What still sounds like a fairy tale today could be reality tomorrow. Here's a fairy tale from beyond tomorrow: There are no more nation-states, there is just humanity and her colonies in space. Distant planets are being settled, the sea bottom has been won for habitation. With as yet unimaginable velocities spaceships speed through our galactic system. One of these spaceships is the Orion, a tiny part of a gigantic defence system that protects Earth from threats from outer space. Let us accompany the Orion and her crew on their patrol duties on the edge of infinity!
—(Raumpatrouille, opening narration)
One of three series internationally known as Space Patrol was the 1966 German TV show Raumpatrouille - Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffs Orion (Space Patrol - The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion), which was produced in collaboration with French TV, where it was entitled Comando spatial. It's 7 one-hour episodes (no commercials) long, impossible to find outside of its mother country and later spawned a big heap of paperback and pulp novels. It, like a certain concurrent American TV series was about a bunch of people that actually patrolled space. For conoisseurs of science-fiction and the related tropes, Raumpatouille is of interest because in some respects it enables one to test the popular hypothesis of how "cutting-edge" Star Trek really was at the time. Most notably in the field of gender roles, Raumpatrouille showed that more substantial female roles than Bridge Bunnies actually were possible on TV in 1966.
Raumpatrouille was produced at the Bavaria film studios near Munich on a limited budget - for Star Trek they spent about 75 percent of the total Raumpatrouille production costs just on the pilot episode. To save costs the series was shot in black and white. But although they had to economize it looked pretty good as the people in charge were very competent. Set designer Rolf Zehetbauer won an Oscar for Cabaret, while special-effects man Theo Nischwitz had already worked on F.P. 1 antwortet nicht (1931) and Münchhausen (1942); the two would go on to collaborate on Das Boot. Still, they had to use quite a few futuristic looking, but commercially available household implements etc. in building the Orion bridge; keep your eyes open for the famous handle of an electric flatiron.
The crew of the fast space-cruiser Orion consisted of
- Major Cliff Allister McLane, the commander and The Hero, a Military Maverick and Chick Magnet.
- Lieutenant Mario de Monti (armament). Officially the commander's deputy. A ladies' man, at least in his own mind.
- Lieutenant Hasso Sigbjörnson (engineering). The oldest and only married member of the crew who in the first episode is seriously considering retirement, but carries on out of friendship to the others.
- Lieutenant Atan Shubashi (astrogator). The quiet one. Owner of 264, one of the last 376 poodles surviving on Earth in the year 3000.
- Lieutenant Helga Legrelle (communications, observation, deflector shields). The youngest of the crew; not so secretly sweet on the dashing commander.
The Orion and its close-knit crew originally belong to the the rapid space unit commanded by General Lydia van Dyke, but because of their continual habit of disobeying orders and regulations, they are transferred to the lowly space patrol that belongs to General Winston Woodrov Wamsler's reconnaissance command. To ensure that henceforth McLane sticks to regulations, stern Lieutenant Tamara Jagellovsk of the Galactic Security Service is assigned to the Orion as a watchdog with the authority to give him orders if need be.
The seven episodes of the TV series are:
- 1. Angriff aus dem All (Attack from Space): A First Encounter of the deadly kind. Introducing the major recurrent threat of the series, the alien "Frogs".
- 2. Planet außer Kurs (Planet off Course): The Frogs send a fiery planet on collision course with Earth. The crew succeeds in destroying it, but the Orion VII is destroyed in the process.
- 3. Hüter des Gesetzes (Guardians of the Law): The first mission of the Orion VIII is a robot story set on a mining colony.
- 4. Deserteure (Deserters): The Frogs have a mind-control device, but the Orion has Overkill.
- 5. Kampf um die Sonne (Fight for the Sun): An encounter with a matriarchal former rebel colony.
- 6. Die Raumfalle (The Space Trap): An outing with a science-fiction author runs into trouble when he is captured by a Mad Scientist who has taken over a penal colony.
- 7. Invasion: A Manchurian Agent sabotages Earth's defenses and comes close to making the Frog invasion a success. But the Orion saves the Earth (again), and in the end it is transferred back to van Dyke's force, McLane is promoted to colonel, and Cliff and Tamara finally get to kiss.
The series was very successful in Germany and also exported to a number of other continental European countries. Still the executives of German (public) television decided against producing a second season, word has it because they thought the series was too "militaristic", which in postwar Germany was something quite serious.
- BBC Quarry: Scenes set on the surface of planetoids were shot in the spoil tips of the Peißenberg coal mine.
- Betty and Veronica: Helga (brunette) is the Betty and Tamara (blonde) the Veronica; in the final episodes Cliff and Tamara become a couple.
- Bridge Bunnies: An early aversion. Due to the small size of the crew, individual members frequently have to pinch-hit in each other's jobs when part of the crew is on a surface or space mission. Helga Legrelle thus can be seen piloting one of the "Lancet" shuttlecrafts or installing machinery and weapons. Tamara Jagellovsk can hold her own in face-downs with McLane, while Lydia van Dyke, who appears in four of seven episodes, is the only real frontline commander among the otherwise male generals.
- Bug War: The attacks by the Frogs (sic) in episodes 1, 2, 4, and 7 go into this territory, even though they have a vaguely humanoid shape.
- Catch Phrase: The command "Rücksturz zur Erde!" (return to base at once, literally: plunge back to Earth) became one. Also the metallic-voiced countdown that punctuated every Orion and Lancet launch sequence.
- Compilation Movie: Produced in 2003.
- Cool but Inefficient: The launch sequence. The Orion took off from beneath the sea, rising through an artificially created maelstrom.
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority: O ja! Although it does come to bite them in the ass on occasion, such as in episode 3, where the crew does not pay proper attention at a course on robot programming.
- Cool Starship: The Orion VII and Orion VIII obviously. The latter is described not only as the fastest ship in the fleet, but also the first one to be equipped with the Overkill projector. Why such a ship would be assigned to the lowly Space Patrol where it would be used for satellite maintenance and such is anyone's guess.
- Desk Jockey: Quite a number of recurring characters fall into this category, for instance every officer above the rank of colonel (with the shining exception of General van Dyke), Wamsler's adjutant Spring-Brauner, Colonel Villa's nameless assistant, and the ground crew overseeing the launches from Base 104.
- Fake Nationality: Pretty much every character was played by German and Austrian actors, although a few scenes were shot twice, with French actors playing a few minor parts for the French version. French Orion crew member Lieutenant Legrelle, however, was played by German actress Ursula Lillig in both versions.
- A Father to His Men: General Wamsler is this in the gruff-but-fair version. Though a Desk Jockey now, he is also enough of an Old Soldier to see through some of the tricks McLane and his crew use to cover up their escapades.
- First-Name Basis: The Orion crew is on this, except of course towards Lieutenant Jagellovsk. In an off-duty conversation in episode 4 van Dyke addresses McLane by his first name, but he calls her "general".
- Future Music: The producers apparently figured that the people of the future will continue to invent new popular dances. The dances in the Starlight Casino involve movements that look like warm-up gymnastics and may involve people dancing very close back to back. Watch it yourself!
- Good Guy Bar: The Starlight Casino, where fleet and GSD personell of all ranks congregate to chat, flirt, talk shop and dance in some very odd "futuristic" dances. The Orion crew can usually be found here off-duty and has a fleet-wide reputation for its alcohol intake. The Starlight has a glass roof through which you can see the tropical fish in the sea above.
- Great Offscreen War: There are several references to the two Galactic or Interplanetary Wars in the series, which were waged between Earth and some rebel colonies. The pulp novelizations eventually related some of the pre-Raumpatrouille adventures of the older members of the crew, revealing e.g. that McLane had served under General van Dyke's father in the Second Galactic War.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: One of the best-known in German TV, it remains popular and was played at the unveiling of the restored Brandenburg Gate in 2002.
- Kill It with Water: In episode 1, the Frogs are impervious to ray guns, can survive in a vaccuum, but are taken out by Hasso and Atan exploding an oxygen tank.
- Lady Land: The pacifist matriarchal society of Chroma, headed by SHE (German: SIE), perhaps the only woman able to resist Major McLane's charm.
- The Mentor: Colonel Villa in many of his appearances.
- Mother Nature, Father Science: All scientists are male, even the Chromans in episode 5 who come from a matriarchal society. In one subversion, in episode 4, when it becomes necessary to repair a particularly advanced type of robot, Tamara Jagellovsk is the only one who has taken the necessary course and can do it.
- Multinational Team: The crew consists of of an American commander of Scottish extraction, a Scandinavian, an Italian, a Japanese (?), and a Frenchwoman. They are joined by Russian security officer.
- Nepotism: In episode 6 Pieter Paul Ibsen gets to accompany the crew because he is the space minister's son-in-law.
- Noodle Incident: In episode 1 Wamsler quickly lists of a number of occasions where McLane had acted without authorization to explain why he is transferred to the Space Patrol and a watchdog is assigned to him.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Lieutenant Spring-Brauner, General Wamsler's aide-de-camp. Some of the members of the O.R.B. (Oberste Raumbehörde, i. e. supreme space authority) also verge on this.
- The Political Officer: Lieutenant Tamara Jagellovsk starts out as a non-political equivalent, but like her spiritual ancestress Ninotchka mellows soon enough.
- The Power of Friendship: Big time. Not just among the crew, but the friendships of various of its members with those of the crews of other ships or space bases is often a plot point.
- Red Shirt: Averted.
- Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: The military spaceships are mostly named after constellations that are named for mythological figures (Orion, Hydra, Pegasus). In Episode 3 one of the 'Lancet' shuttlecrafts is left behind to project a "Laurin", an energy imitation of a full-sized spaceship, to disguise the fact that the Orion has left its station. Laurin was a dwarf from medieval legends who could turn himself invisible.
- Self-Deprecation: The appearance of science-fiction writer Pieter Paul Ibsen in episode 6 provides an occasion for the crew to mock the genre. Also, is it a coincidence that there are only two characters with German names in the series, and one of them is an Obstructive Bureaucrat and the other is a bad guy?
- Space Clothes: Simply cut black uniforms for the spacefleet, grey for the GSD. Women usually wore knee-length skirts with long boots, but could put on trousers for missions.
- Space Navy: Partly averted. The officers have non-naval ranks (major, colonel, general, marshal) and the Orion crew to a large extent behave like stereotypical air force combat pilots and return to Base 104 at the end of every episode. Also the spaceships generally have names from astronomy, the military being named after mythologically constellations (Orion, Hydra, Perseus) and the GSD cruiser Tau after a Greek letter used to designate a star within a constellation. Unlike those of Star Trek, the Raumpatrouille ships are not named after famous naval ships and admirals of the past (Enterprise, Essex, Farragut).
- The Spymaster: Colonel Villa, head of the Galactic Security Service. Often inscrutable, doubly so because he was cast against type with Friedrich Joloff, an actor best known for playing villains, especially cold-blooded killers. Cultured and a bit of a pacifist, he helps McLane to avert a war in episode 5.
- Third Option Love Interest: In episode 4 General van Dyke is having a pleasant conversation with Cliff McLane in the Starlight Casino and notes with amusement the jealous look Tamara Jagellovsk is giving her from another table. In the paperback novels, Cliff eventually broke up with Tamara and for a time become lovers with Lydia, so maybe Tamara was prescient.
- "Three Laws"-Compliant: The robots in the series are, although in the third episode "Guardians of the Law" the robots on a mining colony, after witnessing a murder, go haywire and imprison all humans to ensure that no harm befalls them.
- Underwater Base: Spaceship base 104, the headquarters of the military and the Galactic Security Service as well as the crew's private homes are all situated at the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
- Wave Motion Gun: The aptly named Overkill (sic) projector, first tested and used in combat in episode 4.