I started watching the new Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi. I remember the old series as being the most dreary, depressing, disappointing thing imaginable -- you'd sort of hope that football on CBS would push 60 Minutes back an hour to give you a good excuse not to watch the only science ficition series on prime time television at the time. Boy, was it terrible, lifeless, dull -- if any series could you make you sentimental for Space 1999, this was it.
Speaking of Space 1999 -- I remember my brother had this toy, which was pretty cool, but, when it came to Gerry Anderson's work, I was always more of a Captain Scarlet fan (warning: Incredibly cool web site); Space 1999 didn't really do it for me -- I had one of these. And here's something else odd -- in the days immediately after Sept. 11, I remember thinking about those old Captain Scarlet programs (they involved puppets), and my fear then was that the world would resemble that dark fantasy, ably described on the Amazon page for the Captian Scarlet DVDs:
First broadcast in the United Kingdom in 1967, Captain Scarlet was the most grownup of all Gerry Anderson's SuperMarionation adventures. Of course there are gadgets and toy-friendly machines galore--like the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, the Angel Aircraft, and Cloudbase itself--but, unlike the colorful fantasies of Stingray and Thunderbirds, this series' concern with an implacable, vengeful enemy, conspiracies, and double agents drew its inspiration from James Bond and the cold war spy dramas of the 1960s. Special effects whiz Derek Meddings instills the action sequences with a truly Bondian grandeur and, like the sinister SPECTRE of the Bond films, the Martian Mysterons seem all the more hostile for their unseen presence, their agents infiltrating every organization dedicated to their destruction, just as it seemed the Soviets were doing at the time. The indestructible Captain Scarlet is killed then resurrected every week (though not like South Park's Kenny), and more often than not the Mysterons emerge triumphant, and always undefeated.
That was the most disturbing thing about Captain Scarlet -- even though, at the end of each episode, some major 9/11-like event was averted -- see the plot summaries here or read this sample:
Big Ben Strikes Again
Teleplay by Tony Barwick Directed by Brian Burgess
It is almost midnight and a high destruction-ratio atomic device is being transported through London; its destination, an underground construction site ten miles outside of the city. At the wheel of the huge transporter, the driver, Macey, can only watch helplessly as his vehicle seems to take on a life of its own, careering madly through the streets, before coming to a sudden stop in an underground car park. Finding himself sealed in, Macey switches on his radio and is baffled to hear Big Ben strike thirteen times! Suddenly aware that he is no longer alone, Macey is struck from behind and knocked unconscious, but not before he has seen the atomic device become fully armed - turning it into a bomb of devastating power. Naturally, Captain Scarlet is the only hope to deal with the deadly situation.
While it always seemed that Captain Scarlet could, at the last minute, avert disaster, Spectrum (his organization -- sort of an ultra 60s chic U.N.) never seemed interested in taking the battle to the Mysterons -- even though these aliens were bent on the destruction of earth through terror. This is a particularly troubling episode:
Spectrum Strikes Back
Teleplay by Tony Barwick Directed by Ken Turner
YES! YES! KICK THEIR ASSES!! I would have screamed as a kid, but alas, it was not to be. Spectrum didn't have the heart to strike back.
Colonel White, Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue travel to the secret headquarters of the Spectrum Intelligence Agency, where Dr Giardello demonstrates two new advances in the fight against the Mysterons: the portable Mysteron Detector and the Anti-Mysteron Electron Gun. As the assembled delegates watch the demonstration, Captain Black arrives and kills Captain Indigo and it's not long before the new devices are put to the test. Intended as a sequel to 'Operation Time', Spectrum's newly developed Anti-Mysteron devices make their first (and in the case of the Electron Gun), only appearance.
Uh, so wait -- we have this Electron Gun to kill Mysterons, and we're not going to use it in subsequent episodes? Does the General Secretary of Spectrum know about this? Is he waiting for his son to be cut in on the profits for the contract to manufacture them? And I'm Captain SCARLET, so what's with this pale blue helmet?
The above photo gets to part of the problem -- too many staff meetings (I think a relatively high percentage of each episode was devoted to staff meetings, but I may be wrong...) Despite that, Scarlet and the boys did the best they could, but you couldn't help but think that they were usually doing it with two hands tied behind their backs. Take "The Heart of New York," for example:
When three crooks break into the Spectrum Security Vault, they come away with nothing but microfilm and classified documents. Their haul seems useless, until their leader discovers that it contains detailed information about the Mysterons and their powers of reconstruction. The Mysterons, meanwhile, announce that they are to attack New York - the city is evacuated and Spectrum personnel sent in to patrol the deserted streets. Using their newly-acquired information, the crooks convince Spectrum that the Mysterons' target is the Second National Bank. Colonel White is unwilling to risk Spectrum lives to protect a bank and so orders his agents to withdraw. With nothing to stand in their way, the crooks enter the unguarded bank and prepare to make off with a fortune in gold... The Spectrum personal radio receiver makes its one and only appearance in this episode. Manning a road block on the outskirts of New York, Captain Magenta dons a pair of sporty sunglasses, the arms of which contain tiny speakers which allow him to hear the voice of Captain Ochre, who is concealed nearby.
Uuuhhh...okay, so we're going to leave classified documents around where petty crooks can get them, and we're going to evacuate the City of New York because of a terrorist threat but we're not going to protect the bank that the crooks want to rob because we think that's where the Mysterons will attack but we look totally cool in our sporty sunglasses...check. Note that Captain Scarlet (who was modelled on a young Cary Grant but, for a puppet, conveys remarkably well a sort ot Brian Ferry-esque world worriness) doesn't seem to appear in this episode -- rather than retreat, he'd rather be fighting and killing Mysterons.
Which brings me back to Battlestar Galactica. In the show, war comes at a moment when most people have persuaded themselves that they live in an era of peace. I couldn't help but think of, say, the moment that the Brits woke up to find that the continent was lost, and they stood alone against a savage tide bent on world conquest and genocide. Zbigniew Herbert, the brilliant Polish poet, once wrote of his inability to take optimistic predictions of the future -- of Jetsons-like household appliances and labor saving devices -- seriously. "As though the dull march of barbarism had never before destroyed, never before extinguished our bright visions of the future." I had that feeling while watching the show and, as much as I wanted to turn away, or wished that something inconsequential and vapid was on -- say, like a dreary fiction from 60 Minutes -- I couldn't change the channel.Posted by Ideofact at January 12, 2005 12:14 AM