This week's spacecapades are focused around the planet Uranus - which means, of course, that its dialogue is packed with hilarious lines for those of us with childish imaginations. The episode opens in the World Space Organisation's scientific HQ (a giant Brutalist tower block), where outrageously camp Irishman Professor Haggerty (a dead ringer for Graham Norton, funnily enough) and his daughter Cassiopeia are examining a lifeform from the planet in question. "That's not a leek!" Haggerty chides the youngster when she misidentifies it: "It's a plant from Uranus!"
"Everything on Uranus is upside down," says Cassiopeia, commenting on its hot poles and cold equators. A rock from the planet proves to have been radioactive for at least 4000 years: "Maybe there was a nuclear war on Uranus!" The plant, meanwhile, keeps alternating between flaccid and erect due to the broken air conditioning in Haggerty's lab. While father on daughter move on to talk about Haggerty's latest invention, a synthetic cow that will yield artificial beef, the plant gets up and walks off. It's quite cute, really.
When he catches the plant, Haggerty deduces that it talks a strange plant language, but that this one must be a baby, talking gibberish, as his language decoder can't work out what it's saying. It sounds a bit dubious to me, but then he's allegedly a genius, and I'm not. "We're the first human beings to meet a walking, talking vegetable!" he enthuses. Hmm.
While all this is going on, Captain Larry Dart has an unusual request for his boss, Colonel Raeburn: "I wish you'd send me to Uranus, Colonel!" (It's hard to believe lines like this were never funny. In fact, it's hard to believe William Herschel didn't name the planet as he did precisely to spread hilarity). All the previous astronauts who've gone to Uranus have failed to return, and on learning Haggerty's news Raeburn's hopeful that the fully grown walking, talking vegetables can explain what's happened. So he sends Dart and his trusty men to find out. You can probably guess where this is going.
Dart's galasphere heads off to Uranus. The gamma rays are on, the yobba rays (!) are on, an op art spirally thing's spinning round and a barber's pole's rotating (perhaps the eerie robots who patrol the ship's corridors also do hairdressing).
The crew spend the duration of the voyage in cryogenic suspension. It takes them 86 days to get to Uranus, which leads me to wonder what the earthbound characters get up during these long voyages. Perhaps one day we'll find out.
Martian crewman Husky proves himself to be impressively thick (a tad worrying as he's meant to be the ship's engineer). On arrival, he has a heated argument with superintelligent Venusian Slim over whether there's such a word as "fantasticacious". "What's a genetic change?" he later asks, enabling the other two to patiently explain for the benefit of the young viewers at home.
For some reason everyone's convinced the Uranian plants are leeks, even though they don't look anything like them. "If these are leeks I wouldn't want to see a turnip!" cries Husky when the crew encounter an excitable trio of them. Well, quite. Slim goes over to make friends. It doesn't go too well.
Yes, the leeks are hostile carnivores, and quite obviously the reason why none of the previous missions returned. Our heroes manage to escape, doing their very best to make us believe that the four plants waddling after them are a ravenous army. As the ship takes off the plants gather round it waggling angrily.
On Dart's return to earth, he presents Colonel Raeburn with a recording of the plants' speech. The Colonel's overjoyed: now that they can decode the Uranian language he's convinced he can send people out there to make friends with them. The man's quite clearly a dangerous lunatic.
The Dark Planet couldn't possibly be more entertaining than it is. That may not be for the reasons it was originally meant to be, but what's the difference? You can watch it here if you like
Oh, and has anyone seen three plastic tumblers? I'm sure I had them around here somewhere...