Most television shows have seen scripts penned for them that ultimately never end up getting made, but very few episodes get so far along in the production process as to be mentioned in press releases before getting axed entirely. The New Captain Scarlet episode House of Dolls is one such example – so why was the episode never made?
Written by Phil Ford, the story would have seen Captain Scarlet taking a vacation from Skybase with his sister Carrie and her son Mikey. Following a road accident in which Carrie and Mikey see Scarlet die before their eyes after being thrown through the windshield of their car, the pair would be shocked to soon find him fully recovered and apparently unharmed. Forced to seek shelter following the crash and an impending rainstorm the trio would stumble upon the foreboding home of eccentric toymaker Alexander Woodchurch. Intended to be modelled on Gerry Anderson himself (as several minor characters throughout New Captain Scarlet were) Woodchurch would also be revealed as a builder of puppets, and among his puppet creations would be several characters inspired by previous Anderson productions, including a cowboy, a chauffeur, a witch, and a tailless mermaid!
As night began to fall however the Mysterons would soon become involved, first brutally murdering Woodchurch with one of his own puppet creations – before those creations turned their attentions to Scarlet and his family! Locked inside the house by Woodchurch’s security system and surrounded on all sides by killer toys and murderous marionettes, Scarlet would have had to protect his sister and nephew until Spectrum help can arrive…while also contending with his sister’s growing suspicion that her brother is no longer entirely human…
However, the episode was ultimately not to see the light of day. Scheduled to be the 25th episode of New Captain Scarlet produced, House of Dolls would ultimately be cancelled on the orders of Gerry Anderson, who felt that the episode’s exceptionally dark tone was unsuitable for a family audience to the extent that some broadcasters might choose not to show it at all.
Although House of Dolls had now been scrapped, production on the series had to continue. Dominion, intended as the show’s 26th and final episode, now entered production while a replacement story was prepared. This was to be the fan favourite Grey Skulls, also written by Ford, which then became the final episode of New Captain Scarlet to be produced – as well as the final television episode ever produced by Gerry Anderson. Although Grey Skulls had been completed last, it was still intended as the show’s 25th episode and Dominion still meant to be shown as the series finale. Unfortunately, when the final episodes of New Captain Scarlet aired in the UK in November 2005, ITV stuck to production order and Grey Skulls was shown as the final episode following Dominion the previous week. This mistake was repeated when the show was released on DVD in 2006 (where the episode synopsis for Grey Skulls featured the plot for House of Dolls), although was finally corrected for the Blu-ray release.
While House of Dolls never made it to air, some lucky fans were able to see it brought to life by members of the New Captain Scarlet cast when it was performed at the Sector 25 Fanderson convention in Hertfordshire in 2006. Wayne Forester reprised his role as Scarlet, while castmates Jules de Jongh played Carrie, Julia Brahms performed Mikey, and Mike Hayley the narration. For the role of Mr. Woodchurch, Thunderbirds legend Shane Rimmer was persuaded to take to the stage to voice the doomed toymaker. This live performance was well-received and finally gave its audience an idea of how unsettling a story House of Dolls really was – even with much enjoyable goofing around by the cast!
Had House of Dolls made it to our screens, we would almost certainly be praising it as one of New Captain Scarlet‘s strongest instalments (just as we now do Grey Skulls), but the synopsis alone should be enough of an explanation as to why the episode was abandoned. The first draft of the script would have seen Woodchurch being garrotted and a murderous Mysteronised teddy bear would also prominently feature in the story, bringing the Mysteron threat closer to home and more relatable to children than ever before. While the series had managed to slip several surprising moments of violence past the censors it’s difficult to imagine any broadcaster transmitting a story about killer toys in a family slot – no matter how much we might wish otherwise!
Aside from the exceptionally strong horror content, what makes the loss of the episode even more unfortunate is the equally powerful personal element of the story, and how the relationship between Scarlet and his sister is gradually strained; first by his miraculous recovery from death following the car crash and then by her gradual realisation that his healing abilities mean he is now somehow connected to the alien horrors that are trying to destroy them. The idea of the family of a Spectrum member getting first-hand experience of the Mysteron threat had previously been seen in the episode Heist, but with Scarlet himself having been killed and recreated by the Mysterons any threat against members of his family would always be that little bit more personal. House of Dolls could also perhaps have been the show’s definitive exploration of Scarlet’s own lingering questions regarding his own humanity that had been brought in up in episodes like Touch of the Reaper, but which were yet to receive closer examination. Therefore, a story that incorporated and explored both of these concepts, while also delivering likely some of the scariest visuals ever seen in an Anderson series, meant that House of Dolls could potentially have been New Captain Scarlet‘s finest half hour. Thankfully, for many New Captain Scarlet fans, the action-packed replacement episode Grey Skulls has since claimed that distinction with ease.
Like many things involving New Captain Scarlet, House of Dolls was brave, audacious, ground-breaking – and sadly, not meant to be!