Pat and Jim are the terribly well-to-do, rather spunky children of top rocket scientist Dr Ballantyne who accidentally end up on a mission to Venus, in this eight part serial from the Children’s Film Foundation, originally exhibited in Saturday morning cinema clubs back in 1962.
Inspired into production by Sydney Newman’s ATV Pathfinders serials, adapted from H.B. Gregory’s Boy’s Own short story, and appearing fourteen months before Doctor Who made its debut, Masters of Venus would no doubt have been awfully gripping for contemporary audiences, but its unsophisticated, Enid Blyton-esque characterisation and flukishly obvious plotting are unlikely to keep modern children engaged. As such, it’s perfect fare for the archive television buffs this BFI issue is surely aimed at, a curio that displays its 1950s sci-fi influences in plain sight, and that parallels Terry Nation’s first Dalek serial all too obviously.
When two six-fingered secret agents try to disrupt the launch of British rocket ship the Astarte, the spacecraft takes off with a crew of four rather than the expected two (luckily, the Astarte has four chairs in its cabin), bound for uninhabitable Venus on a mission of scientific discovery. Fortunately for the plot, our occasionally next nearest planet is actually home to a troglodytic society of disgruntled Atlanteans (no, really), whose society has evolved (sans women, pretty much) into a binary system involving “men of action” and “men of skill”, overseen by the Master of Venus – and with a plan to invade and conquer the Earth via some boxes of virus they keep in a cave.
Happily for Pat and Jim, help is at hand in the form of Imos, Master of Skill’s two rather fetching but six-fingered children (everyone on Venus wears gloves all the time), and what follows is a typically specious runaround, with lots of hiding in plain sight and functional, expositionary dialogue (including George Pastell’s glorious “Nothing can stop us now. Death to everyone on Earth!”).
The Pinewood Studios sets are generally quite handsome, the post-Quatermass score by Eric Rogers is suitably emphatic, and the camerawork is clean and sympathetic. Unhappily, the Venusian civilisation is so badly drawn it lacks any kind of credibility, and the racial casting (anything goes, as long as you’ve got a funny accent, it seems) simply wouldn’t be countenanced these days, while the science is more far-fetched than anything in the rest of the plot. The fifteen-minute instalments do keep things moving at quite a lick, though.
There’s a nice, crisp 16:9 transfer, although the restoration budget hasn’t stretched to removing the tram lines that blight several episodes or sundry minor picture blemishes elsewhere. Nevertheless, for screen sci-fi aficionados of a certain vintage, this release will be manna from heaven.
Special Features: TBC
MASTERS OF VENUS / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: ERNEST MORRIS / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL BARNES, MARY CATHCART BORER, H.B. STEWART / STARRING: NORMAN WOOLAND, MANDY HARPER, ROBIN STEWART, ROBIN HUNTER, PATRICK KAVANAGH, FERDY MAYNE, GEORGE PASTELL, ARNOLD DIAMOND / RELEASE DATE: JULY 18TH