SPACE COMMAND: Canada’s First TV Drama

In the far reaches of outer space, a starship rockets through distant solar systems in the search for scientific knowledge and perhaps the discovery of extraterrestrials. Aboard is legendary Canadian actor James Doohan, but he’s not portraying engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott of the USS Enterprise, but Lt. Phil Mitchell of exploratory space vessel XSW1.

For you see, long before Doohan would become world famous as part of the crew of Star Trek and several time zones away from the Desilu studios, he embarked on a considerably smaller scale mission to the cosmos as part of Space Command, the first original scripted drama series to be produced for Canadian Television. 

Doohan’s Mitchell was joined by fellow crewmen Lt. Frank Anderson (Robert Barclay) and Captain Steve Cassell (Harry Geldard) as they explored distant star systems in their XSW1 spacecraft, monitored closely from the titular space command earth base by Dr. Joseph Edmunds (Andrew Anthony) and his assistant Ilene Morris (Aileen Taylor). Episodes were concerned with charting new solar systems, scientific/medical discoveries, and the search for extraterrestrial life.

In the decidedly atomic age when this series was produced, science fiction was all the rage, especially on the relatively new medium of television. Everyone in the family from tiny tots to great grandparents could be treated to the thrilling space adventures of Captain Video, Space Cadet Tom Corbett, Space Ranger Rocky Jones, Rocket Ranger Rod Brown, Captain Z-Ro, and even Flash Gordon, straight from the comics. Space Command itself was written (and presumably created) by Alf Harris who, having come up in radio, would go on to write reams of television scripts, some Canadian (The Starlost, Adderley) and some American (Barnaby Jones, Dragnet).

The series aired on CBC from March 13, 1953-May 29, 1954. There is some dispute on the amount of episodes produced with some estimates as high as 150 half-hour adventures! This may seem like a lot, but given that the show was broadcast live from a small Toronto studio with limited sets, there may well have been more than one episode aired per week, akin to a typical soap opera.

If you want to actually view these episodes however, you’re mostly out of luck. Like many of its brethren, the show was poorly preserved. Kinescopes (copies of live broadcasts made by literally filming the tv screen as videotape wasn’t yet available) were made for other time zones. But upon being returned to CBC HQ after broadcast, these were likely junked as no future use was foreseen at the time. TV was so new that no one was thinking of reruns, much less home video or streaming.

In any case, only one episode from November 1953 remains which I screened in preparation for this article. The sets are a tad shoddy (the captain needs to kick some stairs back into place when they accidentally shift mid-scene), the special effects are Ed Wood-approved, and the action can be a tad plodding at times. This being said, the show is blessed with a dynamite cast who take the material dead seriously and the episode is all the better for it.

Like many Canadian TV shows to follow, Space Command is nearly non-existent in the Canadian cultural canon having long since faded (or in the case of those kinescopes, disintegrated) from the national consciousness. Attempts to track down further episodes have turned up nothing (check those old VHS tapes in your basement), but we can be thankful that we still have this one episode left. It’s a reminder that the half-hour drama is really a lost art and sometimes the simplest entertainment for the whole family can be the best kind. Something to keep in mind in this dawning Bill C-11 era of enforced (but not necessarily better) Canadian content.

The sole-surviving episode of Space Command can be viewed on YouTube HERE

One thought on “SPACE COMMAND: Canada’s First TV Drama

  1. I covered Space Command in my book: The Golden Age of Telefantasy. There were only 33 episodes of the show, a number I obtained by going through both CBC Times and TV Guide listings. Was able to find no information on individual episodes.
    The one episode known to exist was run on Drive In Classics frequently as a half hour filler during the late 90s.

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