March 05, 2009


(1966, West Germany, TV, Space Patrol))

'The fantastic adventures of the Spaceship Orion'

Some sixties sci-fi that used to look futuristic, now doesn't. But those retro-predictions now provide glimpses of alternate futures of varying optimisms. I've now seen most of what the fifties and sixties offered and am currently in the mood for black-and-white TV shows, like Fireball XL5. There are still a few films from the period that I haven't seen - I only recently caught Planeta Bur from Russia, for instance.

So, if you want to see spaceships taking off from an underwater base via a whirlpool, ironclad beehive hair-dos, space cardigans, and invading aliens (called Frogs), you're in luck. Raumpatrouille (literally Space Patrol) was the first major German sci-fi TV show. It threw a big budget at huge sets and major special effects. As a result of the cost, it only ran for seven one-hour shows, but achieved a unique look - another future that never was. A future where spaceships are spacious, and unnecessarily huge. When Earth is no longer divided up into countries (and, apparently, everyone is now German).

My introduction to the show was through the lounge music par excellence of Peter Thomas, also famous in Germany for his TV themes and krimi movie scores. A European answer to Vic Mizzy, his enthusiastic and eccentric electric tunes aimed at being catchy enough to turn into hit singles. During the lounge revival of the 1990s, several CDs featured his work and the soundtrack for Raumpatrouille even got its own CD release. Not to be confused with the American Space Patrol TV series of 1950, or the British Space Patrol puppet series of 1963, the German series was released on DVD in 1999, and I had to see it.

Now, I've just bought the German three-disc boxset, of 2005 (pictured at top). The first two discs are exactly the same as the 1999 2-disc release (pictured here), which also had all seven episodes, remastered 5.1 audio, plus a few extras. The difference now being a third disc, with additional extras and a 2003 'movie', condensing the series into a single 90 minute storyline. Because of the series' kitsch value in Germany, this re-edited 'redux' adds newly shot scenes of a newscaster setting the scene and filling in the story gaps, but for laughs. It's an easy target to lampoon, but viewers could easily work out for themselves that the hairstyles and dance moves look bizarre. This unwelcome additional footage is intrusive but fairly brief.

The best aspect of the movie version is that it is subtitled in English. lists the 2005 boxset as having English subtitles, but these only appear on the movie condensation, and unfortunately not on the individual episodes. At least we can now it's possible to understand the important plot points of the series. Usefully, this movie version, sometimes called 'the producers cut' is also available as a separate release (pictured here).

The series was digitally remastered for the DVDs and looks brand new. It appears to have been made on 35mm film, but some of the visual effects appear to have been composited electronically - this could either have been pioneering work, or recently added. In any case, there's much to admire. The spaceship is as impressive for its manoeuvrability as its design, though the enemy Frog ships are less convincing as they dart about. Any rare personal appearances by the Frog aliens are ethereal. A haunting effect, seen as barely humanoid, sparkling shadows.

The huge, solid sets, alive with built-in lighting, backlit plastic, and shiny surfaces date from when silver in sci-fi was compulsory. The spaceship interior features control panel designs that defy description and gravity, much like the floating multi-armed robots (see below). The centrepiece is the commander's impressive circular table-top viewscreen, displaying intricate navigational information, (stop-frame animation and back-projected into the set, presumably from below).

But for many, watching the series without subtitles won't be tempting, especially when it's so talky, but the 1999 boxset is now sold for under 10 euros - that's seven hours of future Euro retro, people.

In Germany, the story of the Spaceship Orion and its crew lived on in over 100 paperback novels. The popular Perry Rhodan was more famous for a similar space adventure premise, and ran into hundreds of novels (and two movies, which are also rare outside Germany).

I've not seen any other German sci-fi, except for Star Maidens (1976), a co-production with the UK, where more was spent on hair-styles than special effects. Again, the soundtrack was the series' most memorable legacy.

Do you want to know more?

There are some great stills and memorabilia on this English Peter Thomas site, and there's this extensive German Raumpatrouille fansite - the Starlight Casino.

Here's the opening of episode two, including the original theme tune, on YouTube...

...and here's a recent remix of the theme tune, with clips from the show...


  1. RAUMPATROUILLE is a classic. Glad you are enjoying it. Nothing much has been written about in English so far as it hasn't been too accessible, but in Germany these are genuine cult productions. They are indeed quite talky and each one could have done with maybe 15 minutes less of running time, but I still get a kick out of those designs. Which reminds: I hardly think that they threw money at the designs or anything. It all looks rather cheap, but inventive.

  2. Any idea why it was cancelled so quickly?

  3. No idea. I quickly googled to some of the German pages about the series and none mention the reason for the cancellation, however, you may have been on to something about the costs as the series *was* indeed more expensive than average at the time. Given that the decor and effects often consist of reused kitchen items like a hot iron, I am surprised that it was that expensive.

  4. yep..the famous special effects and accessoires...
    the hot iron can be seen on the second clip at 0:07 and the plastic cups stuck on the ceiling at 1:12.
    think i might have to get that...looks fantastic!
    who did the remix? sounds very much like kraftwerk...
    cheers marty

  5. just did a google search and someone actually offers english subtitles for all 7 episodes.

    doesn't seem to be too complicated....
    cheers marty

  6. Marco Scheloske20 June, 2013 16:09

    Regarding "Perry Rhodan"... "several hundred" is a neat understatement, as just this week novel รค 2703 (!) was released. And... there is only ONE Perry Rhodan movie (a very bad one), called "SOS aus dem Weltall". Not two.

  7. Crumbs, are they all by the same author?

    Got the impression there were two films from somewhere - perhaps the different names. I can stop looking for the other one now I know it doesn't exist.

  8. Only 7 episodes were at first planned. They did not know they were creating cult. There were various attempts to pick it back up, even 30 years later..but no one had the guts to do it. It's a sad story really....

  9. The sets look so permanent, like they're made out of metal girders! Like it was for a longer series. Still haven't seen a full, translated release in English.

    1. And actually it was very low budget..they hid that very well overall. The supernova approaching earth was a burning ping pong ball. I saw the first airing in 1966 as a kid and I am still mesmerized today... owning the metal box collector set :) Just the greatest TV series ever to me...

  10. They were near to trading it to US TV but it fell through after all. You can find it in hunagarian :) . There are also files to download that suppose to do subtitles..I don't know how and if they work - since I am german by birth I do not need them - but they exist.