Friday, February 03, 2012

‘I wish I was a spaceman, 
the fastest guy alive’

Colonel Steve Zodiac: Okay, Venus? 
Venus: Okay, Steve. 
Colonel Steve Zodiac: Right, Let's Go!

These were the lines spoken by Steve and Venus at the start of every episode and just prior to boarding Fireball XL5, the spaceship that took the young astronauts on a new interplanetary mission.

Fireball XL5, a popular children's science-fiction television series, was broadcast on NBC in early 1960. As kids we used to watch the black-and-white show in late 1970s on Doordarshan, the state-run television channel in India. Incidentally, Doordarshan means Far Vision. In those days the half-an-hour show was all the TV entertainment we got and so we didn't miss a single episode.

The puppet-animated series was created and produced by the husband-wife team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and launched through their company APF.

Colonel Steve Zodiac, the commander of Fireball XL5, accompanied by his girlfriend Venus, a space doctor; her semi-telepathic pet Zoonie; Prof. Matthew 'Matt' Matic, navigator and engineer; and co-pilot Robert, a mechanical robot, patrolled Sector 25 of charted interstellar space — like space policemen.

Zodiac and the others belonged to World Space Patrol, a part of Space City, located on a mysterious island in the South Pacific, and headed by Commander Wilbur Zero who had an assistant called Lieutenant Ninety.

As I recall, the most exciting part of each episode was when the credits rolled to the catchy tune of "I wish I was a spaceman, the fastest guy alive. I'd fly you 'round the universe, in Fireball XL5" — a theme song written by Barry Gray and sung by Don Spencer, and intoned by kids glued to the television set. After some thirty-odd years, it's still playing in my ears. You'll find it on YouTube.

Another thrilling moment was when Colonel Zodiac took off in the spaceship from a sharply vertical sky ramp that never seemed to end. You didn't know whether they were about to hurtle into space or taking a roller-coaster ride. According to an article on Wikipedia, Anderson was "inspired by an old Soviet design, a concept also used in the film When Worlds Collide."

Steve Zodiac’s Fireball XL5 and James T. Kirk’s Star Trek were the only television shows based on science fiction that I watched in my early youth. While the episodes were kid stuff and nothing much to talk about, it was Fireball XL5 that introduced me to the sf genre long before anything else did. The regular visits to the theatres to watch science-fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Back to the Future came much later.


  1. I probably would have loved this if I'd been able to watch it when it first came out. I never heard about it until far later.

  2. Even though we had probably a max of one hour of entertainment in Doordarshan in the 80's and that too on Sundays, I just feel that I enjoyed more in those days than during the profusion of channels from the mid 90's. Maybe it's just nostalgia clouding my memories but cannot forget serials like

    1.Ek do teen char
    2. Neev
    3. Kile ka rahasya
    4. Vikram betal
    and a lot of other good serials in Tamil doordashan.

    aah, jaane kahan gaye woh din (:

  3. Charles, you can still catch it on YouTube. The series faded out after its initial run on television.

  4. WordsBeyondBorders: I agree about some of the quality programmes we watched on Doordarshan in the 70s and 80s. I particularly enjoyed WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD? by Sabira Merchant, 9 pm every Monday, the first genuine quiz show on Indian TV.