Monday, July 30, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Moon



If you grew up in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Earth’s moon -- our only natural satellite – represented a first step…and a promise of more good things to come.

In other words, the moon was, in those bygone days, the very place where our journey to the stars would begin in earnest, a stepping-stone to the solar system, and then, perhaps, to the galaxy at large. 

And no, that idea did not seem at all far-fetched in those days; certainly not with the ongoing missions and developments of the era, like Skylab (1973), Apollo-Soyuz (1975), and the space shuttle (1976).  As distant and barren as it was, the moon was the very place where mankind’s future was destined to start.

Shortly before I was born, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and a new era of exploration commenced.  There was nothing the human race couldn’t accomplish, no summit we couldn’t reach.  An American generation of dreamers grew up with toys like Major Matt Mason, an astronaut whose adventures took place on the moon and in near Earth space.

Alas, today our politics are small, and our politicians are even smaller.  Mention a plan to construct a moon-base and it’s a one-way ticket to pop culture mocking and wise-cracks like “you’re fired” from venture-capitalists.  These days, we are told, we can’t afford the space program. 

We can’t afford, in essence, our very future. 

It’s a sad state of affairs, and certainly, in cult-tv history, creative artists have boasted a far bigger vision for our moon than most of our contemporary politicians.  In fact, moon bases were practically a guarantee in the future imagined by cult television programming as diverse as The Outer Limits (“Moonstone”), Doctor Who (“The Moonbase,”) The Six Million-Dollar Man (“Dark Side of the Moon”), and The Super Friends (“Giants of Doom”). 

Other series -- mostly of British origin, for some reason -- featured the moon base as the central locale for adventure in “the future.”  These series were Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970), Moonbase 3 (1973) and Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977).  In all these visions of a better tomorrow, the moon base was indeed a fait accompli.  In the 1990s, another series pilot, Plymouth (1991), promised the on-going story of a town or colony transplanted to the Moon.

The other use of the moon in cult-tv history relates to the horror genre, of course.  In horror series of all stripes, the cycles of the moon spur the transformation of man into werewolf.  This trope occurs in Werewolf (1987), She Wolf of London (1990), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003), Wolf Lake (2001) and the current hit, Teen Wolf (2012), among others.

A new series, Space: 2099 is in the planning stages.  I wonder if it will feature a new Moonbase Alpha, or set its adventures elsewhere.

One thing is for certain, however if our race wishes to survive and evolve, we must return to the moon one day, and in a serious effort.  At some point, we must stop looking inward and cast our eyes back to the heavens. 

I don’t know about you, but I hope that day arrives soon.  If not, it's time to make like the late Andy Griffith in Salvage 1 (1978) and make plans for an independent moon journey...in a spaceship made from junk, if need-be.

As Neil Armstrong once famously said, I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul... we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.

It’s a swim upstream all right, but it can still happen in our lifetime.

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:54 PM

    John, like you, being a boy in the ‘70s made me a major fan of NASA. I might have been very young, but I watched the Apollo Moon landing with my family , later the Skylab missions and the Apollo-Soyuz historic docking. The Space Shuttle Orbiter was brilliant to see from 1976 tests and thirty years of fleet flight, but it was no Eagle. I think we all truly believed that J.F.K. historic pledge to reach the Moon by the end of the decade of the ’60s would be followed by a permanent moonbase before the end of the 20th century. Beyond the small outpost of S.H.A.D.O. Moonbase depicted in one of my favorite series UFO(1970-1971U.K./1972-73U.S.) was my absolutely favorite series SPACE:1999(1975-77) debut in September 1975 which depicted my boyhood dream of a large Alpha Moonbase complete with an fleet of Eagles. Salvage-1 (1979) series pilot episode depiction of a homemade Vulture spaceship to the moon was whimsical. However, now we need that next generation Wright Brothers that might build/design a reusable spaceship that will make a trip to the moon like a drive to the local mall and based on the a moonbase might be built. The moonbase would be the logical step to a Mars base in the future, but all these first need a real-life Eagle Transporter to be the catalyst.

    SGB

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    Replies
    1. Excellent comments, my good friend. We both grew up admiring NASA and what it accomplished. I only wish, like you do, that we had developed something along the lines of an Eagle.

      I agree we need something like an Eagle -- and a Wright Bros' type inventor -- to make and take the next important step in making space flight part and parcel of our every day reality.

      I know it can happen. I want it to happen. When will it happen?!

      Hopefully soon...

      best,
      John

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  2. The lure of the moon is certainly strong in the programs you talk about, and I still remember the Kryptonian Supervillains wreaking havoc on the moon in Superman II. I remember reading that the Doctor Who comic strip from early in its run (1964 or so) actually predicted man on the moon just one year and a day off, saying it would happen July of 1970.

    The Dick Tracy strip went especially SF during the Space Race, and I think discovering that the moon didn't have Moon People was the beginning of the end for Gould.

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    1. Hi Hugh,

      I loved that scene in Superman II with the astronauts from planet "Houston" being menaced on the moon by Ursa, Zod and Non. Great fun, and really rather scary, considering the environment.

      I didn't know (or remember) that Doctor Who had made so accurate a prediction regarding a moon landing...

      Great memories!

      best,
      John

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  3. Good post, John. The moon has supplied much fodder for film and television. My favourite feature film featuring the moon would be 2001: A Space Odyssey ("Shhh... Moon Zero-Two"), while top moon-based series, for me, would be UFO.

    I know you like Space: 1999, John, but allow me this joke: The difference between UFO and Space: 1999 is that in UFO the characters and stories are a lot better, and the moon stays in Earth's orbit.

    I was nine years old in 1970 when CTV (Canadian Television) started airing UFO. A creepy and affecting series; especially to a kid. My whole family watched that series when it first ran.

    Back in 1978/79, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) played Men Into Space. A fun, if a little dry, series from 1959-1960.

    If Alice Kramden had made it to the moon, there would have been another moon-based show.

    Yes! I too had a "Major Matt Mason" toy. Fun times. Special times.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Barry,

      Good to know you also had Major Matt Mason toys. Those were some FANTASTIC toys, for certain.

      I am a huge admirer of UFO, and I agree that it had great characters and a more plausible use for the moon, perhaps, than Space:1999. But you know, of course, how much I love 1999. :)

      I would enjoy seeing Men into Space today. I tried to get a still of it for the photo gallery this week, but couldn't find one that looked good.

      And, of course, I love 2001 and need to see Moon Zero Two again...

      best,
      John

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