Star Fleet (TV, 2009)

I loved this show when I was a child. It kept my brothers and I very entertained when we were living in temporary accomodation after our house was badly damaged in a fire (see the “Did you know?” for AN UNCANNY COINCIDENCE!!! Or not).  It’s still available on DVD, if you’re interested.

This review originally appeared in Death Ray #18.

1980 (Japan) 1983 (UK)


Director: Louis Elman (UK)

Writers: Go Nagai, Keiseke Fujikawa, Michael Sloan (UK) and Peter Marinker (UK)

Starring: Peter Marinker, Jay Benedict, Constantine Gregory, Mark Rolston, Liza Ross, John Baddeley

Another trip down memory lane for the children of the 80s as X-Bomber takes to the skies to protect the mysterious F-01. All done with puppets.

Ah, Alien Raiders just past Gemini, as Brian May once famously sang. It’s 2999 and Earth is under threat from the Imperial Alliance, a strange empire of weird cyborgs nutter that rules all the galaxy except our own, dear Solar system. An Imperial Battleleet commanded by Commander Makara rocks up at Pluto, wipes out humanity’s first line of defence and demands Earth hand over the F-01, or there’ll be trouble. As no-one has any idea what the F-01 is, trouble duly ensues and the Earth Defence Force have to press the untested X-Bomber into service to protect the human race.

Screened in the UK in 1983, Starfleet was originally broadcast as X-Bomber in Japan in 1980. Created by Manga legend Go Nagai, the series is, to all intents and purposes,very similar to many anime – half hour episodes, involved plot, tons of action, and ace machines. You get the idea.

Unusually, X-Bomber was made with puppets in a manner inspired by Gerry Anderson’s work. (The puppets are rod operated like the Terrahawks rather than being marionettes). But, like Anderson’s work, it’s the machines that captivate. Each episode has some kind of space battle, and if we’re lucky we get to see the Dai-X, a huge red robot formed from three smaller spaceships doing its destructive thing.

Star Fleet lacks the polish of Anderson’s best efforts. A lot of the backgrounds are painted, and obviously so, and the show relies on repeated FX. Some parts are out and out laughable – Lamia, the radar operator that dresses like Princess Di attending a ball, her guardian Kirara, who looks like a gonk and grunts like your dad pretending to be a caveman are good examples. There are illogicalities in the story, like having the youthful crew hamfistedly repairing the X-Bomber after its first, nearly disastrous engagement rather than getting the trained technicians that built it to sort it out. This is probably down to the lack of puppets (there is a very small supporting cast, and no extras). And, hang on, why get a trio of untested pilots fresh out of the academy to fly the thing anyway? But this is not the kind of hard questioning Star Fleet had to put up with when I last watched it, and it’s probably unfair to subject it to such interrogation now.

Back in the ’80s Star Fleet was the highlight of Saturday morning TV, and there’s still something about it.

The lazy sci-fi language and tropes that come thick and fast in the first episodes (everything is either ‘laser’, ‘Hyper’ or ‘quantum’ in the English translation) belie the Homeric quest the story turns into, one garlanded with weird little bits of telly glamour.

Approach it as the SF fairytale that it is, with its foundling, princesses, dark lords and quest. If your head is full of fond memories of the show, a viewing now won’t disappoint, Star Fleet is not one of those series that unfortunately turns out to be a turd dipped in the chocolate of nostalgia. There’s less in Star Fleet for those who have never seen it, but if you loved it as a nipper, are mad keen on Japanese SF or if you have kids yourself, I’d rush out and buy it.

Extras: Stills galleries, character profiles, machine profiles, character biographies, synopses, a 56-page comic book, 16-page episode guide, six postcards, double-sided poster, notes from the producer, series background and a making of documentary where British producer/director Louis Elman seems remarkably proprietorial, and Japanese creator Go Nagai basically says he loves it and would like to remake it. All good stuff, apart from the naff, slow-moving animated menus.

Did you know…?

The show was provided to the UK as a picture and bad literal translation, nothing more, so a new script was written by Michael Sloan. Peter Marinker, who voiced Doctor Ben, rewrote the dialogue to fit the mouth movements, and in fact ended up directing the end of the series, taking over from producer Louis Elman. In the main Star Fleet follows the original story, though the show was reshaped by the British team to give it ‘more pace’ (X-Bomber was originally 25 episodes long, Star Fleet comprises 24 parts). All of the music is unique to the UK version, and was written by Paul Bliss (the closing song being famously covered by Brian May). Go Nagai wanted to make a second series, but never really got anywhere with it. Though British funding would have been forthcoming, by the time a UK proposal was mooted all the puppets had been destroyed in a fire.


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