If you were a child born in the 1970’s in Australia, chances were one of your first introductions to science fiction was the television show Space: 1999.
At the time it aired down under there wasn’t a lot of science fiction available. Star Trek was already in syndication and would pop up haphazardly on Aussie TV screens, and Star Wars was just about to be released, or had only just hit the cinemas. There was Doctor Who, but my family thought it was a terrible show so I was never allowed to watch it, and we were still a few years away from the first video cassettes so you couldn’t drop down to the local shops and pick up a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Logan’s Run, or Silent Running – some of which had been at the cinema before I was born. There were books, of course, but I was five or six when I first discovered Space: 1999 and hadn’t yet fallen in love with the simple pleasures of reading.
Space: 1999 blew me away when I saw it. I’m pretty sure it was early 1977 when I stumbled across the first episode and I saw the second season long before I discovered the much stronger first season. The episode that grabbed me was “Black Sun”, and thankfully it also grabbed my family otherwise I would never have been allowed to watch more.
I remember it filled me with a sense of wonder and awe, and it began my ongoing love affair with science fiction. Space: 1999 also launched my interest in the space program. I remember asking family members how I could become an astronaut and all they could tell me was that I had to be really smart and needed to get good grades. As I was just starting school (in most states of Australia, children begin school at the age of five), I set out to be the best student I could be – until nine years later when our all boys school became coed and I discovered girls. Up until then I’d been in advanced maths and science classes. Thanks puberty.
Having already discovered Star Trek, Space: 1999 gave me something different and I recall enjoying both for their unique visions. To my five or six year old mind, Star Trek was all bright colours and action and I didn’t relate on a visceral level. Space: 1999 was different in that things looked familiar. It took hold of my imagination in a different way. It showed me a future not too distant from my own, and one I would most likely still be alive in. That really stuck with me as a kid.
As an adult, Space: 1999 does something different to me now. It gives me a sense of nostalgia, and its characters resonate with me (as do the characters in Stat Trek). It also pisses me off, because I see so much lost potential. Almost 40 years after seeing Space: 1999 and Star Trek for the first time, I remain convinced good science fiction is character and plot driven, and technobabble is the enemy of good story-telling. Yes, Next Gen and Voyager (DS9 did that a lot less often), I’m looking at you!
When you watch some of the stories from the first season of Space: 1999 and compare them with some of the offerings from the modern Star Trek series’, your jaw drops. The Space: 1999 writers didn’t try to solve every mystery and they didn’t try to wrap everything up neatly, and they certainly didn’t ‘Macgyver’ the climax of an episode with expository technobabble that is as frustrating as it is nonsensical – which adds a sense of realism and drama I still admire and respect today. Sometimes we don’t need an easy or comfortable resolution, which the rebooted Battlestar Galactica went on to so eloquently prove.
I discovered the first season of Space: 1999 first through the novelisations of the episodes while I was still in primary school, and then through video while I was at University.
As a child reading those books, I once again dreamed of being on Moonbase Alpha. That future was so close I could taste it.
As a teen at university my imagination took flight in other ways.
I’d dropped out of psychology, turned down a law degree and taken on a performing arts degree majoring in acting, screenwriting and film making (my family disowned me for two years, they were not happy). The first season of Space: 1999 captivated me with its dark, brooding, philosophical content. What was a fond memory from my childhood took on a whole new meaning as I watched this show that more often than not left questions unanswered. As a writer and budding film-maker I loved it. I could not understand how any sane person would cancel such a challenging and intelligent show.
I later learned there had been many attempts to revive the series, but none had gotten off the ground.
Then a decade or so later something miraculous happened, Ronald D. Moore, a former writer and producer for the various new incarnations of Star Trek, rebooted another series I had loved as a child – Battlestar Galactica – and turned it into a critical and ratings success.
Before we knew it, V was resurrected, and talk began about rebooting Space: 1999 and calling it Space: 2099, because the year 1999 had passed us by without the moon being ejected from Earth’s orbit.
I hadn’t been so excited since the mid 1980s when they announced Star Trek: The Next Generation!
Space: 2099 was going to be produced by Jace Hall, who had been part of the V update, and everything he was saying about the show sounded great.
The V reboot’s first season had been a critical and popular success, though its second season had had problems. I thought if Jace and his team could take what they had learned from V and apply it to Space: 2099, then we would be in for something special.
And then it didn’t happen.
The last thing we heard about Space: 2099 was in 2014.
Sadly, that’s not all that surprising. Space: 1999 has a devoted but small fan base, and it’s moderate popularity in the SF world may have been what made the people who own the rights reject Jace’s proposal.
If that was the reason, it may have been a little shortsighted. It’s true that 1999 doesn’t have the brand recognition of Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, Alien or a host of other television or movie series that have since been given a reboot, but it did – and still does – have themes that are just as relevant today as they were back in the 1970s.
Space: 1999 was a pretty challenging show that initially tackled the nature of existence and our concept of self and fate way before DS9 went there, and way way before the new BSG received so much praise for confronting its audience with similar ideas.
It captured the fears of the 70s and suggested we all take a leap of faith and ‘go deep’ to find a truth that might help us evolve as a species. At least, the best episodes of the first season did. The second season told us to shoot the crap out of everything and hope for the best.
In the 1970s people were suspicious of their governments thanks to the Vietnam and Korean Wars, Watergate, the Cold War and more. They were sick of armed conflict, terrified of a nuclear holocaust, and were worried about conspiracies, but despite all that they were also a little hopeful – believing that people, not science and governments, were the power that could change the world with a little hope and a little faith.
Today, after the opulent navel-gazing of the 80s and the relative stability of the 90s, there’s similar stuff going on again: we trust our governments less than we ever have as they change laws to benefit the state and create new ones that let them spy on us and detain us (ostensibly for our own protection). We’re still worried about a nuclear holocaust but those fears have largely been supplanted by the threat of terrorism as we all wonder whether or not some fanatic is going to blow us up in the name of a religion that actually doesn’t promote violence. On top of all that we’ve lost faith in organised religion because it’s kind of stupid, become exasperated at science because one week red meat is going to give us cancer and then the next week it’s sugar. We’re over informed by news services that prefer to exaggerate and comment than report factually, and we’re frustrated by the climate change debate as our world heats up around us. Plus, our politicians are a joke, and social media – which was meant to bring us closer, is doing the exact opposite as it isolates us behind devices and gives us the illusion of connection. We’re probably more lost and confused than we’ve ever been.
We’re questioning again.
It feels like the right time for Space: 1999 to come back.
A few science fiction fans might disagree with me, because apparently there was a bit of a tiff between Space: 1999 and Star Trek fans back in the day, but they both have their merits, and they both owe each other a debt of gratitude.
There’s a wonderful book called Exploring Space: 1999 by John Kenneth Muir that goes into great depth on the series, it’s cancellation, those fan issues and more. It looks at what influenced 1999 and what 1999 influenced. Check it out. If you’re a 1999 fan, this book is worth your time. If you’re a student of film and television it is fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. It’s an insightful, fantastic read and is available in paperback as well as on Kindle
For Maya fans, it also features a special interview with the actor who brought the mysterious Psychon to life, Catherine Schell.
Despite its ups and downs, Space: 1999 is still fondly remembered by many, and continues to he discovered by new fans in syndication. Space: 1999 owes its continued existence to its fans, who have never given up on it.
Despite how big or small 1999’s fan base might be, it has a premise that, with a little tinkering, could give current scifi offerings a run for their money.
As I said earlier, it feels like the right time for a thoughtful show like Space: 1999 to come back. It’s definitely time for a drama that explores the next 20 or 30 years, rather than the next 200 or 300.
As one of those fans who has dreamed of a revival or remake for years, and who has often fantasised about what he would do with the series if he had the chance, this site is my way of keeping Space: 1999 alive, and exploring what it might look like of it were retooled for a modern audience.
Space: 1999 was amazing, beautiful, cutting-edge television in the 1970s, but a lot has changed in the 40 years (as of this writing) since it aired. Audiences are more knowledgeable and less likely to suspend disbelief.
The first issue with rebooting 1999 is the simple fact it’s now 2016, and this September 13 it will have been 17 years since the moon, in the show, was forced out of Earth’s orbit. Also, we don’t have a moon base. But, we’re getting there! And we’re talking about putting humans on Mars. We also have the Internet, computers in every phone, virtual reality, drones… and that fashion misstep known as flares are no more. Thank goodness!
Space: 1999 can never come back as a continuation of the original, as much as we might want it to. It’s doubtful Martin and Barbara would commit to a weekly series, or even a few episodes that would allow them to hand off to their children, and, again, there’s that whole ‘the moon is still in orbit’ problem that’s pretty insurmountable. Nor can it be remade as a carbon copy of the original. Again, the moon. Things need to change because the world has changed, and as 1999 reflected the times it was written in, so too must any reboot reflect the here and now – without sacrificing the core of what 1999 was.
I’m going to have a go at giving 1999 an update on this blog.
With a liberal use of artistic license, I’ve taken a few of the first and second season episodes and have started to retool them in a way that I hope honours the original, while modernising the series and making it palatable to 21st Century viewers. As is the current trend, a season will have only 10-12 episodes. Let’s see how many I can write!
In addition to rewriting some of the original screen plays, novelising them, and explaining my rationale to you guys along the way, Space 2049 will also report on new developments at NASA and in space travel, and the news section of the blog will also include science fiction entertainment news focusing on series that feel like they are ‘spiritually’ linked to Space: 1999.
The site will also feature as much material on the original series as I can find and it will promote some of the exceptional Space: 1999 fan sites that are still out there on the Internet.
Why the year 2049? Naively, I think we’re close to colonising the moon, and while our primary satellite isn’t the main focus of this reboot, another moon is. 2049 feels far enough away to give us a shot at succeeding by that date, and it’s close enough that another young person reading this, like me reading the novelisations all those years ago, might think “this is amazing, and I’ll still be alive to see it.”
I hope you enjoy this little trip into the near future, and I hope you either like the choices I’ve made, or at the very least think they have some merit.
The original Space: 1999 was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
No copyright infringement is intended. This is a passion project and a work of fandom intended for lovers of the original who still dream of Space: 1999 coming back.