Captain Scarlet

Captain Scarlet: Four ways Spectrum were their own worst enemy

“The Mysterons – sworn enemies of Earth.” Standing between these Martian aggressors and the destruction of the human race is the Spectrum organisation, a global security force that…well, has good days and bad days. When they really commit themselves to fending off the Mysterons, Spectrum truly are second to none – which only makes their more half-hearted attempts to defend the Earth all the more baffling. Here are four of our favourite examples of Spectrum falling down on the job – sometimes literally!

#4 – Spectrum security guards are always useless

Spectrum security guards are among the organisation’s most unlucky recruits, although when they’re not being blown to pieces in explosions (as in the first episode) their own stupidity is often their downfall. For instance, the guard at the Spectrum Security Vaults in The Heart of New York can’t resist opening the gates to the facility after spotting a shiny object on the other side – which he then touches, as any highly trained security guard obviously would when confronted with a suspicious device, only to be overcome by knockout gas and thus allowing a pair of criminals to loot the place.

“Yes, but you see…there was a shiny thing.”

It’s in Codename Europa however that Spectrum security forces reach the height of their stupidity, as tape-recorded audio of battle played over a loudspeaker convinces the guards at Vandon Base that they are facing an attack from an army of soldiers and tanks. “I’d guess about a dozen men spread out over a hundred yards or so!” reports the guard commander, while one of his panicky subordinates opens fire on this non-existent assault force. Even the normally reliable Captain Ochre gets swept up in the hysteria, ordering the Angels in to bomb the tanks (which, I remind you, do not exist) and then ordering “a couple of men” in to deal with any survivors. All this allows a Mysteron agent to launch an actual attack from the opposite side of the base (because of course the guards left it unguarded), and promptly level the building with explosives, presumably killing a great number of very stupid guards.

It isn’t even an isolated example, as later in the same episode another Spectrum security guard at a different base shows his quick thinking during a power cut by…just standing in the dark and letting a Mysteron intruder walk straight past him. Your tax dollars at work, everybody.

Actual dialogue: “Joe? Joe? Joe? Is that you Joe?…Joe?”

#3 – Not trying as hard when no lives are at stake

When it comes to protecting targets that don’t happen to contain any actual people, Spectrum often seem either incapable of or unwilling to carry out their job. In The Heart of New York Colonel White is quite happy to let the Mysterons blow up the Second National Bank if it means not endangering the lives of Spectrum personnel (even, y’know, Captain Scarlet), while Inferno offers us their quite staggeringly incompetent protection of the Najama complex, a desert irrigation project of vital importance (“without it, hundreds of square miles would revert to wasteland!”) that finds itself under the ‘protection’ of Captains Scarlet, Blue, Ochre and Magenta. Little do they realise however that a space probe packed with explosives has already been taken over by the Mysterons, and is locked on a collision course with an Aztec temple overlooking the complex!

And if the complex is destroyed, this painting will have to be done all over again!

We’ll overlook Captain Black somehow creeping past our heroes to plant a homing device in the temple, as he is quite a sneaky fellow, and instead focus on how they respond once they learn of the incoming SKR4 space probe. We know from the episode White as Snow that a single Angel interceptor is more than capable of intercepting and destroying a spacecraft entering Earth’s atmosphere, so three of them should have had no trouble in obliterating the SKR4. And yet? Captain Scarlet orders them instead to bomb the temple in the hopes of destroying the homing device concealed within. Again and again and again. Presumably, even with the temple (and homing device) destroyed, the SKR4 isn’t going magically change course and avoid hitting the ruins, and yet everyone looks so surprised when it actually happens and the complex is obliterated by the ensuing landslide.

Even this statue looks appalled by the whole affair.

#2 – Asking Captain Magenta to do anything

But for a quirk of fate, Captain Magenta might have been the one who headed up the Zero X expedition or was made indestructible by the Mysterons. Thankfully, Spectrum were spared from having a pink-clad arch enemy, but one question remains – why on Earth was he ever hired to begin with?

Captain Magenta first speaks in the episode Operation Time, where he initially scores points for being the one to identify the Mysteron target (around the time Colonel White had reached the ‘give up and stare out of the window’ phase). This early triumph is soon undone by his overzealous protection of the door to Cloudbase’s sickbay…from a man who was trying to tell him that a Mysteron agent was on the other side of it operating on said target’s brain. There is therefore an elegant poetry to the way in which that very door proves Magenta’s literal downfall, as the Mysteron agent exits the sickbay so quickly that not only is Magenta knocked over by the door, he somehow manages to hit his head so hard against the wall that it knocks him out.

Granted the word ‘somehow’ is doing a lot of lifting here, but you try figuring this out.

Magenta’s defining character trait is ‘enthusiastic’, and it is apparent in every word that comes out of his mouth – but he’s also not afraid to make a fashion statement. In The Heart of New York we find him manning a roadblock with Captain Ochre, where he dons a pair of snazzy shades in order to secretly communicate with his colleague via radio. None of this prevents him from cheerfully waving through a group of criminals instead of Mysterons, but the fact that these shades are not seen in any other episode do rather point to them being something he himself came up with rather than standard Spectrum gear. His train of thought is often a difficult one to catch though; for instance, after being assigned to protect either President Henderson or Meccini (or possibly both) in the episode Codename Europa, he apparently decides that the best place to perform this duty from is…at a roadblock twenty miles east of the facility where Henderson is being held. It probably made sense to him at the time.

Magenta’s crowning moment of madness, his hyper-enthusiastic ‘learning to count’ scene in Attack on Cloudbase, can at least be explained by the fact that it never really happened, and was instead all part of Symphony Angel’s nightmare. And yet…Symphony’s dream is notable for how it amplifies established character traits, be that Colonel White’s commanding nature or Captain Blue’s fondness for her…or, in this case, Magenta’s enthusiasm overriding his ability to count. Thus, it isn’t hard to imagine that were the Mysterons really to attack in force, Magenta would respond exactly as he appears to in this episode. Symphony lives with the guy, after all. She knows this is how it would really all go down. She’s not imagining anything she hasn’t already seen before.

“What…even *are* you?” “I don’t know. I just don’t know!”

#1 – Forgetting that they have more than two operatives

For such a supposedly vast organisation, it is surprising how few agents Colonel White is generally willing to assign to each mission; normally just Captains Scarlet and Blue, plus the Angels when needed. From protecting vital V.I.P.s to safeguarding miles of oil pipeline, Colonel White always seems to adopt a minimalist approach to providing security. “I’ve got a three thousand mile line of missile complexes, observation posts and feeder bases; can you cover all that?” asks General Ward of Colonel White in the episode Avalanche. “We’ll do our best!” promises Colonel White…before deploying just two men. The Trap offers a similarly lax display of Spectrum security, with (initially) only Captain Scarlet being assigned to protect a conference of ten air force chiefs. “We’ll maintain maximum security throughout the conference!” he declares confidently, while quietly ignoring the fact that until the arrival of Symphony Angel this ‘we’ is just him and Commodore Goddard – a man at that point suspected by Melody of possibly being a Mysteron agent…

Granted Scarlet’s indestructibility is a consideration in how often he is selected for missions, but it is notable how rarely the other Captains (who presumably went through the exact training as Scarlet, and hold equal rank as elite officers in Spectrum) even get to leave Cloudbase. On the rare occasions that they do, it’s often only for the undemanding work of manning roadblocks, holding the Mysteron detector, or driving the V.I.P. transporter while Captain Scarlet sits comfortably in the back.

“Hey, at least it gives me a chance to set foot on the ground again…”

This trope is perhaps at its most obvious in the episode Place of Angels, after Captains Scarlet and Blue are exposed to what may be the deadly K 14 virus and are quarantined on Cloudbase. Rather than deploy Ochre, Grey or even Magenta to continue pursuing the Mysteron suspect Judy Chapman (who potentially still has the virus ready to unleash in a major American population centre) Colonel White chooses instead to wait for Scarlet and Blue’s test results to see whether or not he can just send them after her again. All this wastes valuable time and causes Spectrum to lose her trail entirely, thanks mostly to Colonel White not remembering that other colours exist. If not for the diligence of an off-screen customs official (no, really), Judy Chapman might have murdered an awful lot of people.

That would have made Colonel White look very silly, and we can’t have that gentlemen.

Have we missed one of your favourite moments of Spectrum incompetence – or have we perhaps been too harsh on these defenders of the Earth? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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