What Was All That About, Then?
Article written by Ian Fryer,
from FAB Issue 66 produced by Fanderson
So after the huge effort involved in making the first
season of Space: 1999, what was the response? Initially there was silence, as there was a five month
gap between the series wrapping up filming in February 1975 and its first screening, in Australia. UK audiences had
a further two months to wait, finally seeing the series in September of that year. This is not to say that the series
had been shelved, far from it: Space: 1999 was so clearly a major event that it was reserved for the autumn season, when the
biggest new shows are launched to the largest potential audience.
Typically, the ITV network couldn't get its act together to broadcast the show in
all regions at the same time. While its 'home' company ATV put the series on Thursday nights, in London it was broadcast
on Saturday evening to combat the BBC's Doctor Who. Being split up in this manner prevented Space:
1999 showing up in audience top ten ratings lists.
By the time filming had finished it was probably clear to all concerned that Space:
1999 would not be sold to the US network. Several theories have been put forward for Space's failure to sell
in the most important market of all: it was said that the network executives who promised to buy Space: 1999
if Landau and Bain were in it had moved on and the new people didn't want to buy a series associated with their predecessors.
Also, it has been argued that network executives were wary of using Landau and Bain
after the former's stint on Mission: Impossible ended in 1969 with a contract dispute in the courts.
Space: 1999 instead made its US debut on smaller local stations which can be seen as either a failure in
Lew Grade's famous sales ability, Abe Mandell's faith in Landau and Bain's pulling power being somewhat exaggerated, or an
incredible lapsein judgement by the networks. I suppose you could also argue that the series simply wasn't good enough,
but I'm more than somewhat biased against that point of view.
The series was widely seen in America,
however, and gained very healthy ratings as it did in other world key markets, which is why it was possible to mount a smaller
scale, re-imagined version of Space: 1999 the following year. lthough season one gained a loyal audience,
the critical reaction was remarkably poor, a phenomenon which is worthy of some examination. The sad fact is that nobody
was rushing to examine Space: 1999 with any degree of seriousness.
Those of us who were kids in the seventies
loved the sets, the spaceships and explosions, while the rest of it went over our heads. Popular television was not
generally subjected to serious examination by British critics of the day, especially anything produced by Lew Grade's organisation.
Grade had been viewed since beginning of British commercial television as a crass commercialist, his productions as mere entertainments,
meant for export and for the uneducated tastes of the masses, who should have been watching The Wednesday Play
Any halfway serious criticism of Space:
1999 was always going to come from America, where the series had the misfortune of being attacked both by the 'hard'
science fiction crowd, who took against the series' scientific implausibilities, and a certain breed of Star Trek
fan who couldn't bear the thought of another SF series being worthy of praise. In a bravura example of missing the point,
people who had nothing to say, for example, about all the convenient but basically impossible gadgetry that made the voyages
of the Starship Enterprise possible were dismissing a series designed to work on sophisticated levels of allegory and philosophical
The Wrath of Asimov
Matters weren't helped when award winning
writer of science fiction and popular science books Isaac Asimov was highly critical of Space: 1999 in print.
His first peice in the New York Times (Sunday 28th September 1975) was broadly supportive of the choices the series made out
of dramatic necessity, such as Alpha having artificial gravity - this, we are informed, is impossible if the General Theory
of Relativity is true. Even the method by which the moon was blown out of orbit, though it could never happen in the
way it does in the series, is accepted by Asimov as "an error out of dramatic necessity, too, and I'm willing to let it go.
The moon has to be gotten out of orbit somehow, and at least a scientific principle was correctly, if exaggeratedly, used
for the purpose."
The tone of the article was sympathetic
to Space: 1999, ending with Asimov's hope that the series avoids too many scientific errors "for its sepcial
effects are remarkable and I want very much for the show to succeed." Later, after Asimov had seen Black Sun,
he penned a second article for Cue magazine, and his ire had been raised considerably, mainly, it would seem, because
he could see no reason for the series plumping for that term for what is generally known as a Black Hole. The idea that
the term had a rather more poetic air to it appears never to have occurred to him, surprisingly for a feted novelist.
He went on to eviscerate Space: 1999's writing and acting in the strongest possible terms before comparing
the series with Star Trek, singing the praises of the older series.
In the same magazine a mystery writer named
Mike Jahn then gave a detailed history of the Star Trek phenomenon before giving a breathtakingly inaccurate description of
a series he describes as 'the interloper': "Space: 1999 has a Moonbase built to defend Earth against marauding
aliens, and features personnel wearing sleek, futuristic uniforms who also shoot first and ask questions later ... unlike
the crew of the Enterprise, the citizens of Moonbase Alpha greet each new encounter with suspicion bordering on hostility."
That latter description must have especially stung people like Christopher Penfold and Johnny Byrne who had fought a running
battle against the interference of ITC New York to prevent Space: 1999 from going in that direction.