SPACE: 1999 - THE BRINGERS OF WONDER

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: SPACE: 1999 - THE BRINGERS OF WONDER / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BY TOM CLEGG / SCREENPLAY: TERRENCE FEELY / STARRING: MARTIN LANDAU, BARBARA BAIN, CATHERINE SCHELL, TONY ANHOLT / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 9TH

Network Distributing are issuing this limited edition (1,999 copies, natch) teaser Blu-ray consisting of the two-part The Bringers of Wonder story from the second season of Gerry Anderson’s 1970s space opera Space: 1999 in advance of the much-anticipated high-definition release of the entire Season 2 next Autumn. Space: 1999, for those not in the know, was Gerry’s post-live action sci-fi adventure (which evolved out of plans for an ultimately-aborted second season of the superior UFO) and concerned the exploits of the inhabitants of lunar facility Moonbase Alpha when the Earth’s satellite is blown into space following a nuclear waste detonation. 1975’s first season wasn’t exactly an unparalleled success; it was dour and humourless, many of its stories were ponderous and clumsy, and the show occasionally drifted into the realms of the metaphysical and the spiritual. Season 2 required a bit of retooling; along came Fred Freiburger…

Freiburger, history records, became the producer of Star Trek for its third season and history goes on to record how Star Trek was swiftly cancelled. Mr F succeeded in applying his ‘golden touch’ to Space: 1999 a few years later. The second series was substantially restructured with established cast members - Barry Morse, Prentis Hancock – shown the airlock and newcomers ushered in – Tony Anholt’s security chief Tony Verdeschi and Catherine Schells’s stately shape-shifting alien Maya. Also out was Anderson regular Barry Gray’s memorable theme tune, replaced by an unsubtle, urgent, striding theme by Derek Wadsworth and incidental music which wouldn’t have been amiss in a 1970s porn movie (probably). Retained were then husband-and-wife pairing of Martin Landau as Commander John Koenig and Barbara Bain as Dr Helena Russell as well as a handful (and here it literally is a handful) of supporting characters. Alpha’s imposing and sprawling Main Mission control room became the cramped and bland Command Centre and, worst of all, the stories became silly, fanciful sci-fi runarounds.

This is probably never better demonstrated than in the two-part The Bringers of Wonder, which squanders a few interesting concepts for the sake of some gaudy and ludicrous alien costumes. A Superswift spaceship from long-lost Earth arrives on Alpha, its crew consisting of close friends and family of Alpha’s personnel. The Alphans are euphoric at the prospect of returning to their lives on Earth. Only John Koenig can see the arrivals in their true form -   hideous (i.e. laughable) glowing, tendrilled, jelloid alien life-forms who speak in impressive cut-glass RP accents. The aliens thrive on radiation and lust after the moon’s nuclear waste dumps. Koenig persuades some of his Alpha chums of the alien’s true form and intentions and sets off in a race against time to stop Alpha’s Alan Carter (Nick Tate) and Jack Bartlett (Jeremy Young) from exploding the dumps, mistakenly believing that they’re back on Earth and having a really good time.

What’s strange – and still disappointing all these years later – about The Bringers of Wonder is how sloppy it is. The aliens are ridiculous and look as if they’ve just wandered in from the set of a 1960s Lost in Space episode, and the script offers little for Landau and Bain to work with, although, to their credit, they give it their best shot. There are a couple of potentially interesting ideas which never get off the ground; the aliens force the Alphans to delude themselves that they’re back on Earth, and the idea that even living a lie would be preferable to just wandering on aimlessly through Space harkens vaguely back to some of the more contemplative stories form the first season. But ultimately it’s all a bit ‘monster of the week’, pulpy sci-fi from a show which, even in its sometimes misguided first season, at least tried to present itself as proper, intelligent science-fiction.

On the plus side, the Blu-ray looks fantastic; the episodes are vibrantly sharp and colourful, and Brian Johnson’s gorgeous model effects work benefits enormously from the transfer to Blu-ray. But the cosmetic work on the series, from more simplistic stories to more ‘relatable’ characters and a generally slapdash production, just makes Space: 1999 look like a cheap, silly and rather desperate adventure series. It’s good to see Space: 1999 receiving the high-def treatment, but The Bringers of Wonder suggests that wading through the entire second season again next year is likely to be an exasperating chore.

Special Features: Unrestored re-edited Destination: Moonbase Alpha feature-length edition first released on VHS in the 1980s
 

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