Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday 19 July 1963

This week Space Patrol makes it even more difficult not to compare it to Fireball XL5 by introducing its answer to the Gerry Anderson show's comic relief annoyance Zoonie the Lazoon.  This new mascot is a giant, perpetually squawking Martian parrot known as a Gabblerdictum, which Husky has brought back to Earth from a trip to his home planet.

Much like XL5's otherwise sensible Space Doctor Venus, Husky begs for his new pet to be allowed to join the Galasphere crew on their space missions.  Captain Dart's having none of it - he bans the creature from the ship and (ignoring Husky's protests, the brute) names him Gabbler.  "He talks even more than a woman!" cries the Captain, who clearly shares Steve Zodiac's rather 20th century views on the female gender.

For the duration of the Galasphere's next voyage, Husky leaves Gabbler to the tender loving care of Professor Haggerty.  Well maybe it's not all that tender and loving, as the professor hatches a plan to teach the bird English by attaching electrodes to his brain (I dread to think what bizarre invention Haggerty's come up with to fend off animal rights protestors).

Perhaps Gabbler does need some form of behavioural therapy though, as he's heard to wolf-whistle lewdly at the Professor's daughter Cassiopeia.

Anyway, with all that business over for now we can get on with the episode's main thrust.  This involves Dart, Husky and Slim being sent to find out what's happened to two ships full of colonists that vanished mysteriously on the way to Pluto.  We find out before they do that the culprits are the strange people of Neptune.  With their ghostly appearance, floaty robes, strange draperies and odd plant arrangements, the Neptunians are possibly the spookiest aliens ever to appear in anything.  This is enhanced by their weird, high-pitched voices (despite apparently being male their leader, Tyro, has a squeaky female voice provided by Ysanne Churchman - best known for voicing infamously phallic alien Alpha Centauri in Doctor Who), and the way the speaking Neptunian's always lit, while the others are wreathed in shadows.  They could have been designed by Edward Gorey.

The Neptunians have sidetracked the colonist ships by using their long-range hypnotic powers, and their motive for doing so is a novel one: sheer laziness.  They loathe any kind of physical activity ("Don't mention the word work! The mere thought of it makes me feel tired," shrieks Tyro at one point), and so draw any passing ships to Neptune and mentally enslave the inhabitants to do everything for them.  But their existing slaves are dying off.  "We need more stupid Earthmen!" as one of the Neptunians succinctly observes.

As the Galasphere crew chase after the latest ship drawn off course, they begin to be pulled toward Neptune too.  But when Husky falls into a trance he collapses on the control for the ship's magnetic field - which it turns out nullifies the Neptunians' psychic powers.

Excited by this discovery, Dart and the gang manage to get the colonist ship within the magnetic field, awakening its Martian crew.  But with the magnetic field on the Galasphere's unable to communicate with the other ship. So how can they warn them about what's going on?

Dart has the bright idea of using Morse code to contact the other ship's occupants.  Well, I say bright - the fact is that Morse code's completely antiquated and it seems vastly unlikely that Martians would be able to understand it anyway.  "They don't seem to understand Morse code," says a baffled Dart.

"What do they think it is Christmas?" - tuts the heavily Russian-accented Martian captain when he sees Dart switching his torch on and off.  But it turns out he does know Morse code after all, and they follow Dart's instructions to stay well away from Neptune.

The Neptunians, rather miffed at this loss of potential workhorses, aim a missile at the Galasphere - which turns out to be a damp squib as it's just burnt up by the ship's forcefield.  Dart, Husky and Slim return home to the news that Gabbler can now speak English - in a high-pitched, American-accented female voice that makes him barely more intelligible than he was before.

The Slaves of Neptune is an inventive story with some wonderfully odd ideas in it, and the Neptune scenes are magnificently eerie.  It's the best Space Patrol to date and you can watch it here.

Next week, Space Patrol moves to the slightly earlier time of Thursday.

Well, that's the future dealt with for another week .  Now here comes the past:

Reigning all the time can get very wearying, so this week we find King Richard having a break by engaging in a spot of recreational deer killing with his constant companion Sir Gilbert.  Their fun's short-lived though, as they soon stumble across the corpse of a man stripped to his (considerable) undergarments.  Initially Gilbert thinks he accidentally offed the poor chap with a stray arrow, but Richard dramatically turns the body over and announces: "This man was not killed... by an arrow!"

Yes, it's another case for Inspector King Richard I of the Yard, who heads to a nearby encampment of soldiers for some clues to the dead man's identity.  The chief is randy old Irishman Sir Brian McFergus, who we first see salivating over a buxom delivery girl.  It's strange to see the normally dour Philip Latham playing such a jovial character.

Sir Brian thinks the body was that of one of the raiders who've been plaguing his men by stealing gold from their wagons - he must've been turned on by one of his compatriots.  The only lead for where the raiders might be hiding out is the local monastery, run by the saintly Father Benedict (Robert Raglan, the colonel from Dad's Army).  Benedict has a tendency to take in all manner of waifs and strays in the hope that they'll eventually take holy orders, and currently the monastery's overflowing with discharged seamen.  Lemuel, the lay brother who looks after these dodgy types, is played by Neil Hallett, who - Ghost Squad having come to an end last week - it's lovely to see again.  Richard and Gilbert go undercover at the monastery as a pair of former sailors - giving Dermot Walsh the chance to use the accent of his homeland, Ireland: "Sure oi'm the king of England!" the incognito Richard jests at one point.

Put to work in the monastery garden with nothing but gruel to eat, Gilbert's not very happy.  He sits glumly in his cell as an internal monologue lists all the food he'd like to chow down on.  He's like a character from the Beano.

Gilbert's stomach gets the better of his discretion (this is one of the King's most trusted soldiers, by the way - bloody hell), and he heads to the kitchen to find something to eat - only to come across much carousing as Lemuel and his supposedly ascetic chums indulge in a vast midnight feast, complete with arm wrestling and other hearty pursuits as well, no doubt.

Lemuel tries to convince Gilbert the party's a final blow-out for the sailors who've decided to become monks, and sentences him to solitary confinement for a month to keep his tongue from wagging.  As Gilbert languishes, Richard gets ever more into character as a bone idle ne'er do well wanted for all sorts of crimes.

Eventually Lemuel invites him to join the raiders, whereupon he beats up Gilbert's guard and frees his friend...

...and the two of them round up the baddies (including ubiquitous heavies Bill Nagy and Walter Randall).

And that's it, really.  The plots of Richard the Lionheart may be paper-thin, but at least it only takes 25 minutes to tell them.  I've seen much slighter stories dragged out to twice the time, and I'm sure you have too.

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