Sylvia Anderson the heart of SPACE 1999

“That’s the purpose of that… ‘Ghost in the Machine’ as it were, that sort of popped up from time to time, where things would correct themselves, [as an example]the journey through the Black Sun [episode]. There was something guiding them. We didn’t put a name to it but it was there and it came, I think, full circle [with the episode THE TESTAMENT OF ARKADIA]. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this would be the final episode of that kind of SPACE 1999. And what it was, was a question of identity. A question of belief.”

—Johnny Byrne, Main Writer, Speaking on the season 1 finale, TESTAMENT OF ARKADIA

Just got done watching the Sylvia Anderson interview on the special features disk of the SPACE 1999 SEASON 1 Bluray (Sylvia Anderson being the Co-creator and Producer of SPACE 1999). It’s a must listen. You realize exactly how right her instincts were, and what she brought to the show. Particularly this is born out by the difference in the quality of the show from Season 1 when she was there as producer fighting for it to season 2 when she was no longer with the show.

Among the things Ms. Anderson discusses in the interview is that she didn’t feel Martin Landau or Barbara Bain were right for the show. And it’s a viewpoint I can understand. While I think they work in the roles (particularly Barbara Bain brings an odd, but endearing quality to her performances), I think the show worked in-spite of the leads, not because of them.

There are some shows you look at the cast, and say ‘Well I can’t see anyone else doing those roles. That’s perfect casting!” You can say that of the first STAR TREK series (even in light of the movies etc, that first crew is perfect, seminal casting) and FARSCAPE, etc. However, you can’t say that of SPACE 1999, I think numerous actors could have done the role of Commander Koenig to equal or better effect. It’s the ambitious scripts and the [for the time] strong production values, and the ensemble performance of the actors, rather than just the leads, which makes the show.

Particularly when you hear Sylvia Anderson’s interview (which is available on the Blu-Ray) and Gerry Anderson’s commentary and the concessions they made to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and the problems they had, it makes you question if the roles would have been better served inhabited by unknown actors, etc.

Well those are questions beyond the answering. What is known is that with the departure of Sylvia Anderson, at the end of season one, the show lost its rudder and its way.

Sylvia Anderson fought hard in the first season for script conferences and to give some sense of weight and seriousness and cohesiveness, a heart if you will to an admittedly fantastic show. But I think she understood that the more fantastic the show, the more important it is that the little things, the connections and reactions of people ring true and be grounded and relatable. And with her out as producer, the show also lost its voice of reason in front of the camera… Barry Morse, and ultimately the show succumbed to dumbed-downed storytelling and pandering to audiences with spectacle and rubber monsters… rather than craft and story.

And that difference is clearly seen in the first episode of season 2, METAMORPH (kindly included on the Season 1 Blu-ray’s special features). Devoid of Sylvia Anderson and Barry Morse, and anyone to fight the cliched ideas coming from the American office of ITV, the show increasingly looked like a poor man’s Buck Rogers.

But hindsight is always 20/20. Hurdles and politics and all, the 1st season of SPACE 1999 was pulled off, and flaws accepted, it’s ambitious television, it is television that tries to say something. And that is television to be proud of.

And since I’m talking about the show thirty five years after its cancellation, it seems that it is also television… that endures.

Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray] – Buy it here!

Some of this post has been edited into the earlier SPACE 1999 article.

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