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10

Fireball XL5 - A Blast from the Past

When I was but 10 years old, I was amazed by the premiere of a new Saturday morning cartoon, Fireball XL5, which was the coolest series ever (until the next season, of course).

Of astonishingly good quality, this series utilized puppets instead of claymation, stop-motion animation, or conventional animation. The music track was also catchy and I can recall it to this day even though it has now been over 55 years since I have heard it.

From the IMDb, we find: Fireball XL5 was part of the fleet of interplanetary rockets protecting Sector 25 of the Solar System from alien invasion under the supervision of the World Space Patrol. In command of XL5 was Steve Zodiac, and his crew consisted of Venus, a doctor, Professor Matic, the science officer, and Robert the Robot, the rocket's mechanical co-pilot. This series was the first to depict a space fleet of patrol ships monitoring our quadrant of space, a concept used in Star Trek TOS a few years later. The characters from the very first episode were amazingly fleshed out by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, only to be further developed by the talents of the other scriptwriters resulting in a fine continuity right up the last episode, unheard of in those days. Stories involved time travel, space pirates and of course earth domination, which had the puppets smoking, shaving, being tied up and the odd reference to child psychology! -Very adult for a child's T.V. series.

YouTube contains the complete series and the first episode is embedded below. As you must have guessed by now, the series ran for only one season beginning in 1962, the WTM curse having doomed this one too. Ironically, I don't watch television anymore.

Try this one on your kids and see how they react. I believe the word is 'retro'.


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I was a kid in a north suburb of London when these premiered in the UK - they were the absolute coolest thing on earth (along with the Vickers VC-10 jet). Star Wars is just a pale shadow of the cool factor of spaceships made out of detergent bottles and actors (literally) on strings. It didn't matter - we were a rapt audience of six year olds.
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Here's my theory on Fireball XL5 and lot of other stuff from back then. Outside of Disney, Captain Kangaroo, and a couple others, no one knew how to deal with children. They took adult themes and just toned them down a bit - made them simpler and easier to understand. Eventually, things changed and what we got was fluff.

I'm thinking "I don't watch television anymore" is a bit too harsh. Ñetwork television maybe. The early seasons of Walking Dead were good, Black Mirror on Netflix is awesome, and I think you would have enjoyed Feud: Joan and Bette on FX. That's a few and there's lot of others.
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Fireball XL-5 was a great series. However, I would not call it a "cartoon." Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Supermarionation was something different.
I must dispute the IMDb assertion that Fireball XL-5 " was the first to depict a space fleet of patrol ships monitoring our quadrant of space, a concept used in Star Trek TOS a few years later."
Fireball XL-5 aired in 1962-63.
Tom Corbett — Space Cadet (featuring cadets at the Space Academy as they train to become members of the Solar Guard) aired on TV from 1950 to 1955.
Space Patrol, A series about an "intergalactic space police and military force charged with keeping the peace," also aired from 1950 to 1955.
Planet Patrol (originally called "Space Patrol" in The UK) was another TV series featuring marionettes. Produced by Roberta Leigh in 1962 and broadcast in 1963. Leigh used to work for the Andersons, and much of her program reflected their influence. In this series, Earth, Mars and Venus form the United Galactic Organization, and Space Patrol is it's military wing. The series follows the actions of this interplanetary force.
Safe to say, when Gene Roddenberry produced Star Trek, it had a fairly substantial ancestry.
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