Read Destination: Moonbase Alpha Online

Authors: Robert E. Wood

Destination: Moonbase Alpha (5 page)

 

  • Passenger module (standard on most Eagles)
  • Laboratory pod (seen in many episodes of both seasons, debuting in ‘Guardian of Piri’)
  • VIP pod (seen only in the debut episode, ‘Breakaway’, and featuring orange sides)
  • Cargo platform (seen in ‘Breakaway’, carrying waste canisters.)
  • Winch pod (a Cargo pod, with the addition of a winch mechanism, seen in the episodes ‘Breakaway’ and ‘Missing Link’ with a magnetic grappler, and in ‘Space Brain’ with a physical grab)
  • Rescue pod (seen in ‘Earthbound’, ‘Missing Link’, ‘Space Brain’ and ‘Collision Course’, and featuring distinctive red stripes).

 

The Eagles served as transport for the Alphans around the Moon, into space and to new alien worlds. The image of the Eagle spacecraft has always been one of the most identifiable and popular features of
Space: 1999
, and the ships appeared in all but six episodes of the series. The Eagle is nothing less than an icon of science fiction spacecraft design.

Transport on the lunar surface (and occasionally on alien worlds) was afforded by the yellow Moon Buggy. Capable of operating with equal ease in the void of space or in atmospheric conditions, the Moon Buggy was usually crewed by two astronauts, but that number was flexible, and it could even be operated by remote control. The Moon Buggy was realised on screen through the use of no fewer than four different-scaled models. The life-size version was a modified Amphicat – a real-life 6x6 amphibious all-terrain vehicle.

Props for the series were diverse and unique, the most famous being the Commlock and the Stun Gun, both created by Keith Wilson. The Commlock (referred to in the Writer’s Guide by the temporary name ‘IDX’) is a dual communications and locking device worn on the belt by all personnel. It is equipped with a view screen for visual and audio two-way communications and (much like today’s remote keyless locking systems) operates on the push of a button to open doors. The Stun Gun, with its distinctive wrap-around configuration, is an unmistakable design element of the series. The Writer’s Guide introduces the gun as a TSLA, which stood for Tranquilliser, Stun, Laser, Atomic. It features different barrels from which various types of beams (such as stun or kill) would be produced, although this feature was not fully developed on screen in the episodes. Script consultant and writer Christopher Penfold has stated that he was against the concept of the Stun Gun: ‘I recall, very early on, having an absolutely passionate debate – lasting about two hours – about whether or not we should have such a thing as a Stun Gun. I was absolutely opposed to the notion of a Stun Gun.’ Among other props seen throughout the series was the laser rifle. Communications posts are also detailed in the Writer’s Guide, and remain virtually the same on-screen; a ubiquitous fixture in every area of Alpha.

Frequent mention is made throughout the series of life support systems, airlocks, recycling plants, power drains, fuel consumption, radiation sickness, gravity generators and explosive decompression – all examples of the thin line between survival and extinction for those human beings living in the vacuum of space. The Alphans did not take their situation, or their survival, for granted. In
Space: 1999
, space travel was as perilous as it has proven to be in the real world, and the technology of Moonbase Alpha largely remains a highly believable extension of our present day capabilities.

 

MUSIC

 

For a series produced on the monumental scale that
Space: 1999
was, the musical score would prove to be of utmost importance. Long-time Gerry Anderson collaborator, classically-influenced composer Barry Gray, provided the majestic orchestral opening and closing themes, as well as scores for the specific episodes ‘Breakaway’, ‘Matter of Life and Death’, ‘Black Sun’ and ‘Another Time, Another Place’, which would go on being used throughout the remainder of Year One, re-arranged as required by music editor Alan Willis. Gray would also compose the primitive percussion tracks heard in ‘The Full Circle’. Artist Jim Sullivan composed and is seen on screen playing the sitar performance in ‘The Troubled Spirit’, while Willis himself worked with Vic Elms to compose music for ‘Ring around the Moon’. Elms (whose surname is actually spelt ‘Elmes’) had been a pop musician with the band Christie, who were well known for their number one hit ‘Yellow River’. He was married to Sylvia Anderson’s daughter Dee, which is how he became involved with Space: 1999. Elms performed the electric guitar solo on the title theme, as well as the guitar arrangment of the theme featured in ‘Matter of Life and Death’. He was to have scored ‘Ring around the Moon’ on his own, but because he was unable to read music or conduct an orchestra, the session musicians refused to work with him. Alan Willis took over, and in the end they created the score for ‘Ring around the Moon’ together. However, Elms wasn’t asked to perform or compose any further music for the series. Elms had also created the music for Gerry Anderson’s unscreened 1972 pilot The Investigator.

Throughout Year One, Willis made extensive use of music originally composed by Gray for previous
Anderson productions, as well as library tracks by composers Tomaso Albinoni, Gustav Holst, Jack Arel and Roger Roger, and more. While some were magnificent classical pieces (Albinoni’s gorgeous
Adagio in G Minor
, heard in ‘Dragon’s Domain’ in an arrangement by Allain Lombard), others included electronic cacophonies (such as
Experiments in Space – Dorado
, composed by Robert Farnon, featured in ‘End of Eternity’) or were as simple as a few heart-wrenching notes played on piano (
Dark Suspense No 1
by Beda Folten, as used in ‘The Infernal Machine’.)

Barry Gray recalled: ‘My involvement with each episode was very, very slight. Because of the [limited] music budget, they recorded only the minimum number of sessions for the series as were required by the musicians’ union. So the music editor used to lay music for different episodes either from music that we’d done before for other episodes, or he was allowed to call on library music when he was short of music. This is how the other pieces of music came into the series.’

The combined impact of the musical scoring and selections for
Space: 1999
is inextricably connected to the success and emotional impact of the series. Unforgettable sequences – such as the journey of the Ultra Probe in ‘Dragon’s Domain’, the passage through the ‘Space Brain’, the survival ship leaving Alpha in ‘Black Sun’, or the battle sequences of ‘War Games’ – owe an incalculable degree of their success to the featured music. Whether poignant or powerful, light-hearted or terrifying, the soundtrack stands as one of the grandest in terms of scope and execution ever composed and compiled for a science fiction television series, and never ceases to impress.

 

THE DIRECTORS

 

The first 24 episodes of
Space: 1999
were helmed by a roster of directors.

 

RAY AUSTIN
, who directed six episodes, had formerly been a successful stuntman in both the UK and the US (where he worked on movies including
Spartacus
,
Operation Petticoat
,
Have Gun Will Travel
and
Johnny Staccato
.) As a director he oversaw episodes of
The Saint
,
Department S
,
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
,
Shirley’s World
and
UFO
(of which he commented, ‘
UFO
never seemed real to me. It was theatrical as opposed to
Space: 1999
, which seemed more realistic.’) Austin had also directed such films as
Oh, What a Lovely Way to Go
,
The Virgin Witches
,
Fun and Games
and
The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood
.

 

CHARLES CRICHTON
, who directed eight episodes, was a famed director of Ealing Studios films, including
Dead of Night
and
Hue and Cry
. He had also directed the celebrated Alec Guinness film
The Lavender Hill Mob
. In addition, he had experienced great success on television with such programmes as
Danger Man
(aka
Secret Agent
in the USA),
The Avengers
,
Man In a Suitcase
,
Strange Report
,
The Protectors
and
Black Beauty
. He directed more episodes of
Space: 1999
(Year Two as well as Year One) than any other director.

 

LEE H KATZIN
, who directed just two episodes at the beginning of Year One, was an American noted for his work on such films as
The Salzburg Connection
,
Le Mans
and
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
His television credits included episodes of
The Wild Wild West
,
Mission: Impossible
,
The Mod Squad
and
Mannix
.

 

DAVID TOMBLIN
, who directed four episodes, had previously worked with the Andersons on
UFO
and
The Protectors
. He joined
Space: 1999
as the replacement for Lee H Katzin when Katzin was judged an unsuccessful match with the production. Tomblin had previously been writer, producer and director on
The Prisoner
, and had served as assistant director on such programmes as
Invisible Man
,
Danger Man
and
One Step Beyond
, and films including
Night Must Fall
,
Murder Most Foul
,
A Warm December
and
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother
.

 

BOB KELLETT
, who directed three episodes, was well known as a director of comedy movies including
Up Pompeii
,
Up The Chastity Belt
,
The Garnett Saga
,
Up The Front
and
Our Miss Fred
. Kellett also had extensive experience as a documentary producer and director. He joined
Space: 1999
as the replacement for David Tomblin while Tomblin was working with Stanley Kubrick on the film
Barry Lyndon
.

 

CONCEPTS

 

Space: 1999
began with the premise that modern scientific man is responsible for his own downfall. The blast that hurls the Moon out of Earth orbit is the fault of technology and our inability to control what we create. Throughout the series are examples of failed space missions from Earth that not only harm those aboard them (‘Death’s other Dominion’), but sometimes the alien civilisations they encounter (‘Voyager’s Return’).The original Writer’s Guide recognised the rather unique viewpoint that the Alphans were effectively an invading presence in the galaxy, stating, ‘The Moonbase will be left upon its own to survive, to seek a friendly planet to colonise, and to defend itself against other space-lives, for now they are invading aliens.’ (This perspective had also been acknowledged when the production team had considered
Space Intruders
as a title for the series.)

The show went on to demonstrate frequently that the Alphans have much to learn about the universe they live in, and they aren’t always welcomed by those beings they meet on their journey. Aliens encountered throughout
Space: 1999
are usually vastly advanced in terms of science and medicine. They might, for example, have mastery over anti-matter or have perfected immortality or suspended animation – frequently referred to as ‘stasis’. Some aliens are malevolent (‘End of Eternity’), while others are seeking the Alphans’ help (‘Mission of the Darians’) or welcome their friendship (‘Earthbound’).

The Alphans themselves were an extension of present day thinking, rather than originating from a far-flung futuristic time. Thus the series and its characters found a large audience that identified with various aspects of the Alphan plight – who doesn’t relate at times to the thought of being alone, lost or at odds with the universe around them? Issues confronted in various episodes include faith (‘Collision Course’), vanity (‘The Infernal Machine’), cannibalism (‘
Mission of the Darians’), and obsession (‘Dragon’s Domain’) – sometimes on the part of the Alphans themselves, and other times on the part of the beings they encounter.

The episodes of
Space: 1999
would feature a variety of story settings ranging from alien planets to spacecraft, while some would be entirely Alpha-bound segments. Christopher Penfold has said: ‘When we began, we were in very much the same situation as the characters. We had the basic premise of a colony stranded on a runaway Moon, without any means of controlling its movements. Obviously, there was a limit to the dramas that could take place on the Moon itself and it was only as the writing of the series developed that ever-widening potentialities presented themselves. Gerry Anderson’s own description is that the Moon is a rogue planet wandering at random through space. But with the gravitational pull from other planets and stars, there is always the possibility of finding a new home … which could offer fresh life for the Moon’s inhabitants. This is a theme that runs through the scenarios: the search for a new home away from the artificial environment of the Moon. But as fresh ideas were tossed around, we realised more and more that there are mysteries in outer space that are beyond man’s understanding and that we could dramatise these. Time, as we know it, means nothing. Distance, as we know it, is incomprehensible. We assume that there is life on other planets, with civilisations and mental developments millions of years older than on Earth. The possibilities are as limitless as space itself.’

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