Thursday, 27 January 2011

Doctor Who The Ambassadors of Death (1970)

Doctor Who and the Ambassadors of Death is a 7 part story from Jon Pertwee’s first season of Doctor Who. 
A year after the American’s first put a man on the moon, the BBC rather optimistically had British Space Control send a couple of chaps off to Mars.  This being Doctor Who, it obviously all goes horribly wrong, with a failed rescue mission, deadly to the touch radioactive aliens, exploitative criminals, corruption from on high.... etc.   It’s a little bit too Quatermass to be totally original and maybe just a little bit too long to be loved but there are some nice ideas, some good action stuff and there’s three of the helmets from Moon Zero Two given a good rub down and painted rainy afternoon grey to match the outfits.
Now whether these are three helmets not used in The Double-Deckers (blue and red seem to be absent from that show) or maybe this is where they went off to afterwards I’m not yet sure but here they are adding, if not colour then a little style to the proceedings.
The suits have been replaced with a loose fitting slightly more old fashioned design knocked up by the Who production team by the look of it.  The demands of the script would have made the Moon Zero Two suits impractical to wear and it’s possible, if not actually being used elsewhere at the same time, that they were already beginning to show signs of wear and damage.
There is a DVD of this story due out 2011/ 2012 and hopefully when that happens some of the usually excellent extras and commentaries may yet shed more light onto the production.
One of the things they are bound to mention and which I’ve already covered here on the; Doomwatch: Re-entry Forbidden post is that the flight deck of the rocket was also recycled  in so much as the cost of the build was shared between the two production teams.  Doomwatch filmed for two days and then Doctor Who followed straight on in, making only a few minor alterations before jumping into the same hot seats back to earth.
And just because we can; let’s have a picture of effects man; Jack Lovell rubbing all the colour out of the helmets. 

Here Come The Double-Deckers (1970) - Invaders from Space

A joint American and British venture which managed 17 fun filled half hour episodes before getting its plug pulled.  It’s about a group of London kids whose club house just happens to be a Double-Decker bus in a scrap yard.
Its episode 12 we need to look at here which is called; Invaders from Space, and has the following set up;
Brains, the aptly named mad professor one of the gang, is working on an old TV, attempting to turn it from a Black and White to a Colour set.  It’s while doing this that the gang get to see images showing an alien invasion in progress.  It’s actually a commercial for a new bubble gum but the kids don’t know this.  The matter is compounded when the sweet company sends invaders out onto the streets to dispense free gum from gum shooting guns (Which is easier to type than say)
It obviously all gets cleared up in the end but just look at the costumes that the makers used for the alien invaders.  It’s my personal favourite; The Moon Zero Two suits, back out in public almost less than a year after their original airing.
Most of the colours seem to be here except maybe the red and the blue ones which if memory serves were originally made to fit smaller actors and so were perhaps not any good on these strapping chaps.
One point of trivia here is that Len the barman in Moon Zero Two was played by actor Sam Kydd who never got to pop on a suit in that film but is seen here sporting the yellow one.
Well fancy that!

Kadoyng (1972)

Leo Maguire writes and stars in this Children’s Film Foundation film about an alien who befriends a group of kids and helps them to stop a motorway from being built through their village by using his strange alien powers. Sound like good clean family fun to me!
As you can see; this alien shops at the same outfitters as those in Gerry Anderson’s UFO series although his behaviour would suggest that he’s a much nicer chap and far less likely to steal your internal organs.


UFO (1970) Part 2: The Alien Spacesuits

These are the chaps that lurk within the UfOs.  For aliens, they're sort of human looking except for the dead-fish eyes and the fact that they breathe green liquid instead of air.
An image that lurks from childhood is of a captured human being converted to alien, his helmet filling up with the green stuff.  I sort of remember him drowning inside his helmet as he fights against breathing the alien goo in.  The image sticks in the mind’s eye along with all of those Public Information Films that haunted our childhood back then.
Anyway, these are the bad guys that give SHADO all the trouble.   As a general rule you never see more than one of them at a time and I’ve heard that there were only two suits made.  So you can understand that there was a bit of a problem when in one story there was a scene where two of them needed to be seen carrying a third between them.  Clever camera editing managed to crop either the front or back alien out of the shot so as presumably not to reveal the other actor dressed in his jeans and a T-shirt.
There are a couple of alterations made to the suits over the shows run, the biggest being the replacement of the silver chain mail for a less ornate material finish.
To the best of my research, this space suit only makes one future appearance after the show finished and that was in a Children’s Film Foundation feature.  Blog post pending.


Saturday, 22 January 2011

Friday, 21 January 2011

UFO (1970) Part 1: The SHADO Spacesuits

It’s 1980; the future, and Earth is under attack from aliens.  They come from a dying world to covertly harvest humanity of their organs.  Thankfully there’s a secret organisation called SHADO, who stop these incursions with a variety of cutting edge tanks, a submarine, planes, satellites, spaceships and a base on the moon.
There were 26 episodes of this Gerry Anderson series made between April 1969 and September 1970.  Not only is it Anderson’s first all live action series but it’s also substantially more adult in theme.  It’s a good looking show with value added by recycling various props, cars and costumes from Anderson’s Doppelganger film that is also a little darker than people expect it to be given its creators reputation as the maker of puppet based children’s shows.
Digression aside, the space suits used in this show were the ones made for Doppelganger although they had been seen in the BBC’s Doomwatch episode; Re-Entry Forbidden exactly 6 months prior to their first appearance in UFO on the ATV network, 16th of September 1970.  And this was despite UFO going into production some 11 months prior to Doomwatch and spraying the helmets yellow!
This was a mystery solved when I discovered that there had been a five month delay in the middle of the show’s production run after the MGM-British studios closed down and the show had to find a new home.  It was during this protracted break that the BBC hired the costumes for their show and repainted the helmets back to their original colour.

And it’s here that a misconception of mine is corrected, which is that the helmets in UFO were always yellow when they weren’t.  As the pictures in this post reveal the helmets were yellow, red, occasionally silver and, once at least, one of them was white.
As a general rule, they’re yellow for the first 9 episodes, then the show stops shooting, the BBC repaints them and when they’re returned to Anderson for the other 17 episodes they are left as they are.
Something else I’ve read and previously accepted as true was that there were only ever three of these helmets made.  Now I’m not sure where this originally came from, possibly an interview with somebody working on the show or the fact that you never seem to see more than three in any one scene.  But I’m beginning to have doubts that this was the case.  Although they all seem alike, it you look closely, one of the helmets has an additional raised piece on the back and no ridges at the front, like the other two have.  Which suits the theory fine until you look at the silver painted ones in which all three helmets are identical, all have ridges.
If I ever find the truth of this I’ll obviously post it here but otherwise expect at least one more post about the show because we’ve still got the alien space suits to have a look at.  Which, as far as I’m aware, is a much simpler task.


Doomwatch: Re-Entry Forbidden (1970)

Re-Entry Forbidden is an episode from about half way through the first series of the BBC seminal sci-fi show; Doomwatch.  Each week the Doomwatch team investigated various technology-could-run-amok scenarios and cautioned us all to the perils of this brave new world in which we all found ourselves living.
The concerns of this particular story are quite simply that the pilot of a space craft could cock-up the re-entry coordinates and cause nuclear fuel to rain down upon the world below.  It’s not a bad episode but there are much better ones.
However, from the point of view of the Say; Hello Spaceman blog this is a really important entry primarily because it seemed to contradict a lot of what I thought I knew about a couple of other appearances of these suits.
Firstly as you will see from the picture of the crew of the Sunfire rocket ship, they are indeed wearing the same suits and helmets as seen in the film Doppelganger (Aka Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) which was released in 1969.
There for these must also be the very same helmets that would go on to be seen in Gerry Anderson’s UFO tv series.  That show would use a lot of the Doppelganger props, cars and costumes to add some big budget gloss to its small screen adventures.   UFO was in production from April 69 to September 70.  As far as I was aware the suits went from one Gerry Anderson production to the next.  They were sprayed yellow in between and there were only three of them.
And then I discovered the Doomwatch appearance and because the helmets seem not yet to have been sprayed yellow as they were for their run on UFO, I concluded that this episode must have been filmed between the two projects.   Indeed, Doomwatch aired 16th of March 1970 where as the first airing of UFO wasn’t until September of the same year.  All well and good except for the fact that this episode was filmed February 1970; which is slap-bang in the middle of the UFO production run.  And they are back to their Doppelganger colours!
I couldn’t post on this subject until I had solved the mystery...  and now I have....  and you can find out what the answer is on my UFO Post.
But we haven’t quite finished with Doomwatch just yet.  Following the two days of filming of these three on-loan-astronauts at their rather impressive rocket controls, the production crew vacated the set and after a tiny bit of tarting up, the Doctor Who production team came in, added an airlock, and stuck three entirely different spacemen onto it for their show.  And I’ll be looking at Doctor who and the Ambassadors of Death just as soon as.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Planet of The Vampires, or Terrore Nello Spazio, to give it it’s Italian title, was a co-production between the United States and Italy, with some Spanish backing thrown into the mix to help it along.
Its plot concerns the crew of two space ships who are both drawn towards the unexplored planet of Aura from where a distress signal has been emanating.  Once within the fog enshrouded atmosphere, various crewmen become temporarily possessed by the world’s ethereal inhabitants, committing murder upon their fellow man.  Both ships manage to make it to the planet’s surface although the situation only worsens as the Aurans begin to reanimate the newly dead, using their bodies as corporeal hosts and a means to escape their dying world.
Planet of the Vampires is one of those; love it or loathe it films although it’s become far more cult than perhaps it might have done simply because it’s B-movie plot reads a lot like a first draft for Dan O’Bannon’s Alien script.  Obviously, with the way Ridley Scott’s directorial eye colours a film it’s not so blatant in its telling.  I could well believe that Planet of the Vampires was an inspiration behind at least a few of the scenes in Alien but for what it’s worth I personally think that John Carpenter’s The Thing owes just as much to it, at least in tone.

Department S: The Man From X (1969)

Department S was one of those very cool ITC shows from the late 60’s, early 70’s.  It’s a sort of a Spy-fi, cop, adventure series for which the plot hook is this:

     “When a case proves too challenging for the collective minds of Interpol, they turn to the talents of Department S”
Fair enough.  So every episode starts with a seemingly impossibly strange set up for which the boys and girls from the special department have to find a more logical and rational explanation.
In the episode entitled; The Man from X, a courting couple are confronted by a man in a spacesuit who staggers towards them down a London street at night and then dies.
What transpires with the investigation is that.......
No.  That would ruin it.  Go buy the DVD boxset.  The whole series is a lot of fun and everybody should enjoy the iconic performance that is Peter Wyngarde as Jason King.
I would like some better detailed pictures of the spacesuits because my guess is that they most probably turn up somewhere else in some other show.  Even the Mini motor car used by the startled couple who are first confronted by the out-of-place outer-spaceman was more frequently seen being driven about within the episodes of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased so there’s no way the production stretched to original suits and helmets.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Dark Star (1974)

In its earliest form Dark Star was a 45 minute long student film by director John Carpenter and writer Dan O’Bannon that enjoyed a relatively successful run around various film festivals in 73.
Having caught the eye of producer Jack H Harris it was transferred to a better quality film stock and extended by a further 38 minutes to bring it up to feature film length.
Although it’s quite a cult film which manages to be amusing while also being something of a pastiche of 2001 and certain elements of Doctor Strangelove, the film its self cost next to nothing with sets and space suits seemingly cobbled together from whatever was to hand.
As well as various household bits and pieces being used to dress the sets, the space suits seen in the film quite notoriously feature Styrofoam packing material doubling as the backpacks with a metal cake tray adding space age detailing to the chest unit.
It’s also been stated that the suits were especially made to resemble the Major Matt Mason action figures so as to allow the once popular toy to be used in the miniature effects shots with only minor customising.
Humble beginnings indeed but it’s still an entertaining film that also managed to launch a couple of successful careers that would go on to make some very substantial genre contributions.


Ikarie XB-1 (1963)

A Czechoslovakian film in origin, Ikarie XB-1 was made in 1963 but is better known round our way as Voyage to the End of the Universe, the dubbed and edited version released in the states the following year.
It’s the year 2163 and the good ship Ikarie XB-1 is on a mission to Alpha Centauri and the mysterious white planet which orbits it.  Travelling at near-light speed, the 40 strong crew encounter perils ranging from a nuclear armed space wreck that has been drifting since the 20th century, a deadly radioactive dark star (?) and the psychological effects of a 28 month journey upon the crew.
In its original form it’s a film that was way ahead of its time, with a thoughtful script and some very impressive sets.
The suit design is also somehow more plausible than a lot of what was hypothesised in other films of this era.  There’s a functionality to them that gives them such practical traits as corrugated joints, armoured chest pieces and magnetisable boots.


The Andromeda Nebula (1967)

The Andromeda Nebula is a Russian film released in 1967 and based on the novel by Ivan Yefremov.
The film was originally intended to be the first of a sequence with its extended title being; Episode 1. Prisoner of the Iron Star.  Unfortunately nothing came of this greater plan and so it remains a singular tale.
The good crew of the spaceship; Tantra, while exploring uncharted space, are caught in the gravitational pull of an Iron Star (?) and are trapped there for several years.  Slowly the crew are then diminished by alien predators who can consume the flesh of the humans through their space suites.  And what nice space suits they are too.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Spacemen Magazine #2 (1961)

The cover of Spacemen Magazine issue 2 with art by one Bruce Minney, of whome I know nothing.

The spaceman pictured here is sporting a Gemini mission suit, I think, and although they did turn up in movies and TV later on, I would have thought the reference material for this were direct from NASA.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

First Spaceship on Venus (1962)

First Spaceship on Venus is the dubbed and edited USA release of Der Schweigende Stern (The Silent Star) an East German film based on the Stanislaw Lem’s 1951 novel Astronauci (The Astronauts)
Originaly released in 1960 but set in 1985, the film tells of the discovery of an alien artefact which turns out to be the flight recorder a Venusian spaceship which crashed on Earth some seven decades earlier.
And so with knowledge of their existence confirmed, an expedition is manned and a pleasingly multinational crew is sent toVenus to make first contact.  However, when they arrive they discover that the planets entire population has been wiped out by a nuclear accident.  But even more unfortunately the genocidal machines found in the alien city are still running on automatic and the crew must face many life threatening set pieces before getting to return to earth to warn of the perils of such technology and science.
And that’s it except to say that I’m finding the design of the space suits to be something of a pleasing departure from conventional USA / UK norms of that time.  It might be because they’re new to me but they seem to have an aesthetic to them that goes beyond the functioning practicality of the west’s designs.