Whatever the truth of the final weeks of The Phantom Fleet, Frank Hampson had used the time well to plan the next phase of Dan Dare’s adventures. In keeping with the broad, sweeping themes of the Man from Nowhere trilogy, Hampson planned an extensive sequence, a series of adventures across a strange planetary system, as Dan pursued an important psychological goal. It was going to be glorious, majestic even. It never happened.
As a prelude to this cycle, Hampson devised Safari in Space. At eighteen weeks in length, it was second only to The Ship That Lived in its brevity, but whereas the latter was a coda-within-a-coda, Safari‘s position as a scene-setter, a gateway to greater things, made its modest length entirely appropriate.
For nobody was to know that it was to be the last full Dan Dare story that Frank Hampson would devise and draw. But that’s not for now.
It’s noticeable that, after a period spent trying to escape from the daily grind of drawing into a directorial role, Hampson had returned in full force. If Rogue Planet had demonstrated the mature Hampson at his peak, then Safari in Space would surpass that work for images that were some of the most glowing, enthralling, highly-detailed and plain superb of his career.
Indeed, the opening page would turn out to be Frank Hampson’s favourite among all the Dan Dare pages he drew, as he later admitted. And it’s a worthy favourite, a single, full-page scene, simultaneously cinematic and near three-dimensional, and featuring some of the most vibrant and astounding colouring the series ever enjoyed,
Dan and Digby are on leave, which they’ve chosen to spend in the Venusian southern hemisphere, on the unexplored island of Maraku. Unsurprisingly, they’ve once again included Flamer Spry in their expedition, although there is no sign of Stripey (nor will there be again, nor any regret from Digby for the loss of his pet). Whilst Digby sets out to cook, Dan and Flamer are led by their Atlantean guides to the Black Lake, where Flamer arouses a stereotypical sea-serpent by throwing a stone. But whilst this is going on, Digby is shot in the back at camp by an electro-stunner. His assailant takes off in Anastasia.
This is just the start. When Dan and Flamer return to camp, they are swept up in a flying net and taken prisoner. Nor does it end there for, in the northern hemisphere, a slightly unlikely trio are on leave in Mekonta, these being Sir Hubert Guest, Lex O’Malley and, in a rather fetching yellow one-piece bathing costume, Professor Jocelyn Peabody (Peabody and O’Malley? Hmmm).
Peabody sees the mysterious ship surface in the Mekontan lagoon, but her sighting is dismissed with casual misogyny by her two male co-vacationers, as typical female hysteria brought on by the Venusian sun. However, once they think to turn their heads, on hearing Peabody scream at being dragged into the water, they both leap gallantly, but ineffectually to the rescue.
The spaceship leaves Mekonta for space, bound for an unknown base, with its five prisoners. Dan has a pocket-tracker that indicates they are bound for the Asteroid Belt, but there is no major space-port there. (This in a Universe post-the Treen Holocaust on Reign of the Robots). Their only clue is that their kidnappers speak in, of all things, a Scottish accent. This seems to give the game away to Sir Hubert, though he doesn’t share his suspicions with anyone else, least of all the readers.
Explanations are given once the mysterious ship lands at a magnificently equipped base in the Belt (complete with cows to provide fresh milk). Digby, and Anastasia, are already there, as are correct uniforms, and some decent threads for the Professor. And it’s all so impeccably, implacably Scottish, even down to the fact that the kidnappers only refer to Dan – who is half-Scottish himself on his mother’s side – as ‘McGregor Dare’.
Sir Hubert’s suspicions are proved correct when the sextet are brought before the Chieftain, Galileo McHoo, Laird of Clan McHoo, who own and operate Cosmic Shipping, Earth’s largest and most successful commercial spaceflight providers. Galileo is nephew to Copernicus McHoo, Cosmic’s founder, and son to Halley McHoo, a brilliant scientist whose work was scorned on Earth, hence the construction of this base where he could pursue his theories.
Dan and Co are here because of events thirty years earlier. Copernicus had discovered a distant planet whose temperature and atmosphere were so close in composition to Earth that he had named it Terra Nova. And Halley had developed an incredible space hyperdrive that could cross the distance to the new planet.
Between them, with Cosmic’s resources, the McHoo brothers had designed and built the Galactic Pioneer, and Copernicus, accompanied by his best friend, and Cosmic’s test pilot, had taken off for Terra Nova. But something went tragically wrong on take-off: there was an explosion that destroyed New Caledonia, killing Halley McHoo. But a final radio message confirmed that the Pioneer had lifted off safely, and begun its voyage
Galileo McHoo has spent the past thirty years rebuilding Cosmic, New Caledonia and, finally the Galactic Galleon, a sister ship complete with his own improvements, now ready to take-off for Terra Nova, to discover the fate of Copernicus McHoo and his co-pilot – who may still be alive.
And the McHoos have kidnapped Daniel McGregor Dare, Sir Hubert Guest, Albert Fitzwilliam Digby and Professor Jocelyn Mabel Peabody, a team of space explorers without equal, to go on this flight. (O’Malley and Spry are mere unwanted obstructions, though O’Malley’s reaction is priceless, telling McHoo that he’ll never get anywhere without at least one Irishman on board!)
The team’s reaction is mixed. Sir Hubert is sceptical, Digby his usual reluctant self, Peabody, O’Malley and Spry are all intrigued and enthused. But it is to Dan that everyone looks, and for Dan there is simply no question. Thirty years ago, he was told that his father, Captain William ‘Mad Billy’ Dare, had died in a test flight. Now he has learned otherwise. For Cosmic’s test pilot, and Copernicus’s best friend and co-pilot was Mad Billy Dare.
Dan’s father is out there, somewhere, and maybe he’s still alive. There isn’t an atom of Dan Dare’s body that can not want to go.
Everyone, including Sir Hubert, agrees to join the expedition, though the Controller is merely biding his time, a time that doesn’t need biding for long as a Spacefleet Squadron is hot on their trail and in pretty short order surrounds the base. The plot appears to have been nipped in the bud, but Sir Hubert hasn’t reckoned with the fanaticism of Galileo McHoo, who is prepared to detonate an explosion that will wipe out everyone – the entire base and Sir Hubert’s men in their pursuing ships – if they do not immediately agree to join him on board the Galactic Galleon. Given the circumstances, the sailor and the boy will have to go too (as if there was ever any real risk of their being left behind).
This leads directly to a page of such stunning detail and colour that I have no hesitation in declaring it my favourite Hampson page ever. It’s a single image of the Galactic Galleon in its launch chamber, with Flamer and Digby to the foreground, and if I could ever afford even one page of Dan Dare original art, this would be it.
So everyone, including McHoo, boards. The Galleon rises slowly on launch jets until it exits the dome. And then it blows free, a spaceship bigger and bulkier than any seen before, dwarfing the Spacefleet squadron and barrelling through them and away. And that’s before the Halley drive is employed, and the ship just runs away from all pursuit and all surveillance.
En route to Terra Nova. En route to, perhaps, Dan’s reunion with his long lost father. En route to the greatest Dan Dare story of all time.