PATHFINDERS IN SPACE (1960) – Balladeer’s Blog’s recurring segment Forgotten Television examines the half-hour per episode British television miniseries Pathfinders in Space. Fans of early British sci-fi will likely remember that in the 1950s and 1960s the BBC aired several episodic serials of 6 or more parts, like the original Quatermass tales, Object Z and its sequel, plus others like The Trollenberg Terror, which were remade as feature films (The Crawling Eye in this case).
As for Pathfinders in Space, this 7-episode television serial was the second in a connected series of sci-fi adventures that anticipated the kind of kid-friendly, semi-educational fun of early Doctor Who episodes. Target Luna, from earlier in 1960, was the first of the adventures about Buchan Island, a Scottish complex that served as the U.K.’s fictional Cape Canaveral for its space program. (No episodes of Target Luna have survived.)
Buchan Island looked as comically unconvincing as the set from Captain Z-Ro, but in my opinion that adds to the charm of these primitive attempts at televised science fiction. Target Luna introduced viewers to Professor Wedgwood and his children, some of whom would appear in the following serials as well. That 6-episode item centered around the Buchan Island personnel testing manned orbital vessels, setting up the 7-part Pathfinders in Space, in which the Wedgwoods and others flew to the moon.
Okay, it’s obvious that small children would not be sent on such a mission, but Pathfinders in Space was meant to be educational for kids as well as entertaining. Female professor Mary Meadows joins the team of MR1 (Moon Rocket 1) on its mission to the moon.
MR1 is accompanied in its flight by MR2, a remote-controlled space vessel laden with supplies, but when that remote-controlled ship malfunctions, a reporter and Professor Wedgwood’s sons and daughter must go and manually pilot the larger craft. Another complication arises when the two spaceships encounter a third vessel of unknown origin orbiting the moon.
After both of the Buchan Island ships land, the crews pursue the original mission of lunar exploration while also investigating the mysterious third spacecraft. Our heroes discover evidence of previous visits to the moon, and one of the bumbling children falls down a crater/ shaft into a high-tech alien base which houses a spaceship similar to the mysterious one in orbit.
The pioneers determine that the base and the two alien spaceships were part of a mission from an unknown race 400 million years ago. Various artifacts of those ancient visitors are studied, including a video message depicting their fate.
Meanwhile, a meteor shower strikes the lunar surface. One of the meteors hits MR1 and renders it inoperable, meaning only two members of the team will be able to return to Earth in the still-intact MR2.
After the type of “who gets to go” drama common to similar stories set in space, the chosen pair head back to Earth in MR2. Back in the underground space base, the remaining crew members work to record all they can about the ancient relics before their air runs out.
The inspiration strikes them to try to get the base’s 400 million-year-old ship working again. Against all reason, this works and the pioneers left behind join the MR2 in returning to Earth.
Pioneers in Space is a lot of fun, but in the end its far too unrealistic. The children can be annoying, too, like when one of the selectees to survive wants to let his hamster take his place returning to Earth while he stays behind to die.
The following serial, Pathfinders to Mars, ran 6 episodes in December 1960 and January 1961. The fourth and final installment was Pathfinders to Venus and ran 8 episodes in March and April 1961. Depending on the reaction to this review, I may examine those two serials as well.
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6 responses to “PATHFINDERS IN SPACE (1960) – FORGOTTEN TELEVISION”
That is intricate! I loved the early Dr. Who episodes.
So did I! Thanks for dropping by!
Nope. We didn’t get them either!Gwen.
Wow! That’s a shame!
That made me laugh!
Ha! I meant it’s a shame you didn’t get to see shows like this.