Sunday, September 13, 2009

Re-Envisioning Space:1999

A number of sites and forums observed that yesterday, September 13, 2009 was the ten year anniversary of the nuclear waste repository on the Moon detonating, blasting Earth's only natural satellite out of orbit and sending it careening deep into interstellar space. The fate of the 311 personnel trapped on Moonbase Alpha remains unknown.

Or rather, it would have been, if we lived in the universe of
Space:1999, a quirky but fondly-remembered science fiction series from the mid-1970s. I watched it religiously as a kid, but I have to admit it did not age as well as Star Trek from a few years earlier. There were some ambitious scripts and ideas--I think it was the first on-screen work of science fiction to feature a wormhole in one episode, for example--but the shoestring budget, sometimes wooden acting, and the gonzo approach to a lot of its scripts tended to detract from that.

But the basic idea--a ragtag band of reluctant humans riding a rogue world into the vast unknown of the universe--is still a slambang one, rife with tons of story potential. It just needed a better execution. In this age of restarts and re-envisionings, I'm surprised Space:1999 hasn't been picked up for one yet.

So how would one go about reworking it to make it more palatable? Let's call our new version Space: 2099 and set it in that year. That gives us nine decades of history and technology to play around with.

We can have the same set up: a large international base on the moon, named Alpha. But since its set much farther in the future, we can make it bigger than the original Space:1999 Moonbase. The 2099 Moonbase has over a thousand personnel, and there are other facilities around the moon as well, smaller bases, observatories, and most importantly, strip-mining operations extracting Helium-3 for power and other vital elements from the lunar surface.

Five years before the series opens, astronauts discover an eons-old facility of obvious alien origins buried deep on the farside of the Moon. The facility holds a number of vast mysterious machines of unknowable purpose. And, much to their horror and delight, human explorers also discover vast quantities of antimatter buried even further into the moon beneath it.

On September 13th, 2099, investigations into the alien machines go horribly wrong. A vast explosion shakes the entire satellite. Only there is very little destruction--the antimatter functioned as an immense Explosive Power Generator to feed a gargantuan wormhole generator. Thus, we can have a parallel to the original series of a massive explosion hurtling the Moon away from Earth, but with a slightly more logical way to get it to the interstellar adventure part quickly.

The Moon arrives in a new solar system through the temporary wormhole, entering into orbit around a gas giant just as the gateway back to earth collapses. Of course, the new star system is an odd one, seemingly created artificially, with dozens of life-bearing worlds from around the galaxy, and hundreds of moons and asteroids, giving the crew plenty of mysteries to unravel and new worlds to explore. Who created the artificial star system? Was it the same people who created the device that brought them there? What are the other inhabitants of the system like? Are they trapped there like the Alphans are? And can they ever find a way to return to Earth, if they can even find out where it is?

And in this age of Lost and Battlestar Galactica, we can have a lot of good, heavily-character-oriented stories as they unravel these huge interconnected mysteries. A lot of the characters in the original were a bit bland; it would be nice to see things spiced up with the updated version. If drek like Moonfall and Defying Gravity can get greenlighted, how about another quality scifi show with a proven, nerd-pleasing premise?

Some caveats, though: Don't mess with the Eagles, the all-purpose modular spacecraft used in the original series (and pictured above.) In my opinion, they are among the best designed fictional spacecraft ever created. Even the shows worst detractors liked the Eagles' sleekness, believability, and raw functionality. They would be as iconic to the show as the Enterprise would be to Star Trek.

And also, keep the beginning sequence, or at least the spirit of it. It started with these majestic instrumentals, showing the lead actors. But then it cut to an Eagle plummeting and exploding on the Lunar surface, segueing into a fast-paced funky theme that sticks in my head to this day. A quick montage of teaser scenes followed in quick succession, ending with SEPTEMBER! 13! 1999! flashing by and showing the moon breaking out of orbit. If the rest of the series had been as cool as its opening, it might have had a much longer life.

Anyway, that's just some ideas. I doubt we'll ever see a real Space:1999 remake, but its fun to play around with the concept anyway.


Andrei said...

The floating moon premise isn't so interesting, because not much can happen to a drifting planetoid. It will float into space and unless it smashes into one of the gas giants, it will just go into the void of space.

Here's another premise: an alien race "steals" the Earth due to it's rare tectonic properties in order to place it in orbit around their star, near the center of the galaxy, and the moonbase is left stranded in the Solar System.

The story would be about the moon colonists trying to locate a habitable planet or getting Earth back.

Their advantage is that the Moon was a scientific base, with the best science available to man.

cyberschizoid said...

Hmmm...the show definately didn't have a "shoe-string budget". At the time it was the most expensive television show of it's kind ever produced and the first season had a real "motion picture" quality to it. Excellent sets, superb special effects.
Unfortunately the budget was cut drastically for season two despite what the publicity material stated at the time....and it shows!!!

Paul Lucas said...

Andrei: wasn't there a novel out with a similar premise? Ring of Charon by Roger MacBride Allen, I think. Still, that too would be a great idea for a TV series.

I'd disagree that the Moon wouldn't be interesting in and of itself, especially if the people on it are fighting for their survival. Its an entire WORLD that even with bases on it would be mostly unexplored. There's plenty of potential stories tehre, especially adding in the human factor

Paul Lucas said...

cyberschizoid: I did not know that. I saw most of the episodes when I was a kid, and I guess I unfairly compared it in my memory with Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica that came out just a few years later. I geuss I should go back and watch more episodes and pay more attention to the production...

Anonymous said...

Hey, rather than the artificial system with a whole mess of worlds to poke around at, perhaps have the alien device pop them into a star system and start a count down. It hits zero? *BAM*, wormhole and another jump. Gives the added element of a fixed period of time for the Alphans to do whatever needs to be done where ever they land and could lead to some interesting plot lines.....and if you ever need to dump a character in such a way that you might plausibly be able to bring them back later (tricky contract negotiations with the actor, perhaps?)? Whoops! Didn't make it back in time for the jump!
This also adds an ongoing plot element of trying to figure out the alien device far enough to try to get it to send the Moon home. Could have a whole episode dedicated to screwing up a manipulation of the device, say, leaving them trapped for a time in the wormhole itself.....

Paul Lucas said...

Hey Anon,

I like that idea. But maybe they shouldn't overuse it too much, maybe only using the wormhole generator a few times per season so it doesn't become an arbitrary gimmick. I mean, they are moving around a whole freaking world, even with ubertech that's requires ****loads of energy. It might takes weeks or months for the alien machines to build up enough antimatter for another 'jump.' Plus this would give the writers plenty of lee-way to tell multi-part or even season-long story arcs, if theyw anted to.