Blu-Review: Space 1999: Series 1

Created By Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson
Starring Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse and Prentis Hancock


One of the near-insurmountable hurdles for some viewers when it comes to revisiting a lot of ’60s and ’70s TV science fiction is the sheer campiness of it all. Star Trek might be beloved to millions, but there’s no denying the incredible goofiness of the show: the laughable monster effects, the hammy acting and Kirk’s hilariously daft fighting style – all judo chops, double-fisted hammer punches and simply rolling along the ground towards the enemies’ shins. The dated aspects aren’t just something you need to look past when revisiting shows that are very much products of their era, though, but part of what most fans love and embrace about it.

Space 1999 took a different approach to TV sci-fi than the more popular and campier shows that preceded and influenced it. Though driven by a familiar “space anomaly/alien planet of the week” formula as a crew of moon colonists roam through the cosmos, it aimed for a more straight-faced, cerebral tone closer to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Trek or Lost in Space. Incredibly high production values, set design and a tonne of interesting ideas are to thank for Space 1999 aging incredibly well and holding up as one of the more resilient TV offerings from the era, but it’s a show that could really use a dash of the campy fun, life and adventure it staunchly avoided.
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First airing in 1975 and created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet), Space 1999 rode on a rather silly premise for such a joyless show. Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) is called to an atomic waste dump located on the moon to investigate a strange virus causing the death of several crew members. When things go awry and the nuclear load explodes, it sends the moon rocketing out of orbit. Koenig and the crew of Moonbase Alpha are forced to drift through the depths of space with the moon itself as their wayward space ship, encountering new weekly dangers and interstellar weirdness as they hope to find rescue or a new habitable planet to call home.

While it certainly sets it apart from other shows of its ilk, Space 1999′s stone-faced, cold, scientific approach to its story also provides the show’s biggest stumbling block. Each instalment kicks off with a phenomenal little ‘This Episode…’ credit sequence recap of the events to come, perfectly edited, chock full of dynamite energy and action, set to a great little funky disco riff, but the episodes themselves usually follow that burst of energy with a sobering ice bath of slow-paced scientific musings and stoic performances.
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Not that there’s anything wrong with a slow burn show – some ideas require time and subtlety to allow characters, stories and tensions to work effectively – but the overriding problem with Space 1999′s leisurely pace is that it rarely serves a purpose. Little to no effort is made in that time to develop any of the large cast of characters, to propel the story forward, to experiment with the ideas at play or to nurture tension. Instead, extraneous, lengthy techno-jargon and cold, mechanical scientific back-and-forths are abundant and aren’t enlivened by the dour, emotionless performances of the cast. The unnecessarily slow pace often ebbs to a crawl without ever really justifying the 52 minute runtime; as a 30 minute show, shorn of dull padding, Space 1999 would be an infinitely more accessible and enjoyable show.

That being said, Space 1999′s sober approach also allows the show to traffic in more serious and interesting ideas than most genre shows of the time. ‘Matter of Life and Death’ is rather evocative of Solaris (a remote planet recreating the images of the crew’s dead loved ones) while many episodes, particularly ‘Black Sun’, embrace the surreal ambiguity of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The show works best when walking a more traditional genre path though, with the best episodes of the season being ‘Earthbound’, which is practically Space 1999′s Twilight Zone episode, complete with fantastic, bleak stinger ending, and ‘Dragon’s Domain’, which is pure monster movie horror through-and-through, and is still incredibly creepy today.
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Some aspects of Space 1999 might be dated (like those bell-bottom pajama uniforms), but most of the show holds up incredibly well, most notably the miniature effects work. Gerry Anderson’s trade has always been puppets and miniatures, so it’s no surprise that the show’s ships and space stations are lovingly designed in ridiculous detail and still look great. Not only is the effects work and set design some of the best of that TV era, but they have a practical charm that latter-day CG lacks. The show also boasts a handful of fun guest appearances from British horror legends like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, along with soon-to-be-famous actors like Ian McShane.

Ultimately the unnecessarily slow pace of much of Space 1999 might make it a tough slog at times, which is unfortunate considering the great ideas and stories scattered throughout. If you have the patience to wade past the stiff performances and plodding pace, there’s some great, occasionally dark, intelligent sci-fi entertainment lurking beneath that’s well work checking out.
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On the Blu-ray:

Network DVD were only able to send along the first three discs of the seven disc Blu-ray set for review, so unfortunately I can’t comment on the extras found on the other discs. Judging by the discs I received, though, fans of Space 1999 or those discovering it anew will be delighted to see the care that’s gone into Network’s Blu-ray set. With a beautiful transfer and an absolute wealth of special features, this is undoubtedly the best way to experience the show.

Visually, the lovingly restored HD transfer for Space 1999 is sure to please fans of the show. Naturally, a 35-year-old TV show isn’t going to look as recent blockbusters, but the Blu-ray looks astounding all the same. The image (presented in 1080p 4×3 pillarboxed format, preserving the show’s broadcast aspect ratio) is wonderfully detailed and free from print blemishes and scratches, while colours are vibrant and accurate. Flesh tones look exactly as they should be for a TV show of the time, when stage make-up was seemingly applied with a bucket and a trowel. All in all, it’s a beautiful transfer for the show, and one which Space 1999 fans will be ecstatic with.
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On the audio front, there’s the choice of a DTS 5.1 Dolby Digital track, the episode’s original mono track and music-only tracks for every episode but ‘Breakaway and ‘Dragon’s Domain’. The remixed 5.1 track is excellent, and thankfully free from any gimmicky tinkering or replacements; dialogue is clearer, sound effects have a touch more punch, the score and theme song sound even more fantastic, and there’s effective use of the surround channels. English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are also included.

Kicking off the extras, two commentaries with Gerry Anderson are included for the pilot episode Breakaway and later episode Dragon’s Domain. There’s a lot of dead air, and Anderson is quite a dry speaker, but an incredibly interesting one nonetheless. Breakaway’s commentary covers a great deal of ground from the series’ origins as the second series of Anderson’s UFO, retrofitted into a new show when UFO was cancelled, the technical aspects of the series, to the problems faced with casting agents and studio heads, and is a pretty candid and enlightening listen, if not an exhaustive one.

A text commentary is available on episodes ‘The Last Sunset’ and ‘Space Brain’. The information is primarily restricted to the locations and dates that the filming of scenes took place, and as such, won’t be of massive interest to casual fans, but they’re crammed with technical trivia and information and a welcome inclusion.
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Each disc comes with an absolute mountain of HD stills galleries for every episode, ranging from PR promo shots to candid behind-the-scenes pictures, make-up tests, Roy Dotrice’s on-set visit from This Is Your Life presenter Eamonn Andrews to images of various Space 1999 gum and cigarette cards. The sheer amount of great images that Network have unearthed is incredibly impressive, and there’s an absolute tonne to look through.

The rest of the mountain of extra features are as follows:

• HD restored, textless titles
• HD, digitally restored version of series two episode The Metamorph
• “These Episodes” featurettes (selected individual episode analysis – expanded version from that seen on the DVD)
• “Memories of Space” featurette
• Sylvia Anderson interview
• Series One textless generic titles
• “Horizon” behind the scenes footage
• “Concept and Creation” featurette
• Special effects and design featurette
• “Clapperboard” two-part special on the work of Gerry Anderson from 1975
• “Guardian of Piri Remembered”
• Barry Gray’s theme demo
• Alternative opening and closing titles
• Martin Landau and Barbara Bain US Premier intro and outro
• SFX plates and deleted SFX scenes – with music track
• Alien Attack – trailers
• Journey Through the Black Sun – trailer
• Ad bumpers
• Lyons Maid Ice Lolly advert
• Script PDFs
• Annual PDFs
• Commemorative booklet

With a stunningly restored HD transfer and an exhaustive, mammoth selection of special features, Network DVD’s Blu-ray set is everything that fans of the show could ask for and the best presentation the show is ever likely to receive.


The Show:

The Blu-ray:




Space 1999: Series 1 is available to buy on Blu-ray in the UK from 1st November 2010.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.

(Note: The images above were captured and saved at a reduced quality, and though they give an idea of how the film looks, they aren’t intended to reflect the true quality of the Blu-ray image itself.)

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