Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sunday 6 January 1963

This edition of the late Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation spacestravaganza sees the crew of spaceship XL2 trapped in a cave on the planet Monotane by the monster of the title - a cute, boggle-eyed dino who I'm sure is just trying to be friendly.

Commander Zero and Lieutenant Ninety of World Space Patrol (there's a strange sexual atmosphere between these two) attempt to send the crew of Fireball XL5 to rescue the stranded spacemen, but it takes a while to get an answer from them: Space Doctor Venus (tip: put the word "space" before any job title to make it sound more exciting and up to date) and her pet Lazoon (a permanently stoned space monkey with the face of Adrian Chiles) have the stereo turned up as they try out olde-timey dance routine "the twist".

XL5's captain Steve Zodiac, of course, is far too cool to indulge in such antiquated frippery ("it may have been the rage a hundred years ago, but it's not for me") and sits watching disdainfully (or as disdainfully as his permanent facial expression allows).

Note the splendid space age interior design in Steve's flat in those above shots - even better is the interior of Fireball XL5 itself, which we get to see once our heroes finally embark on their way to Monotane.

Strangely risqué picture on the left there
But as lovely as a show that just featured puppets wandering about various modernist interiors would be, for some reason it was decided that wouldn't appeal to children of the early 60s.  Once they arrive on Monotane Steve and Venus quickly zoom off into action and adventure on their flying space bikes.  They rescue the men of XL2, who thank them with the expected dose of sexism: "sure am glad we've got a space doctor here - she's pretty too!".  The monster's eventually driven away by the Lazoon's amazing powers of mimicry.

Fireball XL5 contains many elements that might seem odd to viewers of today - one of the most noticeable is the truly bizarre character design.  Some of the faces on the show's human characters are thoroughly grotesque, and wouldn't look amiss leering down from the buttresses of a Medieval church.  Take, for example, Ken Johnson of XL2 and his extreme case of mumps:

Not to mention Lieutenant Ninety and his eyebrows, which even put Ghost Squad's Donald Wolfit to shame:

Fortunately the puppets of future Supermarionation productions would be slightly less nightmare-inducing.

As with Thunderbirds and Stingray it's a bit galling that in a British-made show most of the main characters talk in American accents (I suppose British people in space just didn't seem quite as glamorous).  Some deeply odd American accents in some cases: XL5's boffin Professor Matt Matic sounds like a Wild West prospector (I'm hoping the word "dagnabbit" will escape those curiously sculpted lips in a future episode).  The exceptions are Venus, with her husky French accent (provided by Gerry Anderson's wife Sylvia) and the ship's robot Robert, whose glum English voice (provided by Mr Anderson himself, using an "electronic larynx") makes him seem a likely inspiration for Marvin the Paranoid Android.

And finally, here are some more pictures of the Space Monster, just because I like him so much.

Bye bye for now!
You can watch Space Monster here, if you feel so inclined:

And to play us out, here's the tune at the top of this week's hit parade.  It's Cliff and the Shadows with "The Next Time":


  1. Sunday January 6th 1963,ATV London for Fireball XL5 Episode Space Monster Teleplay by The late Gerry Anderson and The Director John Kelly made in Black & White otherwise(not in colour).

    The Huge infamous monster with the big eyes also the other episode Stingray Loch Ness Monster Teleplay by The late Dennis Spooner and The Director Alan Pattillo and shot in colour since 1964.

    Doctor Venus is dancing with her pet lazoon,Zoonie with welcome home and howdy folks and captain of Fireball XL5 Steve Zodiac.

    The Great Original ITV Programme Fireball XL5 from 1962-63 made by ATV London on Saturdays & Sundays,ATV Midlands on Mondays to Fridays.

    Terry Christie,from Sunderland,Tyne & Wear.

  2. The Fireball XL5 end titles song performed by future Playschool regular Don Spencer.