|You don't need me to tell you Star Wars was a very big deal in the late nineteen-seventies and well into the eighties, so the attempts to jump on the space opera bandwagon were many and varied. One such example was Space: 1999 - now, wait a minute, you say, that series was broadcast before George Lucas even started shooting his lucrative epic, so how come? The show was re-edited into four "movies" for broadcast on television after Star Wars had been a hit, taking a collection of episodes and crafting a feature length experience out of them, which along with a number of other British-produced programmes were released under the banner Super Space Theater. While the first two Space: 1999 efforts appeared in the late seventies, the majority of these were eighties broadcasts.
They showed up on video, too, indeed Mystery Science Theater 3000, seeking cheap material for their first season, used some of the SST production. But now Network have taken the Space: 1999 re-edits and released them as a box set of Blu-rays, along with the Italian movie version which really was released to cinemas, though it too was a compilation of rearranged episodes. So although it was not the first to be produced, the set begins with the introductory Alien Attack, a re-edit of the first story which explains how the Moon broke free of the Earth's orbit and flew off into the depths of space, unable to change its trajectory and prey to whatever alien nasty who crossed their path. There are differences between the episodes and the compilation, however, notably the different theme music (though Barry Gray's incidental tunes are retained).
But also, there are new scenes specially shot for the redo, starring the King of the Voiceover Men, Patrick Allen, who here plays the head of the Lunar Command performing in "fill in the blanks" sequences with other anonymous board members. It seems he was included to allow the flow of the story (stories, really) to go that bit smoother, and drop in a line of dialogue which indicated Roy Dotrice's character, the untrustworthy overseer Commissioner Simmonds, had expired halfway through the initial explosive disaster. What had actually happened to him was one of the most memorable endings in the whole of the series in the episode Earthbound, not to spoil it, but it couldn't have happened to a nicer chap, a fine twist we saw nothing of in Alien Attack as they launched into another season one episode, War Games, where Moonbase Alpha is devastated.
On Disc 2 of the Network set is Journey Through the Black Sun, which joined together the episodes Collision Course and Black Sun and with a smattering of creative editing made them appear to be one entire story. There was no summary of what sent the Moon out of orbit this time, it was straight into the action with any of producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's trademark "This Episode" introduction, where clips of the show were compiled, replaced with ho-hum titles (enhanced on the Blu-rays with new effects if you want them). The plot now had two collision courses, one with Moonbase Alpha headed towards a massive planet, and second a black hole they try to travel through to survive (shades of Disney's upcoming flop The Black Hole?). Series regulars Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and Barry Morse battled manfully against cosmic and human threats alike.
Disc 3 has two season 2 episodes edited together, The Metamorph and Space Warp, all to show off new recruit Catherine Schell to her best advantage in Cosmic Princess. At least, she's at her best advantage if you believe she was better relegated to being played by one of this series' stuntmen in monster outfits, as new producer Fred Freiberger was keen to turn it into a monster of the week show, and as Maya could turn into said creatures, she was a great excuse to employ some of the grottiest costumes on television. Again, you could watch this with enhanced effects, which in practice were widescreen presentation and a lot more stars and planets in the outer space scenes, actually a very nicely arranged set of imagery and in keeping with the show's colourful aesthetic. There was also a love theme from Space: 1999 to accompany the closing credits.
On Disc 4 is Destination Moonbase Alpha, created shortly after Star Wars hence the opening yellow text crawl which recedes as it scrolls up the screen, and also tells us the year is now 2100, which was either because it sounded more futuristic than 1999, or because the Alphans really had been drifting through space for a century. Fortunately, it was an edit together of the series' only two-parter, The Bringers of Wonder, so made more sense as a full hour and forty-five minute story than two different stories stuck together. This was the one where Koenig (Landau) goes nuts in one of the great Eagle spaceships at the beginning, is subjected to brain treatment and when he wakes up, he is the sole person on the base who can see the rescue mission from Earth that's arrived is populated with shambling, one-eyed compost heap monsters (season 2, you see - happened all the time).
This leaves Disc 5, which was the same idea as the above, except in Italian: Spazio: 1999. Space: 1999 was an Italian co-production, after all, and their moviegoers had had a chance to see the fruits of the Andersons' labours first, as a big screen version of three episodes edited together. That said, the most interest now would be that the score was no longer penned by Barry Gray, it was a new soundtrack from maestro Ennio Morricone, employing his idea of science fiction sounds to the music. Other than that, something of a race through the first season, but a valuable collector's piece to have on Blu-ray. Space: 1999 may have been the most expensive science fiction television show up to that time, but sometimes it is looked down on for its glancing acknowledgement of the laws of physics. Regarded as a science fantasy show, you can get on with it a lot better; its first season was inspired by the cosmic awe of 2001: A Space Odyssey, whereas season two was more Star Trek, but if you like its idiosyncrasies, you're going to enjoy this set and want to see the originals.
[Click here to order Super Space Theater from the Network website.]