Phoenix Five: A Groovy 70s Low Budget Aussie Space Opera

Posted by Michael Pinto on Feb 27, 2009 in Television |

Phoenix Five: A low-budget Australian science fiction television series produced in 1970.

The year: 2500 AD. The ‘Phoenix Five’. The crew: Captain Roke, Ensign Adam Hargreaves, Cadet Tina Kulbrick, and their computeroid Karl. Their mission: to patrol the outer galaxies for Earth Space Control, to maintain peace, and to capture Zodian the humanoid, who with the aid of his computers Alpha and Zeta endeavours to become dictator of outer space.”

Phoenix Five: Mike Dorsey as Captain Roke.Growing up I always aware of British science fiction TV shows thanks to PBS, but I had no idea that there were a number of home grown space operas from Australia. On such show that had escaped my radar is Phoenix Five which was produced in 1969 and ran for 26 episodes in 1970. Sadly this series hasn’t made it to DVD yet, but from what little I’ve seen you can tell the show was slightly on the low budget side to say the least although from what little I’ve seen on YouTube its seems to have a certain kitsch charm to it. Here are the opening and closing titles to give you a flavor:

Phoenix Five: Owen Weingott played Platonus, an evil scientist whose looks are obviously inspired by Mr. Spock from Star Trek.While Phoenix Five doesn’t quite have the originality and drama of a BBC series — the sheer cheesy quality of series makes it a cult classic to me, in fact one regrets that it never got the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. The first thing that hits your eye is that the visual style of the show is kit bashed from everything you can think of: The costumes have a Star Trek quality to them, the robot looks borrowed from Dr. Who and the industrial design of the spaceship is a throwback to either Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon film serials:

Phoenix Five: Patsy Trench as Cadet Tina Kulbrick.From what I could find out about the series was that it was uneven at best (as you can see from the videos). My understanding is that one of the problems of the series was that the scripts would vary a great deal from clever to just plain silly — in fact actress Patsy Trench who played spunky Cadet Tina Kulbrick once complained in an interview “The script writers weren’t even aware of the capabilities of the space ship, and nobody seemed to know what was going on”. Although that said with age one can say that the clichéd quality of the dialog (which is just one notch above porn) and the thin soap opera plot are strangely compelling. It’s like eating a bag of potato chips — you know it’s bad for you but you just can’t stop once you’ve started:

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