Captain Scarlet – Attack On Cloudbase

Directed by Ken Turner

Teleplay by Tony Barwick

First Broadcast – 5th May 1968

There is one thing that Supermarionation series are notoriously bad at by today’s standards – ending. There isn’t a single final episode of a Supermarionation series that draws anything to a conclusion, or does anything to particularly stand out. In the early days this was quite simply because Gerry Anderson and the team were always planning to make more. A third series of Supercar was on the cards for many years after the second series ended. The shows were also episodic and only had the most minimal over-arching story-lines, so there wasn’t necessarily that much to wrap up anyway. It also allowed the shows to have a life beyond television for many years afterwards in the form of comic strips and merchandise. It was also great for overseas distribution because it meant episodes could pretty much be shown in any order anyone fancied, and stop at anytime without missing the grand finale.

Clip shows became a chosen method to save the budget and the schedule as the production on each series was coming to an end, and it made an adequate ending to the series to simply reflect upon past adventures. The Inquisition was Captain Scarlet‘s swan song clip show. As clip shows go, it’s pretty intriguing, though it still does little to satisfy viewers who want to find out who the victor is in the long and grueling war of nerves between Earth and Mars. Fortunately, we have Attack On Cloudbase to depict the final battle between Spectrum and the Mysterons. It would appear that it was never intended to be an ending, and anyone who has put themselves through the pain of watching it until the very end will know why that is. Despite that I heartily recommend saving this one for the end of your marathon… just be sure to turn it off after precisely 22 minutes and 45 seconds…

As the sun beats down over a remote desert, Symphony Angel is returning to base after completing a patrol. Presumably she’s just hunting for wild Mysterons. We haven’t seen Symphony much over the course of these reviews but she’s risen in the ranks somewhat and become the go-to Angel, often stealing the limelight away from Destiny. Partway through the series she was given a dramatic new hairstyle which perhaps was intended to make her seem a little less like a damsel in distress, and more of a dynamic agent for Spectrum… although that is rather a lot to read into a hairstyle…

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A strange humming and whooshing noise ensues before the rear end of the craft just explodes. The source of the noise and the explosion remains a mystery but we must assume it to be the work of the Mysterons… for some reason… Symphony keeps her cool remarkably well and gives her position which Lieutenant Green identifies. Looks like this is just your bog-standard run of the mill crash landing really.

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Symphony ejects from the aircraft. Has anybody kept a tally of how many Angel aircraft have been lost over the course of the series? I feel like it’s a lot… This emphasises a point I made in my first review that the vehicles are very much treated like tools and facilities rather than the stars of the show. In Thunderbirds it was a big deal when Thunderbirds 1 and 2 got shot down. An Angel aircraft getting shot down in Scarlet is just par for the course…

Symphony watches as her aircraft ploughs straight into the desert below. The model set is filmed from above with a handheld camera to create the point of view perspective very effectively. Barry Gray’s sombre music combined with the POV shot makes this a rather unsettling moment as it soon becomes apparent that Symphony is completely isolated and will be stuck in the desert for some time. Gray’s score for this episode is particularly superb.

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The aircraft goes up one more time just to really hammer the nail into the coffin.

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In a rather silly move, Symphony has decided to abandon her seat and her flight helmet which Lieutenant Green is still trying to communicate with her on… I can only assume that it’s very hot but all the same, what a silly thing to do.

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Symphony is rather regretting wasting all of her energy on that jaunt across the dunes. The punishing sun starts to make her feel faint. You have to appreciate the delicate craftsmanship that goes into these tiny puppet heads when they’re filmed up close.

Soon enough she’s passed out next to an ex-cow…

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The Mysterons have made their threat, and it’s a biggy – they will spare no effort to ensure that Cloudbase is totally destroyed. As Scarlet remarks, it was pretty inevitable that this would happen, but nobody mentions that this has been threatened before in Dangerous Rendezvous and they got ruddy close to succeeding. But there’s a very real sense that this is the big one… Oh and by the way the search for Symphony has begun…

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The Colonel is somehow looking more stern than usual. He outlines the precautions that are being taken. Cloudbase will be sealed from all external contact, and any plane coming within a 100 miles will be “warned off” which is a polite way of saying threatened with violence. The radar watch will be doubled which basically just means people are paying extra close attention to the radar, and the crew’s shifts are altered to 4 hours on duty, 2 hours off, around the clock… which means everyone’s going to be ruddy tired soon.

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Meanwhile, Symphony wakes up just in time to watch one of her comrades fly straight past her at a very low altitude. I mean, why bother searching if you’re not even paying attention, Destiny? It’s always a thrill to see a model on the same set as a puppet. It just stitches the whole thing together rather nicely.

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Symphony is a tad disappointed. It is eerie sometimes just how realistic and correctly proportioned these puppets are, and full length shots like this one really show them off at their best.

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Nothing to report, Destiny? Nothing at all? Tut tut…

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Colonel White gives the order to recall Destiny Angel. If you look really carefully in this shot, his lip starts moving before he actually says anything.

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Green points out that it’s a bit silly to leave someone stranded in the middle of the desert just because Destiny couldn’t be bothered to look out of the window. But alas, his case is not heard and he has to give the order for Destiny to give up the search. It’s worth noting that the Lieutenant Green puppet head seen here has different coloured eyes to that seen in earlier episodes, among other slightly different facial features. Voice artist Cy Grant is brilliant at giving this fairly one-dimensional character a good deal of charisma.

And so the Angel aircraft turns around to head back to Cloudbase, leaving Symphony to have a little snooze.

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Despite the fact that Blue is supposed to be worried and concerned about Symphony in this scene, his body language suggests otherwise. When I’m worried about the survival of  someone close to me, I tend not to put my feet up and read a blank document…

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Captain Magenta is manning the radar watch… I know… The original script for the episode actually specified that a new character called Lieutenant Sienna (some sources suggest they were in fact a Captain) was watching the radar. However, the cost of producing a brand new Spectrum uniform so late in the series was deemed unnecessary and the role went to Captain Magenta.

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Scarlet and Blue barge in to keep an eye on Magenta, who does refer to Scarlet as ‘sir’, which could possibly have been left from the original script which had Sienna as a lower rank to the other officers. Magenta claims that everything is fine and nobody has come within range except for Destiny. Blue is now thoroughly cheesed off.

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This is how cheesed off he is.

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He demands an explanation from Colonel White as to why Destiny has been recalled. This leads to much wailing and gnashing of teeth between the two. It’s an opportunity to get some emotion out of these characters who are often criticised for being too flat and militaristic. Indeed, the best Captain Scarlet episodes are those that give the regular characters some personality, and fortunately there are quite a few that do so. It’s worth noting that this is the only episode not to feature any guest characters, and the cast is limited to seven voice artists, for the most part just playing their one main role. I feel it makes their performances that little bit more dynamic and theatrical. More than any other episode, the recording session would have probably run just like a play. I could even be bold enough to say that the photo below was taken during the recording of this particular episode:

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Left to right: Janna Hill (Symphony Angel), Ed Bishop (Captain Blue), Francis Matthews (Captain Scarlet), Donald Grey (Colonel White and Voice of the Mysterons), Gary Files (Captain Magenta), Cy Grant (Lieutenant Green), and Liz Morgan (Destiny and Rhapsody Angels). As regular players such as Jeremy Wilkin or David Healy don’t feature in this photograph, and also don’t feature in this episode, I would assume that Attack On Cloudbase is the script they are performing. It’s a lovely photo and a rare opportunity to actually see the conditions that the shows were recorded in.

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Anyway, Colonel White reports that Spectrum Ground Forces are out looking for Symphony now, and Captain Blue wants to join them. More yelling ensues. Here’s a wonderful bit of dialogue: “What’s the matter with you man, are you in love with the girl?”

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“I suppose I am. Yes, I am.” The blossoming romance between Blue and Symphony is rather underplayed throughout the series so it really hits one on the nose here. It’s rather an interesting move actually to make Blue the romantic male lead of the series while Scarlet is the lead with all the action. In New Captain Scarlet the role is entirely diverted to Scarlet so that he’s entangled with Destiny and simultaneously fighting Mysterons. Destiny does identify Scarlet’s body in The Mysterons, but beyond that, there’s little implication that the two are that close in this series. John Theydon suggests an attraction between Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel in his 1967 novel, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

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During Symphony’s slumber, she utters the word, “Adam.” Can’t think why she would be doing that…

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Night has fallen and things are ultra tense.

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Colonel White waits in the observation tube. Lieutenant Green just gawps at him.

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Magenta continues to look more important than he has any right to.

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Scarlet is nomming on a sausage. He doesn’t seem worried at all. The puppets are intentionally not shown trying to eat very often because it does spoil the illusion somewhat. We know they can’t do it, and seeing Scarlet’s mouth open to eat the sausage just looks silly.

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The Angels are all in uniform and waiting on standby. Rhapsody is up on deck in Angel 1.

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Colonel White is beginning to despair. It’s been 14 hours and there’s been no sign of any dodgy Mysteron activity.

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Then it begins.

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When looking up close, one can clearly make out that the lines on the radar screen are drawn on with marker pen, and the radar blip is simply a small flashlight being operated behind the screen.

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Magenta claims that the unidentified craft is flying at Mach 4! He also says that it’s 47 miles away, even though it’s at the very edge of the screen. So I guess the exclusion zone was actually a 100 mile diameter of Cloudbase rather than radius… either that or the radar screen isn’t big enough.

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Green is nervous, wishing that the craft were something else. But as the craft hovers near the base, Colonel White accepts the inevitable and sounds action stations.

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Scarlet is just about to mush a tomato into his fiberglass head when a terrific siren sounds. It’s a shame there aren’t moments like this in the rest of the series because it’s very exciting to have everyone scrambling.

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Destiny is frantic while Melody and Harmony can only just be bothered to stand up.

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Angel 1 takes off. I believe this is the first time we see a launching at night.

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Rhapsody Angel, who sadly doesn’t have a very prominent role in the series, is about to take on the unidentified flying object…

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With a lump in his throat, Green tells Rhapsody to take care. I think someone might have a little crush of their own…

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Rhapsody can’t believe what she sees.

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A flying saucer. An actual, proper flying saucer which flickers with light in the darkness. Rather deliberately, there isn’t a lot of detail to these Mysteron ships. Who knows whether there are actual Mysterons aboard, or if these are just remote controlled drones. It takes the viewer completely by surprise because I think the last thing we ever expected to see was a totally conventional attack from the air by physical Mysteron ships. That isn’t their style at all, but it does mean things are serious. It’s a fantastic revelation.

Rhapsody is warned to pull away by the Colonel and does so. But a strange noise, the same one we heard before Symphony’s crash earlier, starts to get louder and louder…

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With a terrific bang, the aircraft is consumed by a mysterious red smoke which probably has lots of ruddy dangerous chemicals in it.

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Rhapsody is blasted out of the sky. She’s dead now. She’s the first major character to die since the first episode and it has an incredible impact. It indicates that this episode is going to be an absolute bloodbath.

Green is on the verge of tears. White declares that the Mysterons themselves, not just their agents but actual Mysteron beings, have come to wreak total annihilation. Heavy stuff.

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An emergency meeting is called with everyone on Cloudbase in attendance except for Captain Grey who is presumably manning the radar in place of Magenta. But don’t worry, we’ll see Grey a bit later. This is one of only two episodes which feature the entirety of the regular cast – the other is Flight To Atlantica. Cloudbase has made a move to the Himalayas, one of the rare instances where Cloudbase’s ability to go anywhere in the world is actually mentioned.

At the end of the briefing, White and Scarlet share a strangely intimate moment. Everything seems to be leading up to the Colonel telling Scarlet that he’s in love with him. He ends up just asking him to get a haircut. But what was he going to tell him?? Maybe White is Scarlet’s real father…

Scarlet remarks to Blue that the Colonel is a wonderful man… there’s definitely some sort of undertone here but I can’t quite detect what it’s supposed to be. It certainly throws the multi-faceted relationship between Scarlet and White into perspective – sometimes they hated each other, sometimes there was a lot of respect on display from both. Through it all, it looks a lot like a hidden romance may have blossomed…

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Symphony is still snoozing in the desert. Pretty sure she’d be dead by now.

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Now everyone is just waiting for the next move. Captain Blue has forgotten how to sit in a chair but Grey and Ochre are too polite to say anything.

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Magenta is in charge of monitoring the one flashing light on the screen. I think even he can manage that.

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Green is becoming impatient, desperate for the carnage to begin… It’s wonderful to see him impassioned about something for once.

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White calms him down, an indication of the father and son type relationship that the two have developed.

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Here come the troops…

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Magenta struggles to count them because of course he does.

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Colonel White is ready to launch another Angel but Scarlet volunteers to take them on.

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Destiny is ruddy fuming about it, either because she wants to avenge Rhapsody’s death, or she loves killing Mysterons, or because she doesn’t want to risk Scarlet’s life. Answers on a postcard please.

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There were a limited number of Mysteron ship models for the effects team to work with so you might notice that the one in the background of this shot is rather less detailed than the other two.

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Scarlet 1 is ready for launch. This is the only time that somebody other than an Angel pilot flies one of their aircraft (aside from the Mysterons in Seek and Destroy). Scarlet’s flight helmet is the same one that he last wore in Expo 2068.

Scarlet 1 is given launch clearance. Green makes a wonderfully catty remark about the fact Scarlet’s indestructibility makes him nothing more than a big girl’s blouse. It’s a valid point in some  respects, but I suppose the drama in each episode comes more from the audience wondering whether Scarlet really will survive this particular stunt. His indestructibility relies entirely on unproven science so could give up on him at any moment.

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Scarlet approaches the squadron. It’s apt that the Mysteron spacecraft have no distinctive external features. It makes them more intriguing and alien.

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The Angel aircraft soon suffers the same fate as Rhapsody’s. There’s no sign at all of anything being fired from the spacecraft. It’s as if the Mysterons have an aura which just triggers complete destruction.

Scarlet attempts to steer the aircraft back to Cloudbase but it ends with a rather disastrous landing.

All of this is just so bizarre and out of the ordinary. To see a failed landing on the deck of Cloudbase, and Scarlet out of action already, is really unsettling. There’s no question that this episode is very out of the ordinary indeed.

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Doctor Fawn is quietly minding his own business getting the sick bay ready. Of course, much like Paul Maxwell, Charles Tingwell left the series at quite an early stage and thus we haven’t heard Doctor Fawn speak since the sixth episode, Operation Time. Meanwhile, Captain Blue and his team are rescuing Scarlet. All this while the Mysteron ships advance towards Cloudbase.

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Their first attack on the base strikes the sick bay, quietly killed Doctor Fawn. Nobody notices for a little while yet though.

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Smoke billows from the slightly smaller Cloudbase model as the ships gather to launch their full assault. Barry Gray’s score for this sequence is unique. Gerry Anderson felt that this episode needed something special to suit the hopeless, devastating mood.

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The radar implies an enormous number of ships. In actuality I think we only see three fully built models of the Mysteron ships in total.

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Magenta is asked to count all of the ships… time to nip out for a coffee…

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Another enormous hole is punched in the deck of Cloudbase. This is all starting to feel very final. While the three models hover in the foreground, we can see flashing lights in the distance to represent the other ships.

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In the sick bay, Blue announces the death of Doctor Fawn rather matter-of-fact-ly. Not only that, but Fawn’s assistant whom we have never ever heard about or seen before is qualified enough to determine that Captain Scarlet himself is dead.

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White struggles to come to terms with the loss. It’s a proper gut-punching moment.

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The assistant is revealed to be none other than Captain Black. It seems more than appropriate that in all the chaos and destruction, the Spectrum agent turned Mysteron has come to haunt his former colleagues. At this point one has to assume that Blue is just so delirious and traumatised he doesn’t notice that it’s Captain Black… right?

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Green has to comfort the Colonel. The emotion is piled high!

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Magenta interrupts the somber moment to deliver his counting report. White treats him like a complete moron… which he sort of is…

Before the radar room gets wiped out and Magenta is forced to cease counting, we’re treated to some gorgeous shots of the Mysterons surrounding Cloudbase and blowing it up.

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White mourns Magenta with a scathing comment about his eagerness and nothing more… what a git.

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Cloudbase struggles to maintain altitude, causing the Angel aircraft to slip off the deck. This really has to be one of the most dramatic sequences in all of Supermarionation history.

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With the engines almost entirely knocked out, Cloudbase solemnly descends through the cloud layer… the Mysterons are victorious… blimey…

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The Amber Room is hit next, killing the remaining Angels. Despite the entire base being tipped at an angle, everything stays exactly where it should be on the tables and furniture as if it was all glued down in preparation for the attack…

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Cloudbase will crash in 2 minutes… that is what is going to happen. Everyone is either dead or about to die. This is absolutely horrific.

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As the base falls, one Mysteron ships come in for a really close shot. Without the mysterious glare that the lighting of the other ships have, this one does look suspiciously like a retro saucepan lid…

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Lieutenant Green announces that everyone else is dead… before being killed himself…

As the smoke clears, Colonel White is left alone with Captain Blue who has broken his arm. Green’s body remains slumped over the control panel. The only option left is for them to put on a power-jet-pack and abandon Cloudbase. But Blue is too injured. The end is nigh.

White takes one last moment to consult his medals. Will he go down with his ship and all those who have served him so loyally? Or will he take a chance and escape to carry on Spectrum’s work? He ultimately decides to remain with his command.

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Colonel White reports to Spectrum Headquarters London for the last time.

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The Mysterons have won.

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With military dignity, Colonel White prepares for the end…

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… nope…

I mean… that… no, I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter how many times I watch this episode I cannot accept that ending. Why does it all have to be a dream? Yes, it’s not the end of the series but it ruddy well should have been because that crash sequence was the perfect finale. How bold would it have been to just polish off all of the main characters, let the Mysterons win, and stop there? It would be held in higher esteem than any other moment from the entirety of Gerry Anderson’s career.

The problem is that the majority of the episode is just too well done for us to accept that the whole thing was a dream. Dream episodes are a Supermarionation staple, but most of them deal with something totally fantastical happening and we accept the fun and fiction of it all fairly on. It doesn’t work when you pose a very probable scenario and let is play out in a very emotional and, for the most part, realistic way. And hey, if you still wanted to make it a completely fictional scenario, do something original with it. Maybe the Mysterons could have been planning their attack and watching it play out in their mind’s eye, or in the case of the re-edit for the compilation film Captain Scarlet vs. The Mysterons, time was reversed at the end so that it did really happen but the Mysterons showed some mercy. “It was all a dream,” is such a horrendous cliché I’m still baffled that any of the creative team thought it was a good idea.

Anyway, aside from that ending this episode is pretty much perfection. The drama, the tension, the sheer emotion that is on display is unbeatable and puts Attack On Cloudbase far above the rest of the series in my opinion. It’s everything you would want to see in the ending to such a dark and grim story about an intelligence taking revenge for the destruction of their own people in a long and bitter war. The characters are all on top form thanks to beautiful humanisation in the writing from Tony Barwick, and brilliant performances from the voice artists. The grave tone and the strangeness of the Mysterons is visualised in the most extraordinary ways by Ken Turner and the team working in the effects and puppet departments. The story fits the running time perfectly, with a lot of action squeezed in, but plenty of time for quieter characters moments which all built up the tension superbly.

This brings us to the end of our month celebrating the 50th anniversary of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. I hope you’ve enjoyed analysing these fan-selected episodes with me and take this opportunity to appreciate the series as a whole in a new way. It’s a fantastic show with a great deal of depth to it and endless possibilities. From a technical and a writing standpoint it has aged very well indeed, possibly better than any of the other Supermarionation series.

But stay tuned for more Captain Scarlet goodness. Coming very soon to the Security Hazard blog we have been given the opportunity to review the brand new Captain Scarlet 50th Anniversary Box Set and Spectrum File One from Big Finish! Audio adventures galore with these incredible releases which celebrate 50 years of Captain Scarlet superbly! Spectrum Is Gold!

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