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Cult | News | 02 July 2004

Review: Jupiter Moon

Space frocks and strange phenomena out on DVD.

It's New Year's Eve, 2049, and whilst the students of the University of Space spaceship Ilea party, first-officer Finbow Lewis sees something very strange on the ship's deep-space scanners. Something outside the Solar System is heading towards the ship at a frightening speed...

Jupiter Moon, created by ex Crossroads and Boon producer William Smethurst, is the new favourite thing in the Cult DVD player. It's Eastenders with asteroids and space frocks (mostly black ra-ra skirts, velvet disco dresses and spangly tops).

Designed as a soap opera for fledgling satellite channel BSB back in 1990, the show had budget of over £6 million. This seems to have translated into spaceships built from slightly more upmarket washing up liquid bottles than usual, and gold-plated sticky-backed plastic. The strange phenomena mentioned above appears to be some silver paint bubbling away in a bucket, but still manages to somehow look cool and menacing.

That's the odd thing about Jupiter Moon – it's meant to be a soap with all the usual dull relationship crises, but frequently raises its game to become genuinely thrilling sci fi and fantasy drama. New girl Victoria goes round the twist with space confinement syndrome, shuttles crash upon docking, and mystery illnesses threaten to engulf Ilea – resulting in a daft episode where everyone fails to act whilst wearing silly surgical masks to avoid spreading germs.

The mainly unknown - and mostly never to be seen again - cast is peppered with some great future talent. Lucy Benjamin, fresh from Press Gang and light years away from Eastenders, plays Fiona McBride, constantly chasing after her annoying younger brother Timmy. Token brat Timmy spends most of his time hacking the most secure system on the internet so that he can steal chocolate bars from the Ilea's vending machines undetected. Space crime seems pretty tame in the future.

Joining Benjamin is Anna Chancellor, later to find fame with Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. Looking as though she's breaking in Catherine Zeta Jones' hair from Chicago, Chancellor plays Mercedes Page - Joan Collins with thrusters, and something of a man-eater.

The series is being released on double DVDs at the rate of 11 episodes every two months. The initial sets include extensive interviews with the show's creators and science consultants, and episode trivia that would make even a Doctor Who fan raise an eyebrow at its thoroughness.

The Ilea was apparently named after the Inner London Education Authority, by the way, as Smethurst correctly predicted that Ken Livingston would rise from the political ashes and perhaps go on to name spacecraft after things close to his heart. It's lucky the ship wasn't called USS Congestion Charge, then.

Jupiter Moon is fun, arch, scary and a joy to watch. Just bear in mind that simply loads of episodes were made before BSB merged with Sky and the show was quietly dropped from the schedules. Buying the complete set could turn into a major expense over the next couple of years.

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