Pop Culture

15 things I learned from watching FIREBALL XL5

FIREBALL XL5 was an early science fiction puppet show from British puppetry pioneer Gerry Anderson, creator of such classic TV series as STINGRAY, THUNDERBIRDS, and CAPTAIN SCARLET, before heading into the realm of live-action with shows like UFO and SPACE:1999.

FIREBALL XL5 was very much a kids show, and very much a product of the early sixties. As such, the show’s grasp of science was…a little shaky. The limited budget and technical issues also gave rise to some amusing tropes, which I present below (SF gamers with a sense of humour might find this list useful to help create authentically naff “retro-futuristic” space campaigns).

1. Explosive decompression is a myth. Just take your oxygen pill and you’ll be fine in deep space without a space suit. Apparently this also stops you being pegged by micrometeoroids and rotted from the inside out by radiation.

2. In the future, men remain incapable of making coffee for themselves or doing their own laundry. Women do all the menial tasks, despite the fact there’s a frigging robot on board.

3. Almost all alien planets look like the moon, and remain exactly the same all over their surface.

4. Planets don’t actually need a sun, but seem to just bob around in outer space.

5. No matter how vast and mighty the civilisation, the maximum number of aliens you will ever meet at one time is three.

6. If in doubt, shoot to kill (the amount of aliens casually slaughtered on this show is staggering).

7. Most good aliens look human, all bad aliens don’t.

8. Earth gravity is tougher than alien gravity. In order to take off from Earth, Fireball XL5 needs to use a rocket sled, but it has no problem taking off (or even hovering) on other worlds.

9. In the future, you can be an astronaut even if you’re old, fat and have appalling eyesight. Actually I don’t have a problem with this one.

10. There is no such thing as momentum.

11. When entering an abandoned space station, you can safely observe that if it’s cold the power must have failed. Just ignore the fact that the artificial gravity and the doors are still working and no-one will think you’re an idiot.

12. All bad aliens speak English with a vaguely east European accent.

13. All bad aliens want to blow up the Earth. No reason, no exceptions.

14. Despite the existence of lots of races of bad aliens who want to blow up the Earth (see 13), it is tactically sound to have only one base of operations for your space defence force.

15. When encountering a strange alien life-form, it is entirely reasonable to adopt it as a pet if looks cute, sleepy or silly (preferably all of the above). Don’t bother doing any research to figure out it’s biology, and don’t pay any attention to the fact that it could easily be laying eggs in your brain while you sleep.


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