Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Lost in 1999

Space: 1999 got a bad rep for being ‘scientifically incorrect’. Even as kid I knew that the physics were all over the shop, but if you can find your way past that, you find the true appeal of the show. It’s a quasi-mystical, metaphorical journey, a search for a new home in a hostile environment and surviving against the odds. If you take it as an origin story of a tribe of humans out among the stars, it seems strangely appropriate that the vessel that carries them is our own familiar, faithful moon. Especially when the hardware on Moonbase Alpha is so cool.

Some episodes showcase moments of grand guignol that were undeniably shocking to me as a child, helping to form my deep love for that kind of thing. The show is as much impressionistic as it is highly stylized. And what production values – the first season, especially, looks like little else on TV before or since. I’ve never seen another show capture a sense of the vastness of space so well, along with a Clarkeian atmosphere of “cosmic sorrow” and in that sense it’s both original and unique. This was embodied by star Martin Landau, who has an incredible face. He played Commander Koenig with great intensity, as a man under incredible pressure. He didn’t fall in love with a space babe every week, like Kirk, or seem aloof from them like the Doctor. He seemed both human and humane. Sure, he could’ve used a sense of humour, but when he felt awestruck, so did you. And he was great at crashing Eagles, Alpha’s workhorse spacecraft, surely one of the greatest and most believable spaceship designs ever. And while you had Barbara Bain emoting via exquisitely tiny movements of her mouth, you had the genial warmth of Barry Morse as Professor Bergman. Special mention to Barry Gray for the music also, which expresses the scope and grandeur of the Alphans’ journey.

The second season was rubbish though, no matter how sexy and likeable Maya was. I still watched it ‘cause I was a kid and liked effects and explosions. But I missed the strange philosophical meditations of the first season.

Space: 1999 also featured as a comic strip in a comic called Look-in in the UK where it was drawn by John M. Burns and later, Mike Noble. Burns’ art in particular was highly influential on me, especially in his use of color. That zig-zaggy explosion is my tribute to the way Burns used to draw ‘em in the 1999 Look-In strip when I was a kid. He clearly wasn’t interested in drawing Eagles very well (Noble was) but his layouts and dynamism were breathtaking.


  1. This is a really nice piece, and that's coming from someone who has no idea about nothing about this show. Good likeness on Landau.

  2. Your post makes me want to get the DVD's and reacquaint myself with the show. Apparently there's a lot more to the show than I remember.

  3. Wow , as ever, your knowledge is much more in-depth and comprehensive than mine ever was. Also you drew the moonbase and a crashing Eagle! Crashing Eagles!!!!

    Who is this Burns character....?

  4. Do you guys know what Marmite is? (Si does.) It's a British thing, this weird stuff you spread on toast and "you either love it or hate it." I think Space: 1999's like that - but as long as you come to it expecting an arty European space opera of a stately pace and literary pretensions, you'll be all right with it (Year 1 anyway. Year 2 is an altogether different beast but is kinda fun in it's own dumb way. They might as well have been different shows). It does also have great explosions.

    Si, I am always sensitive about mentioning Mr Burns in your presence but his 1999 and Tomorrow People strips in Look-in were undeniably great.