A bright light in science fiction has sadly gone out.
Gone out, perhaps, but not without leaving an indelible legacy.
Gerry Anderson died on December 26th, 2012. Anderson was a legendary British writer, producer, and director for both television and film. While unique enough for having a nearly lifelong career in movies and TV, he is perhaps best known for his series Thunderbirds and its use of marionettes. Another futuristic show called Stingray used much of the same methods. I never really got to watch those programs but the few times I did, I was enthralled by them, especially Stingray (heresy in certain circles of fandom I suspect.) Having not seen many episodes of those shows, I prefer to stick to TV series by Anderson that I know something about, namely UFO and Space: 1999. Said science fiction series are deserving of posts in their own right, but today I would prefer to just pay tribute to Gerry Anderson.
Space: 1999 was on while I was but a wee bit of a boy. I can't remember many of the episodes and consequently I have been reacquainting myself with them online. The most expensive program of its time, Space: 1999 starred Martin Landau and detailed the experiences of the crew of Moonbase Alpha, an Earth outpost on the Moon. One of the duties of this base was to oversee the dump site where humans decided to store all of their nuclear waste. In the year 1999 (yeah, I know), a "strange radiation" influences the nuclear matter to critical mass, unleashing a devastating explosion. The blast sends what's left of the Moon and Moonbase Alpha into the reaches of space. During its uncontrollable fling from Earth, Moonbase Alpha encounters several alien races, dystopian civilizations, and science fiction weirdness.
It is said that while the plots were Star Trek and style, the show's aesthetic was far more 2001. The spaceships of Moonbase Alpha, known as Eagles (see above), are quite "functional" in design. I could truly see a ship looking like these Eagles taking a human crew to other planets. It is said that a Battlestar Galactica-like reboot of Space: 1999 called Space: 2099 was announced last February, but as with many of these types of things we just need to wait and see.
UFO was a science fiction series that actually predated Space: 1999, but I had not discovered it until adulthood. I had been (and still am) a big fan of the computer game XCOM: UFO Defense (natch) and was told that the game had been heavily influenced by Anderson's UFO series. I was not misinformed.
The series takes place in the year 1980 (again, I know) where Earth is being covertly attacked by an alien race from a dying planet. These aliens, arriving in their UFOs, are harvesting humans for their organs. Building upon reported UFO sightings and encounters of the time, the show put forth a question that dawned upon me in my teen years: if these aliens are abducting us and experimenting upon us, isn't there anyone doing anything to protect us? Why, an organization called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) does just that in Gerry Anderson's UFO. They're James Bond with the kind of high-tech weapons and vehicles that Q-Branch could only wish it could develop. These include Sky One interceptor aircraft to shoot down UFOs, the SkyDiver, an undersea vehicle, and the caterpillar-tracked SHADO mobile. Coolness.
And I believe the descriptions of the various vehicles from these shows and of course Stingray and Thunderbirds, gets at an ability that Gerry Anderson was unswerving at: creating fun, geeky ships and vehicles. They are instantly memorable. They are thrilling, unique, and yet to be surpassed. This is an aspect of Anderson's work that is so laudable. All of his shows came from his own...and admittedly others'...imaginations. There was no toyline to plug, no video game to market, no "backwards" story creation. Sure, there were toys. In fact, I had a Space: 1999 Eagle that is one of the greatest toys I have ever had. But they were completely after the fact of the show. Anderson's shows were not product. They were insouciant yet thought-provoking science fiction of a truly original kind.
Blessed be you, Mr. Anderson. You will be missed. You are already missed by many, I'm certain.
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