Ask anyone who grew up in the early eighties about children’s television and the chances are they will mention the Japanese puppet show Star Fleet.
The series only ran for one season, but was a staple of the Saturday morning line-up and impressed Queen rock god Brian May so much that he re-recorded the show’s theme tune and released it as a guitar-tastic single.
It was never repeated (to the best of my knowledge) and only a few episodes were ever released on video, making this new DVD issue of the entire series is all the more welcome.
The show was known as X-Bomber in its native Japan and was heavily indebted to Star Wars and other science fiction shows of the late 70s, like the original Battlestar Galactica and Blake’s 7.
There were a few plot holes – this was a children’s TV show, after all. The Imperial Alliance, led by Commander Makara, invade Earth and demand the authorities hand over the mysterious F-01. Rather tragically, no one from the Imperial Alliance actually seems to know what F-01 is or looks like, but they know it’s jolly powerful and they want it.
It’s a shame no one thought to Google it – they could have saved themselves an awful lot of bother. No one in Star Fleet has the foggiest either, so it’s up to Dr Benn Robinson and his motley crew on the X-Bomber to save the day.
The wise Dr Benn Robinson is joined by a Luke Skywalker look-a-like (Shiro Hagen), a wise-cracking Han Solo-type dude (Barry Hercules) and the pilot who clearly ate all the pies (John Lee). The X-Bomber crew are also aided and abetted by a daft chick in a prom dress (Lamia), who as it turns out, is also the saviour of the universe.
Almost 30 years on, the puppets are still rather impressive and a certain Gerry Anderson appears on the DVD set’s ‘making of’ documentary to say how they helped spur him on to make Terrahawks. The other great thing about the show was the space ships. They were seriously cool. Stuff the Millennium Falcon, the X-Bomber was clearly the mutt’s nuts when it came to space design and it also had three rather nifty little mini-ships which combined to form a single monster robot (Dai-X).
The space fight scenes still look good and you are left to marvel at just how talented the puppeteers and the model makers were. The ships might have been flying around on strings, but you’d never know. The only downside was that as the series progressed, some fight scenes did get re-used – but then, they did exactly the same on the original BSG!
There are also a couple of shameless ‘clip episodes’ which are just excuses to reshow old battle scenes. Episode nine – yes, episode nine, is entirely devoted to showing all the major battles in the previous eight shows.
But having said that, all 24 episodes of this show remain fantastically watchable. The characters, although a bit on the clichéd side were well thought-out and the English script and voices were superb. It was well-paced with plenty of action and a cracking story line.
As the series develops, the crew have to face everything from betrayal to death in a saga that combines Eastern mysticism with the-then fad for intergalactic warfare. They might not have had George Lucas’s budget or resources, but did not stop them coming up with something that was as entertaining as any of the original Star Wars movies.
Sadly, there never was a second series of Star Fleet. If it was remade today, it would be a CGI fest, but the skill and love of all those who made the original series are testament to the fact that you don’t need a million microprocessors to made a rollickingly good sci-fi show.
Star Fleet was every bit as good as you remember it and Brian May still rocks!
Extras All 24 episodes look good, and all come complete with the intros and ‘coming next’ bits. There is also a half-hour documentary on the making of the show, which includes an interview with its creator Go Nagai. Brian May’s pop video is also present and for true fans, there is a Star Fleet poster, postcards and 56 page Star Fleet comic.
Star Fleet – The Complete Series is out now.