Thank you to WyldKat and Sharong007 for acting as astronomy and astrophysics consultants, respectively, for this review.
EPISODE REVIEW: THE SPACE SERPENT
A Battle of the Planets episode review by Nancy Tang
Before we begin, I would like to start off by saying that I have a great deal of respect for Jameson Brewer for endeavouring to translate Gatchaman in a way that would be acceptable to the censors and the fine, upstanding Moms who didn't want their kids seeing people getting killed and smashed and done in after school, not when they could see it later in the evening on "Hawaii Five-O" or whatever else was on the idiot box at the time.
However... I would like to suggest that if anyone else ever attempts a translation of Gatchaman that they purchase an encyclopaedia or a "Field Guide to Insects" or reptiles or some thing because any fool can tell the difference between a reptile and an arthropod.
Look at it: this mecha is segmented and it has lots and lots and lots of little legs! Serpents don't have lots and lots and LOTS of little legs. That's how we know serpents are serpents -- because they don't have legs. Nobody looks at a thing and says, "Oh, look at that animal, it's got lots and lots and lots of little legs -- it must be a serpent!" No, they go, "Oh, look at that animal it's got lots and lots of little legs it must be a centipede or a millipede or something..." I mean... even an earwig would have been closer to the mark but a bloody snake?
All right, we can move on, now.
I mean... I suppose The Space Earwig would have been a bit of a fizzer as a title... Wouldn't exactly strike fear into anybody's heart... space earwig... no... well... there you go.
The episode starts out with Zark, which they all do, and although I'd love to skip this bit because I'm already quite worked up enough over all this serpent/earwig business, I am reviewing this episode in its entirety for good or ill, so here we go.
"Here at Center Neptune," says Zark, "hidden many fathoms beneath the sea," -- as the sun filters clearly through the obviously shallow water with the brightly coloured tropical fish which are only found near the surface -- "we constantly watch the universe for any sign of alien intruders from outer space!"
Should we surmise from this that there's another robot who looks after alien intruders from the compost heap?
"The Galactic Patrol," Zark continues, as the cute robot music starts up, "has warned of a strange disturbance in outer space." I feel a strange disturbance in the Force, Obi Wan... "I've trained my photon probes and time bypass scanners on the area." Oh, here, there's no need for that sort of language! You keep your photon probes to yourself. "There is a definite something out there, approaching Earth!"
A definite something.
Oooooh. Will the science never end?
We cut to some of the matte animation, now, and Zark continues: "Violent changes in the orbits of some stars indicate a force is moving past them, a force with a mass large enough to affect the movement of the stars and planets it passes!" Now, that's big. "Whatever it is, it appears to be headed for us! It may be another Spectra attempt to invade Earth, with some terrible new space ship they've created. I've got to get a better look at this!" Zark extends his legs, whips a white hankie out of a pocket and wipes the top right hand monitor. "I hope I'm not getting nearsighted," he remarks, "but things have been a little blurry, lately. I think I'll have my photoelectric eye cells checked. It may be just a weak capacitor, you know, a touch of astigmatism. Ah? There it is again. It's just passing Saturn." We cut back to the matte sequence, and there are the rings of Saturn. "It's definitely approaching Earth. I must alert Security at once!"
'Violent' changes in the orbits of stars... Okay. I didn't do very well in physics when I was at school. Not very well at all. However, I get the idea about space, matter and gravity. Admittedly, the rubber sheet had me more than a little confused at first, as I thought that the astrophysicists ought to be keeping their private lives to themselves, quite frankly, but that's science for you.
Anyway, in short, mass generates gravity. The attractant force of gravity influences the way space bends, and the way space bends dictates the way mass moves, so the effect of mass and gravity on the way space bends influences the movement of other matter. The bigger the mass, the greater its influence.
For example, the mass of the Moon influences the tides here on Earth, and the mass of the Earth keeps the Moon in its orbit. Some stars and planets have a 'wobble' in their orbits which tells astronomers to look for companions and/or satellites. This is to say that the 'wobble' is induced by the presence of another stellar or planetary body. To trigger 'violent changes in the orbits of some stars' we would either need to be talking about very small stars, or an extremely, extremely, extremely large object.
So we can probably consign this one to the 'weird science' category.
Mostly because it's stupid.
We cut now to a view of what looks to be an oil refinery or some such arrangement. There's a dirty plume of smoke issuing from a tall chimney, and the sun is low in the sky. The scene has the look of late afternoon.
"It seems quiet," says Zark, "but my seismographic readings say otherwise." A tanker truck parked underneath an enormous pipeline begins to shake, as does the pipeline. "Uh-oh!" says Zark. The pipeline buckles and falls on the tanker. Great clouds of dust are kicked up and the pavement cracks. "The alien intruder has started to attack our oil refineries!"
The concrete breaks open and a whirlwind issues forth.
We've gone from a massive object, big enough to cause 'violent changes' in the orbits of stars, headed for Earth, to something hidden underground, but that's clearly my problem and I need to deal with my unrealistic expectation issues don't I?
Some chaps are watching in horror. They're very nattily dressed in designer activewear a'la Star Trek and they're wearing hard hats and what not and that's probably a good thing (the hard hats, I mean) because the whirlwind resolves itself into a giant mechanical millipede! It's a long, segmented arthropoid creature, with lots and lots of little legs.
In the interests of (in)accuracy, and in keeping with tradition, the millipede will henceforth be referred to as 'the Space Earwig.'
You may take this, gentle reader, as a gesture of sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of the reviewer.
The Space Earwig is... sort of... magenta... maybe puce? The Space Earwig is a rather unfortunate colour, but it is still very scary. Protuberances issue forth from its head and it proceeds to drain oil from the storage tanks at the refinery, before engaging in a spot of smashing and general doing-in.
Now, if you're going to smash and do things in at an oil refinery, where you're dealing with volatiles and flammable liquids, you know it's all going to end in tears, and this is exactly what happens.
Things fall down, then they go 'boom!' and blow up.
The Space Earwig is untouched by this, and it continues to smash and do things in.
It is not a very nice Space Earwig at all.
"The mysterious invader," says Zark, "has been identified. A Space Serpent, with an insatiable appetite for crude oil!"
With legs. Lots and lots of them.
I reckon Zark should go and upload Encyclopaedia Britannica On Line for all the reasons outlined above and please excuse me for a minute I have to go and make a cup of tea in order to be able to deal with this.
Having smashed and done in trucks and pipelines and stolen the stored oil at the refinery, the Space Earwig quite literally goes into a spin and dives back down under the surface of the Earth...
..as you do, when you're a Space Earwig.
Billows of black smoke blow together and obscure the wreckage where the Space Earwig last appeared.
It's all very dramatic.
Because, naturally, it's a segue!
The smoke clears to reveal an overhead shot of a tanker ship plying the ocean blue beneath a clear sky. With a surge of dramatic music, a waterspout rises up out of the waves. It's the Space Earwig!
Having made its entrance, the now-soggy Earwig proceeds to tap into the tanker and steal the oil. It then refrains from smashing and doing-in the tanker, and simply dives back beneath the surface of the ocean. We follow the Space Earwig as it spins, drilling down into the ocean floor, thus making off with its stolen cargo.
When we get a look inside the Space Earwig, there's a green goon driving the bus and this other guy in a kind of Rocky Horror meets Hannibal Lecter kind of mask which doesn't do a thing for him. He's obviously the Evil Commander du jour.
On the main view screen at front is Zoltar.
"I await your orders, sire," says ECdj, in a stilted monotone.
"Your programming is complete," says Zoltar, and I notice he's eschewed the lipstick, today. He doesn't look to be quite his usual sparkly little self today. Just a little bit of makeup can make such a difference. "Destroy all of Earth's oil supplies, and create havoc with seismic disturbances!"
This last is obviously hilarious in Spectran (it must lose something in translation) because Zoltar throws back his head and laughs uproariously. As I've mentioned in other reviews, the Evil Villain Laugh ™ is a sure fire way of telling that someone is evil, and a villain, so we are left in no doubt that Zoltar is Not A Nice Person At All.
He's drawn a bit funny, today, too, not funny in the way that has you sniggering quietly and trying not to laugh out loud but funny in that I look at the mouth and the parts of Z-Dude's face that are visible and it doesn't look like Zoltar. I don't think it's just the lippy, I think they've drawn his face somewhat differently. Perhaps it's because this is only the fourth episode that was made and the artists were still getting into the way of drawing the characters.
Anyway, lippy and drawing issues aside, I suppose this explains why ECdj is speaking in stilted monotones. This is all part of the Zarkiness and I'm supposed to think that these obviously human looking individuals are actually androids... okay... right...
And you'll have to excuse me while I go and make another cup of tea in order to be able to deal with this.
So... Zoltar has programmed some androids who are driving the Space Earwig to generate seismic disturbances and wreak havoc, mayhem and destruction... a bit like Noel Gallagher, only he hadn't been invented then and would probably have been too scary for little children.
Now we see MARK (Our Hero) come running into Anderson's office at full tilt.
"What is it, Chief?" asks Mark, speaking quickly. The boy is clearly in a rush.
"Slow down, Mark, and I'll tell you," says Anderson, despite the fact that Mark has already come to a stop in the middle of the room. Anderson leans one arm over the backrest of his chair and says, "I sent for you because I know you're a very old and close friend of Dr Harland at the Borden Institute." Mark is listening, and he seems to be drawn a tad differently, too. He looks a lot younger, and a bit messier than he usually does. "He wants to see you at once," Anderson continues, "in the old Federal Building in the city."
"Dr Harland is a famous seismologist," Mark asyouknowBobs.
"I know," Anderson says, taking on the role of Bob in the transaction. "I feel he must have something very important to discuss with you."
Mark nods. "It'll be good to see Dr Harland again." He turns and runs for the door.
"Good luck," Anderson tells him.
At this point, Mark stops and turns his head further than he ought to be able to with normal human cervical vertebrae. Maybe G-Force has more in common with birds than we originally thought, or maybe the artist's little wooden mannequin needed replacing. "Dr Harland was like a father to me. I'm honoured he wants to see me."
Which is nice, isn't it?
Gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling, and all that.
So Mark goes to visit Dr Harland.
Dr Harland make his entrance. He's a big, solid looking chap with blonde hair and a pencil-thin moustache a couple of shades darker. Big, solid looking chaps really shouldn't wear double breasted suits because it makes them look a lot bigger and emphasises the overall solidity. He's smiling and his eyes are all screwed up so you can't see them.
"Very sorry I'm late, Mark," he says by way of greeting as he walks in through the doorway.
They stand, stiffly formal, hands by their sides, in front of chairs, separated by a coffee table.
"Good to see you, Dr Harland," Mark says.
"Glad you're here, Mark," says Dr Harland, and they sit without shaking hands or making any kind of contact. Dr Harland picks up a cigarette from the table and squints cheerfully at Mark. "I understand you're the leader of G-Force."
"Officially, yes," says Mark, looking very, very young, "but we're a team, really. United, but each with his own special skills."
The sentiment is so powerful, I'm getting all choked up. Obviously, these guys are absolutely bestest friends evah. I mean, forget Kirk and Spock, or Harry and Ron, or Hawkeye and Trapper. Mark and Dr Harland are the last word in Best Buds.
I know, I know, it's a cultural thing that didn't make it across in the translation from Gatchaman, but what proportion of the audience was aware of this when the show aired in the west?
"I've had a long talk with Security Chief Anderson," Dr Harland says, and lights up his cigarette without bothering to ask if Mark minds. "Tremendous seismological disturbances have been occurring in all parts of the globe." While Squinting Man narrates, we see a broken seismograph, its drum shaken right off the mountings. "These unusual disturbances are not appearing along the old familiar fault lines. I'm convinced there's a connection between the alien invader and those earthquakes, and I think I can locate the source."
Mark looks slightly gobsmacked at this. "Good," he says. "We'd better work fast, Doctor." As he finishes his sentence, Mark glances to his left. The building is shaking.
It's a seismological disturbance!
Now, while we're being disturbed, here, I have a question.
If Doc Squinty has already had 'a long talk with Security Chief Anderson,' then why does he need to go to the trouble of taking Mark away from his job to rehash the executive summary? Why is he not already 'working fast' with Galaxy Security to locate the source of the seismic disturbances? Surely there's no time to lose?
Doc Squinty gets to his feet, as does Mark. The light fixture sways alarmingly, and a plinth falls over, sending a vase of silk roses crashing to the floor (there's no water in the mess, so we may deduce from this that they weren't real roses.) Bits of ceiling plaster start to fall, but the ashtray on the coffee table stays put, as does the table itself, and none of the chairs are displaced. "Now we're in for a big one!" Mark predicts. "Let's get outta here, Doctor!"
They run from the room as the light fitting comes down.
Lots of frightened people in those natty little Star Trek uniforms are running screaming from the building.
I choose to ignore that it's the same anonymous people passing through the frame again and again and again, because it's an anime convention. I can't help thinking that the emergency procedures for this building can't be very good because the last time I reviewed an earthquake drill it says to TAKE COVER and NOT TO RUN OUTSIDE SCREAMING.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy had the right idea in this regard: in large, friendly letters on the cover were written the words, 'DON'T PANIC.'
Mark and Doc Squinty run out with the rest of the panicking horde. Squinty actually has his eyes open, now, as they pause and turn to look back at the building. "Thank goodness," rasps Squinty, who is clearly well on his way to lung cancer from all those cigarettes. "Everyone managed to get out."
So, Squinty is channelling Zark, now.
In an emergency evacuation, there is one way to tell if everyone manages to get out: everyone leaves the building in an orderly fashion and makes their way to a muster point. The Emergency Warden then does a head count and roll call. Everyone must either be there or be otherwise accounted for (Bob was let off to go to the dentist/Carol is over at the branch office for a meeting.) Only when everyone is accounted for can you say that everyone managed to get out.
I do not think much of emergency procedures in the BotP universe.
Chunks of concrete start falling off the building, and the portico collapses. Mark grabs hold of Doc Squinty's arm and drags him away from the immediate danger.
The two of them run across a concrete hardstand oddly devoid of the remainder of the throng, who have possibly, in their panic, managed to proceed to the muster point.
The concrete splits and a fissure opens underneath Doc Squinty's feet. He slides down into it and Mark dives in after him, hanging on grimly to the doctor's sleeve as they slide down the steep, unstable incline.
Mark lets go with his left hand and says, "Transmute!" into his wrist activator.
A burse of energy tears Mark free from Doc Squinty and he tumbles head over heels. A close up shows that where he was barehanded a moment ago, he now appears to be wearing those natty little blue gloves that he usually has on when driving or flying. Oh, was that a continuity error? Nice trick if you can manage it, but if this goes on I'm going to have to make another cup of tea.
The transmutation sequence brings Mark out of his roll and we see that the fissure has widened up to expose a big, dark, scary subterranean tunnel, toward which Doc Squinty is hurtling, feet first!
Mark kicks forward and catches Doc Squinty's hand.
Before he can do anything further, however, the fissure begins to close.
And way down below, we see the eyes of the Space Earwig, flaring halogen-bright from the depths.
Mark tries to haul Doc Squinty to safety, but Doc Squinty's hand slips from his grasp. Mark tries to hold on. His fingers catch on the metal wristband of Squinty's watch. It slides over his hand and breaks.
Doc Squinty falls away into the darkness, followed by a scattering of watchband parts.
"Dr Harland!" Mark calls. "Dr Harland!"
The fissure is closing all around Mark, now, and he glances about, only now realising his own peril. He casts around desperately for something -- anything -- to do to try and fix this, but he's literally between a rock and a hard place. The only course open to him is the one he's forced to take: leap to safety.
Mark's feet touch the ground just as the fissure closes itself.
At this point I have to go to the bathroom because I've had too much tea.
When I come back from the bathroom, we cut to a close up of Doc Squinty's broken watch, cradled in Mark's bare hand. The camera pulls back and Mark solemnly places what's left of the watch on a rather imposing gravestone.
The sad music is in overdrive and we can see that Mark is standing at a graveside. They must have some really clever interment technology in the BotP Universe because the last time I buried a relative, we had to wait a good six weeks for the earth to settle before we could slap a slab of granite on top of 'em. Doc Squinty has a really nice big headstone on his grave already, and I'm pretty sure it hasn't been six weeks.
And while we're here, let's see Zark talk his way out of this one.
Mark stands with his head bowed, and someone approaches from behind, hand flattened to deliver an attack.
The hand whips toward Mark and he reacts just in time to avoid the blow, which is followed by a kick.
Mark jumps clear and gets a look at his attacker. It's a slip of a girl, radiating fury. "How do you have the nerve to visit his grave?" she demands.
"Debbie, believe me, I had nothing to do with your father's death," Mark protests.
"You have super powers! You could have saved him!" the girl sobs.
"I really tried, Debbie!" Mark insists.
"It was your fault! All your fault!" The girl Debbie charges and Mark takes evasive action. She hasn't a chance of actually landing a blow, but she keeps trying anyway.
"You've got to believe me!" Mark tells her. It must be rough, dealing with the guilt of not being able to save a friend and then having someone else blame you as well. The girl runs out of anger and her grief finally takes over. She collapses into Mark's arms. "I'm sorry, Debbie. It was an accident. I looked up to your father." He carries Debbie away from the grave.
The picture fades to black.
Mark's secret identity doesn't seem to be much of a secret, does it?
Doc Squinty knew that Mark was the leader of G-Force, and young Debbie, who can't be more than about fourteen or fifteen years old at the most, knows that Mark has 'super powers.'
Either these apparently civilian people have special clearances, or Galaxy Security is in urgent need of a departmental review.
We now fade back in to see the G-1 in civilian mode winging its way through a clear blue sky.
And, because we've been bad, Zark will tell us what we've missed.
"Mark has asked Princess to look after Debbie while he goes on a search for that Space Serpent that was responsible for the death of her father."
Mark's looking pretty grim as he flies along. He activates his communicator. "No sign of it so far, Zark. I'm gonna use my infra-scanner for a look underground."
A hatch opens in the belly of the G-1 and we see a coloured light come on that reflects orange off the fuselage of the plane while sending a white beam earthward. Where the beam hits the ground, the earth becomes transparent, and it's possible to see below the surface. Mark flies along with his neck craned so he can peer out through the canopy and around the low wing of his plane at the spot underneath to look for the Space Earwig.
Definitely time for another cup of tea.
On that note, let's go to Recipe of the Episode!
Today's recipe for the busy cook is Quick and Easy Scones!
Important: Before you begin, preheat your oven to its hot setting (200º C or 375º F.) The rule with scones is that they must be cold in the making, hot in the baking, so it is vital that your oven be hot before you begin.
Take three cups of self raising flour. Sift three times and place in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre.
Add 300ml thickened fresh cream and a cup of soda water. Use a metal knife to quickly and gently mix to a firm dough.
Using floured hands, pat the mixture flat on a well floured board and cut into rounds.
Brush with flour and bake in a hot oven some ten minutes or until golden.
These easy scones never fail to rise beautifully. A word of warning: they will go stale after a day, but if you are having people to tea, you won't have to worry about that. They'll all be eaten! Serve warm with jam and cream.
We now return to The Space Serpent Earwig
Mark's search for the Space Earwig is not going well, and he's probably getting a crick in his neck from having to lean sideways to peer down at the ground, which is extremely silly and also a very poor show in terms of Occupational Health and Safety. "Where's that thing hiding?" Mark wonders aloud as he banks to the right.
The music kicks up a notch, so we know he must be getting close!
Suddenly, an alarm sounds from the instrument panel, and Mark gives it a startled look. "I think I'm on to something, Zark," he says into his wrist communicator. He leans over and looks down again, and there on the little circle of light on the ground, we can see the outline of the Space Earwig -- note all the little segmented legs -- pootling along at a rate of knots.
"It's the Space Serpent!" Mark hisses, ignoring the legs. "I'm going to need help!"
Yes. Probably from at least one zoological taxonomist to start with.
The Space Earwig is tunnelling down under the ground on a descending incline. Inside, one of the Spectran 'androids' drones, "Someone has spotted us, Captain. I am getting warning signals on the surveillance mon-it-or."
The Evil Commander du jour turns and looks at a radar-type screen thingy, which shows a pale pink blob at about four o'clock. "It's the G-Force Commander," drones the ECdj, neatly interpreting the pale pink blob. "Don't let him get away."
The goon-droid reaches up and pulls a big lever.
A red rocket is fired out of the Space Earwig's bum and streaks toward the G-1.
And it seems that the Spectrans know what the G-1 looks like in civvie street, even by way of a pale pink blob on a radar screen thingy.
Mark takes evasive action and the rocket misses, but it must be a heat-seeker, because it skims the ground and arcs back again. Another rocket follows the first and Mark is in big trouble.
He looks oddly happy about it, though.
"Zark was right," he says. Oh, yes, when you're being fired upon with enemy missiles in the civilian, unarmed piston engined version of your combat vehicle, it's all about Zark being right. "This is another deadly invader from Spectra!"
A third rocket grazes the fuselage of the G-1 and explodes just abeam, setting up a nasty vibration in the stick and literally shaking Mark out of his happy little Zark-related reverie.
For some reason, Mark chooses to push the button that activates the infra-scanner beam. Nothing happens. "I'm in trouble!" he announces.
The Space Earwig chooses this moment to erupt from the ground and the perspective gives it the look of a hooding Cobra. Maybe that's where the 'serpent' reference comes from, but it's hard to ignore those legs. There are just so many of them.
The G-1 arcs away from the looming Earwig, and even though the Earwig is definitely a very large vehicle, dwarfing the tiny one-seater prop job, I can't see it being big enough to cause 'violent' changes in the orbits of stars, which you'll recall Zark was dribbling on about in the opening scenes.
Anyway, Zark aside, The Space Earwig fires orange beams from its eyes, narrowly missing Mark's plane.
Mark has had enough. The look on his face says, 'Sod this for a game of soldiers,' but out loud he articulates, "Ready to transmute!"
The cheeky little prop-job transforms into the friendly* little G-1 jet. Mark closes in. "So, we finally smoked you out and got you in the air," he tells it. He sets the G-1 to buzzing the Space Earwig, which twists around itself trying to hit him with its beam weapons.
Mark draws the Earwig up higher, out of its tunnel. "Come on!" he urges it, and firewalls the fuel flow levers. He pushes the G-1 into a dive, and the Earwig follows. As Mark pulls out, the Earwig's inertia takes it straight into the deck, but that doesn't bother the Earwig, which simply goes into tunnelling mode and disappears.
The best laid plans of Mark and Zark have come to naught.
"I lost it, Zark," Mark reports. "The Space Serpent got away." He shakes his fist in frustration, and the picture fades to black.
The picture fades back in to a shot of Nerve Center, complete with Zark.
I think I preferred it black.
Zark is dribbling on in his role as chorus. He's also telling us What to Think. "The Space Serpent has disappeared," Zark recaps for us. "Where could it be?" (At this point I wonder if any of the scriptwriters used to write for pantomime production because it's almost as if Zark expects the audience to yell, 'It's behind you!' But I digress.) "And what's it up to, now?" Zark wonders.
Werrrllll... being an how it's an alien invader from the ee-ville Planet Spectra, I would probably hazard a guess and say, evil alien invading, possibly? With a spot of havoc, smashing and doing-in added for good measure.
But I digress again.
"I'd better activate my infra-laser probes for underground investigation," Zark says to camera. He does that silly little flappy cape flapping thing to cross the room, which made him look like a tool in 1979 and still makes him look like a tool in 2008. Some things get better with age. Zark is not one of them. "I'm really concerned because Mark has gone after the Space Serpent alone," Zark says. "Sometimes he surprises me. Jason is usually the headstrong one, but Mark is taking Dr Harland's terrible accident very hard, and very personally. My probes are tracking the invader, now. It's three thousand feet below the surface and moving tremendously fast!" Zark's antennae jump and sizzle. "Uh-oh! It appears to be headed for one of our biggest water and power complexes. I must alert the rest of the G-Force team, so they can get the Phoenix out there to back up Mark at once!"
We cut to what is presumably a 'scanner' shot of the Space Earwig moving along underground. "It's definitely a Spectra space ship," says Zark, "manned by Zoltar's robots."
Three thousand feet is a very long way down.
I know nothing of geology (except it has something to do with rocks) but three thousand feet seems an awfully long way down. I suppose at least the Space Earwig isn't going to hit any gas pipes at three thousand feet. What would it hit, I wonder?
You've probably noticed how Zark very carefully refrained from mentioning the D-word. Dr Harland didn't 'die,' he had a 'terrible accident.' It's also rather intriguing the way Zark has a go at Jason, and we haven't even seen Jason so far in this episode!
Now we cut to the nacelle of the G-1, which is back in civvie mode. Mark is having a flashback, hearing Doc Squinty calling for help and Debbie's impassioned accusations. He's not a happy bunny.
"This is the Phoenix. Princess calling Mark." Princess' voice breaks in on the unhappy trip down Memory Lane. "Come in, Commander! Mark, please, come in! We're standing by the power complex and... the Space Serpent is about to attack at any minute!"
This last shakes Mark out of his angst-fest. "Read you, Princess," he says. "Be right there."
The power complex is a big, um... complex. The main control centre appears to be deserted, with rows of empty work stations. The interior is reminiscent of Mission Control at Cape Canaveral. In a control tower, uniformed military types (one of them has a handlebar moustache, so he must be a Squadron Leader, because moustaches are compulsory for Squadron Leaders) are watching for the inevitable Signs of Trouble, which presumably include having the building fall down around your ears.
Sure enough, the control tower starts to shake, and the Squadron Leader-type looks through his binoculars to see the Space Earwig. Any minute, it would seem, has arrived.
The Space Earwig does a little Space Earwig dance, which is a lot like the little swivelling movement Ryu the Barn Owl does when she's nervous about something (we named Ryu before we found out she was female. Ryu is a permanently disabled bird and she and her mate Emrys act as foster parents for orphaned baby owlets.) The Space Earwig dance would be really cute, only it's accompanied by Space Earwig eye-beams, which make tanks wilt and blow up, so that rather does for the cuteness factor.
Underground batteries launch missiles at the Space Earwig, and in response, the Earwig's head detaches. The body falls to the ground, but then each segment separates and activates as an independent unit, using those little legs to march on. Lasers protrude from the front of each segment, and they fire on the battery, destroying it. A laser gun emplacement fires at the Earwig segments, but this, too, is dispatched with ease.
The segments march toward the power complex. They set to work on bringing down the electrified chainlink fence.
Moustache-man observes all this from the control tower. "Ground defences destroyed!" he says into a hand held two-way radio. Send robot controlled fightahs!" He must be from the same neighbourhood as Chief Anderson.
A squadron of jets in white UN livery make a textbook attack, out of the sun. They fire air-to-surface missiles, which have pretty much no effect on the Earwig segments. The Earwig's head, which has remained airborne, closes in and attacks with its eye-beams, decimating the fighter squadron.
Through the eye of the Space Earwig, we can see another jet approaching. It's hard to make out, but it looks like the friendly little G-1!
Inside the Earwig, however, the goon-droids are having a strip torn off by a very unhappy Zoltar.
"I programmed you to stay underground 'til night-time!" Z-dude snarls at them from the comm system screen.
The goon-droids and ECdj bow penitently before their programmer. "Sorry, that does not compute," says ECdj.
"You dare question me?" Zoltar growls. "You mindless robot!"
"I do not question," says ECdj. "If you wish to reprogramme my orders for this mission."
"G-Force is right behind you!" Zoltar tells the ECdj. "Regroup and attack!"
ECdj bows. "I will regroup and attack at once as you have ordered, Master."
At the ruined fence line, the Earwig segments cease their attempts to get through the chainlink fence (they can melt tanks, but a chainlink fence holds them up for ages... Tea sounds good around about now.)
The Space Earwig gets its head screwed on right, and Mark places a call to the rest of his team: "Commander to Phoenix. Coming in for link up."
Mark evades a few desultory attempts by the Space Earwig and blowing him up. Along comes the Phoenix and Mark docks his jet in the usual aerodynamically unlikely procedure.
When Mark arrives on the bridge, Debbie's on board, which has got to be in breach of like, several hundred procedures, rules and protocols but there you have it. She's here, and what are we going to do about it?
As Mark walks toward his seat, Debbie turns and looks up at him. "Princess asked me to come along. I hope it's all right?"
I'm wondering -
(a) what if it's not; and
(b) how much water is left in the kettle because I think I need that cup of tea?
"It's all right, Debbie," Mark says gently, "and I'd like you to see something." He puts his hands on her shoulders and turns her around to face the main view screen where the Space Earwig is doing its Space Earwig dance. "That," says Mark, "is the monster responsible for what happened to your father, Debbie."
He doesn't say the D-word, either.
"I know," Debbie says, and wrings her hands. "It's horrible, isn't it?" She bursts in to tears. "I hate it!" she sobs.
"We'll see that it never hurts anyone again," Mark promises.
How much tea can you drink in a half hour before it's really, really bad for you?
The Space Earwig fires its eye-beams at the Phoenix, which dodges them easily. Tiny literally flies a ring around the Earwig, then in a bold move, rams it right in the join between two of its segments.
The segments break apart, but then they reassemble again. "Like a seven headed dragon," Tiny says, which is possibly a Hydra** reference.
"Once more," Mark tells him, and Tiny complies.
Again, the Space Earwig puts itself together like so many building blocks.
The Phoenix comes about again. "Chop it up, and it's right back together again," Tiny grumbles.
"B-blast it!" Keyop stutters angrily.
"Only one way to stop it," Jason says, "a TBX nuclear missile."
Um, Jason... You're blithely going to fire a nuke, and there are people on the ground, dude.
Jason lunges for the Big Red Button, and it's Keyop who grabs his arm and stops him. "Too close!" Keyop warns.
The launcher protrudes from the Phoenix's nacelle, just aft of the prow which contains the bay for the G-2. There's a nuke in it, ready to fly.
"We'd risk hitting the city!" Princess says, and joins Mark and Keyop in actively trying to restrain Jason.
"We'll decoy it away, first," Mark says.
Tiny is busy flying and dodging the eye-beams still being fired by the Space Earwig, and while this is going on, the rest of the team are having an impromptu wrestling match. There are times when I wonder about Mark because every time Jason goes to press the Big Red Button, Mark takes the opportunity to grab Jason's arm or hand or something and he's getting awfully touchy-feely here at the moment.
Which leads me to wonder about Princess and why she hasn't cottoned on to that little trick yet: you wanna hold hands with the Commander, try to fire a missile! (Blonde moment, Prin'.)
"Just one good blast," Jason reasons. Yup, one good blast. With a nuke. You'd never need to worry about defending the city again.
From his position on the floor with the gunner, Mark says, in the most reasonable tone he can muster (which is quite an achievement, under the circumstances) "Debbie, come over here."
Debbie looks horrified. As anyone would be, if it looked like they were about to be invited to participate in a Mark/Jason sandwich.
You'd be horrified, right?
Oh, never mind.
"Mark," Princess says, "you're not going to ask her to fire the rockets, are you?"
"That button," Mark says, pointing at the firing console. "Press it, and you'll destroy the thing that killed your father."
He said the K-word!
The camera zooms in on the Big Red Button, and Jason makes no attempt to interfere, but he watches Debbie like a hawk.
"Well, Debbie?" Mark asks.
Debbie trembles, uncertain.
She reaches out with both hands, the right one going for the button, the left seeming to hold the right hand back.
"Do it," Mark urges. "Now."
The girl hesitates, then moves forward, shaking violently. It looks more like a seizure than nerves, but we'll overlook that for now.
The Space Earwig isn't having with any of Debbie's angst. It attacks.
Tiny takes evasive action and the Phoenix arcs around again to get the Earwig in its sights.
"Your last chance for revenge," Mark tells Debbie.
"I can't do it!" Debbie whines.
"Good!" Mark delivers his homily. "Revenge never solves anything."
The Earwig is doing its Earwig dance, but it's not a happy dance. "We're doomed," the ECdj announces abruptly, now that Debbie has Learned Something. "Weapons systems failure. Get ready to abandon ship. All hands, abandon ship."
The Phoenix closes with the Earwig.
"We've got twenty seconds, Mark," Tiny says.
"Steady as she goes, Tiny," Mark says. "Okay, Jason. It's all yours, now." Debbie looks horrified. "It's all right, Debbie," Mark tells her and holds out his hands. "Hang on." Debbie looks away, her expression one of sadness and loss.
"Ten... Nine," Tiny counts down while Jason sweats over the Big Red Button. "Eight... Seven." Keyop has covered his visor with his hands. Princess is watching the others' reactions. "Six... Five... Four... Three... Two..." Two sets of crosshairs line up perfectly.
"Fire one!" Jason says, and the TBX nuke flies free of the launcher.
It's a hit, a very palpable hit***, and the Space Earwig is smashed and done in. It tumbles to the ground in bits, and when it falls down, it goes, 'Boom!'
The explosion isn't nearly as large and I would have imagined, not with a nuclear warhead involved, and there's no mushroom cloud.
Aboard the Phoenix, everyone is pleased with the outcome. Keyop is jubilant, while Debbie looks relieved.
"S'long... Sneaky snake!" Keyop crows, jumping up and down happily.
Debbie folds up under the weight of everything that's happened, and Mark catches her.
"It's all over, Debbie," Mark says, while Debbie sobs into her hands. "Your father would be proud of you today, Debbie," he says, and I wonder if this is how he remembers people's names. Just keep saying them until they're burned into your brain. I could try that some time, and people would probably think I was even weirder than what they think I am now.
Mark wipes Debbie's tears away. "I'm grateful to G-Force, Mark," Debbie says.
"It was our duty," Mark says, and turns away from her.
The sun is setting over the cemetery and outlining two people at a grave. One is standing, the other crouching to lay a bouquet of flowers. As Debbie puts the flowers down, Mark walks away from her, and the camera pulls back to reveal that they're not alone.
"Mark," Anderson says, and the word stops the younger man in his tracks.
"I know, Chief," Mark says. "I didn't act like much of a Commander in all this. I let personal feelings get in the way." He unfastens his bracelet. "I'll resign." He puts the bracelet down on the ground.
Debbie stares at the bracelet, eyes wide, and Mark turns to leave.
"Wait," Anderson says. "You're punishing yourself needlessly. We all make mistakes. So you couldn't save Dr Harland. I know how much it cost you, but you'll bounce back."
Mark turns around, utterly gobsmacked. Probably at Anderson's lack of tact in saying what he did in front of Harland's daughter.
"You still want me as Commander of G-Force?" Mark asks.
Instead of what I would consider an appropriate response which would be something along the lines of, 'Who else can we kit out with cerebonic implants and train up to take your place, Chicken Boy?' Anderson simply nods.
Mark goes all teary, and Debbie manages a genuine smile for the first time in the episode. She steps forward and picks up the bracelet. She holds it out to Mark. "Take it, Mark," she says. "You taught me that to seek revenge for what happened to my father only hurts me."
"That eases my mind," Mark says, and takes the bracelet in the same way it's being offered, with both hands, which looks like a very Japanese gesture.
Mark puts the bracelet back on, and his team run to him with cries of, "Welcome back, Commander!" They all rush off, and Mark hangs back only for a moment to wave goodbye before they run off into the sunset, which appears to have undergone an abrupt change of location and is now sitting on the horizon at approximately ninety degrees to where it was before.
This would be the end of the episode, if it weren't for... yes, you guessed it: Zark now has some time to pontificate to us.
"I'm glad that's over," Zark says in voice over. "The Space Serpent has been destroyed, and Debbie has forgiven Mark for not being able to save her father. Better yet, Mark has forgiven himself! Everyone has learned a lesson. Except Zoltar, I'm afraid."
Now that the team have disappeared into their standard-issue Tatsunoko sunset (portable, for ease of use) we cut to Zark's ready room, where he's [cringe!] in the shower.
I think I'm going to have to put the kettle on for another cup of tea.
Zark is showering, while 1-Rover-1 sits outside the stall with a towel. "A nice cold oil shower is certainly refreshing after a harrowing job like that," Zark says, "but I'm just not programmed for singing properly."
Zark's communicator bleeps, and Rover barks to alert his master to the fact that it's the phone.
The 'cute robot' music starts, which ratchets the annoyance factor up another notch, as Zark towels himself off and moves to answer the call. "Center Neptune Control. 7-Zark-7."
And you just know who it's going to be.
"Hello, Zark. This is Susan."
Yep. If you haven't sinned, get out there and do some sinning. At least that way, you'll know you've done something to deserve this. I know I have, but I think the punishment's a bit excessive.
"Oh! Susan!" Zark exclaims. "You caught me... in the shower."
"It's all right," Susan says.
"But I know you have long range telephoto vision," Zark reasons.
"It's only good for a million miles," Susan points out, "and I'm now stationed on Planet Pluto, over three billion miles away."
"Oh, that's good," Zark says. "I mean, that's terrible! What are you doing way out there, Susan?"
"I've been promoted," Susan explains, "to the Early Warning System. Now I can let you know when you're in for any trouble."
"Well, congratulations," Zark says. "I look forward to hearing from you."
"Thank you, Zark," Susan says, "and I'll be letting you know whenever you're in danger. 'Bye."
"'Bye, Susan," Zark says, and giggles, "but I was in a lot more danger when you were closer!"
1-Rover-1 barks, and the end titles roll.
I have to hand it to the Sandy Frank team, they DID develop the Zark/Susan relationship over time... and don't you wish they hadn't?
So everyone lives happily ever after (except Dr Harland who can take posthumous comfort in his very expensive and probably unstable headstone, but he was a seismologist so he'd probably have wanted his gravestone to move around a little.)
* The 'friendly little jet' reference may be found in my review of Space Rocket Escort.
** The Lernaean Hydra was a many-headed monster which the hero Heracles (or Hercules) was directed to slay as one of his twelve labours. Whenever one of the Hydra's heads was cut off, two more would grow in its place. Heracles overcame the problem by enlisting the assistance of his nephew Iolaus, who, with a burning firebrand, cauterised each stump as Heracles cut off the head, preventing the regrowth of the extra heads. In this manner, the Hydra was defeated.
*** Hamlet -- from the duel with Laertes.