Captain Scarlet 1.21 – Place of Angels

The last installment, Daniel told us, was the worst of the series, but this one, in his book, was “the greatest episode ever!” It’s about a worldwide manhunt for a Mysteron agent who has stolen a dangerous biological agent that could kill ten million people. You’d think the world authorities would put a kibosh on this kind of research while the world’s at war.

I really liked the attention to detail in this one. The lab, located outside Manchester, is full of computers and glass vials and those little spiral things to pour colored liquid down, and a separate safe room to manipulate chemicals and test tubes with clamps. The Boulder dam set is onscreen for less than a minute in several establishing shots, but it looks fantastic. The team put a lot of work into this one, and it shows.

Captain Scarlet 1.20 – Special Assignment

If you’re over the age of four, it’s pretty obvious that Captain Scarlet is undercover, pretending to go bad, racking up gambling losses, and drinking heavily. It’s especially obvious when, in the scene right before we see Scarlet losing at an Arizona roulette table, Colonel White flat out tells him “I have a special assignment for you.”

If you’re four, however, this is half an hour of bad things happening to the hero, and the revelation that all was planned doesn’t assuage the feelings of frustration and worry. “That was the terriblest episode ever,” said Daniel, and he said no more.

Captain Scarlet 1.19 – Dangerous Rendezvous

Shucks! What a missed opportunity this one is. Daniel really enjoyed it, especially the exciting finale, in which Captain Scarlet has to drive like a maniac across the barren, isolated tundra of Greenland to get a message to Cloudbase that there’s a Mysteron bomb on board, but I was left a little unsatisfied because we came so close to a good confrontation between Scarlet and Black, and didn’t get it.

For some reason, the baddie’s on the other side of a wall to set a tape player going. The Mysteron powers never really make sense, but it doesn’t seem like Black has any reason to be there. So it was a small letdown, but the episode does have some good character moments, and continuity – it follows up the moonbase incident from episode 16 – and Captain Ochre gets to save the day, which is nice. There’s also an astonishing turnaround in reusing puppets from earlier stories. One of the models from the previous episode is retrofitted to make a brief appearance as Dr. Kurnitz’s secretary. It’s only been a few days, guys. We noticed.

Captain Scarlet 1.18 – Model Spy

Ah, the sixties. I mean, the twenty-sixties, when this show’s supposed to take place. Everything old is new again, huh?

Daniel was really baffled by this episode, and we chose to pause it halfway through and recap it. We hadn’t considered that Daniel has no idea what a model or a fashion house is, and so this story, in which a fashion designer is actually a spy working under deep cover and is targeted for assassination, would be a bit over his head. So Scarlet, Blue, Destiny, and Symphony all go undercover to protect the designer/spy. Daniel still found this more complicated than what he is used to, and most enjoyed Captain Black using his weird teleportation power to transport himself, another Mysteron duplicate, and a car away. Strangely, this power does not seem to work if an Earthman is in the car with them.

Speaking of powers, I remembered the other day that, early in the series, Captain Scarlet would become queasy and ill whenever Mysterons were around. They dropped this quite soon into the show, choosing instead to have Mysteron detector gadgets. Then the writers had to engineer ways to disable the gadgets or blow them up or wait for the Angels to bring them to Monte Carlo.

I mentioned to Marie afterward that this sort of spy adventure could be easily stripped of the science fiction trappings and done as a conventional ITC action show. Gerry Anderson seemed to have a desire to either make these, or at least just prove to Lew Grade at ITC that he could. We’d seen a couple of disaster-free spy episodes of Thunderbirds. “The Duchess Assignment” and “The Man from MI-5” could have easily been reworked into a contemporary drama, as could this. They’re all dry runs, in their own way, for Anderson’s later work producing The Protectors in 1972-74. (If you’ve never seen The Protectors, the first episode is on YouTube. Patrick Troughton shows up seven minutes into it, which is certainly a selling point.)

Captain Scarlet 1.17 – The Trap

Hey, it’s the Robert Mitchum puppet again, shown here with Symphony Angel. He’s appeared on at least one other instance since we first saw him, too. It’s kind of cute the way they reused puppet heads on this show. The commodore in this episode was also in episode 13 in a different role. It’s almost like a little repertory company of actors coming in for different parts each week.

This is a really exciting episode, with a great finale. The Mysteron duplicate of the commodore has a great big machine gun on the battlements of a castle in remote Scotland, ready to shoot down a “magnacopter” full of important bigwigs as soon as it takes off. Captain Scarlet goes after the guy while wearing a jetpack. Daniel got really excited during this scene, with good reason. It’s huge fun.

My only complaint about this fun episode is that Colonel White showed off his lousy leadership skills again. The most important conference ever is going on, and he’s lost contact with Captain Scarlet and Symphony Angel, who are meant to be providing security, and he finally figures out that the Mysterons plan to murder all the delegates. So he sends everybody, right? He launches all four angels and all four captains on base, and starts moving Cloudbase to Scotland, yeah? No, he sends Captain Blue. Alone. Who has to pick up an SPV at the Auld Lang Syne factory first. No rush. This isn’t that important.

Captain Scarlet 1.16 – Lunarville 7

Unless I’m mistaken and there’s an episode of Fireball XL-5 set there, this may be Gerry Anderson’s first crack at setting a story around a base on the moon. When he finally got to make a live action series in 1970, UFO, he incorporated a moonbase, and that later led to the proposals which became Space: 1999.

This is almost a terrific episode, and certainly among the best from the series’ first half. The writer, Tony Barwick, seems to have run out of ideas how to end it, and the production team’s desire to blow everything up real good left him fumbling for a way to make the moonbase blow up, but getting there was very fun.

It’s just a really creepy installment, with the moonbase characters acting obviously suspicious, but no really good way for Captains Scarlet and Blue and Lt. Green to know what they’re up to. It’s the same sort of story that would be done better in an hour drama, with more time to develop it, because the slow, creepy, and deliberate pace doesn’t allow for a fast-moving plot. That’s probably why the foolish climax – the Mysteron duplicate of the lunar controller throws a tantrum and starts shooting his computer because it won’t listen to him – is such a disappointment. This was an episode that didn’t need to end with a big explosion for once.

Of course, having said that, I don’t know that anybody in the television business in the 1960s could make things blow up nearly as well as Anderson’s team. If we must end with fireworks, it’s nice to see them done so well!

Daniel was restless and initially not interested in watching, but he was captivated pretty quickly. Even though it is not a thrill ride episode, it’s so strange and mysterious that it caught his attention. For the most part, he sat still, curled up with Mommy, occasionally fibbing “I’m scared” when we could tell that he wasn’t. It’s always nice when he plays along and gets into the spirit of things.

Captain Scarlet 1.15 – The Launching

Daniel really, really got into this episode. When the Mysteron “eyes” make their way across the debris of a plane that just crashed into a mountain, he (over)reacted wonderfully. He growled “Grrrrrr! Those Mysterons!” and threw his security blanket on the ground.

This was kind of an average episode, but it’s notable for the first appearance of a new end credits tune. Apparently there was a manufactured pop band called The Spectrum making the rounds and releasing flop records like a cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” when somebody at Century 21 figured they could make some publicity together. So The Spectrum, a five-piece, dressed in the captains’ colorful costumes for some pin-up photos, and maybe appearances on the pop music TV shows singing their revised version of the Barry Gray original. Bizarrely, it doesn’t look like they actually released the recording as a single.

Even more bizarrely, the drummer for The Spectrum was a guy named Keith Forsey. I’m not sure which one he is in the photo above. He’d later go on to play and produce hits for Donna Summer and Billy Idol, and wrote the worldwide smash “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” for Simple Minds.

Captain Scarlet 1.14 – Fire at Rig 15

There are a couple of really surprising bits around Captain Black in this episode. First, there’s the revelation that he can kill people from a distance just by staring at them, and second, he glows, almost phosphorescent, when the lights are out. Unfortunately, he still doesn’t get a fistfight with any of the Spectrum agents in this episode. Gerry Anderson and his team really did seem to enjoy keeping the heroes and their main villain as far apart from each other as possible, it seems.

Speaking of Spectrum, Dr. Fawn has been seen a couple of times in a lab coat, but unless I wasn’t paying attention, this episode is the first time that we’ve seen him in uniform. It’s sort of an off-white, or ivory variant of the standard issue clothing… not that it matters a whole lot, since he’s only in a single scene, and Captains Scarlet and Blue get all the action again. Can you tell that I was a little bored and disappointed with this one?

Captain Scarlet 1.13 – The Heart of New York

First things first: I want to give a shout-out to a fun blog called The Issue at Hand, which also appreciates classic pop culture and adventure. Blogger Joe Torcivia’s main focus is on the IDW comic book adventures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, but he visits a few other subjects, including classic Batman, and I expect that many of you reading this would also enjoy his site, so please check it out!

But onto the latest Captain Scarlet, and it’s really odd. I don’t believe that Tony Barwick, who was the program’s script editor and wrote this episode, had any idea of the size of New York City. It’s not just that it’s surrounded by gentle, bucolic, woodland, that absolutely nobody lives within five miles of the city limits, or that there seems to be only one road into town. It’s that Spectrum undertakes a complete evacuation of the city almost immediately. Perhaps by the time this show was set, that big metropolis where the Yankees play has been renamed New New York. This is the “New York” about a hundred miles north of Helena, Montana, with a population of 272. That makes more sense than this.

While I was mainly pleased that Captain Magenta and Captain Ochre got some action, Daniel was pleased by a short car chase, as Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue try to catch Captain Black. In another example of the Mysterons’ bizarre powers, he turns a corner and his car fades away into nothingness, vanished “just like a ghost.” The series badly needs more direct confrontation between Black and the Spectrum agents, and I hope that another is coming (there has only been one so far, in episode six), but the story’s oddball charm elevates it above the humdrum plot.

Captain Scarlet 1.12 – Shadow of Fear

Wow, this episode is creepy. It’s set at a remote base in the Himalayas, where three scientists are trying a couple of plans to get some close-up shots of Mars. Since the Mysterons destroy every satellite that comes anywhere near their planet, they launched two at once, successfully faking them out by landing a small one on the moon Phobos. This will transmit pictures to Earth at those distant intervals where it, on Phobos, is in sight of the base on Earth.

So, yes, this does suffer from the Supermarionation problem of puppets sitting around, looking at countdown clocks, and asking each other to check some readout. But it gets increasingly fun since we know so little about the Mysterons and what their powers actually are. It turns out that the baddies know exactly what the Earthmen are up to, and have grisly fates for them. I hate to spoil what happens, because it’s so amazingly strange, but I don’t know that anybody in fiction dies in quite the same way as Dr. Breck.

Helped by its weird electronic music, the episode is the most sinister and strange to date, and I didn’t even mind that most of the other Spectrum characters make just minimal appearances in favor of the scientists. At one point, Captain Gray and Melody go out in a helicopter to hunt down Breck, but that’s pretty much it. Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue are present, but mostly powerless to prevent anything from happening.

Daniel was less engaged in the usual way, since there’s not much action or violence in this one, but the outer space stuff had him interested, which is even better. He asked me questions about retro rockets and the planet Mars, and also the Himalayas. I’m really happy to pause an episode and explain a little bit of science. I hope that I got it all right!

Captain Scarlet 1.11 – Avalanche

One of the many great things about Gerry Anderson’s shows is their globetrotting scope. This time, the setting is the “frost line” series of bases in what would appear to be northern Canada, although the outer space defense grid is commanded by another stereotyped American general, common to the Supermarionation programs, quick with the trigger and the temper. It was interesting to see that this military is pretty disrespectful of Spectrum, strongly suggesting that the agency doesn’t quite have the backing of everybody on Earth.

I look at the huge sets of mountains and snow, avalanches and wrecked vehicles and marvel at the production nightmare. Daniel’s mind is also blown, but by the fiction. The new settings and places keep him enthralled and guessing. “Whoa! Look at all that snow,” he started, and didn’t stop chattering for several minutes. He enjoyed this one more than I did, which is just fine by me.