Top 10 Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons episodes

Feature James Stansfield 6 Sep 2012 - 07:29

Leading the fight, one man fate has made indestructible. His name: Captain Scarlet. James counts down the show's 10 best episodes here...

Gerry Anderson’s world of Supermarionation probably needs little introduction to the readers of Den of Geek. The term was coined to describe the technique of creating programmes using marionette puppets controlled by wires and internal motors. The most successful of these shows was undoubtedly Thunderbirds, the adventures of a family of do-gooding rescuers who piloted a variety of impressive vehicles. It ran for two series in 1965 and 66, and upon its cancellation made way for Gerry Anderson to create a new Supermarionation series: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

Whilst I can’t pretend to have been around in 1967 when Captain Scarlet was originally broadcast (I may be old but I’m not that old!), I saw enough episodes of Thunderbirds repeats growing up in the 80s that when the BBC began to show Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons in 1993, I could recognise that this was a show just that bit different.

Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons told the story of a war of nerves between Earth’s Spectrum organisation and a Martian race, the Mysterons, after a bit of a misunderstanding on Mars resulted in a Mysteron complex being totalled. Spectrum’s chief agent in this fight against a foe who could recreate an exact likeness of any object or person was the eponymous hero – a Cary Grant lookalike who had gained the power of indestructibility, which would come in handy time and again. Each week the unseen, but very much heard Mysterons would issue a threat upon the Earth and Spectrum would have to stop it.

For those of us who’d found Thunderbirds somewhat tame, Captain Scarlet was right up our street.  The show was much darker in tone and character. Its threats seemed much more real and well…., people died! Every week! It felt like a very grown up show masquerading as a kids programme. It didn’t pretend that mankind was wonderful and it didn’t always let the good guys win.

There were 32 episodes of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.  Here’s a pick of the best 10:

10. Spectrum Strikes Back (episode 9) 

Mysteron Threat: “You will never discover the mystery of The Mysterons.” (not really a threat, as much as a statement)

Having discovered that Mysterons are impervious to x-ray and have a weakness for electricity, Spectrum delegates and the world president come together in secret for a demo of two new weapons – the mysteron detector and the mysteron gun. Using the hilarious nicknames of Panther and Mr Bear, Captain Scarlet and his trusty sidekick, Captain Blue (they both have the same rank but Captain Blue was always the Robin to Scarlet’s Batman) join Tiger (Spectrum’s stern commander Colonel White) at a game reserve hunting lodge which rather inconspicuously descends into the ground to house a secret base.

You have to spare a thought in this episode for poor Spectrum agent, Captain Indigo. Although a Captain, he is assigned the humiliating task of being a waiter to those gathered at the base. Not only that but he gets shot by the Mysteron’s delegate on Earth, and the man responsible for starting the conflict with the martians in the first place, Captain Black, before being reconstructed as a Mysteron agent.

When the new mysteron detector (essentially an x-ray machine built on to a polaroid camera) reveals Indigo’s true identity and he sets up a descending trap, it’s Captain Scarlet in hot pursuit with the electric charge-emitting mysteron gun to save his colleagues from a pulpy death.

Spectrum Strikes Back was a memorable episode for introducing the mysteron detector and gun, though both were seldom seen again, and for some unintentional hilarity with the nicknames used by the Spectrum agents. It also revealed that anyone could enter a maximum security hide out by simply uttering the phrase “We hear they serve a fine lunch at the hunting lodge.”

9. Point 783 (episode 13) 

Mysteron Threat: “Destroy supreme commander of Earth within 24 hours”

The Mysterons stage a pretty neat tunnel booby trap for two army majors, Brooks and Storm, by having them crash into a fuel tanker. When their car emerges out the other side, the chilling music tells us they are now Mysterons.

The supreme commander of Earth is under Spectrum’s protection when during a conference Major Brooks decides to go all flame-on and blows up in an assassination attempt. Fortunately Captain Scarlet’s Mysteron sixth sense, which apparently manifests itself by making him feel sleepy (???), saves the supreme commander.  That and the fact Brooks announced he was a Mysteron seconds before detonating.

Believing the coast is clear, Spectrum accompany the supreme commander to the testing site of a formidable new remote control super-tank, deadly named The Unitron. Unfortunately, the tank goes a bit haywire and attempts to destroy the command centre. Fortunately, under Mysteron control the Unitron now appears to have forgotten how to aim.

One of Spectrum’s many assets is that it always has an SPV (Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle) hidden somewhere nearby, that it can requisite as and when needed, provided you have the correct I.D. They’re pretty strict on that.  In Point 783, it’s hidden in what appears to be a shop in Egypt. Capt. Scarlet, the supreme commander and Major Storm escape in the SPV but the Unitron follows them. Unknowingly, Captain Blue has put Major Storm, a Mysteron homing beacon in with the target. Captain Scarlet and the supreme commander eject from the SPV leaving the Mysteron agent and the Unitron to crash and burn. It seems that no weapons could stop The Unitron but driving over the side of a cliff was no match for it.

Point 783 had a unique threat in The Unitron and having a Mysteron agent as the real target with hopeful side effects to achieve their goal. There are also some good dummy threats in the episode with Major Brooks exploding before a second attempt on the supreme commander is made. The Mysterons don’t usually make additional attempts once one has failed.

8. Model Spy (episode 14) 

Mysteron Threat: “We will attack the House of Verdain. Andre Verdain will die.”

The series went a bit James Bond for its fourteenth episode. An impressive train crash opens the instalment, killing off two fashion models who are relieved from moaning about how stressful life on the catwalk can be when they are reconstructed as Mysterons. It was a markedly different tactic for the Mysterons to choose models as their agents.

Their reason for doing so became clear when fashion designer Andre Verdain is revealed to secretly be a European intelligence chief and several Spectrum agents are deployed undercover to Monte Carlo to protect him. It seems that a man resembling Captain Black has been sniffing around Verdain.

Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue pose as a P.R. guy and photographer while Symphony and Melody go in as models. Symphony and Melody were two of Spectrum’s all-girl pilot team known as The Spectrum Angels. They don’t get to leave Cloudbase all that often apart from in their jets but are greeted by exclamations of “Wow!” and “Mmm-mmm” from Scarlet and Blue when they glam up for this assignment.

After one of the Mysteron models unsuccessfully attempts to sabotage a Verdain yacht trip, Verdain uses himself as bait to lure out Captain Black. A spot of murder in the dark follows in which one of the models escapes with Captain Black and an unconscious Verdain. The other model makes a rookie mistake unwittingly revealing the Mysteron’s identities and a high speed chase between Spectrum and Captain Black ensues. In the end, Black and his accomplice cut their losses and use their Mysteron vanishing power to escape.

Model Spy was a break from the normal Captain Scarlet themes of military and intergalactic war and saw a rare time that Spectrum agents used their real names. Captain Scarlet’s given name was actually Paul Metcalfe, which was also the name of a lecturer I had at university, but I don’t think it was the same guy. The episode had a high class spy thriller feel to it with its undercover agents and French riveria setting, as well as some unique Mysteron agents.

7. Avalanche (episode 5) 

Mysteron Threat: “Destroy key links in your Frostline outer space defence programme.”

The Frostline outer space defence programme is a number of missile bases along a snowy route in Canada.  The Mysterons figure that even frozen-up weapon centres need maintenance so they handily arrange for an engineer to be brutally buried in an avalanche and reconstruct him for access to the bases.

Spectrum’s Captain Scarlet and Lieutenant Green are soon in tow of the maintenance truck arriving too late at the first base, Red Deer, to avert disaster. Scarlet reports that “We’re in the control room at Red Deer.  Something is very wrong.” I’ll say!  Everyone is dead! The Frostline commander General Ward wants to launch his missiles at Mars so it’s up to Spectrum to put a stop to the Mysteron’s plans before all inter-planetary hell can break loose.

It turns out that the Mysterons are employing death by air-conditioning within the bases. Leiutenant Green manages to fix the breathing problems before Captain Scarlet stops the Mysteron agent in his tracks by using another avalanche to derail his vehicles progress before he can crash into the main command centre in an exciting finish to the episode.

Avalanche is a notable edition of Captain Scarlet for a couple of reasons. It sees a rare off-Cloudbase appearance for Lieutenant Green who plays the part usually filled by Captain Blue on missions. Spectrum are also working against a second enemy too, that of General Ward and his impatience. It’s the first episode on this list that features the theme of mankind’s flaws and ineptitude being of a bigger danger than the Mysterons.  Finally, Avalanche easily features the highest body count of the series – a total of 321 people die, which is a pretty large number for any TV show, let alone one for youngsters.

6. Inferno (episode 28) 

Mysteron Threat: “Destroy the complex Najama”

The Mysterons have got themselves a flying bomb in the form of spaceship SKR4 which, even though it’s a recovery vehicle, is heavily armed with explosives.

Meanwhile Spectrum are following up the latest Mysteron threat by dispatching Captains Scarlet, Blue, Ochre and Magenta to the Najama irrigation planet in South America, which just happens to be next to an ancient Aztec temple. One has to assume planning permission laws in the future become more relaxed.

This episode contains some nice horror movie style elements as Spectrum creep about the temple looking for clues like they’re in a Scooby Doo cartoon. The show's fondness for character POV shots accompanied by echoey footsteps is used very well here. They’re not alone however. Captain Black actually does more than stand around looking through binoculars and telling his latest accomplice “You know what to do”, when he plants a Mysteron device in a sun god statue. That device leads the SKR4 to its target, and even though the Spectrum Angels go to “speed ultimate” to try and avert disaster the Najama complex is destroyed resulting in thousands of miles of South America becoming wasteland.

Inferno is a tremendously fun episode of Captain Scarlet. The Aztec temple setting lends a new scenario to the show and the comradeship between Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue is very entertaining. It’s also an edition in which Spectrum do not manage to stop The Mysterons.  It was episodes like this which made the show seems more exciting, with an ‘anything can happen’ type feeling.

5. Traitor (episode 29) 

Mysteron Threat: “The Spectrum organisation will be torn apart from within.”

At Koala Base in Australia (where else with a name like that?) a series of Spectrum hovercraft accidents have been occurring in spectacular fashion. In view of the latest Mysteron threat, Colonel White sends Captains Scarlet and Blue to Oz to determine if there is a traitor in the midst, even if blowing up a few hovercrafts isn’t exactly tearing apart the organisation from within.

Traitor has a nice whodunnit feeling to it as an episode. There’s a lot of listening at doors and people going for walks in the middle of the night. Part of this show is made up of a flashback to the pilot episode which feels a little unwelcome but being told from Captain Blue’s perspective gives it a nice touch.

Because of Blue’s tale and his link with the Mysterons, Captain Scarlet comes under suspicion from personnel at Koala as being the traitor himself, leading to a tense scene aboard another out of control hovercraft. After Scarlet retrieves the craft’s blackbox, it is revealed that the molecular structure of a key component had been altered. Was it The Mysterons?, or merely bad wiring?

Despite having five minutes of recycled material in it, Traitor is a really good episode for the most part and does keep you guessing as to who the titular traitor will be.

4. The Mysterons (episode 1) 

Mysteron threat: “We will assassinate your world president.”

The opening sequence of Captain Scarlet was a POV shot of an individual walking slowly into a dark alley.  Confronted by Scarlet, said individual proves to be the worst shot in the world before being taken down by a single bullet. Usually, this is accompanied by a voiceover telling the viewer about The Mysterons but for the pilot we are informed that “the finger is on the trigger”.

The trigger turns out to be a Spectrum exploration vehicle on Mars, with Captain Black at the helm. Happening upon a Mysteron complex that looks like the inside of a sweet shop, Captain Black does what all humans do when faced with something they know nothing about, and destroys it. Naturally, The Mysterons don’t take too kindly to this and after using their powers of retrometabolism to rebuild their HQ, blow Captain Black and co clean away, not before informing Black that he will now be under their control.

On Earth, Captain Brown is put in charge of protecting the world president. Cap S seems a bit peeved at this but that doesn’t last long when their car goes off the road in a ball of fire and they are reconstructed as Mysterons.  Taking the world president to the world’s worst maximum security building (it’s got a big sign on it saying MAXIMUM SECURITY BUILDING!), Captain Brown promptly turns into a bomb and explodes as his head flies through the air.

A chase ensues for the rest of the episode in which Mysteron Scarlet kidnaps the world president, ending in a hair raising finish atop a London sky view car park which features an impressive helicopter crash and Scarlet falling to his doom. It’s never really explained as to why his body wasn’t turned to mush after such a fall but that he has survived to become Spectrum's greatest weapon in their war against The Mysterons.

The opening episode of Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons had it all. It set up the series storyline and introduced all the main players in Spectrum and delivered some kick ass action. The main theme was of misunderstanding and the consequences of such actions, which would run throughout the series. Exciting and dramatic, you knew you’d be watching next week

3. White As Snow (episode 6) 

Mysteron Threat: “Kill commander in chief of Spectrum, Colonel White.”

Captain Scarlet wasn’t a series known for doing humour but that doesn’t mean that when it did, it wasn’t done well. White As Snow is probably the funniest episode in the CS canon, and also one its best.

Long before the crew of the Nostromo discovered that weird dead pilot in Alien, the term ‘Space Jockey’ was used in this episode to describe a DJ in space. In a distinctly weird sequence, 60s retro swinging music is used as a soundtrack to Captain Black turning this intergalactic radio station into a flying bomb. Its target – Spectrum Cloudbase.

Fortunately this attempt to thwart Spectrum with explosives and bad music is foiled which leads to tension between Captain Scarlet and Colonel White when the former claims that White had no real knowledge that this was a Mysteron booby trap, and might just have murdered their answer to Chris Moyles.

Colonel White leaves cloud base in order to protect the rest of Spectrum. Hiding on a submarine as Robert Snow, it seems the Mysterons are on to him when they drown an unsuspecting seaman as the sub dives. The Mysteron agent attempts to assassinate Colonel White, only to find it’s actually the indestructible Scarlet in his place and White is tied up in a cupboard. For this grand act of insubordination, White sentences Captain Scarlet to death, provoking one of the best reaction shots of the whole show from Lieutenant Green. Of course, Scarlet can’t die so he gets off scot-free and presumably thinking White is a bit ungrateful for him saving his life.

The tension between Scarlet and White is really well done in this episode. Being one of the earliest of the series, it’s one of the first times we see the different personalities in Spectrum come out. Also welcome in this episode is Captain Blue’s brief but humorous tenure as cloud base commander, instructing all off-duty personnel to attend a lecture on monkeys.

2. The Heart Of New York (episode 11) 

Mysteron Threat: “We will destroy the heart of New York.”

Definitely one of the most memorable and unique episodes of Captain Scarlet in that The Mysterons aren’t really the villains in this one.

The episode opens with someone breaking into a Spectrum vault. Immediately we assume it will be Captain Black but it turns out to be a couple of human criminals. Learning the secrets of the powers of the Mysterons, this group of would-be Hans Grubers form an elaborate plan to stage their own deaths and pretend to be Mysterons in order to rob the New York second national bank. It’s not perhaps the best plan in the world but their execution of it as their car plummets off a cliff is pretty dramatic.

This is quite an eerie episode as the silence of an evacuated New York is portrayed very well. After the fake Mysterons make their way past a Spectrum road block with ease, it’s left to Captain Black to put an end to their ways. It seems The Mysterons don’t like being taken advantage of and the greed of the bank robbers seals their fate as Black locks them in the bank’s vault before blowing the whole thing up.

Making his escape, Black distracts the incoming Captains Scarlet and Blue so the bomb can go off and debuts the Mysterons vanishing power to get away. It’s a great episode with a really different storyline to it and one where the Mysterons win again with the help of mankind’s shortcomings.

1. Attack On Cloudbase (episode 31) 

Mysteron Threat: “To destroy Cloudbase.”

Anyone who’s seen this episode will probably not be surprised it’s at number one. Upon first viewing this edition is shocking and surprisingly bleak but it makes up for that in sheer entertainment.

Symphony Angel is attacked and grounded somewhere in the desert. For reasons best known to herself, she abandons her helmet comm before passing out.

Back on Cloudbase, Colonel White is too preoccupied with the latest Mysteron threat to spend time looking for Symphony, much to the anger of Captain Blue who realises he’s in love with her. This leads to some good internal conflict between White and Blue.

Before long, a Mysteron ship comes close to Cloudbase and Rhapsody Angel is sent out to greet it. What happens next is where the episode really takes off - Rhapsody is killed by the Mysteron ship. More Mysterons appear and before long Cloudbase is under siege.

As the Mysteron flying saucers gather and Spectrum personnel are picked off one by one, there are hints creeping into the episode that all might not be quite as it seems. Colonel White’s parting words to Captain Scarlet are “If we live through this….get your hair cut.” Scarlet himself is killed off (which we know cannot happen) in a spectacular Angel jet crash but the doctor who attends to him is none other than Captain Black….and no one seems to think this is weird. The Mysteron attack intensifies and Cloudbase slowly tumbles out of the sky.

It’s Captain Blue’s lack of reaction to Captain Black which gives the game away. What we’re seeing isn’t really happening and it’s all part of Symphony’s fevered dream from passing out in the desert heat.

While the ‘it was all a dream’ tactic is one of the biggest cop-outs in fiction, it doesn’t stop this episode from being Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons' finest half hour. The character interplay and script in the episode are brilliant and combine to make a show which is funny, dramatic and shocking all at once.

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