Fireball XL5 Ep 23: Mystery of the TA2Rating out of 10:
8.3IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0807588/?ref_=ttep_ep23
Mystery of the TA2 is definitely a well built Fireball episode - it sets up its core mystery well, has some clear phases through the protagonists' journey, and manages to build the world and setting up a little as well in the process.
The basic plot all checks out and works well - the central mystery around the wreckage and tracing it, the empty TA2 getting searched which has a really nice slightly creepy Mary Celeste
feel, and then the segments on Arcturus all broadly make sense. The origins of the TA2 help us feel like the space patrol has some history behind it, and the odds and ends of thinking about things like earlier tech in the patrol as well as the specific mystery gives the vital impression of depth. The salvage mission also makes for some nice crew dynamics, with Matic's bumbling nature but longer memory contrasted with Venus' efficiency and desire to find out new things, and with Steve acting oddly like a sensible captain for once. Commander Zero's brief parts in the episode are good too. His bluster about "regulations" comes up regularly in Fireball, but we get another regular reminder at the end that this is nothing more than bluster and frustration (and probably worry for his crews) - he turns out to be as pragmatic and flexible in his underlying approach as ever.
On Arcturus, the "let us, three people, split up and search this whole planet for what's probably one corpse from about 50 years back that may be buried in a hundred feet of ice right now" is a bit odd, but then the "every planet is plot-sized" thing is quite consistent in Fireball (and I can't criticise too much since I've done the same thing myself in creating my adventure game LIFE). The ice trial is nice, it's a fairly original idea that I at least haven't seen played out elsewhere, and the "trial by natural phenomenon" category isn't otherwise used much in Fireball whilst being a good suspense generator. Denton himself fits the part well, with the shots and discussions establishing him effectively, and even giving him some interesting depth of motivation between perceived duty to the Arcturans and desire to return to earth. The scene where he watches Fireball fade into the distance is certainly one of the more poignant of the series, especially for a minor character.
It would be wrong to do this review and not mention the trope issue that seems fairly glaring to a modern analytical perspective, though was probably not much considered at the time - specifically, the infantilisation of a native people (Denton's description of them as "like children" is ambiguous by may imply this) and the "great foreign man turns up and is made king". The vaguely feathery headgear of the Arcturans even has a little reminiscence of something stereotypically "native", though the very medieval style of the castle/palace helps somewhat to break up the trope played straight. This trope is of course somewhat more forgivable when a literal new species is created for the purpose, but it's a bit hard not to feel like it's mirroring rather less pleasant portrayals in older adventure stories. The brief use of the trope might be its saving grace; whilst more exploration of the Denton/Arcturan dynamic (their fear of having "their" king "stolen" is interesting) might have been interesting to elucidate whether Denton's view of them is accurate, it might also have cemented some of the more awkward and clunky elements of the trope in place.
Whilst there are a few reservations from me about this episode, it's definitely a very good piece of work overall, and considerably above Fireball's average - an 8.3 score being the result.