Wednesday, 31 October 2012

09 The Targeted Captain!

"Commander Makara, that's the entrance to the execution chamber"

Episode 9: The Targeted Captain!
UK Video: -
US Video: Volume 3: Space Lava of Death
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 2

Commander Makara & Captain Orion return to the Imperial Master's Fortress Base in the Thalian Zone. There they are put on trial for their failure to capture F-01 with execution their fate if found guilty. As Commander Makara tries to explain the Imperial Master appears before them and projects images of the battles they have fought in. He shows their attack on Pluto and interrogation of Captain Carter followed by their attack on Earth and shooting down of X-Bomber. But X-Bomber shoots down the carriers with it's laser blast. When the Imperial Cruiser goes to SF command and attacks X-Bomber launches and use X-Impulse to damage the battlecruiser. The Imperial Master blames Commander Makara for underestimating X-Bomber. He shows them the asteroid belt ambush, and praises Captain Orion's bold tactic of ambushing X-Bomber at the Methane Sea, but shows them how the base on Jupiter was destroyed by the Dai-X. Commander Makara blames defeat on the Dai-X and says that the Imperial Master's intelligence system should have warned them of it, which enrages the Imperial Master. Commander Makara tell him that she is convinced Lamia is the F-01 and that she has a new plan to capture her. The Imperial Master tells them that they have just six more months to find F-01.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the clip show. Or rather the first Clip Show. Clip shows can serve a function, beyond their cheapness. There's relatively little new footage here but what there is introduces us to the Imperial Master's base for the first time, a structure so huge that the Battlecruiser, which dwarfs X-Bomber, fits into a tiny little bit at the the bottom of the base, which really gives you some idea of the scale of the structure.... the only thing like it I can think of is seeing the Enterprise fly into the Star Base in Star Trek III. Inside the Master's base is a nightmare landscape of desert, bones and a Guillotine (an illusion, like the projected images?) which he appears towering over with the previous stories from episodes 1-4 retold in images in the sky. Here the images follow what happens in pretty much the correct order but now Captain Carter's interrogation now takes place en route from Pluto to Earth rather than after X-Bomber's crash. This is nothing compared to some of the liberties taken during the next clip show in Episode 13. Yes, two clip shows in five episodes!

What's interesting here is that a different dub script is being employed for the English speaking voice actors to that which was used in the original episodes 1-4 so you get some differences in lines being delivered. Similarly the same backing music isn't always used behind the scenes most notably as X-Bomber approaches the Imperial Base while flying over the Methane Sea.

As well as introducing the Imperial Master properly and his home planet this episode places a time limit on Commander Makara's mission adding some urgency to what they're doing. It also reminds us of the existence of Captain Carter and that he's an Alliance Prisoner, something that will become very important shortly. And by spending nearly half the episode concentrating on reviewing the Jupiter battle we get a good look at the Dai-X robot which we haven't seen since.

Like the previous episodes PPA's voice isn't right here and I'm at a loss to say for definite who's voicing it. Likewise Commander Makara's male voice, heard from the moulded face covering her left eye, when she addresses the Imperial Master, is identified in the cast list and I can't work out who it is. The Imperial Master, on his first lengthy appearance after two brief visits to the Battlecruiser Bridge as a hologram, is played by Jacob Witkin, another of the Star Fleet cast to be missing a Wikipedia entry. In a lengthy CV the only thing I've seen him in is The Professionals Season 3 episode Stop Over. Going to have to dig that out to watch now..... There's a few names I recognise in that: Morris Perry, W Morgan Sheppard and Alec Linstead, all with Doctor Who connections.

This is the first episode we've seen not to be included on any UK compilation video, for fairly obvious reasons. (although, obviously, footage from it shows up on other tapes) It can be found on the US video Volume 3: Space Lava of Death. I'm reasonably sure I saw this episode on it's 1984 repeat: I was due to go on a school trip to Wales in the summer and one Sunday morning they took us out on a practice hike through Richmond Park to break our brand new walking boots in. The walk was early and finished c11:30 so I missed church and managed to get home in time to see most of this episode. I'm pretty sure it was the first episode in the repeat run I saw.....

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

08 An Attack Beyond Tears!

"The entire planet is a live volcano and full of.......ferocious creatures"

Episode 8: An Attack Beyond Tears!
UK Video: The Thalian Space Wars
US Video: Volume 3: Space Lava of Death
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 2

X-Bomber lands on the planet Alaria to make repairs, but Captain Orion is pleased at this development as the entire planet is a live volcano inhabited by what he describes as ferocious creatures and mutants. While the pilots undertake repairs Lamia goes onto the planet's surface and befriend furry creatures which she names Monmons. Kirara is agitated by them and fetches Shiro and Hercules. Shiro shoots one of the Monmons approaching Lamia and is severely admonished by her before they return to the ship. As X-Bomber prepares for launch the Monmons gather on the ship. The Imperial Cruiser hides behind the nearby volcano and fires a laser missile starting an eruption. X-Bomber is surrounded by lava but can't take off because of the Monmons on the ship so Doctor Benn orders Hercules to open fire on them but Lamia stops him. He and Shiro argue, with Shiro now siding with Lamia who argues that life should be protected. It's only when the Imperial Cruiser reveals itself and attacks X-Bomber that Shiro himself opens fire on the Monmons. X-Bomber launches and attacks the Imperial Cruiser with laser torpedoes then escapes. Makara berates Orion on the damaged Cruiser before the Imperial Master appears before them and orders them to return to him. Makara makes it clear she intends to blame Orion for her failure as they set course for the Thalian Zone.

This is a science fiction show with cute furry animals. All science fiction shows with cute furry animals are bad up to and including Return of the Jedi, the worst of the original Star Wars films which this predates on the cute teddy bear like creature front by 3 years (on original Japanese broadcast). And it's full of moralising about respect for life too so it's not onto a winner..... But in here are two fab moments of comedy: The first is Captain Orion's line, quoted above, where there's a pause and an almost visible shudder as he considers the inhabitants of the planet to be ferocious creatures. And yet, when we see them, they're a bunch of teddy bears. So why do they agitate Kirara so? Is he jealous? Then as Lamia admonishes Shiro she finishes with "This beautiful creature might have become our first friend in space......" and the picture cuts to the Imperial Battlecruiser, which is definitely not our friend in space! And then we have a Volcanic eruption and you really can't go wrong there. Lava and fire everywhere!

X-Bomber uses it's Turret lasers for the fifth time here and we get to see it's Laser Torpedoes for the first time: four pink laser blasts, similar to the yellow laser torpedo blasts from the Alliance ships, emerge from the tip of each wing and converge into one blast in front of the ship. This weapon will be back in episode 21.

Like the previous episode PPA's voice isn't quite right here....... I suspect another member of the cast is performing it. It's still wrong for the next episode too!

This episode marks the return of the Imperial Master, unseen since the opening minutes of the very first episode. Once again he appears as a hologram on the bridge but we'll see him in person next episode.

Like the previous episode this appears on US Volume 3 video Space Lava of Death (told you the title would makes sense now!) and is also featured on the UK compilation The Thalian Space Wars following directly on from the episode preceding it. There's one more episode on that tape to come, episode 11, and I'll recap the tape's contents in the slightly odd order it appears on the tape there.

Monday, 29 October 2012

07 Mortal Combat In The Gravity Graveyard!

"Try to escape us X-Bomber...... If you can!"

Episode 7: Mortal Combat In The Gravity Graveyard!
UK Video: The Thalian Space Wars
US Video: Volume 3: Space Lava of Death
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 2

X-Bomber finds it's power has been drained by the black hole. It picks up an object moving and follows it hoping to find an exit. Captain Orion takes the carriers into the Black Hole to attack X-Bomber. Dr Benn tells the pilots that they cannot return fire because they need to preserve power but eventually gives in to their demands. They attack the fighters with the turret lasers but the fighters retreat having drained X-Bomber's power enough that it cannot escape the Black Hole. Dr Benn decides to use the remaining energy on the ship to attack. When Captain Orion enters the Black Hole with two Carrier Craft they use the main laser blast to destroy one carrier and severely damage the one Orion is on. He retreats and Commander Makara enters the black hole in the Battlecruiser. X-Bomber uses the last of it's power firing the X-Impulse at it damaging Makara's ship which retreats leaving the powerless X-Bomber floating in the black hole. The crew make a record of what happened and Lamia attempts to contact the Skull when suddenly the ship ship starts moving. The Skull tows them out of the black hole with it's tractor beam and leaves them adrift in normal space as X-Bomber's power systems start to recharge. They decide to make for a nearby planet to carry out repairs....

Oh the science in this episode hurts so much. "The Black Hole" behaves like a black hole, a Nebula (see Star Trek II Wrath of Khan) or a maze interchangeably as required. Quite where it's magic energy draining powers come from I don't know.... For someone determined to escape from the Black Hole one moment, Doctor Benn gives in very easily to the pilots request to return fire even though he knows the consequences (see also: defending the Skull in episode 5)

Weapons: we get to see the turret lasers (very Star Wars, Han Solo & Luke Skywalker in the Millennium Falcon) for the fourth time (episodes 1, 2 & 6 previously) the Laser Blast for the third time (episodes 2 & 5) and X-Impulse for the second and I believe final time!

PPA spends most of this episode incoherent under the effects of the black hole but there's something not quite right about his voice here. Was one of the other actors supplying it for this episode only? Normally he's voiced by John Baddeley. The only other place I've encountered him is in the second series of the radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where he plays Bird Two & a Foot Warrior. He appears as a voice artist in The Dark Crystal alongside fellow Star Fleet voice artist Sean Barrett who supplies the voice for Captain Orion. Badderley's Character here is called PPA - Perfect Programmed Android - but in the original Japanese version X-Bomber he's called PP Adamski, which at first look makes little sense. However, thanks to having reviewed a great many Transformers toys, I know that the 1985 Mini Autobot Cosmos is called Adams in Japan and thank to his TFU entry I know that this is a reference to George Adamski, a figure prominent in the UFO spotting community as one of the first people to claim to have sighted UFOs and made alien contact.

As well as appearing as the opening episode on the US Volume 3 video Space Lava of Death (join us next episode to find out why it has that fantastic title) this episode is also featured on the UK compilation The Thalian Space Wars

Sunday, 28 October 2012

06 X-Bomber Goes Forth!

"They're on course for destruction as I planned!"

Episode 6: X-Bomber Goes Forth!
UK Video: The Thalian Space Wars
US Video: Volume 2: Revenge of the Robot
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 2

X-Bomber returns to it's Moonbase home. While the crew relax Star Fleet command take the decision that X-Bomber will try to follow the Skull to gain more information about F-01. However before the ship's designated launch time Commander Makara attacks again and X-Bomber is forced to launch early and help fighters from Mars base defend Earth. When Commander Makara retreats X-Bomber commences it's stated mission bidding Star Fleet command farewell. However they are then attacked again by Commander Makara. While manoeuvring they find themselves driven off course, caught in the grip of a black hole which suck X-Bomber into a graveyard of space where it collides with a meteorite.

For various reasons this has always been a bit of a nothing episode for me. It's..... just there. I've got it on tape somewhere with episodes 2, 4 & 5 and while the others got regular listening to, this one rarely did. OK it was missing it's very end but.... And although I've said it appears on The Thalian Space Wars compilation in reality it's just the last few minutes from (roughly) where X-Bomber gets pulled of course (but possibly slightly earlier during the battle) which is tagged onto the end of episode one replacing the crash sequence that left X-Bomber stranded on the moon.

Remember the PC on the Pluto Base fighter pilots helmets in episode 1? Here we have MC on the Mars base pilot helmets. As X-Bomber moves away from earth this is the last time we see additional Star Fleet vessels for a long, long time. Similarly it's the last time for a while we'll see General Kyle and Star Fleet command. And it is the last time we see Moonbase and X-Bomber's Crater base home, save for brief shots on the end titles.

Because this is the last time we'll see him for a while in his credited role we aught to mention Kevin Brennan who voices General Kyle. When I did my Star Fleet site he was one of the few actors I could find out nothing about. Now it's a little easier in the age of Wikipedia & IMDB (though three of the cast are missing Wikipedia entries still!) I've actually seen at least 3 of his film appearances: Get Carter, Mutiny on the Buses & The Spaceman and King Arthur, but not his first genre appearance in Doomwatch: The Human Time Bomb as Sir Billy Langly. I own his appearance in The Professionals season 2 episode Blind Run as the Minister but don't recall what he looks like.

We *nearly* get to see the Dual Cannon within X-Bomber's neck fired for the third time and the second time in two episodes. Here it gets referred to as the Direct Laser Blast. Unfortunately the Alliance runs away before it can be used.....

Black Holes..... Now most sci fi watching children in 1982 would have known what a Black Hole was courtesy of the 1979 (1980 in the UK?) Disney Film The Black Hole. In particular what we knew about black holes was they sucked things in and you couldn't escape. Star Fleet's version conforms to this but beyond that the physics just goes to pieces. Just check your brain in for the end of this episode and all of the next!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

05 The Mysterious Ship Skull!

"To My Compatriot on Earth, This is the Skull!"

Episode 5: The Mysterious Ship Skull!
UK Video: The Thorn/EMI Video
US Video: Volume 2: Revenge of the Robot
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 1

X-Bomber and the transport cruisers touch down on Pluto to commence the reconstruction of Pluto Alpha Base. Shiro, Hercules & Lee exhaustively search for Captain Carter but are unable to find him. Lamia receives a transmission from a ship called the Skull, mentioning the pendant she was found with and offering to bring her to them by tractor beam. She steals a shuttle and attempts to find the Skull. When she is found to be missing she is pursued by the Dai-X fighters and X-Bomber. Lamia finds the Skull but the engines on her shuttle fail and she is unable to make contact. She is found by Shiro in Brain Con and soon joined by Lee & Hercules. The Skull is located by the Imperial Alliance battlecruiser, who are seeking it. Commander Makara has Captain Orion assault the Skull with astrofighters. Shiro contacts X-Bomber to ask if they should intervene but is told not to by Doctor Benn. The Skull drives the astrofighters off, and Commander Makara orders a retreat before assaulting and seriously damaging the Skull using her battle cruiser. Dai-X's pilots prepare to intervene but are prevented to by X-Bomber's arrival. The rescue Lamia's shuttle and return to X-Bomber where they persuade Doctor Benn to intervene. They attack the Battlecruiser with the laser blast from the dual cannon in X-Bomber's neck. The Battlecruiser is forced to return fire on X-Bomber while retreating allowing the damaged Skull to escape.

Episode Five really closes the introductory chapter of Star Fleet by introducing the plot element that will power the next part of the story: the mysterious sailing ship the Skull. The search for the ship will be the driving force for the next nine episodes. All we see of it here is literally a sailing ship, in space, with a Skull on the prow. The producers of Doctor Who must have cried when they saw this episode, which I think first aired 20th November 1982, because they had a Sailing Ships in Space story ready to go for their next season (Enlightenment) but Star Fleet can't claim that they came up with the concept. I tried to trace the definitive origin of the idea when I did Enlightenment for the Doctor Who Blog. Space Pirate Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato need to bear some responsibility for the idea of sailing ships in space with Harlock featuring a ship with a skull & crossbones on it's bow. However I'm reasonably sure the idea predates even that.... Here the ship, the voice of it's captain, a probable link to Lamia via the pendant and that they are known to Imperial Alliance are all we know and the ship is set up as a mystery alongside the true identity of the F-01 which the Alliance seek.

And while we're on non original ship ideas: the Transport Cruisers in this and the previous episode, carrying their load amidships, look rather like Eagles from Space 1999 and the much later Transformers character Sky Garry. Here we see them coming into land on Pluto where it's snowing. Ok..... I get that snowing is shorthand for "it is very cold" but for snowing to occur I'm pretty sure their needs to be evaporation to form clouds and at approximately 44 degrees Kelvin that isn't going to be happening. While the landing is taking place we're treated to a comedy scene of PPA wrapped in bandages on X-Bomber following injuries sustained in the previous episode..... This scene ends in laughter but for some reason Kirara has acquired cymbals and is banging away like one of those little wind up monkey toys I can remember as a child.

The Skull offers to lead Lamia to it by tractor beam. But if it were a tractor beam why then does Lamia's ship stop short of the Skull with an apparent engine failure? I think this line is a victim of being translated into English and "Homing Beacon" would be much more appropriate. As we'll see later the Skull does indeed have a more traditional tractor beam aboard....

The other plot thread left hanging from the initial episodes is the pilot's instructor Captain Carter. We know from episode 2 that he's a prisoner of the Imperial Alliance (though the audience isn't reminded of it here) but the pilots don't. Here they spend the first part of the episode searching for him with some flashback's to the academy including one where Shiro is forced to shoot his instructor which will become significant later....

The voice actor for Captain Carter is Garrick Hagon, probably the most recognisable of the Star Fleet voice cast thanks to his appearance inStar Wars as Biggs Darklighter, the last rebel pilot to die at the Death Star battle. However a lot of his role was cut from the original film with only a short segment of him meeting Luke in the hanger bay reinstated. A significant amount of footage exists and can be found on Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray showing with Luke at the start of the film on Tatooine. If you look carefully in the Tosche Station scenes there's actually a second actor from Star Fleet involved...... (find out who in episode 13!) These scenes were included in the comics and book adaptation of the film enlarging the character's public role. He appeared in the 1972 Doctor Who story The Mutants as Ky and will appear in the 2012 series in the episode The Gun Slingers. Finding out the same actor was in Star Wars, Star Fleet & Doctor Who was the thing that developed my obsession with actor's CVs and what else they has appeared in, Garrick Hagon is married to the actress Liza Ross who plays Lamia in Star Fleet and when we get to her (episode 11) we'll look at the large number of productions that they've been in together. Captain Carter isn't in that many episodes and he's only credited as such due to that being the role he played in the first episode so we find Hagon doing several other voices as the series goes on. He makes two other voice appearances in this episode alone: he's the Pluto Alpha Base voice that challenges Lamia when she steals the shuttle and also the the voice of the unseen & unnamed Captain of the Skull. I'm pretty sure he voiced Professor Hagan's one speaking line in episode 3 and, likewise, am reasonably certain he plays the Imperial Alliance Scientist Calliban in the last third of the series.

Spacesuits: recall the yellow X-Bomber Spacesuits seen hanging in it's airlock? Here the pilots are wearing Silver spacesuits with individual coloured trim: Shiro is red (matching the cuffs of his shirt and Dai-X), Hercules is Green (like his jumpsuit) and Lee is Blue (as per his coat). Here Shiro's helmet carries the trim, just like the other do. The next time we see him wearing it (in episode 12) and in it's subsequent appearances it will be plain silver, like his Pilot's helmet. In fact when he's wearing the spacesuit is the only time in the series that Shiro appears without his helmet.

Like the previous episode the music here is superb. We're treated to some snowy music to open the episode as the ships land which cuts into the trecking music as the pilots search for Captain Carter. As Lamia journey's through space we hear the haunting theme for the Skull for the first time which effectively cuts into a version of the main Star Fleet theme as X-Bomber launches and dispatches the Dai-X. All are present on the excellent Star Fleet soundtrack CD but unfortunately the urgent music as Lamia flees Pluto in the stolen shuttle is missing from this episode. I'll sit down and listen to the entire CD to see if I can work out where it is (as the series goes on musical cues are frequently recycled) or if it's missing entirely.

This episode is the middle episode on the US Star Fleet video Volume 2: Revenge of the Robot and as such is missing it's opening & closing credits as well as it's Next Time sequence. As a pivotal episode in the series it's something of a surprise that it appears on neither of the two best known UK compilations The Thalian Space Wars or (perhaps a better home for it) Space Quest for F-01. I recorded it onto audio cassette from it's 1984 repeat showing and was still listening to it after I found the two compilation videos. What I didn't know at the time was that there was a third Star Fleet video with it on. I knew this video tape existed because I had seen it ONCE! On a 1986 holiday to Sandown in the Isle of Wight we passed a video shop and sitting there in a window was the only video cassette I had ever seen with the Star Fleet Logo on it - you can see a picture of the cover here. Many years later after I posted a Star Fleet sight onto the internet and started exchanging copies of episodes with people who emailed me. One of the things I was supplied with was a copy of this video tape and was delighted to find that it was a near complete compilation of episodes 4 & 5 missing just the next time trailers and the title sequences separating them.

Friday, 26 October 2012

04 The Transport Fleet Annihilated!

"What if we lie in wait for it...... under the Methane Sea"

Episode 4: The Transport Fleet Annihilated!
UK Video: The Thalian Space Wars / The Thorn/EMI Video
US Video: Volume 2: Revenge of the Robot
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 1

The house is empty, I've got this one on through the hi-fi system :-)

Star Fleet sends transport cruisers to begin the rebuilding of Pluto Alpha base but the cruisers disappear en route. In order to protect the next group of transports X-Bomber is dispatched to guard them, passing by Mars en route where Lamia catches sight of the planet she was found on. They enter the Asteroid Belt where they are ambushed by Imperial Alliance Carrier craft. The transports retreat as X-Bomber raises it's shield and destroys the carriers. Commander Makara is angry that their plan has failed but Captain Orion proposes ambushing X-Bomber at their base on Jupiter and having the cruiser lie in wait under the Methane Sea. Dr Benn deduces that a fleet of that size couldn't have come from a faraway base and that the Alliance must have a base on Jupiter which they decide to attack. Arriving at Jupiter they discover a huge base there which open fire on them, but when they try to escape they are cornered by Alliance Carrier rising from the depths. Realising that they have fallen into a trap, Dr Benn sends Shiro, Hercules & Lee to attack the base in the three Dai-X fighters that X-Bomber carries while he, PPA & Lamia man X-Bomber. The three fighter launch and approach the base with Shiro & Hercules attacking from the air in Braincon & Mainbody while Lee lands Leg-Tacks and uses it's tank mode to attack on the ground. Finding themselves massively outgunned they combine the three fighters into the massive Dai-X robot which goes on a rampage, destroying the base with missiles and it's super cannon. The Imperial Alliance cruiser flees and X-Bomber completes it's mission safely escorting the transport cruisers to Pluto to commence rebuilding the base.

Declaration: Favourite episode of the whole series.

I've probably seen or experienced this episode of Star Fleet more times than any other. To this day I still have a complete audio recording of it. It's all but complete on The Thalian Space Wars video compilation (missing just one of Captain Orion's lines, the very end and the next time on Star Fleet and exists on a second unnamed UK compilation, referred to as the The Thorn/EMI Video missing just the next time sequence. I've seen it sooo many times.

When we first see X-Bomber it's sitting outside being washed by PPA & Kirara. I've always though this shot was a little odd, why isn't it in it's Moonbase hanger seen in the first (and sixth) episodes? But no, it's outside Moonbase (which you can see in the background) on the Moon's surface. So how is Kirara washing X-Bomber without a spacesuit on? Can he breathe in space? When we see X-Bomber launch a little while later it is the standard moon launch sequence seen in the end titles but I'd never noticed before that you don't see the Hanger doors which I'd always thought you had done.

The pilots have an addition to their costumes as of this episode: They've gained a metal X badge on a star background on heir left shoulders, a symbol that they're part of X=-Bomber's crew. You'll see the same symbol on their spacesuits next episode.

What's with Commander Makara's assumption that X-Bomber's sitting on the moon crippled as per episode 2 and most of episode 3? They know it isn't from the attack at the end of episode 3.... unless something has happened in the meantime.

The spacecraft model work in this episode is superb, starting with the sequence as X-Bomber levels off to fly with the transport cruisers and then cuts to the Imperial Alliance cruiser on Jupiter surrounded by mist. We then go into one of the better musical themes used in the series, the haunting music as X-Bomber passes by Mars (where we get to see Lamia's room, complete with photos of Professor Hagan for the first time) which continues into the Asteroid Belt (watch the side window behind Dr Benn and Shiro as an asteroid passes by it as they're talking, the first hint of where they're going). Asteroids would have been very much in young British science fiction fans minds when this episode was shown: they're a feature of a major sequence in The Empire Strikes Back. It's possible Empire Strikes Back could have inspired this sequence but I suspect that the lead time between Empire's release and this episode's first Japanese broadcast is too short.

And then we get a fabulous musical transition into the Imperial Carrier's theme as they're revealed (sadly not quite intact on the soundtrack CD). These Carriers are different to the ones seen in the first few episodes. For a start they're not carrying fighters and also have a new weapon mounted on it's nose firing a pink energy beam as opposed to the yellow that they normally fire. To counteract this attack X-Bomber (for I think the only time in the entire series) raises a green energy shield and then retaliates with a pair of twin beam cannons, firing blue beams, that have suddenly appeared on the top of the ship (they'll be unseen again until episode 22).

In this episode is Captain Orion's moment of true genius: lie in wait for X-Bomber at Jupiter. It's a great plan, albeit reliant on X-Bomber's crew guessing where the Alliance carriers have come from. And it would have worked to, if it wasn't for Commander Makara staying his hand when he wanted to attack as X-Bomber approaches. It's not the first time Makara has countermanded Orion's orders... and it forces you to review the previous occasions she did so. Is Orion the true genius behind the Imperial Alliance (Don't forget it's the carrier and fighter squadrons under his command that destroy Pluto Alpha base and down X-Bomber in the first episode). Around these decisions we're treated to some superb model work of the Carrier diving into the methane sea, submerged under it and then surfacing plus X-Bomber flying over it.....

Which leads us to the question where is the Methane sea? Jupiter itself is a gas giant composed almost entirely of Hydrogen & Helium and definitely wouldn't have the rocky outcroppings seen during this story. The most obvious candidate for a Jovian moon with rock and a sea is Europa but the sea there would be covered by a layer of ice. Oddly the conditions shown here do exist elsewhere in the solar system: Rock with a Methane Sea is a pretty dead on description of Titan, the moon of Saturn. But as we see next episode Star Fleet's grasp of the solar system's environment is a little tenuous.

Doctor Benn's plan in this episode is to attack the base using Laser Torpedoes. We know what these look like as that's the weapon the Imperial Alliance cruiser fires and we've not yet seen X-Bomber fire anything like that. The Laser Torpedo weapon on X-Bomber makes it's debut later in episode 8.

The major feature of this episode though is the debut of the the three Dai-X fighters. The Look In promotional article names them as Brainder, Jumbody & Legstar but the episode refers to them as Brain Com, Main Body & Leg Tacks. There's evidence that these may be the fighters Japanese names - listen to the dialogue in this YouTube clip of the Japanese version of the Dai-X sequence from this episode. The name Les Star for Lee's fighter may explain the large LS seen behind his right shoulder on the wall of the fighter's cockpit. We see the fighters launching in this episode, as we have done on every title sequence, with Shiro's Braincon emerging from under X-Bomber's neck, Barry Hercules's Main Body on the right side of X-Bomber(looking from front) and John Lee's Leg Tacks on the left side.

Here's a question for you: where do Leg Tacks's tracks emerge from when it lands? It looks like the underside of the craft but, as we'll see in later sequences, the underside of the craft appears to be where the upper legs fold out from under the craft onto the back of it. Similarly when the fighters combine where do Dai-X's fists come from? The ends of the arms in fighter mode are it's engines...... And how are Shiro & Hercules sitting upright in the Dai-X robot? Their cockpits face up in the robot configuration. So do the chairs somehow rotate in the cockpit ala Thunderbird 1 shifting from vertical to horizontal flight? These question obsessed me when I was younger and still bother me to this day.

Star Fleet's Japanese creator Go Nagai is credited with creating the idea of a giant robot (mecha) piloted by a user/users in Mazinger-Z in 1972. In 1979 it was first used in the Super Sentai series Battle Fever J and remains a stable of the Super Sentai series and (from 1993) it's English version Power Rangers. I still have a love of the giant robot sequences in Power Rangers (the rest of Power Rangers: meh. I want Giant Robots!) to this day which I suspect is inspired by watching Dai-X at an early age. It's a man in a suit ala the old Godzilla movies but it's a very effective suit (and isn't the only man in a suit in Star Fleet....) Here Dai-X does the majority of it's work with it's fists but it does deploy two of it's weapons: the missiles mounted on the left arm and the Super Cannon, firing green energy bolts, on the left. The same Look In article linked to above credit Dai-X with two more weapons but they, and the others which it doesn't mention, won't turn up until much later in the series. In fact following this we won't see the Dai-X robot again for some time (flashbacks in episode 9, new footage in 11) although it'll be a constant presence thanks to the end titles, sourced from the second Japanese end title sequence (see all the Japanese title sequences here)

We're use to the idea of vehicles combining to form a robot now thanks to Transformers and Power Rangers but this was one of the first times British viewers would have seen that trick pulled. Not the absolute first though: the 1977 Takara Toy Microman toy Giant Acroyear, which was imported into the US by Mego and then the UK by Airfix in the Micronauts toy range, is the earliest example I've found of the concept but I'm sure there are earlier ones..... I had a Giant Acroyear as a child (well my brothers did) and following this episode I'm sure it stood in as a Dai-X fighting the Imperial Alliance in the shape of the Micronauts Hornetroid

I love this episode. Yeah I know I've said it already. But I really think they struck absolute gold here. Mystery in the first half leading to an action packed second half. Fabulous music, for me the best scored episode of the series, rivalled only by the next one. But most importantly the reveal of the Dai-X robot. Superb. If I had just one episode from the series to watch it'd be this one.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

03 Find F-01!

"First we must find out what exactly F-01 is"

Episode 3: Find F-01!
UK Video: Space Quest for F-01
US Video: Volume 1: Save The Earth
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 1

While Star Fleet searches it's databanks for information on F-01 Doctor Benn tries to send Lamia back to Moonbase, not wanting to risk her life, but she refuses to leave and joins the pilots repairing the engine room. Hercules & Lee speculate that F-01 might be one of X-Bombers weapons but Shiro thinks that F-01 may be a person, with special powers. Lamia overhears this and returns to Doctor Benn questioning her origins. Shiro follows and overhears Doctor Benn telling her how she was found in a spacecraft on Mars, with Kirara and her blue jewelled necklace, by Professor Hagan, Shiro's Father. Professor Hagan raised her as her own until he disappeared from Mars some time ago. Kirara finds Shiro and Doctor Benn swears him to secrecy. When no data on F-01 is found in the computers, General Kyle decides to attack the Alliance Cruiser. He tells Makara they have no information but she doesn't believe them. General Kyle contacts X-Bomber but it is unable to launch in time to save them. The Alliance destroys Earth's missile base sites and gives them five minutes to hand over F-01. Star Fleet command evacuates it's personnel to the shelters. Doctor Benn decides to use X-Bomber's X-Impulse to attack the Imperial Alliance cruiser. Lamia contacts Commander Makara and tells her that she is the F-01. This draws the Cruiser away from Earth. Shiro stops Lamia from leaving X-Bomber to surrender herself. As the Cruiser approaches the Moon X-Bomber launches and uses the X-Impulse against it massively damaging the vessel and forcing it to flee the solar system.

So.... where do we start? Spacesuits. I like spacesuits :-) I do wonder though what Professor Hagan is doing wearing one with no gloves? Mars' surface pressure is 0.636 (0.4–0.87) kPa (compared to Earth's 101.325 kPa so I'd have thought a full suit would be necessary especially if entering a potentially hazardous environment.....

And then there's the spacesuits seen hanging in X-Bomber's airlock. Bright yellow in colour. And hanging there is the only time you'll see these suits: The pilots will wear space suits in several later episodes (and Lamia in one too) but they never use suits of this design and colour.

Then we have to question the Hagan family's domestic arrangements: How has Shiro never met Lamia before if her Father brought her up? If we assume that she & Shiro are a similar age in their early twenties surely they must have come into contact? The only assumption is that Professor Hagan and his wife are long since separated with Shiro & his mother remaining on Earth while Professor Hagan went to Mars & started work on X-Bomber. Note that Professor Hagan is now missing: Absent, Missing & Presumed Dead Fathers are a bit of a trope in Japanese Manga & Anime fiction (see also: Red Impulse / Kentaro Washio in Gatchaman, a plot element eliminated from the western Battle of the Planets version.

So how does Lamia make the jump to think that she may be F-01? She's a bit impulsive as we'll see in later episode so..... but it is quite a big leap to make. Doctor Benn's direction to the crew to take X-Bomber up to avoid colliding with Makara's battlecruiser is a bit odd: the following frames show both ships heading up and narrowly missing, surely down or off to the side would be better?

X-Impulse's debut here is as an X shaped blue ray projecting out from X-Bomber's wings. We're given prior warning of it's destructive power as Star Fleet command evacuates to shelters and when we see it it's jolly impressive becoming the first thing to actually do some damage to the alien cruiser. We learn something about the Alien Cruiser here when Star Fleet command analyses it: it's 1,600 meters long. From that you should be able to produce estimates of the rest of it's dimensions.

At one point I owned a copy of this episode on audio tape. But for some reason the previous episode overran and I missed the end of the episode on recording: it cut out just as X-Bomber started launching so I missed the crucial X-Impulse sequence. These first three episode make a nice little trilogy to open the series so it's only right that they all appear together on the US Star Fleet video Volume 1: Save The Earth. It's the only episode on the tape to retain it's next episode sequence, which excited me no end as a nine year old: Asteroids! Those red fighters from the end titles at last! This episode also appears, almost complete, on the Space Quest for F-01 UK compilation.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

02 The Imperial Alliance's Surprise Attack!

"All power to the main shield in a concentrated laser beam"

Episode 2: The Imperial Alliance's Surprise Attack!
UK Video: Space Quest for F-01
US Video: Volume 1: Save The Earth
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 1

Having downed X-Bomber Captain Orion wants to proceed to Earth and destroy it, but Commander Makara reminds them of their true quest: to find the F-01. To that end she interrogates Captain Carter, taken prisoner at Pluto, using the Laser Memory Disimilator. He knows nothing and she is unable to obtain information from him. Makara orders him treated so he does not die. At Moonbase a concerned Lamia attempts to contact X-Bomber but is unable to raise them. She & Kirara drive out to the crash site but come under sustained assault from Imperial Alliance fighters. Shiro, Hercules & Lee revive themselves and give her covering fire to reach the relative safety of the ship. Doctor Ben has the pilots shift the ship's position towards the enemy and then opens the ship's neck to reveal it's laser cannon which destroys four of the five carrier vessels, just Captains Orion's escaping. Dr Benn contacts General Kyle on Earth and the crew begins repairs to X-Bomber. Earth Defence Force's Ocean Patrol Fleet has arrived at Pluto but is lured into space by the Imperial Alliance's FG operation, involving holographic ships, which allows Commander Makara to take her cruiser to Earth where she confronts General Kyle demanding the location of the F-01. She gives him one hour to comply....

The thing that stuck in my memory from this episode was the unveiling of the first of X-Bomber's BIG weapons, the twin laser cannon in it's neck. The Look In pull out centre piece promo says this is called the Breast Cannon but I can't remember hearing this one used in the series. Here it wipes out four of the carriers that were involved in downing X-Bomber. Of the ship's arsenal this is the one we'll see the most of over the series.

I also know this episode nearly off by heart. You see during 1984 Star Fleet was repeated in the LWT ITV region and I had my mother record the episodes on audio tape for me. (we didn't get a VCR till 1989) This was the first episode I recorded and kept and loved it.....

But knowing it so well caused irritation in later years. People moan that Star Fleet never had a proper video release in the UK but there were three separate tapes released. The first that I knew about we'll cover in a few episodes time. But one day in.... 1990 I think? I wandered into Woolworths in Kingston and found two video cassettes with familiar covers: The Thalian Space Wars and Space Quest for F-01. I was on my way to the Dentist at the time (funny how these details stay with you) and had no money on me (I was a sixth form student so got free treatment) so had to go to the Dentist, go home to get some cash, go into town and hope they were still there. Which they were. Space Quest for F-01 concentrates on the F-01 storyline and starts from around the ad break in this episode where the Alliance commence the FG operation. But what I wanted to see was the action sequence of Lamia driving out to X-Bomber and the cruisers being attacked......

Then around 2000 when I first got online at home I discovered that there was an eight tape US VHS release of Star Fleet. NTSC tapes represented no problem to me by then so I tracked down all eight volumes which each contained 3 episodes each. However, and like the early Doctor Who video releases, the episodes were butchered to remove the next time & end titles of the first episode & second episodes and the opening titles on the second and third episodes. In addition a number of other small cuts were made to bring each volume down to an hour's run time. So in goes Volume 1, I watch then first episode, ooh here's the crash, Lamia decides to drive out to X-Bomber..... and there's the crew waking up with a big chunk of the action as Lamia is attacked missing. I've never been able to identify all the other cuts but I knew this bit was missing.

In fact THE first thing I did when I got Star Fleet - The Complete Series on DVD was check that this sequence was intact and it wasn't the US tapes re-edited!

There's two major revelations in this episode: the first is that Captain Carter is still alive and has two hands: later events made me question this and watching episode 1 through this time I noticed you never see both hands at the same time. Since one later episode has a definite example of flipped footage I was on the look out for a scene where we see both hands at once and you get it here when he's strapped to the Laser Memory Dissimilator. The other is what the enemy are searching for: the F-01. Absolute honest truth: 9 year old me thought that the F-01 was some mighty weapon and thought it was going to be the big red robot seen in the end titles and not yet glimpsed in the series... which was obviously going to turn up and lift the crippled X-Bomber up off the moon.

One of the games you can play with Star Fleet is to try to identify which minor role is played by which voice artist. We know the cast for the first episode which is displayed on captions at the end of every episode:

Dr. Benn - Peter Marinker
Shiro Hagen - Jay Benedict
Barry Hercules - Constantine Gregory
John Lee - Mark Rolston

General Kyle - Kevin Brennan
PPA (Perfectly Programmed Android) - John Baddeley
Lamia - Liza Ross
Captain Carter - Garrick Hagon

Commander Makara - Denise Bryer
Captain Orion - Sean Barrett
The Imperial Master - Jacob Witkin

Already we've heard various Moonbase, Earth Defence Forces staff & pilots and Imperial Alliance Termoids that we can't be 100% sure of. I'm particularly annoyed that I've never been able to identify most of General Kyle's staff but I'm pretty sure I know who the female staff member is in this episode: Denise Bryer who voices Commander Makara. Why? Because she sounds just like Mary Falconer in Terrahawks, who Bryer also voiced. Bryer is the only actor to work on both shows, which use similar puppetry techniques. Terrahawks was in production as Star Fleet was aired so comparisons are inevitable leading some people to believe that Gerry Anderson was involved in creating Star Fleet (he wasn't). Denise Bryer has a long history of voice work, including a very early Anderson series The Adventures of Twizzle & Four Feather Falls where she worked alongside her then husband Nicholas Parsons. Other roles including performing as voice artist on Hector's House & Noddy as well as the films Return to Oz & Labyrinth.

All the titles for the Star Fleet episodes are taken from their Japanese broadcast, but I've actually altered the title of this episode slightly: the Japanese name is The Gelma Fleet's Surprise Attack! which uses the Japanese name for the Imperial Alliance. There's a couple of other places where I'll make an English substitution.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

01 Scramble, X-Bomber!

"The Year is Two Thousand, Nine Hundred and Ninety Nine. Space War Three has ended. The Galaxy is once again enjoying a time of peace. Our Solar System, with Earth as it's leader, is slowly rebuilding, attempting to forge new hope out of the ashes of devastation. Star Fleet, the spearhead of Earth's defences, is commanded here from the headquarters of EDF, Earth Defence Forces...."

Episode 1: Scramble, X-Bomber
UK Video: The Thalian Space Wars
US Video: Volume 1: Save The Earth
DVD: Star Fleet - The Complete Series - Disc 1

A massive alien battlecruiser comes out of the Thalian Zone commanded by Commander Makara and Captain Orion. They encounter a Star Fleet cruiser, but are interrupted by the Imperial Master, who appears as a hologram, reminding them of the true purpose of their Mission. Captain Carter at Pluto Alpha Base alerts Earth Defence Forces of the destruction of their cruiser and dispatches astro fighters against the alien cruiser. The Cruiser annihilates the fighters. General Kyle on Earth orders Doctor Benn on Moonbase to launch the uncompleted X-Project and sends him their three most promising pilots Shiro Hagan, John Lee & Barry Hercules. En route to the moon Shiro's friends ask him about X-Project which his father designed but he doesn't know what it is. On Moonbase they are introduced to Doctor Benn, his cyberdroid PPA, his secretary Lamia and the beastly Kirara, her bodyguard. The Alien Battlecruiser dispatches it's own Carriers and Drone Fighters under the command of Captain Orion which attack & destroy Pluto Alpha Base. The pilots are shown the huge X-Bomber craft when General Kyle brings news that Pluto has fallen and the pilot's former tutor Captain Carter is presumed dead. The Pilot's don't want to fly X-Bomber against the enemy without a simulated flight so Doctor Benn and PPA elect to take X-Bomber up themselves as the Fleet approaches. The pilots relent and decide to go for the memory of Captain Carter. X-Bomber launches out of it's moon crater base and engages the enemy fighters with Shiro & Hercules manning the guns. Massively outnumbered X-Bomber is severely damaged and crashes onto the Moon's surface, the fate of it's crew unknown, as Alliance fighters circle overhead and General Kyle admits all hope is lost.

Let me tell you how this all started for me: Star Wars. I was born in 1973 so was a little too young for Star Wars in 1977 but did see Empire Strikes Back in 1980. I eventually saw Star Wars in..... spring of 1982 I think, in a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back. Then in the autumn of '82 ITV announced that it was going to be showing the UK Television Premier of Star Wars on 24th October. This was a big thing, with huge publicity including a cover and features in the TV Times, then the only listings magazine to carry the listings for ITV. We were a Radio Times family, we didn't buy the TV Tomes but I persuaded my Mum to make an exception that week. And because it's something Star Wars related someone has scanned it in. Go have a look at it...... But if you turn to page 38 (p36 of the scan) you'll see the entry for Saturday morning:

New Series
The Year is 2999. Space War Three has ended. The Solar System is being rebuilt, led by planet Earth. But hostile powers and aliens are at work. Can General Kyle and his Star Fleet prevent sabotage?
Sold! As Sean pointed out to me, when I sent him the link, isn't annoying how they used to put 10.0 instead of 10:00.

So at 10am on Saturday 23rd October, yes thirty years ago today, we gathered round the TV to see what this was like....

Hooked with the titles. Fantastic opening beat, huge big logo, ooooh X shaped spaceships. Puppets! (I'd seen and like Thunderbirds by this point) Thunderbirds style "pilots entering spaceships" Oooh, spaceship launching out of a crater (Space Sentinels/UFO), Character introductions. Alien Spacecraft, aliens, battles..... OOOOH Big Red Robot !

The start of the program itself is great with some stunning visuals, including a lovely pan over the alien Battlecruiser. We meet the threat to the solar system first Commander Makara & Captain Orion, come to reap havoc and destruction..... and their Imperial Master who reminds them of their real mission there..... without telling us what it is. From there on the first half of the program is a near constant barrage of alien destruction removing first Pluto's fighters and destroying Pluto itself seemingly killing it's commanding Officer, Captain Carter..... We're then introduced to the majority of the rest of our cast quite quickly - in the entire series there are only four named characters not in this first episode - and the real star of the show X-Bomber whom the original Japanese series was named after.

Yes, original Japanese series. Because Star Fleet started off in Japan as X-Bomber, a creation of Manga legend Go Nagai. Like Gatchaman before it (imported into the west as Battle of the Planets) it was redubbed for an English speaking market. Unlike Gatchaman X-Bomber survived the process largely intact.

Lots of the little details in the show jump out at me.... When Commander Makara speaks to the Imperial Master the little face covering her left eye (all Imperial Alliance officers appear to have some form of bionic device over one eye) speaks in a male voice. Is this an attempt to insinuate that she's a Hermaphrodite like Kattse/Zoltar in Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets? Captain Carter's statement of "if this base is taken the next victim is the Earth" is a bit odd.... surely one of the other planets has to be on the same side of the sun as Pluto & the Earth? If you look on the graphic in Star Fleet Command Mars, Saturn and Jupiter all are.... do Star Fleet not have bases on the moons of the gas giants? We'll find out in this episode that they do on Mars but episode four would indicate that perhaps there isn't a Jupiter base. Look at the pilot of the first ship the Alliance destroy: there's a 1 on his helmet while the other Pilots have PC (Pluto what? Pluto Central?) on theirs an abbreviation that crops up elsewhere alongside EDF (Earth Defence Forces). As the pilots decide to fly X-Bomber in memory of Captain Carter a little theme sounds which will return in later episodes. There's a statue in Moonbase's lobby: it's of Artemis the Greek goddess of the moon.

Then there's the bigger stuff like wonderful design on the alien ships: The Coelcanth like alien battlecruiser and it's insetoid Carriers (which look a lot like the Micronauts Hornetroid I used to own) and fighters. X-Bomber itself is a very different piece of design, much more blocky than the alien craft. The only weapons we see it use this episode are the two laser gun emplacements on either side of the control room. The Look In article that accompanies the series launch mentions a third, top turret (referred to in the dialogue for the next episode) but we never see it in the series. There are numerous little and not so little flaws in this Look-In article we will be ridiculing as the series goes on. But especially in episode 4. Oh yes.

Then there's the ending.... My goodness. The all powerful superspace craft is shot down by the enemy, crashing into the moon leaving you wondering if the crew are alive or dead with seemingly no hope. What a fabulous ending, just so different to the usual kids series fare. OK it's *slightly* spoiled by the "next time on Star Fleet" trailer and voice over but ....

And then there's the end titles. X-Bomber launching and flying over moonbase..... yeah we've seen that. But the three fighters combining to form the big robot ? oooooh! While the opening sequence of Star Fleet is a European invention (including the only European shot footage for this show with the first 10 seconds including the logo) the end titles are adapted from the second Japanese end title sequence - you can see all 3 Japanese title sequences at

Star Fleet has a long and complicated video release history before it was eventually completely released on on DVD during 2009. This episode appears on the Volume 1: Save The Earth US Video Tape and , up until the point X-Bomber is shot down, on the UK Compilation The Thalian Space Wars.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Where were you....

Where were you Saturday 23rd October 1982? I can remember where I was :-)