Thursday, 22 August 2013

Thursday 22 August 1963

Space Patrol's current run comes to an end with a characteristically eccentric tale of what Star Trek writers would call "first contact".  Galasphere 347's in the vicinity of Saturn, which no outsider has ever set foot on: they've never even met the planet's mysterious inhabitants.  It's the Saturnians' rings, you see, they're impossible to penetrate.  Husky's peculiar judgement on the planet: "It looks good enough to eat!"

Wait, what's this, emerging from the planet's rings? Could it be a Saturnian spaceship?

Captain Dart's incredibly excited by this sighting (we have to take this on trust, what with him being a blank-faced puppet), and tries to contact the ship.  As nobody's ever heard a Saturnian speak before their language isn't in the electric translator, so it all comes out as a load of gibberish.  Undeterred, Dart decides to pop over to the Saturnian vessel using his ion gun (the thing that makes it look like he's got a sparkler sticking out his arse).  The aliens turn out to be a friendly bunch, and agree to take Dart down for a look at Saturn.  Husky and Slim are stuck on the Galasphere while Dart has fun with his new friends, and we stay with their perspective through the Captain's adventures - meaning we're left hanging in suspense about what the Saturnians look like.

Next thing we know we're back on Earth.  Colonel Raeburn's brimming with plans for getting the Saturnians to join the United Galactic Organisation, but these are dampened when they send him an angry message saying they'll never let anyone visit Saturn again.  The reason for their ire? It seems Captain Dart took some leaves from a holy tree.  Dart begs for a chance to return the leaves to the planet and apologise.  "You're on a suicide job!" the Colonel tells him, a ray of sunshine as ever.

He might not be wrong, though: Dart intends to drive the Galasphere through the impenetrable rings of Saturn and land on the planet.  It turns out that the first ring is a magnetic field, which the ship gets through without too much trouble.  The second we're not told about, but the third is made up of ultraviolet rays.  The crew have to don goggles to keep from going blind.  And truly amazing they look too.

The fourth ring is infrared, and the unbearable heat from it nearly finishes the crew off.  They have to go and sit in the freezer, and even there it's sweltering.  On finally reaching the planet's surface, Dart contacts the Saturnians (obviously he has to switch the updated Electrans to "S" first).

But the Saturnians have their own plans, and use their strange magnetic powers to remove Dart and his men from the ship...

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Raeburn's getting an ear-bashing from his bizarre-looking boss the General for letting the Galasphere crew go back to Saturn: "These creatures are angry because he took their leaves!" he succinctly reminds us.

Raeburn reveals his deeply worrying lack of any kind of health and safety policy: "Safety has never been an important world in Space Patrol: my men live with danger."  I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again - the man's a dangerous lunatic.

Anyway, here comes our first look at the Saturnians - and my goodness, it was worth the wait.  Just look at this!

Yes, incredible.  And adorable.  Well, maybe not to everyone.  The crew's first meeting with one of these creatures leads to some priceless dialogue:

Husky: He's got a face that would frighten a vampire!
Dart: Sh! We're in enough trouble without hurting his feelings any more.

And they're actually a very jolly bunch - the whole business about the leaves was just their idea of a joke to put the wind up nosey outsiders.  They're more than happy to join the United Galactic Organisation.  Their leader's especially great, hopping in and out of his bath as he chats with Dart, and explaining how having a big thick tail to sit down on's a great benefit on a world with high gravity.

And as the spacemen depart, the episode ends with him merrily splashing in his bath.  It's perhaps not quite as nuanced a story of initial contact with an alien species as Star Trek would give us, but did Star Trek ever give us anything as amazing as four-armed talking dinosaurs? I think not.

You can watch The Rings of Saturn here.  There'll be more inspired lunacy from Space Patrol in the Autumn.

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