Space: 1999 - Series 2 finally out on Blu-ray

Season two of Space: 1999 creates a huge divide in Gerry Anderson fandom. An American story editor forced onto the production in the shape of Fred Freiberger, famous for his show-runner role on season three of classic Star Trek, and one which would prove to be that show’s last. He would also preside over the final run of Space: 1999 episodes. Executive Producer Gerry Anderson insisted that Freiberger took the Producer credit, mainly due to the huge changes the man from across the Atlantic brought to the format, characters and philosophy of the series.

Network have finally released the Blu-ray set of the entire second season. The word on the street is that, unlike the first season release on Blu-ray back in 2010, the rendering to High Definition was a lot more difficult for this follow-up set of stories. The first season release included the premiere episode “The Metamorph”, and last year we had the teaser Blu-ray release of “The Bringers of Wonder Parts 1 and 2” to whet the appetite of what was to come. Here we have, in these 24 episodes, some of the best – and worst – stories from the series as a whole.

So, for those of you catching up on this slice of TV history, a quick primer to what happened in season one. An unanticipated build-up of magnetic radiation, not something that had ever been checked on, causes the nuclear waste dumps on the Moon to detonate, creating the effect of a huge rocket motor, blasting it out of orbit and taking the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha on a trip to far-off worlds. Their trek away from Earth is assisted by ‘black suns’ (the Alphan expression for Black Holes) and other interventions along their uncontrollable route of discovery, taking them further and further away from home.

That first season saw a body of professional human beings trying to come to terms with their incredible journey. We had chunks of philosophy and esoteric thinking at the core of the stories being told, leading to a concluding episode, “The Testament of Arkadia”, where there are hints that the voyage of the Alphans is pre-destined. They are playing their part in a huge over-arching plan, where two of their number will be set to repopulate the planet from where mankind first originated.  Heady stuff which drew many threads together which had been established in earlier episodes. It was a brilliant way to conclude the first chapter of Space: 1999 adventures.

Having not been able to secure a network sale, those based at distributors ITC in America decided to try something different – effectively create their own ‘network’ of local stations, who would opt-out of their scheduled programming to play Space: 1999 episodes instead. It was ground-breaking, and saw some excellent returns, both in terms of audience numbers and positive reviews. A network sale would have made more money, but this tactic had definitely put the series on everyone’s radar.

So, ITC America demanded wholesale changes to try and garner a network sale for the second season. With the USA being the biggest television market in the world, they effectively held all the cards. Producer Sylvia Anderson was shown the door (separation from husband Gerry assisted in this regard), and an American Story Editor was required by those ‘across the pond’. And that was where it all went amiss.

The logic was to look to popular TV shows in America, and head-hunt someone linked to such a format. And, in syndication, what was bigger at the time than Star Trek? Unfortunately, not having a fans’ view of that series, they looked to the much-hammered third season of the show, and chose the producer of those episodes: Fred Freiberger. At the time, no-one questioned why Fred might be available.

Poor Fred. Everyone loved the guy, but nobody ever wanted to tell him when he was wrong. So wide-ranging were the changes he wanted to make to Space: 1999, on the strength of having been shown just eight episodes, that Gerry Anderson decided Fred should take the credit (and/or the likely criticism) by him being named Producer of the show. Add to that a reduction in budget in real terms (the mid-1970s saw inflation running at double-figure rates), and the second series was already going to be a struggle. In Fred’s defence, it should be noted that the third season of Star Trek also had to be brought in significantly cheaper than previous years, too.

In came humour, of sorts (the widely-known variations in styles of what is considered funny by different sides of the Atlantic was VERY evident). Everything was made more claustrophobic (out went the glorious expansive vision of the main room that was ‘Main Mission’, in came the Enterprise-esque ‘Command Center’ with its American spelling). Out went the philosophy and esoteria to be replaced by loads more action and Bug-Eyed Monsters. A serious slice of adult science fiction became kidult ‘Sci-Fi’.

The writing was changed, some scripters even admitting that eventually they dumbed-down what they were submitting to get it accepted. Charles Woodgrove wrote three episodes, but this was in fact the pen-name of Fred Freiberger himself. He maintained that he did this as a budget-saving exercise, to keep costs under control.  However, this doesn’t excuse the turkeys that were “The Rules of Luton” (yes, Fred saw the name on a road sign, and liked it!), “Space Warp”, and most depressingly “The Beta Cloud”. In that episode, one scene sees Verdeschi seal all the Moonbase doors so they can only be activated by his voice only, but then sends Fraser off on his own, who will obviously need to be able to open doors en-route. And of course Fraser does so when collecting bits out of a storeroom to be able to set up an electric force field. Cue a mass shaking of heads from viewers.

And if you are looking for real clangers, check out the episode “Dorzak”, where we are told there is such a thing as a ‘universal plague signal’. So, suddenly the Alphans have in-depth knowledge of inter-world etiquette – you could expect this sort of thing in Star Trek, but certainly not in Space: 1999. Indeed, Martin Landau, who notes how he turned down the role of Mr Spock in one of numerous extras on this set, in one episode his doppelganger uses an equivalent of a Vulcan nerve pinch (“Seed of Destruction”). For a show that was trying to distance itself from Star Trek, much of the time it didn’t do a very good job!

And to cap it all, as Star Trek had an alien, then so must Space: 1999. Catherine Schell, who had guest-starred in the first season episode “Guardian of Piri” was brought aboard as the metamorph Maya, able to change into any living being for anything up to an hour. Strange that an alien was governed by Earth time like that, but something we must put down to the natural order of the universe, perchance? Maya became one of the best and the worst things about season two. Schell was brilliant, believable in her stretch of a character, but created writers with an ultimate ‘get out of jail’ card, much like The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver in Doctor Who. So, for Maya not to be able to save the day, she had to either be incapacitated or placed away from the action.

Monsters and sets were redressed and re-used several times, all part of the trimming of the budget that had to be enforced. And one of the most impractical developments to save costs was to ‘double-up’ production. This saw eight episodes filmed in pairs at more or less the same time. What this meant was that some characters had to be away doing something else, or ill, or missing completely from the story for no apparent reason. For the record, and to observe how this was done when you view them again, the pairings were:

  • “The Rules of Luton” and “The Mark of Archanon”
  • “Catacombs of the Moon” and “The AB Chrysalis”
  • “Space Warp” and “A Matter of Balance”
  • “Dorzak” and “Devil’s Planet”

Another element of the Freiberger regime was him no longer keeping the majority of regular actors on season-long contracts. They were called in for an episode or two, which doesn’t make you feel valued. Most eventually drifted off, as their lines were designed so they could, in effect, be spoken by anyone.

Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock), David Kano (Clifton Jones) and most importantly Victor Bergman (Barry Morse) were never to be seen again after season one. Martin Landau contends he fought for Barry to remain part of the format, but from notes in Morse’s diaries it appears that he was never part of the plans. Initially he was made an offer to return with a significant wage cut, which Morse mulled over, and then accepted, even after Gerry Anderson had not returned two personal calls that had been made by the actor. However, when he said ‘yes’ to the contract, he was told that things had moved on and the offer was no longer available.

The medical staff certainly had a faster-than-usual turnover. Dr Bob Mathias (Anton Phillips) returned for the first two episodes, and then threw in the towel. He was replaced by Dr Ben Vincent (Geoffrey Kissoon) for seven stories (and within his run, we had Dr Raul Nunez, played by Raul Newey for an episode), followed by Dr Ed Spencer (Sam Dastor) for the final three stories.

Zienia Merton featured in a dozen episodes, but eventually had enough, and her lines went first to Yasko (Yasukho Nagazumi) for eight episodes, and then to Alibe (Alibe Parsons) for the final three episodes.

Nick Tate’s Alan Carter character eventually found himself very much part of the set-up again, for 18 of the 24 episodes, mainly due to Freiberger suddenly discovering how popular his character was with the fan base. Carter was another who was going to meet an unspecified demise, never to be seen again. However, according to Nick Tate, Freiberger told him the reason he wanted Carter back in the format was that he had spoken to his children about the show, which it turns out they were fans of. One of their favourite characters was Alan Carter, so plans for a new face to fill the void were shelved. The only grating thing about Carter’s return was that his Australian background was rather ham-fistedly played upon.

Tony Anholt was the final cornerstone of the topline casting, playing security chief Tony Verdeschi. Known of by Abe Mandell of ITC America, who suggested him, and having been one of the leads in another Anderson show The Protectors, he was offered the role, not having to audition. Ultra-serious and a driven character, one example of the ‘humour’ that Fred was trying to bring to the series was Verdeschi’s constant obsession with brewing, and churning out bad beer. Ridiculously, he can never get it anywhere near right. As someone who has made beer at home in the past, I can tell you that you only need a couple of trials and errors to be able to solve such problems – it really isn’t as difficult a hobby as is it is made out to be in the show.

Also within the cast, on seven occasions, was Bill Fraser, an Eagle pilot played by John Hug. He initially had a wife, Annette (played by Anouska Hempel) in the season premiere “The Metamorph”, but she was never seen again, despite her surviving in the story, even if she did have a propensity for fainting!

Of all the extras on this Blu-ray set, the one that will be the most satisfying to fans of the series is a reworking of the “Seed of Destruction” episode. Part of the second season, Jonathan Wood has taken the soundtrack and re-edited and re-scored it as if it were made for series one. This means Barry Gray’s music takes the place of what was produced exclusively by Derek Wadsworth for the second series.

This is such an excellent ‘re-imagining,’ and demonstrates how a change of soundtrack can completely alter the vibe of what you are watching. If you wanted to be hyper-critical, you could say that Gray’s music on season one was interspersed with tracks lifted from earlier Anderson productions as well as stock cuts mainly from the Chappell Recorded Music Library – something not present here. However, the exercise proves that Gray’s season one scores have dated considerably better than the season two ‘products of their time’ from Wadsworth.

Add to that the creation of the “This Episode” section in the style of season one, as part of the opening titles, and the brilliant side-stepping of Catherine Schell’s necessity to be billed in the credits, and you will see most fans beaming a contagious smile.

All 24 episodes are presented in the set in their original 1.33:1 (or 4:3 to you and me) aspect ratio, with optional original mono or new 5.1 soundtracks, and are featured alongside a gargantuan stock of special features, including:

  • Music-only tracks on all episodes
  • “Unexposed: Behind the Scenes of Series Two” - filming “The Mark of Archanon”. A 1976 student film project with the brief to create a documentary about the making of a TV series (25 mins).
  • Stock Footage Archive: alternate takes and unused shots from both seasons (mute) (46 mins)
  • Production Audio: original source recordings for material from “The Taybor” (26 mins), “The Rules of Luton” (41 mins), “The Mark of Archanon” (16 mins) and “Brian the Brain” (30 mins)
  • “Cosmos: 1999”: a stop-motion fan film from 1979, featuring Action Man and friends (13 mins)
  • Martin Landau: in-depth interview from 1994 (45 mins)
  • Outtake: a blooper featured in It'll Be Alright on the Night (from “The Bringers of Wonder Part 2” – 30 secs)
  • Promos and Trailers: promotional material for the UK and US, include the “Destination Moonbase Alpha” movie trailer; Barbara Bain and Martin Landau introductions to Season 2 for several UK regional broadcasters; and Catherine Schell, Nick Tate, Tony Anholt, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in generic “scenes from next week’s episode” drop-ins (11 mins)
  • “Behind the Scenes - Model Shop”: mute footage taken during “The AB Chrysalis” - with effects maestro Brian Johnson commentary (6 mins)
  • Clean series two titles and footage where episodic titles were overlaid (mute) (4 mins)
  • Archive Interviews with cast and crew – Martin Landau (6 mins), Barbara Bain (4 mins), Gerry Anderson (4 mins), Catherine Schell (3 mins), Keith Wilson - Designer (4 mins), Brian Johnson - Special Effects (7 mins), and Fred Freiberger (7 mins).
  • Image galleries of rare and previously unseen stills
  • Script and annual PDFs (please note your PC will need a Blu-ray drive for you to be able to read these from the Blu-ray release).

And so, the Season Two Blu-ray set can finally be placed next to Network's Season One set in your collection. If you fancy rewatching from the beginning, why not try the episode order beneath this article, which goes by the days since leaving Earth orbit as noted in the dialogue of the episodes (with a couple of fudges which have to be taken into account)? In places it has a better ‘inner logic’ and separates episodes with similar themes a little more.

Having ploughed through everything on this set, when the show is good (“The Bringers of Wonder Parts 1 and 2”, “The Metamorph”, “The Exiles”, “One Moment of Humanity”, “Journey to Where”, “The Immunity Syndrome”) it’s excellent. However, when it’s bad (all the Freiberger scripts plus “The Taybor”, “All That Glisters” and “The Mark of Archanon”) it is absolutely dire sub-1950s B-movie twaddle.

As a teenager, the show was more to my liking in its second season, so in a way ITC America had a grip on the audience it was pitching to. However, with age comes a greater understanding of things, like philosophy and continuity, where the talkie-talkie bits stand on their own merits. And that’s why Season One now wins with me hands-down, as it was definitely a more sophisticated, adult show in its first incarnation.

If you want a good background to the entire Space: 1999 series, with episode reviews to guide you through the good, the bad, and the indifferent, you can do worse than checking out “Destination: Moonbase Alpha – The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Space:1999” by Robert E Wood, published by Telos.

Space: 1999 – The Complete Second Series is out now from Network. It has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 1,177 mins approx, and an RRP for the six-disc Blu-ray set of £79.99, or £59.99 for the eight-disc DVD set, or get either for less at www.culttvstore.com

SPACE:1999 - SEASON 2 – ORDERED BY DAYS SINCE LEAVING EARTH ORBIT

Episodes are on the Network discs in production order. However, this order is at odds to the number of days quoted as ‘since leaving Earth orbit’, which is noted in all but two episodes - “Journey to Where” and “The Taybor”. The only two-parter, “The Bringers of Wonder”, is dated 1,912 days in part one, and jumps to 2,515 days for part two – almost two years!

If we assume the two episodes without a date continue to stick with production order (5th and 6th), and we ignore the date in “The Bringers of Wonder – Part 2”, then we get a slightly different order. What this all means is that season two covers a time period stretching over five and a half years!

The ‘days’ noted below are those ‘since leaving Earth orbit’ described in dialogue, with the dates in brackets being when the episodes were ‘in studio’:

01 (2.01) “The Metamorph” – 342 days (26 Jan to 16 Feb 1976)

02. (2.02) “The Exiles” – 403 days (17 Feb to 1 Mar 1976)

03. (2.03) “One Moment of Humanity” – 515 days (4 Mar to 17 Mar 1976)

04. (2.04) “All that Glisters” – 565 days (18 Mar to 31 Mar 1976)

05. (2.05) “Journey to Where” – Unknown (1 Apr to 14 Apr 1976)

06. (2.06) “The Taybor” – Unknown (15 Apr to 3 May 1976)

07. (2.08) “The Mark of Archanon” – 640 days (4 May to 18 May 1976)

[Note – Season 1 episode 23 “Dragon’s Domain” details itself as being set 877 days after leaving Earth orbit].

08. (2.07) “The Rules of Luton” – 892 days (3 May to 14 May 1976)

09. (2.10) “New Adam New Eve” – 1,095 days (2 Jun to 18 Jun 1976)

10. (2.09) “Brian the Brain” – 1,150 days (18 May to 2 Jun 1976)

11. (2.11) “Catacombs of the Moon” – 1,196 days (21 Jun to 6 Jul 1976)

12. (2.12) “The AB Chrysalis” – 1,288 days (18 Jun to 6 Jul 1976)

13. (2.14) “The Beta Cloud” – 1,503 days (26 Jul to 6 Aug 1976)

14. (2.13) “Seed of Destruction” – 1,608 days (7 Jul to 23 Jul 1976)

15. (2.16) “A Matter of Balance” – 1,702 days (6 Aug to 24 Aug 1976)

16. (2.15) “Space Warp” – 1,807 days (6 Aug to 24 Aug 1976)

17. (2.17) “The Bringers of Wonder – Part 1” – 1,912 days (25 Aug to 28 Sep 1976)

18. (2.18) “The Bringers of Wonder – Part 2” – 2,515 days[?] (25 Aug to 28 Sep 1976)

19. (2.21) “Dorzak” – 2,009 days (2 Nov to 16 Nov 1976)

20. (2.20) “The Seance Spectre” – 2,012 days (18 Oct to 30 Oct 1976)

21. (2.22) “Devil’s Planet” – 2,306 days (1 Nov to 18 Nov 1976)

22. (2.19) “The Lambda Factor” – 2,308 days (19 Sep to 15 Oct 1976)

23. (2.23) “The Immunity Syndrome” – 2,310 days (19 Nov to 6 Dec 1976)

24. (2.24) “The Dorcons” – 2,409 days (7 Dec to 23 Dec 1976)