Over the past few weeks I have been quietly reliving part of my childhood. I have thirty of the thirty-nine episodes of Fireball XL5, a sci-fi marionette show for kids, and am busy “acquiring” the final nine eps. For those of you not familiar with XL5—and I’d wager that’s pretty much all of you—the premise is that Colonel Steve Zodiac and his crew patrol space to protect Earth from native and alien villains.
Fireball XL5 was created in 1962 by Gerry Anderson who also created Thunderbirds (1965), Space 1999 (1975) and several other shows. Thunderbirds was remade in 2004 as a full-length feature movie based on Anderson’s series. There is a simplicity to XL5 that only a child can appreciate. To move about in outer space requires only a thruster pack and some oxygen pills. (No worries about extreme temperatures or that whole vacuum thing.) The same mental abilities that allow a 5 year-old to turn a cardboard box into a medieval castle automatically edits the clearly visible strings and renders the jerky movements of the marionettes into something completely believable. Colonel Zodiac was aided in his missions by Venus, the ship’s doctor, Robert the (transparent) Robot and Professor Matthew Matic who designed the Fireball series spaceship.
There were some pretty interesting technologies in Fireball XL5. The ship was launched with the aid of a rocket pack that boosted the XL5 down a mile-long rail, as in the image above. The ship’s main thrusters fired only at the end of the rail, which culminated in a 40-degree incline. The nose section, dubbed Fireball Junior, was detachable and capable of landing in areas where Zodiac didn’t want to risk the ship. (Note the blister just behind Junior where the rest of the ship could be piloted when the nose section was separated.) At the beginning of every episode Steve Zodiac and Venus could be seen riding hover scooters along the top of XL5 from back to front, then they would descend though an open hatch into the rear compartment of the nose section.
Like any “B” movie and TV show created in the 50’s and 60’s, Fireball XL5 was rife with “space” jargon. The spaceship was part of the World Space Patrol, headquartered in Space City. The ship could travel at Space Velocity 7 and was frequently used to thwart space spies. (Yes, they actually called them space spies.)
Still and all, I wish this show could be taken out of the world of children’s programs and updated for the 21st Century. Not as corny as the Thunderbirds movie, but not as dramatic as Battlestar Galactica either. Maybe something in the “gritty adventure” genre like Firefly/Serenity.
Edit: 10 May 2009, I have all 39 episodes on my computer and my iPod. I know you can’t see me smiling but trust me, I am.