The Great Unmade? Dan Dare

dan dare space fleet

Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future, has seemingly had more revamps than the line up of The Sugababes. But did you know that the erstwhile Eagle comic strip nearly made it to the small screen in a live action spectacular show in 1981? An ATV production under the auspices of legend Lew Grade would have seen actor James Fox play Britain’s  stiff-upper lipped Space Fleet answer to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

My interest was first piqued in a couple of updates through the pages of 2000 AD,  where a reimagined Dare had been having comic strip adventures for some time (at one point he was expected to be the main selling point of Tharg’s future thrills comic, but a certain Dirty Harry-esque Judge lawman soon saw him off). The show looked very exciting because 2000AD regulars Brendan McCarthy, Brett Ewins and Brian Bolland were heavily involved in the concept art.

dan dare press kit page2

As stated, James Fox was to play Dare;  a good fit for the time. Ex- Likely Lad Rodney Bewes was to play his faithful batman and comic stooge, Digby – more excellent casting. Phil Redmond, creator of Grange Hill, was to script the show. Very few props and set dressings would be needed as the actors would be superimposed onto a painted background in a process called Chromakey – I believe a similar process was used (probably more cheaply and slap-dash) in a short lived kid’s space adventure show called Captain Zep: Space Detective. A live action test was filmed of James Fox in Dare’s iconic spacesuit entering an air lock in simulated zero-G.  Along with Albert Finney’s screen test for Lawrence of Arabia locked away in the BFIthis is Holy Grail stuff for me.

The look of the show was to be faithful to creator Frank Hampson’s original 1950’s meticulously researched and drawn strip. The initial story outline would draw heavily from Dare’s first published adventure, and feature big brained alien menace The Mekon, his Treen army, and alien tribal warriors The Atlanteans (who, because Chromakey’s keying colour was blue, were to be another skin colour from their original).

The press kit stated there would be at least two series and feature film:

“Combining the best of the new technology in video effects and computer graphics, with the flair of comic book story telling techniques we will create a new “look” for TV: live actors, fully integrated into weird and exotic graphic landscapes, unusual camera angles, vivid colours, split screen techniques and many more: Space cruisers will glide through space, armies of Treens will march on  the Therons, and the space ways will be full of strange alien machines.

We will deal visually with the TV screen in the same way we would a comic panel; in terms of action, composition, lighting effects and camera angles.

Ladies and Gentlemen…The world’s first electronic comic.”

dan dare press kit page3

Sounds like fantastic fun, right? Model maker Martin Bower, who worked on Space 1999, Alien, Outland and Flash Gordon, created astonishly faithful and lovingly recreated spaceships that lept to life from the pages of the original strip, including Dare’s personal spaceship, The Anastasia.

dan dare anastasia

A toy line was not only mooted, a small number were believed to have been produced by Corgi, but never distributed.

So what happened with the show? Well, Elstree Studios, where it was to film, was undergoing radical restructuring in cash-strapped times. ATV also ceased broadcasting on 1 January 1982, and the expensive and risky show was binned. Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future, was adrift in dead space.

It remains to be seen if he will ever return to live-action – a Sam Worthington led project has been in the rumoured pipeline for some time now. As Dan Dare fan Rodney from Only Fools And Horses might sarcastically mutter, “Cosmic!”

For more information and gorgeous concept art and background paintings, see here.

Originally posted 2013-07-17 15:45:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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