Time to once again party like it’s 1999 with the release of the latest trio of audio adventures from Big Finish Productions, following the occupants of Moonbase Alpha, after they were thrown out of Earth’s orbit following an accident on the run-up to the new millennium.
It appears that Space: 1999 – the joint creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson – is going through a bit of a purple patch at the moment, with both seasons of the original series having been added to streaming service BritBox in August 2020 as a part of their themed ‘Out Of This World’ collection of sci-fi shows. Nearly a year earlier, Big Finish released ‘Breakaway’, an expanded part-adaptation of the show’s premiere, which launched their reimagining of Space: 1999 for audio, adding new life to the series’ concept.
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Having deservedly received a glowing reception, the cast of that first audio outing have now reunited for Space: 1999 – Volume 1, bringing three more tales of life aboard the rogue satellite as it heads further away from Earth, with the lunar refugees trying to find a new home. The three stories which form Volume 1 – ‘The Siren Call’, by Andrew Smith; ‘Death’s Other Dominion’, by Roland Moore’; and ‘Goldilocks’, again by Andrew Smith – find the Alphans in the aftermath of the tragedy, coming to terms with what happened.
Like some of Big Finish’s other ranges – The Prisoner and Adam Adamant Lives! – their take on Space: 1999 sees a new spin being given to an old idea, keeping the very best out of the TV version, but not diverting so far from it as to risk potentially alienating die-hard fans. Here, two of the stories are totally new, with only the one – ‘Death’s Other Dominion’ – being adapted from a TV episode, meaning a decent mix of wholly original and classic material is being presented.
Among the flaws of Space: 1999 on television was the way that a mystery was built in the first episode out of a strange signal emanating from a distant planet known as Meta, in such a way to suggest that it would be hugely significant to the Alphans’ future, only to have it swiftly discarded, never to be mentioned again. Thankfully, Big Finish steers clear of the same error, with ‘The Siren Call’ picking up straight after the events of ‘Breakaway’, seeing the Moon on an approach to Meta, and an emissary sent to meet them.
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One of the refreshing touches here is the Alphans’ concern over the effect which the Moon leaving Earth’s orbit would have back at home, with the fear that it could devastate the planet. It also sees first contact with an alien people, and – with modern sci-fi tending to cater to an audience which is more sophisticated – tackles head-on the perennial thorny issue of why extraterrestrials indubitably speak the Queen’s English, with a creditable explanation given here.
‘The Siren Call’ also reflects just how society in general has changed since the original series was on air in the 1970s, as there is some LGBTQ+ representation on this Moonbase – two of the female characters are a married couple, although sadly things have not progressed quite far enough to avoid the ‘bury your gays’ trope, which is quite a disappointment. Overall, though, ‘The Siren Call’ is a strong start to this run, and it neatly sets up an arc which promises to be looming in the background throughout future stories.
’Death’s Other Dominion’ is quite the interesting choice as a TV episode to adapt, as the original version truly was not one of the strongest entries, with a nice central premise badly let down in its execution. It also suffered from some absolutely terrible overacting, which surprisingly did not originate from the main guest star, Brian Blessed. In rather a strange quirk, Blessed had played his part in a relatively restrained manner, whereas another one of the cast – John Shrapnel – chewed the scenery with such abandon, you would almost swear you could see teeth marks in the set.
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Blessed underplaying something? It seems down truly is up out there in outer space. Anyway, those are rather ominous Moon boots to step into, but Chris Jarman does a great job of giving Blessed’s TV character, Dr. Chaney (originally Cabot) Rowland, a rather different flavour; Nicholas Asbury’s turn in Shrapnel’s place as Jack Tanner leaves all of the surroundings thankfully unmolested by dental imprints. The adaptation’s main success is in plugging some rather glaring holes in the original story, and cleverly rationalising things.
It also manages to steer clear of the sudden, schlocky ending which had marred the TV version rather badly, as though the episode had been badly paced and they needed to provide a denouement, but only had two minutes left in which to do it. In fact, the only possible downside is that, unlike the tale as seen on screen, here you miss out on the rather remarkable sight of ‘70s icon Valerie Leon swanning around, very nearly wearing a natty little something which was apparently made of Chamois leather. Oh well, them’s the breaks.
Still, they do reckon that the pictures are better on radio, and both ‘Death’s Other Dominion’ and the final story in Volume 1 – ‘Goldilocks’ – truly prove that to be the case; going from a frigid, barren ice planet to a lush, verdant jungle world, there is some absolutely outstanding sound design done here, and it manages to create such a vivid mental picture which really makes you feel like you are actually there. Big Finish always manages to deliver the goods with style, but they have truly outdone themselves here.
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With the setting here of an apparently primitive planet and population, ‘Goldilocks’ brings to mind some classic movies like The Lost World or The Land That Time Forgot, as well as other romps of that ilk; the monsters which roam the jungles manage to evoke King Kong or even Tremors. This is the sort of epic grand scale which the Andersons would have been hard pressed to deliver on television in the 1970s, both with the available resources of the time, and also in terms of what the budget would allow; even nowadays, with all of the VFX we have, it would be a stretch to pull off.
Space: 1999 – Volume 1 gives us a much deeper look at the Alphans and their plight, questioning what it is that makes us human, and the lengths that people will go to not just to survive, but to build a life which is actually worth living. The regular cast are all gelling together really well, building up a true rapport and camaraderie which sometimes seemed to be lost or lacking with the television ensemble. Based upon the evidence from this set, Space: 1999 is in safe hands with Big Finish, and long may it continue.
With the collector’s edition CD box set currently retailing for just a shiny penny under a score, Big Finish have managed to deliver Space: £19.99 – can you afford to miss out?
Space: 1999 – Volume 1 is out now from Big Finish Productions.