From The Earth To The Moon

Channel 4, starts Sat 1 May, noon.

Science fact has always been viewed as less interesting for dramatic televisual purposes than science fiction. Unless, of course, you have believed every word Fox Mulder or Spock have ever muttered. The film world has at least tried to take a serious approach when it comes to putting life on Mars and beyond on screen.

Ron Happy Days Howard and Tom Forrest Gump Hanks are two of the men behind attempts to give us a new understanding of the space race and to convince us that you don't need flesh-eating alien vampires to make science watchable. Hanks starred in Howard’s Apollo 13 and they have joined up again as part of the team putting the last forty years' space programmes into perspective.

And luckily, they found that the US public were up for switching off The Simpsons for two seconds and being lost in a space opera based on real events. The public loved the recreation of the events since the Soviets beat the States in 1961 in getting a man - Yuri Gagarin to orbit the earth. Seventeen Emmy nominations eventually winged its way towards From The Earth To The Moon and its constellation of stars, including Chris Isaak, Peter Horton, Mark Harmon, Sally Field and Hanks himself.

And that success is probably just as well - the budget ran to $68m (some 55m more than the recent Lunar Prospector mission) and took a total of fourteen months from first filming to screening in the US (longer than it took NASA to get from the first Apollo blast-off to landing on the moon in July 1969).

So, is it any cop? Like all too many serious US dramas, there is, on occasion, a little too much sugar being sprinkled. The apparently bizarre weekend midday slot the twelve part series has been given is less bizarre when you view some of the Waltons-esque moments

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Louis Theroux's Weird

Space face: Chris Isaak in From The Earth To The Moon

herein. At times, you may even feel it appropriate to stand, salute and belt out Star Spangled Banner.

Even more surreal is the opening to each episode as Tom Hanks who acts, directs, produces, writes and brews the Joe during the series - walks on, gives a little speech and ends with the soon to be immortal words ’. . . and just so they could make the voyage . . . from the earth . . . to the moon.’ Watch this and try not to think of Rod Serling's quasi-catchphrase '. . . you've just entered the Twilight Zone.’

But, as you would expect from that budget, the production values are immense, there are at least two images per episode which stay in the mind and the all- star cast are given some pretty chunky dialogue and scenes to get their teeth into. Whether this all means that The X-Files and its ilk will step aside for stone cold fact, only time (and space) will tell. (Brian Donaldson)

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