Nearly every week when I settle down with a box of Martian Delight and some space cocoa to watch Fireball XL5 I find myself thinking "This is the most absurd episode yet. Surely this programme can't get any more bizarre?" And on a weekly basis I'm proved wrong. It's no exaggeration to say that 1875 is the silliest Fireball yet, and my mind genuinely boggles at how they can top this one.
Late at night, Matt Matic's working on his top secret new invention. He's been working on it so intensely that he's worn poor Robert out - the Robot having lost the ability to distinguish between a hammer and a spanner, and having a serious crisis over it.
It turns out that Matt's new project is... a time machine! And, clearly not overburdened with ethics when it comes to visiting the past, he decides to send Robert back in time for a test run. He chooses the year 1875 as he's always wanted to live in the 19th century (which might explain the way he talks, I suppose).
Robert fetches up in a sheriffless wild west town, where he manages to terrify lazy Deputy Dodgem by responding to his request for coffee (for some reason Dodgem's convinced Robert's the ghost of the Lone Ranger). It's always interesting to see how the puppets used in Fireball XL5 are repurposed, and it's especially amusing to note that the Deputy is actually the Mrs Space Spy puppet after gender reassignment.
Robert's brought back to 2063, along with his coffee pot. Matt extracts a promise from Lt Ninety not to let anyone into his workshop until he's ready for the grand unveiling in front of the Interplanetary Patents Commissioner, who's coming all the way from Saturn to see the machine. Cmdr Zero manages to browbeat Ninety into letting him in along with Steve and Venus, and they have a look at what Matt's been up to. Spotting the coffee pot, Venus thinks it must be an elaborate new coffee machine: "Waste of public money!" grumbles Zero.
But uh-oh! When they're all in the booth, that naughty Zoonie the Lazoon enters the workshop and manages to send them back to 1875. Their atoms are dispersed, yet they manage the following conversation:
Zero: What's happening?!
Steve: We're floating through space - but we've got no thruster packs!
Venus: Steve - I can't see you. And my clothes... they're different.
Yes, ridiculously enough, their clothes are changed into something more appropriate to the year they're travelling to. But even weirder than that, their personalities are altered too. Steve becomes a gunslinger who applies for the job as the town's new sheriff, while Venus and Zero are bandits planning a bank robbery. And what's more, both Deputy Dodgem and the bank manager know all about these bandits (Venus is now going under the alias "Frenchy Lil"). It's all extremely confusing.
After the bank robbery proves a failure (the bank manager, being a doctor of literature, just keeps books in the vault), Zero knocks Venus out and absconds on a puppet horse.
Matt manages to bring Steve and Zero back to the future, but Venus can't return as she's unconscious, and the bank's about to explode! If Matt increases the power, will the machine manage to save her in time...? I'll give you two guesses. The episode ends with Matt's machine in ruins, just as the men from the Patents Committee turn up. And they're the same characters we met back in the wild west. Jeepers!
Something as nonsensical as 1875 begs to be seen. Here it is:
Meanwhile, further back even than 1875...
Last week, Noggin, King of the Nogs, Thor Nogsson and Graculus the Great Green Bird set off in their flying boat to chase after the wicked Arab who'd absconded on his flying carpet with the Crown of the Nogs. Poor Thor Nogsson's airsick.
And if that's not bad enough, the Wicked Arab (that's the only name he's given) has a trick up his sleeve to foil his pursuers: a pinch of snuff that grows into a big black cloud (this is a really wonderful effect).
The ship's wings are destroyed, and it's forced down on to the water, where the crew sit and think with a mug of cocoa and a ship's biscuit (I suspect that in Postgateland a ship's biscuit is much like a nice digestive). Noggin good-naturedly takes the blame for what's happened, having gone with Olaf the Lofty's decision to make the wings out of leather rather than feathers as Graculus insisted.
Our heroes come ashore at a mysterious island, which Graculus soon discovers is the home of the Great Aups, mysterious giant birds.
Graculus gets his friends to tie a rope to one of the birds and shake it, which causes a great commotion.
With the giant feathers that are shaken off, Noggin and chums are able to fix the flying machine's wings and set off once more...
In the charts this week the Fireball XL5 theme song, as performed by Don Spencer, is a new entry at 34.
In the hit parade's upper reaches, Gerry and the Pacemakers have ascended to number 1. Here's Buddy Holly, who's been dead for four years but is showing enviable get-up-and-go by reaching number 4 with his version of Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man".