Classic Sci Fi TV: Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.
What Is It? This was one of the original sci fi series to debut during the early days of television and it followed the adventures of Commander Buzz Corry of the United Planets Space Patrol, his sidekick Cadet Happy, and the rest of his team as they face the nefarious villains that threaten Earth in the 30th Century.
Aired: ABC, 1950-55, 210 30 Min Episodes & 900 15 Min Episodes
Starring: Ed Kemmer, Lyn Osborn, Ken Mayer, Virginia Hewitt
Created By: Mike Moser
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? Worth a look. Sample some episodes to get a taste of its 1950’s retro-sci fi.
The Skinny: This is of course one of the quintessential “kiddie space operas” of the 1950’s that largely defined the sci fi genre throughout that decade. It was primarily aimed at a younger audience, but it could deliver some decent and imaginative tales for its day and it started to attractive an older crowd the longer it remained on the air. The show definitely delivered plenty of cheesy fun with its 50’s style machismo, heroines in peril, cackling villains, and xenophobic glee; much like the movie serials that preceded it. The good guys are all clean as a whistle (no moral ambiguities here), and they always come out on top. The special effects are cheap but not too bad for that time and still enough to inspire the imagination of a less sophisticated 1950’s audience. And you can also see where this show sets many of the early standards for the space opera and science fiction entries that would follow it in the years and decades to come (note the similarities to Star Trek mentioned by the commentor below).
So why pick this one instead of the progenitor of the format Captain Video and His Video Rangers? Well, for one, Space Patrol received a slightly better budget from ABC (Captain Video‘s DuMont network was notorious for its penny-pinching), and it seems a little less cheesy in retrospect. Of course that’s hard to say for certain because only a handful of Captain Video episodes still exist seeing as most of DuMont’s archives were sadly destroyed in the 1970’s. So Space Patrol gets another vote in its favor because over a hundred of the original episodes are still available from the kinescopes (filmed recordings of the live broadcast over television for archival purposes). Space Patrol is probably as good of an example of the kiddie space operas as any, though you can also find episodes of shows like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and more. All of those came after Space Patrol which already lifted much of its premise from Captain Video, so they get progressively more derivative. But Space Patrol was one of the most popular of these shows at that time and a good enough representation of all of them. Sample some episodes of this and you can seek out the others if you find you have a particular liking for this type of retro-sci fi.
Cancelled Too Soon? Not likely. Lasting over five years and producing nine hundred fifteen-minute episodes through its first three seasons and two hundred thirty-minute segments in its fourth and fifth year (plus 129 episodes of the radio series), this show had a very healthy run. I’ve not seen a specific reason on why the show ended, but the death of its creator in 1954 may have factored into that as well as the waning popularity of this type of space opera.
Should It Be Rebooted? Actually, a retro-reboot of this show could be plenty of fun. Maybe even a team-up of Space Patrol with Captain Video, Tom Corbett, Rocky Jones, and more (I believe most of those characters are in the public domain now). A mix of 50’s naivete and modern day special effects with a sense of fun could produce an enjoyable series. Maybe the time is right to revisit these older shows.
Interesting Fact: There was also a Space Patrol television series from the 1960’s, but it aired in Britain and featured Gerry Anderson style puppets (though he did not produce the show). It had a similar premise to the 1950’s live action show and also borrowed heavily from Anderson’s Fireball XL5. The show aired under the name Planet Patrol in the United States so as not to confuse it with the original Space Patrol which was still airing in syndication in some markets.
Where Can You Watch It? A fair number of episodes have been released on DVD and you can find a nice sampling of episodes on YouTube at this link (the old-style commercials are a hoot!).
Buy Space Patrol on DVD from Amazon.com: