Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So That's Where That Thing About Hot Alien Chicks Came From....

Phoenix Five is all but forgotten relic of Australian science-fiction themed television from the end of the 1960s. All but forgotten, but why?

Because it was low budget, science fiction TV, with Australian accents, with massive robots, with a plethary of control panel tech-babble? Maybe. But the costumes were pretty cool. And it had one of the most downright funky theme tunes in all Australian television history.

Twenty-six episodes of Pheonix Five were produced in 1969, on a miniscule budget, and aired on Sunday afternoons on the ABC through 1970. I'm sure it was shown again in the mid-1970s, because I remember seeing it as a kid. It seemed almost science fiction in itself to watch a space-based TV show full of Australian accents and locations (vaguely disguised as alien planets).

Here's Michael Pinto, of Fanboy :
“The year: 2500 AD. The ‘Phoenix Five’. The crew: Captain Roke, Ensign Adam Hargreaves, Cadet Tina Kulbrick, and their computeroid Karl. Their mission: to patrol the outer galaxies for Earth Space Control, to maintain peace, and to capture Zodian the humanoid, who with the aid of his computers Alpha and Zeta endeavours to become dictator of outer space.”

The first thing that hits your eye is that the visual style of the show is kit bashed from everything you can think of: The costumes have a Star Trek quality to them, the robot looks borrowed from Dr. Who and the industrial design of the spaceship is a throwback to either Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon film serials.

A brief, but interesting, Phoenix Five episode guide is here. Summaries from the guide of the more interesting sounding episodes :

Human Relics - Episode 03

Aboard the Phoenix Five, the crew receives a strange signal from the asteroid Arcticus. Responding, they find a 20th-century space capsule and an astronaut in a coma.

Two Into One Won't Go - Episode 08

Zodian devises a new plan to destroy Earth Control and rule the Federated Galaxies of Space. He bribes the pompous governor of planetoid 93 into injecting a micro transistor into Captain Roke's bloodstream.

Hmmm, maybe Episode 09, 'Back To Childhoods', explains why some of actresses on the show later complained production was unfocused, haphazard and that "nobody seemed to know what they were doing." :

Cadet Tina Culbrick finds a rare Cannibalis plant that Captain Roke decides to take back to Earth Control for examination.

A few more :

A Gesture From Kronos - Episode 11

Captain Roke is "reversed" when he falls victim to a Zodian time warp. He talks backward, his uniform colours are reversed. His reaction powers are severely tested as he flies the Astro-Scout Ship to the one person who can help him — Kronos, the guardian of time in space.

Space Quake - Episode 16

A doctor an a dying planet injects Adam with an aging serum but will only supply the antidote in return for safe passage to another planet.

The Planet of Fear - Episode 17

Exploring a strange planet, Roke and Adam meet an astronaut who was lost ten years earlier, and has acquired mysterious powers from the evil Platonus, turning him into a human booby trap.

And here's most of the full episode Pirate Queen :

Part One :

Part Two :

Part Three :

So why hasn't this yet come to DVD? Or even scored a long overdue repeat series on ABC (late at night, obviously)? There's probably a very good geek doco waiting to be made on the history and making of the show.

If the Americans can pull seven television series and 11 movies from the original and very patchy Star Trek, we can get, at least, an interesting doco from this, occasionally fascinating, relic of our box-staring history.