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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

24 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    July 19, 2013 @ 3:21 am

    The fate of Orion the show speaks to another paradox that progressive science fiction television and film have to deal with: They're damn expensive to produce. It's hard for a show to have a point of view that challenges mainstream political and social assumptions and continue to keep up the viewership and income to continue making the show. I've done some perfunctory research, and found some astonishingly cheap looking set photos of Orion scenes. These guys would have killed for a budget like Troughton-era Doctor Who. And it still bankrupted the studio.

    People like me can get away with all kinds of weird imagery because I write novels. I can let the reader's imagination do all the work of the design and effects departments. But when you've got a show to do, and the script and actors are amazing, you have to make every element of the production measure up to that. And studios go under.

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  2. Ununnilium
    July 19, 2013 @ 6:47 am

    Cooooooool.

    So is there a DVD set out there? (Probably not a subtitled one.)

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    July 19, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    While Raumpatrouille actually didn't do too badly for itself ratings-wise in its initial run (though IIRC it had a similar situation as Star Trek whereby it got most of its audience and acclaim in syndicated reruns after the fact), I do think you're right on the money here, so to speak.

    And you've nailed it in that first paragraph, IMO. When your budget is making 1960s Doctor Who look lavish, that speaks volumes.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    July 19, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    There is, actually, except it's a Region 2 exclusive so keep that in mind. Here's the Amazon US link if you're interested, and I'll add it to the site's store as well: http://amzn.to/1dKfMmL

    I don't think this particular set has English subtitles, but you can download fan-subs that work with it here: http://www.abc.se/~m1019/spacepatrol/

    That site also has links to buy the set from Amazon.de, where it'll probably be in stock more regularly as well.

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  5. Ununnilium
    July 19, 2013 @ 8:44 am

    Ahhhh, very nice.

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  6. Josh
    July 19, 2013 @ 9:35 am

    Thanks for the link to the subs, Josh. I actually picked this up on DVD from Amazon.de a year or two ago and was distressed to discover that it didn't come with English subs. Now I can go and watch them finally!

    I'm glad you brought up this show in your analysis, it's helping me understand why you've placed TOS where you have in your larger narrative.

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  7. Josh
    July 19, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    Also, do you think the strange interchangeable use of terms like "planet," "star," "asteroid" and "supernova" may be due to strange translations in subtitles?

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  8. Josh Marsfelder
    July 19, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    My pleasure! I'm glad you liked the post, and I hope you finally get to enjoy the show!

    Raumpatrouille was one of the first things I absolutely knew I wanted to cover here, and contrasting it with the Original Series was actually a primary impetus for me to start this project in the first place. Had I more time, I actually would have loved to cover it episode-by-episode instead of relegating it to a Sensor Scan post, because there's a lot of really brilliant stuff it does I didn't even touch on in this article.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    July 19, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    Unfortunately no, because you can actually hear the actors saying the word "supernova" at several points while the episode is titled "Planet außer Kurs", which literally translates out to "Planet off Course", and the subtitles do catch that.

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  10. thepoparena.com
    July 19, 2013 @ 10:32 am

    Cool, I've never heard of this before. I love discovering obscure sci-fi. 🙂

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  11. trekker709
    July 20, 2013 @ 3:59 am

    Amazing to hear about the similarities and differences in this series. There’s quite a bit of info (in English) at the fansite orionspace.de…“Starship Orion was the first, and to date, only space opera project on German TV” –strange. I was surprised they’d have an American /Scottish captain. The underwater world is an interesting contrast (like the Starlight Casino- one YouTube shows a dance there). On the surface, it seems like there was more convincing gender and ethnic equality than on TOS.

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  12. Adam Riggio
    July 20, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

    In the early days of TOS, it had quite a long way to go on gender and ethnic equality. The second season is, I think, where TOS gets to its most progressive point generally, though the Kirk-Uhura kiss is in season three (and the rest of Plato's Stepchildren I always found kind of batshit insane, and not always in the good way). We all remember that Dr King personally convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show, despite her largely functionary role in the plots of the show. But the detail that gets passed over in that story is that her beef was legitimate: through a lot of season one, Uhura doesn't do much more than answer the phone. The sad truth was that in the USA in 1967, having a black female character on TV who wasn't a maid was itself an incredibly progressive move. What's sad is how incredibly low that standard is.

    One of the things I love about this blog so far is that is separates the episode-by-episode production and presentation of TOS from the myths about it that grew up over the underground years in the 1970s. We remember these central moments and these epic images and stories more than the episodic grind of the series, where revelatory moments are accompanied by four or five cringeworthy moments, or are embedded in a sort of awful episode. The remarkable moments grew to mythic status and the forgettable ones were forgotten.

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  13. Josh Marsfelder
    July 20, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

    "The second season is, I think, where TOS gets to its most progressive point generally, though the Kirk-Uhura kiss is in season three (and the rest of Plato's Stepchildren I always found kind of batshit insane, and not always in the good way)."

    This is the best analysis of "Plato's Stepchildren" I have ever read.

    "We all remember that Dr King personally convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay on the show, despite her largely functionary role in the plots of the show. But the detail that gets passed over in that story is that her beef was legitimate: through a lot of season one, Uhura doesn't do much more than answer the phone. The sad truth was that in the USA in 1967, having a black female character on TV who wasn't a maid was itself an incredibly progressive move. What's sad is how incredibly low that standard is."

    Uhura is unbelievably aggravating to me. On the one hand yes, her mere presence is a bold progressive statement, and I feel I need to stress that every time I bring her up. The problem is this still isn't good enough, even by the standards of the time, and it yields really weird stuff like Raumpatrouille Orion coming across as incredibly more diverse and egalitarian despite having an entirely West German cast. Well, that and the fact it didn't resort to cartoonish ethnic stereotyping.

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  14. Mitja Lovše
    July 20, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

    Here's one of those lurkers who decided to comment. Before I talk about the topic, I must congratulate you for making the best essays about Star Trek I have ever read. Keep up the good work!
    Furthermore, I am thankful for your writing about Orion. It is one of those series that I have heard so much about, yet I have never seen it. That is funny, since I am from Europe, but I think I might know reason. I believe that sci-fi as a genre is not taken seriously in Europe (perhaps only in literature, although I am not sure about that) and I cannot think of any live action sci-fi TV series that originated in Europe and that was either popular or cult. True, Doctor Who and many other British sci-fi series might fit the bill, but I don't know how much does the UK consider itself to be a part of Europe (even though it actually is one of the most powerful parts of Europe). Still, It would be interesting for your Sensor scan to check sci-fi series in Europe. Who knows? Maybe there are some gems that make Star Trek look even more reactionary than it already is. 🙂

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  15. trekker709
    July 20, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

    Did any black actors ever appear on the Orion series? I just assumed there were but maybe I'm mistaken.

    There's some interesting discussion of this show in a book on line– Music of Science Fiction Television.

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  16. Josh Marsfelder
    July 21, 2013 @ 11:35 am

    Welcome to the site! Thanks very much for the well wishes and I'm very glad to have you and your perspective!

    I would love to look at more European science fiction here. One of the things I've always been interested in is European media and how it compares and contrasts with media in the US and the UK. I've got several British (and one or two Japanese) genre shows lined up for Sensor Scan posts, but sadly Raumpatrouille was the only continental European show I came across. If I find any others, I'll be sure to give them a look.

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  17. Josh Marsfelder
    July 21, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    As far as the main cast goes, no. I honestly can't recall if there are any in the guest cast of the later episodes: I'll be sure to look out for that when I revisit the show for the revised version of the project. I'll keep an eye out for that book too, thanks.

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  18. Mitja Lovše
    July 21, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

    The good questions is – is there any other continental European sci-fi show? While I was writing my previous comment, I tried to recall any of them. I only remembered some French cartoons and that was about it.

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  19. Daru
    July 29, 2013 @ 1:18 am

    Thanks a lot Josh! Great to hear about this show and it is indeed a tragedy that it is so unknown, I certainly have never heard of it until this essay. Much thanks for that – as well as a deep-hearted exploration of Star Trek, for me this and Philip's blog is about making new discoveries. Thanks you.

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  20. Josh Marsfelder
    July 29, 2013 @ 7:42 am

    Your very welcome, and thank you for saying so! It means a lot for me to hear I can bring something to discussions about Star Trek.

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  21. gatchamandave
    May 15, 2014 @ 1:52 am

    Very late reply but…er…

    Star Maidens ?

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  22. Josh Marsfelder
    May 15, 2014 @ 7:56 am

    I had never even heard of that show before you just mentioned it. I've just now looked it up and can't decide if that sounds like the best idea in history or the worst.

    If nothing else, it actually reminds me of that one episode of Raumpatrouille Orion where they go to the all-female planet to broker the release of hostages and a trade agreement. It takes a sublime amount of talent to run the "Angel One" brief and not completely fuck it up.

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  23. gatchamandave
    May 15, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

    Hmmmm…imagine a cross between Space 1999 and a mid 70s British sit-com like Are You Being Served or Bless This House and you get some idea of what Star Maidens is like.

    To give its due it never sinks to the level of suggesting that a matriarchy is in any way wrong or against the natural order of things. It's big problem is that episodes veer between high camp, hard science fiction and low farce. If you've seen Luigi Cozzi's StarCrash, that's pretty much what Star Maidens is like.

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  24. GS
    August 11, 2019 @ 3:38 am

    While I appreciate this show for what it is, I think it’s hard to make a convincing argument that it’s superior body of work to Star Trek. For one, it only had 7 episodes and TOS had three seasons with high drama like City on the Edge of Forever, plus all that spawned after that. This show I think has more in common with Gerry Anderson’s UFO, the mod stylings and the jazzy Barry Gray-esque music. I definitely think you can say this show is better than Star Trek Discovery, though!

    Reply

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