September 9th, 1999… I can’t say exactly what I was doing on that date but I sure wasn’t applying to a job on Moonbase Alpha. This had less to do with my knowledge of what was coming for those stationed on the moon, and more to do with the fact that I was working at a financial firm and getting ready for the much talked about Y2K situation that was going on for our computers. Sadly, our future predicted in the 70s was a long way from being reality. I mean, in some ways that’s a good thing, largely because we still have a moon, but any hope of colonizing it by 1999 was gone. And if our current world is anything to go by, the series should have been called Space: 2999!
I’ll give the series one thing: if you know nothing of this show, episode one really blows your mind. If I went into this show completely blindly, the bulk of the first episode deals with a virus that sends people into a rage. Throughout the episode, the characters are trying to figure out what’s causing it. Everything points to the nuclear waste dumped on the far side of the moon but the crew of Moonbase Alpha are still investigating when it detonates… throwing the moon out of orbit. Initially the g-forces are crushing but as they stabilize, Captain John Koenig realizes they are drifting into the solar system on the biggest space ship in history. And so it begins…
“We’re sitting on the biggest bomb in history!” I know this series is not well regarded and one hopes Landau’s line isn’t prophetic. Maybe the opinion is justified, maybe it’s an unfair comparison to Star Trek. Yet, I can’t deny I was on the edge of my seat through the episode. It’s a slower series than Trek, at least based on my current memories, but re-watching Trek has reminded me just how many episodes are a slow build there as well. Two things are for certain: this series is nowhere near as colorful as Trek. It’s heavily white-washed. Everything is a bright white and uniforms are no better. Contrast that to Star Trek where everyone is wearing brightly colored attire and the bridge is as vibrant as an artists easel. Second, the cast is nowhere near as appealing. We follow John Koenig, Helena Russell, Victor Bergman and Alan Carter, as the main cast. Barbara Bain (Dr. Russell) doesn’t have a waist. I’m pretty convinced she’s a torso and a head because every time she turns, I am convinced she’s on a rotating platform. She also speaks like she’s an acting intern, not the veteran actor she was at this time. Landau (Koenig), a very accomplished actor, is a bit wooden and certainly not willing to take risks like Jim Kirk would. There’s a scene between him and Bain when she warns him of the dangers of what he just did (testing a trip into a dangerous area) and he snaps back saying that her concern almost implied that she cared. It’s unnecessary! (“We’re looking for answers, commander, not heroes!”) It’s a weird moment for two people who appear to have met for the first time in this episode. There’s also a fairly funny moment where the camera focuses on Landau as he whispers “easy does it” and then immediate jumps off him.
The rest of the cast is a game of Who’s Who. I recognized Prentis Hancock; Salamar from Doctor Who’s Planet of Evil. I know eventually Catherine Schell will be in this but that’s a season off, also a classic Doctor Who character in the tremendously enjoyable City of Death. And there’s Doctor Solon from Doctor Who’s The Brain of Morbius (Philip Madoc). Roy Dotrice appears; Babylon 5’s Fredrick Lantz and Barry Morse is recurring character Victor Bergman. (Ironically before switching to watch Space: 1999, the last episode I’d seen of The Outer Limits was Controlled Experiment, where he is one of the two main characters! Rather apt, since this series does a very Outer Limits thing with an opening that shows clips of what’s to come!)
Overall, I am interested in going further. There’s a plot thread that they made contact with a planet called Meta and the Alphan’s might have a future there but it does beg the question, how does one pilot a moon? (They should call the Daleks for help!) And just how advanced are the people of 1999 Earth that they have glass windows on a moon base that can be broken with a helmet? There are definitely some questionable moments like finding out there’s “heat but no radiation”. (Radiation basically is heat.) There’s also a bit of the 70’s environmental concern making its way into the Moonbase as they talk about how “nuclear waste is one of the biggest problems of our time.” And I’m curious about what happens on Earth, considering the moon has been ripped out of its orbit!
The episode ends with a premise: it’s Sept 13th, 1999 and 311 men and women are on their way into the solar system in a way no one would ever expect. I can’t imagine the moon could give us that many adventures but I’m open to trying. I mean, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea gave us mummies and lobster men… why not give this a shot to see what strange things we will encounter? It’s going to be an interesting ride! ML