Some personal notes on Space: 1999
by Erkki Rautio

In defense of Space: 1999

Piri It's always hard to take the double role of being simultaneously a fan, and being also an analytical critic of the very same object.

Being an apologist by going into lengthy arguments in defense of this object may take somewhat absurd measures. Therefore I'm totally willing to accept the premises that Space: 1999 may, after all, be nothing more than another campy sci-fi effort, just like all your Plan 9 From Outer Spaces (this Ed Wood's 50s trash classic being, in a way, a great unintentional surrealist/experimental piece of film-making), Logan's Runs, Battlestar Galacticas and so on have been throughout the history of filmed science fiction.

So, I don't pretend my point of view is essentially anything more than subjective; a fan's naive, silly, enthusiastic point of view. (Besides, it's unheard of in the academic community that someone may come to his/her own conclusions without supporting oneself on vast amount of source material, approved by the very same academic community.)

Though many contemporary viewers may now watch both shows as camp, and find their story elements implausible (with S99, admittedly, even more so than in Trek) or even corny -- for me at least, Space: 1999 beats Star Trek 6 - 0 any time. Even though the latter has been now heavily canonized and become acceptable as a part of our collective unconscious of popular culture, even in the high academic circles.

Personally I see, even with all its faults, Space: 1999 as more daring in its approach, even subversive, compared to the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock which confirm basically all the conservative values and ideas, as futuristic as they superficially may seem to be. "But it's so illogical," we can hear our beloved Vulcan science officer shout in unison with the harshest critics of S99. Maybe the series will indeed offend those people who have gotten used to the strict idea of the traditional logical / linear narrative of books, films, theatre and so on, but one could ask if we should also look out for new ways of consuming these works of arts; now when the "postmodern" thinking has frequently and constantly questioned the old ideas of story-telling etc. as monolithic and stagnant.

Space: 1999 and mysticism

There is one interesting aspect to the series which I think has been mostly overlooked so far, and it is the apparent mystical and metaphysical themes which were still in vogue in the post-hippie climate of the early 1970s.

Petter Ogland: Well, I'm not certain I get what you, Chris Penfold, David Weir, Edward di Lorenzo etc. were thinking all the time, but it strikes me that much of the focus of Space: 1999 was similar to what was going on in the world at large at the time, the Gaia theory of [James] Lovelock for instance, the fascination with Zen Buddhism, the ecology crisis, ideas that are still relevant today and perhaps even more so. [ ... ]

Johnny Byrne: I hadn't read of the Gaia theory when I wrote Space episodes, but if I had it would have reflected many my own arrived at beliefs. I only met Davis Weir a couple of times, and he was into eastern mysticism, I believe. Eddie [di Lorenzo] was also similarly inclined, and I'd say he was far more interested in writing his mystical novel than Space. I often wondered if he even published it.

- Johnny Byrne to Petter Ogland.

"It was very strange for sci-fi to merge questions of life with mysticism -- does God hold a place? This is what really threw a lot of people off."

- Scott Bosco, a writer and consultant on S99 videos

I think that if we search for any deeper meanings from the series, its setting on the Moon may be significant in some way since the Moon traditionally represents human psyche's hidden or subconscious, also feminine side, anima in C.G. Jung's terminology, in opposition to the masculine animus. Thus the Moon is also said to also rule the emotions, moods, feelings, desires. etc., as opposed to the masculine "reason," "rationality," etc.

Furthermore, what's interesting too in these days of millennial fever, the year 1999 itself has held some apocalyptic significance for every Sunday mystic ever since the age of Nostradamus. [If you can bear this kind of stuff, read more here.]

"Everything is everything else", as they put it in the S99 episode "Black Sun". Everything in this universe is interconnected, and every action will have its reaction, even in ways we can't naturally comprehend, say the mystics and occultists. "As above, so below" was the maxim put out by the medieval alchemists. Teilhard de Chardin put forward his idea of "noosphere", James Lovelock had his Gaia theory, Rupert Sheldrake his "morphogenetic fields": all these implicating that we may live in an conscious, thinking, ever-changing universe; a sort of an organism in itself (such as was the planet Solaris in Lem's book and Tarkovsky's film); perhaps even with a universal (over)mind connecting it all.

C.G. Jung was fascinated by the idea of synchronicity, which means the acausal principle working behind "meaningful coincidences"; indicating some sort of collective unconscious or perhaps "higher intelligence" behind natural phenomena. (There might also be here some sort of connection with chaos theory and its famous example of the wings of an butterfly eventually causing a hurricane.)

Quantum physics with all its inherent paradoxes, furthermore, open us possibilities of alternative universes, as was mentioned in the case of the episode "Another Time, Another Place". (An idea that has fascinated this writer is that the whole series might well take place in an alternative universe similar to but eventually unlike ours, since the year 1999 -- or an early 1970s fantasy of it -- turns out there quite different to what actually happened in "our" universe then. But then, this could be said of all science-fiction where they give definite dates of "the future".)

"Are you... God?", Victor Bergman asks the mystical entity of the "Black Sun", who merely gives as way of an answer: "It was good talking to you". So, we may never find the answers, but maybe it's the questions and the search for the truth that are more important in themselves; better to travel than to arrive.

Space: 1999 - intelligent science fiction?

Gladly even some critics have found out, that despite its flaws, the series does have a certain appeal. Clay Hickman wrote in defense -- well, sort of, and in a not totally unproblematic tone -- of the series in the June 1998 issue of Cult TV magazine (UK):

[...] Its major flaw is that it's trying hard to bring 2001 to the small screen but, in the process, copies all the wrong bits. The characters are not interesting enough, the scripts aren't particularly clever and sometimes -- well, sometimes it just stops. Space: 1999 is probably the most ponderous piece of television ever conceived. Plenty of impressive tracking shots, huge close-ups and badly-delivered moral agonising. A notable absence of exciting running bits, good performances or tight plotting.

With all this in mind Space: 1999 should be a hopeless cause, but -- miraculously -- it isn't. Its stoic pretentiousness actually makes Space: 1999 a joy to watch. The show is quite the most po-faced load of old nonsense that's ever masqueraded as intelligent science fiction, and it's precisely because it doesn't realise this that it's rather charming.

[...] Don't watch Space: 1999 if you want an action-packed runaround, because it's the very antithesis of Star Trek and its ilk. Everything about this series is wrong (down to Christopher Lee's memorable guest spot in 'Earthbound' [...]) and that's why it comes so close to working. You may watch it in astonishment, but after half an hour you'll find it inexplicably hard to stop.

Perhaps what makes S99 so unbearable to many people is its lack of "normal" narrative ideas, and the dreamy / surreal quality that makes it so apparently decadent, even, as said, feminine for many...? Of course, a lot of this can be accounted to the clumsiness of writers, the lack of care from the producers, etc., but my personal feeling is that as a part of the genre of science fiction [sic], Space: 1999 does still have many elements worth any closer inspection. Furthermore, the scripts do have plentiful of thought-provoking themes and depth -- yes, actual intelligent science fiction -- written into them, that condemning the (First Season) series as sheer camp would be a gross oversight on a part of any self-respecting critic. But since the series does not follow the conventional, accepted ways of traditional dramatic presentation, therefore it is so easy to be critically devalued?


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