Monday, March 9, 2015

DVD Spotlight: Fireball XL5

Fireball XL5 holds a special place among Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation TV series. It was the first to be shown in the U.S. and the only one to be broadcast on network television. I was among the youngsters that watched Anderson's space adventure on NBC on Saturday mornings in the mid-1960s. With its intricate miniature sets and sci fi themes, it stood apart from the cartoons and live-action repeats (e.g., Fury) that filled the juvenile TV schedule. (For a description of Supermarionation, see our post on Stingray.)

On March 10th, Timeless Media Group will release all 39 episodes in glorious black and white. The DVD boxed set also includes: audio commentaries on two episodes; a twelve-minute interview with series creator Gerry Anderson; a documentary on the colorful Fireball XL5 comic strips; and a nine-page publicity brochure that accompanied the series' original broadcast in 1962 (shown at right).

Set 100 years in the future, Fireball XL5 chronicles the adventures of blonde-haired Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol Fleet. The XL5 is a 300-foot spacecraft with crew quarters, a lounge, a research laboratory, and weaponry. The nose cone of the XL5--known as Fireball Junior--detaches from the mother ship and can be used for landing on other planets. Steve's fellow crew members include: Doctor Venus (voiced by Sylvia Anderson); Professor Matthew Matic (who sounds like Walter Brennan!); and Robert the Robot (voiced by Gerry Anderson through a voice box).

Doctor Venus.
Venus is a doctor of "space medicine" and, as the brochure describes it, possesses a "Continental accent." She was the first of several prominent female characters in Anderson's children's TV series, setting the stage for Marina and Atlanta in Stingray and Lady Penelope (also voiced by Sylvia Anderson) in Thunderbirds.

The Fireball XL5 missions range from escorting important alien leaders to summits to restoring plant life on an alien planet to foiling espionage plots devised by the notorious Mr. and Mrs. Space Spy. Other XL ships appear in some episodes, such as when Steve and crew rescue Fireball XL7 in "Space Magnet." There are also additional recurring characters, to include Commander Zero, Lieutenant Ninety, and Venus' sometimes-telepathic pet Zoonie the Lazoon.

In the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series chronology, Fireball XL5 followed Supercar (1960-61) and preceded Stingray (1964-65). It builds on some of the elements from Supercar, specifically the emphasis on a fantastic vehicle, the elaborate launch sequence, the presence of a pet (Supercar had Mitch the Monkey), and even some of the plot lines (e.g., espionage is a recurring plot theme in many Anderson series).

The terrific XL5 launch sequence--the highlight of the opening credits.
However, Fireball XL5 was also influential in its own right, introducing several concepts that permeate later Anderson shows. It established the concept of a global organization that protects the Earth (which was even carried over into Anderson's nifty 1970 live-action series UFO). It eliminated the necessity for a child character and, as mentioned earlier, introduced one of the first television sci fi heroines in Doctor Venus. It also may have introduced the "oxygen pill," which allowed the XL5 crew to breathe in outer space without suits. This use of oxygen pills preceded the 1964 sci fi film Robinson Crusoe on Mars, in which Friday used them to breathe on Mars. (Of course, the pills had a practical application for the puppeteers on Fireball XL5--the marionettes didn't have to be put into space suits!)

Robert the Robot.
Composer Barry Gray, who first began working with Gerry Anderson in 1956, composed the music. The show's end credits feature his song "Fireball" (aka "I Wish I Were a Spaceman"), which was recorded by Australian singer Don Spencer as a single. It's the only song from an Anderson TV series to reach the U.K. record chart, peaking at #32 in 1962.

Although the colorful Stingray remains my favorite Supermarionation series, the Fireball XL5 boxed set is a must for fans. The image and sound quality are excellent and it's an enjoyable series. So, as Steve tells Venus in the opening credits: "Let's go!"

Click here to view the Cafe's unofficial trailers for Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Timeless Media Group provided a copy of the XL5 DVD set for our review.


  1. A&E released "XL-5" in the U.S. on DVD nearly a decade ago. This may be a re-release of that set.

  2. I enjoyed "Fireball XL5" for a number of reasons. Dr. Venus is sharp and level-headed and really did help pave the way for strong female characters. The Oxygen pills are a fascinating concept. And no matter how far out in space we go, it seems that evil forces will always wreak havoc. Great review, Rick, and another very cleverly edited trailer!

  3. This is my favorite of the Anderson series. I remember watching it on Saturday mornings too, so it holds a lot of nostalgia for me. Even before clicking on your clip, I could have sung most of the song.

  4. Wasn't there an episode where Zoonie the Lazoon was disemboweled by a parasitic alien life-form, or did I just daydream that?