Fireball XL5
The Complete Series

Starring: Gerry Anderson (voice)
Carlton Visual Entertainment
RRP: 39.99
Certificate: U
Available now

Colonel Steve Zodiac was British TV's first real space hero. A square-jawed champion of the underdog and protector of the space lanes which he patrolled in
Fireball XL5, the flagship craft of the World Space Patrol. For 39 black and white episodes Zodiac and his crew thrilled young British viewers, in the process helping launch the career of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The year was 1962...

Some 40 years later and Steve Zodiac is back thanks to Carlton Visual Entertainment which is issuing the show on DVD - loving restored and digitally remastered. Fireball XL5 has already been released as a five-disc set on Region 1 DVD by A&E Video in the USA, with extras including photo galleries, audio commentaries on two episodes by voice artist David Graham and director Alan Pattillo, and a featurette on TV 21 Fireball XL5 artist Mike Noble. Unfortunately, these are missing from the UK release.

The photo galleries are no great loss - they were just frame grabs from episodes rather than proper production stills - but the commentaries are great fun as is the Mike Noble featurette. Just why this was included on the US release isn't clear as TV 21 never appeared in the States which makes its omission here all the more annoying. However, Carlton wanted to keep the price down so Fireball XL5 gets a 100% vanilla release in Region 2.

The good news is that the PAL transfers looks stunning, noticeably sharper than the admittedly crisp A&E discs. And better still, the show really holds up well. Its mix of comedy and thrills stands the test of time and some of the directing is really excellent, especially the occasional use of deep focus by Pattillo, a trick not employed in later shows.

In essence Fireball XL5 - a name inspired by a brand of engine oil - is not really that different to Stingray, the Anderson's next puppet adventure. Perhaps it's a little more playful and a little less slick but what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in energy and pace.

For Anderson fans this box set is a must. Buy it or you'll be a 'Real Tootie'.

Anthony Clark

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