Back in 2005, two iconic 1960s British TV science fiction institutions were dragged out of obscurity, dusted down, given a fresh lick of paint and offered up hopefully to a domestic TV audience which had lost its taste for such outlandish, far-fetched entertainment. History records how Russell T Davies’s magnificently well-considered resurrection of Doctor Who became, for a few years, one of the most popular and adored shows on TV thanks to the loving support of the BBC, who clearly appreciated the quality of the product and the care and attention with which it had been created. Sadly the same was not to be true for New Captain Scarlet, the lavish, state-of-the-art CGI reinvention of the slightly macabre 1967 Supermarionation series created by Gerry Anderson who oversaw this colourful, vibrant and equally downbeat revival. The series features a hero who is killed in the first episode and resurrected as an indestructible agent for Spectrum, a worldwide peace-keeping organisation operating out of a massive floating Skybase and the ingredients of every episode include mass slaughter, zombified aliens and general death and destruction. In retrospect, it’s a little surprising that ITV chose to hack the episodes to pieces in its initial UK broadcast and bury the segments amidst the Saturday morning madness of its Ministry of Mayhem children’s entertainment strand. Inevitably, New Captain Scarlet sank pretty much without a trace. One can only imagine Gerry Anderson’s despair in seeing such intricate, painstaking work reduced to cheap filler material.
The arrival of this handy three-disc Blu-ray boxset allows many to view the twenty-six episode series for the first time as Nature and its creator intended. What’s most surprising about the reboot is how little of the format of the original series has been changed. There are a few superficial tweaks in costume design, Spectrum’s 1960s Cloudbase HQ is renamed, some of Spectrum’s hardware is updated (the new vehicles, sadly, lack the sweep and style of the models from the original series) and there are a few concessions made to the changing social world order of the 21st century. But the show’s tone is as grim and nihilistic as it ever was. In the two-part series opener Captains Scarlet and Black are killed by the Mysterons during an expeditionary visit to Mars but both are brought back to life by eerie alien technology (the glowing green circular lights of the original series are back) but where Black is now a sinister Mysteron agent operating on Earth to wipe out all human life, Scarlet has evaded Mysteron control but now appears indestructible which quickly makes him Spectrum’s most useful and important weapon in its war of attrition with the inscrutable Martians.
The emphasis here is very much on action and spectacle over character. Each twenty-odd minute episode is high on adrenalized action – explosions, chases, fist fights, more explosions – with some casual character beats thrown into the mix every now and again as Scarlet and his chums occasionally flirt with the pneumatic female pilots of the Angel Interceptor aircraft. Motion capture technology (Hypermarionation for the purposes of this particular series) gives character movement a far greater fluidity than the old Supermarionation days and while the CGI generally stands up well a dozen years after the event (bearing in mind how such technology is continually developing), there’s a disturbing unearthliness in the facial animation; chalky, blotchy complexions abound and many of the characters look permanently stunned or startled.
Like its 1960s forefather, New Captain Scarlet is a bit of a slog because, by its very nature, it can’t help coming across as a bit grey and dour despite the proliferation of explosions and the colour-coded conceit of its core characters and at its heart it still seems like a concept a bit too downbeat for kids looking for a quick fix of sci-fi fun.
This well-presented Blu-ray set finally gives the show the respect it deserves following the appallingly-offhand treatment afforded to it in its day and if it often lacks the curious charm of the 1960s original, it certainly doesn’t disgrace its memory and stands as a testament to Gerry Anderson’s enduring, inexhaustible creativity even in the latter stages of his life and career.
Special features: Commentaries, 2014 Convention panel footage, Return of the Mysterons, image galleries
GERRY ANDERSON’S NEW CAPTAIN SCARLET /CERT:12 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: WAYNE FORRESTER, ROBBIE STEVENS, MIKE HAYLEY, EMMA TATE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW