Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet

Saturday, February 12, 2005 by

It seems as though former puppetmaster Gerry Anderson has had his new hi-tech version of Captain Scarlet in development ever since the original series finished its original run. But finally, after years of attempts to find a buyer for the new show, Scarlet finds itself as the filling in a Ministry of Mayhem sandwich on Saturday mornings. This seems to be quite a sensible slot for the programme, although annoyingly, it is chopped in half to enable MoM presenters to lay on some contest or other involving a pop star.

Nothing that Anderson has done since the original Captain Scarlet has been quite as successful and after a string of mediocre shows, he will be hoping that his return to a former favourite will bring glory to back to his company.

New Captain Scarlet starts from a fresh perspective, with episode one establishing all a new audience needs to know about the show. Although no prior knowledge is required, some viewers will undoubtedly still feel the need to catalogue any of the alterations in the format. For example, out goes Barry Gray’s memorable theme, replaced now by a more action-orientated, but distinctly bland composition by long-time Anderson collaborator Crispin Merrell. Lt Green is now female, Colonel White has regained the ability to walk, Cloudbase has been rechristened Skybase, the characters now have first names and most of them speak with American accents. The Queen’s English tones of Francis Matthews are gone for this show, which appears to indicate the hope that Scarlet may go own well in the USA. Thankfully, however, certain elements from the old series remain, such as the S.I.G. call signs and the deep, foreboding voice of the Mysterons.

Most significant is the fact that you can no longer see the strings, because for the new versions’ character, human hands in close-up and Supermarionation are out, replaced by a CGI technique known here as, inevitably, as “Hypermarionation”. In reality, this means nothing and is probably just an excuse for another nod to the past. In fact, the computer graphics are polished, but quite cartoonish, giving the show the appearance of an X-Box game. Chief mover behind the images onscreen is Ron Thornton, a computer expert whose talents have been utilised on the likes of Babylon 5, Star Trek: Voyager and even Blake’s 7 in the past. Tellingly, his CV also boasts contributions to Roughnecks: The Starship Trooper Chronicles and Hypernauts, and it is these that the new Captain Scarlet appears to owe most to visually.

Former Coronation Street scriptwriter Phil Ford is the man in charge of the pen on the new series, and in “Instrument of Destruction: Part One”, he establishes the Spectrum organisation and the main characters. We learn that whilst on a mission to Mars Captains Scarlet and Black (whose real name we discover is in fact, Conrad Lefkon) happened across a secret Martian city. The Martians – or Mysterons – are disgusted by the destructive tendencies of humanity and to prevent themselves falling prey to it set out to wipe Earth from the face of the universe.

A failed attempt to bend Captain Scarlet to their will results in failure and the Mysterons turn their attention to his newly-deceased colleague. Black, who had apparently been buried in Scotland, is resurrected after green glowing Mysteron “eyes” cast themselves across his grave. This time they are successful in their subversion, and Black becomes their agent. Besides, we know he is bad because he is equipped with facial stubble, a strange green pallor and a long Matrix-style leather coat. Scarlet meanwhile is discovered to have been genetically-altered by his experience and now finds that he is virtually indestructible.

So, it seems to be a case of so far so good. Everything is established very quickly, and the action comes thick and fast. Fans of the original series are unlikely to be convinced that computers are preferable to puppets, but they’re most likely all middle-aged now – and the new show isn’t for them anyway. The real question concerning Captain Scarlet, however, is whether or not it will have the pulling power to entice young viewers away from the ever-popular Dick and Dom and their creamy muck-muck over on BBC1.


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