Moonbase Alpha is Go!

Image by Romain Sublet from Pixabay

With thanks to David McKinlay, who co-wrote portions of this blog article.

“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 travelled the Universe searching for a place to live. Now, we can no longer live here, and we go to face an uncertain future on the planet that has nearly destroyed us. You, whoever you are, who find this empty vessel of Alpha, come and seek us out, if we still exist. Come and teach us all you know. Because, we have learned many things, but most of all, we have learned we still have much to learn.”
– Professor Victor Bergman (‘War Games‘)

Following the recent anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, another space anniversary takes place on 28 July – but this one is more subdued and less noteworthy in world history. It is actually a cultural anniversary rather than a scientific one.

The Age Green Guide 28 July 1975

On 28 July 1975, the TV series Space:1999 had its world debut on Channel HSV 7 in Melbourne, Australia. More episodes followed in the subsequent six months – with others following a year later, during the end-of-year non-ratings period – making this the first TV run of the show anywhere in the world.

If I recall correctly, Channel 7 began showing the series with a great publicity fanfare, which quickly declined into a muted, almost embarrassed, irregular, semi-weekly telecast, and I presume that this change was because of lower audience ratings than expected. Football or other (more popular?) programs often began to pre-empt weekly telecasts of Space:1999, which caused teenaged me to write a letter of outraged protest to ‘TV WEEK’ magazine complaining that: “In 55 weeks they [Channel 7] have shown 18 episodes”. (Oops, my inner nerd is showing!)

This disappointing response in Australia served as a refutation of the promise of the series, which boasted an extraordinarily exorbitant budget: “…the highest budget for an hour series [ITV] has ever committed in 20 years of production… the highest budget for a space science fiction series in the history of television.” (Heald, 1976, 22); while Anderson historian Chris Bentley estimates the budget for the first season at £3 million, or £125,000 per episode – part funded by RAI from Italy (Bentley, 2003, 125).

Possibly because of its high-quality production values, the series has enjoyed a small but loyal fan following over the last five decades. I even recall in the 1990s there was ‘Gaybase Alpha’, a LGBT+ fan club for the series over the Internet (although I find this puzzling because no character in the show was ever LGBT+). Space: 1999 conventions and fan clubs continue to operate in Europe – perhaps reflective of the series’ Anglo-Italian roots.

The Human Adventure

Series co-creator Gerry Anderson was a humanist with a long string of successful TV shows to his resume, including Thunderbirds, UFO and Captain Scarlet, all of which featured humans using their technological and inner resources to save others from dangers. Fellow humanists Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry helped to create and shaped popular TV science fiction (and accompanying attitudes) in the era of the space race. In exploring the human condition, Serling liked to challenge audiences with questions in the Twilight Zone; and Roddenberry liked to include characters in Star Trek or other adventures who were search of their creator (Nomad, Questor, Data, V’Ger, and others). In the post-Apollo world, Anderson liked to encourage philosophical reflection by role modelling humans batting against problems and striving to help their fellow human. His then-wife and production partner, Sylvia, worked with him to add many creative touches to enhance the programs and add depth to the humanity of many of their fictitious characters, particularly strong women.

Between them all, science fiction points the way to a future that is not necessarily a happy future, but a hopeful one.

Space: 1999 echoes the optimism of the 1960s and the artistic products of that time, especially in the visual arts, but it was full of visual effects to fill out hollow scripts. In one sense, it is a humanist series, but at the same time the technology dominates the product. The general thrust is about humanity, but this is sublimated to the production values. There is more humanity and drama in many episodes of U.F.O. (the previous Anderson series) than anything within Space: 1999 – episodes from UFO like A Question of Priorities or Confetti Check A-OK for example – where Straker has to make the agonising decisions about saving his son’s life or his marriage. By contrast, the characters in Space:1999 were so poorly written that critics often invoked the Anderson’s previous TV work with puppets by suggesting that the Space: 1999 characters “were so wooden, you could almost see the strings”.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

A Testament from Arkadia

“I have an incredible faith in the human spirit.” – John Koenig (‘War Games‘).

Bertolt Brecht is credited with observing that: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” The TV series Space:1999 echoed its era as a way of proposing a future borne of resilience and fortitude. The series was created in the afterglow of the Apollo Moon landings (hence the ubiquitous space craft in the series being named Eagles after the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar module, which landed Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon in 1969); and the show’s character Alan Carter and his team of astronauts used their fictitious Eagles to fight dangers, provide rescue, and transport others as deemed necessary or vital for survival. The 1970s were also an era of looking expectantly to the future in which it was envisaged that by the year 1999, there would be Hilton hotels in space, space colonies, and bases on the Moon and Mars.

The series was set in Moonbase Alpha, in the lunar crater Plato – and fittingly, the show explored philosophical as well as scientific ideas. The series boasted world-class quality in almost everything: actors, sets, costumes, music, stories, and special effects (including pre-CGI models).

The show was effective and inspiring in portraying the grandeur of the universe. Its philosophical themes abounded: one episode presented a cosmological entity within a black hole; another gave a space age reboot to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon (an episode that appears to have not been shown during the initial Australian TV run of the series, presumably due to the content of that episode being judged as unsuitable for children). The final episode of season 1 even explored our cosmological or metaphysical origins as a species, harking back to the mythology of ancient Greece in The Testament of Arkadia. The problem with such themes was trying to plausibly marry the scientific with the superstitious. But it was a noble attempt. Space: 1999 fans document the sentiment from the episode Dragon’s Domain:

Dr. Helena Russell: John, if we ever do find a new place to live, and if we succeed, we’re going to need a whole new mythology.

Cmdr. John Koenig: Tony Cellini and the Monster?

Dr. Helena Russell: George and the Dragon sounds pretty flat until you know the story.

Cmdr. John Koenig: This story is part of our history now, Helen. I think Tony will be very happy to know he put new life into an old myth.

Meanwhile, in our real world, as humans plan their return to the Moon aboard Artemis, what new mythology or inspiration will we create? We might learn from the example of Moonbase Commander John Koening who faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties in the opening episode of Space: 1999, and remarked that: “the giant leap for mankind is beginning to look like a stumble in the dark” – but then he and his astronauts spent the rest of the series working hard to disprove that utterance of human cynicism. We can’t get better role models than that.

Another Time, Another Place

Wrapper on Sunicrust bread advertising Space:1999 swap cards, Australia, 1975. Personal collection.

Space:1999 was undeniably a product of its time. Its sets and atmosphere were clearly influenced by the 1968 movie, 2001:A Space Odyssey, a cultural mentorship that might also have helped to inspire the name of the series. The 1970s pastel costumes and electric guitar theme tune; the female roles in need of discovering women’s liberation; Commander John Koenig’s tendency to alternate between seeking wise advice from a sage (Professor Bergman) and descending into fits of toxic masculine outrage as a form of leadership; all these reflect the times within which the series was made. The two lead actors (Martin Landau and Barbara Bain) were fresh from the US TV series Mission Impossible, and the opening credits of each episode of Space:1999 mirrored that other series in providing tantalising glimpses of what was coming up in “this episode”.

A major influence from the era was the original Star Trek TV series, telecast the decade before Space:1999 but achieving increasing fame during this time as a fan favourite in reruns. Apparently William Shatner (Captain Kirk in Star Trek) was at some point considered for the role of Commander Koenig in 1999, and the role untimately went to Martin Landau, who had once been considered for the role of Spock in Star Trek. The lead characters of Koenig, Bergman and Russell might be seen to be a parallel to the Star Trek triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Later, a resident alien (Maya) was introduced into Space:1999 season 2 to replace Bergman and to more fully flesh out the concept of a science officer (Spock template) being played by an alien character. But the most challenging connection between the two shows was the appointment of Fred Freiberger as Space: 1999 producer for Season 2, which was loudly trumpeted as a win for the series given that he had produced season 3 of the original Star Trek. Fans judged differently: Freiberger had produced the final season of the Trek, which they also judged to be the worst. I recall one Trek fan suggesting – perhaps somewhat unfairly – that Freiberger had killed Star Trek, and maybe he would do the same for Space: 1999. In any event, Freiberger’s season 2 of 1999 was so execrable that it did kill the series. I consider the two seasons of Space:1999 to comprise the British version (season 1) and the US version (season 2), and my comments about the show are confined to season 1 only. Others may disagree with my assessment of season 2, but either way, this dichotomy echoes the life and times of its creators.

In some aspects, Space 1999 has more in common with Doctor Who than with Star Trek. The latter was an expression of the American’s self-justification of colonisation, the ‘manifest destiny’ philosophy where they were justified in spreading their society behind current borders, like the Romans bringing civilisation to other lands. This is also the underlying tenet of the Western genre, which is understood to be Roddenberry’s motivation for having a western adventure set in space – or a ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’. Space: 1999 might be seen to have its origin in the H.G. Wells school of thought, most typically the traveler in The Time Machine finding excitement in exploration. Wells was a humanist liberal too and this was copied for the character of the Doctor. It might arguably also be seen in the character of Professor Victor Bergman within Space:1999, who was described in the Space: 1999 Writers’ Guide as ‘a 19th Century scientist-philosopher-humanist’ (Wood, 2014, ‘Personnel’). Actor Barry Morse (who played Bergman), a self-described ‘born-again agnostic’, credited series contributors such as Johnny Byrne, Chris Penfold, and George Bellak, with contributing to the humanist philosophy within the series (Wood, 2014, ‘Afterword’).

Age Green Guide 24 July 1975 (page 1)


Perhaps the biggest indicator of its era was its actual treatment of science fiction as a genre. The so-called ‘golden era’ of science fiction is often recalled as being the ‘pulp’ era, when some of its greatest writers rose to prominence on the back of variously penny-dreadful (or outstandingly good) pulp magazines. This led to the ingrained media attitude that sci fi was a B-grade, cheap pulp kiddie genre, perhaps as demonstrated by Lost In Space, a TV sensation in the 1960s that featured world-class actors, costumes and sets – but often woeful scripts. A decade later, Space:1999 followed suit, with its lavish production values in everything except the scripts themselves, not doing full justice to the characters or the scope of its stories. This is evidenced by the very first words to appear as an opening subtitle in the very first scene of the very first episode, which referred to the far side of the Moon as the ‘dark side’; this episode also set the scene for the entire series by featuring an implausible nuclear explosion that threw the Moon out of Earth orbit and forever beyond the Solar System, also virtually ignoring the realities of gravity and rocket engineering, orbital mechanics and planetary geology; along with the extremes of distance and cold that would impact the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha on their interstellar travels. Feedback from fans and critics alike panned the show for this problem from the start: “Many of the letters mention the same problem: the show lacks scientific accuracy” (Heald, 1976, 193).

One might even see an influence from 1974’s ‘Echo of Battle‘, an episode of the TV series Warship that was concurrent with the development of Space:1999; featuring a former German submariner coming to terms with his WW2 past – also reflected in the character of Ernst Queller, a German scientist in Space:1999 with an equally troublesome past (one might even ponder the perspective through which both German characters are assigned guilt, whereas nobody from Britain or anywhere else might have similar skeletons in their closet).

It is in fact when we move beyond such stereotypical notions that we find the truest potential of Space: 1999 and all sci fi. German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun – later the head rocket engineer who built NASA’s Saturn V rockets which landed men on the Moon in the 1960s – wrote as the President of the National Space Institute in praise of Space: 1999 during the series’ production:

“Presented on the mass medium of television, Space:1999 will stimulate the public interest in the potentials of space technology in such fields as energy, environment, natural resources, and food production.” (Heald, 1976, 199).

This explains the ongoing attraction of the series to legions of fans, both during its initial run and now, some decades later. I recall one school friend in the 1970s making jokes about computer scientist David Kano of Moonbase Alpha falling in love with his computer – but then that friend grew up to become an IT engineer himself. Inspiration can find many forms, even if the original source of inspiration is itself flawed.

The Moon from Mansfield (c) 2020 Kirsten Trecento (Used by permission).

Matter of Life and Death

It’s easy today, with the benefit of hindsight and fifty years of societal development, to be critical of a TV series that exhibited a white, heterosexual, British, male gaze – and to celebrate that we have hopefully evolved since those days. But the resilience of the embattled characters in Space:1999, along with their awe, puzzlement and determination to overcome every strange, unknown, cosmic vista and challenge that came their way, serves as an example to us all. Science and technology can help us fight our struggles, but humanity and inner wisdom are an integral part of what makes us human and gives us hope for the future. Space may be the frontier, but it is the human endeavour that brings meaning to our journey.

“We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” – Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders

Space: 1999 is dismissed somewhat in the English speaking world, possibly because it bears more than a little resemblance to European cinema which includes long moments of silence and thought rather than a moving narrative and action (the latter is an absolute requirement of American television, and explains the recalibration brought to the series by Freiberger for season 2). Though Space: 1999 has moments of action and visual excitement – usually on show in the title sequences – it’s a quieter series than you’d find in an American production, or even most UK-made TV series of the time.

Ultimately, this flawed product – like Gerry Anderson and Gene Roddenberry themselves – shines with the potential of humanist optimism and just a touch of naiveté. It reflects a reverence for arts and culture as a way to entertain, inspire and motivate us all towards an enlightened future. The words of Humanist Juneline Velonta seem pointedly pertinent: “Science and Technology may be the gateways to the moon and to the stars, but it is art that makes the journey worth it.”

Edited on 5 August 2023 to add references from Robert E Wood regarding humanism in the series, particlarly in relation to Victor Bergman and Barry Morse.


Chris Bentley, 2003. The Complete Gerry Anderson: the Authorised Episode Guide, London: Reynolds & Hearne (2nd edition).

Tim Heald, 1976. The Making of Space 1999, New York: Ballantine.

Juneline Velonta, 2021. The Role of Art in a Humanistic Society, Humanist Voices, 17 August.

Robert E. Wood, 2014. Destination: Moonbase Alpha, Prestatyn: Telos Publishing (ebook).

©2023 Geoff Allshorn & David McKinlay

From Fan Fiction to Future

Apollo 11 Saturn V on launch pad 39A, 1 July 1969. NASA Photo.

Was Neil Armstrong a Trekkie? Did ‘Wagon Train’ fan fiction help inspire us to go to the Moon? And might Luke Skywalker create a better future for humanity than Jesus?

Thirty years ago, I was privileged to interview someone who had just been selected for astronaut training by NASA. He spoke to me of how Star Trek and other sci fi from his childhood had inspired him to pursue a career in the stars.

A dozen years later, another astronaut – Neil Armstrong, no less – attended a Star Trek convention and spoke in praise of its inspirational impact:

“So, I’m hoping for my next command, to be given a Federation starship…

“…I am an engineer. And if I get that command, I want a chief engineering officer like Montgomery Scott. Because I know Scotty will get the job done and do it right. Even if I often hear him say, ‘But Captain, I dinna have enough time!’

“So from one old engineer to another, thanks, Scotty.”

21st July (Australia time) marks the anniversary of Armstrong (and Aldrin)’s landing on the Moon aboard the Apollo 11 lunar module, the Eagle – one of the most significant historical events in living memory. The 1969 flight of Apollo 11 (and the overall space program) was the culmination of dreams that began the first time we looked up into the skies. Perhaps Lucy – our distant ancestor who left her footprints in an African gully in prehistoric times – stumbled and fell to her death as she gazed distractedly upward at the Moon, where Armstrong would leave his own footprints some uncountable millennia later. Or so we can ponder – as perhaps Lucy pondered. Such is the stuff of which dreams and imaginings are made.

Such dreams fuel our passions – or reflect them. The aforementioned Star Trek TV series was marketed as a rebooted Wagon Train TV series set in space – pioneers and explorers travelling to the stars. And as Wagon Train fan fiction was being written over subsequent years, men were landing and walking on the Moon. Did such aspirational dreams fuel reality – or did they reflect it? In this vein, it is interesting to be mindful of the similarities (and differences) between the lunar travellers in the classic sci fi novel by Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon and the actual Apollo Moon program a century later.

“Ever since I saw the moon landing as a young teenager, I was determined I would go into space one day.” – Richard Branson

Artemis 1 Prelaunch, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

As humanity prepares to return to the Moon – a generation after Apollo – aboard the Artemis program, we can speculate about the cultural shift from naming a moonshot program after a mythical male God (Apollo) in the 1960s, to his mythical female counterpart (Artemis) in the 2020s. Like the space program itself, our astronaut selection and cultural norms have become more inclusive of diversity and much more. Artemis was not only a Moon goddess, but also deity connected to nature and the environment – suggesting that we are more open to understanding our place in the cosmos within a perspective of respecting our planet and its biosphere. As a species, we are changing, evolving… perhaps the communication technology spawned by Apollo has brought us closer together as a human family and as a participant in an active biosphere of organic, sentient life.

But the tendency to link the space program to mythology is itself changing in our culture. Our literature that most closely resembles and portrays space – science fiction – is a modern, interesting, and exciting form of secular story-telling. Its birth as a modern-day art form coincided with the height of the Apollo program, with the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey; and subsequent hard-science speculations (Contact, Interstellar, Gravity), which help us to glimpse the numinous in our cosmos.

Herein lies a warning and a challenge: we must be careful to remain creators of our dreams and not just consumers. Luke Skywalker and Doctor Who must not be only our imaginary heroes: they must be our role models in real life. We must follow their example to confront hardship and make the world a better place.

“For change to happen it does not only need to change opinions, there needs to be a way for the changed opinion to be turned into action.”
– Timothy Underwood, When Can Fiction Change the World?

Does sci fi inspire science, or does science inspire sci fi? We all need arts, music, writings and culture to inspire us and to fully optimise our human experience and potential. I would suggest that sci fi is a form of fan fiction, interacting with science and scientists to offer contributions (culturally and scientifically) to upcoming scientific, cultural and technological revolutions.

Meanwhile, ponder the Internet and IT or mobile phone technology that allows you to read this blog. You can thank Neil Armstrong and the army of Apollo engineers and scientists who led the scientific revolution that shaped your world today. Now, imagine how Artemis and its technology will change our culture, our technology, our dreams, and the next generation.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

We Are The Children of the Space Age

Apollo 17 launch. This was the only night launch done during Apollo. 7 December 1972. (NASA photo – scan by Kipp Teague).

It is now over 50 years – more than a generation – since humans last walked on the Moon.

The Apollo 17 mission, from 7 to 19 December 1972, was the only Apollo mission to launch at night, and the only mission to explicitly feature a scientist as an astronaut – and our sciences continue to benefit from that mission.

Those were the days when only straight, white men were considered as having ‘the right stuff’ to be US astronauts. When Moonwalkers Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt left the lunar surface on 14 December 1972, their departure marked the end of the Apollo Moon mission era, and no humans have returned to the Moon since then.

But our world has changed.

Astronauts these days include a range of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, genders, nationalities, and sexualities, many of whom have flown on space shuttles or the International Space station, all of them in lower Earth orbit. When the Artemis program returns humans to the Moon starting around 2025, NASA proudly boasts that this will include the first women and the first people of colour to walk on the Moon.

But the biggest change can be found here on Earth. Our smart phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, computers, entertainment streaming services, agriculture and food processing, medicine and medical equipment, everyday and sporting footwear and clothing – everything from the Internet to smart watches, from weather forecasting to traffic control – all these modern technologies came out of the scientific boom that was needed to send men to the Moon. We live in a space age world that was created by Apollo. We are the first genuine space age generation.

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

Sadly, that same cynical generation of young adults – too young to have lived through the space race – are happy to interact with the space age technology in their daily lives while expressing doubts that it ever happened. Their disbelief borders on the edge of that twilight zone where critical thinking battles scepticism and loses – such as believing that aliens built the pyramids because of a (somewhat racist) doubt that a pre-modern (non-white) human civilisation was capable of astonishing feats of engineering.

We must remember that people are capable of great feats of science and technology, and we do not need conspiracies to inflate our achievements. Our world, and our daily lives, are testimony to the explosion of technology that the space age birthed. Moon hoax conspiracies are as fantastical as are flat earth theories or the proposal that Australia is a fake place full of paid crisis actors.

The space program has touched our lives in practical ways that are ubiquitous. It must now also touch our understanding and our hearts. We are children of the space age, and we need to recognise our place in this new world.

“Space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space.” – Christa McAuliffe.

©2023 Geoff Allshorn

Trekking on the Edge of the Yarra

The local Star Trek club, Austrek, will soon approach its fiftieth birthday. One of its pioneer members, Paul Murphy, recalls glimpses of its early days when people subscribed to the Star Trek adage that the human adventure is just beginning.

Launch of Apollo 11, 16 July 1969 (NASA Photo)

(Interviewed by email)

You became interested in the space program at an early age. Why do you think that was?

Who, alive in 1969, wasn’t caught up in the first manned moon landing?? I’m pretty sure John F. Kennedy didn’t know what he started when he set the USA a national goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth before the end of that decade. For one thing, out of the space program came our modern computer/technology age.

When were you introduced to science fiction?

I recall reading a book at primary school called Peter Graves (not the actor from Mission Impossible and Flying High etc). The story involved a scientist developing a substance that allowed one to defy gravity. This must have been my first Sci Fi-ish book. I think other early influences were books by Arthur C. Clarke (from 2001) then the usual greats: Heinlein, Asimov, and others.

When did you become involved in Star Trek and why do you think it had such a strong attraction to so many people?

Star Trek? It was on black & white television. I must have enjoyed because I watched it. I also watched Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and other shows from that era. One memory I have is my siblings and I agreeing that we liked Trek better when they weren’t “horsing around the ship”.

In hindsight now, I’m glad they did the original cast movies. I like them because they show diversity: Sulu got a command, and Uhura did more than answer the telephone. On the local front, as an example of diversity, you guys let me join in and have some fun!

When did you become involved in Austrek?

I was walking past The Ritz Cinema (the Lithuanian Club) in North Melbourne during the late 1970s, when I noticed toward an A3-sized poster for a ‘Dusk ‘til Dawn Star Trek Marathon’. I think at first I dismissed it, but I was feeling restless and adventurous at age 17, so I decided that because I liked the show, I’d like to attend the Marathon. There, I discovered Austrek through the flyers that were displayed on the theatre counter during intermission. I applied for membership because there was the newsletter, magazine meetings if I wanted to attend, and I corresponded with Geoff by post.

What are your most memorable memories of some of the early Austrek people and/or events?

The first meeting I attended was in a church hall in Fairfield, Melbourne. It was my first train adventure on the Hurstbridge line. I was greeted at the Fairfield station exit by one member wearing an Austrek T Shirt, and realized that it wasn’t just me getting off the train for this. At these meetings and at the local Star Trek Marathons, I ended up meeting amazing people, like Diane Marchant, who was corresponding with Gene Roddenberry [Star Trek creator] before I even knew his name.

I just met so many different people across all kinds of kinds of “divides” – whether ethnicity, social class, sexuality, age or whatever. I even met my first trans friend in Austrek, and it just felt right for him. The thing we all had in common was one television show that showed promise for the future.

Hand drawn Xmas card from Paul Murphy, c. 1978. From Geoff Allshorn’s personal collection.

Your cartoons (Jim Kirk Show, etc) were creative and memorable. Do you remember any responses from readers?

I recall that artist Mike McGann from Sydney told me he liked my work, and encouraged me to make a little money selling artwork. I politely declined, amazed that anyone liked my stuff at all.

Another memory, and this is deep: some bloke at a meeting asked me, “Where did you learn to do this?” I did the brush off (“just a bit of fun” etc) but that night I sat in the dark and asked myself exactly where did I learn to do it? They don’t teach you at school. I remembered drawing with my brother, copying at first then changing style. Maybe I absorbed one too many Mad magazines in the 1970’s; thanks to Mort Drucker, I was off on my artistic journey!!!

Spock #5, August 1977. Cover Art by Sue Keck

Diane Marchant once told me that Gene Roddenberry praised your cartoons, and suggested that he could find you work if you ever came to Hollywood…

Yes I do remember Diane sent of a copy of Spock to “The Great Bird of the Galaxy”. I think it was the issue with the red cover. I remember someone telling me this and I hope he got a laugh after all the enjoyment he’s given me with the TV show he created. I had also hoped it would give Diane some cred for Gene to know that his show was having an impact half a planet away in Australia. But offering me work in Hollywood?? I never heard that. I very much doubt I’d have jumped on a plane to Burbank… but stranger things have happened.

Starrag fanzine – content and artwork by Paul Murphy

Why did you create the Starrag fanzine? What can you tell me about it and any responses etc?

Ok, the truth. I suggested it at a Trekcon 2 committee meeting. The idea was if we get it out to a wider audience, we might make money for helping to run the con. The fanzine was a mix of old and new material.

I showed a copy to Merv Binns at Space Age Bookshop, and he agreed to put a couple on display. It wasn’t exactly a shelf clearer. I worked down the road and would sometimes wander up to Space Age Books to check its progress. The fanzine wasn’t moving. I felt disappointed. Oh well, I tried!

A screen grab from the 1975/6 fan film ‘Apollo 19’, courtesy of Paul Murphy.

What preparation did you have for the fan film, City on the Edge of the Yarra ?

I made a Super 8 film called ‘Apollo 19’, which I started in 1975 (‘Sack Kerr’ was written in graffiti on the side of the rocket) and finished in 1976 (which is why the Enterprise makes an appearance). It included every film trick I knew: rear projection, animation, miniatures, even pyrotechnics. I was lucky I didn’t blow myself up! So when Stephen came up with City, I was really good to go – especially using someone else’s money (I think Russell [club treasurer] let Stephen have a budget of around $100, which we spent mostly on purchasing film stock.)

Photo courtesy of Paul Murphy

What do you recall of the making of City?

Stephen asked me to play Spock in his proposed movie. I said yes. I’d already been asked to play McCoy in someone else’s film, but I said yes straight away to Steve. I recall playing Spock when I insisted on having a moustache. This required spirit gum, latex, toilet paper, and heaps of makeup. Taking it off afterwards? OUCH! I shaved. We filmed in the city, and received comments like: “Whatch s’possed to be, Dr Spock?” I remember driving out to Nunawading (Steve didn’t have a car) to get the film hot off the AGFA presses so we could see the “rushes”. I suggested a couple of cheap joke cutaways, and Steve kept them in. Re-doing the tiles by myself in Canberra coz all this new video editing software and I still had the end credit cards. Apart from that, I don’t remember a lot now. Just fun.

City was probably one of the earliest Star Trek fan films ever made. What do you think is its legacy?

Super 8 film movie cameras and young chaps are a dangerous mix. Stephen is a talented fellow and I’m glad I got to collaborate.

Paul recalls some ‘City on the Edge of the Yarra’ tech details:

Shot using AGFA Super 8 film.

100 ASA (an American standard that indicated the film sensitivity to light).

18 Frames Per Second (fps) which is standard for silent film.

Super 8 millimeter film came in cartridges that ran from start to finish.

I read that something plastic could be broken by a screwdriver or similar to allow the film to be rewound a short bit to enable double exposures. I never tried this but Stephen did and succeeded.

Cartridges held 50 feet of film (25 meters) which at 18 fps lasted just under 3 minutes. If you looked around they could be bought for about $5.00.

Stephen had the finished film (approx 400 ft) soundstriped. This means a strip of magnetic tape was glued to each side of the film. Between the sprocket holes one side and the edge on the other. It is on this track that music,sound and dialogue was recorded after editing.

Stephen allowed me custody of the only copy of the completed film reel (I’m amazed he did) to give to an audio/visual lab to have it copied onto video tape – which was a new thing on the home market in 1980.

I assume that because of the sound stripes on the film, the lab assumed it was sound film, so ran it at 24 fps. This is why Stephen sounds like a cross between Maxwell Smart and a chipmunk.

I also assume their equipment used automatic exposure, which took a while to catch up to the picture. Hence dark bits with sound and the bridge scene where Stephen and I appear to be combusting.

This was put on a Fuji L500 Betamax video cassette, and was later captured to computer.

I still had the title cards from 1979 so I scanned these to JPG files and with the original soundtrack replaced the start and end credits.

The emulsion (light sensitive coating on the plastic strip) was visible as grain on the image if overly projected. This is comparable to seeing individual pixels today.

I really can’t get over what’s available today. If we had access to those resources back then, we could have had so much more fun.

Austrek will soon celebrate its fiftieth birthday. What are your thoughts about that?

I feel so old!!! I’m glad it’s ongoing. Austrek is a place for people with a common interest to meet, communicate, interact. Even if it’s just TV and movies guess what guys? You grow up and learn other people’s story too. Not what you signed up for but I see it as a bonus. I’d just like to thank Geoff, Joan and Russell [foundation members] for making this even possible. Austrek was an offshoot of the Melbourne Amateur Science Club (M.A.S.C.) that took off on a life of its own! Who would have guessed?

(Updated on 16 April 2023 to add paragraph about his preparation for the making of the film, and on 20 April 2023 to add Paul’s recollection of ‘City’ technical details.)

©2023 Geoff Allshorn