Friday 26 November 2021

John Theydon’s Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (TV tie-in novel)

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was the first of three TV tie-novels accompanying Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s TV series of the same name. Written by John William Jennison (1911-1980) under the name John Theydon the novel appeared in 1967.

If you’re thinking of reading this book I’m assuming you’re a fan of the TV series (which I reviewed here a few years ago).

Earth attacked and destroyed a Martian city after a series of misunderstandings (and driven to a large extent by panic). The Mysterons, the masters of the city, recreated it and are now undertaking a program of vengeance against the Earth. Earth’s only effective defence is an international security organisation known as Spectrum. The Mysterons have the power to destroy things (and people) and then recreate them. People recreated in this way are effectively slaves of the Mysterons. Spectrum does however have one ace up its sleeve. One of their operatives, Captain Scarlet, was Mysteronised but is no longer a slave of the Mysterons, and he is indestructible.

The novel concerns an attempt by the Mysterons to disrupt the world’s weather (a popular science fictional idea in the 60s that was also utilised in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea).

The Mysterons make use of a bitter scientific rivalry between Professor Deitz (who believes the world’s weather can be controlled by satellites) and Professor Stahndahl (who believes he can control the planet’s weather by bouncing a beam off a newly discovered electro-magnetic layer surrounding the Earth).

The first target of the Mysterons is London which gets hit with a tropical storm of extraordinary severity. Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel (one of Spectrum’s five beautiful girl fighter pilots known as the Angels) are on leave in London at the time and are lucky to survive.

The next target is Florida. The most savage hurricane in history is just three hours from the coast. The only thing that Colonel White commander of Spectrum) can think of to do is to order three of the Angels to nuke the hurricane!

Colonel White suspects that one of Professor Deitz’s for weather-control satellites has been destroyed and recreated by the Mysterons and is responsible for the weather chaos. That satellite has to be intercepted and destroyed but destroying something that has been Mysteronised is no easy task. There is a way the satellite could be destroyed but it will be risky.

Unfortunately for Spectrum the Mysterons’ plan is actually much more devious than just hijacking a satellite. Somehow Captain Scarlet will have to find the secret laboratory from which all the damage is being done. Captain Scarlet’s indestructibility will be put to the test during this adventure.

Theydon was obviously aiming to include as much as possible of the high-tech Spectrum equipment featured in the series. The Angel Interceptors, the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles (kind of like high-speed wheeled super-tanks) and the Spectrum Passenger Jets all feature in this tale. He also clearly wanted to find ways to work into the story as many as possible of the show’s main characters - Captain Scarlet and his buddy Captain Blue, Colonel White, all five Angels and of course the sinister Mysteron agent (and former Spectrum officer) Captain Black. Captain Scarlet’s indestructibility naturally has to play an important part. Theydon wants to throw everything into the mix and he does so pretty successfully.

There’s non-stop action, plenty of narrow escapes and lots of things get blown up. And some of them get blown up by nuclear weapons! Rhapsody Angel is captured by the Mysterons and has to be saved.

The plotting is frenetic and reasonably effective.

This is a book aimed at younger readers so there’s no sex and the violence is not too graphic. There is (as in the TV series) some mild flirtation between Captain Scarlet and one of the Angels but it’s all very wholesome. The tone is very close to that of the series.

Overall it’s a surprisingly entertaining little adventure. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the TV series. Recommended.

Saturday 13 November 2021

Lexx (1996-2002)

Lexx is a series that lies slightly outside the usual time frame covered by this blog but if you’re talking about cult TV then Lexx is about as cult as you can get. Compared to most US and British sci-fi series Lexx is wildly different. This ain’t Star Trek.

The first season of Lexx is a series of four TV movies. It then became a regular series for three further series.

Lexx polarised sci-fi fans at the time and it still polarises people.

It’s the story of four oddly assorted people (only one of whom is entirely human) who roam the galaxy in the most powerful and destructive spacecraft ever built, the Lexx. The Lexx is a living spaceship.

At this point, if you’ve never seen Lexx, you might be thinking that it sounds like a rip-off of Farscape. In fact Lexx preceded Farscape by a couple of years so if there was any borrowing of ideas going on it was Farscape that copied Lexx. And Lexx is as different from Farscape as any two series could possibly be. Lexx is very very unconventional.

Lexx was a Canadian-German co-production, and that’s significant. It has a very European feel. It rejects conventional Anglo-American approaches altogether. It’s interesting to compare it to Star Maidens, a much earlier example of a distinctively European approach to sci-fi (Star Maidens was an Anglo-German production). Lexx, like Star Maidens, is sci-fi with sexual themes and they’re very sexual and they’re kinda kinky.

Stanley Tweedle (Brian Downey), a very unimportant very low-level functionary in the service of His Divine Shadow, gets caught in the middle of a revolution in the Cluster (the capital city of the League of 20,000 Planets). Also caught up in this revolution are 790, Zev Bellringer (Eva Habermann) and Kai and these four will end up forming the crew of the Lexx.

790 used to be a robot but all that’s left of him is a head, but he still has his robot brain. Unfortunately when Zev’s transformation into a love slave went slightly wrong he became part love slave and since the only female around is Zev he develops a sexual obsession with her.

Kai (Michael McManus) is the last of the Brunnen-G, warriors who once won great victories for humanity. He’s been dead for 2,000 years but he can be reactivated. Kai is used by His Divine Shadow as a merciless assassin. Kai can be reanimated with proto-blood but the supply is limited.

Zev is a woman who failed in her wifely duties. As punishment she was reprogrammed into a living sex slave. But something went wrong. She’s now almost entirely a human woman and almost entirely a love slave but she has just a touch of Cluster Lizard in her. Since Cluster Lizards are awesome killing machines that touch of Cluster Lizard can come in handy. What makes this particularly useful is that people look at her and just see a pretty young girl and they tend to underestimate her. If they upset her she can turn them into minced dog food in a trice. And she’s quite happy to do this.

As for His Divine Shadow, he rules the League of 20,000 Planets in the name of order (and a kind of religion) but his regime is both totalitarian and arbitrarily brutal. There are heretics who seek to destroy his regime.

So why did (and do) so many people hate Lexx? That’s easy enough to answer. Lexx rides roughshod over the conventions of both its genre and series television as well. Many science fiction fans could not accept the way it combines apparently incompatible elements - it veers from goofy comedy to incredible darkness and nihilism, it combines extreme violence with overt sexuality. And it does not have conventional sci-fi heroes. Many viewers could accept the idea of a cast that included a few amusing misfits but they could not accept a series without at least one conventional Square-Jawed Hero and at least one conventional Strong Capable Woman.

The four regulars are all misfits, but they’re not even conventional anti-heroes or flawed heroes. Stanley is cowardly and untrustworthy, and obsessed with getting into Zev’s pants. Kai is a merciless killer. 790 is a disembodied robot head who wants to be Zev’s sex slave. Zev is a sweet girl but she’s totally amoral and she’s a nymphomaniac. All four take great delight in slaughtering their enemies, or even just anyone who gets in their way. They do what it takes to survive. And they’re the Good Guys.

is also cheerfully politically incorrect and cheerfully sleazy.

If your idea of TV sci-fi is Star Trek: The Next Generation it’s all a bit bewildering. It has dialogue that you just don’t get in Star Trek: TNG. At one point Zev asks 790, “What sort of robot are you?” To which he replies, “I’m a robot that wants to live in your underpants.”

Of course the very things that some sci-fi fans hated about Lexx are the very things that made other fans love it with a passion. Lexx is sci-fi for grown-ups. This is not a kids’ show. While its critics saw it as appallingly disreputable its fans saw it as delightfully disreputable and loved its wild unconventionality.

Lexx is also extraordinarily impressive visually. It was the first sci-fi series to use CGI effectively and imaginatively. There is so much sexual symbolism in the visuals that one’s head begins to spin. This is not a kids’ show. But given the sexlessness of most TV science fiction Lexx’s approach is refreshing.

It also covers all bases when it comes to eye candy. Female viewers could swoon over the handsome psychologically tortured bad boy Kai. Male viewers could drool over the luscious Zev.

Episode Guide

The first movie, I Worship His Shadow, explains how four misfits gained control of the most powerful destructive force in the galaxy. It gives us our first glimpse into the Lexx universe. Or rather, the two Lexx universes. There’s the Light Universe and the Dark Universe. The Light Universe represents order, the Dark Universe represents evilness. But this is Lexx, so things are not that simple. The Light Universe is ruled by His Divine Shadow and there is certainly order there, but in fact it’s a bureaucratic dystopian nightmare. There’s chaos in the Dark Universe, but also the possibility of freedom and dignity. If you can survive.

Super Nova
takes us to the home planet of the Brunnen-G, where Zev hopes to find a way to restore Kai to life. At the moment he has a kind of precarious half-life. He can be revived for brief periods but that’s not enough to give Zev what she needs. As she admits to Stanley, her sexual needs are beyond measurement. The Brunnen-G home world is an abandoned dying planet with a sun that is only prevented from going supernova by artificial means. Giggerota the Wicked, who featured in the first episode, makes a reappearance. She’s not a very nice lady. For one thing she’s a cannibal, and that’s one of her lesser character flaws. Both Giggerota and the Divine Predecessors (the disembodied brains of previous incarnations of His Divine Shadow) are trying to get control of the Lexx.

Visually this episode is perhaps even more bizarrely imaginative than the first episode. It also significantly ramps up the kinkiness factor and the erotic subtexts. Eva Habermann even has a brief but memorable nude scene.

We get to know some of the characters a bit better. Stanley is a coward who displays occasional brief flashes of courage, and he’s treacherous and untrustworthy but capable of occasional moments of self-sacrificing loyalty. He’s more than a mere comic character. Zev is single-minded, ruthless and driven by lust.

Things take a decided turn for the grungy and the gruesome in Eating Pattern. Lexx is hungry. Less is of course a living spaceship and he has to eat. And if Lexx is starving his crew starves - they depend on him for their food supply. So although the planet Klaagia on which they have chosen to land looks very uninviting (it’s literally a garbage dump) they don’t have much choice. The planet’s inhabitants are very excited to see Zev. What they see is fresh meat. They depend on a substance called Pattern, and you can’t make Pattern without meat. The only meat on the planet is human. But fresh human meat makes excellent Pattern.

It’s a nightmare planet ruled by the clearly insane Bog (Rutger Hauer giving a deliciously off-the-wall performance). There’s also a pretty young woman named Wist (Doreen Jacobi). She’s cute and sexy and very very dangerous. Everyone on the planet is insane but it takes a while before we figure out the horrifying explanation.

It’s Rutger Hauer and Doreen Jacobi who make this episode worth watching.

Giga Shadow gets into seriously epic territory. Things have been happening in the Light Universe. Scary things, like the Cleansing and the Rebirth. And the emergence of the Giga Shadow. Heretical clerics, including Yottskry (Malcom McDowell) have tried to stop the Giga Shadow and have failed. The crew of the Lexx know nothing of this when they decide to return to the Light Universe to replenish Kai’s proto-blood supply.

We get more character development. Zev had a horrific and very artificial upbringing. She doesn’t really know what it’s like to be human, and she doesn’t really know what it’s like to be a woman. But she is a woman and she’s having to learn to grow up and deal with a woman’s emotions. She shows unexpected tenderness and unexpected emotional depth in this episode. Eva Habermann gives a startlingly good performance.

And Kai changes as well. He’s dead but he lives and he’s having to come to terms with that. And he gets a pet - a cute little baby cluster lizard. He actually manages to bond emotionally with his pet. Perhaps Zev will be able to teach him to bond emotionally with her? Stanley displays surprising intelligence and we start to see that while he’s still a coward there are smidgeons of decency and even bravery buried deeply within him.

Final Thoughts

Lexx is dark, richly imaginative, intelligent, crazy, sexy, sleazy, violent, outrageous, inspired, visually lush, funny and goofy and if you just go with the flow it’s an amazing ride. Very highly recommended.