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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Thriller > Horror > Outer Space > British TV > Space: 1999 – Season One (1975 – 1976/A&E Blu-ray Set)

Space: 1999 – Season One (1975 – 1976/A&E Blu-ray Set)

 

Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: B+     Episodes: B+

 

 

Though Star Trek was cut off prematurely for fans, it may have been lucky for what became the franchise in the long run as the show could have never competed with the reputation of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the visual effects department, which grew slowly but surely after its original theatrical release.  By 1969, the producers of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet were producing the sci-fi classic U.F.O., with model work ahead of Trek.  Yet fans of these shows wanted more and they were doing well in syndication.  Something seemed to have gone unfinished and many outer space shows (The Starlost, Space Academy (both reviewed elsewhere on this site)) resulted.

 

However, a show that could take the next step after the advanced concepts Trek was trying to develop was not begin realized on a large scale and Trek itself became an animated TV show briefly before a feature film franchise, so it would not fulfill what it originally set out to do and those belated live action sequel series were too late to apply here.  There is also the possibility that no show would show up to succeed at that, but for at least its first season, one did.

 

Originally intended as a larger continuation of U.F.O., Gerry & Sylvia Anderson (in what turned out to be their final work together after so many landmark accomplishments) changed their development around as U.F.O. was losing ratings interest (a great show that deserved at least a few more seasons itself) so they created a new series.  It would be bolder and more challenging than even U.F.O. and offered ideas that would challenge the best Trek shows and really picked up where that show left off.  Starting production in 1974, Space: 1999 was a huge international hit all the U.S. Networks turned down and the resulting Season One was an unqualified success.

 

Lord Lew Grade (still running ITC at the time) was constantly trying to have a hit with a big Hollywood star or two and with this series, finally got his wish with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, still very respected from their work on the early, best seasons of the original Mission: Impossible.  Sylvia Anderson wanted Robert Culp from the hit I Spy, but Grade took the couple because it was a dealmaker and the show went into production.

 

A&E, ITV and Network U.K. have followed up their terrific Blu-ray release of the Patrick McGoohan classic The Prisoner (not reviewed, but very highly recommended) with this amazing Season One set.  The 24 episodes are as follows in original broadcast order with title/writer(s)/director/comments:

 

 

Breakaway” (Pilot episode; George Bellak/Lee H. Katzin) – Philip Madoc and Lon Satton (Live & Let Die) star in the show where it all begins as a huge nuclear explosion causes earth’s moon to leave planetary orbit, carrying the 311 member crew of Moon Base Alpha with it.

 

Force Of Life” (Art Wallace & Johnny Byrne/Charles Crichton) – Ian McShane (Deadwood, Lovejoy) is targeted by an alien force trying to take over the Moonbase in this interesting episode with Horror elements, also starring Gay Hamilton (Barry Lyndon).

 

Collision Course” (Anthony Terpiloff/Ray Austin) - Not well-rounded tale of a planet replacing an asteroid Alpha just destroyed to save their base, with Margaret Leighton.

 

War Games” (Christopher Penfold/Charles Crichton) - Not bad show about a war that hits Alpha badly, but when they go to the planet below to get help, they find a group that wants to be left alone in interesting show with Anthony Valentine (Raffles, Callan) very good as mysterious lead male alien.  Isla Blair also stars.

 

Death’s Other Domain” (Anthony Terpiloff & Elizabeth Barrows/Charles Crichton) – Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon (1980)) and John Shrapnel are members of an older civilization who have attained immortality, or so they think, when the Alpha Team flies by.

 

Voyager’s Return” (Johnny Byrne/Bob Kellett) - Not good, but its influence on 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture is obvious and guest stars Jeremy Kemp and Barry Stokes are a plus.

 

Alpha Child” (Christopher Penfold/Ray Austin) - Guest stars Julian Glover (For Your Eyes Only) in story of how Alpha’s first born baby starts growing at an insane rate, possessed by an alien force up to no good.  Cyd Hayman also stars.

 

Dragon’s Domain” (Christopher Penfold/Charles Crichton) - Featuring an exceptional voice over by Barbara Bain, this smart episode has an Eagle Pilot (Gianni Garko) facing disaster after an event has practically ruined his career and he will be tested almost the same way again.  Susan Jameson and Michael Sheard also star.

 

Mission Of The Darians” (Johnny Byrne/Ray Austin) - Guest stars Joan Collins; once again, Collins punctuates a famous series with an appearance as she had done for Batman (as Siren), the British Roald Dahl’s “Tales Of The Unexpected” (the “Neck” episode), and “City On The Edge Of Forever” (considered by many to be the best of all the original Star Trek episodes).  Dennis Burgess and Aubrey Morris (A Clockwork Orange) also star.

 

Black Sun” (David Weir/Lee H. Katzin) – The episode where they makers address the idea of a Black Hole with Paul Jones (Peter Watkins’ Privilege) that is more interesting than you might expect.

 

Guardian Of Piri” (Christopher Penfold/Charles Crichton) The first Catherine Schell show, but not as the Maya character she’d play later in the entire next season, while the show plays like Zardoz-lite, about a computer that has made life perfect… too perfect!  Michael Culver also stars.

 

End Of Eternity” (Johnny Byrne/Ray Austin) - Guest stars Peter Bowles (The Avengers) as invulnerable, sick, evil alien out to kill and take over Alpha at all costs.

 

Matter Of Life & Death” (Art Wallace & Johnny Byrne/Charles Crichton) – Dr. Russell (Bain) sees her dead husband is still alive, but something else may really be going on in this solid show also starring Stuart Damon.

 

Earthbound” (Anthony Terpiloff/Charles Crichton) - Guest stars Christopher Lee as the dangerous alien Captain Zandor in this classic episode.

 

The Full Circle” (Jesse Lasky Jr. & Pat Silver/Bob Kellett) - Not so effective but somewhat ambitious show that pits Alpha against dangerous primitives.

 

Another Time, Another Place” (Johnny Byrne/David Tomblin) - Guest stars Judy Geeson (Star Maidens) in this parallel worlds episode where a time warp causes the split.  Well done.

 

The Infernal Machine” (Anthony Terpiloff & Elizabeth Barrows/David Tomblin) – Allows guest stars Leo McKern to ham it up as an amusing villain for the show with a bizarre spaceship to match.

 

Ring Around The Moon” (Edward Di Lorenzo/Ray Austin) – An exceptional show with a crew member (Max Faulkner) apparently killed by a mysterious force, but that force has other ideas.

 

Missing Link” (Edward Di Lorenzo/Ray Austin) - Appropriately eerie Peter Cushing guest star turn as an alien who can possess the human soul is a really good show.

 

The Last Sunset” (Christopher Penfold/Charles Crichton) - A mixed show about another alien force, this one sends a missile that attaches itself to an Eagle ship, only to deliver an earth-like atmosphere to the moon, but this could soon cause permanent damage to Moon Base Alpha so the crew has to do something before it is too late.

 

Space Brain” (Christopher Penfold/Charles Crichton) – Another interesting episode where a pilot (Shane Rimmer) survives a sighting of a strange, colorful force in space near Alpha, but it has a special intelligence that sends hieroglyphics throughout Alpha’s computer system and has plans unbeknownst to all of them.

 

The Troubled Spirit” (Johnny Byrne/Ray Austin) – Lead Alpha Botanist Dan Mateo (Giancarlo Prete) thinks he can communicate with plants, but this all backfires when his experiment turns into a nightmare for all of Alpha.  Hilary Heath and Anthony Nicholls also star.

 

Testament Of Arkadia” (Johnny Byrne/David Tomblin) – An Alpha team lands on the planet Arkadia thinking they may have found a part of earth’s past, but something is not adding up and two rogue Alphans with their own plans may endanger everyone.  Orso Maria Guerrini (The Conformist) and Lisa Harrow (Star Maidens) also star.

 

The Last Enemy” (written and directed by Bob Kellett) – This last of the great episodes has its moments as Alpha drifts into the middle of a war between two planets.  Kevin Stoney also stars.

 

 

The Blu-rays have retained the order of the A&E DVD set, which goes as follows:

 

BD One: Breakaway/Matter Of Life And Death/Black Sun/Ring Around The Moon/Earthbound

 

BD Two: Another Time, Another Place/Missing Link/Guardian Of Piri/Force Of Life/Alpha Child

 

BD Three: The Last Sunset/Voyager’s Return/Collision Course/Death’s Other Domain/Full Circle

 

BD Four: End Of Eternity/War Games/The Last Enemy/The Troubled Spirit/Space Brain

 

BD Five: The Infernal Machine/Mission Of The Darians/Dragon’s Domain/Testament Of Arkadia

 

The notes give you some idea about how the show is, but does not begin to really convey how good the show really is.  You have to see it to believe it and this Blu-ray set delivers it in a way no one at the time of its original release could have imagined.  You have to see the show to believe it and it belongs on the Blu-ray shelf with the three original seasons of Star Trek the way GoodFellas belongs on the shelf with The Godfather.  It is just an amazing show and Blu-ray shows that it has only become better with age.

 

 

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 full color digital High Definition image (centered in a 1.78 X 1 frame) on all the episodes were shot in 35mm film and color was by Rank Labs.  Though there are some variances in quality between episodes, they are limited and these transfers are stunning.  As restored by the BBC, they have nicely reconstructed the opening credits as well as very faithfully reproduced the color, depth and definition of every episode here.  Unless you have a really good 16mm or 35mm film print of a given episode, your copies are obsolete as compared to the incredible clarity and color reproduction through all the episodes.

 

The great Frank Watts, B.S.C. (The Avengers, Department S, Jason King, The Protectors, Return Of The Saint) shots these shows and they have never looked better.  Each episode has several demo shots for the best HDTV home theater set-ups around and those shots even rival some of the best stills I have ever seen of the show and they are many.  It looks like you could almost walk into many of the sets, though some do look stage-bound and some can look dated, but even the model work often looks terrific.  Some model work is not as good, some matte work looks dated and you can even see strings and other things you might miss in low definition, but color is exceptional and once again, someone stored the film elements very well.  At least for this first season of the show, the use of color is exceptional for any TV show, science fiction or otherwise.  Many Blu-rays of feature films from 1974 – 1976 do not look this good.

 

It should be noted that Brian Johnson was credited as creating visual effects on 2001: A Space Odyssey by Landau in some taped intros, which is not accurate.  He did work on the film, which had four effects teams, but he was an uncredited assistant.  However, he did great work here and moved on to Alien, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens and DragonHeart, so he was a key part of the show’s success.

 

Then there is the sound.  The Bonus Features listing on the back of the case misidentifies the Blu-rays as having Dolby Digital 5.1, while below that orange box of text is an also-inaccurate DTS-HD Master Audio logo also claiming a 5.1 mix.  In fact, the sound on each episode is available as Dolby Digital 2.0 448 kbps Mono and upgraded regular DTS 5.1 sound.  I liked the DTS best, though the sound is a little too much in the center channels, but it is richer, smoother and fuller as compared to even the PCM 2.0 Mono on the old 12” LaserDiscs of double episodes that were issued a long time ago.  Other flaws include dialogue issues at times, some harmonic distortion on the original audio in general and minor shortcomings that are not too bad, but come through as compared to the 5.1 mixes you get on better films and TV shows today.

 

What would have been nice, but very expensive would have been to get all the music, dialogue, sound stems and sound effects (this includes music sampled from other Anderson shows!) and retransfer all of it in the best possible audio format (we would suggest Direct Stream Digital with its single giant megabit (sampled 2.8 Million times!) used on the still-alive Super Audio CD format) from (likely already done) restoration and preservation of the original elements and then remix from there.  At least for this season, it would be worth it and going 7.1 would not be a bad idea either.

 

The great Barry Gray would also do his final work for Gerry & Sylvia Anderson on this first season, which includes the great theme song (better than the second and last season) which included a Rock genre bridge played by Vic Elmes (credited as Elms here) in what may people thought was a Disco theme.  That genre was just arriving.

 

Extras here include some from the old DVD MegaSet and some brand new ones.  This includes isolated music score tracks for all but two of the episodes in Dolby Digital 2.0 448 kbps sound, excluding Breakaway and Dragon’s Domain, both of which Gerry Anderson happens to offer audio commentary tracks on.  Too bad three from a bonus DVD for the MegaSet (Death’s Other Domain with fan and collector Scott Michael Bosko, Dragon’s Domain with writers Christopher Penfold (Season One story advisor) and Johnny Byrne and Testament Of Arcadia (with Sylvia Anderson)) are sadly missing.

 

The image galleries are all in HD and include stills for all episodes, behind the scenes, collectible cards and promo shots.  The textless opening and closing titles have also been upgraded to HD.  Two bonus DVDs are included and add the Landau/Bain videotaped intro and outro for the premiere of the pilot shows, SFX Plates & Deleted SFX Scenes with Music Tracks, Alternative Opening & Closing Sequence with all futuristic computer font text, Barry Gray’s Theme Demo set to a sample of the opening credits, Series One/Season One Textless Generic Titles, Text episode Commentary on The Last Sunset and Space Brain episodes, Two-Part Clapperboard episode documentary special from 1975 on Gerry Anderson, four featurettes (These Episodes, Memories Of Space, Concept & Creation, Special Effects & Design), trailer previews for the telefilms made out of pairings of episodes on this set and a new interview with Sylvia Anderson on the shows she produced before her separation with Gerry Anderson and departure from Space: 1999.

 

She did not want Landau or Bain, worked with them, then she explains bluntly how they were very difficult for her to work with.  When she left, many people who made the show great either followed her or were purged from the show.  Barry Morse left, while some were fired and never told why.  Others lost included Prentiss Hitchcock (who did work for Lew Grade again on Return Of The Saint), Anton Phillips (same as Hitchcock) Clifton Jones, Zienia Merton (whose career continued on shows like Return Of The Saint and The Sarah Jane Adventures), Suzanne Roquette, Sarah Bullen (who continued to work on shows like The Sandbaggers), many extras and stuntpeople were gone, the Gray/Elmes theme song was dropped and even landmark costume designer Rudi Gernreich (the creator of the topless bathing suit and 1960s Mod look) was dropped and shown the door.

 

Landau and Bain were accused of being wooden on the show, but it was not meant to be a space opera, but a ‘hard science’ science fiction adventure show.  This would all be abandoned for the next season, which we will take a closer look at when the Blu-ray arrives.

 

You can read more about the restoration at this link:

 

http://www.bbcstudiosandpostproduction.com/postproduction/case_studies/space_1999.html

 

You can order this A&E Region A-locked Blu-ray set from Amazon.com through our site and Network U.K.’s Region B locked Blu-ray set which is practically the same set at this link:

 

http://www.networkdvd.net/product_info.php?cPath=86&products_id=1213

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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