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.

1 comment:

  1. I remember you asking about "sailing ships in space" some months ago :-)

    As I recall, I mentioned about Captain Harlock (I saw "CH And The Queen Of A Thousand Years" when it was shown on Super Channel in the late 80s), but as I was reading this entry I also remembered the "Pride Of The Skies II" (yet another sailing ship-like spacecraft) in "Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors". It does seem to be a staple of animated series with some Japanese provenance...