Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
On Friday, the social media sphere was abuzz with the portents of a full moon falling on Friday the 13th. But the day was also the fake twentieth anniversary of the day the moon was blown out of orbit on the classic science fiction show Space: 1999.
The show debuted in 1975 and pretty much from the very beginning it was a mess. Set in the then far off date of Sept. 13, 1999, the series took the audacious premise of our lunar satellite being knocked into a space warp after a disaster involving radioactive material that exploded. That scenario offered a weird combination of previous old school sci-fi hits Star Trek and Lost in Space as the many inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha dealt with the dangers and wonders inherent in living on a former satellite careening randomly into the beyond.
Unfortunately, the show could never live up to that potential. Pretty much every episode dragged at some (or all points). But wow, was it beautiful. Space: 1999 featured the incomparable design work of Gerry Anderson, a legend in miniature works and effect. In a time long before computer generated imagery, Anderson gave us a completely believable lunar base.
Every science fiction show needs an iconic spaceship. Space: 1999’s Eagle was a true utility vehicle for outer space. Unlike Trek’s sleek Enterprise or Lost in Space’s flying saucer Jupiter-2, the Eagle seemed like something NASA would or should develop. Long and curiously skeletal, the Eagle had an exposed structure with big rocket thrusters at one end and a cool control module in the front. It landed on stubby, wide functional legs.
As much as the model makers seemed to have loved building these things, they seemed to enjoy blowing them up even more. Heck, one of them goes down spectacularly in the opening moments of the first season credits. They crashed. They blew up. They got shot down. I remember one episode where a bunch of them caught fire in a hangar.
The enduring mystery of Moonbase Alpha is not so much how the Alphans made enough food to survive or enough paper to write on, but rather how they kept building more of these ships. There must have been dozens in kits around the station.
By the time Star Wars arrived on the big screen, Space: 1999 had pretty much exhausted its run on the small screen, limping to the end of its second season later that year. But Star Wars breathed a new life into licensing and action figures from the movie began to fill up toy rooms everywhere. Somebody got the bright idea to make an Eagle toy. While the television shows specific figures came with were cheap and vaguely grotesque (a weird neck bulge made them look like they were about to vomit up everything they’d ever eaten), the ship was on the same scale as Star Wars figures.
And so, in my home, the Rebels quickly took over that ship, putting its utilitarian design to the test in battle against the Empire. Curiously, while I treated most toys that I owned quite carefully, the Eagle toy was more rugged than its TV inspiration. I even tied a string to it once so that I could launch it through the air and into our bean bag chair. Star Wars figures would fly out the sides. I guess I was doing crash tests for vehicle safety.