Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rare 1960s TV: Space Patrol

Space Patrol (1962), Ep 09 (1/3): Husky becomes Invisible

Space Patrol was a science fiction television series featuring marionettes that was produced in the United Kingdom in 1962. It was written and produced by Roberta Leigh in association with the Associated British Corporation. For many years it was believed that all but a handful of episodes had been destroyed, until a complete cache of 16mm prints was discovered in the loft at Roberta Leigh's house. Despite their scratched and grainy condition, they were of sufficient historic interest to warrant a DVD release. Selected episodes were issued on DVD in 2001, and the complete series was released in 2003 on Region 0 discs.

The show featured the vocal talents of Dick Vosburgh, Ronnie Stevens, Libby Morris, Murray Kash and Ysanne Churchman, and comprised 39 half-hour episodes. This series is also known by its U.S. title Planet Patrol to avoid confusion with a U.S. series of the same name.

It concerned an interplanetary police force in the year 2100, and focused on the crew of Galasphere 347 under the command of heroic Captain Larry Dart. The crew includes elfin Slim from Venus, sausage-mad Husky, from Mars and the Martian parrot Gabbler (a Gabblerdictum). Providing technical support was Irish genius Professor Heggarty. Keeping them all on a tight rein are Colonel Raeburn and his super-efficient Venusian secretary Marla.

Leigh had previously worked with Gerry Anderson on children's puppet series, and there are some obvious similarities between Space Patrol and Anderson's Fireball XL5, although Space Patrol was made on a lower budget.

Although compared (and often confused) with the Gerry Anderson productions, Space Patrol stands out on its own. This is mainly due to the boldness of a few creative choices. The only music involved is extremely vanguard. Final credits always showed panoramic views of a gigantic city of the future, and never featured any music; only the throb of some industrial machinery, sounding like a gigantic pump or a steam engine, beat in rhythm. The male characters from planet Venus (Slim for example) presented obvious androgyne features (in contrast to the rustic, virile Martians). Thus the style of the entire series created an extremely eerie atmosphere, that remains rarely matched even by the best adult science-fiction on screen.

In this episode, when Dart is sent to Mars to find the eggs of the Aba bird to help find a cure for a condition known as the "floats", he calls on Professor Zeller who has discovered that his new star-measuring apparatus can make objects disappear.

When I saw this series as a child, I thought it was from Gerry Anderson -- but I couldn't understand why it was so bad. The puppets were crude and ugly, there was no dramatic music, and the entire styling was just cheap and unimaginative. And the robots -- not shown in this episode -- scared the bloody hell out of me. (In one episode, they revolt! It gave me nightmares for years!)

Seeing it decades later (which is a shock as for years everyone believed all the episodes had been lost!), I'm surprised at how adult it was compared to, say, Fireball XL5. It tried to adhere to actual science, the music was a harbinger of decades-away techno- ambient- industrial, and check out the pre-Star Trek pointed ears and the pre-punk spiked hair! There's also some very sly humor in the series -- and in this episode, so listen carefully!

This was apparently released in the U.S. at one time on VHS tapes. It's never been available here on DVD.

Apparently Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski was a big fan of this show during his childhood. He provided a blurb for the video cover, which also survived onto the British DVD set. See the text I've highlighted in red below:

Space Patrol (1962), Ep 09 (2/3): Husky becomes Invisible

Space Patrol (1962), Ep 09 (3/3): Husky becomes Invisible

Space Patrol fan website
Space Patrol wikipedia entry

1 comment:

snelly said...

great to see space patrolagain im 52 have faint memories ofthe series
its amazing what came flooding back
when i saw a clip
cant wait to see a clipwith the bandy legged robot that always seemed to walk past automatic doors