Tag Archives: gerry anderson

The Secret Service 1.7 – Recall to Service

“This one was totally awesome,” Daniel told me. It’s much more five year-old-friendly than any of the previous episodes, and is full of tanks and explosions. It’s very reminiscent of the Captain Scarlet episode “Point 783,” and I said that even before one of the Spectrum Angel jets appears in the sky to try and blast the runaway “Aquatank.”

But it’s much more friendly to grownups as well; nothing in this episode is as painfully obvious as is often the case in these installments. I enjoyed seeing Father Unwin in uniform, and I liked the way all the base personnel are suspicious about what the “padre” is up to. There’s a really great bit where he has to drive Gabriel across the minefields and race the tank to its new target, explosions all around it. This is easily the best of the first seven episodes so far.

(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 1.6 – Hole in One

Two episodes ago, the problem was that only a small child couldn’t figure out how secrets were being leaked to the enemy. Evidently, that was still too tricky, and so in this episode, they show us in the pre-credits scene that golf balls have tiny tape recorders inside them, and “the opposition” have rented a house near the 15th hole of a private course, and rigged up a series of chutes to collect the balls so that they can collect information that a general discusses on the course.

The story’s by Anderson veteran Shane Rimmer, and it’s a cute idea, but once you give that sort of thing away in the first minute and leave another twenty-three for the puppets to figure it out, you’re leaving a lot of room for five year-olds who don’t understand golf plenty of opportunities to ask what in the world is happening and “was that a hole in one?” There were, at least, a couple of explosions to keep him interested.

(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 1.5 – 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.)

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

Thunderbirds 3.3 – The Stately Homes Robberies

The team who made these new Thunderbirds episodes were working on them for freaking ever, and even obtained the services of one of the original puppeteers and, with episode three, one of the original series directors, David Elliot. That’s an awful lot of work for ninety minutes of entertainment, but they saved the best for last. “The Stately Homes Robberies” is a visual triumph.

As an original story, it’s a goofball throwaway. I think that “stealing the crown jewels from the Tower of London” must be every bit as much of a hoary chestnut in British children’s entertainment as “stealing the gold from Fort Knox” is in American kidvid, and you really have to put your brain in neutral to accept that the baddies could get away with any part of their plan, much less its climax.

But just look at it! I’m not suggesting that the ice caves in the previous story didn’t take a lot of work to create, but they’re not on the same level as the remarkably detailed rooms full of art treasures in this one. The villains, Mr. Charles and Dawkins, look so absolutely perfect that they surely must have been locked in an airtight vault since 1965, right? I love all the silly tech, it all looks like the original designers made every nut, bolt, and colored light. What a challenge this must have been: in 1965, the designers were imagining the world of a hundred years in the future. Today’s designers had to imagine what designers fifty years ago would have predicted.

As with the previous adventure, this one’s bulked up a little with some extra material involving the Tracy brothers. The original 7-inch record was strictly an adventure for Lady Penelope and Parker, but this adaptation finds a way to include Virgil, Scott, and Gordon for a few minutes. It’s absolutely great, escapist fun, a terrific and silly half hour that we enjoyed very much. Daniel, you may recall, loves Thunderbird 4 most of all the vehicles, and not only does this episode include the submarine briefly, it opens with an absolutely mammoth explosion when one of the stately homes is blown into pieces by the villains. If your own five year-old, real or inner, doesn’t love this, something may be wrong with him.

To Stephen La Rivière, Justin T. Lee, and all the rest of the Pod 4 crew, thanks enormously for all the work you put into this project. Very best of luck to you all in your future film and television work!

There’s more Supermarionation in the future for our blog! Stay tuned for more action later this summer!

Leave a comment

Filed under supermarionation, thunderbirds