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Fireball XL5 Special Edition

01/07/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Fireball XL5 Special Edition in the USA - or Buy Fireball XL5 Special Edition in the UK

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DVD Region 2. Pub: Network B001VAF6SE. 6 DVDs 39 black and white episodes 975 minutes with colour extras. Price: 59.99 (UK).

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I reviewed the ordinary edition of the 1962 ITV 39 episode series 'Fireball XL5' a couple years ago and this can be read through the SFC search engine. For those of you who don't know, this was puppet series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and the adventures of members of the World Space Patrol. It was also the series that put special effects maestro Derek Meddings on the map. It's interesting to contrast this series to the next, 'Stingray', as the importance of getting up close to both models and sets with the camera reduced them looking like models. Isn't it great to see these things develop.

What I'm going to concentrate on with this review are the extras, mostly because if you're an Anderson show fan then you might already own the previous edition and wondering if you should go after the special edition.

I watched this on the check disk advance version so although I have access to the DVD material, I can't speak for the sixty page booklet that will be accompanying the complete release. At the start of each of these DVDs are skits of what looks like new footage, certainly not re-dubbed, of Professor Matthew Matic and occasionally, Lieutenant Ninety, joining him to introduce you to each disk. As both were voiced by David Graham who did them originally it was kinda neat seeing them around again.

The sixth DVD contains a cornucopia of delights, The very last episode of 'XL5', 'A Day In The Lie Of A Space General', was actually filmed in colour. No doubt as a colour test before they went this way with 'Stingray', which incidentally was the first series to be done that way in the UK. Oddly, it was an episode that didn't really feature much of the XL5 crew themselves although it did feature the destruction of both it and Space City as the sets were going to be scrapped. It also explains why you're unlikely to see a Venus marionette on the market.

'A Wonderland Of Stardust' is an 85 minute documentary detailing a lot of the background behind the series from all the surviving production team and I'm glad to say, Sylvia Anderson was amongst these. There's so much I could say about this documentary and a lot of it could be deemed spoilers. Saying that, it certainly becomes of historical importance and if I had to nit-pick, it was just a shame that it didn't feature a photo of the late Paul Maxwell who voiced Steve Zodiac. If you're curious to see what he looks like, you probably own the following and should take a look at the 'UFO' episode 'Sub-Smash' and he was also Van Leuwen in the 'Aliens' film. A lot covered here shows how much was re-dressing to keep the budget down, not to mention utilising Airfix model kits for all the detailing of the sets, and plaster and lacquer to quickly make aliens' heads. There was also some footage showing the surviving alien plant creature model and its size, showing just how big the marionettes actually were.

As I've covered two books showing the comic-strips from TV21 recently, it's great to actually report that seeing a 35 minute feature with the surviving artists, Mike Noble, Bill Melvin and Colin Page interviewed about their work with its then director of merchandising, Keith Shackleton, filling in the gaps. Again, this is a must see. There's also a couple minutes of Bill Melvin's own filmed footage of the Supercar stage that he used to get the detail right for his own illustrations. I never realised how long the comic-strips of 'Supercar' and 'Fireball XL5' ran in 'TV Comic' and I hope some archivists can find and reprint these some day.

There's also the Zoom lollipop adverts which were recorded in colour, I think largely cos they were also shown in the cinemas at the time, and several minutes of a photo gallery.
Although I tend to be a little critical of Special Editions coming out after you've bought a normal edition, this sixth DVD will make you glad you own this version. I couldn't keep the smile off my face watching it.

GF Willmetts

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