New Stuff Reviewed Here

OK Earthmen, there's a load of good stuff coming out in the next few months, so we're going to take a look at as much of it as we can.


Fireball XL5 Original Soundtrack CD (Fanderson Records)

Whether you're a fan of Fireball or indeed puppets or black and white TV is immaterial; this CD, like the rest of Fanderson's range, is not so much about the Andersons' series, it's all about Barry Gray and his music.

Produced at a time before man had walked on the moon and before pop music stopped the young generation from dressing like their parents, Gray's soundtrack embraces a variety of styles, from the brass fanfares of the opening theme, the jazz of Formula Five and his own eerie experimentation on  Hypnotic Sphere. Gray would refine this approach for later series such as Captain Scarlet where Spectrum's more military themes contrasted with the Mysterons' which suggested the unknown very effectively.

The tracks telegraph the mood of each episode with big, bold stabs of brass juxtaposed with haunting and very alien pieces which wouldn't have sounded out of place in the later live-action series. The 'comedy' pieces which accompanied Zoony's endless japes are outshone by the disc's real highlights, Gray's more experimental tracks. His incorporation of instruments like the harp and his Ondes Martenot really give the listener a feeling of the vast emptiness of space with their occasionally melancholic undertone. If I were looking back at Earth from the Moon or a space station, I'd be listening to tracks 12 and 13 from The Doomed Planet on my iPod rather than Space Oddity. The presentation of the disc is, as ever, faultless - the booklet is packed with informative notes and they've even fixed the broken tailfin on Fireball on the front cover! Definitely recommended listening to complete your Barry Gray collection.

Available online via Fanderson  


Space: 1999/ Born For Adversity by David A McIntee (Powys Books)

If you're a fan of minutiae and speculation, then this would be the novel for you. Born For Adversity opens with an avalanche of continuity references which barely lets up, referencing numerous Year Two episodes and reintroducing several one-off characters  - along with Dave Reilly and Pete Garforth, even security men Quinton and Allen are name-checked  - it's understandable that they'd reappear on a base with limited numbers, yet as they fail to drive the plot, they're ultimately mere fan-pleasers.

The book features a number of interesting developments for several of the main characters and it's enjoyable to read Space: 1999 played out on a much broader canvas. In particular, Maya and Tony's relationship is explored more deeply. However, ultimately the impression is that the plot is driven less by the desire to tell a new story (it draws too heavily on the work of Messrs Byrne, Penfold et al), but the urge to neutralise many of Year Two's changes and to, ultimately, restore 1999's factory settings.

The first half suffers under the weight of these backward-looking references - as Maya features prominently, it's not difficult to guess which episodes are namechecked. The book improves in the second half, what it may lack in originality it makes up for in pace and readability. Nevertheless one is left asking why the writer and publisher bothered; rather than attempting to undo the changes made for Year Two, why not just publish a Year One novel? Cleaning up after Fred and/or attempting to marry the two series together is, to this reader at least, an exercise in futility. Basing the novel on continuity points and arcane trivia plays to fan pedantry and is unlikely to attract more than a small core readership. Disappointingly, the book does not compare favourably with the original 70s novels such as Alien Seed and Android Planet and is ultimately a missed opportunity.     

Available online via Powys Media


The Investigator DVD (Region 0) from Fanderson

When I'm really into a given group or pop singer, I get the urge to track down every last thing they've done, down to the last B-side, flexidisc or live bootleg, regardless of quality. So if Thunderbirds was Gerry Anderson's Revolver, then The Investigator, recently released on DVD by Fanderson, is an experimental B-side found languishing in the vaults, dusted down and cleaned up for fans hungry for more.

The Investigator was Gerry's attempt to film a pilot episode to show to George Heinemann at NBC in the hope of getting a series commissioned, but bad weather and more bad luck put an end to such ambition.

The episode returns to the miniaturisation angle of The Secret Service but this time does it all not only on location, but abroad, following in the footsteps of  The Protectors by heading off to Malta. The two characters John and Julie are miniaturised by an alien presence, the eponymous and unseen Investigator, in an attempt to help our troubled planet, while also giving us younger viewers a lesson on the dangers of greed and power. John and Julie must prevent a small time villain Stavros Karanti from stealing a painting from a Maltese church. Already it's clearly not another Trapped in the Sky or Breakaway, but stick with it.

In some ways, it's not hard to see why Gerry was reluctant to see the episode released. Yet it suffers most only when compared to his previous oeuvre of work which was produced to exacting and, let's face it, stratospheric standards. While watching this new DVD it occurred to me that I had sat and watched much worse in the early 70s - those summer holidays when the Anderson series were absent from the schedules and forgettable stuff like Catch Kandy and Whirlybirds ruled the airwaves. The Investigator is no worse than much of children's TV of the time; it's akin to watching an episode of the second season of Space:1999 - bearable, until you realise just how good its predecessors were. It's only then that you start looking for the negatives - and yes, there are a few to be found.

The concept is not a strong one - the idea of two tiny characters driving round in a big red, noisy car and not being seen by anyone is stretching it - as is the unexplained 'magical' appearance of whatever vehicle or gadget they need at the time. With this being a pilot episode, the plot has to accommodate a lot of introductory stuff and due to the short running time, both suffer. We don't get to know John and Julie, holidaymakers or locals, friends or siblings, willing or unwilling servants of the Investigator - we're left guessing. But the dialogue is the real weak point. Too many times it breaks the rule of 'show, don't tell' (eg 'There are so many gadgets', 'The security guard, they've attacked him' and so on) and there's no space for any real humour in the mix. It's evident from several scenes that rain stopped play during the shoot - the bad weather is evident in the scene where the ambulance arrives - low light levels have necessitated a wide lens aperture which resulted in vignetting to the edges of the frame.

Yet the episode has its own early 70s charm. We're no longer in the future, the funky incidentals and Peter Borg's even more funky moustache giving it a bit of period charm which is no bad thing. Watching John and Julie careering across the Maltese terrain or splashing across the sea in their four-wheeled boat, while somewhat far-fetched, also has that familiar appeal of seeing your toys coming alive (who else piled several Action men into the one Scorpion Tank? Just me then).

The new transfer is very sharp and the colours are rich and saturated, showcasing the ingenuity employed in actually filming the puppets at night as they wait outside the church - not for us the old ITC method of day-for-night filming - it's one of the episode's high points.

The excellent on-screen text commentary detail the origin of the incidental music and provide some background information on the Maltese locations - all roads lead to The Protectors in both cases. The caption 'It just went mad' - a quote from Gerry about the remote control car's unreliable behaviour - made me laugh and could perhaps sum up the production as a whole.

This being a collection of Gerry's B-sides and outtakes, it also features several versions of the Alien Attack 'Jif' advert from 1977 which reused the John and Julie puppets. Shown on TV and at the cinema (I seem to remember it from a screening of Star Wars), it was a last hurrah for Supermarionation and some of Gerry's recent cohorts, Brian Johnson and Martin Bower.

The DVD comes with a nicely-designed booklet packed with information, rare photographs and artwork (including rarely seen pieces by Mike Noble and Reg Hill). The package's design is slick, right down to the label on the disc.

It'll never top the charts but The Investigator is an interesting experiment, which only appears to fail when forced to stand alongside its illustrious predecessors. It may not have reached the standards of Gerry's 60s output - but that's not to damn it. Throw away that fuzzy VHS pirate copy because with the informative booklet and cleaned up transfer on this DVD, The Investigator has never looked better.

Richard Farrell

Available online via Fanderson