Created by Roberta Leigh
Voices of Dick Vosburg, Libby Morris, Ysanne Churchman, Ronnie Stevens, Murray Kash
Back in the early 60s, Gerry Anderson’s “Supermarionation” puppet shows were about the only science fiction in TV. Today, people fondly remember shows like Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, and Supercar. But there was one of this type that I liked best and which no one ever seemed to mention. I had forgotten the title, but clips of the Gerry Anderson shows never showed what I remembered most: a space ship that looked like a top, that generated a sphere as it flew. It took me years to track it down, and I discovered it wasn’t Gerry Anderson at all. The show was Planet Patrol.*
The show was set in the year 2100, where the members of the Space Patrol** traveled through the solar system, investigating mysterious events. The Patrol was let by Colonel Raeburn (Murray Kash), with his top pilot Captain Larry Dart (Dick Vosburgh) who commanded the Galasphere 347 with its crew, the Martian Husky (Ronnie Stevens) and the Venusian Slim (Libby Morris). The crew were aided by Raeburn’s aide Marla (Libby Morris/Ysanne Churchman) and professor Haggerty (Stevens) and his daughter Cassie (Morris).
The show tried to be as scientifically reasonable as possible. The Galasphere stayed in the solar system, and would take months to reach its destination, using suspended animation if necessary. The marionettes looked somewhat less goofy than the Gerry Anderson models.
Roberta Leigh, who created and wrote the show, was a successful children’s book and romance author when she joined up with Gerry Anderson in the 50s. But with Planet Patrol, she was on her own, working on the show whose budget is miniscule.
Still, the show did a lot with what it had. One notable thing was that is used an all-electronic music score, the first on TV.***
Planet Patrol only ran 39 episodes. Its production company didn’t have the deep pockets behind Gerry Anderson, and the crew moved on to other things. Leigh tried another couple of TV series, Paul Starr and The Solarnauts, neither of which seemed to have made it to the US. She then returned to her novels and is still writing today.
Voice actor Dick Vosburg appeared in several early Monty Python shows, and went on to write the Broadway hit A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine.
Planet Patrol has faded from memory. Indeed, it might have been completely lost if Roberta Leigh hasn’t discovered films of the shows in a storage locker. It was a fine attempt at early SF that just didn’t catch on.
*Space Patrol in its original UK version. The title was changed in the US due to an earlier live-action show that was very popular about ten years earlier.
**The title did not change for the US version.
***Doctor Who, whose theme song is often considered the first electronic one, premiered several months afterward. Of course, Forbidden Planet had already done this a few years before in the movies.