Moonbase Alpha Definitely Deserves This Closer Look
Jul 21, 2014
As I’ve mentioned in another review recently, I missed the whole SPACE: 1999 phenomenon of the late 70’s. Basically, I grew up in a small town in a time unlike today that one didn’t have a billion entertainment choices on the TV dial, nor could one have a vast library of video upon which to fall back on in time of performance drought. In the US, SPACE: 1999 played entirely in syndication, so – if it wasn’t on in your market – then you were out of luck. Sure, you had what the trade magazines told you of it in the day, but that couldn’t make up for failing to see it on a TV set near you.
Now that I’m older and wiser and have a bit more income to invest in choices, I’ve been able to pick up a handful of episodes from the first season (the one I’ve been told, by far, is the best) and screen them on my Kindle. Dare I say I probably would’ve loved this show had I seen it in my relative youth? I don’t know where it’s heading in its second season – well, other than what I’ve read – but I definitely would’ve been a believer back then, as I’m finding I am today. Why this thing hasn’t been rebooted is a mystery, and I hope someone sometime somewhere does mankind a service and re-engages this tale of a moon gone awry, drifting on a course into deep, dark space.
Having watched a half-dozen episodes and being suitably impressed, I picked up a digital copy of John Kenneth Muir’s EXPLORING SPACE 1999: AN EPISODE GUIDE AND COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE MID-1970S SCIENCE FICTION TELEVISION SERIES to read. Mostly, I wanted to know more about the show, something a bit more in-depth than the passing Starlog article I could find online. Where did the show come from? How did it originate? Who were the main players? And – most of all – why didn’t it catch a more enduring foothold in the popular culture of the time?
Well, Muir might argue that it did get a pretty solid foothold, but he’d probably agree that the show’s oft-maligned reputation wasn’t exactly of the show’s own earning. In fact, from what I learned in his book, SPACE: 1999 went largely ignored, probably in no small part due to the fact that so many Star Trek fans of that generation didn’t exactly want another franchise bumping the Gene Roddenberry vehicle off of their cultural radar. When 1999 premiered in the mid-70’s, Trekkies had finally been modestly assured that Star Trek was coming back: rumor had it that a second television show was in the offing, and it was going to serve as the cornerstone to a whole new network from Paramount itself! So even though there was definitely room for another universe, sci-fi fans appeared reticent to sign aboard anything new. And why should they? What did their allegiance earn them? Four decades later, and Trekkies are still the butt of jokes across the entertainment spectrum!
Granted, there were other factors contributing to SPACE: 1999’s shelf-life, not the least of which was being sold directly to syndication in the U.S. (meaning it really wouldn’t have the backing of a major network and, instead, competed against them); but you get the point. It didn’t catch on, certainly not the way it could’ve, and the rest is history.
Thankfully, Muir’s book goes to respectable lengths to document the phenomenon it was as well as the various finer points one would expect with any compendium. EXPLORING SPACE 1999 does a good job looking back on the show’s era; positioning the program within the social context; and recounting the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly episodes of its two seasons. Muir even manages to peel back some of the show’s charm to show you how the politics behind-the-scenes (specifically, a failed marriage) may’ve clipped 1999’s wings before they ever really go to soar.
Those who knew the show will probably be charmed by Muir’s critical take on each installment. Those who’ve only since discovered the sci-fi adventure in reruns on Syfy will appreciate the man’s attention to detail. Heck, even those just getting to know Commander Koenig and his crew for the first time – knuckleheads like myself – will likely cherish this accounting of minutiae big and small as the writer takes his audience back to the future (as promised) when our sole satellite was blasted from its gravitational perch on September 13, 1999!
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