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:

10.0
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 www.bigdaix.co.uk

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.

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