Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Anderthon: Satisfactory... Most Satisfactory...

episodes 23-26

The Lost City

It's another script from the pens of Gerry and Sylvia, and this one demonstrates perhaps most clearly how their approach differs to that of the Woodhouses. It's no dream sequence or jungle comedy, this is a straight down the line adventure story - but unlike the Woodhouses' reasonably well thought-out crime and espionage tales, what we get here is tacky pulp sci-fi. I wonder if this is how the Andersons saw their creations – not worth expending any thought on, at least not on the scripting side of things? Far more interested in the visuals and technical innovations, and seeing the story as merely a framework to hang all that wizardry on. (And here, once again, I'm reminded of how writers seem to be very minor cogs in the Anderson machine, and often overlooked by the fandom.) I'm also interested by the fact that, despite working for a civilian outfit, Mike suddenly and without explanation seems to have acquired a uniform. He's now kitted out with a huge peaked cap, complete with a Supercar logo badge fixed to the front. Actually, it makes him look like a milkman, but it does seem to establish the sort of futuristic military look that will typify the Andersons' creations for the next several years.

Anyway, Mike and Beaker are off to the Antarctic on a scientific expedition, with Mitch and Jimmy along for the ride. Flying over South America, Supercar goes out of control and into a dive. Fortunately Mike regains control just before hitting the ground. They find themselves amid the ruins of an ancient city, which fascinates Beaker enough that he doesn't seem to mind missing Antarctica. Mike and Beaker stumble upon a hidden lift, which whisks them down into a secret base beneath the ruins, manned by some rather flimsy-looking robots. At the heart of it all is a man Beaker recognizes – an English scientist called Professor Watkins who disappeared about ten years before. He's a sort of wannabe Bond villain, and true to form, he locks Mike and Beaker up and proceeds to explain his operation to them. Somehow he's built himself this base, an army of robots and a collection of nuclear missiles. His masterplan is to fire one of these at Washington DC. Quite apart from glossing over how he could afford to do all this, the script offers no clue whatsoever about his motivations. He's just a nutcase. (At least Blofeld was out to blackmail the world powers with the threat of nuclear destruction.)

Watkins sends a robot to the surface to capture Jimmy and Mitch – but they're able to destroy it with Popkiss's radioed assistance, by charging Supercar's engines to overload and catching the robot in the blast of the jets. Meanwhile, Mike and Beaker realize that the robots only respond to Watkins's voice, so Beaker reveals another of his myriad talents: mimicry. He impersonates the Professor perfectly, and gets the robots to release them. As they make their escape in Supercar, the writers at least allow Beaker to use science to save the day – realizing that it was the radio guidance beams for the missiles that originally jammed Supercar's controls, he's able to use the vehicle's radio to deflect the nuclear missile from its original course, and send it crashing back on top of the lost city – presumably destroying Watkins, robots, base and all. (And yes, needless to say, there’s stock footage of a mushroom cloud.) Supercar is bathed in a very harsh white light, effectively suggesting the flash of the explosion – I’m rather surprised our heroes aren’t blinded in fact. I'd also be rather worried by the ecological effects of a nuclear detonation in the middle of the Amazon, but where would an Anderson show be without a gratuitious big bang? Hey, at least Washington was saved...

The Magic Carpet

Beaker has come up with two new inventions – a hand-held miniaturized control console, which enables them to operate Supercar by remote control; and an engine noise suppressor which means the jets can fire with little more than a rush of air. I've got the feeling that both of these are going to come in useful in the next 25 minutes. Mike and Beaker are testing these outside the lab when Popkiss comes out waving a newspaper – the news is that Prince Nurid Hassan of Karrakhan is grievously ill. His country is almost cut off from civilization, and only Supercar can reach the Prince with life-saving medicines. Jimmy seems excited by the thought of flying off on a mercy mission to help a distressed foreign noble. If you recall, he wanted to do the exact same thing for the Princess Caroline of Bavania, and Popkiss flatly refused, saying it wasn't their business to interfere in the affairs of other nations – and forcing Jimmy into the dreaded dream sequence. I wonder what's happened to change the Professor's tune on this occasion.

As the episode unfolds, we actually see that this episode bears more than a passing resemblance to Flight of Fancy. Again there's a corrupt official trying to get rid of the rightful ruler and claim the throne for himself. The regent, Alif Bey, is simply waiting for Prince Hassan to die, relying on Karrakhan's remoteness to ensure that no outside help can reach him in time. It seems that there's nothing wrong with Hassan that modern antibiotics can't cure, but Alif claims the medicines simply aren't available. To legitimize his claim to the throne, he's planning to marry Hassan's sister, Princess Medina, the next day. What's interesting here is to note the choices this episode makes differently. Rather than a fairy-tale European kingdom, we get an isolated Middle Eastern sultanate, the sort of realm that would still have existed in 1960 (and familiar to viewers from things like Danger Man) – and the adventure is resolved with the usual mixture of science and ingenuity. It's as if the Woodhouses are subtly winding their employers up, saying this is how to do the story properly, without resorting to dream sequences and wise-cracking monkeys.

Arriving in Karrakhan, Supercar is initially mistaken for a magic carpet by a superstitious guard. Mike and the team are locked up by Alif Bey to prevent them from helping Prince Hassan. Using the remote control and the noise suppressor, they're able to get Supercar to lift off in the courtyard and hover across to the Prince's window. Princess Medina then takes the medical supplies from the cockpit and uses them to treat her brother. (see, I said those gadgets would prove important – the writers taking giving us a real Chekhov’s gun here.) The only witness to all this is the comedy guard: hearing the gentle whoosh of the suppressed engines, he thinks the foreigners have escaped on their magic carpet – but every time Alif looks into the cell, he can clearly see Mike and Beaker sitting down playing chess! With Hassan on the road to recovery, Mike sets about getting them free. Mitch climbs out through the bars and tries to find a file in Supercar's toolkit – cue some comedy business as the monkey repeatedly picks up the wrong tool. (Strangely, he seems to have reverted to being a dumb animal this week.) Mike and Beaker take turns filing through the bars, and then use knotted sheets to make an escape rope. In the morning, there's a tense stand-off between Mike and Alif Bey before the recovering Prince Hassan arrives to have his treacherous regent arrested.

The White Line

Rather a neat little crime thriller, albeit with a few gaping plot holes. Scotland Yard are baffled by some armoured car robberies occurring on a quiet stretch of road, with deliveries of gold bullion being snatched. Now I don’t know about you, but that sentence conjures up in my mind a huge van with reinforced sides, wire mesh over the windows, and a couple of hulking blokes in body armour and crash helmets driving it – and the robbery something like the opening scene in the movie Heat. Well, it seems in 1960s Britain, an armoured car was a normal family saloon being driven at night by a lone guy in an ordinary suit – but at least he’s got a (slightly) strong box on the front seat containing the gold. It’s emblazoned with the logo “Safe T Cars”, presumably the name of the company offering this courier service. Somehow I don’t think they’re going to be driving Securicor out of business. Once we get past the fact that the victims are leaving themselves wide open, the plan here is rather ingenious. The opening shots are of a look-out waiting beside a phone box, watching real film of a car’s headlights going past – with some lovely camerawork and a groovy jazz soundtrack. The look-out sends up a flare, and the villains up ahead go to work. They roll out special carpets that cover the road markings, and another that lays down fake markings leading to the edge of a ravine. Since a man driving on an unlit road at night will follow the white line, they’re leading the bank couriers to their doom. (Well, actually no one dies – after the cars plunge into the ravine, the villains capture the driver and lock him up in their hideout, an abandoned country house.)

Scotland Yard call in the Supercar team. As soon as he’s heard the tale, Mike instantly guesses it must be the work of the Chicago gangsters Joe and Maxie Hoyle. (I’m not quite sure how he came to this conclusion – it turns out he’s right of course – maybe he reads a lot of true crime magazines…) Mike and Beaker agree to help by transferring some bullion across London in Supercar – I’m not sure why, given the original robberies didn’t happen in London. When they arrive at the Bank of Kensington, they take the gold down in the lift to the vault, only to discover the Hoyles waiting for them inside. They take the gold, and leave Mike and friends locked inside the vault. (And there’s the gaping plot hole I mentioned – not only do there appear to be no guards in the bank, apart from a single police inspector, but if the Hoyles could get into the vault so easily, why didn’t they come back later and take the gold when there was no one else about?) Anyway, after this little upset, Mike decides to go back to a more sensible plan – following the routes of the armoured cars and finding out how the villains are doing it. So with Beaker driving the route, Mike, Mitch and Jimmy scout ahead in Supercar. Seeing the lookout’s flare going up, Mike uses the “clear view” system to watch the false road markings being laid out. He’s unable to warn Beaker though as the Hoyles appear and shoot off Supercar’s radio aerial with their tommy-guns. Mitch gets out of Supercar and decoys the gangsters into a chase around the woods, giving Mike time to get airborne again. Then Mitch leaps from a tree onto the back of Supercar, hanging on as Mike races to stop Beaker going over the ravine. Eventually, Mike has to land Supercar in Beaker’s path, and the scientist manages to pull up just in time. Realizing the game is up, the Hoyles try to make a getaway with their bullion – unfortunately, they fall into their own trap, following the fake white lines into the ravine! (And amusingly, it’s not their truck that goes over the cliff in the model shot, it’s a repeat of the car from the opening sequence – it’s a bit like ITC’s infamous white Jag…)

Supercar “Take One”

Professor Popkiss is away on holiday, but Beaker feels he can operate the console perfectly well on his own. Unfortunately, as Mike launches on one of his test flights, Beaker forgets to open the roof doors, resulting in a lot of wreckage falling into the lab, and amusingly a Supercar shaped hole in the roof. Supercar itself is made of sterner stuff, and only requires a bit of repainting. Later, Beaker takes delivery of a movie camera, which he’s planning to use to make film records of his experiments. But Jimmy persuades him to make a sort of home movie about Supercar. Beaker turns out to be a bit of a Stanley Kubrick-style perfectionist, making Mike go through 104 takes of charging up Supercar’s engines. Jimmy is the clapper-loader and Mitch acts as sound man. Beaker really gets into it, filming action sequences of Supercar in flight, and even underwater. (He’s wearing a full diving suit to operate the camera of course.) Beaker sends the film away to be developed, but when it comes back, the team are shocked to find it contains film of naval manoeuvres and secret plans for a nuclear power source. They’ve been sent the wrong film by the developers! The film has come from Satellite Film Productions in New York, which Beaker realizes must be a front for an foreign spy ring. They decide to fly to New York to investigate – but first Beaker insists on changing into a bowler hat and grabbing an umbrella. I’d say he was trying to emulate John Steed, but The Avengers had barely started by this time. As they prepare for take-off, Mitch reminds Beaker to open the roof doors this time. Worth his weight in gold, that monkey.

Arriving in New York, they land on top of the skyscraper that contains the film company’s offices. Beaker goes down to pay a visit, with Mike preparing to follow if he doesn’t return within half an hour. I was slightly disappointed, given the similarity of the setting, to discover that the villains of the piece weren’t Masterspy and Zarin – it might have been fun to see them again for the last episode of the series – and indeed, I realized then that (aside from the dream episode) they haven’t been seen for a whole thirteen episodes now. Instead, we meet Herman Gredenski and his glamorous assistant Miss Devenish, who are running the spy ring. Miss Devenish tricks Beaker into sitting in a certain chair, which is on top of a trap door – which deposits him via a chute into a strong room below. Inside, he finds the secret files of the spy ring. When Mike comes looking for Beaker, he’s also tricked into sitting in the booby-trapped chair. (Miss Devenish is so ridiculously insistent that it has to be that particular chair, you wonder why neither of them was the slightest bit suspicious of her motives.) Nevertheless, as Mike is deposited down the chute, he comes face to face with Beaker’s coolest moment in the entire series: leaning nonchalantly on a filing cabinet, he tells Mike he’s late. (“I expected you seven minutes ago.”) Now we discover that Beaker’s costume is not merely for decoration. The crown of his bowler hat conceals a radio (as indeed did John Steed’s some years later – I wonder if the writers of The Avengers took any pointers from this episode?) He calls Jimmy – who says Beaker sounds like he talking through his hat! – and tells him to call the police. Then Gredenski tries to kill his visitors by pumping deadly gas into the strong room. Fortunately, Beaker’s umbrella conceals a drill which he uses to drill out the lock. The two rush back up to the office, where Miss Devenish is being menaced by Mitch, whom she believes is an escaped gorilla. Beaker tells her that he’s in fact a very intelligent chimpanzee. So there we are – one thing Beaker’s not good at is primatology, if he can’t recognize the difference between a chimp and a monkey. (Come on, Mitch has got a tail!) With the police on their way, Gredenski and Miss Devenish announce they have a secret way out of the building – but Mitch activates the trap door and deposits them down into the strong room! (Except, wait a minute, Beaker drilled the lock out – so they’ll be able to escape and make use of their secret exit…)

This final episode is another script by the Andersons. It’s probably the best of their episodes so far. Aside from the incongruity of the secret agent version of Beaker, it’s certainly entertaining and amusing, although it does rely on convenient use of gadgets rather than the well-reasoned application of science and technology that the Woodhouses tended to employ. So it’ll be interesting to see how the second series develops, as sadly we’ve seen the last of the Woodhouses. Having discovered they can write their own scripts, Gerry and Sylvia don’t bother to invite them back. (I’m not sure if there’s any pattern in these things, but it’s odd how the chief writers seem to drop out of these shows – remember how Phil Wrestler disappeared before the end of Four Feather Falls?) If it weren’t for the DVD documentary, I doubt I’d even be aware of the major contribution that Hugh and Martin made to the series. (They get precisely one mention in Gerry Anderson’s authorized biography for example.) But it’s more than that: as I said before, by demonstrating what these fabulous machines could be used for in a civilian context (impossible rescue missions and the like) – rather than just employing them for military use as the Andersons will do in many of their subsequent shows – the Woodhouses have practically set up the premise of Thunderbirds.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Anderthon: It Can Journey Anywhere...

episodes 18-22


Our tour of ITC national clich├ęs continues: this week we’re in Ireland. It’s that same Ireland that Simon Templar or John Drake would have visited – a country pub (called the Shamrock Inn naturally enough) with its sign swaying in the wind, a landlord who still believes in the “little people” with a no-nonsense daughter who hasn’t got time for all that, and dodgy goings-on in the countryside. Instead of the Saint though, it’s Doctor Beaker who’s come here on holiday. He’s watching from a booth as two unsavoury characters enter the pub and start to demand food and supplies from the landlord, Mr O’Farrell. It’s pretty clear that this has happened before – and although O’Farrell is reticent to comply, he doesn’t seem to have much choice. These two are working for “The Big Man”, who apparently runs everything criminal between Dublin and Tralee. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the two villains are Harper and Judd – who seem to be the only criminals allowed to operate in the whole of the British Isles. What’s interesting to me is to trace Harper’s descent into the criminal world – from industrial sabotage to theft and now this: they appear to be involved in a smuggling operation on behalf of “The Big Man”. Judd in particular is very uneasy about this, saying it’s not in his usual line at all. Is it just me, or is there a definite subtext here? They’re smuggling for a mysterious “Big Man” who’s only at the end of the telephone, and operating out of a run-down isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere – what this says to me is: they’re running guns for the IRA! (Of course, this being a children’s show, they can’t come out and actually say this.) In order to ensure O’Farrell’s compliance, Harper and Judd decide to take his daughter Eileen with them as a hostage. Once they’ve departed, Beaker wastes no time in phoning the lab and calling in Supercar.

Mike has got himself a natty new flying jacket, which is just as well as it’s going to be a long flight – five hours, flying into the dawn. (As Popkiss explains to Jimmy about crossing time zones Eastwards – for once, the kid’s questions elicit some helpful scientific information.) Mike and Beaker decide to use a briefcase with a radio transmitter to track Judd and Harper to their base. They stuff it full of money, so when the villains arrive to collect from O’Farrell, they can’t resist taking that with them as well. Unfortunately, the case is fitted with a two-way transmitter and Mike accidentally knocks the switch over to “transmit”. Which means Harper and Judd hear them discussing their plans. Taking advantage of this, Harper announces a fake rendezvous with a helicopter, luring Mike into a trap. (Despite the crooks reciting this staged conversation in the most obvious over-dramatic way imaginable, Mike still falls for it.) He races out to their farmhouse hideout in Supercar, unaware that Judd has buried a load of dynamite under the landing site. (See, they’ve got plenty of dynamite stashed away in the farmhouse – more evidence for who they’re working for, in my opinion.) Mike gets the last laugh though – not wanting Supercar to fall into their hands, he’s arranged for Popkiss to fly the craft back to the lab by remote control if he’s not back in the cockpit within a certain time. There’s a rather tense scene – with again, some really moody lighting – as Mike has to bluff the villains into not detonating the dynamite until he knows Supercar’s been removed from the scene. The explosion is huge and they believe that Supercar has been destroyed. In reality, Popkiss brings it back to the lab, refuels and then flies back to Ireland – meaning that Mike and Eileen are held prisoner in the farmhouse for over ten hours, while Beaker keeps watch from amidst the bracken outside. When Supercar returns, Judd and Harper go to investigate – and fall into the crater caused by the dynamite! Popkiss has brought back-up: Mitch the monkey, armed with a truncheon, which he uses to keep the villains insensible in a splendid display of cartoon violence!

The Sunken Temple

Beaker is visited by Professor Terman, a tall athletic chap, who’s a classical history scholar. Mike expresses his surprise, saying he assumed Terman to be a football player – which is a nice touch, neatly illustrating that academics can come in all shapes and sizes, and not just the usual “mad professor” stereotypes and caricatures. Terman is also an accomplished diver, and he’s busy excavating underwater sites in the Mediterranean. He believes he’s discovered the location of the lost Temple of Poseidon, but it’s too deep to make careful exploratory dives – his air supply just won’t last long enough. It sounds like a job for Supercar. So the team all bundle into the vehicle, and fly out to Terman’s campsite. They make a big thing of Mitch having to travel the whole journey in the trunk, as there’s only space for four in the cockpit, which seems rather cruel to me – I also don’t recall this being an issue the last time they all went out together. Mitch certainly doesn’t seem happy about the prospect – but he cheers up later on, and gives an impromptu display of dancing to Terman’s harmonica playing. That night, the camp is visited by a local, Antonio the gypsy. Mitch seems suspicious of him – he’s no fool, that monkey! – but the others entertain the gypsy reading their fortunes in the flames of the campfire. Antonio prophesies mortal danger if they should disturb the ancient gods. Mike, trusting only in science and reason of course, thinks it’s a load of baloney.

The next day, Mike and Beaker take Supercar under the sea to seek out the lost temple. (They seem to have sorted out the problems with the leaking hull now – and they’ve obviously done something to alter the way the ballast tanks are filled, since they’re now able to dive straight into the sea from the air.) They’ve also installed a jack socket in the hull enabling Terman to plug in a telephone cable so he can talk to them from inside his diving helmet. Once they locate the temple, they’re able to carry Terman there, riding on Supercar’s wing – thus preserving his air supply for the examination of the site. Oddly, beneath a semi-collapsed statue of Poseidon, Terman finds what seems to be a strongbox. Back on the surface they discuss this find, unaware that Antonio the gypsy is eavesdropping – except it turns out, he’s not a gypsy – he’s really Spiros the bandit and the strongbox is hiding some diamonds he’s stolen. To try and prevent the team discovering this, he empties one of the air tanks on Terman’s suit – Mitch actually sees him doing this, but his urgent attempts to warn the others are just seen as so much monkey-screeching and ignored. So Terman soon finds himself out of air, and has to quickly surface – lucky he doesn’t get the bends. Later, he goes back down on his own. Spiros escalates his threat by unleashing some home-made depth charges – basically, sticks of dynamite fired from a catapult. The huge stock footage explosions dislodge the statue of Poseidon, which falls trapping Terman beneath it. Mike and Beaker set off to search for the source of the explosions, whilst Popkiss takes Supercar down to rescue Terman, using the jets to move the statue clear of him. Meanwhile, Mike tracks down Spiros amongst the rocks – by shooting at his crate of dynamite, he catches the bandit in a comedy explosion that blows him through the air to land dazed on top of an outcrop. Meanwhile, Mitch has been left to take care of bandaging Terman’s broken leg. The only problem now is: who’s going to go down on the next dive? The episode ends with Mitch suiting up! They should just let that monkey run the whole show. If they’d listened to him in the first place, most of this trouble could have been avoided.

Trapped in the Depths

A bit of a change of pace – this is a mostly serious episode. The US Navy are conducting tests with a new bathysphere, diving down into a deep ocean trench off the coast of New Zealand. It’s a big news story – cue stock footage of printing presses! Jimmy and Popkiss are listening to the story on the car radio, and Jimmy asks some of his usual questions – but as this gives Popkiss the chance to explain how bathyspheres and ASDIC transmitters work for the benefit of the young audience, it’s again acceptable here. The bathysphere is lowered from the USS Mistral, part of a naval flotilla represented by stock footage of real ships again. Something inevitably goes wrong, and it ends up stuck on the ocean floor with two men trapped inside, and the Navy unable to get down deep enough to retrieve them. Oddly, all this seems to happen whilst Popkiss and Jimmy are driving along, as we next see them listening to news of the disaster on the car radio – it’s like only a few minutes have passed. Meanwhile, Beaker has invented an ultrasonic gun which he’s fitted to Supercar’s nose. He and Mike are testing it in the lab – amusingly, Beaker sets up a coconut shy as a target. But this attracts the attention of Mitch, who gets into the line of fire just as the gun is building up to fire. There’s no time to stop it! Luckily, Mitch leaps out of the way in time, and is found swinging from the roof beams. (The ultrasonic gun is a bit of a step into more far-fetched sci-fi, since it seems to be some sort of disintegrator weapon.) Just then Popkiss and Jimmy return, and Popkiss suggests that Supercar be used to rescue the trapped bathysphere. (He’s changed his tune a bit – usually he wants to keep everything under wraps.) Mike and Beaker race off to New Zealand.

Inside the bathysphere, Fraser and Commander Keefe are running out of options. They’ve dropped the ballast, but they still can’t surface. They’re not sure if the float is holed, or if it’s just that they’re jammed between some rocks. They resort to desperate measures, such as trying to lighten the sphere by dropping all but one of their power batteries. This causes further problems though, as the strain on the remaining battery causes it to overheat, and acid fumes fill the cabin. Keefe tries to clear it out by releasing some of the air supply – not realizing that it’s the reserve supply, all they’ve got left. This is a terrific depiction of two men under immense pressure – pretty stark stuff for a kids show – showing them losing track of time, making irrational decisions, trying to lighten the mood with gallows humour. As the air starts to run out, they also think they’re suffering from delusions. When Supercar arrives outside, they initially refuse to believe it can be real. But as the truth dawns, there’s a fantastic and uplifting moment of hope. Amazingly, despite the immense depth, Supercar manages to withstand the pressure just fine – obviously, those extensive deep sea trials really paid off. At one point they’re attacked by a large and aggressive fish, and destroy it with the ultrasonic gun – which seems a bit harsh and violent. (Previously, you may recall, Beaker was able to scare off a big fish by broadcasting white noise from the radio.) Mike discovers that one of the floats is holed, but the others seem to be alright – the damage probably being caused by that same fish. The bathysphere is still trapped, but Mike thinks he can use Supercar’s nose to nudge it free. He asks Beaker if it will work, and is faced with the scientist’s usual prevarication as he tries to calculate the odds. “Just guess!” Mike snaps. Fortunately, Beaker guesses right, and the bathysphere is safely floated to the surface.

Crash Landing

Mike and Beaker have taken Supercar out for another test flight, with Jimmy and Mitch as passengers. Everything seems to have gone well – when suddenly the starboard engine blows out and it goes into a dive. Completely out of control, they’re going to crash into the jungle below. At the last moment, Beaker recommends firing the air brakes at ground level, which cushions the impact enough for them to make it down in one piece. This is an odd script, once more from the pen of Gerry and Sylvia – but this time, they seem to have taken a leaf out of the Woodhouses’ book by making Supercar an unpredictable and dangerous experimental vehicle that throws our heroes into danger. Yet what follows is all fairly light-hearted – with a running gag of Popkiss back in the lab being woken up or interrupted at his breakfast by the team radioing in – and comedy squabbling between Mike, Beaker and Jimmy as they try to sleep together in a tent. As Beaker works to repair Supercar, they face random dangers such as a really neat puppet snake. Mitch volunteers to stay on guard for the night, but he’s grabbed from behind by a mysterious figure and disappears. The next day, Jimmy thinks they should look for Mitch, but Mike and Beaker don’t seem bothered, suggesting that Mitch has probably just decided to return to his natural habitat. (So I guess this is their chance to get rid of the monkey at last!) Beaker has lost his hat, and improvises by tying a hanky round his head. He repairs Supercar’s engines, but inadvisedly tests them in the confined jungle clearing and burns down a tree. They decide to have Popkiss test fly Supercar on remote, all the way up to supersonic speed. Everything seems to be fine now – but the sonic boom startles a herd of stock footage elephants which stampedes towards our heroes. (It’s quite amusing to see puppet characters reacting to film of real elephants – never in shot at the same time of course – rather like used to happen in old Tarzan movies.) They resolve the problem by having Supercar fly low over the elephants so a second sonic boom drives them in the opposite direction. With still no sign of Mitch, Jimmy resorts to faking an illness so that they don’t have to leave – which backfires somewhat when Beaker diagnoses him as suffering from an unusual tropical disease. Then they hear a rare sound, a monkey mating call, which ultimately leads them to find out what happened to Mitch. He’s found himself a mate – although we dip into fantasy somewhat as we find her rocking him in a hammock – and you can tell she’s a lady monkey because she has pouty lips and long eyelashes! Mike says they’re leaving and gives Mitch the chance to come or stay behind with his girlfriend. And just for a moment, it looks like Mitch might remain – but eventually he leaves a lovelorn female monkey behind… Or does he? Back at the lab, the team find that the lady monkey has stowed away (presumably in Supercar’s trunk) and now they’ve got two primates on their hands!

The Dragon of Ho Meng

Mike, Jimmy and Mitch are out in Supercar, when it’s caught in a typhoon, and Mike decides to seek a safe landing until the storm has passed. They’re somewhere round the Chinese border. What are they doing out there? They never say. Still, there’s a great potential for adventure here – a secret, experimental American aircraft forced down inside a Communist country – might they be arrested as spies? – how would they stop the Chinese getting their hands on Supercar? No, I’m kidding. It’s a load of cultural stereotypes again. They land on an island in the middle of a lake, where they find an ancient Buddhist temple. Investigating, they discover that the temple is the home of Ho Meng, who appears to be an ancient-style Chinese mandarin. (Did any of those still exist by the 1960s? I wouldn’t have thought they’d be tolerated under Chairman Mao…) He lives here with his daughter Lotus Blossom, and initially thinks that Supercar is a dragon, which is a bad omen. Mike takes him up for a flight (Ho Meng is at least aware of the concept of aircraft or “mechanical kites” as he calls them) – but he still believes that the presence of a dragon in the temple is prophesied to spell disaster. And sure enough, a villainous type called Mr Fang turns up at that moment. It seems that Mr Fang wants to destroy the temple, because he believes that a treasure is buried beneath it. Taking Ho Meng prisoner, he locks the others inside the temple with Supercar, and proceeds to place dynamite around the building. Armed with a last message from Ho Meng: “Look for the fish”, Mike and the others find a fish motif in the temple decorations, pressing which triggers a secret trapdoor. They get into Supercar and descend into a series of tunnels beneath the temple. Eventually getting back to the surface, Mike is able to confront Mr Fang, while Mitch sneaks around unplugging the detonators from the explosives. (I’m finally convinced that the monkey is the real brains of this outfit.) I don’t know, it’s all a bit inconsequential really – proof that even the Woodhouses could write nonsense on occasion. Aside from the “ah so” stereotyping, there’s also the question of Mr Fang’s villainy, seeking to destroy the temple on the vague and unsubstantiated belief that it conceals a treasure. It just seems like a real filler of an episode, and was a bit of a disappointment for me.