Saturday, June 27, 2009

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Space: 1999 Eagle Transport

You no doubt remember exactly what you were doing on September 13, 1999. The tragic day the Earth's moon was blasted out of its orbit by an enormous nuclear explosion, hurled into deep space and taking the crew of Moonbase Alpha on a strange and exciting journey through the stars.

No? You don't remember that happening? Well, truth be told, neither do I. Maybe I was home sick that day.

But that was the premise of Space: 1999, one of the more odd sci-fi shows of the 1970s. Or any decade, for that matter.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, sci-fi TV shows were few and far between. Unlike now when there's an entire Sci-Fi Channel, back then we pretty much only had reruns of Star Trek. There was a Planet of the Apes TV series that aired in 1974, but it only lasted one season before it was canceled.

So I was very excited when Space: 1999 aired in 1975. Not only was it a brand new weekly sci-fi action/adventure show, but it looked great as well! Star Trek's special effects were fairly advanced for a weekly TV series in the 1960s, but Space: 1999 blew them out of the water. Every week they featured movie quality effects, comparable to those in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But you can't have everything. Space featured some great actors (Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Barry Morse) but just didn't have any characters as appealing or iconic as Kirk and Spock. The series also suffered somewhat from some murky script writing and a glacial pace.

It also had a pretty preposterous premise. Earth begins storing nuclear waste in vast dumps on the moon. After a few years this stockpile of waste reaches critical mass and explodes, blasting the moon out of its orbit and into deep space. The crew of Moonbase Alpha (a large base built on the moon) have no choice but to go along for the ride. The entire moon, in essence, becomes their space ship. Somehow the moon ended up encountering a different alien race every week, despite the fact that even at the speed of light it would take decades for a space ship (or a moon!) to travel the vast distances between solar systems. The moon must have really been booking along!

One other little thing that always bugged me about the show was its time frame. It aired in 1975, so we were supposed to believe that in 24 short years we would have entire cities on the moon and regularly travel there as easily as we now fly to Vegas, along with artificial gravity and ray guns. This type of immediacy in science fiction has long been a pet peeve of mine. Note to screenwriters: when you're writing sci-fi, make sure your story is set far enough into the future that the current audience won't still be alive to see your predictions fall flat.

To make matters worse, the characters often referred to events like "The Jupiter Mission back in '79," the "Deep Space Probe in '85" or "The Mars Uprising of '92." Even a dumb kid like I was back then knew that there just wasn't enough time between then and 1999 for all that stuff to plausibly happen.

But even with its flaws, it was the only game in town back then, and I watched it religiously.

Probably my favorite thing about the series were the Eagle Transport Ships. They were an amazing mix of Apollo era space technology with just enough of a fantasy "cool" element thrown in. They were sci-fi, but looked like something that could really exist.

So when I saw this new Eagle One Transport vehicle, I had to buy it.

I bought it at WhoNA a while back. WhoNA is an online/warehouse store that mostly sells Doctor Who merchandise (along with items from a few other British sci-fi shows). That in itself isn't particularly amazing until you realize they're located in Indianapolis (!). How something as British as a Doctor Who store cropped up in the middle of the land of corn and basketball is anyone's guess.

Whona is primarily an online store and not open to the public. However, if you're ever in the area, if you call them and ask nicely they'll let you come in and shop. The owners are very friendly and helpful.

According to the box, the Eagle was manufactured by Product Enterprises. It's a fairly heavy piece; so it would probably be better to display it on a shelf rather than trying to hang it from the ceiling.

I'm not exactly sure what to call this type of item. It's not a model, as it came pre-painted and assembled. It's definitely not a toy though, as it's got lots of fragile details that wouldn't last 30 seconds in the hands of a kid. I suppose the best term for it is high end collectible.

The Eagle is very highly detailed, featuring lots of exhaust ports, access panels and other fiddly bits that make a model ship look real. I was very impressed that the makers took the time to include details underneath the support struts. Look at the photo above– just to the rear of the nose cone you'll see support struts that form "X" shapes. If you look closely, you'll see that there are small boxes & structures lying underneath those struts! Now that's attention to detail! I had a model kit of the Eagle that came out back in the 1970s, and it wasn't nearly as detailed. The X struts on the old model kit were flat, with nothing underneath. So I was very pleased and impressed that Product Enterprises took the time to add that little bit of extra detail.

The Eagle also features lots of neatly painted orange panels, and is covered with tiny Moonbase Alpha decals that my rapidly aging eyes can no longer discern.

There are no moving parts, but there is a detachable passenger pod.

The box proudly proclaims "Diecast Metal!" in several places. I'm stumped if I can figure out exactly what the metal parts are. I ran a magnet over the entire ship, and it didn't stick to anything. The nose cone and the passenger pod feel like they could be metal, but if they are they're a non-magnetic type. Actually, this is pretty much par for the course in the toy world. Japanese robot toys regularly boast they're made of diecast metal, but are usually 95% plastic. The presence of one small metal part is apparently enough to justify the diecast label. It's not a problem for me; metal or not, I'm very happy with the look and feel of the ship.

There are several different models of the Eagle available (most are the same except for the removable pod), but I chose the most identifiable and iconic one.

There's only one small feature that I wish they had added. On the TV series, when the Eagle would touch down, the landing gear would compress a bit, as if the weight of the ship was settling on shock absorbers. In a perfect world they would have included this feature in the model. But that's a minor issue, and overall I'm very pleased with the quality and detail of the Eagle Transport.

As I mentioned earlier, the Eagle is pretty solid, but there are a number of fragile plastic pipes and tubes on it. I wanted to display but also protect it from damage. I went to the local Hobby Lobby and bought a Plexiglass display case, the kind that are usually for displaying model cars. To customize it a bit, I found an image of the lunar surface online, printed it out and cut it to size. I placed the lunar photo on the bottom of the display case, set the Eagle inside and closed the lid. Instant customized Eagle display case!

Your best bet, should you want one, is to order one from an online store or comic shop. It's not the sort of thing you can swing down to Walmart to pick up.

4 comments:

  1. Gorgeous. I liked the show, but I too always found the moon hurtling through space to be a deal breaker as far as suspension of disbelief, but it did have great effects. Let's put it this way, It was better than the "Logan's Run" TV show.

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  2. Haw! One other thing that bugged me about Space:1999 was that nothing was ever explained. Everything that happened was just a mystery.

    There was an episode where a giant planet was heading on a collision course for the Moon. An alien appeared before the Commander and told him he had to let the planet hit the moon, but he couldn't tell him why. So they all sat and watched the planet get closer and closer, and when it hit the Moon the planet blinked out of existence. Someone asked what the heck happened, and the Commander said, "I guess we'll never know." There were numerous examples like that.

    If I remember right they tried to play up the action and downplay the cerebral stuff in the second season. They also introduced the alien lady who could turn into animals. The thing I never understood about her is that she almost always turned into EARTH animals. How would she even know what an eagle or a tiger were if she'd never been to Earth?

    I can remember watching the Logan's Run series, but it's been so long ago the details are pretty fuzzy. I remember it wasn't on for very long. I bought a DVD set of the entire series last year (from an, ahem, "alternate" source). I need to get it out and refresh my memory of the show.

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  3. I used to subscribe to "Starlog" back in the '70s and they used to do retrospective articles on any and every science fiction show no matter how long it lasted or how good or bad it was (they had column inches to fill!) I remember and article on "Space:1999" claiming that the shows were edited sometimes heavily in order to jam more and more commercials into them. Supposedly there were intimations of otherworldly forces at work affecting the fate of the denizens of Earth's former satellite that ended up on the cutting room floor. These underlying themes were going to be fleshed out eventually, but the show didn't last. Of course, Starlog loved chasing red herrings and outlandish rumors so who knows if it was true or not?

    All I can remember of "Logan's Run" is that Donald Moffat played a Robot. I don't know why an over-thirty looking humanoid robot was introduced, but I guess they wanted a Spock-like character in there and mechanical men are so sci-fi! he wasn't as cool as Box.

    I have to chase down UFO. That was the bridge between Captain Scarlet and Space:1999.

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  4. Oh yeah, I used to get Starlog too! Back then that was the ONLY source of sci-fi movie info there was. I remember the 7th issue (I think) was their first mention of Star Wars, and the first time I ever heard of it. Good times!

    Unfortunately I read a couple of months ago that Starlog is closing up shop. Another victim of the internet.

    Interesting about Space:1999 being edited for the U.S. Now that you mention it, I have the DVD box set and there were a couple of episodes where things happened that I swear weren't in the original broadcast. I just chalked it up to my faulty memory, but now I'm wondering if the DVDs are the uncut versions. If so, bonus for us!

    Also interesting that they *may* have had an ongoing story arc. Too bad they didn't get to continue.

    I do remember Donald Moffat as the Robot in Logan's Run. I also remember that in the TV version the City inhabitants didn't have life clocks embedded in their palms. Not sure why they did away with that. I guess once they left the City it didn't matter. That's about all I remember of the show.

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