Zero-X: “Mission to Saturn”

Original run: TV21 #122 – #129

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Artist: Mike Noble

TV21 #123
TV21 #123

Fans are forever thankful that Zero-X got a far better run in comic book form than it did on the big screen, and its debut adventure was one of TV21‘s most stirring strips ever! What’s even better is that the initial sense of high thrills and riveting adventure wasn’t just a one off. Zero-X‘s third TV21 adventure, “Mission to Saturn”, doesn’t quite have the scope of the two-part epic “Return to the Red Planet”/”Prisoners of the Star”, but it’s still a fine entry in the Zero-X saga, and an oddly timeless tale of malfunctioning technology that other Anderson series failed to ouch upon.

“Mission to Saturn” begins with the Zero-X boys gearing up for another deep-space mission, this time to the second largest planet in the Solar System. The nutty professor Brian Trent and his Brainman-esque invention, a mobile computer capable of collecting and analysing data, are joining them for the mission, which has Captain Paul Travers uneasy. The team’s mission soon becomes compromised when Trent’s computer becomes sentient, acting on orders transmitting directly from Saturn itself! A routine mission becomes a desperate fight for survival for both the Zero-X crew and their enemy…

When people as me why I love Mike Noble, I show them this!
When people as me why I love Mike Noble, I show them this!

“Mission to Saturn” develops the marriage of internal conflict and outside enemy for the Zero-X crew, and condenses it down into a snappier affair than “Return to the Red Planet”/”Prisoners of the Star”, but thanks to the lightning-speed pacing of TV21, looses none of its drive.

Much of the strip’s internal conflict is derived from the insane Trent hell-bent on letting his contraption take them into the depths of Saturn, which perhaps weaken’s the story’s impact. Character development was not the reason one regularly bought TV21 back in the day, and Zero-X is perhaps the prime example of this. Trent plays his clichéd role of crazed scientist one found in all manners of retro sci-fi entertainment down to a T.

It’s fortunate for us then that “Mission to Saturn” never lets up on the action. After tangoing with the sentient techmobile contraption, the Zero-X crew find themselves at the mercy of yet anther self-aware technology, one that’s evolved from a deceased alien race and driven by a mad desire for survival by any means necessary. The simple act of these aliens capturing both the Zero-X crew and ship becomes a platform for some fantastic retro-futuristic proto-Star Wars space battles TV21 was well known for.

The computer aliens who the Zero-X crew come up against in the finale bear a striking resemblance in their concept to the Mysterons,  (even though such a back-story wouldn’t come until later for the Mysterons) but that lack of originality doesn’t detract from “Mission to Saturn”‘s cautious message about human beings’ over-reliance of technology. Both Trent and the alien civilisation allow themselves to become one with technology, although its debatable how the Zero-X gang managed to figure how exactly the alien menace had transformed from neutral beings to corrupt computers.

TV21 #126
TV21 #126

The Captain Scarlet connection is strengthened by “Mission to Saturn”‘s grim finale, in which both Trent and the alien civilisation meet a deadly fate in an extreme form of out-of-control technology. They become encased in an icy tomb, as if nature reclaims them from their mechanical selves.

“Mission to Saturn” remains a taut, gruesome tale of technology’s ability to overpower its creator. The fact that you’re reading this review online shows that the strip’s message remains as true as ever! Combined with some spectacular action and artwork (was Mike Noble ever on bad form?), it all makes for a top class TV21 adventure.

Have you read “Mission to Saturn”? Did it make you turn away from your laptops or smartphones? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Mission to Saturn” in Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol. 4: Above and Beyond!

And many thanks to Thunderbirds Are Go writer Peter Briggs for making this episode of Operation Megaventures possible!

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