After a busy week helping out a friend with some renovations on his house I figured it was time to get back to some video-watching of some kind. My attention span these days, certainly with moving picture material, is pretty short; so I figured tonight I would spin something from my 'TV on DVD' collection. My selection was the premiere episode from the British science fiction series, Space: 1999 (1975 -1977).
I've blogged more than a few times on the Gerry & Sylvia Anderson-produced program. My feelings have long been mixed: While Space enjoyed a visual identity all its own -- although no one seems to have bothered or cared enough to have been influenced by it -- Space got locked into orbit around Planet Mediocrity in most other departments. Make no mistake, I do like the series, but "more then, when I was fourteen, than now, a crusty adult".
"Breakaway", the episode of choice tonight, was looked at, or remembered, by me as one of the better stories simply because it was the first in the series -- the moon is still in Earth's orbit ("What?", you say?). I have not seen this one in years, maybe a couple of decades or more. And as producer John Nathan Turner said in regards to fans who think of early Doctor Who episodes as being good or great: "The memory cheats."
Oh, boy, does it ever. "Breakaway" is bad. In the time since my previous screening I'd learned that the kick-off show had terrible script problems; seeing it now, it's obvious they were not fixed up. The script is very disjointed, with awkward expository scene leading to awkward expository scene... repeat. (As a matter of fact, the whole episode is nothing but exposition; even more than the typical television series premiere installment.) One exception being Roy Dotrice ("Commissioner Simmonds") the acting is often embarrassing, with some cast members giving the impression they are reading 'cold' from a script -- check out an early scene with Helena Russell and Victor Berman -- and generally looking uncomfortable in their roles. Barry Gray, a composer I think very highly of, wrote a score as comatose as the on-screen proceedings; perhaps he was too literal in his musical accompaniment.
Who come off best here are Brian Johnson and his visual effects boys. They worked with "very little money" to produce, for the most part, effective shots -- with "Breakaway" being the first episode, Johnson would have had more time than usual. Space: 1999's budget was such that they had to produce most of their effects "in camera" (shooting various 'passes' on the same strip of camera negative to build a whole); optical effects such as keyhole mattes and animation overlays were kept to a bare minimum for the series proper, although here in "Breakaway" we get to see a few more than usual. Due to a lack of money, blue-screen photography and travelling matte composites were out of the question. (If you have ever wondered why there was a lack of stars in the space scenes, now you know. Travelling spaceships had to be careful not to share the same bit of space with a star; overlapping of 'elements' had to be avoided.) Johnson and Co took these under-cuts and, making the best of a not optimal situation, frequently overcame them with ingenuity, rendering some impressive visuals. (There are those Thunderbirds explosions, though, which get tiring very fast; the "tiring" happened to me tonight during the first episode. The Andersons sure liked doing explosions.)
Several times during "Breakaway" I thought to myself, "I remember it being a lot better than this". This episode is stilted, bland, ponderous, and lacking an overall polish. The worst part: The series as a whole jumped the shark when the moon blasted out of Earth's orbit. ("It what?!", you say?)
Back to a terrific Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series: UFO
The moon is in Earth's orbit, and the best episodes, generally, take place on good ol' Sol-3.
The photo at the top of this posting is a frame-grab form the very first shot of Space: 1999. The super-imposed text must have been a bad omen. There is no "dark side of the moon"... except to a certain rock band.