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|Created by||Gerry Anderson
|Written by||Gerry Anderson
|Directed by||Gerry Anderson
|Voices of||Gerry Anderson (uncredited)
|Theme music composer||Barry Gray
Charles Blackwell (lyrics)
Don Spencer (vocals)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||39 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||25 mins approx. per episode
|Production company(s)||AP Films|
|Picture format||Black and white
Film (35 mm)
|Original release||28 October 1962– 27 October 1963|
Fireball XL5 is a science fiction themed children's television show following the missions of spaceship Fireball XL5, commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The show was produced from 1962 to 1963 by husband and wife team Gerry and Sylvia Anderson through their company APF, in association with ATV for ITC Entertainment, and first transmitted on ATV on Sunday 28 October 1962. While developing his new show, Anderson thought a brand of motor oil—Castrol XL—had an interesting sound. A phonetic change created the name "Fireball XL", with the "5" added as the title seemed a bit flat without the numeral.
The show featured the Andersons' Supermarionation, a form of puppetry first introduced in Four Feather Falls (1960) and Supercar (1961) and used again in their subsequent productions such as Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Thirty-nine black and white half-hour episodes of Fireball XL5 were made on 35mm film: all subsequent Anderson series were produced in colour.
Several Anderson series have been shown in syndication in the US, but Fireball XL5 is the only Anderson series to have run on a US network. NBC (the National Broadcasting Company) ran the series in its Saturday morning children's block from 1963 through to September 1965.
A similar programme often confused with Fireball XL5 due to a number of similarities and settings is Space Patrol (known as Planet Patrol in the U.S.), produced by Gerry Anderson's former business partner and co-founder of AP Films, Arthur Provis.
The complete series is available on DVD in the UK, Australia, Canada and the U.S..
Set between the years 2062 and 2063, the series featured the missions of spaceship Fireball XL5, commanded by Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. The crew included glamorous Doctor Venus, a doctor of space medicine; middle-aged navigator and engineer Professor Matthew Matic and co-pilot Robert, a transparent anthropomorphic robot who would most commonly proclaim ON-OUR-WAY-HOME.. Robert was the only character in an Anderson series that was actually voiced by Anderson himself, albeit with the aid of an artificial larynx. As Anderson describes in a deleted scene of Filmed in Supermarionation:
- Then, it was very, very difficult, if not impossible to produce the sort of robot voice which would have to be monotone. So we found out that in Edinburgh University, they were creating the human voice artificially. They gave us a vibrator - of course, of course, everybody smiled at - not that kind of vibrator. And it was a vibrator that people who had their larynx removed through cancer would be able to put the vibrator under their chin, and it made a constant buzz. [Makes buzzing noise.] And then, of course, that sound was transmitted to the air inside the mouth. And I was then able to modulate that by mouthing the words. So, let's get this straight, fellas. It was not my voice. It was the sound of the vibrator which I modulated, and that it why, erm... Robert always used to say: "[Doing an impression of Robert.] On our way 'ome.".
In the series, the World Space Patrol is based at Space City, located on an unnamed island in the South Pacific, headed by Commander Zero. Zero is assisted by Lieutenant Ninety. For unspecified reasons the 25-storey T-shaped control tower at Space City rotates; in one episode a character inadvertently makes it rotate fast enough for those inside to suffer from vertigo.
Fireball XL5 patrolled Sector 25 of charted interstellar space (although there only appeared to be three sectors marked on the space chart seen in the Space City control room). The patrols were missions of three months' duration but the ship was also on call when at base.
Fireball XL5 space ship
The patrol space ship Fireball XL5 takes off utilising a mile-long launch rail culminating in a 40-degree incline, or sky ramp, which, as Anderson claimed, was inspired by an old Soviet design, a concept also used in the film When Worlds Collide.
The World Space Patrol apparently operates a fleet of at least thirty 'Fireball XL' ships (an XL30 is referred to in the episode The Firefighters), of which XL5 is the most famous. The ship itself is made up of two detachable sections. A winged nose cone, known as Fireball Junior, contains the cockpit and separates from the main body to land on other worlds. The rest of the ship contains a navigation bay, laboratory, a large lounge, workshops and separate crew quarters, together with fuel and the main rocket motors used for interstellar travel. The main ship generally remains stationed in orbit after arriving at an alien planet. When Fireball XL5 returns to its base on Earth, Space City, the whole ship lands horizontally, without separating, using underside-mounted retro-rockets.
Although the series uses many classic, early 20th-century science fiction themes reminiscent of the space opera of E. E. "Doc" Smith, it was a children's show and not intended to be realistic. Fireball XL5 is portrayed travelling around the galaxy at sub-light speeds (until the episode Faster than Light), and the series observed few of the limitations of known science and rocketry. Viewers were informed that the ship's rocket motors were powered by a 'nutomic reactor' and that XL5 could travel safely at speeds up to 'Space Velocity 7', enabling it to reach the outlying star systems of charted space within a few months. Furthermore, the crew never wore space suits; instead they took "oxygen pills" to survive in the vacuum of space, where they manoeuvred in zero gravity with the aid of thruster packs. 'Neutroni radio' enabled virtually instantaneous communication within the sectors of charted space, and XL5 and her sister ships were fitted with 'gravity activators' that generated artificial gravity fields within them.
Regular characters were voiced by Paul Maxwell, Sylvia Anderson, David Graham and John Bluthal. In common with many of the Anderson puppet shows, most of the important characters have American accents, with some notable exceptions: Dr. Venus is French, Jock the engineer is Scottish and some of the aliens have remarkably sedate British accents (e.g. episode 33, the Day the Earth Froze). Language issues between alien races and Earth were rarely encountered as most races appeared to speak perfect English.
Theme song and merchandising
Fireball XL5 had separate opening instrumental theme music and a closing theme song. The closing theme, Fireball, written by Barry Gray and sung by Don Spencer, became a minor hit in Britain. Gray would have a long relationship with the Andersons' productions, writing themes for such series as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. Don Spencer would become Australia's premier children's entertainer and founder of the Australian Children's Music Foundation. A group, The Flee-Rekkers, produced by Joe Meek, came out with an instrumental version in the style of Telstar.
In addition to the theme song, the series spawned a number of other licensed merchandising spin-offs including toys, an MPC playset with rocket ship and figures, model kits including a plastic kit of Fireball XL5 itself, puppets, ray guns, comic strips and annuals. In Britain, a 2-page black-and-white Fireball XL5 comic strip appeared in the weekly TV Comic between 1962–1964 before moving to the newly launched weekly TV Century 21 comic in January 1965 for another 5 years. The strips that appeared between 1965–1968 were in colour only reverting to black-and-white in 1969. Four hard cover Annual books were published in Britain by Collins between 1963–1966 featuring colour and black and white comic strip and text stories, while in the United States Gold Key Comics printed a single-issue colour comic book in 1963. Little Golden Books published a hard-cover colour illustrated story book in 1964 (later released as 'Fireball XL5 – A Big Television Book' in Britain).
During the mid 1960s there were also three soft cover colouring/puzzle books published in Britain and one soft cover colouring/story book published in the United States.
Home video releases
Like most of Anderson's Supermarionation series, this one was given a "complete series" release in Region 1 by A&E Home Video. A Region 2 version featuring new bonus material was released on DVD in those territories in 2009, superseding a 2004 release with no extras. On 22 October in Region B territories, an individual Blu-ray featuring a colorised version of the episode A Day in the Life of a Space General was released. The disc also includes an episode of Four Feather Falls and an extended version of the Wonderland of Stardust documentary released as a bonus on the Region B box set released earlier in 2009. 
Cast of characters
- Colonel Steve Zodiac, pilot and commanding officer of Fireball XL5 (voiced by Paul Maxwell). Commander of Fireball XL5. Zodiac was awarded Astronaut of the Year in the episode "Space City Special".
- Doctor Venus, Doctor of Space Medicine, of French origin. Personally chosen to be part of his crew by Steve Zodiac and with 5 years of service on the XL5 according to the episode "The Last of the Zanadus" (voiced by Sylvia Anderson).
- Professor Matthew "Matt" Matic, engineer, navigator and scientist of XL5 (voiced by David Graham, speaking in a voice similar to the actor Walter Brennan).
- Robert the Robot, co-pilot of XL5, a transparent robot invented by Professor Matic and Earth's most advanced mechanical man (voiced by an uncredited Gerry Anderson using an artificial larynx and the only main character Gerry Anderson ever voiced in one of his series).
- Zoonie the Lazoon, lazy, semi-telepathic pet of Dr. Venus from planet Colevio (voiced by David Graham). During his first appearances, he couldn't say anything but "welcome home" but his vocabulary grew as the series progressed, often due to him mimicking other characters.
- Commander Wilbur Zero, Operational Commander-in-Chief of the World Space Patrol and Space City's Chief Controller (voiced by John Bluthal). Despite his gruff exterior, he cares deeply for his subordinates and respects them, especially Steve.
- Lieutenant Ninety, Assistant Space City Controller (voiced by David Graham). Ninety is young, inexperienced and the character most often on the receiving end of Commander Zero's scathing attitude. Despite the seeming high tension between him and Zero, Zero called him "the best lieutenant Space City has."
- Jock Campbell, Space City's Scottish Chief Engineer (voiced by John Bluthal). He makes it clear he doesn't think too highly of women but when Venus saves his life during an ill-fated mission, he starts to have a change of heart.
- Eleanor Zero, Commander Zero's wife (voiced by Sylvia Anderson)
- Jonathan Zero, Commander Zero's young son (voiced by Sylvia Anderson). According to the Little Golden Book 'Fireball XL5' story book published in the USA in 1964 young Jonathan was lucky enough to be a passenger aboard Fireball XL5's maiden voyage which included an unscheduled stop at the planet Geminy.
- Recurring villains included space spies Boris and Griselda, with their antiquated space ship S.S.Thor (S.S. stood for Space Spy) and the evil green alien Subterrains of Planet 46.
Many episodes of Fireball XL5 were set on exotic planets:
- Amazonia – a planet mentioned in the episode Prisoner on the Lost Planet as being a member of the United Planets Organization alongside Earth and which had banished its mad queen to an unnamed planet of active volcanoes.
- Aridan - the desert planet that once had water but is now an arid wilderness seen in the episode "Space Pirates"
- Conva – a regularly featured planet first introduced in the episode "Space Pen" as a planetwide prison for criminals and featured prominently in the episode "Convict in Space", in which one of its convicts escapes.
- Granatoid – home of the Granatoid robots who appear in "The Granatoid Tanks" and described (though not seen) as having a completely technocratic society, led by a robot voiced by an uncredited Gerry Anderson.
- Granvenia – a planet mentioned as the destination of fuel tankers that are being diverted to the planet Suventa in the episode "Hypnotic Sphere".
- Hedera – a planet rich in plant life that was visited in the episode "Plant Man from Space" and home of a rampant strain of Ivy called Hedera helixa.
- Herbos – a jungle planet seen briefly in the episode "Last of the Zanadus".
- Magneton – a planet visited in the episode "Space Magnet" and inhabited by the invisible Solars.
- Membrono – a planet that was nearly destroyed (by another, unnamed planet) in the episode "The Doomed Planet". An advanced alien race lived on Membrono's moon.
- Minerra - a planet rich in radioactive minerals needed for earth resources seen in the episode "Space Pirates"
- Mirana – a perpetually burning planet seen in the episode "Hypnotic Sphere".
- Monotane – a desert planet inhabited by a space monster in "Space Monster".
- New Earth – a planet with a thin atmosphere and little gravity that was to be colonised by the crew of the spaceship Mayflower-3 in the episode Space Immigrants until spaceship Fireball XL7, sent out to prepare for the arrival of the Mayflower-3, was captured by megalomaniacal aliens.
- Planet 46 – home of the Subterrains and a barren planet with an oxygen atmosphere; introduced in the pilot episode Planet 46 and appearing in numerous other episodes.
- Planet 73 – a planet colonised by Earth and attacked by the Granatoids in the episode The Granatoid Tanks.
- Planet 82 – a planet renamed Robotvia by Professor Al Himber.
- Platonia – a planet featured in the episode Planet of Platonia and revealed to be rich in Platinum and inhabited by silver-skinned aliens who eat 23-course meals. A trade agreement with Earth had created a power-struggle on the planet, which the XL5 crew was sent to calm.
- Rajusca - A desert planet featured in the episode Sun Temple, in which the Earth is attacked by sun worshipping Rajuscans living in the desert.
- Suventa – an ice-planet that is home to an unnamed brain-creature which hopes to use hypnotic satellites to take control of the universe.
- Triad – a planet featured in the episode, The Triads, which is almost identical to earth in every way, except for being three times its size. Consequently, everything on it, plants, people, animals, etc. is three times the size it is on earth, also. The gigantic human inhabitants are friendly, but are at least 100 years behind earth technologically and were just attempting their first space launches when the crew of the XL5 visited.
- Zanadu – a planet that featured a mysterious temple in the episode Last of the Zanadus
- Zofeit – a planet whose inhabitants, the Zofeits,were almost wiped out (only two males surviving) by a lone alien in the episode XL5 to H20. The crew of XL5 rescued the two survivors, who were evacuated to Earth.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Production
|1||"Planet 46"||Gerry Anderson||Gerry & Sylvia Anderson||28 October 1962||1|
|Fireball XL5 intercepts a planetomic (sic) missile sent to destroy Earth. On Planet 46 Steve and Venus are captured by the Subterrains –who promptly launch a second missile, with Venus on board!|
|2||"The Doomed Planet"||Alan Pattillo||Alan Fennell||4 November 1962||5|
|The investigation of a flying saucer leads to Steve Zodiac attempting to save a planet which has broken out of its orbit and is on a collision course with another planet.|
|3||"Space Immigrants"||Alan Pattillo||Anthony Marriott||11 November 1962||8|
|The Mayflower III, piloted by Venus, is carrying pioneers to a new planet. But the indigenous Lillispatians have objections to their world being colonized!|
|4||"Plant Man From Space"||John Kelly||Anthony Marriott||18 November 1962||6|
|Prof. Matic's old friend, Dr. Rootes, attempts to conquer Earth using an invasive species of alien plant life –which promptly runs amok!|
|5||"Spy In Space"||Alan Pattillo||Alan Fennell||25 November 1962||11|
|Espionage at a fueling depot, courtesy of that notorious couple, Mr. and Mrs. Space Spy. Venus is held hostage yet again!|
|6||"The Sun Temple"||Bill Harris||Alan Fennell||2 December 1962||7|
|On Rejusca, Steve and Zoonie must rescue the much-captured Venus from sun worshippers who intend to make a sizzling sacrifice of her to their solar deity.|
|7||"XL5 To H2O"||John Kelly||Alan Fennell||9 December 1962||12|
|Fireball responds to an urgent distress call from the last two survivors of a planet menaced by a weird fish man armed with a poisonous smoke gun.|
|8||"Space Pirates"||Bill Harris||Anthony Marriott||16 December 1962||13|
|The Fireball crew gets entangled in a complicated game of bluff and double bluff in order to outwit a gang of space pirates plundering freighters from the mineral-rich planet Minera.|
|9||"Flying Zodiac"||Bill Harris||Anthony Marriott||23 December 1962||10|
|Steve nearly falls victim to sabotage at a Space City circus as part of a complicated scheme by Mr. and Mrs. Space Spy to help alien nomads take over Earth.|
|10||"Space Pen"||John Kelly||Dennis Spooner||30 December 1962||15|
|Posing as criminals, the Fireball crew head for the prison planet Conva in pursuit of two Space City raiders, only to end up in Mr. and Mrs. Space Spy's lethal water chamber!|
|11||"Space Monster"||John Kelly||Gerry & Sylvia Anderson||6 January 1963||9|
|Zoonie's talent for mimicry gets the Fireball crew out of a tight spot when they investigate the disappearance of the XL2 and find themselves menaced by a space monster.|
|12||"The Last of the Zanadus"||Alan Pattillo||Anthony Marriott||13 January 1963||14|
|Zoonie falls sick –a victim of a plot by the evil Kudos, lone inhabitant of the planet Zanadu, to destroy all Lazoons with a deadly virus. Can Fireball XL5 obtain the antidote in time?|
|13||"Planet Of Platonia"||David Elliott||Alan Fennell||20 January 1963||3|
|While bringing the King of the Plantium Planet to Earth for trade talks, the Fireball crew foils a bomb plot by the king's aide, Volvo, to kill his ruler and plunge the two planets into war.|
|14||"The Triads"||Alan Pattillo||Alan Fennell||27 January 1963||18|
|Steve, Venus, and Mat encounter Graff and Snaff, a couple of friendly giants, on Triad –a planet three times the size of Earth– and help them in their efforts to explore space.|
|15||"Wings of Danger"||David Elliott||Alan Fennell||3 February 1963||17|
|While investigating strange signals coming from Planet 46, Steve Zodiac is unknowingly poisoned by a robot bird equipped with deadly radium capsules. Swift surgery by Venus saves his life, but the bird is waiting to "pounce" again...|
|16||"Convict in Space"||Bill Harris||Alan Fennell||10 February 1963||16|
|Mr. and Mrs. Space Spy issue a fake distress call. But this time a convict being transported, not the XL5, is their primary target...|
|17||"Space Vacation"||Alan Pattillo||Dennis Spooner||17 February 1963||22|
|A well-deserved vacation on the opulent planet of Olympus turns into a frenzied race against time when the crew becomes embroiled in a bizarre interplanetary feud.|
|18||"Flight to Danger"||David Elliott||Alan Fennell||24 February 1963||21|
|To win his astronaut's wings Lt. Ninety must complete a solo orbit of the moon. But disaster strikes when his rocket catches fire, and he is feared lost... or is he?|
|19||"Prisoner on the Lost Planet"||Bill Harris||Anthony Marriott||3 March 1963||20|
|Answering a distress call from uncharted space, Steve finds himself on a misty planet dominated by a giant smoldering volcano –where he meets a beautiful Amazonian exile who threatens to activate said volcano if she is not helped to escape!|
|20||"The Forbidden Planet"||David Elliott||Anthony Marriott||10 March 1963||25|
|Prof. Matic's newest invention, the Ultrascope, obtains the planet Nutopia –never before seen by eyes from Earth, and reputed to be the perfect planet. But Nutopians have an invention of their own... a matter transporter!|
|21||"Robert to the Rescue"||Bill Harris||Dennis Spooner||17 March 1963||24|
|Steve, Mat, and Venus are imprisoned on an unknown world by two Domeheads, Magar and Proton, who propose to wipe their Earth memories and keep them there forever. Before being brainwashed, Steve cleverly orders Robert the Robot to rescue them... with curious results!|
|22||"Dangerous Cargo"||John Kelly||Dennis Spooner||24 March 1963||27|
|On a mission to destroy an unstable ghost planet, Steve and Mat set explosives in a mineshaft –only to find themselves trapped by the Subterrains!|
|23||"Mystery of the TA2"||John Kelly||Dennis Spooner||31 March 1963||23|
|When the crew finds the wreck of a spaceship that disappeared decades before, their search for the lost pilot, Col. Denton, leads them to the planet Arctan –where they discover Denton living quite happily as king of the Ice People.|
|24||"Drama at Space City"||Alan Pattillo||Anthony Marriott||7 April 1963||30|
|Jonathan Zero's highly unauthorized midnight exploration of Fireball XL5 turns into a terrifying adventure when the ship launches and catches fire!|
|25||"1875"||Bill Harris||Anthony Marriott||14 April 1963||28|
|Mat Matic's new time machine whisks Steve, Venus and Cmdr. Zero back to the Wild West of 1875, where Steve becomes Sheriff and Venus and Zero are bank robbers!|
|26||"The Granatoid Tanks"||Alan Pattillo||Alan Fennell||21 April 1963||26|
|Scientists on a glass-surfaced planet radio for help when they are menaced by six Granatoid tanks. Fireball XL5 responds but is powerless to halt the assault. Fortunately, a stowaway proves to be of unexpected help!|
|27||"The Robot Freighter Mystery"||David Elliott||Alan Fennell||28 April 1963||29|
|Steve Zodiac resorts to subterfuge to prove that an unscrupulous pair of space salvage contractors, the Briggs Brothers, are sabotaging robot supply freighters so that they can pick up the pieces.|
|28||"Whistle for Danger"||John Kelly||Dennis Spooner||5 May 1963||31|
|A plant disease has wiped out all vegetation on the jungle planet of Floran. The Fireball XL5 explodes an Ellvium bomb to eradicate the disease and restore the plant life –but the inhabitants are suspicious of their motives and imprison Steve, Mat and Venus in a 100-foot-tall (30 m) tower.|
|29||"Trial by Robot"||Bill Harris||Alan Fennell||12 May 1963||36|
|Robots have vanished from four planets –and the disappearances are linked to visits by a famous robot scientist, Prof. Himber. When Robert also goes missing, Steve and Mat undertake the three-month journey to Planet 82, only to be put on trial by the mad professor –the ruler of his kidnapped robot race!|
|30||"A Day in the Life of a Space General"||David Elliott||Alan Fennell||19 May 1963||37|
|Lt. Ninety is promoted to general, but his erratic command wreaks havoc. A cascading series of disasters reaches its spectacular climax when Fireball XL5 itself crashes into Space City. What a nightmare... which is exactly what the hapless Lt. Ninety is having!|
|31||"Invasion Earth"||Alan Pattillo||Dennis Spooner||26 May 1963||34|
|A strange cloud hides an invading alien fleet.|
|32||"Faster Than Light"||Bill Harris||Dennis Spooner||2 June 1963||32|
|An out-of-control Fireball breaks the light barrier only to emerge in a sea of air.|
|33||"The Day the Earth Froze"||David Elliott||Alan Fennell||9 June 1963||33|
|Icemen from the planet Zavia deflect the sun's rays, sending the Earth into a deep freeze.|
|34||"The Fire Fighters"||John Kelly||Alan Fennell||16 June 1963||39|
|Fireballs are plunging to Earth from a mysterious gas cloud in space. Steve and his crew must contain the cloud before it reaches the atmosphere. Their plan goes smoothly until a technical fault forces Steve to complete the work by hand.|
|35||"Space City Special"||Alan Pattillo||Dennis Spooner||23 June 1963||38|
|Astronaut of the Year Steve Zodiac needs all his skill to talk Venus down after she takes over the controls of a supersonic airliner whose pilot has been sent into a trance by Subterrains.|
|36||"Ghosts of Space"||John Kelly||Alan Fennell||6 October 1963||35|
|Steve and a geologist attempt to solve the manifold mysteries of the seemingly deserted planet Electron, which is replete with electric rocks and weird, poltergeist-like happenings.|
|37||"Hypnotic Sphere"||Alan Pattillo||Alan Fennell||13 October 1963||2|
|Robert the Robot saves the day when the rest of the crew is thrown into a trance by a hypnotic sphere which has been spacejacking freighters.|
|38||"Sabotage"||John Kelly||Anthony Marriott||20 October 1963||19|
|A neutroni bomb (sic) is planted on board the XL5 and the crew is kidnapped.|
|39||"Space Magnet"||Bill Harris||Anthony Marriott||27 October 1963||4|
|The Solars have their own use for our Moon.|
- (French) : Fusée XL5
- (Spanish) : El Capitán Marte y su XL5. In the version shown in Latin-American countries, Colonel Zodiac is rechristened Capitán Marte ("Captain Mars").
- (Greek) : Πύρινη Σφαίρα (pyrine sphaera = ball of fire).
- Space Patrol - Another marionette sci-fi space travel series from former Anderson collaborator Roberta Leigh.