East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Space Patrol, in German

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I was always pretty wary of nostalgia, and I’ve become even more so in the last few years, after seeing nostalgia weaponized and used to sell cartloads of rubbish to people that, basically, were reacting to a manufactured nostalgia for something they had not, in fact, experienced first hand.
And yet.

Yesterday I read in Variety a Bavarian production company is set to launch a new series of Raumpatrouille – that’s Space Patrol in German – a 1966 series that was probably the first proper SF show I ever saw on television, in the early ’70s, when I was in primary school.
Boy, we loved that show – all seven episodes of it.
The complete title was quite a mothful, in original: Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion.

The plot: in a future in which humanity has become a single people as is exploring space, major Clif Allister McLane and the crew of the starship Orion face menaces both natural and not, including the expansionist plans of an alien race known as the Frogs.

The series was shot in black and white, and REALLY on the cheap – and yet it turned out to be too expensive for the production company, that had to pull the plug after barely seven 1-hour episodes because they had run out of money.

So, the question is – was it any good?
The answer: in 1973, when I was six, it was the best thing ever to hit the screen, with the possible exception of Thunderbirds or Stingray (yeah, I was into classics) – there was space!, and aliens!, and robots!, and spaceships!…

But let’s phrase the question differently: was it any good from the perspective of an adult?
And the answer, up to yesterday, would have been: I don’t know.
Exactly because I am wary of nostalgia, I avoided a re-watch of Raumpatrouille when the series was distributed in DVD, simply because I did not want either a disappointment (likely) or turning into one of those embarrassing forty-something that wax nostalgic about the good old days.

But yesterday the news came about the new series – that apparently will be a direct sequel, sort of a Next Generation sort of thing. And so I said, what the heck, and I went and re-watched a couple of episodes.
Let’s talk about it.

First, the bad: the series was absolutely loaded with technobabble and scifi-speech. And the effects were CHEAP. How cheap, you ask? So cheap the control panel of the Orion featured an iron, a set of bathroom taps, and a set of pencil sharpeners. And in one of the episodes, the “alien spacecraft” was created by turning the Orion’s bridge upside down. And space turbulence was done the Star Trek way – by shaking the camera while the actors rolled from one side to the other.
The bulk of the effects was done on camera, using matte and forced perspective – notoriously, the scene of the Orion taking off from its submarine base, was done by filming an alka-seltzer dissolving in water, and then turning the frame upside down and superimposing a matte of the spaceship.

But then, the good: Raumpatrouille was a positivist, optimistic show, set in a peaceful future in which, after some kind of Third World War catastrophe, humanity had set aside its differences and started working together.
Indeed, there is a lot of classic Star Trek vibes, in the series.
You get a diverse cast (so diverse, you get a German actor playing an Italian, and another German actor playing a japanese), and two women serving as security officer (lieutenant Tamara Jagellovsk, giving off a distinctive … Soviet vibe) and second in command (captain Helga Legrelle) respectively. The star fleet itself is commanded by a woman, the impressive (and, with today’s eyes, incredibly attractive) admiral Lydia van Dyke.

And truth to be told, commander McLane is a much cooler dude than Kirk, and he runs a much looser ship than the Enterprise, with constant banter, exchange of barbed comments and a cheerful disregard of discipline: in the first episode, McLane is demoted for insubordination, and saddled with a new security officer that’s supposed to keep him under control; in the second episode, to save the Earth, he destroys his own ship … and we learn this is the seventh time this happens.
These guys are no Starfleet, they are more like a bunch of cool adventurers that found a way to have the government pay for their shenanigans.

The science in the episodes is as shaky as the special effects, but you get robots running on Asimov’s Three Laws and a lot of other small touches – like the general geography of the Solar System being roughly correct.
OK, very roughly.

And then yes, it’s the sort of show in which one of the characters can say

I wan to see him sentenced to hard labor in the phosphorous swamps

And yes, he’s talking about the lead, McLane himself.
That’s part of the fun of it.
So yes, it’s cheap, it’s cheesy and it’s shaky, but it’s the sort of optimistic show that shaped my tastes as a kid.
And I’ll be curious to see the new series.

And in case you’re interested, the show can be found on Youtube, either in German or in Italian.
It’s a walk down memory lane, but we are grown-up enough to keep manufactured nostalgia at bay.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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