Episode 10 – "Special Assignment"
"Spectrum will kick me out!"
Captains Grey and Magenta turn up to Colonel White’s briefing sessions but don’t say anything.
Quite a bizarre one this week. "We told you that we intend to obliterate the subcontinent of North America. We will be avenged." Makes it sound as if the Mysterons have made the threat already and are just ringing Spectrum back as a little reminder.
They also begin with, "We will deal another crushing blow..." which is a laugh as, after nine episodes, they’ve accomplished bugger all. They’ve only won twice and even then one of the victories (the assassination of the Asian Republic leader in episode 2) occurred due to the most unbelievably lucky coincidence imaginable.
Captain Scarlet has gone off the rails! He’s lost £5000 at the casino and his gambling has resulted in his enforced resignation from Spectrum. Mysteron Agents visit him in his new digs at a seedy hotel and make him a business offer he can’t refuse – and refuse them he doesn’t. The Mysterons want an SPV and Scarlet might just let them have it, and if Captain Blue has to be shot then that’s just tough luck. Has Scarlet really turned his back on Spectrum? Is he really once more in league with the Mysterons?
Once again we have Mysterons who seemingly need to do all of their dirty work by hand, assassinating a mechanic so that he can then remove the brake fluid from the car of the two men they really want out of the way, as opposed to just destroying their car from afar (as they did in the first episode). Personally I reckon this makes them far more interesting and scary – there’s this sense that anybody you meet, even if they seem normal enough, could in fact be an evil Mysteron agent ready to kill you. Of course, this scare factor is slightly lessened by the fact that this is a puppet serial. But still. Y’know.
Scarlet ejects himself from the SPV after allowing himself to be shot in the chest by the Mysterons. The sight of his lifeless corpse floating down to the ground in the ejector chair/parachute to stirring Spectrum music is one of the most ghoulish things ever witnessed in this show.
Actually Spectrum’s really very competent this time round. Even the Angels manage to hit the SPV after only a few shots, which marks a stark contrast to their usual accuracy when not firing at stationary targets on a Spectrum shooting range.
The Mysterons do not succeed in destroying an entire continent, so:
Spectrum: 8 Mysterons: 2
No poor expository dialogue this time round.
A genuinely funny bit of dialogue:
WHITE: "I want the whole story! And fast!"
GREEN: "Captain Blue went to find Captain Scarlet. I’ve been covering for him."
The closing gag:
GREEN: "Captain Scarlet, I’ve worked out a roulette system by computer; it’s great! Would you help me with it?"
SCARLET: "Leftenant! You know I never gamble!"
Oh, you! And I swear that the puppet begins smirking. Bloody Hell.
Colonel White doesn’t give a big speech at the casino in which he ends up in – which would have been enjoyably bizarre – but does explain the plot in very simple and patronising terms to Captain Blue. "You were baffled and concerned when Scarlet was dismissed: a natural reaction. This helped to deceive the Mysterons." Full credit to Captain Blue for not saying something like "Nah, sorry, I still don’t get it; explain it again, you old duffer."
The Mysteron agents spot Scarlet at the casino:
AGENT 1: "The dark, good looking fellow at the table…"
AGENT 2: "Yeah…"
AGENT 1: "He could be just the type we’re looking for…"
Hmm. So the Mysterons are deviating from their quest to destroy North America to pick up some quick trade. It’s novel, I’ll give ‘em that.
The first scene between Scarlet and the Mysteron agents, in which the Mysterons tell Scarlet that they want an SPV, ends with:
AGENT 1: "It’s your IOU for 5000. A little cooperation and maybe I could just… tear it up…"
Ooo. Close up on Scarlet, seedy music, fade to next scene – quite absorbing stuff. Unfortunately the very next scene set in a bar begins with Scarlet asking:
SCARLET: "If I get you a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle you’ll tear up my IOU for 5000?"
He’s not very sharp, this boy.
The scene in which Scarlet discuses terms with the Mysteron agents is ultimately superfluous in the end owing to later revelations (see Additional Notes) but it’s quite good and involving anyway. Up until:
SCARLET: "I want 25% of whatever’s involved!... A quarter for you, a quarter for you, a quarter for me… and a quarter for Mr X."
Um, quite. We’ve spiralled into the clutches of traditional crime pulp scripting. Even the Mysterons haven’t got a clue what he’s on about.
AGENT 1: "Mr. X?!"
SCARLET: "Yes. The brains behind this! Something obviously lacking in you… gentlemen..."
Ooo, Scarlet, you’re well ‘ard, you are.
BLUE: "I’m trying to locate a friend of mine. You may know him. Paul Metcalfe. Tall, dark, blue eyes..."
Uh, you’re revealing a bit too much about yourself there, Adam…
SCARLET: "Interesting map."
Eh? How can a map be interesting? And what’s with the snide tone? I mean, if it tells you where things are then there’s not much more you can ask of it, really.
And give it up for "Nothing can stop us now!"
As the Mysteron threat is so difficult for Spectrum to pinpoint – North America being a big place – then during the emergency only two officers are allowed to leave Cloudbase at any time. Unsurprisingly it’s Scarlet and Blue, though the latter doesn’t question why they’re immediately allowed to go on leave to a casino to enjoy themselves whilst everybody else is stuck on the base, feverishly working. Eventually the threat is discovered, and, naturally, only one man can deal with it… erm, Captain Ochre.
DIRECTOR: "Well, Captain Ochre, have we any further information?"
The Mysteron grudge against car mechanics is brought to the fore once again as yet another is killed within the first two minutes (and seemingly voiced by the guy that voiced Scott Tracy), reversed over by Captain Black in his car. Said agent then kills off two surly chaps before never being seen again, so presumably he’s still there. And, as if to hammer the point home, Captain Scarlet punches out another garage mechanic when getting the SPV for the Mysterons.
The stolen SPV is swiftly obliterated by Symphony Angel. And presumably the 5000 (the currency is never actually named) that Scarlet lost at the casino was real as well.
Deprived of its precious brake fluid, a car rounds a steep corner and flings itself off a cliff quite spectacularly.
Six large explosions and one small one. Particularly satisfying is the eventual SPV destruction with nice rippling explosion sound fx. Woarrghh! That’s the stuff.
Captain Blue uses Scarlet’s real name when aghast at his friend’s inability to win at roulette. Scarlet returns the favour later in order to provide emotional depth to his resignation from Cloudbase via a quick pause in the doorway before exiting. "Goodbye, Adam…"
Scarlet also introduces himself as Paul Metcalfe to his Mysteron visitors in the hotel.
And, finally, Blue yells out "Paul!" when the latter shoots him in the Mysteron base. Quite a shocking moment, that, until you recall a scene that happened earlier in the episode (see "Additional Notes").
For once Colonel White is allowed out on leave with the others at the end of the episode, going to the casino with Scarlet, Blue and Green (Good God, they let the lieutenant leave his desk!). He sounds quite pleased, though marks a contrast with the others in their casual roll-neck jumpers and jackets by deciding to go in a business suit and tie. That crazy Colonel!
Captain Blue’s car drives through that same bit of London that we’ve seen in every other London episode so far. Only I’m fairly sure that this episode is meant to be set in Arizona.
Clever puppetry endeavours to make Scarlet’s losing of all his funds in the casino a moment of high emotional drama. He closes his eyes and dips his head slowly, frowning severely in the fashion that only a Francis Matthew puppet can do. There’s also some very good "elbow propped up on the bar in depression" stuff later on.
Captain Blue manages to trace the rogue Scarlet’s movements to the seedy Gregory Hotel in Arizona – but how the Hell did he do it?
The ad break cliffhanger is quite funny; Captain Black gazing out of a window before swinging round to stare at the camera, as if he’s surprised to see us.
Once again a Spectrum officer hears Captain Black speaking and murmurs "That voice…" What’s so significant about the voice? I don’t get it.
Captain Blue arrives at the Mysteron agents’ base in a blue car, but once we cut to the puppet he’s sitting inside a red saloon.
All right, and now the plot. Of course, Scarlet is just pretending to be a Mysteron agent in order to draw the other Mysteron agents into revealing themselves and their plan to him by making them think that he’s resigned from Spectrum. How on Earth the Colonel knew where Scarlet should go to be seen by the Mysteron agents I haven’t a clue but we’ll forget that for the moment. The actual Mysteron plan is to use an SPV to smash through the defences of Nuclear City, Nevada (a place of which we learn absolutely nothing about) and then blow it up – presumably causing a massive nuclear blast (going purely by the city’s name). Now, the entire "Scarlet joins the Mysterons" subplot might have had us wondering throughout – just might – had one scene been cut from the beginning of the episode. Instead of having, say, a scene where he and the Colonel had some sort of argument, perhaps leading credence to Scarlet’s sudden desire to ruin his own career, a Spectrum meeting ends with the Colonel saying:
WHITE: "Um, I’d like you to stay a moment, Captain Scarlet…"
… which instantly singles Scarlet out. Not too heinous a crime, we could have lived with that. But the point is sledgehammered by a following bit of dialogue:
WHITE: "Captain Scarlet, I have received a report from Spectrum Intelligence. It will mean I have a special assignment for you. This is what I want you to do..."
Well thanks for that. Any possibility of dramatic tension has now been chucked out the window as we now know that Scarlet’s going to be doing something a bit different this episode so we’ve basically been told to expect the unexpected. I know it’s just a kids’ show but even kids like to be kept guessing.
And it’s not as if Scarlet’s all that secretive about his true allegiance; when driving the SPV with the Mysteron agents he makes a great show of setting off a smoke-trail so that the Angels will follow it, instantly alerting the agents to what’s going on. Berk.
Another attempt at doing something a bit different, albeit not entirely successful. As I said above, with one earlier scene edited or altered then this could have been better than it actually is, though even then the emphasis on Scarlet’s apparent alliance with the Mysterons means that the rest of the story isn’t fleshed out at all; we never learn what Nuclear City actually is (is it really a city or just some sort of nuclear plant?) nor how destroying it would obliterate the entirety of North America. I mean, I’m not expecting marvellously convoluted yet entirely logical plotting of Conan Doyle standards from a Supermarionation show, but you’ve got to cover your basics. A moderately entertaining episode but that’s about it.
Our setting, ladies and gents. Ludicrous tollbooth not shown.
"Ooo!" Yes, I’m impressed as well.
Awkward angsty conversation in the car. Yes, their romance is dead.
"I, er… I can’t pay you a tip."
Well you can tell by the way they use their walk that they’re women’s men, with no time to talk. Fashionable? Oh, I should say so. Lieutenant’s already brushing himself up to punch a heckler’s teeth out. Youth of today, I don’t know…