Those of us who were around when Space:1999 hit the airwaves remember it either with fondness, or with scorn… there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. That’s because the show was so schizophrenic in its totality: On one hand, it was beautifully produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the couple behind the show UFO, and before that, a number of supermarionation series like Fireball XL-5 and Captain Scarlett; but on the other hand, it had the craziest premise of any sci-fi TV show, based around a nuclear accident that blew the entire Moon out of Earth’s orbit and into uncharted space.
I tend to remember the incredible art and care that went into Space:1999’s production. The primary setting, Moonbase Alpha, was bright, stylish and comfortable-looking, like a place where people could actually live and work. It was full of sensible and well-designed elements, like the subway-like Moontube, the multipurpose comlinks that also functioned as security access devices, the ever-popular color-coding of divisions that Star Trek gave to us all, etc. True, it had a computer that was as big as an apartment, but you can’t call everything.
And then there were the Eagles: Those skycrane-like spacecraft that looked so incredibly well-designed and realistic compared to most shows’ craft. (I always felt there should have been a Sikorsky logo on them.) Even today those ships are remembered fondly, even in cases when the show itself is not. I had Eagle models as a teen, my favorite having been self-modified to give it working lights in the cockpit, and they were cherished items in my model spaceship collection.
It’s no wonder that, every now and then, someone talks about rebooting the series—because, that’s what everyone does these days—using the cleverly-renamed Space: 2099. The last attempt, a new series to continue the original story, seems to have last bubbled up in 2012 and fizzled out in 2014. But it’ll come back, just wait. And I find myself having very little problem imagining a new series where a group of Alpha inhabitants are caught on a runaway trip through the cosmos that exposes them to aliens and strange phenomena as they try to figure out how to get back home.
But the actual premise? It’s got to be changed.
First is the nuclear accident idea: In the original series, the Alphans stockpile spent nuclear fuel on the moon; hitherto-unknown atomic particles accumulate and start throwing charged energy around, eventually creating an explosion. But any explosion great enough to shift the Moon out of orbit on a high-speed trajectory would’ve pulped everyone on Alpha. And, of course, we never find out the long-term consequences of the Earth’s losing a Moon. I always wondered about that little plot element.
Next, that trajectory: The Moon managed to pass numerous planets in a short amount of time, which sounds like it’s traveling faster than light… but it clearly wasn’t. The writers retconned a solution in the second season: The Moon almost immediately fell into a conveniently-placed space-time warp that took them to a distant but much more populated part of the galaxy. But again, they kept meeting up with other ships from Earth, with no explanation of how they all ended up all the way out there. It just doesn’t wash, which was what a lot of SF fans held against it from Day One.
But the one thing Space: 1999 did right was showing the audience how little we really know about the universe, and how it’s really not about us. Though American audiences, at least, didn’t seem to be ready for that interstellar bummer in the 1970s, I think that’s a great theme to pursue today, concentrating on the efforts of the Alphans to hold themselves together in the face of a space that’s a lot scarier than they could have imagined.
I’ve taken an extensive set of notes on some reboot ideas (I presently have way too much time on my hands). Why? Well, if I ever decide to restart my writing career I would use it to create a new series of novels, slightly modified in order to avoid copyright infringement. Hey, it worked with the Kestral series. They include a more believable premise and plenty of workable ideas to create a modern TV series (or novels)… the art at left is a hint at where my mind is going. I’m keeping the ideas to myself for the moment, but anyone who’s interested has only to speak up.
Space:2099 could be a viable and well-received new SF series, dark-er and gritti-er than the original, but maybe not too much so. (I’m thinking it might feel a lot like Farscape in its overall mood.) Updating its science and its mission, making it more about the humans on board than the weekly discovery of nasty alien humanoids, and giving them a reasonable chance of saving themselves and returning to Earth, would be just the way to turn a wonky show into a workable and popular television property.