Ten Years Ago Today: The Moon Broke Out of Earth’s Orbit

Posted by Michael Pinto on Sep 13, 2009 in Television |

Space:1999: The moon being torn from earth's orbit

After years of storing radioactive waste on the the moon massive nuclear explosions tore the moon out of Earth’s orbit on September 13th, 1999 — on this very day ten years ago. Earlier in 1994 previous concerns resulted in the closing Nuclear Disposal Area One on the moon, however with the boom economy that followed after the global war of 1987 all the now obvious warning signs were overlooked. As of today 3,648 days have passed since this event, and numerous attempts have been made to contact the 311 crew members of Moonbase Alpha — whose fate is still unknown at this time.

Space:1999: TV footage announcing the lunar disaster

Of course as you may have figured out by now the above paragraph is pure science fiction taken directly from the plot of the TV show Space:1999. In my youth Space:1999 was one of my favorite shows, and I currently find myself saddened living in a 21st Century that looks quite primitive to the world that I watched on my black-and-white TV set back in 1975. Back then I was too young to catch the original Star Trek series growing up, but in the early 70s I found myself discovering Trek re-runs as if they were new. But after having watched every old episode of Star Trek coming across Space:1999 which was a new series was like a breath of fresh air.

Space:1999: An Eagle spacecraft

Space:1999 only lasted two years, but over 30 years later it still holds up as a special memory of my childhood. Sadly for the producers of the show the second and final series of Space:1999 wrapped up about a year before Star Wars came out in 1977. And after that point making a science fiction TV series seemed like a very good idea, but in those short two years from 1975 until 1976 Space:1999 was the coolest thing out there in a world that lacked any science fiction shows in prime time.

Space:1999: Title screen from Breakaway

The show looked great because it took so many visual cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey which almost resulted in a lawsuit — but of course if you’re going to steal why not steal from the very best? And what Kubrick did on that film was the best, and still holds up today in this fanboy’s opinion. Also to be fair that superficial similarity overlooks what Gerry and Sylvia Anderson brought to the series with all of their years of experience from having created shows like UFO and Thunderbirds.

Space:1999: Main Mission on Moonbase Alpha

I’ll also say this about Gerry and Sylvia Anderson: Unlike a high budget film it takes a great deal of creativity to sustain a TV series week after week, and Space:1999 had a wonderful variety of plots not seen since the original Star Trek series years earlier. Although unlike Star Trek the most interesting episodes of Space:1999 could get quite dark and abstract at points. In fact some of the episodes were almost mini-horror films as much as they were science fiction. In one of my favorite episodes (Dragon’s Domain) the Alphans comes across a spaceship graveyard which features a monster that sucks crew members in, chews them up and then spits them out as a smoked corpse in just a few seconds! And mind you this was several years before the film Alien came out in 1979.

Space:1999: Dragon's Domain

Looking back at the series I’d say that it was one of the most underrated science fiction shows of all time. In fact when the series came out the critics hated it with a passion; I recall an Isaac Asimov review of the series which damned it for poor science. And while Asimov was right about that he had missed something bigger — the fact that while this wasn’t gourmet science fiction the writing, directing and acting was so strong that the series kept you hooked. Yes it may have been bad science fiction, but it was damned good sci fi.

Space:1999: Dragon's Domain

Part of what helped this was the show did a great job at creating their own universe. Every inch of Moonbase Alpha was very well thought through and wonderful to look at from the travel tubes to the comlinks which did everything from opening doors to acting as a video mobile phone. And on the flip side the alien technology that was shown came in a wide range of flavors. What makes this all the more amazing is that they did all of this work on TV budget, yet what you see looks as good as any science fiction film made during that era.

Space:1999: The spaceship graveyard from Dragon's Domain

But special effects and art direction without a good story are just eye candy that doesn’t go far. And every single episode the writers of the show took the series to a different place. Granted that not all of the episodes are equal in quality: For example one show (The Rules of Luton) featured a planet of plant creatures that taunted the visiting crew members of Moonbase Alpha. However it was because they took chances like that, that every so often they’d come up with a great episode that you’d find yourself thinking about years later.

Space:1999: The Rules of Luton

And not for nothing the actors on the show were great. At the time they were criticized for being too stiff like the wooden marionettes found in previous Anderson shows like Thunderbirds. But in fact what’s going on is that the actors are underacting, which is very much the opposite of Star Trek which could get a bit too campy. To me the proof of this is that fact that years later Martin Landau would walk away with an Oscar for his performance in Ed Wood. And it wasn’t just Landau, there was quite a bit of other talent on the screen. I also like the fact that the cast of the show was very international, yes Star Trek did this first but Space:1999 kept the torch going.

Space:1999 Martin Landau in the first episode Breakaway

The only major flaw in Space:1999 is that the world that I live in today isn’t half as cool as that television show that I watched back in 1975. It seemed to me to be very reasonable back then that not only could there be a moonbase by 1999 but certainly by 2009 I would have seen us as already having done a successful Mars mission (or two or three). The other interesting thing about Space:1999 is that their vision of the future is a world that runs without petroleum as a major energy source. Yes you see a solar panel here and there as decoration on a space station, but in their world it seems that nuclear power is safe, portable and to be found everywhere. Well pretty much safe, unless you count an occasional moon being torn from orbit.

Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha from the episode Breakaway

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