British science fiction force Gerry Anderson is probably best known in the U.S. for his series Thunderbirds, which used Supermarionation to tell the stories of the team known as International Rescue. By the 70’s, he and his wife Sylvia were working together on shows like UFO and The Protectors, while being courted by Cubby Broccoli to write a treatment for Moonraker that was never used.
As part of the Andersons long and successful association with media impresario Lew Grade and his company ITC, Space 1999 was, at the time it was made, the most expensive British series ever made. Airing from 1075 to 1977 — man, they just missed the chance to be part of the Star Wars boom — the series is all about Moonbase: Alpha, staffed by 311 humans who are suddenly launched into deep space when nuclear waste stored on the moon explodes and sends them through the galaxy, in effect turning our moon into a spaceship. One imagines that the Earth itself did not survive, so everyone involved in this show really are the last human beings in the galaxy.
This all came about because the show UFO did better ratings when it was set on the moon. Anderson had been working on a show called UFO: 1999, but when the original show was canceled, he couldn’t get Grade interested in a follow-up. When he pitched this show, the producer demanded that there not be any Earth-bound settings. Anderson responded by blowing up the planet real good in the very first episode.
The issues on this show started when Grade demanded American leads and Sylvia, who usually handled the casts, wanted British actors. She would later say that she could have seen Robert Culp and Katharine Ross in the show, but the main characters of John Koenig and Helena Russell went to real-life couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who had appeared on Misson: Impossible together and who were thought to have been a ratings draw for American audiences.
The show seemingly was always a battle, with writers leaving, budgets being overspent and ITC worried that the show would only run on American syndication and not a network, despite being sold to nearly every nation around the world. It also didn’t help that the Andersons split up between the first and second seasons.
All of this brings us to Cosmic Princess, which is basically two episodes from season 2 — “The Metamorph” and “Space Ward” — edited together. These stories introduce Maya (Catherina Von Schell, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), an alien who would take up the “Spock” role that some felt would propel the show into being must see TV.
By the time of this story, Moonbase:Alpha had already made its way through two space warps and entered the orbit of Psychon, which just so happened to have the minerals that the crew needed to survive. There’s a theory throughout the show that the leaps that the planet made were predestined and guided by outside forces — like the writing team, maybe? — but that may also be to covered narrative lapses in logic.
That said, it’s all a trap by the planet’s leader Mentor (Brian Blessed!) who is using a machine to drain their souls and make his planet less like hell and more like heaven. His daughter Maya helps the crew escape and joins them. The second episode in here has an alien ship to be explored as Maya deals with a virus that makes her transform into all sorts of monsters.
Speaking of Star Wars, one of the aliens in the second part is named Vader, which is done in voiceover and certainly seems like a complete cash-in.
This movie aired in syndication and all over the world, including KTLA, where it was one of the original movies that Mystery Science Theater 3000 made fun of.
So yeah. I kind of loved Space: 1999 as a kid. I had the Mattel Eagle 1, the Power Records book and record sets and the Charlton comics. If you watch this today and think, “Man, this is really wooden and slow and somewhat boring,” I’ll just say that pre-Star Wars, science fiction fans did not have many choices other than watching Star Trek again and again.