EPISODE 27 – "THE LAUNCHING"
"All state leaders run the risk of assassination…"
"You continue your futile defence against us even though you must know that you cannot succeed."
Um, Mr Ron, have you checked the Spectrum Success Rate score recently? The Earth is holding up quite well at the moment, thank you.
"In order to show you your ineffectiveness, we will deal you yet another crippling blow."
Yet another… yet another… um… Yeah, can’t think of any off the top of my head…
"We will destroy President Roberts within the next twelve hours."
Ooo. Well, we’d like to see you try. And we’re going to, no doubt. Of course, exactly four seconds after this threat, we get:
COLONEL: "Well, we’ve all heard the latest Mysteron threat. They intend to assassinate President Roberts."
SCARLET: "Yes, sir, and within the next twelve hours!"
I thought inane repetition was Captain Blue’s arena, but he’s quite comfortable slouching against the Colonel’s desk in the background.
Mervin Brand, a reporter for the Tribune, is killed when his jet is struck by lightning in a thunderstorm and he is replicated by the Mysterons. Spectrum, upon hearing the latest threat, immediately set up a maximum-security cordon around the President’s residence and make sure that nobody gets in or out without being searched via Mysteron detector. Roberts, angry at not being allowed to leave his home, is allowed to continue with a single press conference that afternoon, and Captain Scarlet is on tenterhooks to make sure that it doesn’t become a fatal mistake. However, the Mysteron Brand does not actually attempt to gain entry, deciding instead to wait in his car across the road, and the time soon comes when it is 15 minutes before the Mysteron deadline is up. Brand speeds away in his car when Captain Ochre attempts to use a Mysteron detector on him – and it is only shortly after then that Scarlet finds out that one of the events on the President’s schedule is the launching of the biggest and fastest atomic liner ever built... also named "President Roberts"…
Mysteron agents are capable of flirting. Really. They are.
And another hitherto unseen Mysteron ability: they have the power to turn ordinary bottles of wine into highly explosive bombs within seconds. No, I’m not joking. Brand walks into the launching booth, stares at the bottle for a while, the Mysteron circles dance across it and later on it explodes with enough force to destroy the booth. You might think this is the limit, but wait till Flight to Atlantica in a few episodes’ time to witness yet more Mysteron alcoholic hijinks.
Oh this is just great: Captain Scarlet breaks into the launching booth, shoots Mervin and begins an evacuation. The married couple overseeing the launching leg it and Scarlet phones up Captain Blue to tell him that the Mysterons have failed, though the bomb has yet to be found. However, Brand then gets up from the floor, and smacks the launch release button. The bottle of wine – which is of course now a bomb – is released, swings forth on its harness… and misses the departing ship by an inch. It then swings back towards the booth and detonates, destroying the booth with Mervin and Scarlet still inside it. Mervin watching the bottle coming back at him is a real "Oh bollocks," moment.
The Angels successfully force Brand to land his plane and check his ID – which is all they can reasonably do. Unfortunately they don’t realise he’s a Mysteron and so allow him to continue to the conference. Why aren’t the Angels equipped with Mysteron detectors?
Captain Scarlet shoots the Mysteron Brand but, as mentioned above, Brand doesn’t die and it almost leads to the Mysterons succeeding were it not for a sheer fluke.
Overall, though, Spectrum is at its most competent here than it has been for the majority of the series. Even when Scarlet works out what the real target is, he still ensures that everybody remains to guard the human President Roberts just in case he’s wrong. I had visions of everybody haring off to save the ship, allowing Captain Black to just stroll into the President’s residence and shoot the guy.
Neither the human nor atomic President Roberts fall prey to the Mysterons.
Spectrum: 23 Mysterons: 4
No poor expository dialogue.
Colonel White dispatches Captain Scarlet and then Captain Blue. We see Scarlet’s plane take off. Then we cut to an over-the-Colonel’s-shoulder shot of him alone with Destiny Angel, the latter sitting rather provocatively against his desk.
DESTINY: "And what will our role be, Colonel?…"
I’m sorry, but that bit is just crying out for a Colonel grin and some Carry On style saucy trumpet music. Either that or just lay on some bog standard porn tunes. The feeling is utterly compounded when the Colonel ends the scene with:
WHITE: "Get down to the amber room, Destiny Angel! I’m ordering a launch in five minutes!"
… which just sounds as if he’s giving two potently disgusting euphemisms. He’s even got a stoop in the next shot!!! A bloody stoop, for Christ’s sakes!
After the Mysteron Brand makes a casual bid to run over Captain Blue in his car, we see Ochre cradling Blue, with the latter looking lovingly up into his eyes. These security men, eh? Can’t keep their hands off each other. Looks like Symphony Angel hasn’t been getting any for a while.
No intentional humour.
President Roberts gets the silly speech this time round, talking to the miraculously living Captain Scarlet: "I guess we’re the lucky ones having a man like you around!" Urgh. "On behalf of everyone, all I can say is thank you, Captain."
Still, this episode ending marks the one time where "bystander utterly confused at Scarlet’s survival" is actually quite charming.
SCARLET: "There’s no time to lose! What are my orders?"
WHITE: "You will go immediately and see the President in person."
"Just to make sure we’ve got the right one…"
Also, Scarlet seems a bit of a creep there. And a bit arrogant too: he instantly assumes that he’s the only man capable of saving the President’s life. Fair enough, the Colonel always gives him the important jobs but, y’know, it’s good to be humble. Colonel White might have wanted to give Captain Magenta a chance. Or… Dr Fawn.
BLUE: "It’ll be a tough assignment. The President has a reputation that he doesn’t scare easily."
WHITE: "Yes but he must be convinced!"
"Put a spider on his chair, anything! Just see that he’s sufficiently terrified!"
WHITE: "I want the Angels to challenge anything with wings overflying the area! If you have any suspicions at all, do not hesitate to destroy the intruder."
I can’t wait for the scene where the Angel strike force chases and coldly guns down a family of sparrows.
ROBERTS: "And to conclude this meeting with the press, which I must say I have enjoyed…"
Your pants are on fire, Mr President.
WHITE: "I want you to impose maximum security! Draft all the Spectrum personnel you need. Take Captain Ochre with you."
I love how Ochre is just chucked in at the end there, as if he doesn’t really count and the Colonel just wants to get rid of him for a few hours. It also makes it appear that "All the Spectrum personnel you need!" has a limit of one member of staff.
Fortunately, the security cordon actually looks effective this time round. The Angels fly about and actually carry out their task, whilst we see a security blockade at the main gate of the President’s residence, manned by both Captain Blue and, hanging around in the background with a Mysteron detector, Captain Ochre. This episode does in fact begin a run of missions in which Captain Ochre has important parts to play, seemingly having taken over from Captain Grey as the "other favourite" besides Scarlet and Blue. I quite like Captain Ochre. He’s a good lad.
Brand is replicated by the Mysterons but I don’t think you could attribute his death to their actions, unless the Mysterons can control the weather. Knowing the writers I certainly wouldn’t put that past them, however…
Nothing lost. In fact, Spectrum loses far less equipment overall in this series than I’d been led to believe from memory…
No cliff-edge trauma.
Three explosions that get larger as they go on: a small one when Brand’s plane is hit, a large one when it hits the ground and an absolutely massive one when the bottle of wine goes up. Is this a subliminal joke for irresponsibility with alcohol leading to big bangs?
* wink wink, nudge nudge *
The Colonel seems a bit giddy. He’s probably not the mild mannered pervert that I’ve painted him to be somewhere above, though.
The opening death scene is quite nasty. As the plane plummets towards the ground we have two gruesome shots of an unconscious, burnt and bleeding Brand, flames licking up around him. Quite violent for the kiddies, that, even if it is only a puppet. The explosion it makes when it hits the hillside is spectacular as well, seeming larger than some of the nuclear detonations seen throughout the series. However, the cliffhanger moment just before the Mysteron threat sequence is pretty silly; Mysteron Brand is chatting to some bloke back at the Tribune tower over radio, says "Don’t worry," and then follows that up with "I’m fine!" only after an agonisingly long "Hey, look at me, I’m totally suspicious!" pause. That’s not enough as he feels the need to clarify it with a "Just… fine!" through gritted teeth, for the benefit of nobody.
President Roberts tries to brush off Spectrum assistance and Captain Scarlet’s assertion that the Mysterons have threatened his life with the absolutely ludicrous, "I get threatened every day of the week: phone calls, letters… If I took any of them seriously I’d never get any work done!" Because some nutter sending hate mail from a bedsit in Miami is comparable to an alien race attempting to annihilate all life on Earth. The scene ends quite amusingly when Scarlet, his attempts at persuasive argument exhausted, says nothing in reply to one of the President’s rebukes. We see a shot of Scarlet and sad music plays. Then the President sighs and says, "All right, Captain, you win…" as if he’d been finally swayed by Scarlet pulling a puppy-dog expression.
Quite surprisingly, there’s a direct reference back to episode 2: "Remember, Mr President, the Mysterons killed the Director-General of the United Asian Republic." Captain Scarlet rarely seems to have a sense of real continuity so this impressed me quite a bit, especially as it’s not crowbarred into the script and comes across as a natural means of persuasion. And that’s a twenty five episode gap going on there…
Harmony Angel gets her only character moment in the entire series during the scene where she talks with Mervin Brand on the airstrip, having escorted him there to check his credentials. When Brand starts hitting on her (and remember that by this point he’s a Mysteron, which makes no sense) she fends off his advances by saying that she’s a Black belt, fourth Dan, at judo. She also sounds quite happy as if she’d relish the chance to beat the guy up. Notable is that this was the only episode in which Harmony was voiced by a woman of Eastern origins as opposed to an English voice actress putting on a terrible accent.
Even Captain Black’s hanging around! He appears to be lying on the roof of a house during his single appearance, peering through binoculars at Brand approaching the Spectrum security cordon. Either that or he’s actually perched inside the chimney, which would amuse me no end.
The script of this episode is notably of a higher quality than we’re used to. I especially like Captain Scarlet’s icy comments to the President that he’s basically been behaving like a berk and making everything even more difficult than it was already. Mysteron Brand later meets up with a friend of the real Brand and in only a few lines – and via good voice acting – you really get the impression that the two had been good friends for ages. Brand getting shot in front of his old friend gets an element of pathos due to this. None of this is mind blowing and you probably wouldn’t notice it yourself but it’s really impressive for Captain Scarlet which usually doesn’t bother with much realism or dimensions beyond the first two. Watching this series in depth has actually given me a greater appreciation for it than I had before.
Oh bloody Hell – it’s that street. I think it is, anyway; one of them. You know the one. I’m always banging on about it. That grimy London street set that represents absolutely every city in the world, this time representing Washington. And look, there’s the bomb transporter vehicle from Big Ben Strikes Again, blocking Scarlet’s path. The horrors of old props, eh? They always come back to haunt you.
There’s a bizarre bit during the bomb scare where several lines of dialogue seem to be repeated – not just the actor saying the lines several times, the exact same readings played twice. Odd, that.
I’m also not sure exactly who this President Roberts is. We’re never told. From his residence and position I think we’re meant to infer that he’s the equivalent of the US President – but Captain Scarlet has a World President, and this guy isn’t it: he looks different and doesn’t believe that the Mysterons pose any real threat, whereas the World President was kidnapped by them in episode one and organised some of the Spectrum military resistance some while later (almost getting crushed to death in a hunting lodge for suicidalists, if you recall). Roberts calls himself a State Leader so presumably the world governments are the same as they are now, with the World President as some kind of ultimate authority? Maybe in charge of the UN or something? But then the following episode muddies all this even more…
And, if I was being churlish, I could say that the ending doesn’t make much sense in a way – why is the ship already moving? If it’s as a consequence of the "launch" button being pressed – I’m not sure if that’s meant to operate the harness holding the wine or that and the ship – then that means that there was always a fault in the system and the wine would never have hit the ship anyway. So if the Mysterons hadn’t made their threat, and the President had gone to the launching, the bottle would have missed the ship, swung back and either a) shattered, spraying him with wine, b) clonked him on the head or c) shattered the window, cracked his head, spraying everybody with wine AND shards of glass. So it’s likely that, erm, the President would have been killed by pure accident if the Mysterons had done nothing at all. Phew. That was a close one. They saved us a lot of embarrassment there.
You may have felt that I quite enjoyed this one and you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a genuinely classic instalment of Captain Scarlet and I’m happy to say that there are shortly to be several more; this series, rather than getting worse as it went on, actually seemed to save up its most enjoyable episodes for last. The Launching is well written, gives some good roles to Spectrum personnel besides Scarlet and Blue and has a bizarre denouement that always has me laughing at the sheer madness of it all. As suspense drama it doesn’t work but as an enjoyable bit of escapism it’s wonderful.
Steamy and sexy office encounters!
And a good helping of pure luck. Look how close it was. Just look at it. God was smiling on Spectrum that day.