Space:1999 design aesthetic merged detailed miniatures with curvy Euro-futurist interior design

Clearly influenced by Kubrick’s 1969 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1975-1977 British TV show Space:1999 features our protagonist riding a gleaming off-white almost empty shuttle to a gleaming off-white space station and then on to a gleaming off-white moonbase.

A delightfully consistent design ethic created a seamless connection between the sets where the actors performed and the miniatures that did the space stuff… little things like an unusually shaped doorway or window that’s easily recognizable on the model and on the stage set, or a quick shot of an actor walking past a full-sized Eagle landing pad to provide scale. 

On Moonbase Alpha itself, all those smooth surfaces look like they could have been made from locally produced moon-sand concrete. 

This was a couple years before Star Wars showed up with its dented droids and its “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.” 

Actor Martin Landau, most famous for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest, turned down the role of Spock in the original Star Trek. In the late 1960s he played a master of disguises on the original Mission: Impossible, which also included Barbara Bain as a femme fatale. 

A married couple in real life, Landau and Bain were cast as the leads in Space:1999 (I gather as an attempt to make the show appeal to American audiences).

This scene, where Koenig meets his medical officer Dr. Russel for the first time, also introduces us to what was at the time a very futuristic sci-fi device — a handheld communication device with a video screen, that could also operate doors by remote control. Today when for some reason the memory of this scene (which I haven’t seen for probably 35 or 40 years) popped into my head, I decided to look it up and take screenshots.

Russel is studying a full color medical scan printed on a plastic sheet. When she hears a beeping sound, she slides the plastic sheet into some kind of holder just off-camera and carefully picks up a chunky device that’s placed casually on her desk. Because this is TV and we have to see her face, she lifts the device very high in the air to look into the tiny black and white CRT screen, which is fitted into the short end of a rectangular device about the size of a sleeve of Saltine crackers.

We see Commander Koenig’s face on the tiny video screen, and then when she remotely opens the door, he enters the room. It’s clear the director worked hard to make sure we knew we were watching a live video feed, because as Koenig walks through the doorway we see him at the same time walking out of frame on the comlock.

LIke a Star Trek tricorder, the comlock could help advance the story. I remember one episode where they were dealing with a blind adversary, and Koneig gave oral orders to throw the bad guy off track, but then used the device’s camera to communicate a different, silent order. 

As I look at these screenshots, the horizontal video screen and the awkwardly cropped face actually causes me physical pain. What a simple hack — asking the actress to rotate the prop 90 degrees, and telling the cinematographer to rotate the camera as well, so we can see the actor’s entire face. That would have made an amazingly effective prop look even more believable.

The “stun gun” was another visually iconic device, that I think of every time I use a staple gun.

 

The first season featured a powerful techno-pop opening credits sequence that would show flashes of action scenes from this week’s episode. The series made an effort to cast recurring characters from diverse ethic groups, though they rarely had much to do. After a strong start, the show suffered from some horrible, horrible scripts, hampered by the premise that a nuclear explosion on a lunar waste dump ripped the moon out of Earth’s orbit and sent it hurtling through space, apparently at faster-than-light speeds.

They have no way to control where they’re going, which limits their purposefulness. Though various episodes drop hints that a Mysterious Unknown Force is guiding their destiny, those talky speculative bits were often trimmed in syndication to make more room for commercials, which meant that sometimes the episodes didn’t seem to make much sense.