Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
This sci-fi adventure series was Gerry Anderson's fifth puppet show, and the first to
feature proportionally sized heads for the 'supermarionation' techniques used on the
various characters. The story begins with a trip to Mars in 2068 that ends in disaster
for all mankind when agents of the Spectrum organisation unwittingly incur the wrath of
powerful but invisible aliens, the Mysterons. In retaliation for an unprovoked attack by
humanity, the Martians launch a war of nerves against Earth, causing countless deaths
and untold destruction.
A reworking of War Of The Worlds and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons delivered action thrills for children set in another of Anderson's troubled utopias (world president gets assassinated), with the title character open to interpretation in generic terms: is the 'indestructible' Captain Scarlet (voiced by Francis Matthews) immortal superhero or reformed-traitor zombie? Would the programme makers have been permitted to screen half of their quota of regular violence and technological carnage depicted here if this had been produced as a live-action show? What other TV series dared to slay and then revive its leading man on a weekly basis?
The SF content of Captain Scarlet remains somewhat intriguing, even today. The unseen aliens have a super-science called retro-metabolism, granting them god-like powers over matter. Able to recreate anything they destroy and resurrect anyone they kill - under their own control, in a battle of wits against Spectrum's world-spanning agency of colour-codenamed heroes. There is a flying aircraft carrier and mobile HQ, Cloudbase - home to a squadron of supersonic interceptor planes with all-female pilots, and a range of special ground vehicles for pursuit, patrol, and security. Crucial to the appeal of Captain Scarlet was the suspense generated by warning threats - usually issued by the aliens at the beginning each episode - via a spooky presence signified by green rings (or eyes?) that wandered like coloured shadows across the screen. Innovative drumbeat scene transitions helped quicken narrative pace, and the production was blessed with remarkable miniature sets and pyrotechnic effects, created by Derek Meddings, to enthral all young fans of futuristic hardware.
The entire run of 32 episodes (of 25 minutes each) is now being made available on DVD, with six episodes per disc. Volume One features series' intro The Mysterons (with optional commentary by Gerry Anderson), plus Winged Assassin (ghost jet fighter attacks Asian leader), Big Ben Strikes Again (nuclear bomb threat against London), Manhunt (betrayal of Captain Black is revealed), Avalanche (sabotage of space defence complex), and White As Snow (Colonel White is targeted). DVD extras include a TV21 audio adventure, full character biographies, photo gallery, and details of spin-off EP records, Dolby Digital 5.1 or mono sound, subtitles, and exciting animated menus.
Volume Two has The Trap (Scarlet taken captive); Operation Time (top general's surgery jinxed); Spectrum Strike Back (advent of alien detection device); Special Assignment (Scarlet goes undercover to thwart enemy plans); The Heart Of New York (bank heist with a twist); and Lunarville 7 (moon base declares neutrality in Earth versus Mars war). Disc extras include another TV21 audio story; a retro of TV21 comics; the tech specs for Cloudbase; cross-promo TV ads, and English subtitles.