Martin Landau and Space: 1999

Yesterday I began speaking of Martin Landau’s contributions to science fiction and started with his performance in the Outer Limits episode “The Man Who Was Never Born” (he also gave a decent, though less memorable, performance in “The Bellero Shield” and, by the way, was also in at least two rather forgettable Twilight Zone episodes)

More significant were his contributions as star of the 1970’s series, Space: 1999 (as Commander John Koenig of Moonbase Alpha). A full analysis of the series and reviews of the episodes can be found in two excellent books on Space: 1999 (one by Robert Wood and the other by John Kenneth Muir).  A common theme in several of the best written episodes that also had Landau’s best performances had Commander Koenig angrily trying to convince the other “Alphans” that they were in danger and had been duped by some alien force (as in “The Guardian of Piri” ) or other corrupted humans (as in “Deaths Other Dominion”). When we see his frustrations we have to recall that Koenig was trained to be a manager/administrator and not Captain Kirk (to borrow from another franchise).  So, though he’s physically fit, physical force is not his prime mover. Unfortunately, by the second season of Space: 1999, this underpinning of Koenig’s character broke down a bit and we saw him get in more fist fights (invariably with aliens that either looked precisely like humans or looked like guys in silly monster suits).  On the positive side though, by Season Two, we also saw a growth in Koenig’s personal relationships (primarily with Barbara Bain’s character, Helena) and some exposition of his past (as in “The Rules of Luton” when we find out about his wife’s death during World War III).

So, though many retrospectives of Martin Landau’s career only briefly mention his science fiction contributions, I like to think that fans of Space: 1999 and The Outer Limits were blessed to see his growth as an actor during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

As for the science, well, admittedly, Space: 1999 played fast and loose with the details! For instance, an explosion on the Moon could potentially send the Moon out of the Earth’s (and Sun’s) orbit, but in that case the energy emitted would have to come close to mostly destroying the Moon, so its unlikely any humans and most of the structures could survive this. Assuming that anyone did survive this, it would take any remnants of the Moon thousands of years to reach the nearest star system, and then thousands of more years to get to the next, etc. We can perhaps excuse some of this by reasoning that for some of these star systems they traveled through “space warps” (or to use more modern parlance, something like a wormhole) or maybe they were still really in the outer parts of our star system. So, though I realize that even in the time scale within the world of the show they weren’t really traveling to new planets every week (as some would claim), they were clearly doing so in months or years, which seems implausible unless there are a lot of space warps out there that we don’t know about!

Anyway, none of that was Martin’s fault! And all in all, he made us think and feel while also having a bit of fun with the genre.

Steve Bloom, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Hampden-Sydney College



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