Friday, September 29, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Breakaway (Book)

Though not the first Space: 1999 tie-in book, here in Canada that would have been "Breakaway" from Orbit Books, which I discovered sitting on a bookstore shelf in the summer of 1975, this was the first one I bought. That September, shortly after the television series began its two-year run, I grabbed Pocket Books' premiere release in their 1999 line. The cover is emblazoned with the bold title "Breakaway", also the name of the show's premiere episode, but there are three other adaptations in this volume: "Matter of Life and Death", "Ring Around the Moon", and "Black Sun".

I don't know how well these books sold. Having watched the video side of Space: 1999, I can't imagine that many people ran out to collect them ― perhaps they were purchased in good faith, with some hope.

"Breakaway", the adaptations, I read with a charged blast of enthusiasm, and no little reverence, in September of 1975. We young ones welcomed a new space series, and its printed offspring.

SPACE: 1999
- first novel in the spectacular new epic -

E.C. Tubb

Pocket Books
September 1975

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Mega Set (DVD)

Why would I want a complete series DVD set of a show that I left behind in my youth, and have vague fond memories of enjoying when its parts were first broadcast? It must have been the agreeable price for all forty-eight Space: 1999 episodes in one box. The exact outlay of cash is lost to fifteen or sixteen years ago.

Scanning the back of the box reminds me of the plethora of extras, special parts that may have decided there's some space on my shelf. There's a seven-minute piece of 16mm film origination from 1976 featuring special effects director Brian Johnson and his boys as they set up and shoot miniatures for Space at Bray Studios. Watching this Johnson-narrated silent footage now reminds me of the appeal to this then fourteen-year-old model maker.

Also on the set: productions stills; Year Two behind-the-scenes featurette; pre-production artwork; a BBC behind-the-scenes segment; vintage interviews with cast and crew, including series designer Keith Wilson.

Three episodes have running commentary: producer Sylvia Anderson's bird's-eye view is very informative, and yes, Robert Culp should have been cast as "John Koenig"; writer Johnny Byrne and writer/script editor Christopher Penfold, two pleasant chaps who talk about the ins and outs of producing a series with its own identity; and Space: 1999 authority Scott Michael Bosco, an error-ridden fanboy take not worth one's time, though he does settle down and offers some intelligent analysis of "Death's Other Dominion", a superior episode.

I've since replaced this DVD set with the "Complete Series" Blu-ray set.

Why would I want a complete series Blu-ray set of a show....?"

Space: 1999
- 30th Anniversary Edition -


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Destination: Moonbase Alpha (Book)

This 418-page book on the television series Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977) is a mixed bag. The first thing that struck me while reading Destination: Moonbase Alpha, and I can say this due to research I've done on old television programs, was the apparent lack of original research. I got the impression that writer Wood didn't interview enough of those all-important behind-the-scenes people, folk important to production of a science fiction television series, with all its parts and pieces. There are no numbers, numbers drawn when one gets access to production paperwork. These deficits make for far too much conjecture on the writer's part.

The plus: Robert E. Wood is fair and balanced in his episode reviews ― he's Canadian, eh?

Yes, "Journey to Where" is an outstanding episode ― for Space: 1999, at least.

I was surprised he didn't rate "Dragon's Domain" higher given that episode's status among fans.

" 'The Rules of Luton', just four point five? Rubbish!"

Destination: Moonbase Alpha is highly recommended to fans of the series. Part of the appeal of the book is Mr Wood's obvious love for Space: 1999.

Destination: Moonbase Alpha
- The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to Space: 1999 -

Robert E. Wood

Telos Publishing Limited

Monday, September 18, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Opening Titles: Year Two

While the first season of Space: 1999 was generally disappointing to this then young teen, I harboured some anticipation for its second: "Year Two", as many fans call it.

During the summer of 1976, the CBC ran, in high rotation, an ad campaign for their upcoming 1976-1977 television season. "See the brightest stars on C B C!" sang the enthusiastic women's chorus over cartoony animated stars, then a voiceover promoted alongside a quick succession of clips from upcoming shows. Space: 1999 was looking a little different; still recognizable, but somehow looking enhanced. The imagery was all of a few seconds, but suddenly I couldn't wait.

Saturday, September the 4th, at 5pm... "Breakaway"? Oh, no. I'd seen the series opener a few times. No need to see it again. However, being a full-network presentation, the print was total high-quality 35mm (with the broadcast itself originating from a 2-inch "Quad" video playback).

Okay then. A geek had a hard time waiting, but I understood. The CBC wanted to show the episode that had kicked off the series, and the moon out of Earth's orbit. I'd have to swim through another week of high school. It was going to be a long week.

Saturday, September the 11th, and hello! I really dug that new opening. The most striking change was the theme music. Immediately I loved it. One listen and the tune was embedded. Very catchy space stuff. The beat was wow and now. The images were energetic. Both elements had been recharged and rebooted; dedicated to the concept of a new introductory sequence; a lead-in to a series of necessary alterations.

(As this episode, "The Metamorph", rolled out, I became convinced there was an effort in the production's front office to improve the series.)

As I learned upon watching the end credits, Derek Wadsworth was the composer of Space: 1999's new signature tune, and his work had continued into the episode's next hour.

The episode's underscore supported and enhanced the action onscreen, and, at times, it was pretty and inviting. The storyline carried dark moments, including its hinting at an impending exploding home world, but when called for, composer Wadsworth grooved with the gardens of playful levity in the Grove of Psyche ― before the big bang. (The background music wasn't alienating like it had been in much of Year One. That season's repetitive re-tracking of certain cues made for a viewing experience that could be both dreary and depressing.)

Year Two's opening was a much-needed fresh kickoff to a series-premise that was preposterous, but one that did hold some promise. Mr Wadsworth's amazing Space theme was proof that the right opening title music can set one off in a new and improved direction.


Editorial note: The picture cutter must have enjoyed assembling this title sequence. What exactly is John Koenig firing at? The previous season? (Symbolism that I never noticed until I began to key this in. Credit to my space brain.)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Opening Titles: Year One

My introduction to Space: 1999 happened in the early evening of Monday, September 1st, 1975, when CBLFT (the CBC's French-language flagship station) premiered it here in the Toronto-area market. I did not see the colourful new SF series in colour that day, as I had watched it on the 10-inch black-and-white Sony portable in my bedroom. (The chromatic, and English-language, version of Space awaited me the following Saturday morning. This then space cadet was there with bells on to greet "Breakaway", the series opener.) The dynamic visuals alone, even in a monochromatic state, were worth the price of admission. My initial reaction to this television series theme music? Good! Till the 22-second mark: that's when the twangy electric guitar took over. I remember wincing. "That's corny."

The theme was composed by Barry Gray, the talented music man of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson film and television productions. His stellar contributions were an important part of the Anderson's successes. In the case of Space: 1999, maestro Gray made the series seem more important, and better, than it actually was. One could argue that the best parts of Space, its first season, that is, were the opening and closing title sections. ("Sections"? Sorry, that's a carryover from when I worked in "titles and opticals".)

Before I go, in the name of controversy the best Space: 1999 theme tune is from Year Two....

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Simmonds Is Earthbound

"Earthbound" is one of Space: 1999's finest hours.

When Space premiered back in September of 1975, I was there in front of the colour tube to welcome another starfield patch... even if stars were a bit on the scarce side in this colourful import from the UK. Since I know the old SF television series very well, due to my then space cadet rating, I can pick and choose what I want to watch. And I choose this episode.

Despite the chintzy-looking alien 'sleeper ship' set and its even chintzier inhabitants, the Kaldorians, the episode works because of an engaging story and a great character: Commissioner Simmonds, played to perfection by Roy Dotrice, was sorely needed as a continuing foil for the bland Moonbase Alpha regulars ― not in an annoying Doctor Zachary Smith (of Lost in Space) way, but as Simmonds the full-blooded reactive and contrarian human being. It was not to be, however.

Simmonds is the floating variable in "Earthbound". Visiting alien leader Zantor, portrayed most effectively by some dude named Christopher Lee, is an unknown quantity in a friend-or-foe sense; but having the boisterous bureaucrat producing his own sneaky threat made for interpersonal drama that was all too rare on Space: 1999. (Year One, that is; Year Two was a huge improvement in that regard.) This dynamic sets up and plays out the themes of "nobility" and "trust".

The episode's middle section, involving a threatened Helena Russell, suffers a little from a false false alarm ― obviously the sequence was inserted to fill out the script's page count ― but the more driven element of the narrative picks up when the good Commissioner does what he feels is right; for him. The ending is potent, and one for the memories bank ― and worthy of EC Comics. Space: 1999, Year One, is considered by many of its fans to be more horror than science fiction.

Space: 1999 Days ― Ring Around the Bathtub

I copped "Ring Around the Bathtub" from a friend of mine. That mocking title about sums up Space: 1999's most rotten Year One episode: "Ring Around the Moon"

For as much as I like to point out its badness, I find myself being strangely drawn toward "Ring". There is something I cannot explain about its appeal. Maybe lines like "This is Triton's universe..." keep drawing me back, time and again, with Plan 9 pleasures. By the way, the proper line should be: "This is Triton's galaxy."

(This kind of ineptness, unfortunately, happened far too often on Space: 1999 ― science fiction produced by people who didn't understand science fiction, which might explain why the show's first season worked best as "horror". The second, and final, season was less horrific.)

The film editing in "Ring" is rough, giving the viewer the impression that there were problems in editorial. The inter-cutting between scenes is often awkward and disjointed; as though a scene or two is missing here and there.

The script is also "off". The episode's opening contains one of those crewmembers-going-berserk moments. Fine. But this serious matter goes on for two minutes before Dr. Helena Russell yells to Sandra Benes, "Sandra, call security!" No! What took you so long? Anyone?

Perhaps the biggest problem with the episode is the awful acting, especially by Martin Landau; even the usually above-the-fray Barry Morse suffers from unconvincing deliveries. (In all fairness, Morse thought he was working in a nuthouse with this program. Morse left 1999 at the end of the first season, telling the producers something like "I'm going off to play with the grownups now".) The one person who shines here is Barbara Bain as Dr. Russell. Her performance is restrained, and applicably subtle. The good news is that Bain had a chance to show her stuff in Space: 1999's slightly improved second season.

One element in "Ring Around the Moon" is outstanding: The music; not composed by Barry Gray in this case, but by Vic Elms and Alan Willis. Its sparseness and rawness adds to the out-of-whack nature of the episode's storyline. As a matter of fact, the score's "beat" would foreshadow Derek Wadsworth's vibrant and fitting Year Two music.

(For me, Barry Gray, as much as I love his work on previous Gerry & Sylvia Anderson programs, was clearly not into this series ― one indicator of this was the composer's reuse of themes he had originally written for the 1969 Anderson feature film Doppelganger [Journey to the Far Side of the Sun]. One can also hear a major smack of his opening theme tune for the 1968 film Thunderbird 6 in the 1999 title music. Composer Gray produced some fine cues for Space: 1999's first season, but most were seemingly telexed in.)

Like a few episodes of this series, "Ring Around the Moon" is best viewed at 2 o'clock in the morning, I think. Which will be the time of the day when I'll watch this one again....

Friday, September 15, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Space: 1999 RCA LP Record

In my continuing look back at the 1975-77 television series Space: 1999, it's time I spill some ink on a certain vinyl disc.

Like many young men at the time, I liked the show and bought as much tie-in material as I could find: The Charlton "Space: 1999 magazine" was one (I bought a few issues, including the first), but no model kits at all. The Airfix "Eagle Transporter", for instance, never made it to my town.

One element of Space: 1999 that I like, although more then than now, are the Barry Gray music scores. When RCA records released an "original television soundtrack recording" vinyl record LP of the Gray music I snapped it up... well, when I discovered it in the bin at Sam the Record Man, that is. This would have been late 1976. I remember playing it for the first time at home and being a little disappointed in the music selections. After I had grabbed the record in the store and flipped it over to the back side I scanned the track titles. These were all named after episode titles (no track called "Koenig Pops His Top, Again!" or "And Yet Another Explosion"), but after spinning the vinyl, I realized that the titles were arbitrary; there was no music from "Breakaway" on the cut called "Breakaway". And the cool 'travelling' music from "Dragon's Domain" was not on there ― I had not known that the piece was called "Adagio in G-minor" and that it had been written by a composer named Tomaso Albinoni; although that attribution is debated today. Also, I had seen the Norman Jewison picture Rollerball (1975) and remembered the tune being used there, too. To top off the Confusion in F major, there were two obvious "that's not from the show" moments.

Once I got past the little surprises including the rather brief track lengths ― there was a lot of looped "bing bong boong baa, bing bong boong baa" gobbling up valuable time between each cut ― the album was a fan's fix.

I still have the LP; it's packed away in a box somewhere (I know where). One of the very few times I have put it on the platter in the last forty years was in the summer of 1994 when friends were visiting. Somehow the subject came up: Perhaps it was my British friend Paul who mentioned "nineteen ninety-nine". Onto the Akai direct-drive turntable went the vinyl. Considering we were no longer fans of the program, some of us would have been mild ones at best when Space: 1999 originally ran, we enjoyed a warm and fuzzy nostalgic time that evening.

"SPACE: 1999"
- An Original Television Soundtrack Recording -

Music Composed
Barry Gray


Thursday, September 14, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― Space: 1999 Years 1 & 2 (CD)

In late 1976 I bought the RCA LP record, Space: 1999. While I was a little disappointed in the incompleteness of the album, and the seemingly interminable space-outs between the cuts, it contained music from the series ― its first season, as that was "1999" at that point.

In early 2022, with a degree of nostalgia, I welcomed a Silva Screen Records CD set: Space: 1999 - Year 1 & 2

Barry Gray wrote material, very much in the Gray style, for Year One; Derek Wadsworth jazzed Year Two to great effect.

Both sides work in that they match, respectively, Space: 1999's seasonal timbres....

Year One: winter
Year Two: summer

Space: 1999
- Years 1 & 2 -

Barry Gray
Derek Wadsworth

Silva Screen Records

Space: 1999 Days ― The Making of Space: 1999 (Book)

Late 1976: not long after the premiere of Space: 1999's second season.

Even as a young teen, when I wandered through a department store, I automatically gravitated to the book section; in this case, Woolworths. On an island bookrack was a freshly published paperback with the somewhat intoxicating title of "The Making of Space: 1999", sitting, awaiting rescue by a geek in shining polyester. And quickly I read it once I got it home.

It's interesting how one's interests change with age. At the time of my first read, the most interesting chapters for me were "Special Effects", "Art Direction", "Camera and Crew", and "Music" ― essentially the "tech credits". When I reread it a few years ago I found "Scripts" the most interesting essay... probably because this making-of was researched and written during production of the show's second year, when incoming producer Fred Freiberger was on a mission to improve Space's scripts and characterizations ― he succeeded, for the most part. Also, as a teacher would hammer into my classmates and I in film school, the script is the most important element in a film or television series. With a Czech accent: "No script, no movie!" (Luddy was great; tough, but great.) "The Making of Space: 1999" is well worth reading if one is into this sort of thing.

Before I go I have to say something controversial; controversial to many Space: 1999 fans, at least: I much prefer the theme music and background scores in Year Two.

The Making of Space: 1999
- A Gerry Anderson Production -

Tim Heald

Ballantine Books 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Space: 1999 Days ― The Complete Series on Blu-ray

I was a young teen when Space 1999 premiered in 1975, and at that age one's smarts are starting to form, blasting one into a 'critical' mindset. Perhaps if I had been a few years younger I might have become smitten with the on-screen events; events often racing against molasses, on my Zenith television as it rendered cool multi-colour Supermarionation-type explosions too often punctuated by a rudimentary, and leaden, sense of drama.

Space: 1999 was re-viewed by my adult self in the mid-eighties when CKVR re-ran it on late-night television, and I saw all of its flaws, of which there are many. This designer wants to go back in time and put some Christmas tree lights into that sparsely-detailed Main Mission set: there's nothing for the actors to do, or to look at. (The actors are forever trading plastic folders with one another.) When 1999 first aired I never got the feeling that it was 24 years into the future. A smart critic at the time noted that it looked more like five years into the future ― true, as my local Radio Shack store had more advanced-looking electronics in 1975. Also, while I watched the show in colour, the monitors onscreen were all in black & white.

Technical concerns, yes.

The scripting was the real issue, as were the characterizations ― the regular cast, that is. Some of the guest casting was inspired. Billie Whitelaw, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Brian Blessed, Joan Collins, and Patrick Troughton were just a few of the stellar guest-shots who gave the programme some much-needed gravitas.

The writers tried to spin profundity by having stories, too many stories, resting all too comfortably and conveniently in ambiguity ― mix it with aliens whispering from behind out-of-focus glistening Christmas tree tinsel, and the viewer can only be swept up in the magic of it all. In Year One, that is. Year Two discovered a sense of fun, and applied it when necessary. And the 'reboot' season more or less eschewed the metaphysical mumbo jumbo.

When the above Blu-ray set hit store shelves in 2019, I snapped it up. Darn right I did. My boss at the time was from Quebec, and he was very much an old fan of Cosmos: 1999. He too grabbed the set....

Space: 1999
- The Complete Series -

Shout! Factory

Space: 1999 Days ― Breakaway from Earth

Summer, 1975. As per my usual habit after arriving at my local shopping mall, I immediately made my way to W.H. Smith, the bookstore. After perusing the shelves for a few minutes my eyes made contact with two particular pocket books sharing the same main title: "SPACE: 1999"

One book was black and one pink. On the covers were some eye-catching photos. What was this? Well, according to the books' back cover text, Space: 1999 was a new and exciting science fiction television programme from ATV.

I'd have to wait a couple of months for this new and exciting show to premiere.

French CBC premiered Space:1999 here in Canada on Monday, September the 1st ― Labour Day. For the English-language premiere of "Breakaway", the show's opening episode, I'd have to wait till 10:30am on the following Saturday. That's right, CBC affiliate CKVR programmed Space for Saturday mornings ― they were not alone in this regard. (Due to the majority of television networks taking a pass on the series, it had to be sold on a station-by-station basis.) Hamilton, Ontario, independent station CHCH gave a little more respect: Sundays at 6pm.

UFO, a previous Gerry and Sylvia Anderson SF series, had been given a full-network run by CTV (Canadian Television) beginning in 1970. No doubt CTV was pitched on buying the producing team's latest show, but they passed. French CBC ("Radio Canada") bought in, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's English-language side waited until the second, and as it turned out, final, year of Space before committing to a coast-to-coast transmission. In the Toronto market that meant "Saturdays at 5pm".

Before I go I have to say something controversial. After all, my piece thus far has been pretty "vanilla": While it had problems of its own, the second year of Space: 1999 was an improvement on Year One.

"SPACE: 1999" (Orbit Books)

AD 1999. On the moon's near side a colony of scientists
and astronauts prepares for man's first venture into
deep space . . . On the far side of the moon catastrophe
threatens as the nuclear waste dumped there edges towards critical mass . . .

Sunday, September 10, 2023

A Forever Question: The Bell

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Do cats get the impression that we never finished high school?

Music Video: На заре (Альянс)

When I was looking for things "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" on YouTube a few nights ago, something caught my attention: Soviet-era Synth-pop band Альянс (Alliance) and their popular song, На заре ("At Dawn").

The video is from 1987. It played and I was transfixed.

The band members in 1987 ― the group changed members a few times over the years ― were Konstantin Gavrilov (keyboards), Andrey Tumanov (bass), Igor Zhuravlev (vocals, guitar), and Oleg Parastaev (keyboards).

What I find interesting about the studio audience is their pure attentiveness to the performance before them. They look as though they're watching a string quartet.

На заре was written by Parastaev, the gent with the funky eyewear.

Igor Zhuravlev's high-octane voice zooms to the sky, and he sings here with great conviction.

The video is a revealing look at the state of popular music in 1980s USSR. It was hardly staid or static. Synth-pop was in on that side of the curtain, too.

The lyrics, as translated to English....

Smooth run of my destiny
Night, sadness and lamentation of the soul
Moonlight and may rain in the sky

The long century of my star
The sleepy shine of the earth's dew
Loud laughter and paradise honey in the sky

At the dawn voices are calling me
At the dawn voices are calling me

Sun light and the sound of the heart
Timid gaze and strength of hands
The finest hour of my dream in the sky

At the dawn voices are calling me
At the dawn voices are calling me
At the dawn voices are calling me
At the dawn voices are calling me
At the dawn

Friday, September 8, 2023

Star Trek Premiered on NBC 57 Years Ago Today

I'm just old enough to have remembered Star Trek first airing but I must have missed it. Maybe my parents saw the trailer on CTV for the opening episode, "The Man Trap", and its great and scary monster, and made the decision to make sure I missed it.

CTV (Canadian Television) actually opened the series two days before NBC, on September 6, 1966, effectively the "world premiere".

The charade had to last but a few weeks: In October we left for West Germany, and I did not see the series on ZDF, ARD, or the two French channels. (However, I did watch the telefantasy series' Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Invaders, and The Prisoner on French and/or German television.) ZDF began running Trek in 1972, which I found out about two years ago.

I first saw Star Trek in June of 1970. My British cousins were watching it on BBC2 ― in colour ― and I joined them in silence while visiting.

Back here in Canada, CTV's flagship station, CFTO, began its long run of "stripping" Star Trek. In September of 1970 a regular Monday to Friday at 5 p.m. screening schedule started the magic for many of us. What is this exciting, striking, beautiful, and colourful show?, I must have pondered at the beginning as I got lost in Trek's vortex. This was a communal experience for many viewers, for in the syndication market it was a true "water cooler", certainly "water fountain", television series.

My own private joke regarding my own fandom: It was just six years ago that I bought the complete series on Blu-ray. Before that I had just odds and ends on VHS and DVD. As for the Blu-ray format, I've watched just one episode.

But I am a fan.

How many dramatic television programs are, or will be, remembered fifty-seven years after they hit the video airwaves?

Perhaps I should pop on "The Man Trap" this evening....

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Book: Beyond the Wall (Hoyer)

Beyond the Wall
- A History of East Germany -

Katja Hoyer

Basic Books

The Rational National is Most Rational on Poilievre

We need more of this!

David Doel, of The Rational National, executes a smashup job of revealing who Pierre Poilievre really is. The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada does not care about the average Canadian... as much as he presents himself as a friend of the working class.

Poilievre has voted against many initiatives designed to help Canadians who could use the extra help, rights, and respect; gay marriage, abortion rights, an increase in the minimum wage, support for unionized workers, and on and on and on.

Just one critical note on Mr Doel's breakdown: At the 10:25 mark he speaks of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's broken campaign promise to reform our election act. Our first-past-the-post system must go, no argument there, but once our PM took office he backed off on his promise after much pressure from... the Conservatives. Even the Toronto Sun's editorial at the time said 'it was the right decision'.


Sunday, September 3, 2023

A Forever Question: Fool's Gold

“Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question."

Sir. Would a cat look at us as buried treasure?