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.

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