"Fireball XL5" marks the beginning of a trend that Gerry Anderson developed in following series, a trend which in many ways is a trademark of Anderson productions - hardware. Aside from hardware, "Fireball XL5" also introduced audiences to the idea of organisations, with uniforms and symbols. In many ways "Fireball XL5" is a blueprint which the other shows are designed upon, a blueprint which has proved successful and profitable.
The series was conceived whilst "Supercar" was still in production. Gerry Anderson remarks, "I knew we had to follow with another series if we were to survive, and so I was using every spare moment to get the basic idea."
Once Anderson had devised the new series, he had to find a buyer. He approached Lew Grade again, who had provided the all-important backing to "Supercar" and, once again, Grade liked it and bought it. He provided the finance and distribution. A.P. Films were paid a fee and a small part of the profit. The series was produced in an era when space travel was just beginning. Gerry Anderson recalls that, "the method of launching the rocket was my idea - and I got it wrong!"
Why was the spacecraft called 'Fireball XL5'? Gerry Anderson replied, "...there was a motor oil being advertised at the time called Castrol XL. I thought it had a good ring to it, and I added the '5' to make it a little different."
Once again, the list of technicians and people behind "Fireball XL5" contains names which we all recognise - David Elliot, John Read, Bob Bell, Ted Wooldridge, Paddy Seale, David Lane, Julien Lugrin.
The puppets of "Fireball XL5" were, of course, still caricatures, but perhaps not so much like comic-book characters as their predecessors in "Supercar".
Finally, the special effects work of Derek Meddings and his team became somewhat more elaborate, which continued as each series came along.
Fireball XL5 is just one of a fleet of 'XL' vehicles of the World Space Patrol, a world space agency of the 21st Century.
The world of "Fireball XL5" is a world where man has not only explored space extensively, but also made contact with alien civilisations.
Set around 2067, the series obviously has many futuristic craft, the main one being, of course, Fireball XL5 itself. Aside from this the series also shows such other space ships as Space Rescue Ships, Robot Supply Freighters, a Supply Freighter, and many alien spacecraft, together with space stations and hover cars and, in "Space City Special", a supersonic airliner.
The storylines of the 39 episodes were more advanced than those of "Supercar". You still had the occasional juvenile comic-strip episode, such as "1875", when the crew are accidentally sent back in time to a western town and Steve Zodiac becomes a sheriff, while Venus (mysteriously) a bandit but, in general, the stories were exciting, if not perhaps on a simple level. Even so, the show became one of the more longer-running strips in "TV2l".
Aside from the main ones, there were few regular characters. The only ones were Jock, the Scottish Space City engineer, and Jonathan Zero, Commander Zero's son. On the villains side, "Fireball XL5" had two sets of villains responsible for many of the dangers encountered by Fireball XL5 and its crew - the Green Men, the Subterraneans from Planet 46, and Mr & Mrs Space Spy.
Colonel Steve Zodiac was the pilot of Fireball XL5, A very handsome puppet, like all heroes he was tough, brave and fearless and, again, it was he who often saved the day rescuing himself and his friends from danger, putting an end to the evil plans of men, aliens, and - occasionally - monsters.
Venus was the medical expert of the crew, a Doctor of Space Medicine, and a romantic interest for Steve Zodiac.
Professor Mathew "Matt" Matic was the scientific officer. Wearing glasses, he was also the navigator of Fireball XL5.
Robert the Robot was Steve Zodiac's co-pilot and was a robot of transparent material, so all of his workings were visible. He acted upon command, and independently, and with some automatic responses. Say "Full Power" and he launched Fireball XL5. Once ordered to do something he does not stop until he was finished what he was ordered to do. One other interesting thing about this character is that Gerry Anderson himself provided the voice - the only voice which he has ever done. Anderson had visited Edinburgh University where experiments were being made into creating an artificial voice which could be understood (for people who had their larynx removed). The voice was created by Anderson mouthing words into a special soundproof box, with a special vibrator unit under his chin. The result was a modulated tone, which could be recognised as speech. All the experiments with the equipment were carried out by Anderson, so it seemed natural that he should provide Robert's voice for the series.
Zoonie was Venus' pet, a Lazoon, who liked mimicking things and a good called 'Martian Delight'.
Commander Zero is in charge of Space City and Fireball missions and is aided by Lieutenant 90. All the main characters wear uniform, which varies according to rank and sex. Steve Zodiac and Professor Matic wear a uniform which is white and red and gold. Venus' uniform is a dark green and a lighter green with gold. Commander Zero wears a uniform of white, light brown and gold.
For the first time as well there is a symbol worn by Fireball crews - a globe with the name of the spacecraft with two white path lines.
It was a long, sleek spacecraft, with one main nozzle engine at the back. Two smaller rockets were fitted to each of the what can only be described as shield-like fins, which were at the end of each of the wings of the spacecraft. Running almost the entire length of the spacecraft is a tail fin. Seven windows run along each side of the fuselage, stopping just at the beginning of the tail fin. Towards the top of Fireball XL5 is a glass observation dome, sitting on top.
Fireball XL5 is split into two halves, the main half as described and then a smaller section which is the control cabin. This is called 'Fireball Junior'. It has large windows at the front, which run along part of the side, giving a wide area of view, and four fins which run nearly the entire length of it, which enable it to fly to any planets with an atmosphere. Apart from being the control cabin, Fireball Junior acts as a landing vehicle. It detaches from the main body of Fireball XL5 and lands on planets (using rockets and landing legs), while the main part of the spacecraft remains in orbit. There are two large doors either side of Fireball Junior providing access.
Fireball XL5 is a fully-equipped spacecraft. The control cabin, Fireball Junior, has two pilot seats - one for Steve Zodiac and the other one for Robert the Robot. There is one box control panel at the side of each, slightly raised with a further panel beneath it. A longer panel runs across the front of the control cabin with a viewing screen in the centre. Control of the spacecraft is by control columns, one to each pilot seat, rather like handlebars. The front of the control cabin is basically a metal framework, covered in glass (in the puppet set of the cabin there is obviously no glass, just the framework). A hatch at the rear of the control cabin leads to the back of Fireball Junior, and the two doors, and to the main body of Fireball XL5.
The main body of Fireball XL5 has a navigation bay, where Matt Matic plots courses for Steve Zodiac to take. His equipment includes a radarscope, like conventional earth radar, and an Astroscope, which provides the spacecraft with pictures of the area they are searching. Professor Mathew Matic also has a Spacemascope, which again gives pictures of the area.
One other device used by both the crew of Fireball XL5 and other craft is the neutroni transmitting system, a sort of radio system for use in space.
Aside from the navigation bay, Fireball XL5 also has a lounge, acommodation for the crew, a laboratory for Venus, a Space Gyro Room, and a Space Jail.
The two main doors in Fireball Junior are mainly used, but there is also an ejection tube where one person at a time can eject into space.
There are three other important pieces of equipment. First there are the ray guns with capsules of energy. Second are the thrust packs, which strap to the crew's backs, and which enable them to manoeuvre in space. Third are their jetmobiles. These are like motorcycles, but they are used in space and on land. They hover and have a main viewing screen built into the main steering head.
Finally, there are the oxygen pills. These enable the crew to go into space, or anywhere else without oxygen, without the need for space suits.
Fireball XL5 is launched from the launch rail at Space City by rocket boosters attached to the launch platform. The spacecraft is positioned onto the rocket boosters on take-off. The boosters and the main engine of Fireball XL5 are fired, sending the boosters down the launch rail, with the craft attached. Just before the end of the rail, having picked up enough speed, Fireball XL5 separates from the rocket boosters and takes off.
On return to Space City, Fireball XL5 uses retro-rockets to land vertically, landing on a pad where crane cradles pick it up and move it back onto the launch ramp, ready for take-off again.
Fireball XL5 established a style which Gerry Anderson has refined and improved in each series. The next step was to move into a wider market, and that meant the United States - and colour (with Stingray).
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