Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sunday 17 March 1963

In my musings on last week's Fireball XL5 I mentioned that a couple of shots looked like they could have been prototypes for similar images in Star Wars.  This week's episode looks even more like it could have been something that stuck in a young George Lucas's head, had he seen it.  Look at that opening shot.

And what's more, the spaceship we can see a section of there is in fact an enormous craft the size and shape of a planet.  Look a tad familiar?

This unholy heavenly body is spotted by Matt Matic, who, much to his colleagues' amusement, has taken up old fashioned stargazing with a telescope, shunning the high-tech astronomical equipment that litters space city ("Jeepers! What will he get up to next?").  It's a wonder he manages to see anything at all, both because he has to take off his ultra-thick pebble glasses to use the telescope and because Zoonie the Lazoon keeps getting in his way.  If you've ever wanted to see a close view of Zoonie's behind, this is the episode for you.

"Jumpin' starfish! There's a Lazoon in orbit!"

Matt decides to name the new world he's discovered Planet Matic, but is shot down in flames a tad when none of Space City's equipment is able to detect it and everybody just thinks he's an old fool (which normally would not be without justification).  However, as Planet Matic gets ever closer and eventually eclipses the moon it becomes increasingly obvious that Matt was in fact right.  The XL5 gang fly off to investigate, only for Fireball Jr to be mysteriously drawn inside the artificial planet.  Steve, Venus and Matt find themselves in a strange, dark world made all the more atmospheric by Barry Gray's brilliant, eerie music.

The unnamed inhabitants of this world are probably the most wonderful Fireball XL5 aliens yet: they look like tiny metal Mekons, and their wheedling voices are reminiscent of that episode of The Simpsons where a drugged-up Mr Burns is mistaken for an extraterrestrial.

Alarmed at having intruders, the aliens decide to turn Steve and his crew into mindless machine creatures like themselves.  Even though they claim nobody's ever found their planet before, they have a convenient memory-wiping machine on hand in their Treatment Room to facilitate this process.

As the episode's title implies, Fireball XL5's most underused character, Robert the Robot, gets a little bit of the spotlight this week ("You know, I don't think we appreciate Robert enough," Venus says at one point - quite right too).  The only member of the Fireball crew the aliens can't brainwash (or reprogram, presumably), the evil space goblins instead command a zombified Venus to get rid of him.

As you'd expect from the title Robert to the Rescue, Robert manages to escape and guide his chums to safety.  Once back aboard ship, their memories return - except for those relating to their time in the artificial planet.  Space Doctor Venus puts the whole thing down to a case of space hallucination.

Robert to the Rescue is another episode from the pen of the great Dennis Spooner, and has his hallmarks of humour and rip-roaring adventure all over it.  As with most XL5 episodes though, it's probably best not to analyse the plot in too much detail.

And here's Robert to the Rescue for you to watch RIGHT NOW.

Now to this week's charts: Cliff Richard's replaced Frank Ifield at number one, while the Beatles are at two.  At number four, here's Billy Fury with "Like I've Never Been Gone":


  1. Speaking of influences... Joss Whedon was at school in the UK during the transmission of Blake's Seven.

  2. Regrettably, this is not the version of "That's What Love Will Do" that was a hit in 1963. It is a re-recording made many years later.

    1. Thanks for that, Chris. It was very remiss of me not to listen to it before I posted it. I've not been able to find the original version to link to, so I've now replaced it with that week's number 4 - which I did actually listen to in order to make sure!