Pathfinders in Space

ITV (ended 1960)



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Pathfinders in Space

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Welcome to the Pathfinders in Space guide at

Pathfinders in Space was a children's S.F. series from independent television broadcaster A.B.C. (UK) featuring a family's adventures as they travelled to the moon and encountered an alien spaceship. It was broadcast live, with pre-recorded insets, but telerecorded for overseas sales.

Pathfinders in Space was a sequel to Target Luna, and spawned sequels Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus.
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  • Great Kids' SF From Fifty Years Ago

    I just got the dvds after last watching Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus at age 12/13.

    I was a bit surprised to find that the one I liked best was "Pathfinders in Space" which I had not seen as a boy. It will stick in my mind a long time, not so much for its sf content (though this is ok) but as a cultural document and a glimpse of "the way we were".

    Frex, when it is announced that only one adult and one child can return to earth, so that the others (including two other children) are in effect condemned to death, the news is received in stoical silence by everyone - not just adults but children as well. Nor is there any reaction as the names of those to be saved are announced. Evidently the Captain has spoken and that's that. Even the youngest child (aged about 11) shows feeling only to the extent of handing over his guinea pig to his sister, so that his pet can live even if he doesn't. His brother (about fourteen going on fifteen) has even less to say, hearing his death sentence (and his father's and brother's) in the same dignified silence as the adults - of whom he probably considers himself one.

    It gets even worse later. Ok, no doubt Professor Wedgewood is busy, but you'd think he'd find at least a minute to talk to his young sons, on what looks like being the last day of all three lives. But neither he nor any of the other men ever says a word to either of them, and when the younger lad gets a bit weepy, it is left to the female scientist to reassure him that it won't hurt when they both die of suffocation. Big brother, of course, is not seen as needing any TLC at all.

    Nor do things change much afterward. Not a single comment is ever made, by his father or anyone else, about how Geoffrey (the older boy) has behaved in the face of death. Apparently this was just how a well brought up 14-year-old boy with only twelve hours or so to live was expected to behave. Not that Geoff appears to mind. In this respect he seems to be the image of his father. These upper lips are not just stiff; they are so rigid that you could probably bite through a steel girder with them.

    Of course, this is down to the times as much as to the cast. PiS was made only 15 years after WW2, during which 15 year old boy sailors could have been found on Arctic convoys. The past was most definitely another country, in which attitudes to childhood, and especially boyhood, were rather different from today

    Final oddity. Even when they make it back to earth, we never get a glimpse of the children's mother. I'd have expected to find her waiting at the base, probably with a few well chosen words for the Professor. It's small wonder that Jimmy and Valerie are absent from the later seasons. After what happened last time, Mrs Wedgewood probably (and quite understandably) wouldn't let either of them within a hundred miles of Buchan Island, and even Geoff may well have had to put up a fight to be allowed back.

    I wonder also if this explains the Professor's own absence after Episode 1 of PtM. Was he just felt to be too unsympathetic a character to belong in a children's show?

    All in all, PiS is remarkably "gritty" for something aimed at such a young audience, and it's possibly significant that nothing quite so stark ever happens in the sequels. Still, (and despite the ghastly 1960 visual effects) it is well worth a view. I have no regrets about getting the dvds, if only for the glimpse they give of us Brits as we were before, in Brian Aldiss' words "The Romans became Italians".

    After this, the other two serials come as a bit of an anticlimax. But Pathfinders to Mars scores a few hits on the scientific front, guessing correctly that the Martian "canals" would turn out to be optical illusions, and that the atmosphere there would be thin enough to require the wearing of spacesuits, not just oxygen masks as then was commonly assumed. Those fast-growing lichens were also an interesting idea, and quite credible, as anyone who has heard of a "flash flood" will be aware.

    The big change, though, is the introduction of a human villain (which PiS had done quite well without) in the shape of UFO-nutjob Harcourt Brown, who hijacks the fourth Moon rocket and takes it to Mars instead. Doubt if a Moon rocket could carry the food and oxygen for that, but never mind. He is an acquired taste, but interesting, and more than makes up for the absence of little Jimmy, whose inclusion in PiS must have strained the credulity of even a juvenile audience.

    Pathfinders to Venus is the weakest of the three in scientific terms. It adopts the classic "jungle planet" concept which was dated even in 1961 and would be totally exploded by Mariner 2 the following year. It even makes cave men contemporary with the dinosaurs, Fred Flintstone style. However, it makes up for this for me by the further development of Harcourt Brown, who now emerges in a far more sympathetic light with his determination to protect the native Venusians from the conquest and colonial exploitation which he foresees. The "good guys" have also grown a bit. They started out by hating Brown, and with every justification, given his often outrageous behaviour; yet by the end they have learned to forgive, and they (and probably much of the audience) part from him in a spirit of understanding and even a degree of sympathy.

    All in all, a great trip down memory lane, at least for this 64 year old kid. And a fascinating glimpse both into "the way the future was" and into the way a lot of Brits were well within living memory - and maybe one or two still are.