I've been very slack lately (not that you wish to know about my personal problems), and failed to keep you the reader abreast of developments beyond the small screen in 1963. Well, here's a selection: the report on the Profumo affair has been published, proving an instant bestseller even among those previously unfamiliar with the works of H M Stationery Office, Britain's first Early Warning station has begun operation on the Yorkshire moors, and the Robbins report recommending the wide expansion of Britain's universities has been published (not quite as big a bestseller as the Profumo one for some reason). The Conservative government's still reeling from the Profumo fall-out, and this week ill health forced the resignation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The spectacularly dirty fight to succeed him is on...
Still, it'll all be the same in a hundred years. Or maybe it'll look like this:
It's taken a long time to reach the screen but Hypnotic Sphere was in fact only the second episode of Fireball XL5 to be made. To a viewer used to the later episodes there are some obvious differences at this early stage of the show. The characters' voices don't sound quite right yet: Venus is huskier, and Matt is whinier. They look a bit different too: especially noticeable are Matt's jet black painted-on eyebrows, even more alarming than the prodigiously bushy ones he'd later spout. More than anything, the crew of Fireball XL5 just look really untidy: their hair's all over the place and their clothes don't look especially well-fitting. Here's Venus giving Steve his daily medical check-up: what a pair of scruffbags. It's good to know that a higher standard of puppet grooming was introduced as the series went on.
There's also a noticeable lack of Zoonie the Lazoon. Whether this is a boon or not is for the individual viewer to decide.
Hypnotic Sphere is pure pulp sci-fi, with few of the eccentric details that would make Fireball XL5 so endearing. The plot is pretty much encapsulated in the title: it's about a mysterious sphere that appears in space and puts tanker pilots in a catatonic state. As illustrated below.
The XL5 crew investigate, and soon find themselves coming under the influence of the sphere's pulsating lights and a strange, sonorous voice that seems to be emanating from all the ship's electronic equipment.
Even ship's robot Robert briefly falls under the influence of the sphere, and the voice's exhortations that the ship change course. He snaps out of it, though, and satisfyingly socks Steve Zodiac on the jaw to prevent him carrying out the voice's commands.
Robert manages to successfully pilot XL5 away from the sphere's, er, sphere of influence, although the ship nearly crashes into Murana, the planet of fire (looks more like the planet of disco if you ask me).
Despite no longer being under the sphere's control, Steve decides to head to where it wanted him to go anyway, in order to find the brain behind the mysterious object. And that's just what it is: the none-more-pulp vision of a brain in a jar with a single gigantic eye (but at least he has a lovely voice).
We learn nothing about the origin of this dastardly organ - all we know is that it plans to achieve mastery of the universe with a fleet of spheres (presumably built by hypnotised slaves). When Steve, Matt and Venus infiltrate its unguarded inner sanctum, Matt figures out that the brain is susceptible to cold - which it rather imprudently admits. Despite the brain exerting its hypnotic powers, Steve's able to hold out long enough to blast the heating system, causing it to deflate.
Well, the plan for universal domination was never really going to work out, was it? Still, you can't fault the little chap's ambition.
Aboard Fireball XL5 everyone enjoys a celebratory cup of Space Coffee (the people of the 21st century certainly know how to live), and the episode ends with the startling appearance of an element of the show that would soon be dropped, as Steve and Venus appear poised to snog at the final fade-out. I just don't know where to look.
Why not make yourself a nice mug of space coffee now (it might help prevent you coming under the 'fluence), and settle down with Hypnotic Sphere.