Space Magnet was the last episode of Fireball XL5 to be broadcast in the show's original run, but it was only the fourth to be made so we can hardly expect a spectacular finale (anyway, we've already had that with the gloriously odd Space City Special). However, it's such a humdrum episode that I can't help being disappointed that this is the last time I'm going to be writing about Steve Zodiac and his chums.
As he waits for his patrol shift on Fireball XL5 to begin, Steve reads about the interplanetary league spaceship race, which, apparently, was "real boss". Professor Matic's quite excited about too - he's keen to enter XL5 at some point. "Oh professor, can't you stop thinking about flying for once?" Venus chides him. "Well, what else is there?" he asks. Venus's response gives us a disappointing picture of the role of a female Space Doctor in the latter half of the 21st century: "Well, I find plenty to do: sewing on buttons and doing the laundry for crusty old bachelors like you and Steve!" Good grief.
Before Godfrey Blooms everywhere can get more excited about this vision of future female drudgery, our attention's drawn to Zoonie the Lazoon, who's acting very strangely. More so than usual, I mean. He's quivering and shaking all over the place. Apparently he's got a special sensitivity to danger (first I've heard of it), and he senses something bad's coming.
Could this be in any way connected to the fact that Fireball XL7's suddenly spun out of control during a routine patrol, inexorably drawn forward by a mysterious force? (You may have noticed that inexorable forces pulling at spaceships have been a regular feature of the last few weeks' Fireballs). Steve and the gang head off to investigate. During their voyage we get a glimpse at Matt Matic's Wallace & Gromit-esque tea-making machine, connected to an antiquated alarm clock from 1962 (is Fireball XL5 set in some dread parallel universe where the teasmade was never invented?)
Venus is distinctly unimpressed with Matt ruining one of her retorts by using it in his contraption. There's a bizarre concentration in this episode on Matt's love of hot drinks. It's such a key element of the episode that it seems certain it'll play a major part in the conclusion: perhaps he'll defeat an alien by accidentally scalding it with hot water. But no, it proves to have absolutely nothing to do with anything.
Reaching the spot XL7 was last seen, the XL5 crew are amazed to find it's not there. And even more unexpected, the moon seems to have disappeared as well. Eventually it pops up again, but it seems to be much further away than normal, so Steve chases after it. XL5 gets pulled forward by the mysterious force at a speed that sends everything in the ship haywire (a situation that would be almost exactly repeated in the later, but already broadcast, episode Faster Than Light).
The crew lose consciousness: when they awake Matt works out that they're heading for the planet Magneton. "The magnetic planet - of course!" Venus exclaims. Something's vastly increased the planet's magnetic force, and it looks like our heroes might be about to find out what. Just about managing a safe landing, Steve, Venus and Matt head out to investigate (despite presumably being made largely of metal their hoverscooters seem unaffected by the magnetic force). Eventually they discover an enormous power plant generating the magnetic force and fuelled by scrap metal drawn to the planet - including the remains of XL7.
Making their way inside, they encounter the Solars, a race of those most budget-friendly of all aliens: invisible ones. Their leader, the Super Solar, crows about his plans to draw the moon into Magneton's orbit in order to make the planet a bit lighter. And there's nothing Steve can do to stop him! Oh, turns out he can, actually: he just whips out his gun and starts firing randomly, apparently killing all the Solars off. Whoops.
But wait, the moon's still heading straight for the planet? Could disaster be on its way?
No, it's OK: Matt switches something off, sending the moon back to its rightful place. Phew.
A great deal of fannying about on XL5 and a truly ridiculous conclusion help make Space Magnet one of the very worst Fireball XL5 episodes (which could be why it took so long to show it). However, the final scene's not that bad a way to end the series, depending on your tolerance for romance: Steve and Venus nuzzling outside her beach house and gazing on the newly restored moon, the theme song kicking in as the camera pulls back. It's quite sweet, really.
Right, that's the very last time Fireball XL5 will be featured around these parts, I'm sorry to say: it's been one of the most consistently fun shows to write about of all those I've featured at TV Minus 50. Luckily, Mr Gerry Anderson and his team are cooking up something rather special for next year...
You can watch Space Magnet for yourself here. Preferably with a hot drink: