The Pitch: Space: 1999

The Phantom of the Cineplex

I have long harbored a certain fascination with the 1970’s science fiction television series Space: 1999.  The ideas presented in the show were not just futuristic, in that they seemed to offer insight into a potential future outcome, but were truly foward-looking, anticipating the sort of incremental civilizational advancement our society could have realistically hoped to achieve from the contemporary technology.  Unfortunately, many aspects of the show were also far-fetched and grounded in scientific ignorance.  The passage of time has not been kind to the Andersons’ optimistic conception of our star-fairing past/future.  The predictions of the original series now seem laughably anachronistic, simultaneously crediting us with having achieved engineering advances far beyond even our current, “future” capabilities (moon bases, spaceships, laser pistols) while also failing to perceive the eventual developments which would inevitably evolve from the technology of their own time (computers and digital communications, cellular networks).  I would very much like to see a revival of the series, taken back to formula and rebooted for our more well-informed modern audience.

However, the whole charm of the original would be lost if it were removed from its Apollo Program era-perspective, as the whole point of the show was to entertain the denizens of the ’70s with a glamorization of their own hopeful future.  In order to preserve this important aspect of the fiction, I propose a new series in which the residents of Moon Base Alpha are, in fact, in the year 1999 of an alternative PAST timeline which differs greatly from our own.  Consistent with this, I would also change the cause of their aimless cosmic wandering from the original conception, a rogue Moon having escaped Earth orbit, for something which should more likely involve them with alien worlds; I would have the Moon, itself, travel through realities and encounter alternative Earths in passing.  This premise would guarantee the regular cycle of approach and escape with likely advanced civilizations that would explain and support the episodic structure of the program while preserving the original look and feel of the Andersons’ live action production.

Deploying the “many worlds” smokescreen sidesteps the inconvenience of NOT having actually built a base on the Moon by 1999 in the past of our own timeline, accommodates the situation of Moon Base Alpha (MBA), and gives cover to introduce further (historically) alien civilizations in timely encounters.  A show based on this premise should be quite economical to produce once the startup expenses are recovered, as the program would rely, almost entirely, on slightly modified “alternate Earth” versions the props and sets, and all exterior shots could be justifiably recorded in genuine Earth locations (we do have access to that planet).  The need to depict alien planets and non-human species is therefore obviated.  I have worked up a historically grounded alternate past for the MBA-prime timeline to explain when and how it deviated from our own and eventually produced the unique outcomes which will be slowly revealed to contrast disparate histories each new Earth (it is all because of France, really, no joke).

Throughout the first two seasons, I would endeavor to include as many elements from the original series as could be reasonably accommodated and introduce them in roughly the same order as they were first broadcast so as to suggest that the original series, itself, was from a similar parallel universe.  This would then have Season One begin with the departure event which establishes the premise for the whole series and then conclude with the events which would remove Professor Bergman, introduce Maya, and reshape the look of MBA, albeit under more believable circumstances than in the original.  Actually, the inter-seasonal changes made to the original show were never internally explained or even referenced, but I would justify them as the ramifications of a season-ending cliff hanger.  I would have Season Two, therefore, pick up straight off the events of the fist season finale and eventually conclude with the annihilation of the Dorcon civilization.  The final episode of the whole series would conclude the story with a re-interpretation of the “Message From Moonbase Alpha” mini-episode which was meant to give closure to the original story, but in this version the Alphans would be evacuating to OUR version of Earth.

The first episode (a feature-length pilot) would begin with the staff of Moonbase Alpha conducting their normal business in the course of their daily routine on September 13th, 1999, when Commissioner Simmonds, the official appointed by a multi-national governing authority with powers to “act and dispose” in matters concerning the transport and deposit of Earth’s hazardous nuclear waste materials, arrives by shuttle and is received by Base Chief of Security, Tony Verdeschi.  The commissioner proceeds directly to the office of Base Commander Gorski to demand an explanation for the delay in the implementation of a new reactor waste processing procedure, “Queller Elimination”.

Gorski, flanked by his science advisors, Professor Victor Bergman and Doctor Helena Russell, insists that the underlying science of the original experimental laboratory process is too poorly understood to simply scale-up to an industrial sized model.  Bergman is especially worried that seemingly minute discrepancies in the first-run procedure could geometrically expand to produce wholly unexpected results.  Bergman is still proposing an incremental methodology supported with better instrumentation when Gorski interrupts him to flatly demand a recommendation contingent to safety.  When the professor coolly vetoes the process with a silent shake of his head, Doctor Russell explains that equipment with which she monitors personnel has already detected unaccountable levels of radiation exposure and that her radiology is experiencing interference.

“Sunspots and the cosmic background” Simmonds declares and he counters the ruling of the administrative triumvirate with a diktat;  either proceed with the full-scale experiment or he will remove the entire command staff from the mission.  As a political appointment, he cannot strike their rank and standing in their service, but they are operating under assignment to the Main Mission under the auspices of his office.  And since they are not scheduled for rotation for another six months, they would be effectively stranded on the Moon, watching their careers waste away.  Gorski relents and attempts to reconcile everyone’s demands with the offer to conduct the final implementation himself, thereby sparing all staff under the purview of Bergman and Russell.

Shortly after the confrontation with Simmonds, Doctor Russell catches the base commander suiting-up at a launch bay airlock and tries to convince him to stall the experiment and appeal to a higher authority.  He tells her that, because Simmonds came to MBA personally, the isolation of time and distance work against them and that the commissioner has forced his hand.  By the time Professor Bergman radios Gorski to warn him of anomalous instrument readings at the testing site, the commander has passed the point of no return and must refuel at the remote disposal depot at which the reprocessing experiment is being conducted.  Just as Gorski initiates the automated landing cycle, his eyesight begins to suffer from the effects of increased radiation.  Determined to complete his objective despite being rendered nearly blind,  the commander shuttles his dangerous cargo to its final depository and then resolves to simply drive away from the danger zone in the moon buggy.  He nearly makes it out.

There is a terrific explosion at the test site and lunar satellite observation finds no trace of Gorski’s moon buggy.  The command staff all assume the base commander to be dead and Main Mission Controller Paul Morrow attempts to take command of the base, much to the chagrin of Commissioner Simmonds.  The commissioner places an emergency call to the commander of the orbital space station which controls all trans-lunar traffic:  Commander John Koenig.  Simmonds admits to not having the authority to remove Koenig from his posting, but does have the authority to assign him to the lunar mission under which MBA is operating.  The commander is very reluctant, but accepts the necessity for immediate action — he is, after all, much nearer to MBA (in the sense of travel time) than anyone still under Earth’s atmosphere.  Regardless, upon arrival, he will nevertheless be the highest ranking officer on base and is confident he will secure the full cooperation of the base staff.  He knows he can bring Controller Marrow to heel, as the two had previously worked together during the “Ultra” project just a few years earlier.  Just as the communication with Simmonds draws to a close, the signal from MBA degrades and Koenig has to establish audio contact with the base with old-fashioned radio.

MBA claims that all incoming signal traffic is degrading and Koenig’s own communication technician says that MBA transmissions are being strangely attenuated, as if the Moon were somehow moving away from the space station at a dramatically faster rate than its natural orbit should permit.  Koenig asks his command staff for volunteers for a possible long duration mission to the beleaguered MBA.  Flight Chief Alan Carter volunteers to pilot the transport Eagle.  Before departing for the lunar base, Commander Koenig asks for a survey of instruments monitoring the Moon and is later informed, in transit, that all triangulation ranging finds the moon to be exactly where it should be, but that all direct-line Doppler rangefinding indicates that the Moon is, indeed, moving away.  Shockingly, it seems to be moving away from all angles of observation at the same rate — an impossibility of Euclidean geometry!

Panic ensues at MBA as the physically isolated staff begin to fear losing communication with the rest of humanity.  Controller Paul Marrow observes that all lunar-based interplanetary relay stations are experiencing the same attenuation effect despite the greatly divergent angles and distances of the many different probes with which they communicate.  When Professor Bergman programs a tuner to compensate for the frequency drift, he finds that the same adjustment re-establishes normal transmission with the many various Pioneer and Voyager series probes, and thereby independently discovers what the rest of humanity is just realizing:  The Moon is somehow moving in a non-Cartesian direction.

When Commissioner Simmonds enters the Main Mission command center to inform the MBA command staff that Commander Koenig is inbound and that he is appointing him to lead the mission, Paul Marrow seems to defer but Doctor Russell is stunned.  Simmonds is informed that Koenig and the doctor were once quite close and that their current estrangement will make the Commander’s situation all the more difficult.  The commissioner is dismissive and announces that there is another important matter which he must discuss.  The scene abruptly ends without revelation and Simmonds is later shown leaving the command center in a den of murmur.

Meanwhile, Alan Carter is piloting Koenig’s space station-marked Eagle when he realizes that the transport’s ranging equipment is generating information which does not align with the ship’s navigational resolutions and that the fuel usage estimates are therefore wrong.  The Moon, he explains, seems to be accelerating in a non-orbital course not programmed into the navigational computer.  He performs some hurried calculations of his own and declares that he is unsure of being able to reach the Moon.  Koenig tells him to not commit the classic mistake of ignoring the calibrated instruments in favor of mythical “pilot’s intuition”, a jibe which causes Carter to rebuke the commander with the declaration that he is no rookie.  Koenig apologizes and tells Carter to continue to monitor the anomalous readings and inform him of his observations.

Simmonds makes his way to his assigned cabin space and retrieves a non-standard communication device with which he speaks to an unseen party.  “Koenig is coming” he says, and “Secure our friend”.  “We’re already underground” replies a mysterious voice, and “There will be no need for future contact.  Be seeing you around, Commissioner.”  Understanding the secret meaning of the cryptic words, Simmonds activates a self-destruct feature of the communicator and disposes of it.

Carter finally decides that, based on the rate of change in fuel load compared to the rate of change in distance to the Moon, the transport cannot reach its destination.  Koenig tells Carter to plot a return course to the space station but Carter, in alarm, tells the commander that the navigation computer, informed by the ship’s rangefinder, indicates that the station is now too far away.  When Koenig declares that this is impossible, that the point-of-no-return alarm has not sounded, Carter assures him that he knows and that the station now seems to also be accelerating away from their point in space.  The commander supposes that their Eagle is entering the region of the Moon’s spatial anomaly and that they may soon find the lunar base a reachable destination after all.  He orders Carter to continue his course to MBA.

On MBA, Technician David Kano is tracking Koenig’s Eagle while Sandra Benes, a data analyst, is using Professor Bergman’s adjusted tuner to compile the station transport’s telemetry data.  Benes determines that the commander’s ship cannot reach the Moon.  Controller Morrow tries to wave off Koenig’s approach, but the spatial anomaly has now so degraded communications that neither side can be understood and finally all signal integrity is lost.  MBA is now completely cut off.

Main Mission Operative Tanya Alexander informs Morrow that there are reports of disruption from all over the base as personnel begin to abandon post and Eagle pilot Bill Fraser reports that people are attempting to enter the launch bays.  Morrow orders all craft secured and all bays locked.  He remotely unlocks the weapons lockers from the (importantly) unattended security station and begins distributing the classic Space:1999 stun guns among the command staff.  In the launch bays, Fraser and his pilots retrieve stun guns from the remotely opened lockers and sullenly prepare to defended their posts.

In the command center, door signals beep in a cacophony as personnel locked outside attempt to gain entry.  Paul Morrow opens the base intercoms and attempts to order the crowd to disperse and return to their posts.  The negative electric tones of door entry denial are soon replaced with the muffled sounds of hammering fists and shouting.  Members of the command staff can only listen as they sit pensively at their assigned positions among the workstations, each attempting to occupy themselves with the idle manipulation of frivolous controls, each with a stun gun lying near to hand.  They can see the terrified faces of their fellow Alphans in the monitors above the strangely empty security station as panicked masses fight among themselves for the foremost position in the door battering mob.  Finally David Kano breaks his personal silence with a call to the Eagle launch bays, asking for an update, but Bill Fraser does not respond.

In the bays, Fraser and his pilots are fighting for their lives.  As the angry mob closes in, the stun guns are revealed to operate more like tasers than phasers, as projectile darts trail high-voltage wire filaments in their path to the target, though, once the crowd presses in on the beleaguered astronauts, the guns also prove to be quite handy striking weapons.  Like high-tech brass knuckles, each blow from the stun guns releases an electric flash and the pilots are able use these to repel the latest wave of onrushers.  As the last of the rioters is wrangled through the inner airlock door, Fraser orders his men to don their environmental suits, fall back to the outer airlock door, and evacuate the chamber.  “Then, if they open it, they die” he says.  “But we only have so much oxygen in these suits” says one of his men.  “Yeah, we’ll be on the clock”, he replies as he slips his helmet over his head.

In the command center, the raucous fury of the mob has been replaced with the monotonous pounding of a battering ram working at the main gallery door.  Some time has passed and the command staff are wearied by the ongoing crisis.  Each member seems more disheveled and frayed.  There has been no further word from Koenig’s transport and the staff have seemingly forgotten him.  Tanya Alexander can barely compose herself as she wipes away an escaped tear, but waves off Sandra Benes as she reaches out to comfort her.  Morrow finally hears from Fraser as the pilot calls over the traffic control channel using an Eagle radio to explain his situation.  Morrow tries once more to bring the unruly mod to heel over the public address system, but seems to finally suffer from some private, internal capitulation to the realization that he just does not have the necessary command presence.  It is at this moment that we learn that Paul was third in chain of command and not the second in line at all (this issue of command succession being left deliberately mysterious as a setup for a future subplot).

Down in the bays, Fraser and his men are on their last wind.  Their oxygen is nearly depleted and they will soon have to repressurized the airlock, knowing that doing so will allow the mob to breach the inner airlock door.  Fraser reluctantly initiates the pressurization cycle, but discovers that a system override is preventing the process.  He is attempting to manually override the panel when, to his horror, a deck door on the lunar surface dilates open to reveal the starry sky.  One of his pilots is just able to escape a trip to the surface as he steps off an elevating landing pad which rises to fill the space left vacant by the giant aperture.

In the command center, warning lights are flashing like an autistic Christmas tree when a screaming klaxon pierces the unintelligible den.  Suddenly all voices fall silent and every member of the command staff seems to find new life and purpose in this latest development.  At every workstation, fingers fly across panels, flipping switches and pressing buttons until finally David Kano declares that a launch bay elevator in an unoccupied berth has breached the surface.  Shocked, Morrow asks Fraser if he did this, and is informed that this was an system response to a command override.   Morrow is looking askance across the blank faces of the command crew when Fraser calls back to say that the landing pad is descending with an Eagle transport.  John Koenig has arrived!

In the bay, Commander John Koenig steps out through the side hatch of his Eagle transport, followed by Alan Carter and Doctors Ed Spencer and Bob Mathias, along with a small coterie of security (armed, but NOT with stun guns).  They are all wearing pressurized environmental suits which differ from those worn by the MBA pilots only in markings and coloration.  He is quickly briefed by Fraser and decides to use his registered command override code to remotely open the inner airlock hatch which, being evacuated, will result in a sudden lowering of the air pressure in the connecting structure as atmosphere equalizes with the small chamber.

A high-pitched whistling sound precedes the slow parting of the inner hatch doors and the rioters in the adjoined corridor flee in panic as they believe they are to be asphyxiated.  Some escape through pressure hatches to other structures and, in their panic, selfishly seal themselves away, trapping most of their fellows at the threshold.  The lowered air pressure renders everyone in the corridor beyond unconscious and Koenig initiates the airlock cycle so that everyone in the launchbay can enter the base.

Once everyone has cleared the inner lock and the gallery is repressurized, Koenig uses the nearest communication panel to address the whole base.  He quickly explains who he is, and claims command of MBA.  Before moving toward the command center, he positions his security detail, still clad in spacesuits and still carrying true weapons, at the airlock with instructions to prevent any departure.  He authorizes them to depressurize the gallery and to shoot to kill.  Fraser and his pilots begin to escort Koenig and his team to the command center.

When Koenig arrives at the approaching corridor to the Main Mission CC, he encounters the mob of personnel which had attempted to gain access earlier.  When they refuse to make way, he dons his helmet and threatens to depressurize the chamber and kill everyone.  When his whole retinue likewise replace their helmets in seeming preparation, the mob quickly retreats and Koenig is able to once again use his command override code to gain entry to the command center.  Once inside, he is not immediately recognized but, just as Fraser begins to try to explain, the commander removes his helmet and is instantly seized upon by Paul Morrow, who vigorous shakes his hand in welcome.

The whole mood of the command staff pivots and all are glad to welcome the newcomer.  Conspicuously lingering behind the rush of glad handers is Doctor Russell who, nevertheless, is shortly recognized by Commander Koenig and he rushes to her.  “Helen!  What in blazes are YOU doing here.  I thought…” he says as his voice begins to leave him.

A look of confusion crosses her face and, shaking her head in disbelief, she replies, “John?!  What do you mean?  You knew I was posted here!  Why, just last month…” and after a strange pause, finally says, “You knew!” (and their mutual confusion is the introduction of another subplot to be further revealed in the next few episodes)

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