The Case For "Space: 1999"
Star Trek, and all of the subsequent series – both live action and animated – is easily the gold standard of science fiction exploration programming. Star Wars is definitely the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to space fantasy and has created a mythology that is followed by many. But what about Space: 1999?
Created in 1975, as a response to Star Trek (the original series), and before the launch of Star Wars or the Star Trek cinematic universe, Space: 1999 featured the adventures of moon base alpha following a nuclear disaster that caused the moon to lose orbit from the earth. Much like Voyager, the show revolves between trying to get back home or find a suitable planet to colonize and live in order to continued their lives marooned (a theme familiar to Gilligan’s Island). Martin Landau starred as commander John Koenig. I find his casting to be both appropriate and ironic being that he was who was the runner-up to Leonard Nimoy for the part of Spock, and that his last name was the same as the actor, Walter Koenig, who played Chekov in the original series. Lando, of course, was best-known for his starring role on Mission: Impossible. His real life wife Barbara Bain was also a featured player on MI and Space: 1999.
From the prism of 2022, Space: 1999 appears to be almost comical, It was considered to be the future when it was created in 1975–14 years before the action on the show took place. However, as we know 1999 was twenty-three years ago: there was no lunar base, the International Space Station was still under construction and our space shuttle program was still vital until it was halted in 2012. But we can’t allow the subsequent inaccuracies of time cloud our judgment. Blade Runner took place in the year 2019, and while there have been advances in robotics, we are nowhere near the post-apocalyptic society that questions actual life from robots as featured in the Ridley Scott epic film. Soylent Green, for that matter takes place in 2022. And while there is food uncertainty, we're not reverting to state-sanctioned cannibalism. The second Back to the Future took place in 2015 and while meant to be a comedy, we do not have hoverboards. Although the Cubs did ultimately win the World Series in 2016.
The point is that our current society is no closer to the Jetsons than the Flintstones. We must therefore suspend disbelief for those details.
While Space: 1999 can be largely forgotten except for the ardent science-fiction fan, there are certainly several aspects that can be seen in the subsequent Star Trek sequels and Star Wars movies. One episode features a woman that gives birth to a baby only to have that baby grow at an accelerated rate because it has the presence of an alien inside of it. That is absolutely reminiscent of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Child“ (season 2, episode 1) where Counselor Troi gives birth to a baby that grows to be six years old in less than a day. Later in that same episode members of the Alpha Base have their bodies taken over by spirits of a world featuring non-corporeal entities that need host bodies. Again we turn to a next generation episode where Troi, DATA and Miles O’Brien are taken over by aliens and criminals in the episode “The Power Play“. Another episode features a malevolent unmanned Voyager that attacks the lunar base. This, of course, was the plot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture where Voyager comes back in the form of V-ger.
Much like Star Trek the original series and even Star Wars there are tentacled monsters that feature the same puppetry as the Sarlak and other cheesy effects that were a hallmark of 1960 science-fiction television including Star Trek and Lost In Space.
Another episode featured several elements seen in subsequent movies and television shows. The Lunar base comes upon a enormous city-sized ship floating through space. This was not unlike Spaceball One from Spaceballs. Housed inside this ship was a master race trying to preserve life trying to stave off extinction. This was not unlike the Star Trek: THe Next Generation episode "The Masterpiece Society." We also see the prototypical disposable crewperson that we've gotten to know as the "red shirt" . The last element to this episode that fascinated was the appearance of Joan Collins. Famously known for Dynasty, but also as "Edith Keeler" in the TOS episdoe, "CIty On The Edge of Forever".
- Red and Yellow Alert systems
- Tricorder lIke scanners
- use if the term prime directive
- Running narrative a la the captains log
- The Commanding officer has an amazing chair
- One crewman that has a coupling under his hairline that connects to “computer” (yes that’s the proper name). Reminiscent of “Data” or “Gwen DeMarco” - “it’s my only job” - in Galaxy Quest.
- Scantily clad females
- Cheesy effects where the camera rocks around denoting impact as the actors fall all over the set
It boils down to this: all of these shows are variations on a theme. Whether Star Trek, Space: 1999 or Battlestar Galactica each of these shows build upon our inherent desire for manifest destiny - we do conquer the ills of earth in order to explore that which is in a unexplored. Namely space.
Space: 1999 succeeds on several levels despite having weapons similar to the phaser and communication devices which closely predict the rise of FaceTime on an iPhone as well as a communicator and universal remote. We are still trying to reach the moon, and colonize Mars, but clearly in 1966 it was the desire to reach planets outside of our solar system while in 1975 we were still battling the fears of nuclear disaster that would cause the sort of disaster that was the crux of space 1999.
Enjoy all of the shows for what they are and what they have and debate them for their merits or perceived weaknesses as you see fit.--