As a science fiction fan, 2005 stands out for me because it marked the return of Doctor Who. I was a fan of the classic series and watched as many episodes as I could in college and had been grateful when the Albuquerque PBS station began getting new episodes within a year of release. At the 2005 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, they had a special screening and I attended with my daughter and a friend. We were delighted to see our favorite Time Lord back on the screen and portrayed well by Christopher Eccleston.
What I didn’t know was that another series of a similar vintage would also be resurrected the same year. In all fairness, I wasn’t all that familiar with Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons from 1966. In fact, the only “Supermarionation” show I knew at the time was Thunderbirds. What’s more, Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet didn’t have quite as auspicious a debut in the UK as Doctor Who did. My impression is that many original Captain Scarlet fans wouldn’t learn about the new show until after it first aired. It turns out, New Captain Scarlet originally aired as part of a kids variety show called Ministry of Mayhem. The clips I’ve seen remind me of Nickelodeon or Disney Channel variety shows of the same era.
Like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was a science fiction series filmed using marionettes as the performers. As with many Gerry Anderson shows, this show featured fantastic ground and air vehicles and even a flying base for the heroes reminiscent of the Hellicarrier from Marvel’s Avengers comics. The heroes belong to an organization called Spectrum which was formed to defend Earth against alien invasion. Spectrum agents have color-themed code names, hence the titular Captain Scarlet. The original series was rather progressive for 1966 in that Spectrum’s executive officer, Lieutenant Green, was a black man and the fighter pilots were all women.
New Captain Scarlet is, essentially, a remake of the original. Instead of using marionettes, the characters are animated with computer graphics. The series opens as Captain Scarlet and his friend, Captain Black, are sent to Mars to investigate some mysterious alien signals. They arrive on the scene and find an empty crater. Then the signals resume and soon the city of the Mysterons appears. A small probe is launched and heads toward the Spectrum vehicle. Fearing an attack, Captain Black fires at the probe. This sets off a chain reaction which destroys the city. A moment later, the city rebuilds itself. Captain Black and Captain Scarlet run away, only to be killed by the Mysterons. Captain Scarlet is resurrected right away as an agent of the Mysterons. Scarlet returns to Earth with Black’s body and Scarlet then attempts to destroy Sky Base and Spectrum. He’s knocked through an energy beam and wakes awhile later. This time, he’s free of Mysteron control, but he’s also virtually indestructible because he exists in a Mysteron-built body. The Mysterons then resurrect Captain Black to lead the assault.
Most episodes feature Spectrum battling some new Mysteron plot. In the new series, Lieutenant Green is not only black, but a woman. We also get some women agents, such as Captain Ocher, who appears in a few episodes. The fighter pilots are still women, though we do have one episode where a man is a candidate. Unfortunately, he falls victim to the Mysterons early in the episode where he appears.
I couldn’t help but think that Spectrum brought on this conflict themselves when Captain Black destroyed the Mysteron city. However, when I rewatched the episode, I realized the probe he destroyed made an awfully big explosion to be a simple probe. It would seem the Mysterons were out to wreak havoc from the beginning.
One of my favorite episodes of the series is set in New Mexico when Captain Ocher must contend with a biker gang called the Grey Skulls. The gang has existed since the 1947 Roswell crash and they believe they exist to fight against alien invasion. It was fun to see Captain Ocher convince them they’re on the same side and the Mysterons are the new threat. It was also fun to see the animators portray saguaro cacti growing around Roswell! That slight inaccuracy noted, the CG animation in the series did improve over the series’ run.
As you might imagine, New Captain Scarlet has a somewhat dark tone. It’s hard to imagine it fitting in well with the silly Ministry of Mayhem format, which involved the hosts getting involved in pie fights and being placed in dunking tanks. I also suspect that few fans of the original would have known to seek out the remake in such a variety show. Fortunately, New Captain Scarlet is much easier to find today. It’s available on a multi-region Blu-ray disk from the Gerry Anderson store at https://shop.gerryanderson.com/products/new-captain-scarlet-blu-ray-the-complete-series
Speaking of remakes, be sure to tune in on Tuesday, when I will unveil the revised edition of Heirs of the New Earth. This is the final thrill-and-surprise-packed final novel in my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Laura Givens has delivered an outstanding cover and I’ll be showing it off then and letting you know how you can get a copy for yourself.
*Doctor Who* came back in 2005, almost 17 years ago? Gee, I remember when 17 years was a lifetime; now it seems like only….
While I’ve seen *Thunderbirds* many times, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched *Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons*. I do see an official posting of the first episode online, so plan to check it out.
I performed several times with marionettes and muppets, but not professionally–my partners and I were puppeteers for local groups. Still, it was a lot of fun. I learned that, even though both are puppets, they’re almost complete opposites. With muppets, you make the movements bigger than life. With marionettes, you make the movements smaller than life; you have to be subtle.
Actually, now that you mention it, I think I discovered classic Doctor Who when it was 17 years old! I believe the first episodes of both the original Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and New Captain Scarlet have been posted by the official Gerry Anderson channel on YouTube, so yes, you should be able to watch both.
I’ve never worked with marionettes, other than to play with a couple. I have worked with muppet-like hand puppets before an audience. Yes, there’s a real art to working with them. Bigger than life as you say, but it is possible to go too big. You have to learn to get them in just the right range for the audience to buy into them and see them as funny (as opposed to laughing at the puppeteer’s goofy performance!).
As an aside, I think “Muppet” is actually a trademark of the Jim Henson Workshop and refers to the specific hand puppets they build.
Cool that you also performed with hand puppets.
You are likely right on the rights to “Muppet.” So, technically, we used hand puppets, several utilizing rods, with wide mouths and protruding eyes, molded or carved out of foam and covered with a felt-like material. These were performed with the puppeteer hidden, and the puppets raised above our heads. (In short, exactly like “Muppets,” but without the trade name.) And I agree with you that you can get “too big.”
I just watched the first episode of the original *Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons*. The visuals, puppets, puppeteering, vocals are great. There were some places where I had to ignore logic and what I know about security, but hey, this isn’t a science or security-training program.
While I may strongly disagree with the Mysterons’ response, I do think Captain Black’s actions were not what Captains Kirk or Picard or Janeway (or Doctor Who) would have done under similar circumstances.
I think “muppet” has become pretty generic for foam hand puppets with a felt outer layer in the same way “kleenex” has become generic in many cases for facial tissue, but back when I was performing with the puppet troop, we were always careful not to refer to our puppets as muppets to avoid any possible rights issues.
Great that you had a chance to watch the first episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Yes, I can’t help but wonder how different the story would have been if Captain Black had tried talking instead of firing first. In New Captain Scarlet, a Mysteron faction emerges that disagrees with their people’s violent tactics and reaches out to Spectrum to try to form an alliance. It’s once of my favorite episodes of the updated series.