Saturday, 21 August 2010

Space 1999 Annual, 1976. Alpha males in trouble.

Space 1999 annual 1976Was there ever any TV show with an opening more designed to make your head explode with excitement than Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999? That fanfare, those pounding drums, that plummeting spiral of strings. And then that electric guitar twanging away as though drafted in from the eerie depths of outer space itself. And those words; “In this episode,” followed by a montage of epic proportions. Even now, as a half-senile old derelict, it still gets me, right here.

Then again was there ever a show more designed to send you nodding off than each episode itself, as some empty, sterile and baffling story would unfold each week? A story which always seemed to be resolved by the latest menace suddenly vanishing without trace as Commander Koenig would look out the window and ask, “Victor, will we ever really know what happened here today?” To which Barry Morse would always give a half smile, take a sip of champagne and respond, “Ah John, who can know, John? John, who can know?”

That of course didn’t stop me tuning in every week. I mean, the stories might’ve been rubbish but at least it looked good.

And, you know what? It didn’t stop me getting the Space 1999 annual every year either.

I have to come clean. My copy of the first Space 1999 annual’s in a bad way. For a start, for some reason I can’t recall, as a child I decided it’d be a good idea to draw beards, glasses and perms on everyone in order to make them look like ELO’s Jeff Lynne - even Barbara Bain. On top of that, being in love with the Eagle spaceships, I cut out all the photos of them, having discovered that, by licking the back of them, I could make them stick to my bedroom window with saliva. I was classy that way.

But what to make of what’s left of my not-so treasured annual?

I remember as a kid being terribly disappointed with it, mostly because the art in the picture strips wasn’t of the standard I was used to at Marvel. The lines were so thin and uniform and the layouts so undynamic. The lack of detail in the backgrounds also leapt out at me. Looking at them now, I actually quite like that art. There’s a simple unfussiness about it. And, if it was never going to win any awards, it got the job done with a certain efficiency.

In the first picture story, we encounter a pair of humans from the future, who for no good reason, want to kill everyone on Moonbase Alpha until they themselves are killed by Commander Koenig’s cold. Superior intellects killed by a common cold? Wherever do these writers get their ideas from? In the second picture story, our heroes find themselves on a planet ruled by women. Needless to say, it’s the same sort of man-hating hell hole that all planets ruled by women are, in these things. Happily, our heroes escape and get back to Alpha where the women know their place.

On top of this, there’s a whole raft of other features, including a set of prose stories, cartoons, puzzles, board games and, my own personal favourites, a series of interviews in which cast members allegedly interview the characters they play in the show. It’s a great conceit and helps shed light on both actors and characters. I’d love to know who the unnamed genius was who was really behind them.

The truth is although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, you got a whole lot more for your money from these books than you got from Marvel UK’s annuals of the same time. That’s not to say they’re better. After all, the Marvel Annuals had Marvel stories in them but, looking at the thing now for the first time in donkeys' years, I can at least appreciate the volume of work the editor put into sticking it all it together.

PS. Thanks to this annual, I now know that 17th Century astronomer Sir Paul Neal once looked at the moon and saw an elephant roaming around on it. It was later pointed out to him that it was a mouse that'd climbed into his telescope. If that revelation alone doesn’t justify the price tag, what does?

PPS. Apparently, the comic strips in this annual were drawn by John Burns. As we all know, the American Charlton Space: 1999 comic was drawn by John Byrne. Meanwhile, some of the episodes of the Space: 1999 TV show were written by a man called Johnny Byrne. Coincidence? Or proof that the show's thesis that some cosmic force is pulling all our strings was right all along?


cerebus660 said...

Man, I LOVED those opening credits on Space:1999! It seems to be a lost art nowadays, but back in the 60's and 70's there were some great title-sequences: The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Tomorrow People, Survivors ( chilling! ) and, of course, the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who. Gonna have to hit YouTube and revisit a few.....

Steve said...

I loved The Tomorrow People's titles. I remember sitting on my bike, trying to do that "imagining a hand opening" thing in order to tap my latent mental powers.

Sadly, it never worked.

Television had lied to me.

Jef Leppard said...

Ron Moore confessed that the opening montages at the beginning of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series were a direct inspiration of Space 1999.

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