Category Archives: secret service

The Secret Service 1.5 – Last Train to Bufflers Halt

How interesting! This is the only episode of The Secret Service that I had seen prior to obtaining this set, and I completely misremembered the character of the old man who maintains the closed railway station. I recalled him as being a wildly caricatured comedy yokel like Jeremiah from the Thunderbirds episode “The Imposters,” but he’s much more down to earth than that. He has a very broad “old rural man” voice (“Mummerset,” possibly?), and somehow knows how to start and accelerate a train but not how to slow it down, but he’s not ridiculous.

The story by Tony Barwick is so light that it borders on inconsequential. There’s no sense of urgency in the attempted hijacking of a million pounds. The criminals don’t even call for their getaway truck until after they’ve successfully diverted the stolen train to the disused platform. Daniel really enjoyed it, but this is a pretty slight story.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under secret service, supermarionation

The Secret Service 1.4 – The Feathered Spies

Well, if the title isn’t enough of a giveaway, the big mystery in this episode written by Tony Barwick is how a guy who raises pigeons and doves is able to take top secret photos of prototype military jets. How does he do it, wondered nobody older than six.

Two very odd production notes this time around: this is the first time I’ve ever noticed a Supermarionation character actually breaking the fourth wall, turning to the camera partway through the episode to comment on how wacky another character is. And then there’s the very odd-looking decision to take the Matthew puppet on location and have it chased by a dog.

Regrettably, I can’t make screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so you’ll have to trust me – for now – when I tell you how utterly bizarre this looks. The Secret Service already looks weird with its mix of live action and puppets, but they never stick the two together in the same shot this way. After three episodes, we’re used to something like a close-up of one of the puppets, followed by a real exterior shot of a garden. But suddenly the suspension of disbelief comes crashing down when the two-foot Matthew puppet becomes the fictional, miniaturized two-foot high Matthew “walking” around in that garden. Ian Spurrier had been part of Century 21’s visual effects team for a couple of years; this was his only directing credit. I can imagine that he had some ideas that he wanted to try, but this absolutely did not work. I hope we don’t see it tried again in future episodes.

Leave a comment

Filed under secret service, supermarionation

The Secret Service 1.3 – To Catch a Spy

I believe that one of the most difficult things to do when making one of the Supermarionation shows must have been orchestrating the gunfights. But there’s a really terrific one that opens this episode, a prison break that the director, Brian Heard, managed with a series of incredibly quick cuts. I swear it looks like there are more cuts in sixty seconds of this gunfight than in an entire episode of Captain Scarlet.

But the gunfight at the end is a huge missed opportunity. Father Unwin has shrunk one of the villains, who then has a disappointingly static shootout with the also-shrunk Matthew in a greenhouse in Kew Gardens. Heard keeps cutting between the puppets and a pair of frogs who are also in the greenhouse. We kept waiting for one of the frogs to jump and knock the shrunken villain on his backside. That was a missed opportunity!

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Leave a comment

Filed under secret service, supermarionation

The Secret Service 1.2 – A Question of Miracles

Tonight’s episode is the first of two Secret Service installments written by Donald James, who wrote for quite a few ITC programs of the day, including about half of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). He worked for Gerry Anderson for several years, contributing scripts to five of his programs along with screenplay of the film Doppelganger.

It’s also the first appearance in this series of the Captain Scarlet puppet. It’s used for another BISHOP agent named Paul Blake, who really gets the short end of the undercover assignment. The director of BISHOP gives him a crucifix on a chain and a pill to take at a set time. The pill instantly sickens him to the point that a base doctor sends for a priest, just as Father Unwin happens to be nearby to get called into the base to save the day.

Daniel has pleasantly surprised us by really enjoying this show even more than I thought he might. It will never replace Thunderbirds in his affections – he actually asked to rewatch several episodes of that over the last week – but he told us that he likes this even more than Captain Scarlet, which I wouldn’t have predicted.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Leave a comment

Filed under secret service, supermarionation

The Secret Service 1.1 – A Case for the Bishop

Off to 1969 and one of the shows that Gerry Anderson made that people just don’t know all that well, The Secret Service is a very cute and very, very odd little spy series for kids. It doesn’t have any of the wild mayhem and crazy technology of the earlier Supermarionation shows. In fact it has a single fantastic element: a shrink ray.

By ’69, the spy craze kickstarted by the James Bond films was mostly calmed down, so this was a weird time to be making a spy adventure, but there you go. It’s set in what appears to be the present day and concerns an agency called B.I.S.H.O.P. which employs Father Stanley Unwin. The priest is played by the real Stanley Unwin, a popular comedian of the day whose shtick was talking in a nonsensical gobbledygook. Father Unwin uses a shrink ray to miniaturize his fellow agent Matthew and carry him into action, while he distracts authorities or guards by appearing as a harmless priest who babbles a lot.

The pilot, unsurprisingly, isn’t too complicated. It’s a basic little adventure about retrieving a stolen computer that takes time setting up the premise. But what no amount of backstory will prepare you for is how downright weird this show looks. See, every Gerry Anderson show has some of what Marie calls “cheat shots,” where they do closeups of human hands instead of trying to get the puppets to do intricate tasks. This takes things in the other direction entirely. It’s a live action show that just happens to have puppets in for the dialogue. All the exteriors and establishing shots and car chases are filmed by a crew with human actors, with the real Stanley Unwin driving his character’s terrific car, a 1917 Ford Model T called Gabriel. Then when anybody needs to talk, the puppets are used. So the team didn’t have to build as many puppet-scale exteriors, and they shot far less material on the small stages, and everybody at Century 21 got the practice making shows with real actors that would serve them well when they started making UFO and The Protectors.

Incidentally, both The Secret Service and its immediate predecessor, Joe 90, used several props and puppet bodies that were built for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons two years previously – you can spot Captain Ochre in a small role here – and also many of the same voice actors. One of these is David Healy, who was often used for American generals or, here, Iron Curtain-nation diplomats. We’ll have a little bit more to say about David Healy in these pages shortly.

Daniel was honestly not completely taken by this, but he said it was pretty good and seems interested in seeing more. The car chase and gunfight certainly had his attention though, and we’ll see what happens in episode two very soon.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Leave a comment

Filed under secret service, supermarionation