"We are Mankind. We came from planet Earth, and we built this base, called Alpha, to learn more about space. But human error blasted this Moon out of the Earth's orbit. And so, we have traveled the Universe searching for a place to live."
— Prof. Victor Bergman
This British TV series was created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the creators of Thunderbirds
and other "Supermarionation
" fare as well as UFO
, and was produced by Lew Grade's ITC (in co-production with Italy's RAI during the first season, explaining the presence of Italian guest stars). It originally aired in the UK between 1975 and 1977, although several season one episodes were premiered in the US (like "Another Time, Another Place") and Australia (like "Ring Around The Moon").
It consisted of two seasons, each with a different approach; season one was slow-paced and cerebral, whereas season two had more "monster of the week" episodes. Its premise was simple: on September 13th 1999, a ridiculously small explosion blows the moon out of its orbit and accelerates it to a velocity sufficient to send it hurtling out of the solar system and travel interstellar distances in improbably short times.
During this catastrophic event the 300 persons crewing Moonbase Alpha avoid getting smeared into jelly; once things settle down a bit, they make the best of bad situation by surviving for at least three years with no means of support. They also deal with all the usual skiffy
hackery — Aliens and Monsters
, mysterious events, the works — without much thought to any serious science (or, often, common sense) in the resulting plots.
The massive production cost of the show meant that a network sale in the USA was more-or-less essential. Lew Grade, the head of ITC, pulled defeat from the jaws of victory by raising the asking price at the last minute in negotiations with a previously enthusiastic NBC, who called his bluff and passed. On learning of this, CBS and ABC also declined to buy it, and Grade was forced to sell it into syndication. Regardless, the ratings were successful enough that ITC commissioned a second season, with the provisos that there should be an American producer and the budget should be cut. The second season was also popular enough that a third almost happened.
A fan-produced featurette, "Message from Moonbase Alpha" (written by regular series writer Johnny Byrne, starring Zienia Merton as series regular Sandra Benes, using footage from the series and done with permission of the copyright holders, therefore almost
being canonical) eventually established that the Moonbase crew found an Earth-like planet to live on.
- Absentee Actor: When producer Fred Freiberger came on board he set up a system where from time to time two episodes would be filmed simultaneously for scheduling purposes, specially scripted so that key regulars would have a minimal presence in one episode while taking centre stage in another. The most notable pairing was "Dorzak"/"Devil's Planet" - Martin Landau does not appear at all in the former, while he's the main character in the latter.
- The Ace:
- In "Dragon's Domain", Koenig says Tony Cellini used to be this, before the Ultra Probe mission messed him up.
- Tony Verdeschi comes across as this in Season Two.
- Action Girl: Maya crosses into this occasionally, and not only when she shape-shifted, either.
- Aliens Speaking English:
- Some even write in English.
- A LOT of the aliens had hilariously odd names, especially for those who lived in the UK. Psychons ("The Metamorph") get a pass due to the nature of the plot; however the villain of "The Infernal Machine" being named Gwent (for those who don't know, a council in Wales), the entire episode "The Rules of Luton" (Luton is a town just outside London), and "One Moment of Humanity", which featured aliens called the Vegans are noteworthy examples (though in the last case, Vega is the name of a real star, and authors like James Blish had used the name to refer to aliens from Vega's solar system long before the common word "vegan" came into use).
- And I Must Scream:
- The fate of Commissioner Simmonds in "Earthbound".
- Also Balor in "End of Eternity". Not only did he start the episode locked away for Eternity, but at the end he's blown into vacuum. Whether his Healing Factor will keep him between life and death for eternity is never addressed.
- Apocalypse Day Planner: September 13th, 1999
- Artificial Gravity: The moonbase is equipped with "gravity shields" that provide artificial gravity, let spacecraft take off and land on planets without refueling, and allowed the moon to fly through a black hole. The shields stop working every time they would be detrimental to the plot.
- Big "NO!": Dionne has one in "The Last Enemy."
- Billed Above The Title: Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.
- Bridge Bunnies:
- Most of the female personnel on Alpha seemed to be either this or nurses. The only female regulars shown to perform any work of consequence were Dr. Russell and Sandra Benes (and, in the second season, Maya), though Sandra was clearly working in a subordinate position.
- Some individual episodes had e.g. female scientists or female aliens playing an important role, but these characters were not recurring parts.
- Captain's Log:
- Dr Helena Russell, starting with season two.
- Also used in two first season stories, "Dragon's Domain" (with Dr. Russell) and "The Testament of Arcadia" (with Commander Koenig). Unfortunately, in the case of "Dragon's Domain" that means several season two episodes (such as "The Metamorph") take place in the timeframe of season one...
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Paul Morrow, David Kano, and Tanya Alexander disappeared between seasons with no on-screen explanation (though a tie-in annual feature stated that Morrow was killed in an Eagle crash). Professor Bergman also disappeared between seasons, but not without explanation; a dialogue exchange in "The Metamorph" (the opening episode of Season Two) confirms that Bergman died previously due to a spacesuit malfunction.
- Comic Book Adaptation: Numerous. Charlton Comics published both a color comic and an adult-oriented black and white illustrated magazine (noted for copious Ms. Fanservice moments). Power Records released several comic-and-record sets, and there was also a popular comic strip in the UK. In the 2010s all of these were brought back in a remix/mashup form combined with new material for a series of graphic novels.
- Compilation Movie: This series was edited into five of these (including the show's only two-parter, "The Bringers Of Wonder," which became Destination Moonbase Alpha). One, Cosmic Princess, was featured in an early season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
- Cool Old Guy: Victor Bergman
- Cool Starship:
- The Eagle Transports, possibly the most realistic fictional TV spacecraft ever created. Ersatz "2001: A Space Odyssey" Moon Buses.
- And their military counterparts, the Mark IX Hawks from "War Games."
- Custom Uniform of Sexy: Averted. Despite Dr. Russell being the only female part of consequence, and Barbara Bain's obvious star status, she wears exactly the same uniform as everyone else.
- Demoted to Extra:
- Sandra Benes seemed poised to suffer this fate as Season Two went on.
- Robert Mathias did.
- Everything Is an iPod in the Future: The interiors of Moonbase Alpha and the uniforms worn by the Alphans (especially the more unisex versions in season one).
- Exact Words: in the episode Earthbound, hibernating aliens en-route to Earth programmed their ship make a pit stop on the Moon. When the Moon was blasted into deep space, the ship duly diverted to land on the Moon anyway, even though the Moon is by this time light years from Earth, and maybe in another part of the Universe entirely!
- Averted with the unisex uniforms of the first season, which were deliberately designed to avoid sexualizing the women. This was in marked contrast to the precursor UFO and most other Sci-Fi shows of the times.
- Played straight in a few cases:
- When the crew adopted, or were forced to adopt, native dress while visiting planets, those clothes sometimes were more on the Stripperific side.
- Some cases of Clothing Damage that turned the uniforms into Vapor Wear.
- In one episode, a crewmember was possessed by an alien that craved energy from the environment, which drove him to the base solarium. This gave an opportunity for shots of bikini-clad women.
- Fix Fic: The "Message from Moonbase Alpha" featurette.
- Human Alien:
- Many aliens were suspiciously similar to humans. This went to the point where "The Last Enemy" had aliens that were basically humans in biker jackets.
- Averted for other aliens who were machine intelligences, bodyless Energy Beings, or godlike spirits.
- Justified with Maya, who was a Voluntary Shapeshifter.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Alphans encounter many Higher-Tech Species (usually of the Crystal Spires and Togas sort) who fear contamination or conquest by our backward, warlike species.
- Infinite Supplies:
- While Alpha has its own mining and production facilities, this isn't enough to avoid the trope.
- Averted in the Season One finale, "Testament of Arcadia". Commander Koenig tells the fanatics who want to settle on a dormant planet that the amount of supplies that they'd take would doom the rest of the Alphans.
- In-universe this would also include a lot of the changes between season one and two. You could perhaps justify the new jackets, tools and weapons away as just something they already had in storage but somehow they found the resources to install/renovate whole sections and departments.
- Misplaced Wildlife: "The Metamorph" shows Mentor having a "lion" on an alien planet. Later subverted when we discover that said lion is a form assumed by Maya.
- Monster of the Week: The second season became this, upping the action quota and de-emphasizing the psychodrama, to the dismay of some fans and the delight of others.
- Neck Lift: Peter Bowles as Balor in "End of Eternity".
- No Pronunciation Guide: The pronunciation of Koenig was all over the place. Depending on who is talking it's either Kay-nig or Ko-nig. Helena wasn't immune either; being called Helen-a or Hel-lee-na at various points.
- The two main pronunciations of Koenig's name were "Ko-nig" or "Ko-ning". If anybody really did say it as "Kay-nig", it probably only happened once.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Professor Bergman and later Maya.
- Power Perversion Potential: Deliberately invoked and lampshaded by Maya, and played primarily for comedic value.
- Pre Cap: The introduction to each first-season episode contained a montage of action shots from the episode, often of Eagles blowing up or people being thrown across rooms by explosions. This gave away nothing of the plot since they were presented without context.
- Recycled Soundtrack: And then some, with music from other Gerry Anderson shows (and assorted library pieces) being used to bolster the few episode scores Barry Gray composed for season one. (Derek Wadsworth also only did about five episodes in season two, and they were reused as well.)
- Remember the New Guy: Tony Verdeschi and Bill Fraser in Season Two.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The moon was variably described as being billions of kilometers, miles, and light-years from Earth, resulting in roughly equal difficulty in returning despite the fact that the first case would put the moon closer to Earth than Saturn, while in the latter case the moon would be vastly more distant from the Milky Way galaxy than the Great Wall, currently the largest known feature of the universe. It (the moon) passed between star systems at speeds fast enough that the passengers went through a star system per week, yet remained close enough to each and slow enough to reach a planet via shuttle for days at a time.
- Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Averted with the Eagle Transporters, thoroughly unglamorous work vehicles, kind of like dump trucks in space.
- Space Clothes: Not as bad as some examples, but the unisex, beige jumpsuits are still very 70s. The second season actually managed to tone them down by adding a jacket to the basic moon base uniform.
- Space Is Noisy: Spectacularly in "The Last Enemy".
- Starfish Aliens: Any alien encounter that wasn't a Human Alien or Rubber Forehead Alien.
- Terra Deforming: In one episode, the Alphans make contact with Earth, where it's a couple of centuries later due to relativity or something, and the entire population lives in domed cities because the outside environment is toxic. That exact phrase "Who needs nature" has become something of a Catch Phrase, and you get the sense that nobody on Earth is too bothered about the loss of the ecosystem.
- Token Minority:
- Ben Ouma, Moonbase Alpha's computer expert in "Breakaway", the first episode. Personal conflicts with the rest of the cast actor meant that actor Lon Stratton only appeared in one episode. Rather than recast the role, the character of Ouma was replaced with...
- David Kano, Moonbase Alpha's computer expert in the rest of the first season. He averted this trope fairly well for a 70s series, and he certainly gets a lot more to do per episode than, say, Lt. Uhura.
- Doctor Matthias, as well, had an important role in many episodes, being one of only two doctors on the base. Unlike Kano he returned for season two, although the character only appeared in two episodes of the final season.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: The story kicks off on September 9th, 1999.
- Vapor Wear:
- In one episode, Sandra suffers Clothing Damage that leaves her back bare, showing that she isn't wearing anything under her uniform.
- Some of the clothes worn by female aliens, or by female Alpha crewmembers when adopting native dress, were cut in a way that implied this.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Maya, who has the ability on her own. Her father, who's played by BRIAN BLESSED, has a computer that can do this to larger objects and, potentially, a whole planet.
- We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: The uniforms conspicuously lack pockets, probably because it would ruin their lines. Nobody ever seems to need to carry around any small objects.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The first baby born on the moonbase in the episode "Alpha Child" is never mentioned again.
- X Days Since: Episodes in the second season usually begin with the narration "X days after leaving Earth's orbit". The totals, however, frequently don't agree with numbers used during the first season, or with each other.
- You Fail Astronomy Forever: All exterior shots of the moonbase are illuminated by bright sunlight, and always from the same angle - even when the moon is in deep space, light years from the nearest star.
- You Look Familiar: Multiple instances; but no guest played more than two different characters.
- Most notably, Catherine Schell guest-starred in first-season episode "Guardian of Piri"; then in the second season, joined the regular cast as beautiful alien metamorph Maya.
- BRIAN BLESSED played Dr. Cabot Rowland in an episode of the first season (dying at the end of it), then returned in the second season to play Maya's father (and died again).
- Isla Blair and Stuart Damon also play two different characters each.
- The main computer is pictured in a way typical of the time before the public was exposed to computers: it seems to be a sort of oracle that can solve any problem given enough input data.
- On the other hand, the input and output devices used by the computer are very primitive: enormous wall-mounted keyboards (with unmarked keys) that seem to require experts to operate, and output printed on narrow paper tape that has to be torn off and read aloud by an operator.
- Many shots of high-tech equipment featured the large, open-reel tape drives typical of 1970's computers (but in real life made obsolete long before 1999).
- The first season's beige, unisex uniforms with flared trouser legs and broad, shiny belts — and the no-bra look for the women — seem very much like The Seventies today.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: "The Infernal Machine", "Brian the Brain"
- Ancient Astronauts: Implied in "The Testament of Arcadia".
- Antimatter: "Matter of Life and Death", "A Matter of Balance"
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: "Collision Course"
- Black Hole: "Black Sun"
- Broken Ace: "Dragon's Domain"
- Contemporary Caveman: "The Full Circle"
- Creepy Child: "Alpha Child"
- Dead Man Writing: "Space Warp"
- Downer Ending: Oooh boy... Lots of 'em. "Breakaway", "Death's Other Dominion", "War Games", "Dragon's Domain", "The Testament of Arcadia", "Journey to Where", "The Dorcons" noteworthy examples.
- Eldritch Abomination: "Space Brain", "End of Eternity", "Dragon's Domain". How the aliens in "War Games" view the Alphans.
- Evil Twin: "Seed of Destruction"
- Gendercide: "The Last Enemy"
- Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: "The Beta Cloud"
- Grow Beyond Their Programming: "Brian the Brain"
- Harmless Freezing: "The Mark of Archanon". Subverted in "The Exiles", where the Alphans invoke this trope, unwittingly freeze the Monster of the Week, and are horrified by it.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: "War Games", invoked In-Universe in "The Exiles".
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Rules of Luton"
- I'm a Humanitarian: "Mission of the Darians", in a way, also "The Metamorph".
- Immortality Seeker: "The Dorcons". Deconstructed hard in "Death's Other Dominion".
- Intrepid Merchants: "The Taybor"
- Involuntary Shapeshifting: "Space Warp"
- Mad Scientist: "The Metamorph"
- The Mutiny: "The Testament of Arcadia", "The Seance Spectre"
- Our Vampires Are Different: "Force of Life", in that Zoref is a heat-seeking one.
- Our Wormholes Are Different: "Black Sun", "Space Warp"
- Playing with Syringes: "Missing Link", invoked in "The Metamorph".
- Rip Van Winkle: "The Mark of Archanon", "The Exiles".
- Sleeper Starship: "Earthbound", "The Exiles", "Dorzak"
- Space Clouds: "The Beta Cloud", "The Lambda Factor"
- Split Personality: Implied in "The Infernal Machine".
- Timey-Wimey Ball: "The Troubled Spirit".
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: "The Metamorph", in particular.
- Yandere: Shermeen in "A Matter of Balance"
- You Can't Fight Fate: "The Troubled Spirit".