Languishing in the vaults for decades, during which time it became a semi-legendary show among TV fans of a certain age, Fireball XL5 (1962) was Gerry Anderson's second puppet-animation science fiction series, the direct forerunner of Stingray (1963) and Thunderbirds (1964). This is the show on which Anderson established the formula for his later classics: a pseudo-military organisation engaged in desperate Earth-saving adventures against overwhelming odds; superb model work; puppets with very obvious strings but endearing personalities; iconic music by Barry Gray;... and absolutely massive explosions. Colonel Steve Zodiac pilots the coolest spaceship then seen on British TV, the titular Fireball XL5, and is joined by medical officer Venus, a forerunner of Lady Penelope voiced by Sylvia Anderson, and comedy relief Prof Matt Matic (David Graham). Along for the ride is Robert the Robot, a thinner version of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956), a character who would soon turn up in Lost in Space (1965). The plots are ridiculous, with typically Cold War-era aliens routinely bent on planetary destruction for no reason, and there's zero attention to even rudimentary astronomy or anything else approaching actual science. Yet the gadgets, vehicles and puppetry are first-rate and the fast-paced, action-filled episodes are relentlessly entertaining. It's a cult just waiting to be reborn, and essential viewing for all Anderson fans. On the DVD: Fireball XL5 is presented with all 39 episodes (they run 25 minutes each) on five discs. Despite the colourful packaging, the episodes are all black and white, and the 4:3 picture is generally fine, though there are occasional instances of over-compression, which results in artefacting on smooth walls and the like. Some shots look a little soft, but detail is usually strong, making the models and puppets look better than ever. The mono sound is fine, if unremarkable. There are no extras beyond optional subtitles. --Gary S Dalkin [show more]
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