Following a few months on from Target Luna, a science fiction based drama series for Sunday afternoon family viewing, ATV, under the guiding hand of Sydney Newman, produced Pathfinders in Space (presented under the Family Hour umbrella title), a seven-part serial that tapped in to what was at that point the very popular public interest in space exploration. More an adventure series with science fiction overtones, 'Pathfinders' was, by Newman's own admission, the " ancestor to Doctor Who."
Written by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice, Target Luna (reviewed in more detail on this site) concerns itself from the point of view that getting a man into space is easy; the big problem is bringing him safely back into Earth's atmosphere. Pathfinders in Space continued along the same theme. Pre publicity from distributor Associated British-Pathe Ltd summed up the series thus: Professor Wedgwood leads the first team of Moon explorers and is successfully launched into space. His supply rocket, however, cannot take off by automatic pilot and his children, Valerie, Geoffrey and Jimmy volunteer to save the expedition. After their spaceship is in space they find a stowaway. The two rockets continue their journey into deep space and, as they near the moon, a third rocket appears...a spaceship from nowhere. Professor Wedgewood's rocket lands on the moon and the supply rocket, brought by his children, lands some 150 miles away. Wedgewood set out to find it and both parties discover that someone has already landed on the moon before them. The three children find a cave containing relics from a previous civilisation then make another startling discovery...Professor Wedgewood also finds proof of a landing in the distant past and now wonders if the alien spaceship will reveal its secrets.
There were a number of cast changes from the Target Luna. Wedgewood was now played by Peter Williams and each of the children were played by different actors to the original with Stewart Guidotti as Geoffrey, Richard Dean as Jimmy and Gillian Ferguson as Valerie. Gerald Flood appeared as astronaut / scientific journalist Conway Henderson. In interview Flood has previously recalled how the series went out live and the panic that was caused in the studio control room when it was realised that one character's words could not be heard once his space helmet had been latched down. It was long thought that no recordings were made of Pathfinders in Space but telerecordings do exist and are due to be released on DVD courtesy of Network in December 2011. The box-set will also include the two series that followed Pathfinders in Space; Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus. All three series were written by Hulke and Paice.
In Pathfinders to Mars, Conway Henderson (Flood) consents to pilot a new interstellar rocket. Young Geoffrey Wedgewood will be one of the crew and Henderson's niece, Margaret (Hester Cameron) - due for a holiday with her uncle - persuades him to take her, too. Meanwhile the place of Professor Dyson is taken by an unidentified man believed by Wedgewood and the rocket crew to be Dyson. The imposter, Harcourt Brown (George Coulouris), sabotages the rocket's radio receiver so that Henderson and the rest don't discover his real identity. Working for the mysterious "Sector Ten" Brown manages to take control of the rocket and hold Margaret as hostage. Pathfinders to Mars began in December 1960 and run through to 1961 with some variation on start dates depending on the ITV region.
Pathfinder to Venus picked up where the previous series left off. On their return from Mars, the crew of the British space ship M.R.4. intercepts a distress signal from a rocket in orbit around Venus. Manned by American astronaut Captain Wilson (Graydon Gould), it has been struck by a meteor and is fast running out of oxygen. Harcourt Brown fakes a message so that Conway Henderson believes the the American has been forced to crash-land on the planet's surface. Landing on Venus in a thick forest, out intrepid heroes soon realised they have been duped when the US space craft lands. But by the time Geoffrey and Margaret reach it, the pilot has vanished and his cabin has been torn apart by a creature of enormous strength.
This was the final Pathfinder story, but some of the actors resurfaced later in Plateau of Fear.
Published on January 18th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (July 2011) Sources of reference: TV Times Magazines 1960/61; Doctor Who The Early Years by Jeremy Bentham. for Television Heaven.