1/10/2011. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
region 2 dvd: pub: Network B005IX34BG. 3 discs 525 minutes 21 black-and-white episodes and extras. Price: GBP17.93 (UK)). cast: Gerald Flood, Peter Williams, Harold Goldblatt, George Colouris and Graydon Gould.
check out website: www.networkdvd.co.uk
The concept behind this series which involved a newspaper reporter played by Gerald Flood plus three children being sent into space, to the Moon in fact, on top of a powerful rocket was totally ludicrous but it was aimed at the younger generation and it was the early 1960s. Perhaps the scriptwriters Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice were influenced by novels such as ‘The Wheel In Space’ and ‘Mission To Mars’ written by Patrick Moore in the 1950s, in which the main characters were schoolboys who fulfilled the wishes of the readers for adventure by being whisked away from their ordinary lives into something special and fantastic. Regardless of its actual origins, this was the essence of ‘Pathfinders In Space’ produced by ABC television over fifty years ago!
This package from Network DVD is a collection of the three series which ran from 1960 until 1962, with the destinations being the Moon, Mars and Venus respectively. They were made in black and white and broadcast on the old 405 television format but surprisingly the transfer to DVD is not bad at all. There are a few flickers and moments when the sound quality is variable but otherwise the results are quite pleasing. Of course, Network, as can be seen from their website, is well-known for its production of television shows from the past and they must have a lot of experience in this field. The package also comes with extras which include a booklet, still pictures and reproductions of scripts.
Born in 1952, I'm actually old enough to have seen this the first time around. My family purchased a TV in early 1960 and this must have been one of the shows I watched. In fact, I do recall watching this series. I was avidly interested in astronomy and space flight so it was an obvious attraction for me and my memories were rekindled but, as with the first time round, I was a bit disappointed. You see, even at that time spaceflight was a reality. Satellites were going into orbit on a regular basis, Kennedy had announced the Moon flight programme and astronauts were ready to go into space. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin made the first orbit around the Earth. Spaceflight was therefore not new and ‘Pathfinders’ seemed to be very sloppy, inaccurate and amateurish.
Space rockets were glitzy, shiny and romantic. ‘Pathfinders’ had none of this! I mean, who in their right mind would put people into a space rocket to the Moon with no experience at all of operating the controls? It just didn't make sense, especially if the rocket would have cost millions of dollars or pounds. ‘Pathfinders’, of course, was a British production and it certainly has that feel about it. It was also deeply embedded in the 1950s culture despite the fact that it was on TV in the 1960s. All things considered, the show was escapist fantasy for children and nerdy nitpickers notwithstanding, in that it was quite successful, even gaining lots of adult watchers in the process.
In the first series, they went to the Moon using two large rockets, a group of scientists in one rocket and the reporter plus children in the other. Planning was remarkably absent! Everything was left to the last minute and it was a wonder that they ever made it. Many familiar faces to TV audiences were on the show but the major star was Gerald Flood, a popular TV actor of the time, who also went on to play parts in ‘Crane’ and ‘Ratcatchers’.
Added mystery came from the appearance of another spaceship in the vicinity of the Moon and generally the stories were not straightforward space travel. Twists and turns to the plots were common! Some of the scenes were not portrayed very well, such as crossing a canal on the planet Mars full of bubbly balloons and also the rather rubbery dinosaurs on the planet Venus. However, all in all, it was good adventure that required some imagination from the viewer. Fifty years of investigation have shown that Mars and Venus are entirely different from what they imagined in this series. We didn't know this way back in the 60s and lots of things were possible to some extent but now, space research has spoiled the fun for the viewer with these old programmes. We now know that what we're watching is a lot of nonsense and it somehow takes away that special excitement of the unknown.
In effect, this is a sociological dip into the 60s and 50s. In watching this, we are looking at people half a century ago, seeing how they behaved, spoke and dressed. It has now become period costume drama! The question is: who would want to watch this? Children of today would probably not be enamoured. The small square black-and-white format would not be pleasing and the characters, so much out of time, would appear an oddity, a space oddity in fact. It would also be rather slow and tedious for the demented gerbil modern mind now generally incapable of digesting a page of text. Today, several whizbang explosions every minute are required in science-based programmes. ‘Pathfinders’ just doesn't have that! Additionally, there are no mobile phones or other electronic gadgets and there are no computers!
That leaves older people looking back for nostalgia, maybe somebody like myself. The price is quite reasonable at about £18 so there may be some justification in releasing this series on that basis alone. I'm not sure how many sets will have to be sold for Network to make a profit but with Christmas coming up, it will probably be purchased by many people intended for others as a present. If I wasn't reviewing this, I would probably want to purchase ‘Pathfinders’, just to take a dip into the past to see if my memory faculties were still functioning. 50 years on, it's interesting to compare memories to actual facts. Besides that, it's good to bring back these people to life, the actors and characters that did their best to entertain us all these years ago. So, for this reason if no other, why not take a trip back into the past? It will be an experience!
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