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'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons': Tube Talk Gold
Puppet maestro Gerry Anderson and his team produced ten 'Supermarionation' series throughout the 1950s and '60s, including the likes of Joe 90 and Stingray - but it's kids' adventure series Thunderbirds that is most fondly remembered by the general public.
However, as far as Tube Talk Gold is concerned, Anderson's eighth project - Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons - stands plastic head and shoulders above his other creations. Darker in tone and more visually accomplished than its predecessors, we'd argue that Captain Scarlet is Anderson's best work - yes, better even than Thunderbirds.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: Originally broadcast from September 29, 1967 to May 14, 1968
Set in 2068, Captain Scarlet - which ran for a single 32-episode season in the late '60s - charted the ongoing war between Earth resistance force Spectrum and the deadly alien Mysterons, sparked by a misunderstanding on their home planet of Mars. One of Spectrum's agents, Captain Scarlet, is killed in the conflict, but replaced by an indestructible duplicate...
Now, let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first - to really enjoy Captain Scarlet, you have to forgive a lot. Yes, the lead characters are puppets. Yes, it's slightly silly when a close-up shot replaces their inflexible plastic mitts with a real human hand. Yes, it's never really explained why Captain Scarlet is indestructible. And given that he dies every single week, isn't Scarlet actually a terrible agent? Captain Blue survives every episode and never gets any credit.
But if you look past all that, what you'll find is a surprisingly sophisticated children's show. The advantages over Thunderbirds are immediately obvious - unlike that show's bizarrely proportioned puppets, Captain Scarlet features far more life-like models.
The show's vivid visual style is still remembered fondly by fans - the extended opening sequence is a masterpiece of mood and tension, and who didn't love the stylish art-slide style closing credits? And of course, there's the fantastic theme tune, performed by 'The Spectrums' - wonder how they got that gig? All together now, "They crash him, and his body may burn..."
The dark tone of Captain Scarlet also helps the show enamour itself to fans long after childhood. Killing off your title character and replacing him with a turncoat double was always going to be a daring move for a children's series, but the show also features numerous shootings, stabbings, explosions and other surprising acts of violence.
Aside from Francis Matthews's Cary Grant-esque vocal performance as Scarlet and the
constant unseen threat of the Mysterons, another of this show's most memorable elements was the villainous Captain Black. A Spectrum agent who fell under Mysteron control, Black's dark, sunken eyes and low, booming voice were absolutely terrifying as a child. His presence, plus the high-level of on-screen violence, made Captain Scarlet a heady cocktail for a young, petrified viewer!
Perhaps the highlight of the show's brief run was the penultimate episode - the thrilling 'Attack on Cloudbase' saw the Mysterons finally descend on Earth in a direct attack, devastating Spectrum's Cloudbase and killing off the show's central characters one by one. Even the indestructible Captain Scarlet perished, leaving stoic leader Colonel White to face the alien threat alone.
Unfortunately, 'Attack' is resolved with a lame 'it was all a dream' ending. Its decision made all the more galling given that the next episode - series finale 'The Inquisition' - is essentially a glorified clip show, providing no resolution to the series. Cut the final few minutes from 'Attack on Cloudbase' and imagine what a finale that would have been!
Since Captain Scarlet ended, Gerry Anderson has worked to revive the series in various forms. A film based on the format was announced in 2000, but never surfaced - the failure of the 2004 Thunderbirds movie may have been responsible for its demise. However, a new television series - Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet - aired for 26 episodes in 2005, with new CGI technology replacing the original's puppet work.
But without the original voice actors, theme tune or gloomy style of the '60 series, New Captain Scarlet felt lacking. If you're a Scarlet aficionado, a fan of Anderson's other work looking to expand your horizons or just fancy watching a cracking piece of retro television, we'd recommend tracking down the original Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons on DVD - the complete box-set awaits!
Did you watch Captain Scarlet? Or are you more of a Thunderbirds fan? Let us know below!
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