Worst to Best
Raumpatrouille
AKA Space Patrol Orion

Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion (Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion) was a 1966 German science fiction series that is little known outside of its native country. However, featuring some striking imagery, enticing scripts and strong performances, it's well worth viewing for fans of science fiction.


by
THE ANORAK
SEPTEMBER 2018


The DVD release of the series can be ordered online from Amazon. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the six episodes from worst to best...

8 Fall Back to
the Cinema
AKA Rücksturz
ins Kino

While Raumpatrouille is an obscure programme outside of Germany, it was so popular in the country that a compilation movie was made in 2003. Featuring footage from every episode, it mainly centres on two storylines to tell a complete tale. Unfortunately, the limitations of editing down what amounted to over two hours of story into a 90 minute movie does remove a lot of the subtleties of the programme, and this can be regarded as something of a "laser zap fan edit" in principle. Yet any Raumpatrouille is good Raumpatrouille, and so this is still far from awful, even if the best option is just to watch the series itself. Some new footage is spliced in to events, including a fictitious news channel and, as pictured, a somewhat silly fake commercial.

7 Planet Off Course
AKA Planet außer Kurs

The second episode, this is also the shortest, lasting just shy of 56 minutes. Perhaps as a result, it's the shallowest episode on offer in a generally great series, featuring the crew trying to stop an alien-controlled planet from crashing into the Earth. Unfortunately, while the science is generally pretty good for the time, this instalment in reminiscent of Doctor Who's early years which, while brilliant, could sometimes see terms like "galaxy" and "solar system" used pretty much interchangeably. Here the rogue planet is repeatedly referred to as a "supernova", which can make things a little confusing. The climax sees the crew laughing at a bureaucrat for not knowing what a supernova is, but this is unfair... after all, they clearly don't, either.

6 The Space Trap
AKA Die Raumfalle

Raumpatrouille began airing just nine days after Star Trek, and any similarity between the two is almost certainly a coincidence. In fact, beyond the basic "manned spacecraft" concept, the two can be quite different. Raumpatrouille isn't about exploring space so much as protecting its own territory, as every episode ends with the crew travelling back to Earth. It's also easy to forget that the starship Orion also features a multi-race crew, such as the Japanese Atan Shubash, given that the West German casting pool was so limited they're all played by white actors.
      This episode features more meta elements than most, as the crew are asked to take on board a science fiction writer, who has high connections in government. This brings about one of the more contrived plots, whereby the recklessness of the writer sees him get captured by a rogue colony, and is then required to be rescued. There's the ship being overtaken, followed by some karate fighting and 60s organ music. After it all dies down, the writer's father-in-law is dismayed to see that he's got completely wasted on alcohol... one of the real merits of the series is that the entire crew are constantly smashed out of their heads, breaking out the whiskey with little to no provocation.

5 Battle for the Sun
AKA Kampf um
die Sonne

With just seven episodes, Raumpatrouille didn't get time to widely develop all of its characters, and the somewhat bad-tempered chemistry between the main male and female leads is sometimes tempered with sexism. Perhaps not sexism that would have registered in 1966, but 52 years on, seeing the Captain of the ship tricking a subordinate into showing him her cleavage on a video screen isn't the kind of thing that would go down too well in the age of #MeToo. Despite this, their natural instincts take over by the end of the episode, giving us a much-touted kiss.
      The series isn't hugely enriched by subtext, but it's notable here that an ecological disaster threatens Earth as the sun heats up polar icecaps, which is quite ahead of its time. Also of note is that the series is said to be made in a backdrop of post-war guilt, and here they meet a colony on another planet who have avoided Earth after its involvement in two "galactic wars". Perhaps rather fittingly for this particular episode, the colony is that SF cliché, the planet of the dominant women. Yet despite lacking the sophistication of the better episodes, this still retains a charm all of its own.
     One last point of trivia is that, while ostensibly a German production, around a fifth of funding for the programme came from the Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, or the ORTF, in France. This led to some changes for the French market, none more notable than here, where two of the actresses were changed for the "alternative" version in the French market.

4 Keepers of
the Law
AKA Hüter
des Gesetzes

An episode that begins with the crew getting a lecture on how to combat killer robots would, inevitably, feature them coincidentally bumping into said robots on the exact same day.
Although the series is in black and white, elements of the programme were reportedly filmed in colour to make the special effects easier to implement. The flying robots in this one don't always look particularly convincing, but the low angles chosen to illustrate their advance lend a noirish sensibility to events.
     The series was the work of two directors, with Michael Braun helming three episodes, and Theo Mezger four, including this one. Mezger isn't always able to instil drama into a somewhat staid plot, but all of the episodes from this point on are strong, and none are below par.

3 Deserters
AKA Deserteure

The series does have an unfortunate dated convention of the cast laughing heartily into the end credits each week... this tradition is broken for a rare instance here, with Cliff instead giving a wry comment that's met with a haughty look and the hint of a smile from Tamara Jagellovsk (Eva Pflug).
     Although such endings were very unrealistic and don't translate particularly well, one thing that tempered them all was that they were usually accompanied by the crew drinking copious amounts of whiskey. This was a series that didn't showcase alcohol as a social ill or as a character flaw, but instead had a crew who were never happier then when they were getting completely paralytic...

2 Attack from
Space AKA Angriff
aus dem All

German science fiction, certainly on screen, is very limited, largely due to the budgets involved. The most famous German science fiction is Metropolis, and there are some co-produced TV series, such as Star Maidens. Generally, though, other than movies co-produced with other countries, such as Cloud Atlas and some Dr. Mabuse movies, the majority of German SF exists only on the printed page.
      With Raumpatrouille existing in a very small and exclusive club, what's striking is how Americanised the whole enterprise feels. Not only is the ship's captain supposed to be an American, but there's elements like the catchy theme tune, which isn't some dispassionate mood piece which could have fitted on Bowie's Low album, but a 60s electronic freak out.
      There's world building here, too, with the revelation that the Earth of the series' timeline has just 367 poodles left in existence, and the main bar where the crew hang out is, as pictured, an underwater lair with giant goldfish floating above thanks to matte work. It's delightful stuff, something that can't even be tempered by one of the crew jokingly describing the episode's events as "science fiction".

1 Invasion

Raumpatrouille was screened in many European countries, as well as South Africa and Brazil. Never screened in the UK or US, while this means it's an obscure series in both territories, it still has a sizeable following in East Europe and, while websites dedicated to the series have fallen away over the years, there's still an audience out there who fondly remember the series. Of particular note is that over a 140 original novels based on the programme were produced well into the 1980s.
      Invasion, the final episode, sees enemy aliens (the unfortunately-named "FROGS") take over the upper ranks of Space Patrol, and it's left to maverick captain Cliff to reject his superiors and save the day. It's a predictable yet exciting conclusion to a strong and commendable series. Perhaps all that's left is to quote the translated opening words, which perfectly capture the series' idea of a future utopia:
      "What may sound like a fairy tale today may be tomorrow's reality. This is a fairy tale from the day after tomorrow: There are no more nations. There is only mankind and its colonies in space. People have settled on faraway stars. The ocean floor has been made habitable. At speeds still unimaginable today, space vessels are rushing through our Milky Way. One of these vessels is the ORION, a minuscule part of a gigantic security system protecting the Earth from threats from outer space. Let's accompany the ORION and her crew on their patrol at the edge of infinity."