Saturday, September 12, 2015

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 - The Forsaken and The Whispering Sea

In the last twelve years, I have had the great honor of writing two officially-licensed Space:1999 novels for Powys Media: The Forsaken (2003), and The Whispering Sea (2014).

The Forsaken is a bridge novel that connects the two seasons of the series, telling an unseen story set between "The Testament of Arkadia" and "The Metamorph."  It attempts to explain why Year One and Year Two look so different, and why certain characters behave differently too.

The Whispering Sea, meanwhile, is a bridge story between "The Metamorph" and "The Exiles," one which tells of Maya's arrival on Moonbase Alpha, and the events that lead her to become Alpha's science officer.  

Also, two of my stories can be found in the anthology Shepherd Moon. My stories are "A Touch of Venus," about a young Koenig's toughest command crisis, as an astronaut cadet (a story mentioned in "The Exiles" and "The Lambda Factor"), and "Futility," a Year One set mystery.

Meanwhile, the great Bill Latham has written the just-released Space:1999 novel: The Final Revolution!

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Action Figures (Mattel)

The years 1975 and 1976 brought a flood of great toys and other merchandise from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson spectacular, Space: 1999.  I've written about the giant Eagle One space ship before, as well as the Moonbase Alpha HQ.  Today, I look back at the action figures who populated Main Mission.

Three nine-inch figures were produced by Mattell, all bearing the likenesses of the actors on TV.  These "exciting TV characters from Moonbase Alpha" include Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Doctor Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), and Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse).  In terms of the face molds, all three characters boast a strong resemblance to the real life models.

The back of the card describes the characters and their milieu: "Action figures stand nine inches tall. They can sit, stand, and they're poseable.  They wear Space:1999 uniform with Stun Gun and holster, plus Communicator-Computer which clips to the belt."    The idea was clearly to "collect 'em all" (and compete with Mego's popular Star Trek action figure line).

Perhaps the coolest aspect of these action figures is indeed their series-related, space-age accouterments. The stun gun and comm-lock are very authentic-looking, and molded in machine gray.  Although the figures' hands can't hold the stun gun, there is a clip on the comm-lock which at least allows for the appearance that they are in use.

The biggest disappointment with Mattel's Space:1999 line is the general inaccuracy of the uniforms.  Professor Bergman wears a dark brown uniform, and Dr. Russell's is shades of bright orange.  On the TV series, all the characters wear a cream-colored basic (unisex) uniform, with only one sleeve in color (marking what division of base operations they work in.)  Koenig should have a black sleeve, for instance, but instead he has a cream uniform and a brown sleeve.   Bergman, as an unofficial adviser, should have no color mark on his sleeve. The figure has a cream sleeve.

Another disappointment is that the "villain" Zython (not from the series) was never produced to challenge our heroes.  I would have  loved to see an extension of the Mattel Space:1999 line to include some of the Palitoy figures that were released in England, including Captain Alan Carter (Nick Tate) and Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock).

Also, like every Space:1999 fan of the 1970s, I hoped for a Maya (Catherine Schell) action figure... 

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Jigsaw Puzzles (Hope Edition)

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Board Game (Milton Bradley)

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Golden All Star Book

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999: "Dragon's Domain" (Memory Bank)

 “Dragon’s Domain” is the Space: 1999 episode that casual watchers seem to most often remember from this Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series. It’s easy to understand why. We get to learn more about the main characters’ history on Earth (before “Breakaway”) and more importantly, the episode concerns…a monster.  

And one hell of a memorable monster at that.

“Dragon’s Domain” is the story, in part, of the Ultra Probe, an Earth vessel captained by Tony Cellini (Gianni Giarko). 

The story is told in flashback by Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), and we learn how Cellini’s ship – in 1996 -- encounters a grave yard of spaceships in orbit around the planet Ultra, and then loses his crew to a devouring, one-eyed monstrosity: a tentacled spider/dragon-type alien. 

Now traveling through a different area of space all together, the isolated Moonbase Alpha encounters the same space grave yard, and the same monster…thus validating Cellini’s “crazy” story.

On first blush, this Space: 1999 episode probably doesn’t sound far different from many familiar space “monster” stories of the cinema or pulp magazines, yet the presentation and implications of “Dragon’s Domain” have captured my imagination for nearly forty years now. 

In particular, I’ll never forget sitting on the sofa in my basement family room with my parents and watching on TV as the space monster -- the dragon -- wrapped his dark tentacles around helpless astronauts, male and female, and then drove them into his glowing orange maw. 

If this act of “feeding” wasn’t horrifying enough, then the very next moment surely fit the bill. The steaming skeletons of the dead were spewed out onto the spaceship deck…human flesh (and internal organs...) totally consumed.

This was my first real experience with something so…horrific. I was a huge fan, even as a child, of King Kong and Godzilla, but this kind of death was something different. It felt more personal, somehow.  

The “Dragon’s Domain” monster had no noble of sympathetic qualities, and didn’t exist, seemingly, on a different scale…towering above us like a dinosaur. Instead, it was inescapable, hungry, and something that could occupy the same room as any unlucky human soul. It seemed more immediate a threat, more real, and less fanciful than the other monsters I loved, somehow.

Thus I suspect that “Dragon’s Domain” is the very story that ignited my fascination with horror films, and with the powerful idea of mixing hard sci-fi tech (like spaceships and control rooms) with something more Gothic, or perhaps even Lovecraft-ian. Before Alien (1979), Event Horizon (1997) or Pandorum (2009) caught my eye, “Dragon’s Domain” sparked my curiosity about the darkest corners of the cosmos. 

What might await us out there, in the dark?

But “Dragon’s Domain” fascinated me for other reasons too, as a kid.  

At that point, I had also been raised on stories such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, and even Moby Dick.  “Dragon’s Domain,” with its squid-like monster, man alone on a life boat, and central mission of vengeance (on the part of Cellini) tied in directly with these beloved literary tales and translated critical story elements, again, to the final frontier.  

There’s something downright mythic about this tale, and even the teleplay acknowledges it, comparing Tony and his “monster” to St. George and the Dragon.

At five going on six, it probably goes without saying that I was really scared by “Dragon’s Domain.” 

Yet I was equally tantalized by the things that went unspoken in the episode.  

The “monster” didn’t register on any Alphan scanning devices, for instance, which meant that these 20th century, technological men couldn’t really determine if it was truly dead at adventure’s end, a nice Twilight Zone twist to close out the hour. This open-ended question tantalized me for weeks and months (and years and decades…). 

Could something exist out there in space that is so different from us that it doesn’t even register on our equipment?  That lives and dies by physical laws we can’t comprehend?

Even more intriguingly, the episode concerned that space grave yard. Once more, there were a hundred untold stories there; stories of space-farers who had come to that unpleasant and inexplicable end.  But where had they traveled from?  Who were they?  We might even ask the same questions of Ultra.  

Was the monster from that world, or did the grave yard appear in orbit by coincidence?  What was the surface of that planet like?  Who lived there?  Had they too, been devoured by the dragon?

And speaking of coincidence, how could the space grave yard travel from Ultra to Alpha’s position between galaxies? Was the monster somehow guiding its “web” to…follow Tony?  

All these unanswered questions swirled in my mind, and my response at the time was to “make pretend” further 1999 adventures (with my Mattel Eagle…) that addressed some of these points. 

It was this impulse to understand and continue the story that I credit with my decision, finally, to become a writer.

“Dragon’s Domain” was so tantalizing a mystery, so engaging a tale, so psychologically intricate, that this episode of Space: 1999 evoked the creative, artistic impulse in me, even at six. One of these days, I must remember to thank Christopher Penfold.  Or perhaps I just did.

But as a kid, I wanted more; more stories that were open-ended, that offered hints -- but not clear-cut answers -- about the universe  This is the very thing that continues to draw me to Space: 1999, and to works of art like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012).   

In works such as these, there’s the tantalizing opportunity to go deep, to explore possibilities and ideas not spelled out or spoon-fed.  I don't consider a lack of explanation cause for nitpicking as so many fans do.  

On the contrary, I look at it as gateway to engagement.  In fact, I now consider this quality a necessary pre-requisite for great art: room for interpretation, based on the hard evidence of a text’s words, and of its visual symbolism.   

How boring it is to be told everything of import, or to be led on a leash to just one answer, when a filmmaker can, instead, only hint or whisper life's little verities to us.

The idea of this kind of exploration hooked me at age five, and has kept a hold of me -- like a dragon’s tentacle -- ever since.

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Trading Cards (Donruss)

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Aftershock and Awe

Released in 2012 was this graphic novel "re-introduction to science fiction's lost Gothic space odyssey."

From the press release:

"September 13th: 1999 – An atomic accident causes the moon to be blown out of orbit and hurled into the unknown, the survivors of the lunar base stationed there launched towards their destiny across the stars. But what of the cataclysm and wanton destruction caused to the Earth in its wake?

This groundbreaking retro-reintroduction to the sci-fi hit series from the early 1970s begins with AFTERSHOCK, which follows nine lives who are forever changed by the carnage left in the moon’s wake. Told from the point of view of those left behind on a ravaged Earth, AFTERSHOCK explores the scientific, environmental, and social political repercussions of a world left with no moon.

The story continues in AWE, which adapts the pilot episode of SPACE: 1999 “Breakaway”, as seen through the personal logs of Commander John Koenig and Professor Victor Bergman on Moonbase Alpha -- expanded to include both new and unfilmed material, and utilizing the remastered art of comics legend Gray Morrow as a basis for this revolutionary retelling of a sci-fi classic.

Based on the classic science fiction television series SPACE: 1999 – and set in the continuity of the original series, AFTERSHOCK AND AWE steals a glimpse at an alternate history of mankind, and jump-starts humanity’s eventual destiny far out in space..."

I will only add to that exciting intro that I had the pleasure of previewing the absolutely amazing, mind-blowing art work for this inaugural Space: 1999 graphic novel, and also the privilege of penning the introduction to the project.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Computer Piggy Banks (Burvel; 1976)

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha Set (Mattel; 1976)

The year 1976 was America's bicentennial, but much more importantly the heyday of Space:1999 toys and memorabilia. 

Mattel released its three-foot-long Eagle toy in 1976 and also a line of  action figures to go with this play set, the Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha "control room and launch center."  On television, this area was called "Main Mission" and was a colossal, two-level chamber replete with big screen and observation deck.

This toy doesn't quite live up to the impressive set from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series, but is a lot of fun nonetheless. 

It comes with a cool "Starflash Computer" that "really lights up!" and  vaguely resembles one of Alpha's trademark "comm-posts." 

Eagle-eyed collectors, however, will also notice that the Starflash computer is actually a toy re-purposed from the popular Matt Mason toy line of the sixties.

Other than the Starflash Computer, this set is basically a vinyl mat with  a swivel chair, a console chair and table, TV monitor screens, console readout dials, and vinyl covered walls. 

You could apply decals to the playset, to recreate scenes from Year One of the series.  Most importantly, however, this set was a place where your Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Victor Bergman action figures could hang out and fight Planet of the Apes figures, or the aliens from Mego's Star Trek line.

The back of the box described the set this way: "18" x 30" x 11" control room & launch center designed for 9" Space: 1999 action figures. Control panels are printed, label set and instructions included.  Action figures not included. Flasher light "D" battery sold separately."

Today, as an adult collector, I long for a more accurate representation of Moonbase Alpha, one that  captures the minimalist, Kubrickian aesthetic of the TV series a bit more closely. 

But I still have a lot of nostalgia for this toy, in part because I remember seeing it in toy stores back in the disco decade and begging my parents for it. 

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Letraset Action Transfers

Breakaway Day 2015: Space:1999 Stamp Set (Larami; 1976)

Breakaway Day 2015: The Space:1999 Flying Eagle (Vertibird)

The year 1976 brought a number of great toys related to the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson outer space series, Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977).  One of the rarest and most valuable of such toys is the Space:1999 Flying Eagle or "VertiBird."'

Like many VertiBird toys (and there were also editions for Battlestar Galactica [1978], and -- apparently -- Megaforce [1982]), the Flying Eagle toy consists of a central column and a small control panel that controls speed and altitude.  Hanging from the top of the central column is a long arm which holds up a craft, in this case an Eagle (with a propeller on the dorsal spine).  By adjusting the controls, you could fly your Eagle Transporter in a circle, take-off, and land.

On the box, the legend reads: "Space Age flying fun indoors and out."  And the advertisements promised a "compact operational version of TV's Space:1999 vehicle...You pilot tight maneuvers, sky-lift a moon buggy," etc.

The Space:1999 Flying Eagle came with a light mast, capsule, moon buggy, plus labels.  I had the toy and I can also attest that it came with a Kaldorian space ship from the episode "Earthbound" (guest-starring Christopher Lee).  The Light mast is a show-accurate representation of a lighting tower seen inside Moonbase Alpha's Eagle hanger.  You can see the photos of my Flying Eagle accouterments below.

Alas, these are that I still have left of the toy.  

The central column and Eagle itself are long gone.  As a child of about ten, I think, I attempted to do surgery on the Eagle Transporter by removing it from the arm, and breaking off the propeller.  I wanted it to look more accurate, I guess, as a spaceship.  As you might guess, the operation was not a success.  Today, the Flying Eagle buggy and Kaldorian ship dock at my Cardboard Amsco Moonbase Alpha Play Set.

Similarly, I also distinctly remember getting for one Christmas a Star Trek-styled VertiBird knock-off.  In this case, it was called "CSF" or Controlled Space Flight (from Remco).  There, you could control the flight of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and the unsightly propeller was lodged in the underside of the saucer section.