In the early seventies in England, Sir Lewis Grade, president of Associated Television , handed Gerry Anderson seven million dollars and the chance to create a brand new television series. At the time Anderson was king of Supermarionation. Stingray, FireBall XL5, and Captain Scarlet were three of his biggest hits acted solely by puppets. But by 1970, Anderson was bored with the tedious task of getting puppet hands to pick up small phones and overdubbing voices to match. He made the move to live action debuting with UFO and following with The Protectors. Although both shows were a success for ATV, Anderson was nervous about his meeting with the big boss known as Sir Lew. It was a short meeting. Anderson could have the money and a chance to produce again as long as the series was set somewhere other than Earth. Grade’s instincts told him that it was time for a heavy duty science fiction show and so Moonbase Alpha was born.
The backstory for Space 1999 revolves around man’s colonization of the moon. Alpha was a pseudo military complex with a commander, and officers of various ranks, but it’s main purpose was to act as a floating lab for doctors and scientists exploring the universe. Not a bad little premise but it lacked adventure. So Anderson decided to maroon his space travelers permanently. He toyed with the idea of blowing up the Earth but felt that American audiences would be too squeamish over such an idea. He settled for blowing up a chunk of the moon.
In the pilot episode titled “Breakaway”, a nuclear fuel dump on the dark side of the moon is ignited by accident. The resulting explosion throws the moon out of its orbit and sends it hurtling through space. There is no time to escape, no way to stop it. The people of Moonbase Alpha are caught on a veritable runaway train.
On board for the ride was the husband and wife team of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (chosen to help sell the series in the United States.) Landau played Commander John Koenig. Barbara Bain played Dr. Helena Russell, chief medical officer and love interest for Koenig. Barry Morse rounded out the major cast as the genius scientist Victor Bergman.
The first season of Space 1999 was very harsh and sterile looking. The plots were complicated, (often too) and the dialogue was serious.
When Anderson pumped up for the second season it was a whole new ball game. The show was suddenly full of color, full of action and Victor Bergman was gone. In his place was a brash young security chief Tony Verdeschi played by Tony Anholt.
The opening episode of the season also introduced us to the character that would take over the series, Maya The Metamorph played by the mesmerizing Catherine Shell. Maya was an alien capable of taking on the form of any other living creature. This bit of magic gave the show a chance to use dozens of far out monster costumes pushing the series toward a more childish fantasy feel. Many fans mourned the loss of the serious adult Sci-Fi show that had aired during the first year. but a whole new crop of fans began tuning in to see the romance blossoming between Alpha’s dashing security officer and the resident alien.
Collecting Space 1999
Space 1999 collectibles are very popular, but not extremely high priced. Most items sell for under a hundred dollars and are still easily accessible. Since the show was made in England there are additional toys and books that were made for sale only in Europe that have since found their way here. Expect to pay more for English trademarked items.
Probably the most sought after toys in the line are recreations of the Eagle spaceships that were used in the series. The best of these is a very accurate metal diecast by Dinky. Mattel released a 2 1/2 foot plastic ship that was made to hold their action figures. You can buy these in box in the $100 to $200 range depending on the specific model. You can find some on Amazon and of course on eBay.
Action figures of Koenig, Russell and Bergman in the eight inch style that was very popular in the seventies. These figures are very accurate in their likenesses and are a great find if you can get them still in package. Mattel also designed a vinyl Moon Base Alpha control room and launch monitor center reminiscent of the old Barbie playhouses. Figures Toy Company is currently making a new line of Space 1999 figures including Tony, Alan and many of the villains on the show. You can buy these through FabGear, which is the best place to buy all of the new Space 1999 collectibles.
If dolls aren’t your thing, Remco released a Space 1999 Utility Belt complete with a fantastic replica of the series’ stun gun. AMSCO created the Adventure Playset, a great big box full of die-cut cardboard. With a sharp knife and a lot of patience you could put together this lame looking version of Alpha and surrounding moon surface.
On the easy to find list, look for the board game by Milton Bradley in it’s oversized box, boxed puzzles by HC Toys, bubble gum cards by Donruss and the lunch box by King Seeley Thermos.
Still popular today are a full line of Space 1999 model kits. If you prefer to scratch build or customize your models, you must visit Starship Modeler for detailed photographs and tips.
For a closer look at the whole line of toys and collectibles visit the Space 1999: Memorabilia site.
Space 1999 has been available on DVD for awhile, but A&E recently released the first season on HD and it’s terrific. There are some excellent special features including a closer look at the actual models made for the show.
You can read my full review of the DVD on my TV website: TV of the Absurd.