By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Following a high concept first season, the second season of Gerry Anderson’s Space 1999 was given a major revamp.
The previously huge command centre set was scaled down to give a more claustrophobic atmosphere for action sequences and heighten the drama while the majority of the cast were dropped with the exception of Alan Carter, the Australian Eagle pilot which was rumoured to be because he was such a hit with fans especially the ladies.
No explanations were given for the departures and introduction of Tony Verdeschi, John Koenig’s right hand man. They were simply there. But in an unprecedented move the Space 1999 annual of that year told how the original cast had left via various accidents in unseen adventures in which they were killed including Paul, Victor and Kano. Another survivor from the original cast was comms officer Sandra Benes played by Zienia Merton. Both Hollywood legends and real life husband and wife, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain secured their roles of Commander John Koenig and Doctor Helena Russell.
This change also saw a complete shift of tone for the show as producer Fred Freiberger took the reins. He famously oversaw the final original Star Trek season which came for severe criticism and many feared quite rightly that this would also see the end of Space 1999. But there were many more factors involved in its demise which lay the blame unfairly at Fred’s feet.
The original show had been high concept space opera with many great episodes that touched on religion, fate and real science although the moon being blown out of orbit by a nuclear explosion was a plot device to kick-start the series but welcome nonetheless.
Many have maligned this season but there is much to enjoy and episodes that stand the test of time to take their place among the classics of science fiction.
This time round the emphasis was real sci fi fun with aliens, which were few and far between in the first series. Large, brash, action packed and colourful, this set of stories saw the crew face aliens, monsters and mad robots. Bu the biggest addition to the crew was the character of Maya, an alien shape shifter that could take the form of any animal she saw. This for me is the first great part. Played by the beautiful Catherine Schell, Maya was given a solid background and genuine reason to join the crew of Moonbase Alpha. In the premier episode the Metamorph, Maya’s father, Mentor played by sci fi legend Brian Blessed, his second appearance on the show, kidnaps an eagle crew and drains their minds to fuel a machine that is keeping his planet together then sends the mindless zombies to work in mines in secret.
Although his intentions to save his world are good the means are far from honourable as he kidnaps any and all passing aliens o keep his people alive. When Maya discovers the truth, she helps the Alphans and Koenig is able to destroy the machine and the planet as well, leaving Maya the last of her kind, a fact we will soon discover isn’t true. Though logic failed in the process of her becoming any alien were not addressed ala Odo in Deep Space 9 eg her clothes changed along with her and returned to normal in every shift but kids didn’t care and neither did I. We were all just excited to see what sort of monster she would become like the one eyed horned beast or part gorilla, part lizard. And we loved her even more for it. And no one can ever tell me fans didn’t do the turn to camera shot she did as the image of her chosen animal appeared in her eye. I did, actually still do. One can live in hope though I have been known to turn into a tiger on occasion.
Over the course of the season we have some really poorly executed ideas eg Maya and Koenig face the death penalty for picking flowers and fir trees are their judges. Every cliché is here in all its colourful glory, evil doppelgangers, mad robots, aliens who don’t understand emotion and mysterious alien temples.
But for every dud, there is a genuine classic and to this day everyone remembers the two part Bringers of Wonder when a ship from Earth arrives on Alpha to rescue them filled with old friends and family. Turns out their friends are illusions generated by hideous blob like monsters that remain a fantastic invention to this day; visually they were burned into your brain. Here they wanted Alpha’s nuclear reserve to feed and only Koenig can see them for what they really are.
It’s the passion of the performances that lift even the dullest of episodes and perhaps influenced by the funny ending scenes of the third Star Trek season, attempts to humanise the Alphans were attempted by Tony’s running gag about making his own beer or his pining after Maya at the climax of each story. Furthering this was the full on romance between Koenig and Doctor Russell and again Tony and Maya. Though this left the impression the rest of the Alphans were going to die virgins but any port in a storm I say.
And in an episode there was areal attempt to examine these relationships, asking the question, were they in love with the wrong people? It worked well and gave depth to the four leads previously unseen. It was in this second season that people call camp that the Alphans became human and made us connect with them on an emotional level even when they were lost in time in medieval Scotland about to be burned at the stake. You were desperate for them to survive and the trick they did best was literally getting the Alphans out of danger by the skin of their teeth.
Another key factor was the incidental music, all pumped up and full on exciting along with the revamped title sequence and theme tune that made the heart pump with excitement. It truly enhanced so many otherwise dull action scenes but the other great thing was when someone got thumped they smashed into the scenery in a storm of sparks and look of genuine pain. None of your Dalek victims that suddenly gasp in pain and cushion themselves as they fall after the Dalek shoots them, no this was in your face smashed against a wall and I often wondered how many claims were made for injury on the job. Just imagine those work injury adverts with a hapless security guard from Alpha lying in abed.
“I swear to God mister, it was a faulty comlock that made the alien smack me into the computer that wasn’t supposed to be there!” Ooh, underdog! You don’t need to be in a red shirt anymore for bad things to happen.
And for a show that had been supposedly reduced to camp status, it drew in some huge names including Brian Blessed, Patrick Mower, better known to Emmerdale viewers now, Freddie Jones (Krull, Emmerdale), Stuart Damon (The Champions), Wilfred Mott himself Bernard Cribbins, Start Trek and Quantum Leap’s Carolyn Seymour, Dave Prowse and Patrick Troughton. Not bad considering Hammer legends Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had also appeared in the first season.
For me and thousands like me, we have a ball in the second season. There was fun, there was action, drama, passion, aliens that were designed to be different and exciting and effects that have more than stood the test of time. With Maya we had barely scratched the surface of her character when we discovered more Pyschons were out there including her brother and a Hannibal Lector type criminal who mimicked her shape shifting abilities. We also learned the Pyschons were a hunted species by the Dorcons and they came to claim the last of the species.
With the Bluray release on its way there is so much fun and excitement to be had by this show and old friends we have forgotten. It is one of my favourites in my DVD collection. Go on, check the episodes out on YouTube.
At the end of the day, who doesn’t love an Eagle? Rest my case.