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Posted by: Byron Brewer
/ 2 years 13 weeks ago

The Wayback Machine: Fireball XL5!

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Seeing – and already mourning – the brilliant animation of the cancelled Green Lantern: The Animated Series reminds me of one of the pleasures of my youth, the “Supermarionation” of the puppets who were the crew of Fireball XL5!

So hop aboard the Wayback Machine with me and off we go to the early ‘60s!

Fireball XL5 was a sci-fi children's show following the missions of spaceship Fireball XL5, commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The show was produced in 1962 by husband and wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson through their company APF, in association with ATV for ITCEntertainment and seen in the U.S.on NBC. (Enough Hollywood alphabet soup already!)

The show featured the Andersons' Supermarionation, a form of puppetry first introduced in Four Feather Falls (1960) and Supercar (1961) and used again in their subsequent productions such as Stingray and Captain Scarlet. Thirty-nine black-and-white (yep) half-hour episodes of Fireball XL5 were made on 35mm film: all future Anderson series were produced in color.

Set between the years 2062 and 2063, the ship’s crew included glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; middle-aged navigator and engineer Professor Matthew Matic (lol); and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot who would most commonly proclaim “ON-OUR-WAY-HOME.” Robert (whom I could never find in a toy store and am still looking for today!) was the only character in an Anderson series that was actually voiced by Anderson himself, albeit with the aid of -- an artificial larynx! Spooky sound!

In the series, the World Space Patrol is based at Space City, located on an unnamed island in the South Pacific, headed by Commander Zero. Zero is assisted by Lieutenant Ninety. For unspecified reasons the 25-story T-shaped control tower at Space City rotates; in one episode a character inadvertently makes it rotate fast enough for those inside to suffer from vertigo.

Fireball XL5 patrolled Sector 25 of charted interstellar space (although there only appeared to be three sectors marked on the space chart seen in the Space City control room!). The patrols were missions of three months duration but the ship was also on call when at base.

As for the titular ship itself, Fireball XL5 takes off utilizing a mile-long launch rail that culminates in a 40-degree incline, or sky ramp, which Anderson claims was inspired by an old Soviet design, a concept also used in the film When Worlds Collide. (Cool?)

The World Space Patrol included a fleet of at least 30 Fireball XL ships (an XL30 is referred to in “The Firefighters” episode), of which XL5 was the most famous. The ship itself is made up of two detachable sections. The winged nose cone, known as Fireball Junior, contained the cockpit and separated from the main body to land on other worlds. The rest of the ship contained a navigation bay, laboratory, huge lounge, workshops and separate crews’ quarters, along with fuel and main nutomic rocket motors for interstellar travel. The ship would generally remain stationed in orbit after arriving at an alien planet.

When Fireball XL5 returned to Space City, the whole ship would land horizontally (i.e. without separating) using its wings and retro-rockets. In the episode “The Forbidden Planet,” the aliens use a form of transporter (similar to that used in Star Trek, but of course pre-dating it!) but this technology was not available to the World Space Patrol.

If you ever have a chance to catch treasure recaptured on DVD, it is well worth the price. You can see how we kids enjoyed space adventure before the advent of “reality.”

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