Breakaway Plus 15

One of the weirder things about being an aging nerd is seeing certain dates that have great fictional significance pass without anything happening here in the real world. For instance, who among us kids from the 1970s did not feel a twinge when 1987 came and went without seeing the launch of Ranger 3, the “last of America’s deep-space probes?” Surely I’m not the only fanboy out there who actually felt a little nervous on the morning of August 29, 1997, known to lovers of a certain film franchise as Judgment Day? And I can’t wait until next year arrives, and everyone on Facebook starts grumbling about how the real 2015 looks nothing like Back to the Future Part II (they’ve already been doing that, actually, due a couple of memes that falsely identify this year as the one Marty McFly visits; apparently the meme-makers didn’t pay attention when they were watching the film, or their math skills suck, i.e., 30 years from 1985 does not equal 2014).

But there’s one date in particular that was drilled into my head at a very early age… September 13, 1999, the day the Moon was supposedly blasted out of orbit by an immense nuclear explosion and sent hurtling into deep space, carrying with it the hapless inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha, who survived the event they called “Breakaway” only to face the grim prospect of never returning home…

This, of course, is the premise for Space: 1999, a short-lived British-made television series from the early ’70s. I never missed it as a young boy, or at least I tried not to. It aired in this area on Sunday afternoons, when my parents and I were usually at my grandma’s place with the rest of the extended family, and my uncles didn’t appreciate missing an hour of their precious football games so Reg and Alice’s weird son could watch his dippy space show.

The series was — and still is — roundly criticized for scientific inaccuracy and a generally far-fetched premise, and even a fan can’t really defend it against those charges. Still… it made a huge impression upon me. The visual effects were impeccably done, better than anything else on television at the time, and generally still hold up today, and the production design of the show was unique and nicely extrapolated from then-current trends and technology. Also, the show’s moody, almost Gothic tone was quite haunting, especially to an imaginative young boy with certain sensibilities that he would never quite outgrow.

And that’s why, every September 13, I find myself looking up to the Moon and wondering what it would be like if it really did vanish from our skies, and what it would be like for those poor astronauts fifteen years on after such a disaster. I hope they’re getting by…

Incidentally, if you’ve never seen the show and would like to try it out, I found the complete pilot episode online here. Before you mock the white bell-bottomed pantsuits, remember when it was made, and that to people in the ’70s, the future was supposed to look a lot groovier than it’s turned out to be. And if you’re not up for a complete episode, here is a sampler: