Classic Sci Fi TV: Space Patrol (1950)

By | August 4, 2016

Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.

Space_PatrolWhat Is It? This was one of the original sci fi series to debut during the early days of television and it followed the adventures of Commander Buzz Corry of the United Planets Space Patrol, his sidekick Cadet Happy, and the rest of his team as they face the nefarious villains that threaten Earth in the 30th Century.

When Did It Air? ABC, 1950-55, 210 30 Min Episodes & 900 15 Min Episodes

Starring: Ed Kemmer, Lyn Osborn, Ken Mayer, Virginia Hewitt

Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? Worth a look. Sample some episodes to get a taste of its 1950’s retro-sci fi.

The Skinny: This is of course one of the quintessential “kiddie space operas” of the 1950’s that largely defined the sci fi genre throughout that decade. It was primarily aimed at a younger audience, but it could deliver some decent and imaginative tales for its day and it started to attractive an older crowd the longer it remained on the air. The show definitely delivered plenty of cheesy fun with its 50’s style machismo, heroines in peril, cackling villains, and xenophobic glee; much like the movie serials that preceded it. The good guys are all good and clean as a whistle (no moral ambiguities here), and they always come out on top. The special effects are as cheesy as they get, but still enough to inspire the imagination of a less sophisticated 1950’s audience. And you can also see where this show sets many of the early standards for the space opera and science fiction entries that would follow it in the years and decades to come. So why pick this one instead of the progenitor of the format Captain Video and His Video Rangers? Well, for one, Space Patrol received a slightly better budget from ABC (Captain Video‘s DuMont network was notorious for its penny-pinching), and it seems a little less cheesy in retrospect. Of course that’s hard to say for certain because only a handful of Captain Video episodes still exist seeing as most of DuMont’s archives were sadly destroyed in the 1970’s. So Space Patrol gets another vote in its favor because over a hundred of the original episodes are still available from the kinescopes (filmed recordings of the live broadcast over television for archival purposes). Space Patrol is probably as good of an example of the kiddie space operas as any, though you can also find episodes of shows like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and more. All of those came after Space Patrol which already lifted much of its premise from Captain Video, so they get progressively more derivative. But Space Patrol was one of the most popular of these shows at that time and a good enough representation of all of them. Sample some episodes of this and you can seek out the others if you find you have a particular liking for this type of retro-sci fi.

Essential Episodes: I haven’t seen enough that I could pick out the best ones. They all follow a pretty standard formula, though, so any sampling should do. You can find over a hundred episodes available on YouTube at this link (the old-style commercials are a hoot!).

Did You Know? There was also a Space Patrol television series from the 1960’s, but it aired in Britain and featured Gerry Anderson style puppets (though he did not produce the show). It had a similar premise to the 1950’s live action show and also borrowed heavily from Anderson’s Fireball XL5. The show aired under the name Planet Patrol in the United States so as not to confuse it with the original Space Patrol which was still airing in syndication in some markets.

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One thought on “Classic Sci Fi TV: Space Patrol (1950)

  1. Harold

    A few comments:

    Kids don’t like moral ambiguities, and moral ambiguities in hero would not have played well (or at all!) on a kids show in the 1950s. The sponsors would have quickly killed any attempt at this.

    The good guys always finally defeat the villain, but sometimes the villain gets away at the end of the episode, (and gets reused later!).

    Cheesy special effects? It was hard to do special effects that weren’t cheesy on live television with the equipment available in the early 1950s. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, (I think), the wonder is not that they did them well, but that they did them at all.

    Star Trek TOS owes much to Space Patrol. Some of the things Space Patrol “inspired” on Star Trek:

    Female Uniforms
    The transporter beam. Even Dr. McCoy’s angst over using the transporter is foreshadowed on Space Patrol.
    Cloaking device.
    The whole episode of “What are little Girls Made Of” on Star Trek TOS bears a striking resemblance to the Space Patrol Episode titled “The Androids of Algol.”
    Time travel to the year in which the episode was aired. Both Star Trek “Yesterday is Tomorrow,” and “Assignment Earth” use this plot device, and it’s used in at least two other Star Trek series that I’m aware of. Space Patrol did it first, with at least one episode titled “Danger..Radiation.

    According to some sources I’ve read, Captain Video did not start out as a space opera.

    Yes, there are “damsels in distress,” but the said “damsels” also have responsible jobs, fly space ships, and invent things.

    “Essential Episodes: I haven’t seen enough that I could pick out the best ones.” Yep.


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