The trashy but fun pilot for a 1967 space opera TV series is well worth a look.
Science fiction was big on TV in the 1960s, with assorted US series – Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel etc – having runs of varying length while British television produced several series aimed at juvenile audiences – from the thoroughly domestic Doctor Who to global successes from the Gerry Anderson stable, all featuring his supermarionation puppets before he jumped to live action at the end of the decade with UFO.
TV producer Roberta Leigh had worked with Anderson on Torchy the Battery Boy and The Adventures of Twizzle at the start of his career, and would go on to produce another puppet show – Space Patrol, not to be confused with the US series of the same name – in an effort to cash in on the success of Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5 and the like. In 1967, a couple of years before Anderson did likewise, she attempted to make the jump into live-action, with a show called The Solarnauts.
The Solarnauts featured John Garfield and Derek Fowlds as Power and Tempo, the heroic members of the Solarnauts Tri-S, a force dedicated to keeping Earth safe from alien invaders in an unspecified future when we had conquered the solar system. Joining them is guest star Martine Beswick, between Bond and Hammer Films appearances and here essentially a bit of fluff. Together, they battle green-skinned alien Logick, who is a poor man’s Mekon – and indeed, the show as a whole has that Dan Dare derring-do and oddly old-fashioned vibe. The special effects are pretty ropey, though no worse than anything else of the era (including some feature films) but the show as a whole has a fun, comic book look to it and a groovy theme tune.
Sadly, The Solarnauts would never make it past the pilot episode. As popular as Anderson’s shows had been, British television executives had an instinctive suspicion of sci-fi – it was both a low form of entertainment and an expensive one. The Solarnauts was probably too costly to be a kids show and too juvenile to be pitched at adults, as far as the commissioning editors were concerned, and so it was rejected. Buried away and forgotten, the pilot show eventually emerged online, and watching it now, it seems a shame that the series never had a chance to develop. It’s wonderfully kitsch fun. Perhaps the time has come for a remake.