Pathfinders is one of those series that you regularly see referenced in histories of British science fiction. It’s the sci-fi show that Doctor Who’s creator Sydney Newman worked on in independent television before he moved over to the BBC and had his greatest successes, or so they say. Comments about the four serials (Target Luna preceded the three Pathfinders missions) tend to be pretty arbitrary, the history of the shows glossed over between the giants of Quatermass and Doctor Who.
Which is pretty unfair to these serials, which have now arrived on DVD courtesy of Network. Yes, the model work is pretty ropey, but take a proper objective look at the effects in Dalek Invasion of Earth from 1964 and say that Pathfinders’ early version of Tracy Island are so much worse. Yes, they have got the obligatory annoying kids – but that’s a staple of the format for children’s television of the period: the youngsters who get into trouble are seen as the audience identification characters, and although the emphasis on them diminished as the Pathfinder serials progressed, they were an essential part.
It’s a shame that there’s none of Target Luna on the discs, featuring Doctor Who companion Michael Craze, but the pdfs of the scripts can be accessed via the second disc (it’s not immediately apparent from the DVD menu, but they are definitely there), and there’s a gallery of shots available. There’s also a highly detailed booklet by historian Andrew Pixley which places the shows in context.
They may be padded out to meet their seven or eight episode running time, but the Pathfinder serials were the television equivalents of Hugh Walters’ UNEXA novels, which were devoured by young readers at the same time. Writers Malcolm Hulke (later to create the Silurians for Doctor Who) and Eric Paice maintain the drama level, often at the price of scientific accuracy – and they’re still fun to watch.
Verdict: A missing slice of British sci-fi history gets a chance for reappraisal. 7/10
Network DVD, out now
Watch a clip from Pathfinders and the Beneath the Sea sequels below: