective - and hopefully sharing with you just what has driven me to build the site in the first place. The Episode guide page explains how that's going to work. I'll be gradually reviewing each episode, and uploading each one as it's complete - so bear with me, this is very much an ongoing project...