A Series Launched by a “Massive Nuclear Explosion”
It was September 13, 1999 when an unknown form of magnetic radiation is detected on the Moon. The Earth had been storing its nuclear waste for years at depots on the dark side of the moon. The radiation causes the stored waste to spontaneously reach critical mass, causing a massive thermonuclear detonation that launches the moon out of orbit. Those on earth are subjected to massive earthquakes and environmental cataclysms, while those dwelling in Moonbase Alpha are sent hurtling out of the solar system to a fate unknown.
Of course, looking back on the date from 2019, we know that crisis was averted as the Moon is still here (being a full moon, tonight in fact), but sadly we also don’t have a Moonbase Alpha nor “Eagle” space craft. But when Space: 1999‘s debut episode Breakaway debuted on September 4, 1975, 1999 was 24 years in the future, an American Apollo spaceship docked with a Soviet Soyuz capsule a few months earlier in July, and there were still plans for two more missions to the American Skylab space station.
From marionettes to high-budget SciFi
Space 1999 was a British-Italian production created by the husband-and-wife team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The pair were already well-known for number of SciFi and SciFi-ish shows, including Supercar, Stingray, Fireball XL5 and Thundebirds in the 1960s. The first three were aimed at a British children audience while Thunderbirds was designed for American viewers. All four used a technique the Andersons called “Supermarionation” which used highly detailed marionettes plus large and equally detailed sets to create more realistic action. Thunderbirds was, indeed a global hit when its two seasons aired in 1965 and 1966, and it was followed by two feature-length films in 1966 and 1968.
In 1970, the couple set a new, live-action TV series on the Moon with UFO. Lasting a single season, the show told the story of a covert government agency engaged in defending the Earth from aliens whose goal is to harvest human organs to perpetuate their species. A success in Britain, UFO was syndicated on American networks as well and there was a plan for a second season set entirely on the Moon. However, declining ratings by the end of the 26 episode run, lead to its cancellation. Instead, the Andersons sought to utilize the work they’d already put into season two and pitched a new series that would eventually turn into Space: 1999.
Between Star Trek and Star Wars
Star Trek, perhaps the most ground breaking of SciFi television shows, had ended its three-year run in June of 1969. It had been followed up a few years later by two 11-episode series of Star Trek: The Animated Series on Saturday mornings in 1973 and 1974, but SciFi for adult audiences was largely absent for much of the early 1970s and it was still a few years before Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers would air at the end of the decade. So, when Space: 1999 aired in 1975 it achieved some measure of success.
While critics – including the legendary Isaac Asimov – were divided on the quality of the acting and stories, audiences were treated to high-end (for the time) sets, effects and costuming (by award-winning designer Rudi Gernreich). In fact, Space: 1999 was was the most expensive television show to-date. The costs lead to the show being cancelled. In a partial repeat of the Star Trek a few years earlier, the show was given a last minute reprieve by the head of Britain’s ITV. However, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson got a divorce, and Fred Freiberger was brought in to co-produce alongside Gerry. Freiberger was the producer brought in for the third season of Star Trek, and history repeated itself with a noticeable degradation of quality. The writing was already on the wall for the end of the show, but when Star Wars: A New Hope hit theaters in May of 1977 the last five episodes of Space: 1999 that had yet to air at that point increasingly paled in comparison.
The Future of 1999
Despite over 40 years of being off the air, Space: 1999 still has a small, but passionate following. Model kits of the spacecraft, the moon base and other vehicles have been offered on and off. First as licensed products by MPC one of the major plastic model companies of the 1980s, and later as garage kits in resin. Recently the vintage plastic models have been re-released by new companies.
Gerry Anderson’s company released a series of collectibles in 2014 in partnership with his original studio, ITV. While the collection was broadly about all of his productions, Space: 1999 featured prominently. Peter Greenwood, the worldwide licensing manager, Anderson Entertainment said at the time, “We plan to give our fans and their families an invitation to come back and enjoy this vast creative output once more, and thanks to this new licensing agreement with ITV Studios we can do just that.”
There have been a number of attempts to reboot the series. Most of the attempts to launch Space: 2099, have primarily been lead by Jace Hall, the head of HDFilms, who first made the attempt in 2012. Gerry Anderson himself died that same year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, although his website continues to keep the faith. Unfortunately, Hall’s campaign has seemingly largely consisted of a promotional and letter writing campaign targeting studio heads who have collectively shown no interest.
More recently, an audio drama episode of Space: 2099 has been produced by Big Finish Productions which updates the first television episode, Breakaway. Four new episodes are scheduled to follow in early 2020.
Whether Space: 1999 will ever return to the small screen is, as they say, a question for the future, but its legacy and influence have far outlasted its brief run.