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Joe 90
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Episode 4: Operation McClaine

"All we have to do is take you along to the hospital and say we have a nine year-old boy who's capable of performing the operation! I'm sure they'd prepare the theatre immediately!"

Synopsis

Maurice Estoral, one of Mac's favourite authors, is waiting to undergo a life-saving brain operation in the neuro-surgical section of Westbourne Hospital. Only one man has the knowledge to carry out this procedure - Doctor Emil Kados - but he is involved in a tragic plane crash en route to England. Although he survives the crash, Kados is now in a critical condition and will not be sufficiently recovered in time to perform the operation.

Mac wants to use the BIGRAT to transfer Kados' knowledge and experience to another surgeon, but Sam Loover is adamant that a fifth person cannot be allowed to find out about the machine. With time running out for Maurice Estoral, Mac transfers Doctor Kados' brain pattern to Joe, but how are they going to get a nine year-old boy into the operating theatre?

Pretty easily, as it turns out.

The Characters

Joe 90

Joe doesn't really do much this week except act as a sounding board for Mac as he plots to save Estoral. They go to Switzerland together to visit the hospital where Doctor Kados is recovering, so they can record his brain pattern, and then obviously Joe is able to complete the operation perfectly and the great Maurice Estoral is saved.

Did you ever doubt it?

Professor McClaine

Mac is apparently responsible for looking after various bits of electronic equipment in the theatre at Westbourne Hospital, which I suppose makes a vague sort of sense. He's an electronics expert, and...no, actually it doesn't make any sense at all. 'Electronics' is a vast field covering so many areas; he can't possibly have made the BIGRAT and know all about neurosurgery and also have knowledge useful for that 'sonic death ray' project that the baddies wanted him for last time. Sorry, but no. I'm not buying it and neither are you.

After realising that the only way to save Estoral is to take matters into his own hands he uses his influence to get himself a front-row seat for Estoral's operation, supposedly on the pretext of looking after all the equipment during the op. However! This is all part of his fiendish plan, as he pulls a gun on the man who's going to attempt the operation in Kados' place (Doctor Blakemore) and insists that Joe be allowed to do it instead.

'Uncle' Sam

Sam appears for just one scene this episode, when he stops by the cottage to argue with Mac about using the BIGRAT to transfer Doctor Kados' brain pattern to another surgeon before clearing off back to London, presumably to do something far more interesting...

"Record my brain pattern?"

Joe receives the brain pattern of Doctor Emil Kados, leading brain surgeon and a rather pleasant if vaguely-accented sort of chap. We briefly see him on his flight to London, where he takes advantage of the opportunity to have an entire bottle of whisky all to himself, and then again after his plane crashes when Doctors Blakemore and Sherman visit him in a Swiss hospital. We're told that he will live, but nothing else.

Mac also receives the brain pattern of an unnamed WIN agent in order to help him handle a gun properly.

 

Dialogue

MAC: "Do you have much trouble normally with the servicing of this equipment?"

"Professor McClaine, I'm going to give you three seconds to get your hands out of my trousers, and then I'm going to have you escorted off the premises..."

 

MAC: "Are you performing this operation yourself, Doctor Blakemore?"
BLAKEMORE: "Not this one, Professor. There's only one man in the world capable of this type of work."

"Batman!"

...

Sorry.

 

MAC: "Maurice Estoral...y'know Joe, he's one of the greatest writers the world has ever known."
JOE: "I've never heard of him."
MAC: "Course you haven't, Joe. But you will, when you get older."

"So does he only write those books where men and women take all their clothes off and roll all over each other, Dad?"
"That's right, Joe."
"...you have a lot of those books, don't you Dad?"
"Be quiet, Joe!"

 

KADOS: "Is the storm likely to get any worse?"
STEWARDESS: "I shouldn't think so, Sir. Don't worry, it should pass very shortly."

"That's good to hear."
"Yes, in fact I'd go so far as to say that nothing can possibly go wrong."
"...crap..."

 

BLAKEMORE: "Do you need to see any more?"
SHERMAN: "I don't think there's much point."

"You have a really small weenie and clearly the pills aren't working. What more is there to say?"

 

ESTORAL: "Doctor Blakemore, I am a man of some maturity. I feel that you have been trying to tell me something. Perhaps you would be a little more explicit? I would rather know the truth."
BLAKEMORE: "Alright."

"There's no easy way to say this, but...you're pregnant."
"Oh."
"With hamsters."
"Oh my!"

 

RECEPTIONIST (talking on the phone): "Yes, I'll impress that on him."

"The words 'I am a ninny', on his forehead. In red marker pen."

 

BLAKEMORE: "I've made my decision. I'm going to operate."
SHERMAN: "What do you estimate your chances are of succeeding?"
BLAKEMORE: "I should think about as low as 100 to 1."

"And if you go out on the town the night before?"
"Oh, I should think I'll be absolutely paralytic, but I'll still give it a go..."

 

JOE: "Scalpel...scalpel!"
(Doctor Sherman picks it up and offers it to Joe.)

BLAKEMORE: "Don't give it to him!"

"Don't you ever listen to all that stuff they teach the kids in schools, about not running with sharp objects? You give that to him, he...why, he might run with it!"

 

Trivia

At the Cottage

A new piece of BIGRAT equipment is unveiled this week - it's a balloon with some antennae on it. Oh yes indeed.

Well, there's more to it than that obviously, but not much more. Once high enough the balloon acts as a relay point between the BIGRAT itself and a portable brain pattern recorder Mac uses to record the brain pattern of Doctor Kados, in what my notes for this episode tell me was a 'very funky sequence'. I seem to have written that down in bold, so obviously I was very impressed with it at the time...

Also, with both Mac and Joe in Switzerland, the BIGRAT is seen to be capable of automatically operating itself in order to record this pattern...

Interestingly, in a line filmed for this episode but deleted from the final cut, Mac would have revealed the reason behind his having experimented on Joe in the first place; a child's mind is so much more receptive to the brain-pattern transfer process than an adult's. If only they'd left that line in then it would have gone some way to explaining the premise of the entire series...

Calling all Spectrum agents!

Finally we get an appearance by a major Captain Scarlet character. While Doctors Blake and Sherman are represented by the puppets who are best known for playing Captain Brown and the World President respectively, it's Symphony Angel who gets to be the first Scarlet regular to appear in Joe 90. Now sporting enormous black hair she plays the stewardess on Doctor Kados' flight to England, and dooms herself and the majority of the passengers with her cheery optimism in the face of a raging thunderstorm.

But Symphony isn't the only Angel to appear this episode, however, as Rhapsody also makes a brief appearance as the nurse at the Swiss hospital now sporting another even bigger hairdo.

And that's about it, except for...

Ahhh! Monkey Bastard cameo! Yes, he's lurking in the background at the hospital...holding a picture of a grumpy old lady by the looks of things. It's probably his dear old mum...

Where have I seen...?

There's re-used stuff a plenty this week, so much so that I wonder if this episode was specifically written simply to get some more use out of the medical props and hospital sets that were built for the Captain Scarlet episode Operation Time. The masks and surgical smocks for the puppets are used again here, while the operating theatre is almost exactly the same as the one as on Cloudbase, hardly anything has been changed.

Here's Cloudbase's...

...and here's this episode's.

As you can see, the panels on the walls are the same, the trolley of surgical instruments is the same, the two mobile computer thingies appear to have swapped places, the bed and whatever that thing is on the ceiling have moved across, and a desk has been ripped out of the far wall and brought nearer the camera. Even the machine with all the knobs and switches that Dr Magnus used to electrocute Captain Scarlet is here. The only new thing part of the room would seem to be the floor, so while I can understand them wanting to get their money's worth on this set they still could have disguised it a bit better. Painted it a different colour at least.

And it's not just props that reappear; the rather distinctive operating theatre music from Operation Time can also be heard during the operation scene, while more recently the interior of the plane seen in this episode is the same one from Splashdown and The Most Special Agent.

There's also a few models that seem vaguely familiar but which I can't quite put my finger on (the plane, the Swiss hospital), while Mac uses a gun that could easily be mistaken for a Spectrum handgun painted black...

Oops!

Mac and Joe apparently left all the lights on in the cottage when they went to Switzerland to record Kados' brain pattern. That's not gonna look too good when the electricity bill comes in...

Also, Mac is quite clearly standing on a box during his argument with Sam.

My favourite moment of the episode comes as Doctors Blakemore and Sherman debate whether or not to let Joe take over the operation. Just behind them, in the background, you can see Joe moving across the screen as if he's coming to take their place...only they've clearly just stuck the puppet on a trolley or something and are pushing him along the set. He's not moving naturally, he just glides past in the background as stiff and immobile as if he's on wheels. It's terribly amusing.

Additional Notes

The episode opens with Doctor Blakemore and two nurses carrying out a rehearsal of the operation they're going to perform on Maurice Estoral. Taking Estoral's place under the sheets is Doctor Sherman, and I honestly don't know why he's there since they're actually testing all the equipment the operation will require for real. "Switch on the laser lance," Doctor Blakemore tells a nurse, and a rather ominous buzzing noise is heard as the laser is powered up. My own personal theory is that Doctor Sherman got drunk the previous night, found his way back to the hospital and decided to have a nap on the surgical bed, so that when Blakemore and co came in next morning nobody knew he was there. He's only saved from having the top of his head phasered off by Mac's sudden entrance.

And with Mac's arrival, Doctor Blakemore dismisses the two nurses. "Thank you Doctor, good night." they say cheerily, despite the fact that it's broad daylight outside...

There's plenty of sequences involving the Jet Air Car in this episode, so many in fact that it becomes almost fetishistic. There's roadworks in progress; the Jet Air Car flies over them. There's a train at the level-crossing; the Jet Air Car flies over it. The gates at the hospital are closed (?); the Jet Air Car flies over them. Padding if ever I saw it, but what's sadder is that these bits are probably the most exciting parts of the episode. And speaking of the train, it's very strange to see contemporary-looking railway vehicles in any of these shows...

There's a nice moment of puppetry during the scene on the plane, as Dr Kados looks out of the window at the storm for a few moments before going back to the book he's reading. Suddenly there's a big flash of lightning, and he nervously looks out the window again. It's such a little thing but it does go some way to making these puppets seem more life-like...

This newspaper covering the plane crash is quite interesting, as newspapers go, particularly the beginning of the lead article...

If you can't make it out, it reads as follows:

CAPTAIN WILLIAM BARRY, AND CO-PILOT FRANK CASPER, WHO TOGETHER PLAYED A MAJOR PART IN FOILING A SINISTER PLOT TO DESTROY THE FREE WORLD, WERE AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE YESTERDAY FOR THE ROYAL INVESTITURE.

This is a reference to the previous episode, as apparently this newspaper mockup was first created for the epilogue of Splashdown. Although it doesn't actually appear in the finished episode (Mac just reads out the above but we don't see it close-up) it was probably intended to be.

In fact this particular newspaper has quite a long and distinguished career in the Supermarionation shows, having had any number of different headlines slapped on it over the course of the various series. At any rate it appeared in the Thunderbirds episode Path of Destruction which I just so happened to watch over the weekend (in High Definition, ooh, get me!), which is the only reason I mention it. I'm not such a rabid fan that I can detail the entire history of a prop newspaper.

Well, thinking about it I probably am. But I'm still not going to.

Final Thoughts

One of the things Joe 90 did very well and that the other Supermarionation series never even attempted was small, intimate character-driven shows where not much happens but you still get a nice warm fuzzy feeling by the end of it. This, sadly, is not one of those episodes. This is just tedious, with the climax being particularly uninvolving since a brain operation - the very thing the whole story has been building up to - can't be shown on screen, so all you get many closeups of a clock while the other characters just stand around and watch Joe.

Also, Mac pulling a gun on two surgeons and then getting away with it entirely just doesn't feel right. He's not going to get punished, because he knows that if the doctors or nurses tell anyone what really happened no-one will believe them, which I guess makes some sense but it does highlight a rather manic streak in his character...

At least with Operation Time you had the excitement of a car chase and an evil Mysteron agent; this is basically the same story but with all the exciting and interesting parts taken out, leaving very little left to recommend it. The only remotely exciting scene would have been the plane crash, but we don't even get to see that as it happens off-screen.

There's some nice character work between Mac and Joe, and between Doctor Blakemore and Maurice Estoral, but it just isn't enough to save this episode from a pretty low score. It's not unwatchable in itself, just rather boring...

RAT TRAPs (out of five)

A scene from the unfinished episode The Amazing Colossal Mac...

 

Joe's getting a bit cross that I don't include many pictures of him in these guides, so here's one just to avoid his wrath...

 

"Ooh, that's a nice one of you. Shows off your jawbone ever so nicely..."

 

"I was so sorry to hear of your illness, Mr Estoral."
"But Professor, I keep telling everyone my condition was only brought on by the hideous wallpaper in this room! But they still won't move me!"

 

It was a good fifteen minutes into the operation before Mac realised he'd accidentally given his son the brain pattern of a top chef, though everyone agreed that Joe's 'Brain d'Estoral in a white wine sauce' was to die for...