Sunday, December 29, 2013

We Are The Mysterons!


Just spent a few wonderful days before and after Christmas enjoying the classic Gerry Anderson "Supermarionation" adventure show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. This is one from my childhood, a classic TV entertainment which seared a spot in my noggin and never left. The classic opening has reverberated in my imagination for decades. 


The show followed quickly upon the success of Thunderbirds, but offered up puppets with more lifelike proportions and a storyline with a darker, sometimes even adult tone. It's this latter aspect which I think made this show stick with me. This was grim stuff at times. The premise is that in 2068 an Earth expedition led by Captain Black of the Spectrum organization happens across the alien Mysteron base on Mars and wrongfully attacks it. The Mysterons though have technology which can recuperate from destruction and death itself and do so, pledging at the same time to wage an unending "war of nerves" on the Earth in general and Spectrum in specific.


What makes their attacks so grim is that they use revived humans and equipment to wage their war. The invisible Mysterons first kill you (usually with vehicular homicide), then revive you and have you serve them slavishly. That's rough stuff. I was reminded this time of the ludicrous movie Plan 9 From Outer Space which sought to revive the dead to wage war on the Earth, and thought to myself how Captain Scarlet sort of actually follows through with this plan.

The first Mysteron agent is Captain Black himself, who looks zombie enough most of the time, a pale grim figure shown weekly lurking in a graveyard. He plots, then Spectrum blocks or not. The good guys don't always win on this show, and that's rugged territory for what is supposed to be a kid's show.


Captain Scarlet himself is something of a rogue Mysteron agent. In the first episode he is killed and revived, but circumstances cause him to revert to his heroic pose but armored with an indestructible nature. He dies more than a few times during the series, but always returns to fight another day. He is assisted by Captain Blue and the other agents of Spectrum, all led by Colonel White. Beautiful women called Angels are a constant flying circus protecting Cloud Base, a giant airborne aircraft carrier. From this high-tech location the unending Mysteron war is waged.

It's a tight premise, and the half-hour episodes are told with skill and supreme craftsmanship. The editing on a show like this is crucial and the story is rarely muddled and a great deal is jammed into a small space. This makes for brisk and enjoyable entertainment. I will admit that in certain moments the show does resemble Ken and Barbie playing spy, but most of the time, the creators are able to avoid that pitfall. This is a smart snappy show with more than a gram of wit.


It's a precursor of sorts to the later Anderson live-action show UFO which also has Earth engaged in a battle with mysterious aliens, this time led by the secret SHADO organization. There are more than a few similarities between these shows, almost making you think UFO is Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons done in the live-action format.

If you haven't seen Captain Scarlet, I heartily recommend it. It's pure entertainment.

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5 comments:

  1. I was never quite sure if other Mysteron-revived human agents were likewise indestructible, or was it only Captain Scarlet? Had this boxed set for a few years now and still haven't watched it. Must get around to it one day. Funnily enough, viewers seemed to prefer the out of proportion puppets as neither Captain Scarlet or Joe 90 were considered as successful as Thunderbirds.

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    1. As far as I can tell from watching the episodes, only Scarlet has the "indestructible" nature, though Captain Black is gifted with other powers like the ability to transport himself.

      The in-proportion puppets do look at times like Barbie dolls, that's a problem. My daughter walked in while I was watching an episode and actually said that was what it looked like. Scarlet bears an uncanny resemblance to Ken.

      But despite that, at times it looks so very very real I would get momentarily confused. The mood though is what makes this one a keeper, that and the mostly immaculate editing which makes the episodes slide along briskly.

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  2. I think you meant "Thunderbirds" rather than "Thunderbolts"

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    1. Aarrrggghh! I did indeed. Thanks for the correction.

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  3. It's a pity the Andersons didn't use the puppet shows' good writers on "Space 1999."

    There's a computer-generated series from 2004--"Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet"--which changes a few things (Scarlet doesn't sound like Cary Grant; the characters' real names are given) that isn't too bad. Its head writer, Phil Ford, wrote for "Doctor Who."

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