The Day the Earth Froze shouldn't be confused with the Russian-Finnish fantasy film of the same name, but then I suppose it's not likely many people would do that anyway. The episode starts off with the high drama of a General Alarm going off at Space City, and the personnel on hand rushing from the comfort of their beds to the command centre to find out what the jumping Jupiter's going on. Happily,this means we get to see Steve Zodiac's fantastic dressing gown.
The reason for the alarm is the return to earth of spaceship XL27 on autopilot, its crew mysteriously incommunicado. There's a brilliantly eerie Quatermass-esque bit when Steve, Matt Matic and Commander Zero board the ship to find out what's happened to the astronauts, only slightly ruined by Steve's silly explanation for their unconscious state.
Steve goes on to speculate further that the ship was blasted by a ground-to-space coma cannon. And you know what, he's absolutely right. Far away on the ice planet Zavia, a pair of villainous characters called Cardray and Rayder congratulate themselves on putting XL27's crew out of action. Up against some very stiff competition, these are easily the campest aliens yet seen in Fireball XL5. For one thing, there's the way they look. Feast your eyes.
Thanks to one of the XL27 crew helpfully holding a piece of paper bearing the words "Planet Zavia", our heroes are on the track of this wicked pair, suitably attired for the inhospitable weather conditions.
While Steve, Matt and Venus head off to Zavia, we find out what Rayder and Cardray are up to: they've built a machine that will deflect the sun's rays away from Earth, causing everyone on the planet to freeze to death. Despite being initially reluctant to get up and see the unexpected snowfall that results, Commander Zero soon realises the gravity of the situation.
On reaching Zavia, the XL5 crew promptly fall into an icy crevasse (giving rise to an utterly splendid exclamation), where they discover the nuclear reactor powering the deflector, and then the baddies themselves, for whom Steve's got some harsh words.
Cardray and Rayder originate from the planet Jeddum (which I believe is also Jedward's homeworld), and Cardray has recently visited Earth in an attempt to stir up trouble between the nations of the world so he could become its new ruler. It was a dismal failure and, disgusted by the peace and unity of Earth's people (obviously things change an awful lot in the next 50 years), he's hatched this whole sun-deflection plot purely to get revenge.
Back on earth, things are getting worse, and the show's supporting cast huddle together for warmth, Zoonie, in his furry hat, looking like a creature from The Moomins.
But it's OK - Steve and the gang manage to escape from the clutches of the Jedwardians (or whatever they're called) and blow their deflector sky-high in a series of very impressive explosions (one thing Gerry Anderson's shows always do incredibly well is pyrotechnics).
The Day the Earth Froze, genuinely suspenseful in places, is one of the very best Fireball XL5 episodes. And you can watch it here:
If you're wondering what's going on music-wise this week, the Beatles' reign at the top of the hit parade remains unbroken. At number 3, here's Billy Fury with an urgent query.