Tuesday, April 14, 2015

DVD Spotlight: Joe 90

After the dark Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson launched the youth-oriented Joe 90 TV series in 1968. Joe 90 replicates the lifelike puppets, elaborate miniature sets, and--to a lesser extent--the espionage themes from Captain Scarlet. However, the similarities end there, with Joe 90 centering on a nine-year-old lead character--sort of the British answer to Jonny Quest. Like Jonny, Joe's father, Dr. Ian McClaine, is a genius scientist.

Joe in the BIG RAT.
Unlike Jonny, Joe becomes the subject of one of his father's experiments! With Joe sitting inside a device called the Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record and Transfer (BIG RAT), his father transfers his brain patterns to his son. For a limited time, Joe can recall and apply Dad's knowledge (e.g., Joe can answer any physics question). The amount of time that Joe can retain another person's knowledge can be extended with a pair of specially-equipped glasses.

When "Uncle" Sam Loover of the World Intelligence Network (WIN) witnesses this experiment, he immediately sees the potential for using Joe to perform intelligence missions. Dr. McClaine protests initally, but eventually allows Joe to become a WIN agent.

Joe wearing his special glasses.
On the surface, Joe 90 works nicely as an imaginative Jonny Quest variation. However, on closer examination, it presents a very different view of childhood. Joe has no friends his own age, he lives in an isolated house with his father, and he's often placed in harm's way by a trusted family friend. In one episode, a mission requires him to hide inside a box of armaments being hijacked. Sam even issues Joe his own handgun (one designed for his small friends). Joe not only engages in shoot-outs with the bad guys, but he's also willing to use a hand grenade to kill one (we don't see the Mafia-like kingpin die, but it's obvious no one could have survived the explosion). Hey, Jonny Quest never killed anyone!

Angela watching another agent die.
Action set pieces are a staple of the Andersons' Supermarionation productions and Joe 90 does't disappoint in that area. However, the series places a greater emphasis on human relationships (perhaps in response to criticism directed at the action-oriented Captain Scarlet). In the episode "Three's a Crowd," Joe learns that his father's new girlfriend, reporter Angela Davies, is an enemy spy. After Joe confronts her, Angela breaks up with Dr. McClaine, as Joe watches silently from the shadows. From his expression, it's unclear whether Joe feels sad for his father or perhaps relief that the person who came between father and son is no longer a threat.

On 14 April 2015, Timeless Media Group will release a DVD boxed set of all 30 episodes of Joe 90. Bonus features includes a Gerry Anderson interview and two commentaries, one by series director Ken Turner and the other by designer Mike Trim. As with Timeless Media's previous Gerry Anderson releases, the picture quality is excellent. You can view our unofficial trailer for Joe 90 and the other Supermarionation boxed set by clicking here.

Timeless Media Group provided a review copy of Joe 90.

1 comment:

  1. I have only seen a few episodes of "Joe 90" but found it fascinating. The parallels between it and "Jonny Quest" are striking though "Joe 90" is indeed much more serious as Joe is put in harm's way and must defend himself. It would.be interesting to see more of this series.