"The Mysterons" (or, rarely, "Mars – 2068 A.D.") is the first episode of the 1960s Supermarionation television series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. It was first officially broadcast in the UK on ATV Midlands on 29 September 1967, although it had been given an unscheduled test screening in the London area five months earlier on 29 April 1967. It was written by series creators Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and directed by Desmond Saunders. In the first episode, following an unwarranted human attack on their Martian colony, a collective extraterrestrial intelligence calling themselves the "Mysterons" initiate a war of retribution against Earth; the Spectrum security organisation is mobilised to counter the Mysterons' first threat, which is to assassinate the World President.
Filmed in January 1967, the completed version of the episode differs from a pilot script that the Andersons submitted in August 1966, particularly with respect to Captain Scarlet's biology as a replicated Mysteron intermediary. During pre-production, Patrick McGoohan was contacted as a possible guest-star, but a combination of actor availability and budget limitations precluded his casting as the voice of the President. Enthusiastically received by members of the voice cast in 1967 "The Mysterons" was also praised by critics such as British journalists James Rampton and Allison Pearson when it was repeated on BBC Two in 1993. The episode's violence has attracted commentary, particularly with respect to a scene in which the Mysteron double of Spectrum's Captain Brown physically explodes.
In addition to flashback appearances in the later Captain Scarlet episodes "Winged Assassin", "Dangerous Rendezvous" and "Traitor", footage from "The Mysterons" was re-edited to introduce to Captain Scarlet vs the Mysterons, a Captain Scarlet compilation film. The Century 21 mini-album episode Introducing Captain Scarlet expands on various aspects of the plot of the TV episode.
In 2068, the crew of the Zero-X spacecraft return to the surface of Mars in the Martian Exploration Vehicle (MEV) to locate the source of unidentified radio signals detected by the Spectrum security organisation on Earth. The point of origin is revealed to be an extraterrestrial city inhabited by the Mysterons, a collective artificial intelligence. Mistaking the Mysterons' surveillance towers for gun batteries, Zero-X commander and Spectrum officer Captain Black orders Lieutenant Dean to fire on the colony with the MEV's missile cannon. However, in a process that the Mysterons name "reversing matter", a turret projects a light onto the wreckage and restores the destroyed complex to its original, undamaged state. Claiming to be peaceful by nature, the vengeful Mysterons seize control of Black's mind and declare a "war of nerves" against Earth, stating that their first retaliatory act for the attack on their settlement will be the assassination World President. When the Zero-X returns to Earth, Black mysteriously disappears.
Captains Scarlet and Brown are assigned to escort the President to the Spectrum Maximum Security Building in New York City. However, both officers are killed when the Mysterons use their powers over matter to engineer the crash of their Spectrum Patrol Car (SPC). From Scarlet and Brown's corpses, the Mysterons create two reconstructions, which are capable of perfectly imitating their biological templates and whose only programmed purpose is to execute the threat against the President. As a first assassination attempt, Brown's duplicate physically explodes after arriving with the President at the Maximum Security Building; although the tower is completely destroyed, the President escapes with his life by activating an emergency door seconds before the detonation.
On Spectrum's airborne headquarters, Cloudbase, Spectrum commander-in-chief Colonel White concludes that Brown was a traitor and was concealing a bomb on his person. Unaware of the Mysterons' subversion of his officers, he orders Scarlet's reconstruction to fly the President to a second Maximum Security Building in London. When the body of the original Brown is discovered at the scene of the SPC crash, it dawns on White that the President is in the hands of an impostor, and that the person whom he believed to be Scarlet is not human. Ignoring instructions to return to Cloudbase, with its Spectrum Jet under fire from the Angel fighter squadron, the Scarlet duplicate ejects itself and the President over southern England; on the ground, both the duplicate and the President, the latter being held hostage, set off towards London in a stolen car.
Captain Blue gives pursuit in a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (SPV). Meanwhile, the Angels destroy a bridge to divert the Scarlet duplicate, forcing him into a dead end at the top of the London Car-Vu, an elevated car park 800 feet (240 m) above street level. As Captain Black observes from a derelict building, the duplicate awaits the arrival of Spectrum Helicopter A42, which has been hijacked by the Mysteron influence. When Blue is fired upon, Destiny Angel shoots down the helicopter, which crashes into the tower underneath Scarlet, Blue and the President. Blue shoots the duplicate, which falls from the Car-Vu to his apparent destruction below. Wearing a jetpack, Blue lifts the President to safety just before the Car-Vu collapses.
The Mysteron plot thwarted, the epilogue reveals that the Mysteron copy of Scarlet duplicate has inexplicably recovered from his multiple, fatal injuries. Furthermore, it appears to be no longer under Mysteron control, the consciousness of the original Scarlet having re-asserted itself. Addressing his officers, White suggests that this healing factor makes the duplicate "indestructible", and that it is destined to become Spectrum's greatest asset in Earth's war with Mars.
The first episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was written by the husband-and-wife duo of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, who developed the format and characters for all the Supermarionation series and typically scripted the pilot. Tony Barwick, the script editor for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, offered supplementary suggestions. The filming script differed significantly from the Andersons' pilot script, composed in August 1966. Initially, it was conceived that the character of Captain Scarlet would be revived by an advanced computer, as opposed to returning to life naturally, and without apparent explanation. The draft also provided deeper insight into Scarlet's Mysteron-ised biology, stating that following his resurrection he would no longer be completely human but instead a "mechanical man"; no episode of the finished series investigates Scarlet's abilities in as much detail.
Another aspect that changed during the time between pre-production and filming was the production staff's position on casting. Originally, every episode of Captain Scarlet was to have featured a "guest star" puppet, voiced by a high-profile, contemporary actor. For the series opener, the character of the World President was at first due to be voiced by Patrick McGoohan, on whom the puppet's appearance was based. McGoohan was ultimately unable to attend a recording session, and the proposal was later dropped due to budgetary constraints. Filming of "The Mysterons" commenced on 2 January 1967 after two months of pre-production under the direction of long-serving Anderson collaborator Desmond Saunders; although he directed no further episodes, Saunders continued his association with Captain Scarlet in the role of "supervising series director".
The script posed several technical challenges to both the puppet and special effects departments of Century 21 Productions. The "blurring" of the structures making up the Mysteron city was accomplished by mounting a sheet of glass between the camera and the effects set, with Vaseline placed on the glass at the necessary points to create lens flare. Complex scale model shots of Captain Blue's SPV navigating the spiral structure of the Car-Vu were simplified by turning the road surface instead of the vehicle, thus eliminating the requirement to manipulate the wires (or move the camera). Since the spinning blades reduced the practicality of overhead wire control, the scenes of Spectrum Helicopter A42's dogfight with the jetpack-wearing Blue were filmed upside-down (with wires supporting the base of the helicopter model) and flipped during post-production. A sequence of the World President and Captain Brown standing on a moving walkway while undergoing security checks at the Maximum Security Building was particularly difficult to film, since it was essential that the puppet operators, working from a gantry overhead, keep pace with the speed of the conveyor belt powering the set below. The Captain Scarlet "grimacing" head, used for the reaction shot immediately after the reconstruction is hit by Blue's bullet, was sculpted especially by the puppet workshop for its one-off appearance in this episode. In his DVD audio commentary for the episode, Gerry Anderson remembered how, on a technical level, "everything had to be perfect" for the filming of the first episode of the new series.
A caption introducing the episode's opening sequence, sometimes interpreted to contain the episode's title, states "Mars – 2068 A.D." Although the title "The Mysterons" does not appear on-screen, official documentation dating from as early as pre-production refers to the episode by this name; therefore, the official title is accepted to be "The Mysterons". The episode's incidental music was recorded by series composer Barry Gray on 16 March 1967 in a single four-hour studio session, with an orchestra of 16 instrumentalists. Making a re-appearance is the Zero-X MEV, which had first been seen in the Thunderbirds film, Thunderbirds Are Go (1966). Its presence was intended to signal the transition between Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, which are set in a common fictional universe of the 2060s.
The first transmission of "The Mysterons" was an unscheduled test, conducted in a late-night timeslot on 29 April 1967, on ATV London only and without an advertisement break. Viewing figures for the official ATV Midlands première, at 5.25 pm on 29 September that year, were 0.45 million – a number considered "promising". On its first network broadcast on BBC Two in 1993, "The Mysterons" attracted an audience of four million, making it the channel's third most-watched programme for the week of transmission. More recently, the episode was screened as part of a Gerry Anderson-themed night of programming on BBC Four on 2 January 2008, when it was seen by 0.35 million viewers (a share of 1.54 per cent).
When Captain Scarlet was repeated by Central Television in the latter half of the decade, changes were made to the episode's opening sequence to remove dialogue in which the Mysterons allude to surveillance equipment that is being rotated to facilitate inspection of the Martian Exploration Vehicle. Since the imaging device resembles a missile battery (as the Zero X astronauts mistake it for), this re-edited version inadvertently gives an impression of stronger hostility on the part of the Mysterons.
James Stansfield of the entertainment website Den of Geek ranks "The Mysterons" fourth in his "Top 10" list of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons episodes, concluding that the first instalment "had it all ... Exciting and dramatic, you knew you'd be watching next week." He especially values the "kick-ass action", describing the gunfight at the top of the London Car-Vu as "hair-raising" and the crash of Spectrum Helicopter A42 as "impressive". In Stansfield's view, the episode's main theme can be summarised as "misunderstanding, and the consequences of such actions". He points out that Captain Black's assault on the Mysteron city is motivated purely by fear of the unknown, which is implied to be an aspect of the human condition: destruction is "what all humans do when faced with something they know nothing about".
In 1967, the episode was received positively by members of the voice cast and their families, who had attended a preview screening at Century 21 Studios. Francis Matthews, who provided the voice of Captain Scarlet, recalls that "the moment we heard, 'This is the voice of the Mysterons,' my eldest son ran screaming from the room, but my other son just sat there riveted," and adds, "Reg [Hill, producer] said, 'Oh my God, what have we done? We've made a series that no children are going to watch!'" The episode was given a cinematic presentation at the Columbia Theatre on London's Shaftesbury Avenue, which Gary Files, a voice actor for later Captain Scarlet episodes, warmly remembers: "I looked at [the episode] with total and utter amazement ... Boy, you should have seen it on the wide screen! They had laid in an incredible soundtrack to go with it ... We all tottered out into the night, convinced that we were on to a winner." In his DVD commentary, Gerry Anderson praised Saunders' direction.
Reviewers in 1993 were satisfied, if somewhat bemused, by the first episode of the then 25-year-old series. In a preview published on 1 October, the date of the episode's première network broadcast on BBC Two, James Rampton of The Independent wrote: "The best thing about the programme is that it's just as ludicrous as you remembered: the lips bizarrely out of synch with the words, the strange uniformity of features (isn't that security guard Alan from Thunderbirds?), and the totally preposterous dialogue ('Despite his fatal injuries, he's returning to life'). Highly recommended." In her review dated 3 October, and printed in the same newspaper, Allison Pearson was comically critical of certain design aspects, such as the surface of Mars, the exterior of the Mysteron city and the London Car-Vu model (described as a "Philippe Starck cake-stand"). However, she also referred to the episode as being part of a "classic Sixties puppet show."
Stephen La Rivière, writer of Filmed in Supermarionation: a History of the Future, comments on the violence of several scenes, such as the murders of the original Captains Scarlet and Brown, the deceased Scarlet's bleeding body, the explosion of Brown's Mysteron double, and the shooting of the duplicated Scarlet and its fall from the Car-Vu. Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, authors of The Guinness Book of Classic British TV, cite Brown's conversion into a living bomb as an example of the "incredibly violent" nature of some episodes of Captain Scarlet. Andrew Blair of Den of Geek concurs, describing the duplicate's end as "quite an unnerving thing to watch"; the first episode in general, however, is stated to be "tailor-made to appeal to small boys and men-children." The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), in its assessment dated 11 September 2001, notes a single occurrence of "very mild" violence, passing the episode with a U certificate.
Various excerpts from "The Mysterons" were re-cycled to create flashback sequences for the subsequent Captain Scarlet episodes "Winged Assassin", "Dangerous Rendezvous" and "Traitor". In 1980, "The Mysterons" was re-edited for inclusion in Captain Scarlet vs the Mysterons, a compilation film for which it serves as the introduction.
The action of the 1960s Century 21 mini-album Introducing Captain Scarlet (MA 131), written by Angus P. Allan, takes place shortly before the final scene of "The Mysterons". Comprised partly of a re-telling of the TV episode (provided by excerpts from the soundtrack), and partly of an original story, the premise of the 21-minute audio drama is that the World Security Council (WSC) is holding an inquiry into the events following the disastrous conclusion to the Zero-X mission to Mars. The episode closes with the discovery that the Captain Scarlet duplicate has mysteriously recovered from its mortal injuries, and Cloudbase chief medical officer Dr Fawn's expressed belief that Scarlet's allegiance to Earth can be restored by interfacing his Mysteron body with an advanced computer (a plot device that was ultimately not used in the final version of the TV episode's shooting script).