Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons Review
Tense chases and massive explosions
This is the voice of the MysteronsLew Grade, Head of ITC and financier of Gerry Anderson’s projects for years, wanted to break into the American TV market and decided that a brand new show, rather than a complete second season of Thunderbirds (there were only six episodes), despite its huge success, was the way to go. Anderson, then, went back to an old idea of a hero that was killed at the end of an episode, only to be brought back to life for the following. Coupling this with the (then current) exploration of Mars, and the name ‘Scarlet’ as the lead, with ‘Blue’ as his partner, it followed that a ‘Spectrum’ of colours would be an Earth defence unit in a planetary war between Earth and Mars.
Being, Anderson, it needed an emotional hook to hold the idea, so the war was started by a misunderstanding and its hero started life as a bad guy, only to be resurrected and be ‘indestructible’. Thus the basic building blocks were in place; pulling on his successful team of model builders, writers, puppeteers and series directors the production of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons went into full production in mid-1967. The continued shrinking of technology enabled are more realistic puppets, i.e. of the correct proportions, thus the figures were far more lifelike; this brought with it problems in movement, so movable floors or chairs, or tricks like filming from the waist up, were utilised. Likewise the sets, vehicles and props became far more sophisticated to keep with the realistic nature of the show.
Darker but no less fun
Indeed, this is perhaps the most realistic looking show Anderson produced, even though there were two subsequent Supermarionation series following it. The realistic portrayal of characters and situations, and its overarching premise, that of war, was very dark in tone, far darker than anything Anderson had produced before or since, with the seedy character of Captain Black and his evil methods, drawing some criticism. Add to that an indestructible lead character and a lack of danger or drama could also be levelled. There is, however, no denying its indisputable charm. Returning to the 30 minute run time, the quickened pace allowed for very dynamic stories. The various craft, especially the Angels, are technical marvels, quickly becoming must have toys. The fact that Spectrum was made up of different races and genders was very forward thinking of Anderson, and this ‘light’ helped balance the darkness of the stories and their themes.
There were 32 episodes filmed for the series, and most are well realised. Starting off with the Mysteron threat, it is up to the agents of Spectrum to try and stop whatever destruction the Martian invaders had up their sleeve, being as they could duplicate exact replicas of anything and anyone and have them do their bidding. Throw in plenty of tense chases and massive explosions and you have the recipe for some terrific children’s entertainment. Kids love something dark to get their minds working, and, in that regard, Captain Scarlet is the perfect show. It may not have aged as well as Thunderbirds or will never be quite as well regarded, but it is, nevertheless, still great.
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