Wednesday, February 21, 2007

SPACE: 1999 REVISITED

Around the time that Space: 1999 was ending its second season, Star Wars hit theaters. I saw Star Wars on its opening day in Baltimore (it didn’t actually reach the city until mid-June since movies didn’t open on nine million screens at once like they do now). While I enjoyed its Flash Gordon-style blend of sword-and-sorcery with spaceships and ray guns, I had no idea the world would build Star Wars up into the mega-phenomenon it became. To me, it wasn’t real science fiction like Star Trek or Space: 1999, and I laughed at how seriously so many people took all this Jedi, Force, Dark Side hooey. Nevertheless, science fiction nuts like myself did benefit as Hollywood sought out all kinds of sci-fi properties to cash in on. Without Star Wars, there would’ve been no Star Trek movies or Blade Runner, so I was a happy camper in the late 70s and 80s.

It was fun to see the resurgence of Star Trek through the movies and subsequent t.v. shows. Not only was the subject matter taken more seriously, Paramount spent real money on these productions, giving them a polish the old show could have only dreamed of. While Star Trek was reinvented over and over through the 80s and 90s, Space: 1999 was relegated to the kitschy recesses of the television attic, always to be viewed unfairly as a poor Star Trek knockoff. It pained me to watch my hero, Martin Landau, relegated to such embarrassing fare as Without Warning and The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. Thank God, Francis Ford Coppola resurrected his career by casting him in Tucker: A Man and His Dreams. But I digress…

By the early 90s, Space:1999 popped back into my life by way of some VHS releases and through airings of reruns on the Sci-Fi channel. Unfortunately, most of the ones I caught on t.v. were from the second season, and they only served to reinforce my memory of how bad the show became toward the end of its run.

A true resurgence occurred in the late 90s when a company called Carlton obtained the licensing rights to Space: 1999 and actively promoted use of the property. Soon, A&E released all 48 episodes on DVD, and a company called Powys Media set about creating new novels based on the old show. Two of the books provided explanations as to how Season One characters Paul Morrow and Dr. Bergman mysteriously disappeared. The old model kits were reissued, albeit only briefly, and a company specializing in Mego reproductions put out Space: 1999 action figures.

I mentioned in my previous post that, as a boy, I owned a Commander Koenig action figure made by Mattel. The Mattel figures were the only ones sold in the U.S. when the show was on the air. However, Mego produced a separate line of figures sold in Europe through the Palitoy company. While the Mattel figures were slightly larger than the Mego figures and the headsculpts were quite good, the costumes looked nothing like those worn on the show. The Mego/Palitoy figures had decent head sculpts and the uniforms were closer to the ones on the show, but they didn’t have a Helena Russell figure and no laser guns. Maybe the Europeans were worried about promoting violence. The Mattel figures definitely had laser guns along with the commlocks. Anyway, now in the 21st century, Classic T.V. Toys started putting out reproductions of the old Mego figures as well as creating new figures based on other characters from the show like Maya and Tony Verdeshi. They even came up with an Alan Carter figure in a realistically rendered space suit. The one drawback was that Martin Landau would not give permission to use his likeness on a new Commander Koenig doll. C’mon, Marty, cut the fans a break!

Since Classic T.V. Toys couldn’t make one, I was determined that I would create my own custom Koenig. Fortunately, CTVT offers figure parts and clothes, so I bought a standard Space:1999 body complete with the white boots. They also offer a Commander Koenig uniform, although it lacks the black stripe on the right arm and the black, mock turtleneck. I was able to add those to the uniform with some black fabric and fabric glue. All I needed was a head. As luck would have it, Dr. Mego sells an unpainted head that looks strikingly like the original Mego head that adorned their old figure. I purchased the head along with a belt, commlock, and laser gun that he makes for Space: 1999 figures. The gun is especially cool since it looks like it belongs with the old figures even though no laser was originally produced.

After painting the head and assembling the parts, I had my own custom Commander Koenig action figure. A childhood dream fulfilled.

3 comments:

Hyperjoe said...

YES, I love S1999. I am one figure away from completing the Palitoy vintage collection. Zantar of course.

Anonymous said...

How did you attach the head to the body since it's hard and not soft like mego

Polyvinylman said...

Anonymous, I was able to pop the head into the hole in the body with a little bit of wiggling. The neck was a little longer than I would have liked it, but the mock turtleneck covers that up pretty well.