Target Luna

1960 | United Kingdom

Early science fiction series for ATV produced by Sydney Newman, the man who would eventually deliver the longest running TV science fiction series of all time; Doctor Who.

Made for Sunday afternoon family viewing, Target Luna placed a small group of youngsters in the central roles among a group of adults and made them the heroes of the piece. It was a well established format that would remain a staple of all Children's television drama series for years to come. Written by Malcolm Hulke and Eric Paice, the scene was set on a rocket isle off Scotland (though the open-air sequences were filmed off the Essex coast). Professor Wedgwood (David Markham) is ready to send the first man to the moon. This being 1960s children's fiction, the Prof is joined (of course) for the Easter holiday's by his three offspring; Valerie (17-year old Sylvia Davies), Geoff (future Doctor Who traveling companion Michael Craze, also 17) and Jimmy (Michael Hammond, 13). Jimmy's pet hamster, Hamlet, also has a big share in the adventures.

The children arrive just as the planned project goes horribly wrong and the sole astronaut (Wiliam Ingram) falls ill. With the island cut off by heavy seas the professor's children cannot go home to London and instead are given a guided tour of the entire secret establishment! A computer operator, played by Deborah Standford, shows them round the rocket station and the controls are explained to them. Then Jimmy gets lost in the control room in a maze of dials and flashing light panels, and accidently sets off the alarm which launches him into space. That is the start of the drama in outer space that has the world holding its breath. 

Target Luna

The drama concerned 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. "We soon see," said Malcolm Hulke (unkowingly prophesying a scenario that would be played out for real exactly a decade later), "how the plight of one human being in an Earth-bound rocket catches the imagination of the whole world. Radar stations -Russian, American, British and others- are linked in a global effort to bring the rocket home."

The series was broadcast over six successive weekends finishing at the end of May; but it didn't end there. It proved successful enough to return (with a number of cast changes) in September as Pathfinders In Space and subsequent series under different titles (Pathfinders To Mars, Pathfinders To Venus, Plateau Of Fear, City Beneath The Sea and Secret Beneath The Sea) kept it going until 1963, by which time Sydney Newman had left ITV and was making plans to launch Doctor Who (which followed in November 1963). During the series run a number of familiar TV faces got early exposure to the viewing public, among them Frank Finlay, John Barron and Gerald Flood.

Published on February 6th, 2019. Adapted from an original TV Times article by Guy Cheviot..