Thursday, 15 August 2013

Thursday 15 August 1963

The Cloun of Neath?!
A huge, ominous cloud hangs over Earth, blocking out the sun and steadily rendering the planet uninhabitable (yes, that's right, they did this one in Fireball XL5 as well).

What can be done? It seems that by 2100 clouds are a thing of the past on Earth, the whole world kept lovely and sunny by the Cloud Dispersal Unit (how the world manages without rain is left tantalisingly unclear).  When Colonel Raeburn contacts the Cloud Dispersal people to complain about the nuisance in the sky he's informed they know nothing about it, and the cloud doesn't even show up on their instruments: it looks like it's an artificial cloud of some kind.

The observatory on the moon knows even less about the cloud (I think their spokesman's the same puppet as the one from the Cloud Dispersal Unit, but he's got a camp Scots accent rather than a clipped English one).  I don't know if there's any significance to the fact that the frame round the screen Raeburn appears on looks like a lavatory seat.

It appears that the cloud's made up of metal particles.  What manner of fiends could have constructed such a thing? Well I'm glad you asked, it is in fact Space Patrol's old enemies the Neptunians, chortling away like Smash Martians at the ridiculous ways of Earthlings: they use the sun's rays for heat and warmth! They speak using their mouths!

It's interesting (or maybe not) to note that the voices of the main Neptunians have swapped round since the last time we saw them, with leader Tyro's voice now provided by Ronnie Stevens and his subordinate's by Ysanne Churchman.  Perhaps the notion of a leader with a female voice was just too mind-blowing.

Tyro (who calls himself the Overlord of Neptune) contacts Earth to issue his demands.  Colonel Raeburn greets him surprisingly sociably in the circumstances: "This is the first time we've heard from you in years.  Do you have a reason for calling?"

Tyro offers to remove the cloud in exchange for a steady stream of slave labour to do all the work the bone idle Neptunians can't be bothered to.  Raeburn robustly refuses and decides to find some way of getting rid of the cloud.  Oddly, one of his prime motivations is to make the Neptunians respect Earthfolks.

As the temperature drops, the cast are forced to don their winter fashions.  Raeburn's scarf looks a bit pathetic, but Marla's got a lovely muff to warm her hands in. Professor Haggerty's scarf's arranged as haphazardly as you'd expect from an eccentric scientist, while his daughter Cassiopeia goes for a cosy but glam look of the kind favoured by Fireball XL5's Dr Venus (that's not a pillbox hat she's wearing, it's a bit of scientific apparatus behind her).

Meanwhile, Galasphere 347's sent out to grab a sample of the cloud for Haggerty to examine.  "A sample of cloud -but how?!" cries a sceptical Captain Dart.  "I dunno, it was Marla's idea," Raeburn admits.  Later, the Colonel asks Dart to describe what the cloud looks like up close.  Dart's response is a hilarious piece of self-awareness from the show's makers: "Grey cotton wool".

Using the standard issue jet pack that looks like he's got a sparkler up his arse, Dart flies out to the cloud with a polythene bag to collect a bit of cloud.

Despite being in space, where everything's weightless and stuff, the bit of cloud manages to break through the bag.  Even capturing the bag in a metal box, Dart and Husky struggle to get it back to the ship.

Haggerty's examination reveals the cloud's made up of electrically charged particles of a Neptunian mineral.  The Prof's eventual plan for dispersing it is unusually educational for viewers, being inspired by Isaac Newton's experiments in melting gold using a mirror.  He provides the Galasphere crew with a gigantic burning mirror with which to angle the sun's rays and melt the cloud.  And hooray, it works!

Raeburn contacts the foiled Neptunians to extend an olive branch: if they agree to join the United Galactic Organisation he'll share some of the few technological secrets they're unaware of, such as making robots, so they won't need slaves any more.  Tyro loves the idea of robots and rapidly agrees.  While it's genuinely lovely that Space Patrol depicts a galaxy where everybody gets on and lives together in peace, this is just silly.  Not only do the Neptunians keep slaves, they're also clearly untrustworthy.  If you ask me it's yet more evidence that Colonel Raeburn's complete unfit for his job.

The Cloud of Death is further evidence that a lot of thought goes into writing Space Patrol.  The thoughts may be utterly bizarre, but at least they're there.  You can watch the episode here.

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