Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons: The Complete Collection – DVD Review
By Roger Crow
The first show I fell in love with is now 50 years old, and like countless others weaned on Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, I’m wondering where the time went.
The follow up to Thunderbirds, it was darker than Gerry Anderson’s previous Supermarionation show. The tale of an indestructible agent fighting lethal Martians left an indelible mark on the minds of millions. Back in the days of Spangles and Space Hoppers, my mates and I would play Spectrum agents at school. “I’ll be Captain Scarlet,” said one kid. “I’ll be Captain Red,” said another, not realising there was no Captain Red, or that it was the same colour. (In the 1970s, we had black and white TV, so every agent who wasn’t Captain Black or Colonel White was Lt Grey or Capt Dark Grey).
Richard Greene had played Captain Scarlett, yes, with two ts, in a quickly forgotten swashbuckler. There was no danger of confusing Gerry and Sylvia’s creation with that movie. However, I always wondered why no one attempted a live action version. Perhaps the reception of 2004 flop Thunderbirds buried that idea. The space race had dominated Scarlet’s production, so little wonder the idea of a floating skybase seemed perfectly feasible years before similar craft emerged in Marvel movies and Doctor Who’s aircraft carrier, Valiant. (Cloudbase’s inspiration had come from World War Two fighter pilots who had to waste precious minutes getting airborne before encountering the enemy).
The late sixties was also a time when cigarettes seemed fine in kids’ shows. After all, sweet shops were selling edible versions, including edible tobacco (!). The sight of Captain Brown literally smoking in episode one, and detonating, is still pretty disturbing even now.
Any fantasy drama rests and falls on its villains, and while bad guys in dark alleys had been done to death, we’d never seen anything like those lethal Mysterons. The alien rings, inspired by an Oxo commercial in which a logo travelled across a (human) model, were a stroke of genius. Any kid with a torch could recreate the most fearsome aliens in the galaxy, especially if they adopted a voice which sounded like a 45rpm single played at 33rpm.
While Paul Metcalfe, Adam Svenson, Charles Gray, Conrad Turner and Seymour Griffiths were all fine character names, the fact they carry less weight than their colour-centric alter egos is testament to the power of Captain Scarlet. And featuring a cast of characters from around the world meant it could play in just about every country.
“The fear of God”
Finding the right man to play the show’s eponymous hero was partly thanks to DJ Pete Murray’s radio show Open House. Guest Francis Matthews did his party piece impression of Cary Grant. A listening Gerry Anderson loved it and snapped him up. Matthews had other commitments in the days before dialogue could be recorded on the other side of the world and sent via computers. While in Manchester working on a stage version of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, he was flown half way down the country every morning to the recording studio.
And it was his own young kids who were treated to a sneak peek at the show. Producer Reg Hill wanted to see their reaction, so when the Mysterons put the fear of God into them, he knew this enemy had something more than your average villain.
Half a century after Captain Scarlet made his debut, the Spectrum agent is still going strong. It seems he truly is indestructible.