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Interster

Interster was a two-season science-fiction puppet television show made for children and shown in South Africa from the early 1982-1986 (37 episodes). It has often been compared to Thunderbirds. The entire series was produced in Afrikaans.

Unlike Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons or Fireball XL5, there was no unified government  – South Africa alone possessed interstellar flight, and alone was in contact with the first aliens to visit earth, who supposedly hailed from Alpha Centauri, the star closest to Earth.

Based around an undercover planetary defence agency operating from Cape Town under the guise of an interstellar shipping company, the show mirrored the real world political issues of international isolation facing Apartheid South Africa with the Earth being depicted as a galactic pariah of the “Interplanetary League” due to its cold war with the planet “Krokon”. The villain in the series was Prince Karnati or one of his evil henchmen.

The plot contained some content of interest to South African adults who could see the political connotations to some of the themes like political isolation and attack from outsiders as well as some characters. One character (a villain) bore a remarkable resemblance to the then South African President PW Botha.

In the stories, the protagonists were concerned only with the defense of South Africa – the rest of the world was more of an abstraction. Interaction with the Centauri’s was the primary interaction with South Africa. A number of fascinating concepts were explored – relative to humans, the Centauris are only the size of dolls, and their ships and technology are scaled to match. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the puppeteers are not just the human puppets, but the Centauris – for they were as intricate, but barely 10 cm high as compared with the 32 cm human puppets for simultaneous shots.

The spaceships used in the show were called Impalas after the South African Air Force aircraft, the locally assembled Italian Aermacchi MB-326. There was a pragmatic reason for calling the aircraft Impalas – the basis of the models were 1/48 scale plastic model kits of the AM326, so that they would be recognisable to South African youth.

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