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Sampo & Erhardt

Sci-Fi Archives

Visit our archives of the MST3K pages previously hosted by the Sci-Fi Channel's SCIFI.COM.

Goodbye Sci-Fi

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett reflect on MST3K's final broadcast.

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Episode guide: 201- Rocketship X-M

Movie: (1950) A rocket ship expedition to the Moon is accidentally diverted to Mars, where the crew finds the ruins of a long-dead civilization.

First shown: 9/22/90
Opening: The SOL has a new look; Joel is working on Tom and Crow has a toothache
Invention exchange: Tom gets a new voice and when Joel calls to the Mads they meet new trainee Frank; Joel shows off the BGC-19; Frank somehow has the same idea and is punished
Host segment 1: J&tB salute to the reporters of “Rocketship X-M”
Host segment 2: Joel gives a zero-gravity humor lesson
Host segment 3: J&tB are daydreaming when Valaria from “Robot Holocaust” visits on the Hexfield
End: J&tB disapprove of the movie, Joel reads a letter, Frank learns to push the button
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (124 votes, average: 4.25 out of 5)


• And so, with the words “TURN DOWN YOUR LIGHTS (Where applicable)” the modern era of MST3K begins. This is not on DVD, but it’s one of those “transition” episodes, so it should be (though I hear the rights issues are a nightmare). It’s a quantum leap forward from season one, with an incredibly riffable movie, strong riffing all the way through and great host segments. A real winner and a series milestone.
• The stretch between the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2 was 231 days, the third-longest amount of time MSTies had to wait between episodes.
• New things: The SOL set, the Deep 13 set, Frank, Tom’s voice (Kevin), Jerry and Sylvia, Joel’s jumpsuit (it’s teal), a more-or-less final version of Tom Servo with several tweaks on the design, Alex Carr taking over as Magic Voice from Jann Johnson (except for Kevin filling in during segment 2) and the theme song has new visuals.
• Some connect this season to the show’s move from The Comedy Channel to Comedy Central, but that’s not really accurate. For the record, during the first run of season two, the show was still on The Comedy Channel. The Comedy Channel didn’t merge with Ha! until April 1, 1991. (It was known for a couple of months as CTV: The Comedy Network but there was apparently a legal dispute over that name and they had to change it.) On June 1, 1991, it became Comedy Central. That was the same day season three began. These season two episodes reran many times on Comedy Central, but I just wanted to note that when they debuted they were still on The Comedy Channel.
• Frank is terrific right off the bat and he brings a very different kind of energy.
• Dr. Erhardt is declared “missing”; as proof, Frank holds up a milk carton with his face on it. Younger folks may not understand that: back in the late ’80s, milk cartons sometimes bore the faces of “missing” kids in hopes somebody would recognize them.
• Kevin takes over as the voice of Tom Servo–but for this and several episodes, he seems to be trying to sound a bit like Josh. It would be mid-season before he would truly relax and give Tom the voice we know for the next nine seasons.
• A look at the credits confirms the swift rise to power and authority of one Michael J. Nelson–hired less than a year ago “to do some typing” he has now gained Joel’s and Jim’s trust to such an extent that he has been named Head Writer.
• Tom’s neck has extended before (during the “rock ’em sock ’em robots” bit, for one instance) but it now extends much further in the opening and invention exchange segments.
• The set is, of course, a massive re-think, its formerly blank walls are now plastered with every weird piece of junk you can imagine. Also new is the hexfield viewscreen and that floor-level hatch, supposedly Joel’s entrance to the “spiral on down” which leads to the theater (although it was later put to other uses).
• The new counter at which J&tB stand is there at one moment, then miraculously vanishes a moment later when Joel demonstrates the BGC19. Then it’s back again right before movie sign.
• The mole people are not yet working the camera in Deep 13. Dr. F. is controlling it via a button on the techtronic panel.
• Dr. F sounds a lot like Crow when he yells “What? NO!”
• Joel has movie sign alone and arrives in the theater with Tom and Crow already there waiting for him.
• Movie trivia: “Rocketship X-M” is considered by some to be a ground-breaking sci-fi movie, because it was the first American film to depict space travel seriously for an adult audience. It was made very quickly to beat George Pal’s “Destination Moon” to the theaters, yet some consider it the better of the two. Its unhappy ending was very unusual for its time (or today for that matter). The exterior Martian scenes were filmed in Death Valley, Calif.
• J&tB supply the lyrics to the “Rocketship XM” theme. It will not be the last time we get new lyrics to an insipid theme.
• “Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?” is a lyric by the great Tom Lehrer. (Look him up, kids.)
• Tom seems to go out of his way to say “Mike Nelson of ‘Sea Hunt’ fame.” What other Mike Nelsons are there?
• The first host segment is wordy–almost overwritten compared to what we’re used to–but very funny. It’s a vast departure from the sort of segments we were getting at the end of season 1. But why is Joel reading the movie still’s time code at the end of each of his lines?
• The second host segment is a true classic–one of the cleverest of the entire series–and it gives the viewer a small primer of the MST3K sensibility and worldview. From “The Flying Nun” to Gallagher, we get a sense of what the Brains think is funny and not funny. The only technical problem with the bit is that we never get a clear look at the floating wrench–Tom’s bubble is in the way.
• Movie observation: I love the moment when the two scientists have work out the problem out with pencils—a process that one says will take hours. Ah, the days before calculators.
• Callback: “Spacom!” (Project Moonbase). “Dames like this always got beer around” (The Crawling Hand).
• In segment 3 we get the series’ first hexfield viewscreen visitor (Mike Nelson, in his first on-camera appearance) doing an impression of evil vixen Valaria from “Robot Holocaust.” Folks who had not seen that episode must have been pretty baffled.
• The hexfield viewscreen is obviously still a work in progress: its opening appears to be a window shade, and then Mike just switches off a light at the end–but we can still see him!
• Then-current catchphrase: Hello, Federal!
• Stinger suggestion: “MAHS! Extending us a velcome!”
• Cast and crew roundup: This is our first exposure to the work of Robert L. Lippert, who also was the executive producer for “Jungle Goddess,” “Lost Continent,” “King Dinosaur,” “Radar Secret Service” and “Last of the Wild Horses.” Writer Orville Hampton also worked on “Lost Continent.” Cinematographer Karl Struss also worked on “The Rebel Set.” Editor Harry Gerstad also worked on “The Magic Sword.” Special effects guy Jack Rabin also worked on “Robot Monster,” “Viking Women and the Sea Serpent” and “Invasion USA.” Special effects guy/matte painter Irving A. Block also worked on “Viking Women.” Makeup guy Don Cash also worked on “The Crawling Hand.” Production designer/art director Theobold Holsopple also worked on “The Indestructible Man” and the short “Once Upon A Honeymoon.” Production manager Betty Sinclair also worked on “The Unearthly.” Set designer Clarence Steensen also worked on “The Leech Woman.” And, of course, this is our first exposure to musical score composer, Albert Glasser, who worked on 11 MSTed movies. In front of the camera, Judd Holdren, who plays one of the reporters, can also be seen in “The Amazing Colossal Man and “Manhunt in Space.”
• CreditsWatch: This is a big one. Mole person Jerry was played by intern Brent Peterson; mole person Sylvia was played by BBI staffer Alex Carr. “Head writer: Michael J. Nelson” appears for the first time. Josh is, of course, gone from the writers list and Frank is added. The credit for “Joel Hodgson’s Puppet Bots” is gone. Host segments “produced” by Jim Mallon. (For the rest of the season it would say “directed” by.) Trace is listed as “Special guest ‘villian’ (misspelled)” and it says “Introducing” Frank Conniff. Of course, the Dr. Erhardt credit is gone and Tom Servo’s has changed. “Toolmaster: Jef Maynard” appears for the first time. Production assistant is now Jann L. Johnson alone (gone are Steve Rosenberer and Sara J. Sandborn). “Special Effects and Other Fancy Stuff: Trace Beaulieu” appears for the first time, as does “Additional Visual Effects: Industrial Plumbing and Heating.” “Editor: Tim Paulson” appears for the first time. Under “Lighting,” Ken Fournelle has been added. “Audio: John Calder” appears for the first time. Make-up: Faye Burkholder. Interns: Nathan Molstead, Tamra Lewis, Amy Kane, James Smith, Michelle Molhan and Robert Czech. “Video Services: Fournelle Video Production Services” appears for the first time. Special thanks: removed from the list are “KTMA TV23,” David Cambell and Rick Leed and “Skyline Displays Inc.” has been added. “Shot entirely on location at Best Brains Studios, Minneapolis,” “Filmed in Shadowrama” and “Keep circulating the tapes” appear for the first time.
• Fave riff: “I thought ‘wormfood’ was a bit strong, Lloyd.” Honorable mention: “There’s a Mr. ‘Oh My God My Hair Is On Fire’ on line one, sir.”

112 Replies to “Episode guide: 201- Rocketship X-M”

  1. JCC says:

    Ragging on Frank now! Wow! I guarantee before the year is over EricJ takes a shot at Trace and in 2016 he turns on Joel as well. He’ll then turn in his Info Club membership card and only watch Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher repeats. :-(


  2. Cornjob says:

    Back in the days of Night of the Blood Beast NASA was just two buildings and a beat up pick-up you could sell corn out of after launching a rocket. By the time of Space Travelers it had gotten all stuffy and formal and full of stock footage from the 70’s that eventually got turned into bumpers for MTV.


  3. thequietman says:

    Ah yes, the days when NASA was family owned ‘n operated…


  4. Dish of Ice Cream says:

    I’m going to try to watch the episodes in order along with the episode guide. I think I’ve seen maybe 3/4 of the episodes before. I’m giving myself a project! I’m going back to season 1 and watching those too.

    I liked the wordy segment 1 about the reporters! Funny and timely even now with leaks and whistleblowers and so forth.

    The movie is watchable and the riffing is great. I love clueless, smarmy scientists in black and white movies.


  5. goalieboy82 says:

    Tom Lehrer song:


  6. goalieboy82 says:

    also watch the episode today on youtube.


  7. Dan in WI:
    …It’s been theorized that Kevin was making some attempt early on to imitate Josh’s voice. Me, I just think he sounds like he’s speaking in a trashcan or some other echo chamber. Even by the time they step into the theater Kevin sounds a bit more like him self.

    Actually, I think you’ve pretty much got it right. Of course, I forget now where I read it, but I’ve read that when Murphy took over as Servo, he was initially trying to imitate Weinstein’s “Mighty Voice” which he used for Servo. By the end of the season, though, Murphy had pretty much settled into his own voice.

    Of course, Season 2 is also interesting to me as it was the point where Beaulieu’s Crow voice begins transitioning from nasal and childish to something more flexible and expressive; we also get to hear some of Beaulieu’s vocal impersonations and his famous old-timey avuncular announcer voice.


  8. Rocketship XM was one of those movies I first saw on the old Count Gore DeVol “Creature Feature” on DC local UHF channel 20, as a young teenager in the early ’70s. I think one of the reasons I got so hardcore into MST3K so early was that in the early seasons, they featured so many of those good old stinkers from the ’50s and early ’60s that I first saw on the Count Gore Show.

    The original version of Rocketship XM is available for download from the public-domain archive at It’s a copy of an original tinted print, in which the Mars scenes are monochrome tinted in a kind of deep brownish red, a common gimmick in Lippert movies, like Lost Continent (green tint in the jungle on the mountain), and Last Of The Wild Horses (rustic sepiatone tinting throughout). It’s too bad MST3K couldn’t get a copy of a print from the original run of Rocketship XM; the earthy red tinting in the Mars scenes actually looks really cool — though, of course, it doesn’t make the movie suck any less.


  9. Lex says:

    I found this one on a tape some years ago. The VHS Tape Literally had a piece missing from it, but it still worked fine. It also had Lost Continent and a whole bunch of other stuff. Part of Cheers episode. Part of an episode of Headbangers Ball with Ozzy Osbourne and his little son Jack (who must of been about six years old), who sat there and didn’t say a word. Pauly Shore’s Totally Buff MTV special-A timeless classic. At the very end of the tape is the last 30 minutes or so of Saturday Night Live with Susan Day hosting with C + C Music Factory as the musical guest. Wish I hadn’t taped over that, you can’t get copies of that show in that era. Then a news cast with stories about the Mike Tyson Trial and some local stuff including the destruction of a building near Washington State University. A real time capsule and shows how television and the world has changed in the era since the Early MST3K days.

    This episode really shows how the show just became its potential.

    “What your dream?”

    “Where do you want to be in 2 years… I mean 2 minutes.”

    “We’ve scraped off the runway, sir.”

    “Somebody stole my woody. What a crappy day.”

    “They got rocks like that in Texas?”

    “Honey, where did you put the extra fuel?”

    “A woozle, his name is Peanut.”

    “…and a good friend.”

    “Help me, Mr. Wizard. I don’t want to be an Astronaut anymore!”

    “Boy, this Simpsons stuff is every where.”


  10. touches no one's life, then leaves says:

    I’m not sure anything tops the casualness in “The Doomsday Machine” (riffed by Cinematic Titanic), when a reporter asks about the reason for the space mission on THE DAY OF the space mission. Seems like someone would have raised that point earlier…


  11. PALADIN says:

    This one will always have a special meaning for me…It was the first MST that I watched with my Mom. She was fighting Cancer..and losing. The family took shifts hanging with her at home, and one of mine was Saturdays. During one such Saturday, I wanted to watch MST, but Mom had the call as to what was on the tv, of course…She told me to put on whatever I wanted, saying that she would probably just fall asleep ( she was very weak). I turned on MST and gave her a run-down on the concept during the first couple of minutes…Then “Rocketship X-M” came on…
    and SHE LOVED IT ! She was laughing non-stop for the entire show !! ( and I`ll tell you that laughter for her, was not easy to manage in those days)

    She was never a sci-fi or fantasy fan…her tastes ran to torrid Jackie Collins pot-boilers and ‘serious’ dramas…But she LOVED MST !
    Saturday MST became ‘our thing’ during the last year of her life. It gave us something to bond over and enjoy before she passed away.
    I`ll never forget that, and “Rocketship X-M” was the MST ep that made it happen.

    Classic episode…The stuff that memories are made of.


  12. pondoscp says:

    Dirk Squarejaw. First uttered here. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay before the clearly inferior Space Mutiny (bleh)


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