Friday, February 5, 2010

Captain Scarlet Episode 1

In an effort to shake things up around here and to force myself to write things on some kind of consistent schedule, I am attempting to write a complete review of the series Captain Scarlet. I will commence with an overview, before going on to the first episode. May God have mercy on my soul.

It was 1967, and Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's careers were on the decline, although they didn't know it yet. Coming off the success of Thunderbirds, the Andersons would never again make a product as successful. They had just completely the spectacularly unwatchable Thunderbirds film, and would go on to to create the deeply bizarre Joe 90, jumping around from one thing to the next before their marriage and partnership would crash and burn along with everything else in the making of Space: 1999. But that was all to come. For now, there was the new project: Captain Scarlet.

Captain Scarlet is kind of the distant older cousin of the Andersons' oeuvre- its a much darker tone than its predecessors and the shows that would follow it. Technology had progressed from when the Andersons' had begun Thunderbirds- the device that moved the puppet's mouths was rather large, giving rise to the oversize heads and caricatured expressions one can find on the Tracy family. But these devices had shrunk in size, so that the puppets of Captain Scarlet are much more proportional. Unfortunately, as the puppeteers would complain, being more realistic meant that an audience expected more realism from the puppet's movement- difficult with the clunky fibreglass figures. As an added downer, the smaller faces of the puppets had less charm, less character, and everyone came off as looking rather stoic. This, coupled with the aforementioned darker tone, led to there being much less affection for the series than from Thunderbirds or Fireball XL5.

Don't get me wrong, though, when I say this is a darker series. It's still a mixture of delightful models, goofy dialogue, crazed actions sequences and some of the worst pacing even seen on television outside of eighties cartoons. But I love Anderson's work, and thus this quirky little series has a special pace in my heart. If you want to enlarge the screenshots, just click on the image. Let's go to press:

Episode I: the Mysterons. Original UK Airdate September 29, 1967

With a line of violins and a cymbal crash, Gerry Anderson's fancy-pants new logo appears on the screen, struck through with a rocket. BAM, we're in.

Classic Fifties Pulp-Novel Rocket

A harp glissandos and competes with a crashing Hammond organ chord, and we fade into an dark brown Alleyway, fraught with mystery. A deep voice intones: “The finger is on the trigger. About to unleash terrible powers beyond the comprehension of man. This force we shall know as- The Mysterons”. The font for the credits, by the way, appears to be Metrostyle Extended, one of my personal favourites. The camera pulls a hard turn, a cat squeals and there, in the shadows, is the figure of a man. Harsh lights turn on, a gun is raised in the camera's Point of View, and the figure is riddled with bullets. But they have no effect. The man razes his own sidearm, and shoots the gunner down. We jump in to a close-up, and to thudding drums, across the screen these words are written:

This expression isn't going to change very often

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a title. The sonorous, booming voice returns: “This man will be our hero, for fate will make him indestructible. His name? Captain Scarlet!” The show is really pulling no punches. There will be no dark-horse secondary character rising to take the audience's affections here, no sir. Captain Scarlet will be your hero, and dammit, you're going to like it. Scarlet, by the way, is supposed to resemble a young Carry Grant, but I've never thought so.

We fade out and onto an orbital shot of a planet, which the title helpfully informs us is Mars, in the year 2068. As we cut away to a little buggy riding on the surface, our friend the title narrator returns. Apparently picking up where he left off in the credits, he tells us that “This is the trigger. Inside, three men from Earth.” Inside the buggy, he is proven correct. The ground of Mars, by the way, is uniformly grey, and there appears to be no atmosphere to speak of. In fact, if the title hadn't exactly specified that this was Mars, I would have said that this was the moon. Our three little amigos, including the delightfully attired Captain Black, are apparently driving slowly around Mars in search of some signals that were picked up back on Earth by an organization known as Spectrum, which makes me giggle for oh, oh so many reasons.

I'm not sure which I love more, the goofy logo or the see-through visor.

They haven't found anything, but Black, being the conscientious guy he is, wants to keep looking. He suggest they go looking over the next ridge, and we're treated to another shot of the little buggy slowly crawling into shot. Suddenly, the red jumpsuited fellow at the wheel exclaims “Will you take a look at that!” The strings play a jarring a chord and we are treated to our first look at an alien city! It's... um.... wow.

Pictured: Wow.

Usually, given the limitations of what he was using, Gerry Anderson was pretty good at making small objects look bigger than they were, but in this shot, the city just looks really tiny. Do you notice that “unearthly glow” surrounding the city? According to the commentary, the shot was made by putting a sheet of glass in front of the lens and rubbing it down with Vaseline. And boy, does it show. After some blurry establishing shots, we cut inside of the scene, and man.... this room couldn't look more life a set from the original Star Trek if it tried. Giant glowing ball, twisted blue pillars, it even has the seemingly obligatory green and magenta mood lighting. Pretty impressive for one eighth scale.

I think this set shows up in 'I, Mudd'. And 'Mirror, Mirror'. And 'The Cage'. And 'The City on the Edge of Forever'. And 'Spock's Brain'. And....

Suddenly, we hear the a deep booming voice, like the narrator's, but an octave lower and more echoey. The voice gets all dully excited that the humans are here, what with their “curiosity about their universe”, something also shared by the voice. The voice wants to observe them closer, so it says to train the cameras on the earth people. We cut to shot of the turret cameras, which look a little like multi-barrelled ray-guns. This causes Black to IMMEDIATELY jump to conclusions. “They're about to attack!” “Let 'em have it!”. The adorable little buggy fires off a few shots, and then...

The aliens clearly do not have very well-enforced building codes

Man, the whole city just explodes! I hope Black doesn't overreact like this all the time. Goes to the park, sees a kid picking up a stick- "They're going to attack me!". Blows up the playground, bits of backpacks and plastic shrapnel rain down everywhere...

No one in the buggy seems at all affected by their little genocide. They instead calmly talk about surveying the wreckage before going home. Suddenly, a radar dish comes up out of the ground and shoots a soothing blue ray at the ruins. Through the power of Alien Science, the city is restored to perfection. The booming voice comes back, identifying itself as the voice of the Mysterons. Calling themselves a peaceful race, the voice mocks the Earthlings for their inability to destroy them, and then totally chews them out for being aggressive. The voice says that their revenge will be slow, but will lead to the destruction of all life on Earth. So, not that peaceful then. I never quite got it- what is it with aliens specie? One human shows up and does something boneheaded, and then aliens blame every single last member of the human race, often along with anything living on the planet. In this case, for Captain Black's rash destruction of their city, the Mysterons blame everyone from Swifty Lazar to the entire species of Anthonomus Grandis to my mother's old aloe plant. I mean, I know it takes a village to raise a child well, but this is taking sociological blame way too far.

Blah blah blah, resistance is futile, etc. To sum up, The Mysterons will turn one of the three men into their agent on Earth (guess which one!). Their first act of revenge will be the assassination of the World President.

We now get the first example of Captain Scarlet's trademark style of switching from scene to scene. Rather than a fade out or a slide dissolve, CS gives us some drum beats on a timpani and cuts back and forth a few times between the last scene and the new one in rapid succession. Its really disorientating and headache inducing if you watch an episode with out any breaks.

"Dex had a hand in building it. Its kind of a secret. You can keep a secret, can't you Polly?"

Spectrum is simply FABULOUS

Welcome to Cloudbase, the headquarters of Spectrum, who I'm pretty sure are some-kind of world police. We arrive to find the station launching jets. Jets flown by women! In the sky! In the FUTURE! The orders are given by a Colonel White, to a Lieutenant Green (A black person! In the sky! In the FUTURE!). Are you detecting a pattern with names here? The lady-pilots, by the way, all have names that are [blank] Angel- Destiny Angel, Rhapsody Angel...

.... Helmet-Hair Angel...

Rhapsody Angel and Helmet-Hair Angel are ordered to their jets, and we come across a familiar Gerry Anderson motif. Ya see, these puppets, while great all, have one little itty bitty flaw- they really, REALLY don't walk very well. Its rather embarrassing. Because its the FUTURE, Anderson cheats. Whenever possible, the puppets ride something somewhere, be it a mobile couch, a chair or moving sidewalk, even when just outright walking would take up a fraction of the time. In this case, the Angels ride little deck chairs right up into their jets. Its not as cool as the epic Thunderbirds secret doors, but it gets the job done.

As pilots, you realize these ladies are wearing diapers?

The jets are away, and Colonel White radios our hero, Captain Scarlet, who finally shows up. Scarlet is totally chilaxing in his rad sports-car with a Captain Brown. The Colonel is calling to tell Brown that he is in charge of the mission, which is to protect the World President. Apparently, the Mars guys brought the message home. Brown is perturbed by The Mysterons, calling them something "we don't understand". This is a phrase that'll come up a LOT. I'll let you know. While the two chums banter exposition, the entire shot suddenly turns the same blue colour we saw on Mars. Suddenly, the car pops a tire, flies off the road, and explodes in a giant fireball!

No! Not these guys! All my favourite characters, dying!

We suddenly see Scarlet's body being dragged by about a foot. The person doing the dragging is none other than - shock!- Captain Scarlet (man, do his pants have a tight crease)! I'm going to go out on a limb here and say "Mysterons did it". We cut away to see the not dead-Scarlet reporting to Colonel White. All security has been prepared.

A Bump-bump-bummm takes us to New York, where Captain Brown (also replaced, apparently) is escorting the World President to a Spectrum safe house. They've pulled out all the stops- the streets are cleared (and unnaturally clean), the Angels and their jets are flying overhead, gunmen on the roof, helicopters in the sky and Brown's armoured car has a bunch of escorts. The face of the World President was driving me crazy, until Wikipedia helpfully pointed out that he was modelled on Patrick McGoohan, which he totally is if you squint enough. Since he is never given a name, I shall proceed to call him President Six until I get bored of doing so.

I am not a president, I am free man!

Pres. Six mentions that they are dealing with forces they they "don't understand". That's two. Our duo reaches the safe-house, where they take a moving sidewalk through a security barrier. The alarm goes off when Brown passes through it, and all these guns are trained on him. There is a close up on Brown's pocket, and a very real and human hand reaches in and throws away a brown metal device- it's a cigarette holder. Good on him, those things are bad for you. Having satisfied the guards, Six and Brown reach the safe-house room where the two of them will apparently be spending the next few weeks. The door opens and... and.... oh god, that's just....

Who thought this was comfortable? Who thought this was pleasant? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS DECADE?

Man, remind me not to have Spectrum design my home. Brown point out the room's cameras before sitting down. El Presidente Seis hopes that Brown play a good game of 3D chess, but Brown is too busy smoking.


I think he borrowed that turtleneck from Wesley Crusher

President Six goes for his intercom, but we cut away to see the building go up in a giant fireball! Man, the Mysterons sure know how to pick up the pace. Destiny Angel, in her jet with her sexy French accent, reports back to Cloudbase with about as much emotion as Black did when he blew up the Mysterons. Good times.

Meanwhile, at Cloudbase, Scarlet, Pres Six (not dead, apparently) and Colonel White are going over what happened. They review the footage, wherein we see that Six escaped through a nifty sliding wall panel just before Brown exploded. White says that the President can learn two things from this. 1) He barely escaped with his life and 2) Brown had some kind of bomb on him. I'm pretty sure Six should already know this seeing as, you know, he was there. The President seems shocked that Brown was in on the plot (Again, weird, seeing as, you know, he saw it). The Colonel mentions this as being part of a number of odd occurrences, and reveals the fact that Captain Black went missing after his return from Mars. Scarlet is to fly Six to a new safe-house, escourted by the angels. Remember, White reminds him, they are facing forces they "do not understand". That's three.

The jets take off, using the same footage from earlier in the episode. As they fly off, Lieutenant Green (remember him? Black dude) tells White that they found the body of Brown at the car crash site. White says that something must have happened there that "they do not entirely understand". That's four. White turns his pimpin turn-table desk around to look at a wall chart, and he and Green work out that Scarlet must also be an impostor. They order Scarlet to turn around, but no response. Things just got real.

Guess which one is Lieutenant Green?

Hint: it's not this guy.

Destiny Angels' warning shot is ignored by Scarlet. Pres Six tries to radio for help, but Scarlet bitch slaps him in the face before ejecting them both from the jet. Destiny reports that once on the ground, Scarlet took the President at gunpoint into a nearby car. The chase is on!

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!

To help with the chase, the Aryan Captain Blue arrives at a gas station, where a truck is being used to hide a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, a bullet shape car that Blue drives facing backwards, looking at a TV monitor of the front of the car. This apparently helps reduce injuries in the case a forward collision or something. Anyways, he goes off after Scarlet's stolen car. To keep him on a single road, Destiny Angel orders one of her wingladies (wingmanette?) to blow up an overpass! Boom! Now Scarlet can only go one way, onto a towering edifice known as the London Car-Vu. As far as I can tell, you drive to the top and look at things.


Scarlet drives up, and Blue is in hot pursuit. What follows is about a minute and a half of the two cars going up that thing, ALL THE WHILE there is a horrible screeching noise of rubber squealing of asphalt. The whole time. Its awful. I had to mute. Finally, they reach the top, and Scarlet takes Six at gunpoint to a girder that's jutting off the building. A cut-away reveals our old friend Captain Black. Remember him? He looks zombieish now. Apparently, he's the Mysterons agent (shocking, I know). He reveals via radio to Scarlet that they (the Mysterons) have taken over a Spectrum helicopter which is coming to get them.

The foulest stench is in the air, the funk of forty thousand years!

Captain Blue reaches the top, and slllloooowly uses an automated chair to get out of his car. He slips on a jet-pack, for some reason. He tries to shoot down Scarlet, but the helicopter shoots at him! A frantic- a decently paced game of cat and mouse is played between Blue and the chopper.

All this science, I don't understand...

Bullets are flying, everything is crazy! Destiny Angel shoots down the helicopter, it hits the Car-Vu and blows it up real good! The Car-Vu starts to tip over. Blue shoots Scarlet, and grabs the Pres! Scarlet plummets to the earth, the Car-Vu blows up, AND THE DAY IS SAVED!!!!

I think he looks more like Richard Hatch

Back at Cloudbase, Colonel White is talking to his staff. Not only is Scarlet still alive, but he is apparently now indestructible. They apparently have some kind of science thing that can figure that out. Also, Scarlet is no longer under the Mysterons control. We have a final shot of Scarlet looking... same as always, while wearing his grandmother's dress. Then the credits roll.

What else could it be?

The credits really are the best part. There is a rocking score by Barry Gray, who also did the music for most of Andersons' other series. The music accompanies a bunch of drawn images of Scarlet in danger, being far more emotive and flexible than the real puppet ever could be. Seeing as he's indestructible, he's not really in any peril. In fact, the credits have more action than the average episode. Scarlet fights a snake! Falls off a building! Surrounded by sharks! Falls in Goo! Wall with Spikes! FILMED IN SUPERMARIONATION!

A force we do not entirely understand. One down, thirty odd to go.


Jerry Prager said...

Holy heck lad, you should be trying to get a degree in Cultural studies m
or something. I think you'll have to post a link to the Captain Scarlet, fanclub or something to get the respect you're looking for as you embark on your episode by episode analysis.

Check for typos first.

Mo wants to add: What an insanely ridiculous show. By deduction, anyone who follows the Captain in his dangerous yet scintillating adventures must be insane too. Watch the its (possessive) and it's (it is.)

Jerry Prager said...

or something m

The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca said...

Ah, but, therein lies the problem- my public school teachers always drilled into my head that 'apostrophe s" made something possessive- which it does, except when it doesn't.

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Robin Campbell said...

Firstly, I appreciated the background on the Andersons as a couple, and the technical advancements of the puppets and how that affected the appeal of the characters.

Secondly, I marveled at your detail as you took us through the episode scene by scene. Great insights, candid observations, glib criticisms and joyful praises - it's obvious it's a show you love for both its polished complexion and ugly warts. Your humour permeates every passage, and I felt like I was sitting through a favourite MST3K episode.

Can't wait for the next one. Nicely done.