Home Article The Investigator: A doomed Supermarionation revival

The Investigator: A doomed Supermarionation revival

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A general overview of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s joint television career sees them joining forces in the late 1950s to produce several successful puppet television series for young children, soaring to ever greater success with their family-oriented Supermarionation shows of the 1960s, before venturing into live action television production at the beginning of the 1970s. While largely an accurate summation of events, it does generalise and gloss over certain intriguing side projects  – such as their one final failed attempt to revive Supermarionation in 1973.

“You represent the hope of the future!” John and Julie are recruited by The Investigator.

The Investigator was a twenty-five-minute pilot film that Gerry and Sylvia, along with Reg Hill, produced between the second season of The Protectors and the first season of Space:1999. Their aim was to show it to potential investors and broadcasters (including their friend George Heinemann of NBC) in the hopes of securing funding for a full series – but the finished product so disappointed everyone involved with it that it was never shown to anybody until many years later.

As devised by Gerry Anderson, the central premise of The Investigator revolves around two human teenagers named John and Julie, who have been miniaturised to one third normal size by an alien being called the Investigator who plans to use them in his various plans to save humanity from itself. In the pilot episode, they are tasked with preventing the theft of a rare icon from a church in Malta, and to achieve this they are gifted a futuristic car and boat (both loud and flashy enough to instantly undermine any secret mission) as well as several ‘special powers’ – although these are never clearly defined and seem to amount to John being able to deduce things whenever the script requires it.

“…in which a simple telephone call could become a nightmare!” Original concept art for The Investigator, perhaps pointing to the weakness of the entire premise…
Evil beware – Julie’s glassy stare is on the case!

The script for The Investigator was written by Sylvia Anderson, from a story by Shane Rimmer. The two writers would also voice the pilot’s teenage leads, John and Julie, while their fellow Thunderbirds voice artist Peter Dyneley (Jeff Tracy) would voice the mysterious Investigator himself. The pilot’s miniaturised characters would in theory serve the same plot function as the miniaturised Matthew Harding of The Secret Service; able to sneak around mostly undetected by full size humans and thus thwart their schemes more easily. Rather than use human actors however, John and Julie were portrayed by Supermarionation puppets produced in the same humanlike proportions as those seen in Captain Scarlet (although the word ‘Supermarionation’ does not appear anywhere on the credits of The Investigator) with Julie’s facial features modelled on those of Raquel Welch. While not spectacular sculpts, the characters wouldn’t appear out of place in a crowd scene in Captain Scarlet – were it not for their extremely unsettling eyes. It’s difficult to put a finger on the precise problem with the eyes, but the pupils appear to be too large and too colourful, and the eyes themselves have a slight sheen which catches any light – meaning they often appear to glow during scenes filmed at night. It’s such a small problem but the eyes give our two ‘heroes’ such an unnerving appearance that even the familiar vocal tones of Sylvia Anderson and Shane Rimmer were unable to make them seem likeable.

Having filmed several episodes of The Protectors on location in Malta, the Andersons decided to shoot The Investigator in the same way, and in many of the same locations that had caught their eye during The Protectors. However, they would soon come to realise that location filming with puppets was drastically different – and far more dangerous – than shooting them in a studio.

On the musical front, Sylvia’s then son-in-law Vic Elmes composed and recorded the main theme, and was also supposed to provide a full score for the episode. However, Gerry was unhappy with his score for the episode and instead asked The Protectors composer John Cameron to take over instead (with Cameron lifting some material from his score for The Protectors two-parter WAM).

The villains of The Investigator; Karanti and Christoph.

The show’s live action cast consisted of the ‘villain’ Stavros Karanti (played by Charles Thake, who had appeared in the Malta-based Protectors episode Ceremony for the Dead), his henchman Christoph (Peter Borg, who appeared in nothing else according to IMDB), and whatever unfortunate locals happened to walk into shot while the cameras were rolling. Karanti is hardly a memorable villain and gives Thake little of interest to work with – although it has to be said that the actor hardly delivers a particularly sparkling performance.

Gerry Anderson during one of the happier moments of production on The Investigator.

Serving as both producer and director, Gerry Anderson soon came to understand how incompatible handling both roles himself was; as the director he wanted to get the very best material possible, but as the producer he was also aware of the production’s limited budget. As a result, he was constantly frustrated by the limitations he was having to impose on his own work even while it was being shot. Each day’s rushes would then be flown back to Reg Hill in England, who soon found himself caught in the impossible position of not wanting to complicate the already difficult  Malta location shoot by telling Anderson that the footage he was seeing was not particularly impressive.

Run for your lives; John and Julie have brought the car.

The production was also beset by more than its fair share of random bad luck; everything from bad weather wiping out entire days of production, to Karanti’s yacht fouling its anchor, to John and Julie’s radio-controlled car seeming to develop a mind of its own. Having been tested to everybody’s satisfaction back in England, nobody was anticipating that the machine would become susceptible to radio signals from overflying aircraft and develop a tendency to career out of control at thirty miles per hour. The latter was a particularly unfortunate development since footage of John and Julie travelling across country in the car was vital to the story, yet the radio-controlled prop itself had become a dangerous liability, ploughing into crewmembers and locals alike without warning and without mercy.

Eventually, the production schedule ran out before all the necessary material could be shot on Malta, and the crew were forced to film many shots featuring Karanti’s plane in the skies over England. Unfilmed shots of the car were substituted during editing with scenes set elsewhere in the story, and upon completion of the finished pilot Anderson’s worst fears were realised; The Investigator was a disaster. Realising that showing it to anybody at all, much less a potential broadcaster, would be a very bad idea, the pilot – and the concept – were permanently shelved.

One of these things is not like the others; The Investigator car joins the ranks of more familiar sci-fi television vehicles from Dinky Toys.

However, that didn’t stop merchandise inspired by the episode from reaching the nation’s toyshops. Having been alerted to the pilot’s production, and expecting another potential smash hit from the Anderson stable that had already proved so lucrative to them in the past, Dinky Toys produced die-cast metal and plastic toys of John and Julie’s car and boat. When the pilot went no further these were rebranded and released anyway, marketed as being ‘designed by Gerry Anderson’ (even though the designs were those of Reg Hill) with no reference to The Investigator. The car became an Armoured Command Car (602) and the boat a Coastguard Amphibious Patrol Boat (674) – thus swelling the ranks of Dinky’s generic military vehicle range if nothing else.

John and Julie repel an Alien Attack.

Despite The Investigator being shelved, the John and Julie puppets would finally be seen on screen in Alien Attack, a 1977 commercial for Jif dessert toppings that saw the agents of Intergalactic Rescue facing an invasion of desserts from outer space. John would be re-wigged with blond hair, also gaining a moustache and the voice of Ed Bishop, while Julie would also get a new hairdo and the voice of Angela Richards. These two IR agents would be under the command of another new puppet produced especially for the commercial, voiced by David Tate.

Today, The Investigator can be found on The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson DVD, but its newfound availability hasn’t won it many new fans. All television pilots have teething troubles, and The Investigator was unfortunate to have been beset by more than its fair share. However, even if production had gone exactly to plan, the pilot suffers from both a lacklustre story and The Investigator concept itself being a strange idea realised in a strange way. The lack of a proper introduction to the characters and the basic premise of the series was an odd decision, but perhaps the plan was always to go back and shoot a proper introduction later had the pilot been picked up for a series. If this had happened, no doubt the entire concept would have been overhauled and polished to create something more in line with the Andersons’ previous Supermarionation efforts.

This man will not be our hero, for fate will make him ugly as sin. His name; John.

But of course that didn’t happen, leaving us with the twenty-five minute pilot film and its abundance of obvious flaws. Nobody involved with its production remembers either the experience of making it or the final product fondly, but it’s hard to imagine the Andersons would have had another smash hit on their hands even if everything had gone right either – considering that The Investigator is close in premise and tone to the cancelled The Secret Service. A complete overhaul of the entire concept (all the way back to the initial idea of a benevolent extra-terrestrial visitor looking to aid humanity) was perhaps the only way to salvage The Investigator format, but we can only imagine how many elements of the existing pilot would have to have been junked in order to create something that would appeal to potential investors.

The answer, unfortunately, seems to be ‘pretty much everything’.

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