Sunday, January 18, 2015

Binge Watch: Space 1999 Edition

My recent efforts to catch up with the science fiction television programming I watched in my youth (see Binge Watch: Classic Galactica Edition) recently led to me acquire a subscription to Hulu Plus, the only streaming content service (that I am aware of) that offered episodes of Space 1999, an old British made TV series from the 1970s. There were two season of Space 1999, for a total of 48 episodes, all of which I have managed to watch since November of last year.

Space 1999 is a series about a multination operated lunar base (Moonbase Alpha) that gets cut off from Earth when the nuclear waste stored on the moon ignites and pushes the satellite out of Earth’s orbit. Somehow this burst of energy does not destroy the moon, and yet is powerful enough to send it on a trajectory that leads it past distant solar systems to encounter a variety of alien races and extra lunar threats. Leading the Alphans is Base Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Medical Doctor Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) and Doctor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse), who is the resident know-it-all scientist.

If one looks past the ridiculousness of the shows premise, one could have fun watching Space 1999. But given the quality of the writing for many of the episodes that would only be possible occasionally. The scripts are generally awful and the acting frequently worse. Everyone is just so overwrought most of the time, and many of the episodes inject a lot of new age nonsense that is pointless and confusing. The best thing about the series is the production design. The moon base sets in general have a very realistic feel, as do the exterior models and the Eagle spacecraft. One could imagine Eagles actually operating on the moon. Many of the first season characters (Alan Carter, Sandra Benes, Paul Morrow) also had a lot of potential. I think they could have been truly interesting given competent writers.

Season two saw a lot of changes, in characters, theme music and the style of the series, but remained hampered by the lack of coherent or entertaining storytelling. Morse’s Dr. Bergman was replaced by Maya, a Psychon shape-shifter played by Catherine Schell. Schell was probably the best actor on the set, (as Morse had been in the first season) but the writing never truly explored all of the potential of her character. Another new character, Head of Security Tony Verdeschi (Tony Anholt) also could have been interesting, if the writers had ever found a way to make him more than a series of Italian stereotypes.

Although the series has a certain level of nostalgia value, for those of us who would watch anything that was science fiction in the 1970s, I can’t recommend watching much more than the pilot, and that mostly just to see the production design. Most of the rest of the episodes just take the potential of an interesting premise and waste it.

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