Following directly on from the events of Pathfinders to Mars, the opening of S.O.S. from Venus finds our plucky band of space explorers heading back home to Earth. Somewhat awkwardly, the chisel-jawed Conway Henderson (Gerald Flood) decides to radio Earth with a rundown of the rocket’s personnel.
This, of course, is done purely for the benefit of new viewers who may not have caught the previous serial. So in the same spirit, I can reveal that apart from Conway Henderson, also on-board are Professor Mary Meadows (Pamela Barney), youngsters Geoff Wedgewood (Stuart Guidotti) and Margaret Henderson (Hester Cameron) and the loose cannon that is Harcourt Brown (George Coulouris). Oh, and Hamlet the guinea pig of course.
But when they receive a distress call from an American, Captain Wilson (Graydon Gould), trapped in an orbit around Venus, they elect to change course and help him. Brown is delighted – his quest for exploration knows no bounds and within seconds he’s chomping at the bit to step foot on Venus. Conway tells him that they’re only going to orbit the planet, so any jaunts to the surface are strictly out of bounds. Hmm, we’ve been here before so the astute viewer won’t be surprised to learn that Brown will shortly get his way (otherwise, with eight episodes to fill, the story wouldn’t have been terribly interesting).
Although the serial would quickly abandon its loose grip on scientific realism, in this episode Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice were at least still paying lip service to established scientific principles, such as degaussing.
The modelwork remains as endearingly low rent as before as do the limited special effects. Given that this was made in 1961, that’s hardly surprising, although simple camera tricks (simulating weightlessness in space – crawling on the underside of the rocket – by simply turning the picture frame upside down) are still effective.
As has happened before, the opening episode is pretty much a bottle episode – set aboard the rocket. This means that it’s something of a slow intro – although Conway’s space-walk is good fun. A pity that the very dramatic stock music during this scene is rather miscued (it starts, then it stops for a few seconds, then it starts again) but such technical issues were common during this era of television.
Things seem to be going smoothly. Conway and the others have nearly reached Wilson, whilst a Russian rescue rocket is also heading towards them. But you can always guarantee that Brown will complicate matters and when he spots something through the viewfinder (“it’s a town! A town on Venus!”) he sets to work in order to convince the others that they should land.
The way he does so takes a little swallowing. Since Wilson’s messages have been recorded, by chopping out a small section of the tape Brown can create the impression that Wilson is on the surface and asking for help. That Brown is able to correctly estimate precisely how much tape he needs to remove without playing it first is a highly impressive skill …..