Daily DVD & Download: Space 1999 - the complete series & then some

Capsule reviews before you buy or binge

An action scene so dynamic, you'll want to stare at it for hours
  • An action scene so dynamic, you'll want to stare at it for hours

I finally got through the 17-disc Space 1999 set, a show I'd never watched before other than on early Mystery Science Theater 3000s. Most episodes failed to keep my attention for long, but I definitely "get" why it has a cult following, it's pretty unique, and unlike anything else the Andersons had a hand in (Thunderbirds, etc). There are some blatant Trek swipes, but once in awhile an interesting guest star like Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing shows up, and I pay attention for a little while. It's not as dreary as I feared, but I'm only watching them all due to my determination to view anything I keep, and discard anything I don't watch.

I kind of like how wishy washy a leader Martin "Mission Impossible" Landau is, and how several of his own people relish any opportunity to be rid of him, that's a fun deviation from most space operas.

The only ep I really like a lot is one whose soundtrack is built around an old Coral brand guitar/sitar just like one I used to have, "Troubled Spirit," a sort of one-off horror entry that takes its cues from old dark house ghost stories. Folk guitarist Jim Sullivan is actually seen playing the Coral in an uncharacteristically creepy opening shot, with the crawling camera going from watching the performance to stalking the killer's presumed victim.

Space: 1999: The Troubled Spirit

Jim Sullivan provides the spacey soundtrack to a moonkill

Jim Sullivan provides the spacey soundtrack to a moonkill

The producers really seemed to like Brian Blessed, the big guy with the big voice who played the Hawk prince in Flash Gordon. I kind of enjoyed "Death's Other Domain" with him, especially the big sets, tho the story is kind of an inferior "Who Mourns For Adonis" Trek rip off. I was confused when he turned up again at the beginning of season two as Maya's dickhead dad, he's awfully distinctive looking and sounding to turn up as two different characters, not too far between episodes.

Truth be told, I wish HE went off with the runaway moon people instead of Maya, she's crushingly boring (other than a brief ten second scene where she made herself into Barbara Bain's double -- Koenig, on seeing them together, seemed to hint at a potential threesome when he kinda leered "What did you have in mind?").

Underacting VS overacting

Underacting VS overacting

Of Blessed's two Space 1999 characters, one is the king of a Shakespearean planet of people descended from aliens who apparently lived on Earth during Shakespeare's time. It's a hokey episode packed with canned hams, but he rises above it all with an excellent (if unintentionally funny) performance. His other role finds him wearing a rainbow colored wig and beard that, alas, even he was unable pull off with any kind of aplomb. It may have been the show's worst episode, right up there with Lost in Space's "Vegetable Rebellion" or Trek's widely ridiculed "Spock's Brain."

I'm really liking the soundtracks in season two, a lot of them remind me of faves like Goblin and Tangerine Dream, among the few bands whose soundtrack albums I've bought and loved. I like the cues so much that I may seek the soundtracks online later, the music is frankly the best thing about the first batch of season two eps I've watched -- other than the new theme song, which kinda sucks and makes me miss the goofy electric guitar squawk of season one's theme.

"One Moment of Humanity" was another blatant Trek swipe (mostly "Plato's Stepchildren"), but holy cats, Gino Vannelli music?!? I was just talking about his stuff to a friend the other day, and I'm getting ready to scan one of the first concert posters I ever painted, for a Gino Vannelli show. I flippin' love all the music in this ep, their second season music guy Derek Wadsworth is a fabulous jazz arranger and player, and this episode has one of the best TV scores since "Papa Benjamin" and "Terror in Teakwood" in Boris Karloff's Thriller!

RE "Dragon's Domain," widely considered among the best of the series, I was completely unimpressed by the rubber Japanese porn tentacle monster with a conveyor belt going in and out of its mouth. The spaceship junkyard was done better in Lost in Space's first season, and the flashbacks to pre-runaway moon make it seem as if they were always surrounded by the same random plastic furniture mods and showroom track lighting we thought must be a grim staple of the moonbase, not a re-creation of (their epically crappy looking) Earth environs!

Oooooh, scary!

Oooooh, scary!

The sudden and weird infusion of thickly-accented Italian cast members makes this whole run toward the end of season one oft-putting as well (according to the liner notes, an Italian production company bought into the show and placed their own actors onto it - now, whole blocks of dialogue sound like a badly dubbed Hercules movie).

I guess nobody on the show ever addresses what happened to Barry Morse? One of the few things that made season one bearable was the presence of an actor from a great Twilight Zone --- altho he sure looked silly in that jumpsuit, they never seemed to find one that didn't make him look like a scoliosis-ridden school janitor.

I noticed Art "Dark Shadows" Wallace wrote the original second episode story (I guess he got a co-writer credit, tho it appears some guy on the commentary named Johnny Byrne rewrote it). I disagree with Byrne's preening assertion that his use of voiceovers in a couple of episodes was somehow groovy - other than opening a show, it's a lazy storytelling trope that has no place in a futuristic program purporting to be imaginative and speculative. Harrison Ford still wishes he never recorded those half-assed Blade Runner voiceovers.

That said, Byrne's stories for Space 1999 seem to be among the most well thought out. But, for me, it's still mainly about the music, at least in season two. The show is tolerable, but I frequently find myself wow-ing out loud over various musical passages. I won't remember more than a half dozen episodes, if that, but the music was absolutely top shelf as I finished this mostly ho-hum march to the finale.

The biggest problem with season 2 is Maya, it's like throwing a cartoon character or Grandpa Munster and his magic potions into an otherwise serious show - I have no use for her at all. And I'm fine with the Alphans not being as desperate and starving as they were before; the ladies even lounge in their bikinis in a solarium, and the sets look less like Marvin the Martian's outhouse.

Some great Benny Hill-style physical comedy in "Space Warp," my sides hurt from laughing at that zero-grav "fight" with the Maya-beast, especially the mismatched music (which was awesome, as always in season two). Of course it wasn't meant to be funny, but was it ever! At least Maya is a little easier on the eyes now that she mysteriously grew human ears and started whacking back those Blacula sideburns.

RE "Brian the Brain" - that's a whole tank fulla sharks to jump --

Included among the 17 discs are several engaging commentaries, especially Sylvia Anderson, but Byrne was really interesting as well, very philosophical. There are commentaries for "Testament of Arkadia" (Sylvia Anderson), "Dragon's Domain" (writer and story consultant), and "Death's Other Dominion" (some superfan), plus there are some goodies like an old interview with the year two set designer (who much improved the first season's already dated looking sets). There's also a fan-made short film made years after the show ended that supposedly explains some of what happens after the finale, starring the Asian actress who was replaced for awhile in season two (a different actress from the eps I watched yesterday, but apparently she comes back). Johnny Byrne returned to script, and the actress gives one of her best performances of the series.

I'm glad I watched the series and definitely appreciate it more, but neither season is really much better or worse than the other. Some things worked, a lot didn't. I didn't even notice stuff like how they start off calling each other by rank, but halfway thru the season they're using first names - I watched the episodes back to back and it took a commentary to point that out. It's that kind of failed pacing that crippled the show.

I forget which commentator said it, but someone mentioned that season one is the PBS version, and season two is for network TV. I thought season two ended strong (other than the dominatrixes in red catsuits with tassels hanging from the crotch while whipping men), and am still infatuated with the season two scores, even the ones that just re-use old cues.

That said, I'm happy to be done. I'll probably watch some Batman cartoons before I tackle the next two sets on the shelf, the complete Kung Fu and the complete Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

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