The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.

Moonbase Alpha

Back in April, I shared the model I built of Main Mission, the command center of Moonbase Alpha from the 1970s TV series, Space: 1999. As I mentioned at the time, the command center was only one part of the kit. The main part of the kit is effectively a diorama of the full Moonbase from the series. We saw the moonbase at the beginning of each episode in the title card, and often at various points in the series.

In the series, Moonbase Alpha was located in the crater Plato and was approximately four kilometers in diameter. The central tower housed the main mission command center we saw in the first season. The overall base housed some 311 people. The premise of the series was that a nuclear accident launched the moon from Earth orbit and sent it hurtling out into deep space. The series goes on to show the Alphans as they fight for survival during their encounters with assorted natural phenomena and various alien races. Needless to say, it was challenging to see how the physics would work out to get the moon out of the solar system in a short time span. Despite that, the moonbase was designed in a way that felt real. As a child, watching the show with wide-eyed wonder, I could imagine living on the moonbase and flying the Eagle transport craft. I remember asking my parents for an early edition of the Moonbase Alpha kit. They wisely turned me down. While it looks simple, I encountered some challenges along the way, even as a relatively experienced model builder. Here’s the finished model, photographed from approximately the same angle as in the title card.

Moonbase Alpha Model

Perhaps the biggest challenge of building this model is that the moon crater ground pieces are vacu-form plastic while the moonbase pieces are polystyrene plastic. What this means is that you can’t use standard polystyrene model glue to assemble the kit. Most of it must be done with a more general bonding agent such as cyanoacrylate adhesive or super glue. This is tricky stuff to work with, since you don’t want to get it on your fingers. If you do, it’s a good way to attach parts of the moonbase to yourself permanently! Another tricky aspect of this kit was that the travel tubes, the long radial segments coming out from the buildings, had to be cut to size. Fortunately, I’d watched a good video on YouTube from Starship Modeler that suggested that I should measure the pieces on the model itself rather than use the guide in the kit instructions. It gave me nice results and I was able to fit the tubes into position with little trouble.

Eagle on the pad ready for liftoff!

One of my favorite aspects of the series were the Eagle transporters, used to shuttle our crew on Alpha around the moon or to alien worlds they encountered as they hurled through space. One of the things I love about the most recent Moonbase Alpha kit is that they provided nice, detailed decals for the landing pads and the Eagles were made to scale. The challenge is that the Eagle in the photo above is only 1.5 centimeters long! I had to paint the details using my jewler’s magnifying loops. Still, I’m pleased with how the Eagles came out. I chose to place two of them out on landing pads since that seemed typical for a reconnaissance mission.

Moonbase Alpha mounted in its frame

I ended up mounting the whole base on form board to give it extra stability, and then having it framed at a local shop. It was a little expensive, but it now makes a nice wall hanging in my home.

While working on the model, I sought a little inspiration and came upon the Gerry Anderson Podcast. This podcast is hosted by Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who created Space: 1999, Thunderbirds, UFO and numerous other wonderful British TV series. Jamie’s co-hosts are Richard James and Chris Dale. In each episode of the podcast, they discuss trivia about episodes, share news about new memorabilia and upcoming projects related to the Anderson shows, and interview someone related to the series production or has some insight into one or more of the series. A highlight of each episode is the “Randomizer” where Chris Dale watches an episode and provides commentary and insight. At times, his remarks can be as much fun as watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater. What’s more, his Randomizer segment has induced me to seek out and watch some of the Anderson entertainment shows I didn’t know about before discovering the podcast. I was especially delighted when they chose to read an email I sent in. If you would like to hear it, it’s in show 162 a little over 13 minutes into the episode. There is a Facebook group devoted to listeners of the show. I have enjoyed being part of the group, in part because the other fans take such delight in the podcast and the shows. Any criticism of the shows is clearly made with a good-natured spirit. You can learn more about the Gerry Anderson podcast and find places to listen by visiting https://www.gerryanderson.co.uk/podcast/