“Don’t judge a video record by its cover.”
The US Armed Forces have the following as their slogan: “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer”. It seems this should also be the official motto of Century 21 Films Ltd, when it comes to their new puppet drama NEBULA-75.
The first episode had been made solely as an exercise to see what the three quarantined flatmates could film while in self-isolation during the ongoing lockdown, using only what existing props and other materials were at hand. It seems that it’s not just the Devil that makes work for idle hands, as the project has been so well-received after being posted online (with over 91,000 views in one week, at the time of writing), so with a runaway hit on their hands, the industrious trio have forged ahead and presented us with a welcome continuation.
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At the present time, conventional TV and film production has pretty much fallen apart: blockbuster movies have been put back by anything as much as a year, while on the small screen the stockpile of programming (including the beloved soap operas) are in danger of totally drying up, leading to a potential summer of repeats. In order to try and adapt to this new landscape, ITV has made a four-part drama series, Isolation Stories, which was conceived, written, filmed in lockdown conditions, and then edited and transmitted all in around a month.
It’s certainly an impressive feat, by any reasonable standard. However, it just makes Century 21 Films Ltd’s achievement with NEBULA-75 even more remarkable, as they’ve devised and produced a whole new puppet drama with zero budget and minimal facilities in around the same time, turning out something which is easily to a broadcast standard. It goes to show what genuine skills and talent happens to be out there in our creative industries right now, along with how flexible and adaptable they’ve managed to be in this ‘new normal’.
The turnaround time on any production can be somewhat lengthy under conventional circumstances, so to be able to get a second episode out so quickly off the back of the first is little short of miraculous. If anything, this is even better than the first instalment, as the production team seem to have learnt exactly how far they can push the envelope with the limited amount of space they have in their flat, and just what they can achieve with a little gumption, as well as the clever reuse of footage filmed for the Thunderbirds 1965 episode ‘The Abominable Snowman’.
Having successfully set up the show’s basic concept in the first episode – a kind of hybrid between Fireball XL5 and Lost In Space – this new instalment gives the story room to breathe a little, as well as making sure there’s plenty of fun along the way. One of the best things about NEBULA-75 is the little preamble before each episode, delivered in the best snarky fashion by the ship’s robot, Circuit; in this case, Circuit points out that any scientific inaccuracies are our problem, which harkens back to a much more innocent age, before there was an internet rife with people wanting to point out flaws and implausibilities, spoiling everyone’s enjoyment in the process.
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We also have the chance to discover a little more about the mysterious Space Maiden, Athena, and how she fits into the story. It’s a lovely surprise to find out there’s also another crew member onboard NEBULA-75, a Lieutenant Mercury. It’s a nice little touch to have the vessel’s crew all named after astronomical objects (Mercury, Asteroid, Neptune), as it puts you very much in mind of the Andersons’ method of coming up with nomenclatures for their creations (such as the colours in Captain Scarlet, for example). We just have to hope it’s a small ship’s company, otherwise pity the poor crewman who’s called ‘Uranus’.
As if the Century 21 Films Ltd team haven’t got enough on their plates already, they’ve only gone and created another spoof mini ‘making of’ featurette, popped right at the end of the episode, which is a sheer delight to watch. It’s such a lovely bit of self-parody, and the developing storyline that they’ve got going on here is becoming as compelling as the main feature itself. Seriously, if a TV company doesn’t give these people a commission once lockdown’s over, there’s no justice. In the meantime, make sure you tune in and enjoy this deliciously retro-styled entertainment.