Do Not Adjust Your Set – BFI DVD Review

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Like its Rediffusion stablemate At Last The 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set was an important building block which paved the way for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. And despite its status as a children’s show, DNAYS quickly gathered an appreciative adult audience as well  (John Cleese, for one, was especially captivated).

Running for two series – the first on Rediffusion, the second on Thames – DNAYS was the brainchild of Humphrey Barclay. Barclay was a Cambridge Footlights contemporary of John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor and would continue to work with Cleese and Brooke-Taylor on the radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.

Michael Palin and Terry Jones had first met as students in Oxford and continued their writing partnership following their graduation (joining a roster of very familiar names penning material for The Frost Report).  They also worked as BBC writers for hire, with Billy Cotton and Roy Hudd amongst their clients. Although the pair had appeared on television prior to DNAYS, it was this series which allowed them to blossom as performers (something which Palin remains grateful for to this day).

Eric Idle, a Cambridge Footlights old boy, was (like seemingly everybody else in the comedy world during the mid sixties) a writer on The Frost Report and also co-wrote (along with Barry Cryer and Graham Chapman) the first series of the Ronnie Corbett sitcom No, That’s Me Over Here! (the series which replaced At Last The 1948 Show in the schedules).

Another future Python connection was put into place with the arrival of Terry Gilliam. His animations, similar in style to his Python work, would appear in some of the later episodes.

The roster of regulars was completed with Denise Coffey and David Jason. Both were hired as performers rather than performer/writers (as Palin, Jones and Idle were) but Coffey and Jason did eventually contribute material to the show. Captain Fantastic (a regular filmed insert featuring Jason as a bowler-hatted superhero and Coffey as his evil nemesis) was originally written by Palin, but he found it increasingly tough going (as he wasn’t performing the material) so Coffey and Jason took up the challenge. It proved to have a brief life outside of the series – the shorts continued for a short while as an insert in the magazine programme Magpie.


Regular musical interludes (and occasional sketch walk-on roles) came courtesty of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who are always nothing less than a total delight. Their antics are especially noteworthy when you consider that they had to fit these spots in-between their busy gigging schedule which regularly took them up and down the country. So that helps to explain why sometimes everything looks rather thrown together ….

Archive Status

Out of the 27 episodes made and broadcast, today 14 exist. The Thames series is especially hard hit – with only two (the 1968 Christmas special and episode two) now remaining from the thirteen broadcast.

There has been some positive news in recent years though. Episode four of series one was recovered back in 2015 (which does give one hope that more material might still be out there somewhere) whilst there’s nearly an hours worth of audio clips from selected missing Thames episodes on this DVD, which helps to fill in some of the gaps.

The Series

The first show should have been the Boxing Day special. Alas, due to a mix-up this wasn’t transmitted until January.

The Boxing Day theme might have been out of date by the time it was finally broadcast but there’s plenty of interest – Eric Idle as a slick quizmaster catches the eye as does the very lithe David Jason (in the boxing sketch). The Bonzo’s first contribution to the series is Jolitty Farm. It’s odd stuff, but when compared to some of their later offerings you have to say that it’s positively restrained ….

As with At Last The 1948 Show, it’s fascinating to see proto-Python moments pop up in DNAYS. The first show proper has an early outing for Michael Palin’s recalcitrant shop-keeper (today he’s annoying the unfortunate David Jason). Interesting to see the sketch play out to virtual silence – another early Python trait.

As the series progresses, a more adult and unconventional tone creeps in. This helps to explain why some sketches don’t get much of a reaction – at times the juvenile audience seems to be more comfortable with visual slapstick rather than intricate wordplay.

Travelling Kettle, How To Eat, Insurance Salesman and Art Gallery are all series one sketch highlights. The unexpected appearance of the keen-as-mustard Tim Brooke-Taylor (deputising for the ill Michael Palin) in episode nine is something else to look out for. And the increasingly demented Bonzos (blacked up when performing Look Out There’s A Monster Coming,  playing football during  Equestrian Statue) continue to be excellent value for money.

It’s a shame that so little material from the Thames era exists as what we do have is top notch (Palin and Jones continue to work excellently together). The audience sounds different in episode two (the laughter is deeper than the high-pitched chuckles from the first series, suggesting that the young audience has been supplanted by older types) and it would be interesting to know if this was a regular occurrence or just a one-off.

Picture Quality

Generally the episodes are in good shape – certainly overall the picture quality is more consistent and better than At Last The 1948 Show. Even episode four of series one, sourced from a Phillips 1500 cassette rather than a telerecording, is very watchable.

Special Features

Michael Palin (33 minutes) and Humphrey Barclay (34 minutes)  both contribute new  in-depth interviews whilst there are shorter contributions from Tim Brooke-Taylor and John Cleese. Three Terry Gilliam animations, remastered from his original 35mm elements, are another treat.

Pride of place on the extras disc has to go to the The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band documentary.  Running for sixty minutes and featuring contributions from Neil Innes, Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin-Spear and ‘Legs’ Larry Smith it’s an absorbing watch.


Do Not Adjust Your Set obviously showcases Palin, Jones and Idle but this time round I’ve been especially impressed with David Jason, who throws himself into every sketch with gusto.  Denise Coffey might have slightly less to do than the others (Palin, Jones and Idle have acknowledged that writing for women – unless they were actually playing them – was not their forte at this time) but having a regular female performer does add an extra dimension to the series.

As with At Last The 1948 ShowDo Not Adjust Your Set is an excellent package – the episodes bolstered by a plentiful helping of extras which help to set the programme firmly in context.  The series’ hit rate was higher than I’d remembered from previous viewings and I’m sure that this is a DVD that I’ll come back to again and again in the future. Highly recommended.


Pathfinders to Venus. Episode Eight – Planet on Fire

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With the jungle on fire, Conway and the others struggle to reach the safety of the rocket ….

Brown’s fanaticism – he broadcasts back to Earth a message that everyone else is dead and the planet is hostile – is plainly on show here.  His attempt to sabotage the rocket is a little half-hearted though (since Conway is able to quickly to reverse his damage).

There’s another example of Brown’s disregard for the others – Wilson is attacked by a Venusian in the forest and Brown elects to leave him there.  But what’s worse is that Wilson was looking after Hamlet at the time.  So poor Hamlet’s lost in the forest – clearly Brown is a monster of the first degree …..

Will Wilson and Hamlet make it back to the rocket before Conway has to blast off?  Hmm, I wonder.

The dramatic music goes into overdrive as Conway believes they can’t leave the planet as the Russian rocket, carrying the fuel for the return trip home, appears to have crashed.  So they seem doomed to spend the rest of their lives on Venus.  If so, how will they live?  Brown’s rather keen, but the others less so.

The sudden unexpected appearance of Colonel Korolyov (Robert James) therefore comes as quite a surprise as he tells them that there’s no reason why they can’t return to Earth.  Given that the Cold War was still icy at this point, it’s possible to view the image of Korolyov and Wilson, working together in harmony, with a rather jaundiced eye.

But there’s also a subtler reading that can be made.  Wilson admits that his secret mission in space was to establish an outer-space telephone relay system.  Korolyov genially tells the others that he’s glad there was no other motive for Wilson’s flight (which still leaves us with the inference that Wilson hasn’t been completely straight with them.  Maybe there was another – military – motive behind his mission).

Brown stays behind on Venus but the possibility that the Russians or Americans (or even the British) would return one day to plunder its natural resources remains a possibility.  Whilst Pathfinders to Venus generally presents an optimistic picture of space exploration, there’s still the hint that the future might see political or monetary concerns win out over pure scientific research.

Pathfinders to Venus might be a couple of episodes too long, but you can’t help but be impressed by it’s scope and scale.  Attempting to mount an epic tale with a less than epic budget took some nerve and whilst it’s easy to view all three of the Pathfinders tales purely in terms of the way they anticipated Doctor Who, they still stand up as engaging serials in their own right.  Pulpy fun, it’s true.  But fun nonetheless.

Pathfinders to Venus. Episode Seven – The Valley of Monsters

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The episode title – The Valley of Monsters – would no doubt have raised the audience’s expectations, so possibly that was why our first sight of the monsters – stock footage of animated flying reptiles – provided the previous episode with its cliffhanger.  At least that way most people would know what they were going to get here.

This instalment was especially fascinating since it was used for an academic study into children’s viewing habits and opinions.  To this end, eight deliberate production mistakes (in addition to any inadvertent ones) were introduced into the episode.  Several groups of children were then shown the episode, with their interest levels and comments closely monitored.

It was discovered that young children were just as demanding and critical as any other viewing group.  As producer Sydney Newman later noted. “The most important thing we learnt is that if anyone thinks a young audience can be fooled or won sloppily or ‘on the cheap’ he is sadly mistaken”.  No doubt these lessons would have been taken on board when Newman moved to the BBC and initiated the creation of Doctor Who.

I have to confess that none of the production mistakes were particularly apparent.  Maybe I was just unobservant or possibly too wrapped up in the story?

Our heroes manage to escape the dangerous stock footage flying reptiles and they then proceed to make their way through the forest on the long trek back to the rocket. The forest clearing, where they pitch up for a rest, is pretty bare but a later sandstorm is effectively done.

There’s more animated stock footage (a Tyrannosaurus Rex battles a Stegosaurus as our heroes look on in awed wonder). The models are a little small and grubby, but the dramatic music – and acting – sells the illusion resonably effectively.

Latest Kisswatch update – Conway and Mary enjoy a passionate kiss on the lips. Hurrah! Marriage doesn’t seem to be on his mind though, unless he’s being very subtle. But he does ask if they can work together when they return to Earth, so maybe this is the first step in his plan to woo her.

We return to Buchan Island for the first time since the opening episode. The Russian rescue rocket has nearly reached Venus, but with no evidence that Conway and the others are still alive, it’s likely to just turn around and go home.

Malcolm Hulke tended to pepper his Doctor Who scripts with political, moral or environmental messages. Pathfinders never really went down these routes but this episode – for example, Wilson sees a chance to make a great deal of money by plundering Venus of its plentiful diamond supply – does supply us with a vague message.

It does mean that Wilson, up until now a level-headed chap, suddenly turns into an avaricious monster. This moment quickly passes, but the discovery of uranium is another flashpoint. Wilson paints a vision of Venus as a colonised world, its natural reasources mined for the benefit of Earth (America), a prospect which disgusts Brown. Wilson tells Brown that “you can’t stop progress”.

It’s interesting thar Brown’s desire not to see Venus strip-mined isolates him from the others. But when the way back to the rocket is blocked by raging forest fires, he gleefully tells them that nobody will ever leave the planet. Instead, they’ll become the first of the new Venusians ….

Pathfinders to Venus. Episode Six – The City

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In yet another remarkable coincidence, Margaret and the Venusian child locate Conway and the others.  That just leaves Brown to free from his polystyrene rock and then everyone will be back together.

Brown is remarkably noble (“save yourselves” he tells the others).  But they’re not prepared to leave him to the mercy of the approaching lava and after considerable effort (I wonder if they taught this type of acting – pretending that lightweight objects were very heavy – at RADA?) they manage to free him.

They’re all delighted to finally have emerged from the caves into the open air.  And I have to confess, so am I.  The city they can see in the distance is impressive.  Brown calls it “the creation of an advanced people with a sense of beauty of form”.  But how does that connect with the mute primitives they’ve already tangled with?

Eventually Conway decides that they’ll all take a look at the city.  But Brown can’t wait for Conway, so he sets off alone.  Hasn’t he learnt by now that bad things happen when they split up?  Tsk, he’ll never learn.  As Brown makes his way towards the city, we’re privy to his internal thoughts as he ponders the best way to make contact, which is a nice little touch.

For those keeping track of the Conway/Mary kisswatch, this episode he’s heading closer to her lips (via a peck on the cheek).  But maybe his close attention was something of a plot point, since he notices a mark on her face.  Made by an insect possibly?

This episode (and the final one – Planet on Fire) were directed by Reginald Collin (the other six were directed by Guy Verney).  This was Collin’s first directing credit, although he’d later be more prolific as a producer (notably on Callan).

All of Brown’s hopes are dashed after he learns that the city isn’t a city after all – instead it’s a massive tomb where the Venusians bury their dead.  It’s a pity that after all this effort the city turns out to be nothing more than a Maguffin.  Oh well.

But his disappointment quickly moves into the background as Mary begins to falter – the insect bite is clearly more serious than it first appeared and the others need to come up with an antidote quickly.

This T/R isn’t in a great shape – very notable tramlines throughout – but given that a good deal of this era of television doesn’t exist at all there’s no point in grumbling.

With Mary still weak, they have to improvise a stretcher to carry her (which they knock up very quickly and impressively, it has to be said).  Venus is a planet full of surprises – this week’s cliffhanger finds them menaced by flying dinosaurs!

Pathfinders to Venus. Episode Five – The Venus People

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The lights are even lower at the start of this episode then they were at the end of the previous one, so the Venusian cave-man is much less distinct than he was before.  This low-lighting seems to have foxed the vision mixer – at one point Margaret screams that he’s “breaking though” as the camera cuts to what appears to be an empty frame.

As the Venusian (Bob Bryan) ambles out of the cave, we get a closer look at him.  I think it’s fair to say that he’s possibly not going to be a terribly interesting conversationalist.

The Venus People gives us a break from watching everybody traipsing through the forest as instead they spend their time traipsing through caves instead.  As ever, things aren’t straightforward – Margaret gets separated from the others but (as luck would have it) she runs into Brown and Wilson.

Brown has to do a little bit of quick talking since he’d convinced Wilson that everyone else on the rocket was dead.  He does admit that he lied, but Wilson doesn’t seem too bothered about being deceived.  During these scenes you have to admire Hester Cameron. Margaret has been forced to carry Hamlet for some time, which must have been a little irritating.

Brown finds a narrow ledge which he believes leads to the city.  He’s happy to risk his life crossing it, but Margaret and Wilson are less keen.  But when they hear the wails of the Venusians, she has no choice but to follow.  There’s a bit of a technical blip here – we see Brown cross over, but then George Coulouris walks through the back of  the frame, presumably making his way to the next set.

Wilson meets up with Conway and the others and they too attempt to cross.  The dramatic stock music goes up a few notches as Brown is trapped by a large rock.  A Venusian child (Brigid Skemp) appears to offer Margaret a way out ….


Pathfinders to Venus. Episode Three – The Living Planet

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As also often happened with Doctor Who, the end of episode cliffhangers were re-recorded the next week.  This is very evident here, since both Stewart Guidotti and Hester Cameron are much more restrained at the start of this episode than they were at the end of the previous one.

Geoff and Margaret, locked inside Wilson’s rocket for safety, are pondering exactly what powerful creature could have caused such damage.  Geoff has plenty of ideas.  “For all we know it might have been a reptile, or a bird with a huge beak. Or an insect with some kind of nippers like a crab”.  Given the series’ budget, I’ve a feeling it’ll be somewhat less impressive than these wild imaginings ….

It’s plain that they’re not alone though.  For a while, the camera has sometimes shot from behind flapping branches, giving the impression that someone or something is observing them.  As with the previous serials, this one is also in no hurry to show its hand (understandable, with eight episodes to fill).

So The Living Planet concerns itself with the continuing hunt for Wilson whilst Brown burns with a desire to explore what he believes to be a Venusian city.  The parallels between this story and The Daleks seem pretty obvious, was this a coincidence or did Terry Nation tune in back in 1961?  One difference is that Brown just decides to wander off by himself to explore the alleged city (unlike the Doctor, who had to trick the others into accompanying him).

Another Doctor Who connection is the distinctive piece of stock music which appears some ten minutes about ten minutes in, which also cropped up during the Hartnell era, The Space Museum to be precise.

Brown meets up with Wilson and the pair head off for the city together.  For those keeping a watch on the Conway/Mary relationship, there’s another kiss here – albeit it’s just a smacker on the top of her head.

Graydon Gould, as Wilson, starts to emerge as a more defined character in this episode, helped by the fact he finally has someone to talk to.  Gould might not have been an American, but he was the next best thing (Canadian) so at least he sounds pretty authentic.  Brown and Wilson don’t exactly see eye to eye – Brown believes that the only aggressors in the solar system are to be found on Earth and despairs that the Americans rocket was kept a secret (presumably because it contained military secrets).

You probably won’t be shocked to learn that Conway and Geoff venture out to find Wilson and Brown whilst Mary and Margaret remain behind in the safety of the rocket.  Although maybe it’s not that safe since something breaks into the rocket and begins to menace the girls.

And then Conway disappears which is the cue for Geoff to start over-emoting again.  We must be close to the end of the episode ….

Pathfinders to Venus. Episode Two – Into the Poison Cloud

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Convinced that Wilson is trapped on the surface of Venus, Conway and the others set out to rescue him.  But before they can do this they have to work out a way to negotiate the poison cloud that surrounds the planet.

After a few minutes chat, they seem confident so once again the dramatic stock music is cued as the sweet little model rocket slowly begins its descent.  You have to respect the abilities of the regulars (attempting to sell the illusion of danger with such limited resources is no easy task).

But although it’s easy to be critical of the effects, some are very effective.  The shots of the American rocket orbiting Venus are nicely done.  The rocket isn’t particularly detailed, but the fact it’s so small means that it contrasts well with the vast planet.  And our first sight of the planet’s surface – the camera tracks down to reveal the rocket nestling amongst surprising lush vegetation – is a decent model sequence.

Brown is convinced that Venus has a breathable atmosphere and – against the advice of the others – he emerges from the rocket without his space helmet.  And wouldn’t you know it, he’s correct.  This is probably the moment where it’s pointless to worry about scientific accuracy and simply go with the flow.  One obvious plus point about this is that it means our heroes don’t have to spend the entire serial wandering about with space helmets on (which I’m sure was Hulke and Paice’s reasoning).

Since this was 1961 you shouldn’t be surprised that the boys (Conway, Geoff and Brown) immediately go out to explore whilst the girls (Mary and Margaret) stay behind in the rocket.  But it isn’t long before the ever-squeaky Margaret gets her chance to take a look outside (albeit with Geoff as a chaperone).

Conway finds the place “menacing” although at present there’s no sign of life.  On the other hand, Brown is delighted – telling Margaret and Geoff that due to Venus’ slower orbit he could expect to live for another six hundred years here.  I’m going to have to think about that one ….

Poor Wilson.  Considering that the others had come to rescue him, now that they’re jaunting around on the surface he’s rather stuck.  So he too decides to make planetfall.  Geoff, manning the radio, can’t convince Conway that the blip he’s monitoring is a rocket (which is reasonable, since they all assume Wilson has already touched down).  The scene of Wilson’s rocket crash-landing is interesting.  Let’s assume that the planet’s surface is very springy (that would explain why his rocket seems to bounce up and down).

What should you never do on a strange new planet? Split up and explore.  So whilst Conway, Mary and Brown have stuck together (with Geoff and Margaret safely in the ship) what do the youngsters decide to do?  Yep, head off under their own steam for a spot of exploration.  Oh dear.

Towards the end of the episode we get to see a bit more of Venus’ lush vegetation (which seems to include large mushroom plants).  We also have our first sign of life – a snake – as Geoff and Margaret close in on Wilson’s crashed rocket.  But Wilson’s nowhere to be found and Geoff makes a disturbing discovery.  “This damage couldn’t have been done by a crash-landing. The rocket’s been ransacked by some creature!”

Stuart Guidotti’s performance, like Hester Cameron’s, is sometimes pitched at a level of extreme hysteria – as it is here.  Possibly they were both told to go for it (as in Doctor Who, end of episode acting was a specialised skill) and it’s fair to say that neither of them are holding back as this episode concludes.

Pathfinders to Venus. Episode One – S.O.S. from Venus

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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 …..

Pathfinders to Mars – Falling into the Sun

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Falling into the Sun doesn’t get off to the best of starts as a very obvious camera shadow looms behind our heroes as they make their way to the rocket.  Luckily for them Brown isn’t able to take off, as the rocket is infested with that pesky lichen.

This lichen is a little animated (although the wires holding it up are painfully obvious at times).  Henderson quickly works out a way to kill it off – heat – and within a matter of seconds it’s no longer a menace.  Margaret and Geoffrey are very upset though – Hamlet was in the rocket and didn’t have a spacesuit, so surely he would have been killed.  I have to confess to being slightly less concerned about the guinea pig’s fate than they are, but animal lovers everywhere needn’t fear as Brown shielded it from harm.

As Mary says (a little ironically) this is a point in his favour – he might have been ready to leave them all to perish on the surface, but at least he didn’t let Hamlet die.  It’s interesting that Brown’s anti-hero status is therefore still firmly in place – he didn’t decide to stay because he had a change of heart about those he’d be leaving behind, he was only prevented from leaving because of the lichen.  The Doctor might have been a little untrustworthy in the early Doctor Who stories, but he was never so heartless.

How will they get back to Earth?  Brown has the solution – they have to set the controls for the heart of the Sun.  This possibly isn’t as crazy as it sounds (well not quite) as the Sun’s gravitational pull will generate the extra power they need.  We drop back in on Buchan Island where they’re keeping an eye on things and it’s plain that Ian’s doubtful of their chances.  But watch him when they make it – he starts jigging around like nobody’s business!

So they’re nearly home, but Brown doesn’t fancy going back to Earth (he thinks Venus looks much more interesting).  The others look on with indulgent smiles, although if I was them – remembering how many times Brown’s actions have endangered their lives – I’d probably be less sanguine.

Pathfinders to Mars doesn’t quite have the same impact that Pathfinders in Space did.  Harcourt Brown is the main reason for watching, since the plot is rather thinly spread over the six episodes.  As touched upon before, after being teased about intelligent life on Mars it comes as a disappointment to find that there’s nothing there.  So the later episodes turn into something of a run-around with various not terribly exciting dangers (lichen, crevices, quicksand).

Maybe Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice were aware of this problem, as the trip to Venus sees them abandon the last vestiges of scientific credibility.  If you want Venusians and Venusian dinosaurs then Pathfinders to Venus has them …..

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Pathfinders to Mars – Zero Hour on the Red Planet

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Gerald Flood, what a trooper!  He spends the first few minutes of Zero Hour on the Red Planet doing his very best to convince the audience that he’s being attacked by Martian lichen.  Alas, it’s painfully obvious that the lichen is plastic and inanimate, which requires Flood to wriggle about frantically in order to sell the illusion that the plants are moving.  It’s not at all convincing, but you have to give him top marks for effort.

As for the others, Brown reveals that the life he’s observed is plant-life.  After four episodes of his imaginative world building, it’s something of a disappointment that we haven’t met the thriving Martian civilisation he promised us.  This highlights the way that the Pathfinders series to date has trod a delicate line between science fiction (a twelve year-old girl with no space experience wants to become an astronaut? No problem!) and science fact (throughout the serial Brown has been the only one to believe that there could be intelligent life on Mars, with the others – even the children – adamant that only plant life could exist).

I did fleetingly think that a Martian was going to make an appearance at 6:41  during this episode, but it was only a guest appearance from a camera!  It quickly bobs out of shot in a rather apologetic way.

Stewart Guidotti demonstrates that Geoffrey’s concerned about the fate of Henderson and Mary by shouting an awful lot.  It’s very much a performance that’s lacking in subtlety (to put it mildly) and with Hester Cameron emoting in a similar way, the pair of them are rather trying.  Thank goodness for George Coulouris.  Harcourt Brown may have been forced to accept that his vision of a Martian civilisation is now looking very unlikely, but he chooses to underplay, rather than overplay, his scenes.

Brown, Margaret and Geoffrey set off to look for Henderson and Mary.  The pair have little oxygen and are being menaced by approaching lichen.  Normally you’d have expected Henderson to have given Mary a comforting kiss by now, but since they’re wearing space helmets it’s not possible (the clash of heads would probably be rather painful).  It slightly stretches credibility that within a few minutes they’re all reunited – although there’s a problem (Henderson and Mary are standing on the other edge of a crevice).

Cue several minutes of Brown and the children turning their supply sled into a bridge.  Mary makes her way across (Pamela Barney doing her best to convince the audience that if Mary fell she’d plummet hundreds of feet) and Henderson follows.  Hmm, for no good reason he decides to walk across agonisingly slowly – so you can guess what’s going to happen next.  The bridge collapses and he ends up clinging to the edge of the crevice for dear life. It’s another of those moments that’s problematic, which is down to the limitations not only of the studio but also the fact they were recording “as live”.  A few more takes and tighter editing would have sold the illusion much better.  This moment of jeopardy is short-lived as the others easily pull him up.

Whereas Pathfinders in Space was a rather thoughtful sci-fi parable (the story of how an advanced civilisation was destroyed by war) Pathfinders to Mars has tended to eschew that path and has gone instead for pulp thrills.  We’ve had the aggressive lichen, Henderson clinging on to the edge of a crevice for dear life and now Mary tumbles into Martian quicksand, with Henderson risking his life to save her.  And even though this serial was an episode shorter than the previous one, these moments of jeopardy feel  very much like padding – they’ve run around the Martian surface for twenty five minutes but have achieved very little.

Zero Hour on the Red Planet does have a cracking cliffhanger though – Brown elects to leave the others behind and pilot the rocket back to Earth by himself.  He can’t bear the thought that they would expose his vision of Mars as a sham – so he’s prepared to leave them all (even the children) behind to die.  But as he prepares to lift off, lichen forces itself into the control room …..


Pathfinders to Mars – Lichens!

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Given that Pathfinders to Mars must have had a pretty limited budget, the Martian landscape is an impressive set.  With dry ice providing an eerie mist it looks pretty convincing to these eyes and on the lower definition televisions of the 1960’s no doubt would have looked better still.

Margaret and Geoffrey are given the honour of being the first humans to set foot on Mars, but Henderson doesn’t want them to go any further and orders them to stay in the rocket, monitoring the radio.  Margaret’s very disappointed, but Henderson tells her that they haven’t come here to explore – all they want is to find sufficient water for the journey home.

This presumably means that they have enough fuel for the six week return journey.  Considering that the rocket was only supposed to make a trip to the Moon and back (which wouldn’t have taken more than a week) it seems remarkable they were stocked up with three months fuel.

Margaret and Geoffrey observe a large cloud of dust heading towards them at enormous speed.  Stewart Guidotti has the unenviable task of delivering the line “look at Hamlet – he’s frightened”.  Cut to a shot of a guinea pig pottering about, quite unconcerned.  But if Hamlet doesn’t look bothered then both Guidotti and Cameron are teetering on the edge of hysteria as Geoffrey and Margaret wonder if Brown was right all along.  Are the Martians coming to them?!  Short answer, no.

Henderson continues to kiss Mary.  He’s getting closer to her lips, as this one lands on her cheek.  The pair of them, along with Brown, are slowly reconnoitring the surface, looking for water.  Brown is keen to head off by himself to investigate the canals, but Henderson tells him that they’re here for one reason only – to find water – and Brown, grudgingly, agrees.  This is another moment that’s later echoed in Doctor Who – in The Daleks, the Doctor is keen to explore the city, but Ian refuses.

Henderson, Mary and Brown are caught up in the dust storm.  After it passes, Brown is missing.  Henderson decides he must have fallen down a crevice and although he’s regretful about the older man’s fate, he tells Mary that they can’t do anything to help him, so it’s best to press on and try to find the water they need.

Of course, Brown isn’t dead – instead he turns up at the rocket to tell Geoffrey and Margaret that Henderson and Mary are the ones who fell down the crevice.  They don’t believe a word of it though, with young Mary earnestly stating that “I don’t believe they’re dead, I won’t.”  Brown wants the pair of them to join him in his exploration of the planet.  Margaret immediately smells a rat – if they go and Henderson and Mary return, then they wouldn’t be able to take off (as she astutely observes, Brown’s attempting to use them as hostages).  But alas, she eventually agrees to go with Geoffrey (who’s much more keen) and the three of them set off.

A healthy downpour of rain sees Henderson and Mary menaced by aggressive Martian plant-life.  And that’s not a sentence you tend to type every day.  It’s an ambitious sequence which is, thankfully, brief – had it lasted any longer it would have quickly lost its credibility.

So apart from plants, is there any other life on the planet?  We’ve yet to meet Brown’s Martians, but the cliffhanger teases us that we’re getting closer.  He climbs a hill, looks over and returns to tell Margaret and Geoffrey that he has found life, although it’s not what he was expecting …..

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Pathfinders to Mars – The Hostage

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Brown tells them that the trip to Mars will take six weeks.  Given that modern estimates place the journey between six and eight months, there’s a certain amount of dramatic licence at play here.

What’s made clear is that the journey to Mars is going to be strictly one way – as even if, by some miracle, they reach their destination they’ll have no water or other supplies for the return journey.  Brown is quite calm about this – he still maintains that Mars is a thriving civilisation, so he no doubt assumes the Martians will be able to supply them with whatever they need.

Although Brown’s actions, reckless in the extreme, position him as the villain of the piece, he’s presented in a reasonable light here.  This isn’t too surprising as later episodes will see him integrated back with the others as they all combine to find a solution to their problems.  Indeed, he’s quite affable to Margaret as he explains about the canals of Mars, not taking offence when she disagrees with his assertion that they prove there must be life on Mars.  Hester Cameron impresses with the two-handed scenes she shares with George Coulouris.

Possibly the most notable part of the episode is the sequence where Henderson attempts to break into the control cabin by exiting the rocket and attempting a spacewalk.  There are several reasons why – firstly, I love the periscope that slowly turns to observe him (I think it’s probably because the notion of a periscope is such a delightfully old fashioned concept).  I also like the way that he loses his grip on a spanner which then goes flying into space.  It was clearly on a piece of wire, but it helps to sell the illusion that he’s in space.

But the main reason why this is so memorable is because the same scene, virtually unchanged, turned up thirteen years later in the Doctor Who story Frontier in Space.  That story was written by Malcolm Hulke, the co-writer of Pathfinders to Mars, so it can hardly have been a coincidence.

The lack of supplies seems to be one of the reasons why the relationship between Henderson and Mary is deepening.  He kisses her again – albeit only on the forehead, remember this is children’s television!

As The Hostage draws to a close, they finally reach Mars.  Whilst the others (now released) are still gently dismissive about Brown’s claims of a great Martian civilisation, it’s obvious that we’ll soon be able to find out for ourselves.  It may have taken three episodes but we’re finally there.

Pathfinders to Mars – Sabotage in Space

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There’s quite a lengthy recap at the start of this episode (nearly three minutes) which suggests that it was underrunning a little.  Sabotage in Space is a rather static instalment – understandable since most of the action takes place aboard the rocket.

But the enclosed nature of the episode isn’t all bad news as it allows Brown’s discordant presence to slowly become more apparent.  That he’s a fish out of water is evident right from the start – he doesn’t know how to strap himself into his take-off seat, for example – and there are numerous other signs that he’s not the man he claims to be.

Noticing that Geoffrey’s still carrying his book (although as yet nobody knows that he’s the author), he launches into an earnest debate about life on Mars which both Geoffrey and Margaret gently disagree with.  Henderson is more forthright, labelling Brown’s book as “tripe”!

Mary is far from happy.  The man that Brown replaced, Professor Hawkins, should be working with her – but Brown spends all his time glued to the radio.  When Mary complains to Henderson he doesn’t seem to be terribly bothered about her problems.  He tells her to be a good girl, gives her a kiss and saunters off!  Mary then pulls a “ooohhhhh” face which tells us all we need to know.  This may be the space age, but this scene indicates that there’s still some way to go before we see equality between the sexes.

Buchan Island discover that Professor Hawkins isn’t present on the rocket when he turns up at the base.  One point – Hawkins is supposed to be Australian, but neither Horsfall or Coulouris have the trace of an Australian accent.  It might have been fun for both of them to attempt one, but on second thoughts perhaps not.

Ian quickly works out that the imposter is Harcourt Brown, a Mars obsessed fanatic.  But the others on the rocket remain in ignorance since Brown was able to destroy the receiver before Buchan Island could transmit the news.

As for Professor Wedgewood, he’s nowhere to be seen.  A line of dialogue explains that he’s headed off for hospital, but since he’s only got a broken arm you’d have assumed he’d have hung around a little longer to see everything was all right.  But in story terms the Professor is now surplus to requirements and his absence from the rest of the story means that the production saves a little money (that’s one less actor they have to pay).

By the end of this episode the MR4 has reached the Moon’s orbit.  Whilst Brown remains behind, Henderson, Mary, Geoffrey and Margaret rendezvous with the supply rocket which is now in their orbit.  Margaret returns with the new radio, but Brown then closes the hatch and fires up the motors, leaving Henderson, Mary and Geoffrey locked out of the control room.  He reveals his true identity and then tells them all that he’s heading for Mars ….

Pathfinders to Mars – The Imposter

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Although the opening episode of Pathfinders to Mars was only broadcast a mere six weeks after the conclusion of Pathfinders in Space, quite a few changes had been made.

Jimmy and Valerie are gone, although those hoping that Hamlet the guinea pig would also be absent will be disappointed.  To replace them we have Henderson’s twelve-year old niece Margaret (Hester Cameron), who even at this tender age is something of a scientist.

As for Professor Wedgewood, he only appears in the opening episode – thereafter Conway Henderson becomes the male heroic lead.  Ian Murray returns, but he’s now resident on Buchan Island rather than a member of the crew.  Also back are Professor Mary Meadows and Geoffrey Wedgewood.

The cast re-jigs leave us with a better mix on the MR4 – with two groups of characters that naturally gravitate towards each other (Henderson and Mary, Geoffrey and Margaret) plus a wildcard – Harcourt Brown (George Coulouris).

Brown adds a sense of danger and unpredictability into the narrative, something which was largely missing from Pathfinders in Space.  True, Dr O’Connell did occasionally act irrationally, but his moments of madness soon passed.  With Brown we have someone who has a burning desire to pursue his own agenda, even if it means risking the lives of the others.

The opening minutes of The Imposter sees the dramatic intensity pitched to at least eleven.  Partly because of the highly melodramatic stock music, but also due to the way that Ian reacts (or overacts, depending on your point of view) with horror at the events unfolding on the launchpad.  There’s an accident, somebody’s hurt …. oh my goodness it’s Professor Wedgewood!  The tension ramps down a little when it’s revealed that he’s only got a broken arm, but it explains why he won’t be taking any part in the planned mission to the Moon.

So once again Henderson is pressed into service.  As before, he only turned up to Buchan Island to cover the launch for his newspaper but finds himself strapped into the hotseat.  Suspension of disbelief is required again  – why aren’t there more trained astronauts?  And even if there aren’t, what’s so urgent about this mission that it can’t wait until Wedgewood recovers?

Our first sight of Margaret isn’t that promising.  Like Valerie she’s rather squeaky and earnest, but maybe she’ll settle down.  After haranguing the security guard she eventually manages to gain access to the control room thanks to the intervention of Geoffrey.  The guard tells him that “she’ll be a right problem when she grows up, you’d better keep your eye on her.”  Geoffrey’s response is short and world-weary.  “Girls”!

Once Margaret knows that her uncle is piloting the ship she’s as keen as mustard to join him.  “I could look after supplies, I can cook and I know first aid”.  Wedgewood, puffing on his pipe, is sold although Geoffrey is far from pleased at the prospect.  When Mary arrives, that just leaves Professor Hawkins (Bernard Horsfall) to complete the crew.  But Hawkins is waylaid by Brown who takes his place, hence the episode title.  A pity that Hawkins didn’t join the others as Horsfall’s always an actor worth watching, but our first sight of the duplicitous Brown shows that he’s a character with plenty of scope.  He certainly contrasts nicely with some of the other more earnest (or wooden) performers.

Although it’s easy to mock some of the plotting, other elements are quite neatly handed.  For example, we see Geoffrey with a book which posits there might be life on Mars.  Margaret disagrees and the pair have a mildly heated argument.  As the pair leave the room, the camera focuses on the book and the author’s name – Harcourt Brown – is shown.  For the moment that wouldn’t mean anything to the first-time viewer, but all will become clear later on.  It’s a nice piece of shorthand that establishes Brown’s character – even when he’s not on the screen – and lets us know what he believes in and what his plan will be.

I’m pleased to see that the crew are wearing their spacesuits on take-off as it just didn’t seem right that they were all lounging around in cardigans last time!  So its time to strap yourself in and enjoy the ride …..

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Pathfinders in Space – Rescue in Space

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We left our heroes on the horns of a dilemma last time.  The rocket can only carry one adult and one child back to Earth, so what’s going to happen to the rest of them?  If only there was another ship they could use ….

The final instalment of Pathfinders in Space only ran for seventeen minutes (rather than the normal twenty five).  This was due to the rather unusual decision to launch a new (unconnected) serial following the commercial break.  It’s no great hardship though, since the shorter running time gives the episode a certain urgency.

Wedgewood decides that Henderson and Valerie should return to Earth.  That leaves the rest of them on the Moon with only fifteen hours of oxygen.  Wedgewood is matter of fact about their situation – it’ll give them time to complete their researches and their work will be of value to future expeditions.  Obviously it’s a bit of a pity they’re all going to die, but he maintains a suitably British stiff upper lip.

It’s no surprise that Jimmy asks if his pesky pet guinea pig can also make the trip to Earth.  His father agrees, so that’s one weight off everybody’s minds I’m sure!

The others don’t take their impending deaths with the same quiet equanimity as Wedgewood does.  Mary asks him how he can be so dispassionate when his two sons are going to die.  He doesn’t really have an answer, seemingly he just can.

But then (rather out of nowhere) he decides to pilot the alien craft back home.  This piece of dialogue by Wedgewood is priceless.  “First we’ve got to master those controls, then you’ve got to get that atomic power working, that’s going to take all of three hours.”  Work out how to pilot an alien craft that’s lain dormant for four hundred million years and restart its atomic motors within three hours?  Of course, it should all be quite straightforward ….

Since Wedgewood states that he first had the idea of piloting the ship when their rocket blew up, why hasn’t he mentioned it before?  It seems a little cruel to make his sons, not to mention the others, believe they were fated to die of oxygen starvation.

It proves to be a doddle to get the ship working and also out of the cave (although we never see this on screen).  Once it’s on the lunar surface then the wobbly ship can take flight (although the strings aren’t as visible here as they were in the last episode).  Everything so far has gone so swimmingly, but there’s a problem when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere – the ship breaks in two.  Hmm, strange that they’re not at all harmed by this catastrophe and it’s also lucky that Henderson’s on hand to mount a daring rescue.   It’s another impressive effects shot bearing in mind the era in which the programme was made (although once again, when considering the scientific plausibility of what you’re watching it’s important to suspend your disbelief).

Overall, Pathfinders in Space is very much a mixed bag.  Although it would be easy to mock the modelwork, most of it is very competently done.  It’s easier to mock some of the acting though and it’s interesting to see which characters were dropped for the next serial, Pathfinders to Mars.  In the main I think they made the right decisions, plus the introduction of George Coulouris as Harcourt Brown was a strong addition

The script, by Eric Paice and Malcolm Hulke, has a mix of pulpy moments and hard scientific facts.  It’s an odd juxtaposition, but it does work quite well most of the time.  One downside is that the production only seemed to have a handful of music cues and they do get played an awful lot (by the final episode it’s rather grating).

Not perfect then, but given the year this was made (1960) and the budget, Pathfinders in Space is never less than highly entertaining.  Now it’s onwards to Mars …..

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Pathfinders in Space – Disaster on the Moon

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Wedgewood and O’Connell, after only a very brief time with the logs of the alien craft, seem confident to tell their story.  Astonishingly, there’s also a film record as well, which shows their (admittedly, very wobbly) craft taking off and heading for the Moon.

The fate of the alien’s planet is a bleak one – two rival factions fought for supremacy and their civilisation was destroyed.  When Jimmy wonders what the invisible death mentioned in the log could be, Geoffrey replies that it must refer to radioactivity from hydrogen bombs.  In the early sixties the shadow of the bomb was never far away – so this would been a highly topical touch, even if it seems an odd inclusion in what, until now, has been fairly light, escapist fare.  It’s an effective parable though which would have left the young audience with food for thought.

Henderson suggests that this other species could also have come from the Earth and after they destroyed themselves millions of years ago in a devastating war, it paved the way for the arrival of homo sapiens.  Although there are one or two problems with this theory, it does help to ground Pathfinders in Space to a certain level of reality – it would have been tempting to introduce little green men from a totally alien civilisation, but Paice and Hulke decided to keep things more down to earth, as it were.

Back on Buchan Island, Jean Cary (Irene Sutcliffe) is starting to feel the pressure.  She’s been a comforting and reassuring presence throughout the serial but now, with the possibility of heavy meteorite showers, she’s becoming much more anxious.

As with other programmes of this era, music and sound effects had to be added during the recording (post-production didn’t really exist).  This explains why the echo effect in the caves is rather inconsistent throughout the serial – at times it’s not really there and at others (as here) it just sounds odd, as if the correct setting hadn’t been made.  But time was at a premium, meaning that the luxury of retakes was a rarity.

As the episode title suggests, things aren’t going well.  The rocket which is due to take them all back to Earth is hit by a meteorite shower.  It’s destroyed in a blaze of stock footage whilst Ian manages to escape with his life. It’s remarkable that when he dives for cover behind a rather wobbly rock just a few feet away he doesn’t suffer any injuries. Clearly Moon rock has strange properties ….

All’s not quite lost. They can use the other rocket, but it’ll only be able to carry one adult and one child.  Cue everybody looking at everybody else as they wonder who’ll be the lucky ones …

Pathfinders in Space – The World of Lost Toys

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Although Pathfinders in Space was broadcast only a few months after Target Luna, all of the roles were recast (presumably this was the choice of new director Guy Verney).  This is a slight pity as it would have been interesting to see some of the actors featured in Target Luna (Frank Finlay as Henderson, Michael Craze as Geoffrey) carry on.  And quite what the audience made of the changes at the time isn’t recorded ….

At the end of the last episode, Valerie discovers a calcified figure.  Wedgewood decides it’s a stalactite, whilst O’Connell declares that it’s been there for at least four hundred million years.  So at the time when life on Earth had barely begun, a similar looking race had landed on the Moon.  Quite how and why this humanoid became calcified is a mystery though.

Jimmy, of course, can’t resist showing the figure to Hamlet.  It’s a little surprising to learn that Richard Dean (Jimmy) was actually older than Stewart Guidotti (Geoffrey).  Dean’s small stature ensured that he played characters younger than his actual age and whilst it’s true that Jimmy is rather irritating and juvenile, when you know that Dean’s older than Guidotti it does raise the possibility that Dean was giving a skilful acting performance all along.

Scattered about the cave are children’s toys – the toys of the children from this other, long vanished civilisation.  It seems that children from all over the galaxy have similar tastes in toys – stuffed animals, spaceships – and it helps to fill in a little more background.  Although I can’t help thinking that when Henderson returns to Earth and writes his story, nobody’s going to believe him.  After all, if Neil Armstrong returned from the Moon with a cuddly toy under his arm, what sort of reaction would he have received?!

Whilst everyone else has been having adventures on the Moon’s surface (and below) poor Ian’s been stuck in the spaceship by himself.  And it’s only after his long distance games of chess with Earth that I realised who he reminds me of, Tony Hancock in The Radio Ham!  There’s an extraordinary performance by Terence Soall as a Russian technician who broadcasts an urgent message (which turns out to be nothing more than a suggestion for his next chess move) to Ian in the rocket.  Let’s be kind and say Russian accents weren’t his speciality.

The news that a shower of meteorites is heading for the Moon could spell disaster for the two precious rockets.  If they’re damaged, then Wedgewood and the others will never be able to return home.

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Pathfinders in Space – The Man in the Moon

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Jimmy’s made an impressive discovery – another spaceship – and this one’s deep in an underground cavern.  It’s a bit of a mystery though, how did the ship get there?  Henderson and the others join Jimmy to puzzle it out, but soon find themselves trapped underground ….

Budget limitations are rather exposed at the start of this episode, as our intrepid explorers puzzle over the mysterious ship.  The script no doubt called for an impressive landslide to trap them, but what we saw on screen was not so much a landslide, more of a trickle.

Professor Wedgewood’s party are hopelessly lost.  With only limited oxygen, this isn’t good news and Dr O’Connell continues to be a rather gloomy companion.  Once again, Wedgewood’s lack of forward planning is exposed – he suggests they try over there (more out of hope than from any sort of scientific judgment).  But when they find a mysterious marking in the ground – similar to the ones discovered by Henderson – it suggests they’re close to Henderson’s rocket.  This is a bit of a stretch – why couldn’t these marks be all over the Moon? – so you have to admit that the pessimistic O’Connell does have a point.  Wedgewood might be enthusiastic but he seems to bumble from one crisis to the next.

Wedgewood and the others reach Henderson’s rocket, but of course they find nobody there.  They’re still trapped in the cave and with their oxygen running out face certain death.  Jimmy responds by going a little stir-crazy (enthusiastic over-acting, shall we say) but just when it seems all is lost they’re rescued by Wedgewood.  It’s all a tad convenient, but no matter – everyone’s together and they can now set up camp and try and solve the mystery of the alien spaceship.

There’s some hard – well hardish – science fiction talk as Wedgewood and O’Connell ponder over the ship.  And then Hamlet goes missing, which means that Jimmy heads off to look for him.  I think we have to be very grateful that when Doctor Who was set up they didn’t decide to give Susan a pet which would run off every five minutes and therefore create an excuse to put her into danger.  Four episodes in, I’m getting a little tired of Hamlet.

We have to wait until the final shot of the episode before Valerie discovers the man in the Moon.  It’s maybe not what was expected, but it’s a very effective cliffhanger.

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Pathfinders in Space – Luna Bridgehead

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Following a near collision with a mysterious ship orbiting the Moon, Henderson is forced to make an emergency landing.  After a slightly tricky descent, they land safely – although they find themselves some distance from Professor Wedgewood’s rocket.  The Professor, Mary and Dr O’Connell set out to find them, whilst Henderson and the others rig up a signalling beacon.

Jimmy is given the honour of being the first man to set foot on the Moon, but later they discover strange markings in the lunar surface – which indicates that others have been here before them …..

Gillian Ferguson, as young Valerie, certainly dials up the intensity at the start of this episode.  Her film and television career was fairly short lived (her last credit, an episode of Dixon of Dock Green, was broadcast the following year, 1961), so like many child actors she never carried on once she became an adult.  Her playing of Valerie lacks a certain naturalism, shall we say, which possibly isn’t too much of a surprise since the script is pitched at rather a melodramatic level.

Hamlet’s spacesuit is either a mark of genius or the silliest thing ever.  I’m leaning towards the latter at the moment.  As for the humans’ spacesuits, the most noticeable thing about them is that they lack any visors.  This was obviously done for dramatic purposes – otherwise we wouldn’t be able to see or hear the actors – but it does take a few moments before you can put out of your mind the fact they all should have suffocated as soon as they set foot on the lunar surface.

Henderson has a good explanation as to why they’re not bouncing about on the Moon’s surface – their spacesuits help to cancel out the lack of gravity, meaning that they can stroll about just as if they were out for a walk in the park.  That’s convenient of course,  since the studio wouldn’t have been set up to deal with the problem of demonstrating weightlessness!

The model shots of the lunar landscape continue to impress, and if the descent of Henderson’s rocket is a little wobbly then it seems churlish to be too critical.  The full-size lunar landscape is a little less convincing though, but the small budget and technical considerations obviously played a part in this.

I’m quite taken with Pamela Barney as Professor Mary Meadows.  With Dr O’Connell having once again slipped into “doomed, we’re all doomed” mode, she’s called upon to be the sensible voice of reason.  Apart from a role as a nurse in the film During One Night (also 1960) all of her other credits come from the Pathfinders trilogy.

With seven episodes to fill, the serial can afford to take its time.  So in this episode we’re teased with a few more revelations – the strange ship orbiting the Moon seems to have been abandoned, whilst marks in the lunar surface suggest that the inhabitants of the shp landed – but are they still here?  It seems impossible, but you never know.

Young Jimmy falls down a shaft and discovers more evidence of their handiwork.  His gobsmacked expression is a little extreme, but it sets us up nicely for episode four – The Man in the Moon.

Pathfinders in Space – Spaceship from Nowhere

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In a highly unsurprising plot-twist, it’s revealed that Valerie has stowed away.  It’s also no surprise that the Professor’s far from impressed to discover that his three children are present with Henderson in the rocket.  He wants them to remain in orbit around the Earth, but Valerie – demonstrating a sly cunning – suggests to both Henderson and her father that it would be safer if they travelled on and orbited around the Moon instead.

A moment which warms the heart occurs when we see news of the Professor’s feat transmitted around the world.  In the UK this is represented by some over-acting extras, but the best is yet to come.  We travel to France (accordion music, a couple of sailors sitting outside a café), Canada (a man fishing in the wilderness with some very obvious cardboard mountains behind him) and Australia (a man in a stable with a piece of straw in his mouth).  It may be a touch stereotypical, but it’s a nice piece of shorthand that shows how, very much like the real Moon landings in 1969, this trip to the Moon was something that the whole world could share.

There’s a rather impressive weightless effect which shows Jimmy floating about.  In the years before CSO, I don’t think this inlay effect would have been that easy to produce (I can’t remember any similar examples in 1960’s Doctor Who, for example).

This episode gives us a chance to get to know the Professor’s crew.  Given the era this was made, it’s a progressive touch that a woman, Mary Meadows (Pamela Barney), is aboard.  And she didn’t have to stow away!  As we’ll see in a minute, Dr. O’Connell (Harold Goldblatt) is currently operating in full Private Frazer mode (he doesn’t go as far as telling them that they’re all doomed, but it’s close).  And for the moment, Ian Murray (Hugh Evans), hasn’t had a great deal to do.

Dr O’Connell’s a worried man.  He’s convinced that disaster awaits them if they attempt to land on the Moon – and he uses force to try to prevent the Professor from doing so.  You’d have assumed that the Professor would have screened his crew beforehand to prevent any such problems, oh well.  Luckily, once they manage to land O’Connell regains his composure and it’s smiles all round again.

I do like the scene where Mary is describing the Moon landscape, prior to the moment when they touch down.  The Moon we see through the viewscope looks pretty much like the real thing, so they clearly must have done some research.  We’ll see next time how accurate the full-size surface looks though …

Whilst the trouble in getting to the Moon has been the main plot-thread so far, the episode closes with an intriguing mystery.  The Professor spots a ship on the other side of the Moon and naturally assumes it’s Henderson.  But it’s not, so where has this unidentified ship come from?