Planetary Pioneers
1950s sci-fi television from the United States and Britain


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Captain Video
Weekday episodes (1949-53) 30m


Network executives decided early-on that sci-fi was strictly for kids. Captain Video ("The guardian of the safety of the world") and his Video Rangers regularly confronted all sorts of alien menaces, and even had a few big-name authors penning the occasional script for them. Unfortunately, budgetary restrictions kept things pretty basic. A handful of shows survive.





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Colonel Bleep
104 episodes (1957-58) 3-5m cartoons


Notable as the first made-for-TV cartoon in colour, Colonel Bleep is an enlightened gem amongst a sea of jingoistic late-50s mediocrity. Earth comes to the attention of the planet Futura when we start dropping nuclear bombs on people. Bleep and his sidekicks, paper puppet Squeak and caveman Scratch, generally set out to make everything and everyone better than they were.





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Space Patrol
210 episodes (1950-55) 30m


Commander Buzz Corry and his sidekicks undertake several faster-than-light journeys to distant stars where they have all sorts of adventures. Kids were invited to become space cadets in order to purchase merchandise only available to patrol members. Attention was occasionally paid to scientific plausibility. Classic kitsch with some bodacious sci-fi babes (especially Virginia Hewitt).





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Tom Corbett: Space Cadet
217 serial episodes (1950-55) 15/30m


Like Captain Video, this show was performed live in the studio and only a handful of episodes have survived. Inspired by Heinlein's Space Cadet, most of the action took place in outer space - a first for shows of its type. With no demographic info to go by, the networks had no way of knowing that adults were watching in droves. A handful of episodes survive.





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Rocky Jones, Space Ranger
39 serial episodes (1953-54) 30m


Most of the Rocky Jones serials were later made into feature films and, accordingly, their ongoing popularity is more durable than most. Rocky is a 21st century Space Ranger commander for the United Worlds. He and his crew roam the galaxy in the Orbit Jet, defending justice and doing other ranger stuff. One of the 50s' best and available free online.





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The Quatermass Serials
18 serial episodes (1953-59) 30/35m


All three Quatermass cliffhanger serials aired on UK television in the 1950s were later made into feature films. An investigative scientist faces such perils as metamorphosised vegetable monsters, alien invaders and paranormal phenomena. "Psychokinetic" special effects were a feature of the third serial which was released on video. The second series is also readily available.





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Flash Gordon
39 episodes (1954-55) 30m


A West German/French/American co-production. Male model Steve Holland proved he was no actor in this typically tacky TV version of the FG saga. Flash and his sidekicks work as agents for the Galactic Bureau of Investigation. Perhaps the show's greatest claim to cult status lies in being named before a US Senate subcommittee for its lurid and violent content. Retro-rockin'!





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The Invisible Man
26 episodes (1958-59) 30m


Future Doctor Who sidekick Deborah Watling stars alongside the voice of Tim Turner in this story of a scientist who has inadvertently condemned himself to invisibility. Unlike the H G Wells original, the often-copied premise has the Invisible Man as a do-gooder who helps people out while searching for a cure. Fortunately the series has survived the ages and made it to DVD.


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