Friday, February 7, 2014

Space: 1999 – The Massive Change Explosion

The Anatomy of What Not to Do to a TV Series
By Ken Parker

As a 10 year old I fell in love with Space: 1999. Not sure if it was all the cool explosions or just the thrill of exploring outer-space with the men and women of Moonbase Alpha. I might also have been scared out of my mind but had to watch the next episode. I watched both seasons of the series and loved it all. If you were to ask Space: 1999 fans about the show, one of the topics of discussion that always comes up is the differences between season 1 and 2. Shows often will go through changes but Space: 1999 underwent a massive explosion of changes.

The following article will take a look at the changes, why they were done and what went wrong with these changes. In a future article I will look at continuity specifically for Space: 1999 and how that ties into fandom and the recent books and comics adapting new adventures from the series.

Space: 1999 was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson who were coming off successes with Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and UFO. ITC run by Lew Grade was a huge supporter of the Andersons for many years and really was eager to see this show take off. The series premise sees the Earth's moon blown out of orbit by a nuclear explosion created by the tons of nuclear waste located on the moon's surface. Moonbase Alpha and the 311 men and women in it are helpless as their moon is hurtled into the far reaches of space. Each week the moon travels into another adventure whether it be a space phenomena or a potential habitable planet or other strange alien encounters. The series highlights include huge sets (shot in Pinewood Studios), state of the art effects, and superb music by Barry Gray along with classical music from time to time. The stories are mind bending and thought provoking often with unhappy endings. Answers are not always forthcoming and the imagery of the series stays with you.

The concept may be far fetched with loads of problems and questions that are not answered in the series but as the stories unfold it is easy to see that scientific answers are not going to help out in deep space. The Alphans are out of their league and are often lucky or helped by some unseen force. The stories range from the thought provoking to creepy. In “Space Brain” the moon is on course to collide with an intelligence floating in space. The “brain” attempts to communicate with the Alphans and attempts to change the Moon's course fail. In the end the moon and its inhabitant survive somehow but the intelligence is destroyed.

In “The Black Sun” the moon is yet again on a collision course, this time a Black Sun(Hole). Attempts to counter the crushing affects are put into place with little hope it would help. A survival ship is sent away from the moon. A mysterious being is encountered while in the Black Sun and the moon and the Alphans survive and is re-united with the survival ship. In this and many other examples human existence, its destiny, its origins and purpose in the Universe are examined. The Alphan's place in this Universe is often in question, with some elements comparing the human race as a mere virus while others see the Alphans as an important part of the Universe. Eternal life, evolution and the purpose of life are other themes that are beautifully explored in various stories of season 1.

Many stories also were very much of the horror genre. “The Troubled Spirit,” “End of Eternity” and so many others had horrific imagery and stories with music and camera work that just scared viewers out of their minds. “Dragon's Domain” is the episode with the tentacled creature that many remember giving them nightmares as kids. The story's use of music, lighting, sound effects and build up worked perfectly in delivering one of the scariest creatures on TV of all time. The series' use of horror imagery whether it the cave of mindless people used in experiments in “Death's Other Dominion” or the Alphan haunted by his own ghost are a huge part of what makes this show so good. In “Alpha Child” Alphans' first born child turns from a joyous occasion into a nightmare as he grows to a 6 year old in mere minutes. Something sinister is at work.

Religion, faith and destiny are parts of the season 1. In “Testament of Arkadia” two Alphans discover remains of a human race while exploring a dead planet. A theory that this planet might be the origin of humans throughout the Universe is certainly interesting.

Not all stories are that heady. In “The Last Enemy” the traveling Moon enters a system where two warring planets can use the moon's surface to launch missiles at each other's planet. Caught in the middle, the Alphans attempt to open up a dialog for truce.

I always see Space: 1999 season 1 (Year One) as being epic and awe inspiring. All these elements created a show that is like 2001: A Space Odyssey in its scope and feel at times. It's look and tone are dark and perhaps very un-comedic at times but for quality, it was right up there. The show is beautiful to look at and while critics these days probably feel the show has dated with its slow pace and flared pants, the feel of the series is timeless.

Then it all went south. Year 2 was commissioned and everything that made Year One great was removed.

Season 2 of Space: 1999 was not going to happen. Declining ratings in the U.S., perhaps because the dark, depressing stories were too cerebral for audiences just looking for something fun, put the show's second series in danger. American producer Fred Freiberger was brought on-board to make sweeping changes. Freiberger is known to some as the 'series killer' as he tended to produce some series final seasons (The original Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man).

For right or wrong, Freiberger took over and injected many ideas that were just plain silly. The entire cohesion of the production crew fell apart. Freiberger didn't really care to even see season 1. He took his ideas and put them into play. His ideas did not sit well with Gerry Anderson. Speaking of Gerry, another production change was with the unfortunate split between husband and wife Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Gerry had great ideas and they worked perfectly with Sylvia's. Without her, the show lost direction.

Cosmetically there were quite a few changes in the appearance of the series. The most obvious one was changing the primary set, Main Mission to a more enclosed, tighter Command Centre done by Freiberger (on purpose mind you) to enable more character interaction. One of the appeals for me was the huge open sets of Year One whether it was on a planet, in a spaceship or in Main Mission. Changing it to the cramped Command Centre was not a huge mistake but it was one of the things that snowballed into bigger issues.

On a larger scale and one of the worst changes was getting rid of the older character of Victor Bergman (Barry Morse) and bringing in younger characters like Tony Verdeshi (Tony Anholt) and Maya (Catherine Schell). I like these character additions but Bergman was the heart of Year One. He was so important to the tone and structure of the series and getting rid of him (without any mention) was one of the worst mistakes. Other supporting characters were all but forgotten. Some appeared briefly in season 2 but no explanations were forthcoming. Maya was an alien they meet in the first episode of season 2 and she has the ability to change into any life form. This 'super power' added some action and excitement but was not without all kinds of loopholes and plot problems from time to time.

Gerry's long time music man, Barry Gray elected to not do a second season and so the production crew was forced to go with someone new. The new style was quite a bit of a distance from season 1's music. I absolutely love Derek Wadsworth's Season 2 music. Still, it pales in comparison to Gray's season 1. Year 2 has dated much more than season1 and the tone changes more because of this music.

More changes came with a decreased budget. This might have resulted in less than impressive sets and ultimately, special effects. For some reason the effects look less realistic in Season 2. There is quite a bit of action with more Eagles and great ships but more wires are seen and it just seemed like less money was spent and that was the case. The effects are still rocking in season 2 but just seem to be missing their gravitas compared to season 1. Of course season 1 was not without its budget constraints as well.

Stories would change drastically. There would be lots more action, comedy and character moments. Except for an odd left over script from season 1, the majority of season 2 became more like your standard US TV series. Monsters (men in rubber suits) and hammy aliens populate the story lines. Silly ideas (talking trees) and your typical “HAHA, Everything is fine!” ending really steered the series off track.

In connection with the stories, a heavier emphasis was put on the characters. I will say that the one positive part of season 2 was the characters. Characters were given 'down time' moments and a bit of romance and drama in order to flesh them out. A contrast to the stoic acting in season 1. The best result of this was Barbara Bain's Helena Russell who is as wooden as Gerry Anderson's puppets in season 1 but is much more likable and real in season 2. Overall I think this is an improvement but it does result in some really hammy romantic scenes and some really bad plot lines utilizing romance. In “Brian the Brain” a crazed robot tests Koenig's and Russell's love for each other in an overly long scene that just seems to capsulize how not to do romantic character scenes.

I will say that season 1 characters were not all bad. They were subtle with some great work by the secondary performers. When there was humor in season 1 it was LOL as it was so rare. Season 2 had the silly yuk yuk humor that was too much most of the time.

Another minor change were the uniforms for the Alphans. The grey uniforms with arm colors were covered up with colorful jackets. This was probably an improvement as the drabness of the first season was perhaps a little too much. Season 2's colors were better handled at least on Alpha.

The entire tone and ideals of Year 1 were gone, for the most part. Now emphasis was on action. In “The Beta Cloud” a mysterious space cloud sends a monster down to Alpha to steal the Moonbase life support module. The story stars Dave Prowse (Darth Vader) as the creature who goes around Alpha tearing up the base and throwing security guards all around. The tension is high and the Alphans try everything to stop the creature. When I first saw this episode it was one of my favorites. The action was lots of fun. As time went on I focused on two elements of the story. One, the mysterious cloud at one point communicates to Alpha to fill audiences in on what the episode is about (because not knowing what the monster was up to would turn people away I guess). When attempts to destroy the cloud fail the voice begins laughing in a fairly typical villainous way, which thinking about it now, is really silly. The other element that makes little sense is that why a cloud would need Alpha's own life support module? Are those things universal. Will they work on any planetary or cloud system? Silly.

Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, married at the time and coming off the popular Mission Impossible TV series were divas and had issues with season 1 scripts. I am sure that as soon as season 2 was well underway they wished things would go back to how they were. They hated that Barry Morse was gone and that less care was put into the scripts. They must have loved the improved character work but the scripts became unbearable for them and they were at odds with Freiberger much more than with Gerry.

Fred Freiberger has been blasted over the years on making these decisions to dumb down the show to the nth degree. As a 10 year old I noticed the changes but still loved all the explosions and increased action. But as time went on I saw more and more to like about Year One and less and less to like about Year Two.

I still like Year Two a lot and some of the episodes I did not like as much when I was 10 are now my favorites.

Ultimately the changes were made in order to revive the show. Freiberger stated at the Space Con in 1999 that the show would not have been made if he hadn't made his changes. I give him full credit and admiration for showing up at that convention in front of a hostile audience (for the most part) and fielding constant questions on why this and that were changed. As a fan I would have loved to have seen a season 3 that melded the two contrasting tones together. I would have loved to see season 2 be a bit more like season 1 but in the end, we got what we got.

If you go online you will find that fans have strong emotions on the season changes. Some dislike season 2, so much so that they dedicate websites and forums just to bash it over and over again. There is so much that is good in season 2 and I am sure there are people who prefer the more comfortable and familiar style. With that said I would have loved another season 1 and would hope that if and when a remake is made, it is closer to season 1 than 2.

There is so much out there on the web about the history of the show by people who know much more than I do. This is mostly personal observations and such on sort of the what, why and how season 1 and 2 of Space: 1999 changed so much. Fans do not like change that much, especially if it is a massive change explosion!!

Sources - Both of these web sites are incredible!!

1 comment:

  1. Space:1999 was great show. I like episodes from both seasons.