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Many things—beating with a rubber truncheon, water torture, electric shock, incessant noise, reruns of Space: 1999—may cause agony as they occur, yet leave no enduring injury.
—Frank Easterbrook, Williams v. Boles
Definitive evidence that only properly trained professionals should create science fiction shows for television. To be fair, some of the worst episodes come from the season where they had hired a veteran Star Trek producer as producer and script editor.
This British TV series was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the creators of Thunderbirds and other "Supermarionation" fare, being produced by Lew Grade's ITC. It originally aired in the UK between 1975 and 1978, and reached the US not long afterwards in syndication. It consisted of two seasons, each with a different approach; season one was slow-paced and cerebral, whereas season two had more "monster of the week" episodes. Its premise was simple: on September 13, 1999, a ridiculously small explosion blows the moon out of its orbit and accelerates it to a velocity sufficient to send it hurtling out of the solar system and travel interstellar distances in improbably short times.
Somehow, during this catastrophic event the 300 persons crewing Moonbase Alpha avoid getting smeared into jelly by the sudden acceleration; once things settle down a bit, they make the best of a bad situation by surviving for at least three years with no visible means of support. They also deal with all the usual Sci-Fi hackery — Aliens and Monsters, mysterious events, the works—without much thought to any serious science (or, often, common sense) in the resulting plots.
Although it still retains a substantial and enthusiastic following, Space: 1999 is mainly noteworthy only for its high production values; its effects work was outstanding for the period and still looks quite good today. Most of the equipment and vehicle designs are realistic (no unnecessary streamlining in the vacuum of space, no silly aesthetic flourishes), and those that move had some of the more realistic physics to grace TV until Babylon 5's Starfuries (notwithstanding at least one scene that showed a stationary spacecraft rocking back and forth in space).
The main problem with the series is that despite the high production values and all the acting talent (Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse, and many notable guest stars) in the show, they had nothing approaching consistently competent writing. The series premise is not just impossible by any understanding of science (the energies required to de-orbit the moon are on a par with those required to completely vaporise it), it's downright silly. And the scripts rarely rose above the level of the first episode—they could be dramatically quite good but scientifically absurd. How it survived two seasons over three years is a wonder. (Season 1 also had some cool music by Barry Gray—as it turned out, the last music that Gray would ever compose for Anderson.)
A fan-produced featurette, "Message from Moonbase Alpha" (written by one of the show's writers, starring one of the show's characters, using footage from the series and done with permission of the copyright holders, therefore almost being canonical) eventually established that the Moonbase crew found an Earth-like planet to live on.
Shout! Factory released a remastered complete series set in July 2019, available in the USA and Canada only. Everyone else, Keep Circulating the Tapes.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Gwent in "The Infernal Machine".
- The Ace: In "Dragon's Domain", Koenig says Tony Cellini used to be this, before the Ultra Probe mission messed him up.
- Aliens and Monsters
- Aliens Speaking English: Some even write in English.
- Ancient Astronauts: "The Testament of Arkadia"
- Apocalypse Day Planner: The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha know exactly when they expect to die in "Black Sun". They don't die.
- Applied Phlebotinum
- Artificial Gravity: Normal Earth gravity is created aboard the Eagles and within Moonbase Alpha. Other location on the Moon have natural lunar gravity.
- Better Than a Bare Bulb: In "Black Sun" (episode 3 in production order), Dr. Bergman points out that nobody should have survived the Moon leaving orbit in "Breakaway".
- Billed Above the Title: Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.
- Captain's Log: Dr Helena Russell, starting with season two.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Paul Morrow, David Kano, Tanya Alexander, and Professor Bergman disappeared between seasons with no explanation.
- Not quite. A dialogue exchange in "The Metamorph" (the opening episode of Season Two) confirms that Bergman died previously due to a spacesuit malfunction. Morrow is also stated to have been killed in an Eagle crash, although this only appeared in a tie-in annual feature. As for Kano and Tanya...who knows?...
- Compilation Movie: This series was edited into several of these. One, Cosmic Princess, was featured in an early season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
- Cool Old Guy: Victor Bergman
- Cool Spaceship: The Eagle Transporters, possibly the most realistic fictional spacecraft ever created.
- And their military counterparts, the Mark IX Hawks from "War Games".
- A Day in the Limelight: The second-season episode "The Beta Cloud" features Maya, Tony Verdeschi, Alan Carter, and Sandra Benes while everyone else is incapacitated. (This is a case of Real Life Writes the Plot: Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were on vacation during most of the filming.)
- Demoted to Extra: Sandra Benes seemed poised to suffer this fate as Season Two went on (for the same reason as Sulu in season two of Star Trek: the actor was off making a movie).
- Robert Mathias did.
- Everything Is an iPod In The Future: The interiors of Moonbase Alpha and the uniforms worn by the Alphans (especially the more unisex versions in season one).
- Executive Meddling: Anderson wanted to make a fairly straight space-colony science fiction show. Then the executives asked if there would ever be stories set on Earth. He said probably. They said they weren't willing to allow that. Hence the idiotic setup with the moon being blown out of orbit.
- Meddling with the writing was also the reason that Barry Morse quit after the first season, and the second became more action-oriented.
- There were so many monsters of the week in the first part of the second season because the president of ITC insisted that monsters were all the rage in the USA. Then he came back from a trip to the USA and insisted that they weren't.
- Failure Is the Only Option
- Fix Fic: The "Message from Moonbase Alpha" featurette.
- Flat Character: There's not that much to say about most of the characters beyond the ones who appear in the title sequence, although they tried harder in Season 2.
- Gendercide: What the combatants in the episode "The Last Enemy" appear to have been aiming for.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: Professor Bergman was not simply an astronomer and mathematician; he was also an expert in the humanities and the most socially-aware member of Moonbase Alpha's command staff.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Alphans encounter many Sufficiently Advanced Aliens (usually of the Crystal Spires and Togas sort) who fear contamination or conquest by our backward, warlike species.
- Infinite Supplies: Played Straight and Averted. While Alpha has its own mining and production facilities, this isn't enough to avoid the trope. However, averted in the Season One finale, "Testament of Arcadia". Commander Koenig tells the fanatics who want to settle on a dormant planet that taking the amount of supplies they want will doom the rest of them to a slow death.
- Monster of the Week: Due to the aforementioned Executive Meddling, the second season became this, upping the action quota and de-emphasizing the psychodrama; to the dismay of some fans, and the delight of others.
- Neck Lift: Peter Bowles as Balor in End of Eternity.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Professor Bergman (although he admits in "Voyager's Return" that there are fields he isn't expert in) and later Maya (who appears to know everything there is to know about science).
- Planet of Hats
- Power Perversion Potential: Deliberately invoked and lampshaded by Maya, and played primarily for comedic value.
- Remember the New Guy?: Tony Verdeschi and Bill Fraser in Season Two.
- Rubber Forehead Aliens and Human Aliens: Both averted and played straight. Justified with Maya, as she's a Voluntary Shapeshifter.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale
- Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Averted with the Eagle Transporters, thoroughly unglamorous work vehicles.
- Space Clothes: Not as bad as some examples, but still very '70s. The second season actually managed to tone them down by adding a jacket to the basic moon base uniform.
- Space Is Noisy: Spectacularly in The Last Enemy.
- Space Opera
- Speculative Fiction
- Starfish Aliens: Any alien encounter that wasn't a Human Alien or Rubber Forehead Alien.
- Terra Deforming: In one episode, the Alphans make contact with Earth, where it's a couple of centuries later due to Relativity (and the Moon having passed through multiple space warps). The entire population lives in domed cities because the outside environment is toxic. That exact phrase "Who needs nature" has become something of a Catch Phrase, and you get the sense that nobody on Earth is too bothered about the loss of the ecosystem.
- Token Minority: David Kano, Moonbase Alpha's computer expert in the first season averts this trope fairly well for a '70s series, and he certainly gets a lot more to do per episode than, say, Lt. Uhura.
- Doctor Matthias, as well, had an important role in many episodes, being one of only two doctors on the base.
- Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The story kicks off on September 9, 1999.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Maya, who has the ability on her own. Her father, who's played by Brian Blessed, has a computer that can do this to larger objects and, potentially, a whole planet.
- Wagon Train to the Stars
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Because of the episodic nature of the series, the first baby born on the moonbase in the episode "Alpha Child" is never mentioned again.
- Wild Mass Guessing: The explosion that hurled the Moon across space was magnetic, not atomic in nature; perhaps it affected the quantum field and caused the Moon to slip between normal and hyperspace at random intervals.
- In three episodes of the first season ("Black Sun", "Collision Course" and "The Testament of Arkadia") and possibly a fourth ("War Games"), it's either theorized or shown outright that a "cosmic intelligence" had a hand in the original lunar explosion and the Alphans' later travels - changing the premise "the Moon is blown out of orbit" from impossible-and-silly to A Wizard Did It.
- X Days Since...: Episodes in the second season usually begin with the narration "X days after leaving Earth's orbit". The totals, however, don't agree with numbers used during the first season.
- You Fail Physics Forever: As noted in the intro above.
- You Look Familiar: Multiple instances; but no guest played more than two different characters.
- Most notably, Catherine Schell guest-starred in first-season episode "Guardian of Piri"; then in the second season, joined the regular cast as beautiful alien metamorph Maya.
- Brian Blessed played Dr. Cabot Rowlan in an episode of the first season (dying at the end of it), then returned in the second season to play Maya's father (and died again).
- Isla Blair and Stuart Damon also play two different characters each.
- The second-last first-season episode "Dragon's Domain" is stated as happening 877 days after leaving Earth orbit, while the first second-season episode "The Metamorph" is stated as happening 342 days after leaving Earth orbit. In both cases it's Dr. Russell who makes the statements.