The Investigator – Part 2

At the end of Part 1, teenagers John and Julie had completely failed to prevent the vaguely villainous Stavros Karanti and a moustache on legs called Christoph from stealing a priceless 14th Century painting. This is mostly due to the fact that a mysterious alien intelligence called The Investigator had miniaturised them to 1/3 normal size in order to assist him in making the world a better place… we’ve already established that this was completely pointless.

So with Karanti on the run, Christoph disappearing to get a haircut, John completely recovered from falling off a light fixture, and Julie still completely incapable of doing anything, what will happen in the thrilling conclusion of Gerry Anderson’s lost pilot film from 1973, The Investigator?

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Dawn has broken, and an ambulance has arrived to pick up the security guard that Christoph took a disliking too. It was just after 4am when that happened. It’s 5am now. It took the ambulance almost an hour to attend a man who could well have a fatal head wound. The Maltese ambulance service must have had a very casual approach to life threatening injuries back in the 70’s.

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Notice the vignetting at the edges of the frame and the incredibly damp courtyard. Looks like bad weather and low lighting caused issues during filming. It appears that the vignetting could have been caused by the necessity of a wide lens aperture because of the bad conditions.

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While John and Julie return to their shed to work out what the heck they can do, Karanti and Christoph leg it. They’ve got their saucy sailor on standby. Something tells me they don’t give much of a damn about any of this.

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It’s time to say goodbye to Christoph. Look at him. He’s so fabulous. He’s going to head back to the yacht, have a shave, set sail and find a deserted island in the South Pacific. Something about wanting to set up an International Rescue organisation. I don’t think it’ll catch on…

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John and Julie are out on patrol in their miniature car… which takes up the entire road. Without any solid plan they’re driving around the whole of Malta hoping they’ll spot a car with “I’ve pinched a famous painting” written on the side of it.

They switch on the visual scanner which actually looks pretty nifty and with a bit of luck they find him heading to the airport!

John and Julie attempt to make a U-turn. This is the moment where the integrity of The Investigator completely falls apart. This is the exact point where editors David Lane and Len Walter just had to give up on trying to salvage the footage they received from the shoot and just put something watchable together. The shakey footage of the car turning around has been sped up a ridiculous amount to reduce the awkwardness of the entire endeavour of trying to make a giant red brick turn around. This is then followed by the re-use of that awful shot of the car driving along the beach which I ripped apart in my previous article. Why John and Julie would go back to the beach in the context of the story is anyone’s guess… but it’s pretty clear that all the good, and not so good, shots of the car driving around had been used up by this point. I can’t believe that experienced Supermarionation editors like David Lane and Len Walter would have messed up cutting The Investigator this badly so one can only assume that they had very little good stuff to work with in the first place.

Some funky incidental music from The Protectors plays over this montage of Karanti and John and Julie racing to the airport. Its cheesy as heck but so is the whole thing so it actually all seems to fit pretty well.

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Now to be fair, this bit looks pretty nice. The car drives straight and true down the runway as the camera follows it. It suggests that the model wasn’t really designed for the rough tracks of the Maltese countryside. On the smooth tarmac she looks almost cool.

Karanti reaches the airport while John and Julie break in to his private plane. It was actually Julie who first speculated that this was his getaway plan. So I guess that’s her incredible power from The Investigator. John can work any piece of technology while she magically knows that the villain owns a plane. I guess that’s pretty neat… very convenient for the plot.

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In the time that Karanti takes to reach his plane, John and Julie have constructed a makeshift seat from a suitcase and a rope. Well, John did. Julie’s just standing there watching. Well, she may have helped. We just didn’t see. But you know Julie by now, do you really think she did anything useful? And why does Karanti already have a suitcase in the plane anyway? Does he keep it packed just in case in case he feels like breaking the law and making a getaway?

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Karanti made it to his plane. Just one question. Where’s the painting? Unless he’s folded the canvas up really really tiny in his pocket Karanti doesn’t appear to have it with him. Did Christoph take it with him? Nope, he runs away from the car empty handed (I actually went back and checked). Maybe they dropped it off somewhere else. Or he left it in the car. Or not. Maybe that was something of a production oversight… which happens to make this conclusion, and indeed the entire plot of stealing the painting, completely nonsensical.

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The plane takes flight! And look at what’s on the side! SH-AAD. That’s obviously a reference to the alien defence organsiation SHADO from UFO… obviously. I bet Gerry wishes he was still making UFO. Why did he bring back puppets again? We’ll get to that later.

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Karanti confidently takes control of his plane, safe in the knowledge that he stole a priceless painting… which he forgot to actually take with him. But at least no-one found out… except that light fixture he randomly decided to shoot at. What was up with that anyway? Wait… oh yeah… the plane hasn’t actually left the ground. The clouds don’t move for the entire scene and I doubt actor Charles Thake had any idea how to fly a plane, although he does a decent job of looking like he does.

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Then Karanti hears something. Its the voice of Scott Tracy…

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That’s right, John and Julie’s brilliant plan is to pretend to be the voice of Karanti’s conscience. Because Karanti would obviously be completely convinced that his conscience had the same voice as the pilot of Thunderbird 1… obviously. That’s a cool voice amplifier that John has though. Another brilliant piece of Investigator technology that he’s mastered the use of. Meanwhile Julie is trying to work out whether she’s left the gas on at home.

While John tries to mentally torture Karanti, Charles Thake actually gets a chance to do some acting. Someone actually bothered to turn the microphone on for this scene and point the camera at an actor’s face. Karanti cries, “that voice… where is it coming from?!” Good question, but seeing as you’ve just checked that the plane is completely empty I don’t really know who you’re asking. Then again, they say talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. And he does start going mad. So I guess they got that right.

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John threatens to use power to persuade Karanti, like he has so many times. When? What did Karanti do that was so bad? Why does The Investigator hate this guy so much? All we’ve seen is Karanti completely mess up a theft. Beyond that he doesn’t seem all that bad or nasty. Maybe if we’d actually seen him doing something nasty to someone prior to stealing the painting we might believe he was a villain threatening the goodness of mankind. But right now he just doesn’t seem that bad. But John says he is so I guess it must be true…

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Anyway, its time for Julie to do something for once. She’s been given a piece of Investigator technology. I know, it’s risky, but it’s dead simple. It’s just a box with a single button on it. John gives her the cue.

Suddenly the plane spirals out of control! Somehow John and Julie have a box with a button on it that can make a vehicle go out of control. Maybe Julie was sitting on it while they were driving the car.

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It’s only after the plane has done a complete flip that John decides they should buckle up… that would be after their incredibly lightweight bodies were flung to the ceiling and back. Oh and by the way, John says “fasten safety belts,” when there’s only one safety belt shared between them. That bugs me for some reason.

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Karanti tells us that the controls aren’t working. I think you’ll find they never do in these situations.

Julie presses her magic button and the plane goes out of control once again. You know, to really teach Karanti a lesson.

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He shouts for help! Or he’s having a tricky bowel movement… or both. If it were me in that situation it’d probably be both.

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A few threatening spins later, Karanti is begging for mercy. John really twists the knife now. He declares that Karanti has a led a terrible, unmerciful life up until now… apparently. Now he has a chance to do some good. I think for the benefit of the entire audience, we’re all glad he decided to give in. The “plot” didn’t really have anywhere else to go.

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“This is Signor Karanti, I have a confession to make… I left a painting in the back of my car that wasn’t mine. I’m leaving the country now but if you just put it back it’ll be like I never did anything. Is that okay? I mean if you really need someone to blame there’s a guy with a moustache sailing a yacht to the South Pacific right now. Maybe you could arrest him instead? It was his idea anyway… honest.”

Fairly dramatically the police arrive and stop the car in front of the plane while it taxis in. It’s a pretty slick stunt… but it’s a rather dangerous thing for the police to do. And look at how fast the copper runs out of the car. All very dramatic but very unecessary when he’s a tubby art thief that just admitted to doing the crime and is now turning himself in.

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It’s that horse again! We’re back at the church to round up the episode with a moral lesson. The Secret Service used to end sometimes with Father Unwin preaching to his congregation with a moral lesson based on the events of the episode. I like those bits because it’s like Unwin giving a cheeky wink to the audience about the fact that apparently being a priest and being a secret agent deal with similar issues. At the end of The Investigator, however, it’s just a bit too pompous…

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Julie’s watching. And I’ve just realised who she reminds me of.

Get it? The yellow eyes? Never mind…

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Just as the priest gets to the most exciting part of his whole “good triumphed over evil” spiel, he is rudely interrupted by the church bells. He’s actually a pretty decent actor as well. Doesn’t even get any credit despite his speaking part. Anyway, who’s ringing the darn bell?

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Oh it’s John! Oh how cute and funny. He’s doing what every good spy does after cracking a case. He rings a bell and draws as much attention to himself as possible. What a good idea…

John and Julie return to their cave to speak with The Investigator and make their report. But he has seen all that has taken place. That includes how much the two of them have struggled with their reduced stature and almost lost their lives trying to stop an art thief. Maybe next time he won’t bother with the miniaturisation thing and let them get on with tackling something important. The Investigator claims that he is beginning to understand Earth civilization a little better. John and Julie have learned a thing or two about humanity too. Mainly that humans tend to be better at catching criminals when they aren’t foot and a half tall puppets. The Investigator finishes by saying, “That of course is the whole idea.” Why is it now the “whole idea” to teach John and Julie about society? Are they aliens too? Or have they done a crime and need to be rehabilitated? It’d explain the weird clothes.

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In terms of leaving some intrigue for future episodes that’s pretty much it. Just that everyone has a lot more to learn about each other. That’s it. At the end of Trapped in the Sky, after an incredibly dramatic rescue which saved the lives of 600 Fireflash passengers, Jeff Tracy shakes a man’s hand and reads about International Rescue in the newspaper before declaring, “Boys! I think we’re in business!” Yes! We’re getting more incredible adventures like this one where the International Rescue team will save lives in jeopardy in a futuristic world full of amazing technology. This is great!

At the end of The Investigator we’re left with a vague promise that The Investigator will teach humanity to be better people, with John and Julie helping and learning along the way. What will the adventures be like? If they’re like the one we just watched then oh dear. I am sort of curious to see what future episodes of The Investigator would have been like. Whereas the production of previous Supermarionation pilot episodes had really hit the ground running and been the first episode produced of a series, The Investigator feels very much like a pilot episode where no plans had yet been made to continue shooting a second episode immediately. It’s a self contained production which, had the series actually happened, probably would have been chucked in the bin and a new first episode would have been made – fixing the errors in the concept, story and production which hold it back in this pilot.

Of course, these 25 minutes are all we have of The Investigator, but if there had been more, I think it’s safe to say that it would have been vastly different to what we’re presented with today.

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Now to finish up I can’t help but call into question why The Investigator happened in the first place. If the basic outline of Gerry Anderson’s career, and his aspirations, are to be believed, The Investigator just doesn’t really fit in. He spent most of the Sixties producing high quality puppet series, aimed at children but with an adult appeal, with the intention of making them so good that he would be given the opportunity to make live action films and series. This opportunity came in the form of the movie Doppelganger and then the series UFO. Both retained the futuristic technology but were set in the not too distant future akin to Joe 90 and The Secret Service. While the intended second series of UFO was in development as the series broadcast around the globe, Gerry was given the format of The Protectors, a more traditional ITC action-adventure series, by Lew Grade which also used live actors and filmed in many glamorous locations all over Europe. So in amongst all this apparent success, why did Gerry possibly want to go back to using puppets, albeit with live actors and an exotic location thrown into the mix?

Although UFO was a massive breakthrough for Gerry in achieving his dream of creating more grown up films with live actors, the series had received criticism from America for being a little too soap-opera-esque with too much focus on grown-up issues. The Protectors had given Gerry trouble dealing with actors. UFO had just about managed to achieve success in terms of merchandising despite its more adult audience, but The Protectors had next to no merchandising opportunities attached to its format or target audience. Ultimately it was merchandising that propelled the success of the Supermarionation series in the Sixties. It made the likes of Dinky Toys a lot of money while raising the profile of Century 21’s work and also making them a lot of money.

So when the opportunity arose for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to show a pilot for a new series to their friend George Heinemann, vice-president of specialised children’s programming for NBC in America, they wanted to get back to their profitable roots producing children’s shows with puppets and models, while also enjoying some of the luxuries of live-action film-making. Thus, The Investigator incorporated both.

With the new model vehicles and miniaturised puppet characters, the opportunities for merchandise for the series were looking good. In fact they were looking so good that Dinky Toys jumped the gun quite a bit. They were so confident that a new Anderson series would be a hit that they wanted to start working on producing toys straight away – since UFO there had been something of a dry spell for making new toys with Gerry Anderson’s name plastered on them. So work began on producing moulds for two new diecast toys based on The Investigator car and boat. They invested thousands of pounds into making all this happen so you can imagine how panicked they were when the series didn’t materialise. They decided to release the vehicles under the guise of a green military command car and a coastguard amphibious missile launcher. The car was even advertised on the packaging as being designed by Gerry Anderson, desperate as they were to make a return on their rather hasty investment. But when looking at Reg Hill’s designs for the car and boat, and how ill-suited they are to the shows’ format, one can’t help but feel that they were more or less designed to be toys in the first place. And to be fair, they do make very nice toys, so its pleasing that The Investigator achieved a secret life beyond this failed pilot.

Of course if Gerry and Sylvia had wanted to return to making profitable Supermarionation shows so badly, why not go back to the Slough Trading Estate and make a full blown series again rather than combining it with-live action? Sadly the puppet stages at Century 21 had closed at the end of The Secret Service and the special effects stages at the end of UFO. Those studios were specially adapted for the purpose of producing Supermarionation series over the course of the decade. To recreate that again with the same crew would have cost a lot of time and money, not to mention I think the Andersons were quite attracted to the idea of filming in Malta and still having the option of using real actors so that the demands on the puppets were strictly limited.

Ultimately The Investigator seems like the cheapest, easiest excuse the Andersons had to bring back Supermarionation and return to the profitable world of merchandising for children’s TV and making a show that would be popular worldwide. The live-action and puppetry combination allowed them to have the best of both worlds. The puppets had more commercial appeal but could be difficult to work with and would normally require a specially equipped studio if being used rigorously. The live actors made for a faster filming experience but with the puppets taking on lead roles there would be no need to deal with high maintenance stars. In many ways it was a great compromise for many of the problems the Andersons had dealt with in the past. Unfortunately they didn’t take into account how weird this would all look on screen. The format of The Investigator with its fairly bland characters and plot may not be anything special but neither was a lot of children’s TV in the 1970’s. Had Gerry not been totally ashamed of the finished pilot episode and refused to show it to NBC, he may well have gotten a full, albeit vastly different, series out of it because there’s definitely worse stuff out there. But by the Andersons’ standards The Investigator fails in achieving the slick, high quality productions for which they were famous. They had a desire to achieve the same success as previous Supermarionation shows, but by cutting corners and saving money. They did sort of try to push boundaries, but not nearly as bravely as they had done before.

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Oh and even the end credits seem to be specifically designed as an advert for the toys. Rant over.

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