Looking Back At CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Leading the fight, one man fate has made indestructible. His name... Martin Rayburn.

Gerry Anderson's body of work is mightily impressive, a legacy that very few will ever achieve. From Thunderbirds to Terrahawks, Supercar to Stingray, his shows have entertained generations and will likely to continue to do so for many a year. It is said that Anderson was somewhat frustrated that his shows were labelled for 'children', but one look at Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons dispels that suggestion.

In 2068 A.D., an expedition from Earth touches down on Mars. As the M.E.V. ( Martian Expeditionary Vehicle) crawls across the craggy surface, a city twinkles in the distance. Convinced they are about to be attacked, Captain Black of the security force SPECTRUM opens fire. But, minutes later, the 'dead' city reappears intact. The inhabitants of Mars - the Mysterons - have the ability to reconstruct dead matter (a process they call 'retro metabolism'). They were a peace-loving race, but now they are mad, vowing to destroy mankind. Soon after the expedition's return to Earth, Black disappears. The World President's life is threatened, so SPECTRUM - whose agents are named after colours, their leader is Colonel White - dispatches Captain's Scarlet and Brown to protect him. En route, their car crashes. Brown is reconstructed as a Mysteron agent. In one of the most chilling scenes ever on 'children's' television, Brown tries to kill the World President by becoming a human bomb. The attempt fails, so that only leaves Captain Scarlet, also Mysteronised, to complete the mission. Needless to say, it also fails, but Scarlet is soon free of Mysteron control. Being indestructible, he becomes SPECTRUM's top agent in the ongoing war of nerves against the Mysterons.

So, we have, what is being billed as, a children's show with a dead man as the hero. What a risky concept for a series, completely different to the Muffin The Mule and Sooty episodes its, supposed, target audience might be used to, and one can't help but suspect this was all conceived by Anderson to counter that he was not producing just children's television, rather quality dramatic productions, albeit with puppets.

Beginning on September 29th 1967, 32 episodes of sinister villains and violent deaths were coupled with Anderson's trademark puppetry and traditional dramatic Barry Gray score. Each week would begin with the doom-laden voice of the Mysterons, issuing their latest sabotage threat, and Captain Black duly dispatched to carry out his orders.

Compared to Anderson's other Supermarionation shows of the era, Stingray and Thunderbirds, this was nightmarish stuff indeed. Ordinary people died horribly so they could be reborn as Mysterons. One episode had a mechanic in an inspection pit being crushed when Black activated the hydraulic mechanism holding the car he was working on. 'Crater 101' saw Scarlet, Blue and Lieutenant Green heading for the Moon where the Mysterons had built a base. The scenes where they wander round the alien complex are incredibly eerie even now. 'Dangerous Rendezvous' had the Mysterons ostensibly offering to negotiate peace terms with SPECTRUM, but of course it all turned out to be a trap.

Aside from the SPECTRUM Agents the show's other major stars were the Angels - the all-girl pilots who flew sleek aircraft equipped with rockets, and had names like 'Melody', 'Symphony' and 'Rhapsody'. This, probably more than anything, dates the series to other genre shows of the era, as otherwise, like much of Anderson's puppetry work, the show has a timeless quality.

One of the best creative decision, in my humble opinion, is that we never saw the Mysterons - whenever they used their powers a pair of rings would be visible - leaving this aspect open to the imagination, and ultimately making them much more scarier because of it. There's also something very disturbing about the realisation of Captain Black. His deep set, deathly eyes, piercing the screen.

Black, like the other characters on the show, benefited from advancements and experiences from what had gone before. Produced two years after Thunderbirds, it's clear that the puppetry had noticeably improved, giving Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons probably the most lifelike of all Anderson's Supermarionation shows, helped in part to the occasional short drop-in scenes of real life actors either sitting and moving - something that was harder to recreate with the puppets. There's also the use of substantially thinner strings, or at least they are much less visible than in Thunderbirds.

The majority of the episodes stand the test of time, and overall the whole series is well paced, very exciting and tense. Perhaps it's just age talking, as we often favour things from our youth, but I truly believe this original series beats the New Captain Scarlet adventures from 2005, and to me that is down to the aforementioned pacing and tonal quality rather than any preference to puppetry over CGI.

So next time anyone tells you that all Gerry Anderson shows are just for children, sit them in front of an episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. From its creepy opening sequence onward, to the fact that the hero can die each and every week, it's about as far removed from a traditional children's series as you can get.

But please remember Captain Scarlet is indestructible. You are not.


This article was originally published 14th June 2016.

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