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 …..