'Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons' - Spectrum File 1 Review
Big Finish bring to life the first of three 'Captain Scarlet' books from the 1960s.
The second part of Big Finish's celebrations of 50 years of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons are The Spectrum Files, three enhanced audiobooks of Captain Scarlet novels that were published in 1967. The first of these, simply titled Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, is a globe-trotting adventure with a Bond-esque touch, and features a very novel Mysteron plan. However, it also feels strangely distant from the show as seen on screen and it also feels rather poorly plotted and paced, meaning that it's near four-and-a-half-hour run time does drag considerably, despite the excellent production.
The story starts with a conference about weather control on Earth, with a Professor Standal walking out due to disagreements about the direction of the research. He is the inventor of the Standal Beam: something that can affect an invisible layer of the atmosphere, and create meteorological conditions at will. Captain Black is sent by the Mysterons to kill Standal and destroy his prototype beam, so they can retro-metabolise it. Soon, freak weather conditions are ravaging the Earth, with Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel caught up in a freak flood in London. The Mysterons also make it appear that the main weather control project (that of launching satellites into space) has fallen under their influence, to act as a distraction for Spectrum. One thing that you can't deny that this story has is scope. It's a globe-trotting adventure, with Captain Scarlet sent across the world, and even into space, in an attempt to stop the latest Mysteron threat. Some of the weaker Scarlet episodes were the ones that kept things small-scale: this remembers that not only is Spectrum a global organisation, but also that this is a novel, and not restricted by the limitations of a TV model show budget. There are whole sections of this book that feel like a Bond movie, such is there scope. Yet, this causes one of the novel's biggest problems: it's way too disjointed. Clearly, the writer, John Theydon, wanted to give this story a huge scope, and had several set pieces that he wanted to include. However, he seems unable to find a way to link them together, meaning the whole story comes off jerky and clunky. For example: why do Black and the Mysteron Standal ally themselves with a corrupt Mexican mayor? They have no real need to do so, meaning that Theydon has simply complicated matters with a subplot that has no real reason to exist. And this happens multiple times throughout the story: Although I love the fact that Theydon ties Captain Scarlet into the same universe as Fireball XL5, the sequence where Captains Scarlet and Blue go into space in order to take down the satellite is incredibly protracted, and ends up feeling laboured and clunky because of it. I feel Big Finish made a mistake in making this a four-hour adaptation, and preserving the entire novel, as certain sections could easily be excised, and much the same story could be told in about two, maybe three, hours, rather than the four-hour epic we have to sit through. And the greater shame is that there is some really good ideas in the heart of this story, and the scope and characterisation is impressive, much more so than even some of the better episodes of the show, which were limited to only a half-hour slot. One slight criticism that I have is that, sometimes, this doesn't feel quite like the show we saw on screen, namely in relation to the perception of Spectrum by the wider world, and the abilities and usage of the Mysteron Gun. For a die-hard fan like myself, these little inconsistencies do drag you out of the story somewhat, although the mere presence of the Mysteron Gun was better than it's exposure on the TV show. The plot is enjoyable, definitely (Theydon's snappy prose is a highlight), but the whole thing is dragged down by the poor pacing and plotting decisions that I wish had been excised in order to make this a more enjoyable listen.
One thing that is impossible to fault, however, is the exemplary production. The love and care that has gone into this in order to make it feel as authentic as possible makes this totally worthwhile, and stands as a testament to the talent working at Big Finish. Of course, it would be near impossible to truly recreate the halcyon days of the TV show, what with most of the original cast having passed away. So, director Jamie Anderson has found probably the best way of working around this without really recasting: Liz Morgan (the last surviving actor from the original show) takes on all the female parts (mostly the Angels) and Wayne Forrester (who played Captain Scarlet in the 2005 remake of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons) takes on all the male parts. Liz does an excellent job with the various Angel roles: it was helped that Gerry Anderson had given them all distinct accents in the first place, but she manages to sell each character as distinct. Forrester had a harder job, and manages to excel, despite the large number of roles he has to take on. His Lieutenant Green, in particular, is amazing, because it sounds just like Cy Grant (Green's original actor) is playing the part. His Colonel White struggles a bit, but that's only to be expected from an actor who doesn't necessarily has the same level of gravitas as Donald Gray. But the standout here is undoubtedly David Graham, who narrates the story. He has a massive chunk of material to convey, and yet manages to do it effortlessly, keeping the listener involved in the events, no matter what. Despite not having even voiced any characters in the original show, he is a perfect fit for a project like this, as his voice is synonymous with so many Anderson shows. All of these talents are ably marshaled by director Jamie Anderson, who once again proves what a find he is for Big Finish, with a skilled and consummate production. And finally, plaudits to Richard Fox and Lauren Yason, and to Benji Clifford, who provide the sound design and music on this release. All three do a terrific job to recreate the atmosphere that the show invokes, particularly Clifford, who's Barry Gray-esque score is a wonderful tribute to the great man himself.
Overall, it's a shame that this release didn't quite hit the mark for me. There was certainly plenty to enjoy (especially the work Big Finish have clearly put into this release), but one cannot hide from the deficiencies in the source material to begin with. The issues with the plot and the pace cannot be escaped, no matter how hard you might try. If Big Finish had been willing to excise some of the material, this might have made a much snappier, two to three hour release. However, there is still some stuff to recommend this; namely the number of ideas that it plays around with, the superb reading and sound design and the fact that, to most listeners, this is new Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, after nearly 50 years. It's definitely not perfect, but it's at least entertaining, and well worth at least a once over, if you are a fan of the show.