The intrepid Century 21 Films team who devised the brand new puppet drama NEBULA-75 while trapped in lockdown have returned after a short break to deliver us a Halloween special. It happens to be a case of absolutely perfect timing, too, as this spooky instalment – ‘Freighter Fright’ – hit the internet on the same day the UK found out it would need to start locking down once again.
As the space chronometer ticks over to October 31st 2120, the resident boffin Doctor Asteroid (Stephen La Rivière) is just about to bring to fruition a plan to harness solar winds with the intention of speeding up their journey home. The final preparations are being made, when a distress call gets picked up from a drifting freighter. Despite the protests of ship’s robot Circuit (Justin T. Lee) that there is no such thing as ghosts, the crew find themselves met with a very spooky reception…
If you are new to the world of NEBULA-75, then what have you been doing with your time during lockdown? With lots more scope coming up over the next month for devoting to hobbies and pastimes, you could do far worse than getting right up to speed on the exploits of Captain Ray Neptune‘s band of explorers. In fact, you may even want to check out Century 21 Films’ earlier work – their trio of Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes recently landed on BritBox, and really are outstandingly high quality.
With a trio of self-isolating filmmakers utilising only what props and materials they had to hand during the first round of lockdown, for them to have practically matched the same standard as their previous productions which had not only a full crew, but also a budget, is little short of remarkable. In a little under two months, five episodes were released online, and are all absolutely free to watch; however, the team has taken some downtime to tweak the puppets and props, and also get viewers’ support for future outings.
Although it was a bit of a shame to have such a lengthy wait between episodes, bearing in mind the punishing schedule of putting out five episodes in such a short space of time, it would be hard to argue against the Century 21 team having earned themselves a well-deserved breather after all their efforts. Anything which benefits the series is definitely for the best, and the break seems to have given them a chance to ensure there is no risk of burnout, or letting the quality of the production drop.
One thing to greatly admire about NEBULA-75 has been its sense of humour, with lots of knowing and self-aware jokes; in ‘Freighter Fright’, we get a pointed reference to one of the most common pitfalls of lockdown life: failing to unmute a microphone when on a video conference call. Another lovely bit of self-referential comedy comes with an observation of all the apparently abandoned freighter’s corridors seeming to look the same – reuse of sets is a common staple in TV sci-fi, but the lack of budget has become a running in-joke with NEBULA-75.
For a Halloween special, we get plenty of eerie shenanigans as the ship’s crew explore the freighter for signs of life, and happen across lots of dark, cobwebbed rooms, along with a haunting poem, and an unnerving portrait. Given the fact so many shows have sadly been compromised by Coronavirus, it means that there have been regrettably few opportunities to have special Halloween-themed TV programming (with even Strictly Come Dancing skipping it for their 2020 run); how wonderful, then, to have NEBULA-75 to swoop in and fill that gap with its Flying Dutchman-inspired tale.
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’Freighter Fright’ has definitely been a treat, not a trick, and has helped to amply demonstrate yet again the flexibility of NEBULA-75’s format. This series has genuinely been one of the few bright spots in a difficult and challenging year, and with the news that a Christmas special is planned, it means there is definitely something positive to look forward to on the other side of the second lockdown, and to mark the end of 2020.