Geoff Willmetts looks at one of the great issues raised by the Captain Scarlet TV series ... just how Mysteronised was Captain Black?
(Article originally appeared in SF Crownsnet, January 2002)
‘This is the voice of the Mysterons.
We know that you can hear us, earthmen...’
The actions of the Mysterons in the TV series ‘Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons’ can be viewed with a measure of justification in their action against the inhabitants of Earth. Representatives of our species made the wrong decision with dire consequences. The 2068 Mars survey mission investigating radio signals from the red planet discover the Mysteron complex.
The Mysterons in turn focused their scanners on the Martian Exploration Vehicle impressed that the humans had come so far. The crew decide the alien city was mounting an attack and launch a preemptive strike destroying most of the complex. To their amazement, concealed machinery restores the complex to its original state and the Mysterons committed themselves to retaliate against the rather trigger-happy aggressive humans.
Rather than an all-out assault, they declare a war of nerves in a series of terrorist actions to intimidate and bring down the arrogant primitive humans for their unwarranted violence.
Based on the actions depicted in the series, the Mysterons probably had a serious point to make. Whenever there is an emergency, Spectrum’s commanding officer, Colonel White, sends in armed aircraft often to back up his officers who drive into action in speedy tanks with almost complete autonomy as to what actions they should take.
The other armed forces are no better, especially when as in the episode ‘Avalanche’, General Frost threatens to fire his missiles at Mars without a Presidential order. This Earth’s reality is clearly far too aggressive compared to our own.
There has been much debate as to whether there were actually ‘Mysterons’ on Mars or their computers in an abandoned base operating under limited protocols. There is much to favour the latter in terms of their lack of further communication, limited options and unrelenting determination to succeed.
The placement of the Mysteron base has many similarities to the Monolith in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ waiting for sentient life to develop sufficiently to meet them. This being the case, then the Mysterons are not only not native to Mars but also extra-solar aliens. They were also expecting peaceful visitors as the base was obviously unarmed.
Whichever, it was an unforeseen development that the Mysterons’ initial actions were so badly misinterpreted by the MSV’s investigation officer, Spectrum agent Conrad Turner aka Captain Black, that created the crisis. He had been selected for the team solely for the need of a military advisor to assess the radio signals.
As a potential ambassador to an alien race, Captain Black was a poor choice in view of his actions.
The initial action the Mysterons undertook was to dominate and control the MSV crew, specifically Captain Black himself. There was no attempt made to destroy and recreate either the MSV or crew either on Mars or on the return to Earth. With their ability to manipulate machinery such an action was well within their abilities or even to destroy it but neither action was considered.
Considering the Mysteron base in Crater 101 on the Moon also appeared weaponless and defenseless, the Mysterons themselves may well have been pacifist in nature. There is also some speculation that the Mysterons had to consider their actions carefully once they decided upon their war of nerves or terrorist acts suggesting they had only limited capabilities for such purposes.
The latter re-enforces the belief that this is a war led by sentient computers than whatever the real Mysterons were or are. Likewise, there is no information to suggest if the Mysterons would have acted any differently to their computers. As such, the term ‘Mysterons’ will be used for either computer or alien in this article.
The examination of the crew no doubt displayed they had one amongst them totally familiar with Earth security procedures and potential targets, Captain Black himself. Considering that the likes of the World President and military targets were selected, it would stand to reason the information was sourced from Black than direct observation.
Until the MSV encountered the Mysteron city, they had obviously not examined mankind in detail or else would have realised the human aggressive potential. There have been no reported instances of or the whereabouts of the rest of the MSV crew. It is possible that the Mysterons have hidden them away as potential replacements for Captain Black should he ever be killed beyond resurrection.
There is sufficient information to indicate Captain Black was mentally dominated than ‘mysteronised’ - the alternative name for the retro-metabolism technique used to resurrect living beings and inanimate objects. Black’s pallor and demeanor suggests that he was not a willing victim and fighting his control. All other mysteronised agents looked quite normal in comparison.
The rather more conclusive evidence is given in the episode ‘Man Hunt’ where Captain Black was photographed breaking into a nuclear plant. Later evidence in the episode ‘Flight 104’, indicates that ‘mysteronised’ humans silhouette when photographed with a regular camera. If the Mysterons were aware of this property, it would have made sense for them to have an agent who could pass such a security check with impunity. On the many occasions when it appeared Captain Black could be captured, the Mysterons teleported him to safety than risk him being captured or killed.
There are a number of times where Captain Black’s actions appear humane and even against his orders. Again, in the episode ‘Man Hunt’, his release of Symphony Angel could be seen not only as a means to hide Black’s own escape but resisting his own control in letting an ex-colleague live than mindlessly kill her. Considering how easily Captain Black murdered other people to reach his masters’ aims this would seem out of character.
It would have been a simple matter to murder Symphony and let a mysteronised copy lead the other Spectrum officers away from the nuclear plant. There might have been an additional ulterior motive here. There is also a possibility that the proximity to a radioactive fuel source might have hindered a total regeneration in some way that might also have reconsidered the standard option. In any event, rather than compromise Captain Black’s mind control further, he was invariably teleported to safety in future.
There seems to be some conflict with the novels and comicbook strips depicting Captain Black as being mysteronised agent. This writer suspects this was done to provide Captain Scarlet with an equal adversary and therefore endowed him with similar abilities. In light of the evidence above, such material can hardly be regarded as canon to the TV reality.
Captain Black is never seen recovering from injuries to indicate his body has been mysteronised. All other Mysteron agents look exactly as they were before their deaths and regeneration. In comparison, Captain Black resembles a walking zombie with his haunted look. To regenerate him in that state would not have been wise.
The Mysterons had nearly total control of him anyway so why would there be a need to re-create him as well? A mysteronised human is post-hypnotically ordered to carry out a specific set of instructions. If Captain Scarlet is anything to go by, after completing the instructions or after 24 hours, a controlled mysteronised human is capable of returning to nomad. Neither option is suitable for Captain Black who also appears to have limited autonomy in carrying out his masters’ orders.
For the present, let’s examine the regeneration/retro-metabolism process. Within the original Mysteron use, it was probably a restoration tool for these aliens and their machinery in case of accident. Whether they developed this technology because they were extremely fragile or accident-prone is hard to say.
What is important is that once they’ve been regenerated, the retro-metabolism feature ensures perpetual life except when suffering a high voltage discharge. Although this same electricity is also capable of killing a human, it is possible to survive if suitably earthed. A mysteronised being has no such chance. This again gives some clue as to the nature of the process.
A speculation on this author’s part is that a mysteronised organism might be unable to reproduce itself and could be inherently sterile. This would no doubt prevent a mysteronised regeneration as a career option for all seeking immortality. Certainly the indications are that further physical growth is impossible as anyone mysteronised will remain that way forever. Colonel White once commented, albeit in Symphony Angel’s dream, in the episode ‘Attack On Cloudbase’ that Captain Scarlet’s hair is slightly longer than regulation.
No doubt he was going to have a haircut prior to the Mysterons killing him but is an indication that the mysteronisation process maintains a body’s status quo. The duplicate has properties unlike the original. Whereas an injured human will scar when healed, a mysteronised human will be restored with no such imperfections.
Whether this also reduces the amount of pain received is debatable.
The first two subjects of the mysteronising treatment were Spectrum Captains Brown and Scarlet. This process required the deaths of the original officers. Presumably, this is a protocol logged into the Mysteron computers to prevent unnecessary duplicates wandering around. In the episode ‘Triple Cross’, the original of a mysteronised subject, Major Gravener, was revived with no ill effect on either body.
There is no transfer of anything resembling a ‘soul’ to a new body and supports the hypothesis that the personality is nothing more than a series of memories that can be reproduced. Even more importantly in that particular case was that neither the Mysterons nor Captain Black appeared certain as to whether this was one of their own suggesting a fallibility in their cognitive recognition or they are incapable of continual observation.
This could also have been a blind as the mission was seemingly aborted while in progress. The Mysterons may simply have continued the mission to further assess how far the humans would investigate or provide a blind alley on their own motives or vulnerabilities.
A slight digression but it also emphasizes an alternative point. Having the original and a mysteronised version alive at the same time creates confusion with the Mysteron computers especially if they cross each other’s paths as each would believe himself as the original.
There is nothing to say that coexisting duplicates could then develop along different paths of thought or opinion and see the other as a potential threat to itself.
Returning to Scarlet and Brown, the Mysterons made little attempt to conceal the crash or perhaps underestimated humans discovering the bodies so soon. Again, this was early in their war of nerves and were still adjusting to their own rules of engagement. In their original use, the Mysterons may have seen their original bodies as empty shells to be forgotten when regenerated or their machines removing at a later date.
Isolated with the President, Captain Brown smolders and then violently explodes. He made no threat during the process. This gives some clue to the process of retro-metabolism. The regenerated body does not draw mass from the original body suggesting that it draws matter continually from an alternative source.
Should the absorption rate exceed the body requirements then combustion is possible in the equivalent of a sub-atomic fart and explodes. The Mysterons first experiment with a mysteronised body as a living bomb was a complete success although the action failed to kill anyone. This was rarely repeated although other cases would certainly have been more effective had they kept to this strategy.
Even in the episode ‘Point 783’, an exploding mysteronised human was only used as a maneuver to separate Captain Scarlet from acting as a bodyguard to the main threat. It may simply have been a means to gauge how far they should go in the regeneration process. It is extremely rare that a mysteronised human regenerates let alone recovers after they’ve completed their mission suggesting the Mysterons have two versions of regenerated copies.
In that respect, Captain Brown could have been considered an inferior made or short-term copy. Captain Scarlet, on the other hand, was the first fully long-term mysteronised resurrection. His programming was later modified to abduct rather than kill the President. This author suggests that at this time in the game, that Captain Black was also fighting his own mind control rather than let the assassination continue and turned it into a preferred kidnapping.
After Captain Blue ‘killed’ Captain Scarlet, as indicated in the episode ‘Winged Assassin’, he regenerated with his original personality intact and no recollection since the car crash. This supports the theory of a full Mysteron regeneration and their first major mistake. Not only had they revealed their main ability, they left someone in the opposition’s hands capable of tackling other mysteronised agents. As commented previously, the instructions may only have worked for 24 hours before the original personality can assert itself.
The statistics from these apparent ‘mistakes’ allowed the Mysterons to determine the level of regeneration so none of their later agents survived their missions. All mysteronised people in future were purely short-term regeneration and had their programming initiated by Captain Black. It is significant that he says the same words to each, ‘You know what you have to do?’, rather than detail their mission.
The short-term limit can be inferred simply because none of them appear to resurrect from their fatal injuries even when shot with a regulation Spectrum pistol. The Mysterons did not want a repeat of their previous failure and provide more mysteronised bodies to their enemy.
The only real knowledge we have of living long-term mysteronised bodies can only be discovered from Captain Scarlet. Despite fatal injuries on a number of occasions, he has restored to life with no apparent memory loss other than the time when he was under direct Mysteron control on his first resurrection.
He also suffers apparent dizziness in the presence of other mysteronised humans and equipment. This might well be an effect they all have from sharing a similar matter source and there is a limit to how much each body can receive at a time. Of significant note on both visits to the Moon, Captain Scarlet was in the presence of mysteronised humans with no ill-effect. However, as Crater 101 was a Mysteron base, one could well believe being closer to one of their generators or there was an adequate supply of material for them all.
If Captain Scarlet is such a threat to the Mysterons, why can’t they simply cut off his ability to draw on matter? If, as believed, these are actually Mysteron computers, such an action would not be allowed in their programming. They can only resurrect after a person or object is destroyed. There is little in that line to suggest that the same applies to a mysteronised being If, as suggested, there are long and short term levels of mysteronisation, then Scarlet clearly falls into the first category.
The Mysterons might well have been considering Scarlet as a potential second-in-command to Captain Black. A military officer with total retro-metabolism properties would have done much of the physical work. By their own mistake, the Mysterons are frustrated with creating their own nemesis and resort to short-term mysteronised agents instead. This doesn’t mean that they cannot send other mysteronised agents to do such a deed just unable to do so by a direct approach.
The matter used for retro-metabolism does not come from the original body although death does not prevent the Mysterons scanning it with twin white halo lights prior to and after regeneration. Considering that all the necessary ingredients - principally carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and many minor elements - are available for reconstruction from the surrounding atmosphere that might not be a problem.
If anything, it is the speed of recreation that can best be described as incredible. As mentioned above, two or more mysteronised humans or machinery together drawing upon the same free elements to maintain their own body integrity can cause momentarily dizziness before some form of homeostasis is achieved. It is also significant that high voltage can disrupt the internal body matrix permanently suggesting the whatever makes it function is part of the mysteronised body.
No doubt the original Mysterons are aware of this problem and probably ensure there is sufficient free molecules to provide for all mysteronised bodies prior to regeneration. The fact that this continues suggests a certain instability with maintaining the form.
The use of regeneration and retro-metabolism from the Mysterons equipment has made their computers extremely formidable in a low order way without replying on anything else from their potential arsenal. What has been discovered from an examination from their Crater 101 complex on the Moon indicates a power source based on a single crystal.
When Captain Scarlet removed the crystal from its conduit, the complex didn’t automatically close down suggesting a reserve or battery-like source keeping the machinery active. It might also have been part of a complex ruse by the Mysteron computers especially as it was later used in an attempt to destroy Cloudbase in the following episode ‘Dangerous Rendezvous’.
The only device that the Mysteron computers use freely is that of teleportation in order to rescue Captain Black from possible capture or death. Used in an aggressive way, such a device could remove any assassination victim in their war of nerves with the humans. The same could also be said for the ease they have for taking control of airplanes and land vehicles.
With the latter, there must be some obvious limitation or there wouldn’t be any need for mysteronisation. As so much of their technology can be disrupted by high voltage to overuse such control could reveal a potential weakness to the humans.
The final results of this war was never revealed in the TV series and any comment on it can only be regarded as speculation. The Spectrum speculation, albeit a dream by Symphony Angel, in the episode ‘Attack On Cloudbase’ that the Mysterons would launch a physical attack by flying saucers against Cloudbase would be extremely questionable.
It is well within the military training of a Spectrum pilot but such actions are probably beyond the Mysteron computers programming. The entire point of their ‘war of nerves’ is to teach the upstart humans the folly of their mistakes. When such a punishment is deemed completed, the Mysterons will probably stop of their own volition. Whether they will talk to the humans or even want to hear what our species have to say for themselves only time will tell.
There is always a possibility that the ‘real’ Mysterons might return to settle things and then there would be a real quandary as to whether they would agree with their computers’ actions.
The lessons for our reality out of all of this is that whatever the original reason for aggressive action against an opponent is, it’s too easy to let such offenses carry on definitely with no attempt made for some sort of peaceful settlement or compromise. This does not belittle the original reason for the start of any war but there is a time when both parties have to move on from what caused the first confrontation.
However, when it comes from misunderstanding rather than an outright aggressive desire for domination of another territory, then both sides need to act adult and admit they both made mistakes, end hostilities and reach a peace. To carry on a war ad infintium shows a preference to be at war than peace. I doubt if this was ever the intention of ‘Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons’ but to impressionable youngsters who enjoy the show, an awareness of the futility of such struggles compared to our own reality can’t really be avoided.
The series was unique in
that it was the humans who started off as the aggressor. One can only hope that
should an alien encounter happen in our reality, that we might start by giving
the benefit of the doubt before opening fire.