After Star Trek, but before Star Wars, Gerry Anderson, who was responsible for such series as UFO, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Fireball XL5 took viewers around the world on an exploration of space, all on our planet’s own moon – which was jolted out of orbit by a nuclear explosion!
Playing a little more cerebral than Star Trek (that was an incredibly difficult phrase to write), Space: 1999 debuted on 4 September, 1975 with a script by George Bellak, over seen by series creators Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
Set in the far distant future of 13 September, 1999, Moonbase Alpha is under command of the newly assigned Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) who is supposed to help transition humans from Earth to a planet named Meta, which may support life.
This all goes sideways when an explosion on the moon, from a nuclear waste disposal site jolts the moon out of orbit and sends it tumbling through space. There is also a strange sickness affecting crew members assigned to the Meta probe caused by something on the moon.
There’s a lot going on in this episode, and Koenig has his hands full as he deals with the moon rocketing away from Earth, and getting to know his surviving crew, including Dr. Helena Russell (played by Landau’s wife Barbara Bain) and Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse).
My personal favourite character was always the Eagle pilot, Alan Carter (Nick Tate), though that has changed over the years.
With great model work (I love those Eagles), cool designs and a diverse crew the show played as true science fiction. It also tried to keep the look of the series fairly realistic and in line with what had gone before, specifically 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The command centre set is a bit hit and miss, I hate the chairs, and not sure it’s the best use of the space, but I got used to it. My real issue now is how the moon could have survived being ejected from orbit the way it was, and how they could possibly have gravity (and it certainly looks like Earth normal, not Luna normal).
On the plus side, the story spends the entire first episode setting up the events that lead to the breakaway moment, attempting to ground it as much as possible…
…but as Moonbase Alpha is flung out of orbit, we begin an adventure that will last two seasons…
Force of Life, the series second episode, aired on 11 September, 1975. It was written by John Byrne and depicts the first encounter between Alpha and an alien life form, even as the mystery of Meta hangs over them.
Ian McShane guest stars as Anton Zoref, one of the technicians of Moonbase Alpha who is inhabited by a being that absorbs energy, plunging Koenig and his people in an all new form of jeopardy.
As the moon tumbles through the blackness of space, a strange glowing globe approaches Alpha, and seems to find a home in McShane’s Zoref, who then seems intent on absorbing every form of energy he can, light, heat, life.
Russell, Koenig, and Bergman try to figure out what is going as they track power fluctuations about the base, but none of a clue that Zoref is being slowly torn apart by the presence within him.
Will the Alphans be able to save Zoref in time?
Instead of fisticuffs, or the like, the residents of Moonbase Alpha try to figure out a way to end things peaceably, even if they are carrying their snazzy looking sidearms.
The episode gives us a look at daily life on the Moonbase even as they attempt to carve a new existence for themselves – there are shared quarters, continued duty shifts, and lots of scientific study (and use of clipboards).
This is a solid episode, relying more on character and storytelling than monsters and explosions. Effects are at a bare minimum and the episode and the series seems to focus on the drama.
Next week Moonbase Alpha, and its inhabitants are on a Collision Course!