Monday, January 26, 2015
From the 1950s to the end of the 1970s, many cult-tv series involving space travel predicted that man would, upon setting forth into the final frontier, establish an important stepping stone.
That stepping stone was a moon base, a fully-self-sufficient installation on the lunar surface.
In 2012, Mitt Romney mocked Newt Gingrich for proposing a moon base, but on this issue, I’m with Newt. Let’s have a moon base, and have one soon. The moon is our closest neighbor in the stars, we’ve been there before, and it just seems natural to expand humankind to that lonely natural satellite.
Until that happens, however, we must content ourselves with the great fictional moon bases of cult-television.
In the 1964 Outer Limits episode, “Moonstone,” a moon base is the hub for all the action when an alien stone -- possessing the intelligence of five brilliant alien scientists -- is discovered by the crew of a lunar facility.
Set in the year 2070, the Doctor Who (1963 – 1989) serial “The Moonbase” finds the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions landing on the moon and at an international moon base, only to learn that the villainous Cybermen have cast their metallic eyes upon it for invasion.
In the 1970s, two beloved Gerry Anderson live-action productions very prominently featured lunar bases.
In UFO (1970), SHADO established a base on the moon from which it could launch missile-firing Interceptors so as to stop alien incursions. Many of the officers on the base were female, and wore silver dresses and purple wigs for some unspecified reason. The commander of Moonbase late in the series was one of SHADO’s first recruits, Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez). She replaced Lt. Ellis in that role.
If anything, Space:1999 (1975 – 1977) was even more “moon-centric,” as all the action took place on Moonbase Alpha, a research hub for 311 scientists, technicians and astronauts. Moonbase Alpha’s other job was to monitor nuclear waste dumps, and the base was serviced by a fleet of Eagle spacecraft. On September 13, 1999, the moon was blasted out of Earth orbit, along with Alpha, sending its human crew into deepest space.
Another British series, Moonbase 3 (1973), was set on a slightly more future date: 2003. The series ran for just six episodes, and was an attempt to realistically depict life on such a facility. In the series lexicon, Moonbase 3 was the base for Europe, .although the United States also had a base (Moonbase 1), as did The Soviet Union (Moonbase 2) and China (Moonbase 4). The lead character in the series was Dr. David Caulder (Donald Houston), chief director of Moonbase 3.
A two-part episode during the last season of The Six Million Dollar Man (1973 – 1978) was called “The Dark Side of the Moon,” and was an adventure set on a modern-day moon base.
Earth as seen in The Super Friends cartoon of the 1970s also has a multi-national moon base.
And in 1991, a pilot program called Plymouth concerned the colonists living on a moon base. Alas, it never went to series.
|Identified by Pierre Fontaine: The Outer Limits: "Moonstone."|
|Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Doctor Who: "The Moonbase."|
|Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Gerry Anderon's UFO.|
|Identified by Pierre Fontaine: Moonbase 3 (1973)|
|Identified by Hugh: Moonbase Alpha, from Space:1999.|
|Identified by William Mercado: the Six Million Dollar Man: "The Dark Side of the Moon."|
|Identified by Hugh: Futurama.|
|Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "Kill the Moon."|
Sunday, January 25, 2015
In “Planet 46” the inaugural episode of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series Fireball XL5 (1962-1963) Space City’s World Patrol Headquarters and Commander Zero detect a missile approaching Earth.
Worse, it carries a “plan-a-tomic bomb,” a weapon capable to causing damage on a planetary scale.
In fact such weaponry is known to be a “million times more powerful than a hydrogen bomb.”
In space sector 25, Steve Zodiac, Robert the Robot and the rest of Fireball’s crew divert to intercept the missile. They explode it using radio-waves and trace its source to the mysterious Planet 46.
The ship heads to that planet, and Venus and Steve head out on their jet mobiles to explore the barren world, where no signs of life have been detected.
Before long, they spot a door in the side of a mountain, and a secret base inside. The aliens who dwell there, the Subterrans, are planning to launch a second attack. The aliens capture Steve and Venus, and launch a second deadly missile…this time trapping Venus aboard the speeding craft!
It’s up to Steve and Fireball XL5 to save Venus, and the Earth, from total annihilation…
Fireball XL5’s premiere episode looks eerily familiar. It’s a light rewrite, essentially, of the Supercar (1961) story “The Lost City.”
Both stories involve villains with secret bases, captured heroes, and weapons of mass destruction lobbed at a heavily-populated area. Both stories end with a pursuit (and the destruction of) a missile.
Accordingly, “Planet 46” is not a particularly original or scintillating half-hour. Later episodes of Fireball XL5 (including the one I will look at on Wednesday: “Flight to Danger”) are much stronger in terms of character development and storytelling than is this debut.
It’s ridiculous to judge a series made more than fifty years ago by today’s social standards, and yet by the same token it’s impossible to notice how poorly Venus is treated here compared to the male characters. She is a brilliant doctor and astronaut, and serves ably on landing party missions, and yet twice she is asked to make coffee for Steve Zodiac.
It’s such a strange dichotomy. The creators of the series knew that in the space age, female officers would fly spaceships and prove invaluable members of a team…and then they had them still acting according to 1960s sexist behaviors…like fetching coffee.
Two giant steps forward for woman, one step back for woman-kind. In the works of Gerry Anderson, this problem abated in the 1970s. UFO posited (two) female commanders of Moonbase and in Space:1999 Dr. Helena Russell and Maya were both crucial motivators in terms of the series’ action.
But Fireball XL5 is an early point in that evolution.
The dialogue in “Planet 46” is also much more basic (and clichéd) than the dialogue in later episodes. Steve has an exchange with the Subterran leader that goes like this:
“Unlike Earthman, we do not make mistakes!” declares the alien.
“That’s what you think!” Steve answers.
This same line of dialogue has been used on every Filmation superhero series since time immemorial. It’s so…trite. Not to mention lame.
But again, Fireball XL5 is clearly getting its space legs, and so it’s no wonder that the first episode is a bit wobbly.
“Planet 46” also features some nice, not to mention idiosyncratic, touches worthy of mention. I liked the alien “coma ray” which puts enemies to sleep. In this case, that means that the puppet characters literally go limp before your eyes.
I also enjoyed Steve’s space walk without a space suit (made possible by ingesting “oxygen pills.”)
Finally, Robert’s agitation about making a mistake is accompanied by jets of steam shooting out of his ears. That’s weird…but original and memorable.
I prefer Fireball XL5 to Supercar in part because I love the design and capabilities of the titular ship, but I also really enjoy the series’ storytelling when it is going full thrusters. When Fireball XL5 operates outside the standard evil-alien-wants-to-destroy-Earth-with-terrible-weapon paradigm on display here, it’s really a lot of fun.
On Wednesday: “Flight to Danger.”
When I write about the introductory montages to the TV programs of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (live action or Supermarionation), I keep coming back to T and A.
Only in this case "T and A" stands for "Technology" and "Action," because those are the hallmarks of these delightful and adventurous series.
Fireball XL5 (1962) is no exception.
The black-and-white series focuses on the adventures of astronaut Steve Zodiac and his incredible and impressive rocket-ship: the Fireball XL5.
The intro commences with an invitation to adventure aboard that very ship. Steve Zodiac (right) asks if Venus (left) is ready to commence the adventure. This is, by the way, an invitation to all of us in the audience as well.
Venus affirms her readiness, echoing our own. Finally, Steve utters the words "let's go," and then the two adventurers are off on their rocket sleds for a journey to the stars.
Next up, we get our first real view of the majestic rocket.
We see the tail fin and serial number of the ship (XL5). as well as its incredible, rear-mounted engine. Steve and Venus fly the length of the vessel, so we get a good, long look at this glorious piece of space age technology.
Today, of course, the rocket is sort of "retro-futuristic" in appearance, but back in the sixties, Fireball X-L5 with its pointed fins and cylindrical body represented the promise of the space age: a carriage into the next great frontier.
Our heroes board the ship next, and we get a view of the cockpit, from which the ship is controlled.
Once more, we get detailed, meticulous views of the incredible technology of Fireball XL5. I was talking to a friend recently who noted that these images are phallic in nature, especially when coupled with the series' theme song, which concerns a man who hopes to be an astronaut, who flies his love to space.
"My love would be a fireball every time I gazed into your eyes..." I told him -- and still feel -- that this is largely coincidence, and therefore a cynical reading of the montage. For me, the images and song are geared towards the young (and innocent) at heart. This is a story about a great adventurer and a great ship.
Next, we're off to that adventure, and the introductory montage transitions from the "T" (technology) to the "A" (action). A rocket-propelled mount pushes the ship along a lengthy track, and the Fireball heads to the sky!
Once more, look at the loving detail and commitment to that detail.
Not just in terms of the ship and its activities, but the miniature landscape that surrounds the launch. This is a major reason why so many fans love the works of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, I should add. It's not just the technology and the action, but the attention paid to crafting the entire world.
In the following images, the Fireball pierces the veil of the sky, and heads off into space. We learn our hero's name (Steve Zodiac) and the stars are our destination!
Here's the opening montage and then theme song of Fireball XL5.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
In “The Ancient One,” Korg (Jim Malinda), Bok (Bill Ewing) and Tane (Christopher Man) find an old man in a grave while out hunting, following a week of rain. The stranger’s name is Lar, and the people of his tribe have abandoned him because it believes an old man has no value in the survival-oriented world of the Neanderthal.
Although Bok wants to leave Lar for dead in the burial mound since that is the old man’s wish, Korg rescues him and brings him back to the cave.
This proves to be a good decision, because Lar demonstrates for his family a hunting technique that will distract a deer, and allow an easy kill. “A man can hunt a deer without throwing a spear,” Korg and the others learn.
The hunters in Lar’s tribe find Korg’s family, but don’t want to take Lar back with them, because he is too old to go hunting. Korg says the old man can remain with his family, because he has one great value: experience.
Although the message -- to respect and value your elders – is quite nice,“The Ancient One” is pretty much a straight-up re-hash of “The Picture Maker.”
To wit, this is the story of someone with unconventional, non-physical, non-survival skills (like the ability to draw, or the benefit of experience), but who is nonetheless welcomed into the family Korg.
Oddly, Lar stays with the family at the end of this episode, but by the next episode, “The Story of Lumi,” is gone, and not even mentioned once. It would have been much more interesting to report that the old man died, rather than to leave open a gaping discontinuity in the series.
And speaking of discontinuity, neither this episode, nor “The Picture Maker,” explain how Korg and his family won their home cave back from the original bear intruder.
I really like and enjoy Korg 70,000 BC, but it seems apparent that the rush of production is having an impact on the scripts at this juncture (more than half way into the run). There are a lot of good stories early on, like the amazing “The Hill People,” “Magic Claws” or even “The Moving Rock.” But this is one of those stories that seems to be flying on automatic pilot. There is nothing new here, just a substitution of one character (an elder too old to hunt) for another (a boy afraid to hunt).
Next week: “The Story of Lumi.”