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.)

Captain Scarlet 1.32 – Inferno

We finished up Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons today with another episode that Daniel really enjoyed because it’s just packed with explosions and destruction as the bad guys get a decisive victory in their war of nerves. This time, the Spectrum Angels blow an Aztec temple to rubble in a desperate attempt to destroy a hidden transmitter that’s bringing an inbound rocket to Earth at top speed; in the valley beneath the old temple, there’s some gigantic factory that the baddies want destroyed. They blast the temple all right, but too late to alter the rocket from its doomed course; everything gets blown to smithereens this week.

I wasn’t counting, but it seemed like the Mysterons succeeded about a quarter of the time, which is really an astonishingly high percentage of the time for a kids’ show, with a fierce amount of collateral damage and civilian deaths even when they did lose. Plus, the villains killed off two of the Spectrum captains, Brown and Indigo. Compared to most kidvid antagonists, that’s pretty amazingly successful. Cobra Commander and the Decepticons just wish they were as good at being bad as the Mysterons.

I’m not incredibly clear on the chronology, but I think that the team at Century 21 did not get a very long break at all after the 32nd episode was filmed, and were soon back at work designing and getting ready for their next Supermarionation series, which was called Joe 90. Many of the writers from Scarlet, including this episode’s scriptwriters Tony Barwick and Shane Rimmer, worked on Joe 90, which also used many of this show’s puppets.

Joe 90 is available on Region 1 DVD, but I have never cared for the show at all and so we won’t be watching it. (You’re welcome to give it a try yourself if you like, though!) The program that Anderson made after Joe 90 was called The Secret Service, and I really like that one. It’s not available in Region 1 yet, so it’s just as well I bought a new player this month. Fingers crossed that we’ll come back to The Secret Service in a few months, but next up in our rotation is something a little more recent…

One final note: the voice of Captain Scarlet, Francis Matthews, went on to star in the BBC’s really successful detective series Paul Temple, which ran for four series in the early 1970s and which sounds like a must-see for people who enjoy British TV from that era. It was produced by Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin, who had just finished up the black-and-white years of Doctor Who and featured all sorts of recognizable talent behind and in front of the cameras. I would love to enjoy that show, just as I’m presently enjoying Jason King, made in the same era, after Daniel goes to bed. Unfortunately, of the 52 episodes they made, only sixteen still exist, because of the BBC’s old policy of junking and deleting old tapes. More on that subject down the road as well.

Captain Scarlet 1.31 – The Inquisition

As is often the case with adventure shows, one of the last episodes of the run is a clip show. This one has a frame story of Captain Blue being interrogated by somebody claiming to be from Spectrum Intelligence, and it features clips from the episodes “Big Ben Strikes Again”, “Crater 101,” and “The Trap.” The clip from “Crater 101” includes a clip from earlier in that episode, so at one point, yes, Captain Blue relates a flashback of a flashback.

Since there’s not much to say about clip shows except how frustrating they are, I’ll note that the only real disappointment in this set from Timeless Media Group is that every one of the episodes contains actor Ed Bishop’s narration, “Leading the fight, one man whom fate has made indestructible. His name: Captain Scarlet!” Some of the episodes were later given a new voiceover by Donald Grey: “Captain Scarlet is indestructible. You are not. Remember this; do not try to imitate him.” I love that and wish it had been included!

Captain Scarlet 1.30 – Attack on Cloudbase

“Gasp! It was all… A DREAM!” Yes, the less said about this, the better.

I figured that Daniel would be quite shocked at the attack and the mounting casualties among our heroes before the cop-out revelation, and I was not wrong. He just didn’t like seeing the good guys losing at all. We were initially unsure whether he was growling – and Daniel hasn’t growled about villainy in TV in quite some time – about the good guys all dying or the “whew!” finale. After he consented to talk to us again, he confirmed it was the ending. Nobody, not even four year-olds, likes a “bad dream” story. I told him he’s going to wade through a whole lot of these in life.

The dream does reveal that Symphony Angel is a little sweet on Captain Blue, so there’s that at least.

Captain Scarlet 1.29 – Treble Cross

This episode is one of the few that actually addresses the odd powers of the Mysterons in a neat way. This time, Captain Black kills an air force major and duplicates him, but the major’s body is found by a pair of doctors with an experimental resuscitator and bring him back to life. Unfortunately, Tony Barwick’s story doesn’t get into what that might mean for the duplicate – he doesn’t short-circuit or melt or anything – and it instead concludes that they can both be alive for a short time, and Spectrum can try to use the real major to get a line on Black.

At least three of the characters in this story are played by puppets that were used in earlier episodes. I swear, some of these puppets got more screen time than the minor members of Spectrum. I had wondered aloud whether Anderson might have actually shelled out for some new “faces” on his later productions, but apparently not. I’ve enjoyed looking over a Captain Scarlet fan site called Spectrum Headquarters for background to this blog, and noticed that some of the lesser-used Spectrum characters, like Captain Ochre and Doctor Fawn, had their puppets reused in Anderson’s next two series, Joe 90 and The Secret Service, as the sort of one-off characters like one of the doctors and his nurse in this one. Even the puppet of Lt. Green, who appeared in every episode of Scarlet, was reused as a background character in those other shows.

Captain Scarlet 1.28 – Flight to Atlantica

Well, Captain Scarlet had better be glad that he was a fictional character in a fun old kids’ show, because if this happened in the real world, at least half of Spectrum would be facing a court-martial. All the agents decide to have a secret champagne celebration to celebrate Spectrum’s first anniversary. Insanely, they try to do it on the sly – and, okay, Colonel White can be a complete killjoy, so you can see why they’d want to be sneaky – and they do it with a case of non-alcoholic champagne that an anonymous well-wisher sent to Cloudbase.


Whatever the Mysterons used to spike the champagne, it leaves three of the Angels flying around on a joyride, Lt. Green with his feet propped up on his desk, and Captains Blue and Ochre bombing the top-security World Navy Atlantica control tower into floating matchsticks. Colonel White calls it a “partial” victory for the Mysterons before showing everybody the procedure for hosting a proper, authorized champagne party. Partial, my butt. The bad guys made Spectrum look like a gaggle of drunks and cost millions in property damage and all they had to do was spike some grape juice. That’s a win in their column.

Captain Scarlet 1.27 – Codename Europa

This one had Marie and I each muttering “…elite security force…” under our breaths while shaking our heads in disbelief. Captain Ochre’s bunch, guarding a bigwig, freaks out and starts firing blindly into the woods when a Mysteron agent starts playing recordings of gunfire via some big loudspeakers. Then the sound of tanks causes an aerial bombardment by the Angels. Later, at another facility, the agent – who leaves clues behind at his bungalow that the Scooby Doo gang could figure out – literally walks right past a guard after he kills the exterior lights, leaving him asking “Joe? Is that you, Joe? Joe?” as he saunters past with night vision goggles.

Daniel loved it. Things blew up, that’s all that mattered.

Captain Scarlet 1.26 – Noose of Ice

From the dull to the sublime, this is one of the most entertaining episodes of the show. Frequently in this series, we find overly-complicated power stations and secret bases, which the Mysterons use against humanity. This is a great one: a mining station at the North Pole at the bottom of a lake which is being artificially heated. When the booster station at the edge of the lake is sabotaged, the lake starts to refreeze, threatening to crush the tower and mining platform underneath many thousands of tons of ice.

This was huge fun to watch together, and the effects team did their usual amazing job, especially as the freezing lake destroys the bridge leading out to the tower. Some of Tony Barwick’s stories are a little rote, but this one really plays to the production team’s strengths, and it’s just remarkable to me how they put so much work into such incredibly complex sets that would only be used one time.

The other thing was this: did you ever play GoldenEye or its sister game Perfect Dark for the N64? I simply couldn’t watch this episode without thinking how incredible it would be to have a multiplayer fight on levels based on this facility; it is that well designed. You probably wouldn’t want to visit Eskimo Booster Station playing against me. I would have left proximity mines in the place before going out with a sniper rifle to wait for you above that roadway.

Captain Scarlet 1.25 – Flight 104

You see how Captain Scarlet is asleep at the controls? So was everybody involved in this boring episode. Ho ho!

Well, I say that, but our son picked up the word “boring” recently and doesn’t seem very clear on what it means. We proposed that boring is the opposite of exciting, and he let us know that this episode is not boring at all, but very exciting. Says him.

Anyway, we have seven more episodes of the show after this, and I remember one of them as being really terrific. Fingers crossed!

Captain Scarlet 1.24 – Traitor

There’s a pretty good whodunnit within this episode, but sadly running time that could have been spent developing the mystery is instead spent on a very long flashback to the climax of episode one. It’s all right, but I think it should have been a lot better. But Daniel really enjoyed it, telling us that all the action was awesome. He loved the Spectrum hovercraft, a couple of which get blown up real good as the story goes on.

We’re going to take a short break from Captain Scarlet to finish up the episodes of Thunderbirds that we haven’t seen yet. Hopefully when we resume this show in a month or so, we’ll get to see more from the Spectrum captains who never get to go out on missions anymore. (sadface for poor Ochre, Gray, and Magenta.)

Captain Scarlet 1.23 – Expo 2068

In 1967, when this episode was made, Montreal hosted a World’s Fair, called Expo 67. This episode features a hijacked nuclear reactor, its safety protocols removed, being flown by a remote-controlled helicopter in a great big crate over the giant construction site of Expo 2068, somewhere in eastern Canada. The Mysterons’ plan is to annihilate the expo before it can begin, wounding our society’s prestige, or pride, or something like that.

The climax comes when Captain Scarlet has cut his way into the crate to shut down the reactor, which is overheating. Captain Black has shot the pilot dead, so the helicopter is slowly lurching this way and that, about to crash into an elevated parking deck. At one point, it takes a dive and all the heavy machinery crashes into Captain Scarlet, trapping him against the inside wall of the crate. I was waiting for Thunderbird 2 to show up and lend a hand, honestly.