Sunday, 16 June 2013

Sunday 16 June 1963

Tonight's episode sees Gerry Anderson and the other makers of Fireball XL5 focusing on what they do better than anything: lots and lots of stunning pyrotechnics.

There's an ominous space cloud hanging over the Earth.  It looks suspiciously like the one from Invasion Earth a few weeks back, but rather than being controlled by an evil alien intelligence this one's a natural phenomenon - a conglomeration of gases with a tendency to belch out enormous balls of fire that are having a devastating effect on the planet (it seems a shame this couldn't have all happened last week when the Earth got frozen over).

Commander Zero sends  Fireball XL5 to investigate the cloud and see what can be done.  The cloud sees to it that the ship's name becomes all-too-appropriate, but heroic Steve Zodiac manages to put the blaze out.

Steve's got an idea: there's an experimental space station, the Skyball 1, hanging around in kit form after it proved unviable and became a lasting embarrassment to Commander Zero (an intriguing insight into Space City's internal politics - who are the higher-ups who prevented him being promoted, and what would he have been promoted to?) - could Prof Matt Matic adapt it so it can destroy the cloud? Well, yes, he probably can.  But first, there's drama as a fireball from the cloud heads straight for chez Venus, while the unwitting Space Doctor relaxes with some groovy tunes.

Yes, soon the desirable beachfront residence is ablaze.  Steve rushes to help: "Venus! She's on her own!" Well, Zoonie's with her.  No, wait, that's worse than being alone.

No! Not the vases!

Steve gets to Venus in time to save her (he doesn't worry about Zoonie, who just sort of ambles out on his own), but it's too late to save her home.  "We'll build you a new house - exactly the same in every way," says Steve, by way of reassuring her (and us) that we'll see the set again (actually, The Fire Fighters was the last episode of Fireball XL5 to be made, though the broadcast order's so jumbled up there was no telling when it'd be broadcast).

Venus doesn't take long to recover and she, Steve, and Matt, head out into space to construct the Skyball, which seems to take a matter of minutes.

Matt's adaptations to the station have succeeded, and it sucks in the cloud, preparatory to neuralising it by blowing up.  But wait - it's not exploding! There's a problem with one of the valves, and Steve has to float out and fix the Skyball manually before it plummets to Earth and sets the whole planet on fire! This daring task accomplished, the resulting explosion is highly satisfying.

The Fire Fighters is a tremendously exciting Fireball XL5 episode, and a much more serious one than usual, with a surprising sense of real urgency to it.  The lack of campy alien villains actually makes a nice change, though in the episode's genuinely suspenseful context Commander Zero's pratting about grates more than usual.

You can watch The Fire Fighters here.  It's edge-of-the-seat stuff.

Next week it's the last in the present series of Fireball XL5, so start organising your finale party now.  I know I am: the space cheese and space pineapple on space sticks is ready to go!

Now to the charts: yes, it's still the Beatles at number 1, but hot on their heels at number 2 it's fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers - in fact, with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas at 3 and Billy Fury at 4 it's an all-Scouse top 4, remarkably enough.  You can see the full chart here.


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