There’s no Wedding soup on The Moon. Or air. Of all that my father taught me, this lesson endures more than any other, in no small part because it is the result of my fandom of the British Sci-Fi TV show Space: 1999.
My interest in the show goes back to Christmas Day of 1977, when I got a copy of Space: 1999: Breakaway, a Power Records book and record as a gift, which was part of a series of comic books that were first printed in the 1970’s. The sets’ stories were based on popular characters and plots from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, movies, and television shows of the day, which were revised or written exclusively for the Power Records series. I was thrilled to receive Breakaway, as I had seen episodes of Space: 1999 on TV in bits and pieces with my mother. It was on Channel 13, my then-local PBS station, usually on Friday nights, usually at 11 O’clock, which was past my bedtime. Watching it was a treat, like eating multiple bowls of my Nonna Ida’s Wedding Soup on Christmas Eve.
Space: 1999 was on intermittently, and the episodes were often shown later than their initial release. In a time before streaming, YouTube, cable, satellite TV, VCR’s, VHS tapes, DVD’s, Blu-ray discs, streaming, computers or cellular phones, it was a challenge to watch programs produced overseas, which was made all the more daunting by the fact that nothing was on after midnight. Television slept when I was a child.
As much as Space: 1999 intrigued me, my memories of the show were relegated to sounds and images: Barry Gray’s theme music, with orchestration transforming into funk; quick flashes of scenes for the upcoming episode; Barry Morse’s ruminative study of a globe as his name came up on the screen.
Morse played the character Professor Bergman, who had thick sideburns and spoke differently from any other adults that I had heard before. In fact, only the characters Commander John Koenig, who was played by Martin Landau, a New York City native, and Dr. Helena Russell, who was played by Barbara Bain, a Chicago native, spoke like anyone I knew. I asked my mother why such was the case.
My mother explained. Barry Morse spoke with a “British accent” because he was English. She also informed me that most of the actors were from places other than America, which was why they sounded different, much like my Nonno Giovanni and Nonna Ida, who spoke “Broken English.”
“Broken?” I asked. “You mean like a wine glass?”
“Sure,” my mother said. “Now I’m thirsty. Thanks a lot.”
My mother also explained that my Breakaway comic was an adaptation of the show’s “pilot,” which I learned was what the first episode of a TV show is called. In so doing, I became familiarized with Space: 1999’s premise. September 13th, 1999. Humans dumped nuclear waste on the far side of the moon. Some of the waste explodes, which knocks The Moon out of Earth’s orbit and sends it and the 311 inhabitants of Moon Base Alpha, known as “The Alphans,” hurtling into space. They blast too far away from Earth to attempt a return. Faced with the reality of having to survive on limited supplies and never returning to Earth’s orbit, The Moon becomes a hybrid: part Noah’s Ark, part spacecraft, drifting through the ocean of space in order to find a new home where the Alphans can settle.
Although some of the Power Records book sets had a 78 RPM (Revolutions per minute) record to go with their magazine-sized comics, most of the books I owned were comic book sized, and came 45 RPM records, including Breakaway. It was in the back sleeve of the book, and was supposed to play as the audience read the story. This made me look closer and listen closer into each panel of the comic. By hearing other performer’s interpretations of Space: 1999’s characters, I looked at the way they were drawn more closely, which made for a singular comic book reading experience. As was stated on the front on Breakaway’s cover: “The action comes alive as you read!”
I played my Breakaway 45 at least as many times as Astronaut Alan Carter—who was portrayed by Nick Tate, an Australian actor, as my mother told me—crashed his Eagle 1 spacecraft outside of MoonBase Alpha on the show. Breakaway was especially fun to read at night. I gazed at The Moon in wonder after I read it. I swore that I could see an Eagle taking off; that I could hear the vrooms and swooshes of the engines kicking up moon dust as it lifts off into the sky.
Coupled with Johnny Mathis’ album Merry Christmas, Breakaway became a sonic standard during the holiday season in my family’s house. This displeased my father.
“Again with this, Mojo?” he said one day. “It’s Christmas time. I wanna hear Silver Bells or Winter Freaking Wonderland, not some people pretending to be European.”
“You mean British,” I said. “Besides, the lead characters are American.”
“They’re not Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock,” my father said.
“Spock’s an alien, Pop. The Alphans are humans.”
My father lit a cigarette. Benson and Hedges. “Tell me something. Space: 1999 takes place on The Moon, right?”
My father clenched his hand into a fist. “Well, that’s where I’m gonna send you if you don’t put on Johnny Mathis right now. Capisce?”
“You’ll spend Christmas on the moon. There’s no Wedding soup or air there, so—”
“Ok, ok,” I said. I changed the record in record time.
Within seconds, Johnny Mathis’ voice drifted in smoke rings in the living room as my father leaned back in the overbaked-carrot-orange loveseat. I sat quietly in a sonic, albeit smoky Winter Wonderland.
I only saw a handful of Space: 1999 episodes on TV after that holiday season. Even worse, the show was cancelled after its third series: its third season, with the Alphan’s fate unknown. My Breakaway record became too scratched to play, and I don’t know what became of my comic, other than it was lost. Rumor had it that Candy, our sickly family poodle, had bit and ripped it to shreds. But I never believed that, and I told my father, who started it, so.
“Give it a rest Mojo,” he said. “Space 1999 was so long ago.”
It’s hard to believe that I’m almost the same age Martin Landau was when Space: 1999 made its TV debut. It’s harder to know that Candy is dead; that Nonno Giovanni and Nonna Ida are also dead, and that I have yet to visit Orsogna, Italy, where they were born and raised. America was their Terra Alpha; the place where they settled after years of struggle in the aftermath of World War II. Terra Alpha was revealed to be the planet where the Alphans settled in Message from Moonbase Alpha, a featurette that provided an unofficial conclusion to Space 1999. It was shown at a fan convention on September 13th, 1999.
Although the characters of Space: 1999’s creators and producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s imaginations, I submit that the actors, especially Barry Morse and Nick Tate portrayed their characters with adroit blends of rumination, vulnerability, and empathy. They were resourceful, persistent, and possessing the capacity to learn and adapt to new surroundings. Unlike the crew of the original Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise, who I also adore—and who had the means to deal with any situation that came their way—the Alphans made the most out of what little they had, knowing that their survival depended on it. This was also the case for my ancestors, who came to America out of necessity as much as desire, knowing full well that they might never return to Italy. Some of them have, and they barely recognize their villages, which have been rebuilt. America has yet to return to The Moon, just as some members of my family have yet to be in Italy again.
My spouse gave me a new copy of Breakaway a few years ago. I haven’t played its pristine 45, but I listen to recordings of it via YouTube videos and read along with my comic. Then I watch and listen to Johnny Mathis’ rendition of Winter Wonderland. The smell of Benson and Hedges smoke fills my nose.
The cosmologist and author Carl Sagan posited, “Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors.” The more I read and listen to my newest copy of Breakaway, the more I have come to understand that Space: 1999 appeals to me from a migratory aspect. I see the show’s characters as cosmic immigrants. The Moon is to them what the S.S. Christopher Columbus was to my Nonno Giovanni, my Nonna Ida, and my mother. They suffered through a curious combination of hunger, sickness, and uncertainty in their journey to America, just as Commander Koenig and the Alphans’ journey through the cosmos for a place to settle was arduous. I continue to read Breakaway because it taps into the wisdom of both, the characters of Space: 1999 and my grandparents: my nonni; their legacy of persistence, which I hear in the salty Atlantic dialect of waves crashing on the shorelines of Ellis Island.
If look at The Moon long enough, I can see Carter crashing Eagle 1 by Fra Mauro, Tycho, or some other famous crater. To date, the last human being to walk on The Moon was Gene Cernan. That was in December of 1972, the year of my second Christmas. I ponder the possibility of if or when human beings will return there; if an agency will build a base, barracks, or some other type of setup where people will live and work. I wonder if such occurrences will take place during my lifetime. I hope that going to The Moon will become a distinct possibility again, just as it was when my mother brought me into the world.
My dreams are at their apex when The Moon is full, especially in a clear December night sky. It is white vinyl, spinning on a turntable of clouds; the taste of basil, wilted in Wedding soup broth, succulent in my mouth; the action coming alive as I read the pages of a comic book sky; its panels packed with remarkable spacecrafts, resplendent stars, constellations, and clever, resourceful, and compassionate men and women with indomitable spirits: human beings taking raw data and transforming it into shared knowledge to survive; to find a home that will be as supportive of them as they are to each other, investigating one planet at a time.
Joey Nicoletti is the author of 8 poetry collections, including Boombox Serenade (BlazeVOX, 2019), and Cannoli Gangster, which was a finalist for the 2009 Steel Toe Books Award. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Joey teaches creative writing at SUNY Buffalo State.