For every bit of modern science fiction one can credit to the influence of Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas, equal credit has to go to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The husband-and-wife producing team gave television sci-fi some of the most interesting and complex stories of all time. They don’t get the credit they deserve because most of their great works involved puppets. The apex of their partnership, however, had a cast of hundreds and sets and special effects rivaling anything
British Gerry and Sylvia Anderson pioneered the “Supermarionation” technique, a gimmick of marionette performance that mixed in elaborate and quite large miniature sets and model work. Their shows were staples of British (and later American) TV in the ’60s.
But after a few more puppet series, Gerry Anderson wanted to branch out into live-action. His first fully live-action series was 1971’s
Finally, in 1975, Gerry and Sylvia got to make
Year One set up the predicament. In 1999, a base on the moon–Moonbase Alpha–has a changeover of power. The former commander is replaced with Commander John Koenig (Landau), a decorated officer who nevertheless needs a win. The moonbase has around 300 crew members and one of their tasks is to dispose of nuclear waste from Earth. In the first episode, an accident occurs and the nuclear waste explodes, causing the entire moon to breakaway from Earth’s gravity and careen through space, farther and farther away from home. The people on the moonbase, the “Alphans,” then have to try to stay alive and somehow get back home. As the moon speeds through space, with only small mission ships called Eagles for reconnaissance, the Alphans run across all forms of sentient and non-sentient lifeforms and phenomena.
It’s a weird conceit, surely, but one that works for the strange, out-there storytelling at hand. Koenig’s main crew consists of head physician Dr. Helena Russell (Bain), chief science officer professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse), chief pilot Alan Carter (Nick Tate), second-in-command Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock), computer ops officer David Kano (Clifton Jones), and data analyst Sandra Benes (Zienia Merton). If the characters all sound very technical, that’s for a reason; the plots of the episodes were all very scientific and theoretical.
Some of the first season’s best episodes deal directly with strange occurrences and how they affect the crew. The episodes “Collision Course” and “Black Sun,” for example, each deal with the moon heading for certain doom, unable to control their course in the least. “Black Sun” is specifically interesting because it has the moon fly through a dark star, which zaps the base’s energy and sets the crew up to freeze to death. It’s a slow episode, but one that speaks to the dangers of space and how humanity deals with certain doom.
Other standout episodes of season one feature run-ins with strange alien creatures and races. “Force of Life” sees nuclear technician Zoref (a very young Ian McShane in a guest role) invaded by an alien entity that sucks up vast amounts of energy, causing him to become a kind of energy vampire. “War Games” finds the Alphans attacked by a society from a planet that sees the moon as an invading virus with no right to exist. The series’ best episode, “Dragon’s Domain,” finds a hero pilot (Italian guest actor Gianni Garko) again facing nightmares of a hostile alien that killed all the members of his crew years ago. No one believed him at the time, but now he has a chance to get revenge…or destroy Moonbase Alpha trying.
With the budget it had–for special effects, costumes, and sets–
The trouble is, the show was
Freiberger’s changes for season two of
Landau and Bain both remained (though they did not care for the scripts this time out), but third lead Barry Morse was gone, along with Hancock and Jones. Tate and Merton remained in a lesser capacity, while Tony Anholt joined and the show’s new action-man hero, Tony Verdeschi, and season one guest star Schell joined as Maya, an alien shape-shifter who joins the crew in the season two premiere. Schell’s performance is easily the best thing about season two, even if her character’s ability to turn into things is fairly silly, ranging from animals like tigers and hawks to humanoid aliens to even a guy in a bushido outfit with a kendo stick.
These changes are most evident when you compare the season one opening titles (above) with the season two opening titles (below):
It’s reductive to say “all of season one is good and all of season two is bad,” which is certainly not the case. Year Two is not without its charms and there are a few standout episodes, including the two-part epic “The Bringers of Wonder,” in which it seems Earth’s forces have finally reached Moonbase Alpha, but Koenig believes the friends are actually monsters. There are also good episodes from
Ultimately, it sort of depends on what kind of science fiction show you’re looking for. Season one is a trippy, thoughtful, character-driven sci-fi series, while season two is much more full of action and monster-of-the-week zaniness. But in an age that was nearly a decade away from
For my money, though, season one is really where the show stood head and shoulders above other sci-fi, of the time or since.
Shout! Factory is releasing a gorgeous full series box set on Blu-ray on July 16, with all 48 episodes on 12 discs, plus a 13th disc of extras. It’s lovely to see the show look so good; it’s at once very dated and cutting edge. Highly recommended for fans of sci-fi/space opera of any kind.
If you’d like to watch the first episode, you can do so from Shout! Factory’s YouTube here: