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Space: 1999: The Bringers of Wonder Special Edition Blu-ray review

Collector’s taster release of two hi-def episodes from the second series of 70’s sci-fi classic Space:1999.

Space: 1999

With the first series of cult favourite Space: 1999 already on the shelves, and the second series launching on Blu-ray and DVD in autumn 2015, Network is releasing a teaser Blu-ray limited edition comprising the double bill from the second season called The Bringers of Wonder.

Space: 1999 ran for two series in the mid- to late-1970s and was the brainchild of the late Gerry Anderson, who had graduated from marionette-based children’s dramas such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet to live-action family sci-fi series UFO and Space: 1999.

Stuck on the moon which has been dislodged from its orbit around earth and sent hurtling through space are the Alphans (the human inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha), whose adventures see them coming into contact with strange worlds and alien life forms in other parts of the universe. Their only ambition is to return to the planet earth, but they stick together as a community on the runaway moon, hoping for a rescue or a discovery of a route home.

This double-bill sees the Alphans apparently rescued when a ship using faster-than-light technology docks with Moonbase Alpha, and promises them safe passage back to earth. Yet it seems too much of a coincidence that everybody on board the mysterious ship is known to at least one Alphan. Not only that but Captain Koenig (Martin Landau) has been behaving erratically and kept sedated. When he sees monsters in place of the visiting humans, either he is crazy, or the rest of the Alphans are somehow hallucinating…

The Bringers of Wonder is a very good example of Space: 1999 as a series, and is a reasonably good, if fairly predictable and well-trodden story in its own right, though some aspects of it are utterly implausible and not consistently thought through. The big budget of Space: 1999 was evidenced by massive, intricate and detailed studio sets, particularly those depicting Moonbase Alpha. Great model work, as you’d expect from any Gerry Anderson production, is another standout aspect of the series, and stands up well today (though the magnificent clarity of the film elements in high-definition reveals the wires holding up the spaceships in a few shots – a small price to pay for amazing picture definition and contrast).

The problems with The Bringers of Wonder are the same as those that beset the series as a whole, and perhaps explain why its run on television was short-lived. Far more thought went into the design aspects of the series than anything else, leaving Moonbase Alpha populated by cardboard characters communicating in clumsy dialogue through stilted performances. The flashy effects aren’t enough for Space: 1999 to compare favourably to low-budget but seriously fun series such as the BBC’s Doctor Who, which Space: 1999 was designed to rival. The actors aren’t up to the job of bringing the best out of the rough-hewn scripts, with Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (husband and wife at the time) showing worryingly little chemistry between one another, let alone individual charisma; with British actor Tony Anholt equally dry. It’s Catherine Schell as shape-shifting alien Maya who is the warmest and most memorable character, making the best out of a roughly-sketched character, and finding ways to introduce a little humour.

Despite the extensive budget, restrictions of technology leave the rendering of the alien menace in these episodes – amorphous gooey creatures that glow from within – unintentionally comic. The storyline stretches credulity to the limit, but there is a satisfying showdown on the surface of the moon.

Overall, the design of Space: 1999 is impressive, and the plot is workable if perfunctory. Yet there’s a nagging feeling that the glossy production values are meant to be enough on their own, since it’s hard to care too much about any of the characters on their perilous moon journey. Viewed now, Space: 1999 is a nostalgic treat and a trawl through the more idealistic and optimistic ideas of what the near-future looked like from a 1970s perspective, but there’s no disguising the series’ shortcomings.

An extra feature on the disc is the cinematic release version of Destination Moonbase-Alpha, which was a 1978 release that saw the two episodes of The Bringers of Wonder edited together for a big screen outing.

You can own Space 1999: The Bringers of Wonder exclusively through Network from 8th December, and pre-orders can now be placed. See networkonair.com for details. With only 1999 copies of the Blu-ray printed, The Bringers of Wonder is sure to be a collector’s item. All customers will be automatically entered into a prize draw, and three lucky winners will receive a copy of Space: 1999 – The Complete Second Series when it is released next year.

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