I’m a big fan of sci-fi on television, which I almost always refer to by its “proper” name, telefantasy. The 1950s-1990s were, in my opinion, the Golden Age of telefantasy, and the first real telefantasy started about a decade or so before my birth (in December 1960), when Captain Video and His Video Rangers first appeared on US television in 1949, followed closely in the early 1950s by the likes of Space Patrol, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet and Rocky Jones: Space Ranger.
UK telefantasy was slightly slower to get off the mark, and it was mostly with one-offs like the 1949 adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine and the prestigious 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. The first ongoing, serialized sci-fi productions of any note were the three Quatermass serials which aired in 1953, 1955 and 1958. These were the first real stars of pre-Doctor Who UK telefantasy, and, in my opinion, the classic 1958 six-part serial Quatermass and the Pit remains, to this day, one of the greatest examples of telefantasy ever produced.
But those were all produced and televised well before I was born, and it’s only really been in more recent years that I’ve discovered and begun looking back at some of the much older telefantasy series, which aired in the years between the first appearance of Captain Video and His Video Rangers in 1949 and the very first episode of Doctor Who, in November 1963. It would be the mid-1960s before I started to show the first glimmers of interest in any kind of sci-fi on contemporary television.
I’ve been an avid viewer of sci-fi television of all kinds ever since the time that Doctor Who first began to register in my very young and impressionable mind around 1966-1967. But it was when Jon Pertwee first fell out of the Tardis at the beginning of Spearhead from Space, in January 1970, that marked the moment where I can definitely say that I made the leap from merely enjoying Doctor Who, to becoming an obsessive, life-long fan.
I also became a huge fan of the original Star Trek, which first appeared on UK television channel BBC1 in July 1969, and also the new live-action Gerry Anderson series UFO, which first aired on ITV in 1970. I’d previously watched, and enjoyed, the various Anderson puppet shows such as Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds and Stingray, but I preferred the live shows, and UFO was where I first became a real Anderson fan.
By December 1970 (when I’d reached my tenth birthday), with Pertwee almost a year into his tenure on Doctor Who, Star Trek at the height of its popularity on BBC1, and UFO featuring prominently on ITV, I was now old enough to really start understanding and appreciating television sci-fi in general. These were the first three telefantasy series that I really got into, and it’s no big surprise that these series have always remained right at the very top of my list of favourites.
As I moved into the 1970s, things really started to heat up. I began to get heavily into other UK telefantasy series such as Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7 and Sapphire and Steel. I was also hooked on then-current 1970s US telefantasy such as the animated Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. And, of course, UK television was also awash with re-runs of the various Irwin Allen series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space, plus re-runs of other classic US “cult” TV sci-fi series such as The Invaders, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Take all these great telefantasy series, and the fact that the early 1970s marked the time that I was moving into my teens, and it was a great time for a young fan of sci-fi television like myself.
To Be Continued…