Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sunday 31 March 1963

This week, the Fireballers (as I've decided to call them) discover a mysterious chunk of debris floating in space.  It turns out to be part of the radio from the TA2, an early space vehicle that went missing 48 years earlier along with its pilot, Colonel Denton.  Steve Zodiac senses the chance to solve a long-standing mystery, and indeed before long he and the gang find the sinister-looking wreckage of the ship itself.

Steve, Matt and Venus float out to the ghost ship to investigate.  I love the way their little legs wiggle in the air as they fly about (not that there's actually supposed to be any air).

After a protracted bit of pratting about involving Matt being flung out into space by Steve hitting him with a door, they decide to head to Denton's planned destination, the planet Octan.  "The planet Octan is freezing cold and covered in ice!" warns Matt - although with his old-timey prospector accent it sounds more like he's saying it's covered in arse.  Which is certainly an interesting idea.  It seems rather optimistic to think they can just plonk themselves down and expect to find what they're looking for, but maybe it's just a very small planet.

Octan looks much like every other rocky, inhospitable world in the show, except it's sprayed white and there's the odd stalagmite about.  Still, it gives our regulars a splendid chance to show off their winter ensembles - Venus's being quite extraordinarily glam.

Venus in furs

Exploring the icy landscape Venus slips and falls (or, more accurately, flops) into a gaping abyss.

When Matt and Steve head down after her, they find themselves overcome by a mysterious gas, and awake to find themselves, along with their glamorous space doctor friend, strapped to slabs (I do love a good slab-strapping) under a roof of deadly-looking icicles.  They've been imprisoned by the natives of Octan, whose appearance is startling, to say the least.

Convinced the Fireballers have come to kidnap their king, they set the roof to vibrate, the idea being that if our heroes are guilty, they'll be impaled by the great big icicles hanging above them.  Luckily they're not - and it turns out their optimism was justified as the Octan king turns out to be none other than Colonel Denton of the TA2.  And, predictably enough, the icicle castle from Last of the Zanadus is recycled as his palace.

Denton's been ruling the Octans for so long now that he doesn't want to leave them, so wishing the XL5 crew well he sends them away.  The main plot of the episode ends quite early, which luckily (?) means there's time for a humorous coda featuring Zoonie making Commander Zero angry.  Again.

You can watch Mystery of the TA2 here:

Our second show tonight is one I'm especially pleased to feature here as I think its makers, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, were responsible for probably the most wondrous children's TV ever made - of which this is a delightful early example.

Noggin and the Flying Machine is the third adventure for Noggin, King of the Nogs and the little Viking-like folk of the Northlands, inspired by the famous Isle of Lewis chess pieces.  For its home video release in the 80s, Postgate decided to edit the six 10-minute episodes of Noggin and the Flying Machine into three longer episodes.  That's a little bit annoying for my purposes, but it's so brilliant that this still exists in any form that it would be churlish to grumble.  I'm just guessing where the original episodes end/begin so it's very likely I'm wrong - if you find that I am, please let me know.

Anyway, to the adventure.  Two of King Noggin's most trusted helpers, Court inventor Olaf the Lofty and Graculus the Great Green Bird, have together crafted a boat they claim can fly - though they're too busy arguing over whose idea it was to fully explain how it works.

"You impudent fowl! You ungrateful green chicken! You presumptuous parrot!"
"You rat-faced old lizard!"
It's interesting to note how similar Oliver Postgate's Noggin voices sound to those of some of his later characters: Olaf's bears a strong resemblance to that of Bagpuss's Professor Yaffle, while Guard Captain Thor Nogsson sounds a little like the saggy old cloth cat himself.

Olaf and Graculus's row is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious jar floating on the sea.  Noggin and Thor are curious, but Olaf is instantly apprehensive - the toes of his shoes have curled up, and this only happens when there's sorcery afoot (afoot - see? Oh, never mind).

"It smells of bad magic!"

Wonderfully, Noggin and Thor head off for tea and a game of marbles (in Postgateland even the ancient Norse are English), but later that evening both Thor and Olaf sneak down for another look at the jar - only to see it break open and reveal a tiny Arab stereotype...

And what, you may wonder, is happening in the charts this week? Well, The Shadows are still hogging the top two slots, but "Foot Tapper" and "Summer Holiday" have now swapped places, and are at one and two respectively.  Here's this week's number four - it's the maudlin country sounds of Ned Miller, with "From a Jack to a King".

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