Season three of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a strange point for the franchise. Having tried hard to continue to merge Super Sentai and American footage the previous season whilst working around the fact that they were not using the suits from the appropriate series, and having dealt with the departure of three members of the main cast, the show was beginning to become harder to make for Saban.
It’s clear that Saban know this, and are starting to take the show in a new direction in its third year. The week to week stories of the past have been put to one side for more multi-part and serialised storytelling, with a clear end goal in sight.
The season also takes some cues from the Might Morphin Power Rangers Movie, using Super Sentai footage from Ninja Sentai Kakuranger (which would be used throughout the season) to shift the Rangers into having new ninja based powers and abilities.
Strangely, the television version of the Rangers getting their new powers was a lot better than the big budget movie, with it actually being part of cannon, and utilising the standard Zord footage rather than poor GCI. Instead of Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman) from the movie as the new villain, the series introduced Rito Revolto (Bob Papenbrook), the absent minded brother of the original villain Rita Repulsa (Carla Perez).
A bizarre skelton/soldier hybrid, Rito looked creepy and menacing, but had a personality that quickly charms the audience. More a bumbling sidekick than anything else, he fits well into the dysfunctional family dynamic that had formed amongst the villains; especially as Lord Zedd’s (Robert Axelrod) annoying brother in law. The fact that he’s constantly annoying Zedd by calling him Edd is so silly it’s actually a lot of fun.
Despite this bumbling exterior, Rito proves to be a threat for the Rangers across the season, actually destroying the Thunder Megazord and the Tiger Zord in his first appearance, an episode that still looks great on screen thanks to the use of practical effects.
These new powers and the destruction of their old Zords was simply a way of the series making use of new Super Sentai footage, but from a story point of view it makes a lot more sense for the characters to get a whole new set of Zords than them simply transforming as they did in the previous season.
This extra thought and forward planning are obvious throughout the season, with the show introducing a number of arcs that will pay off by the conclusion. One of the biggest of these is the departure of the original Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart (Amy Jo Johnson), and the introduction of her replacement Katherine ‘Kat’ Hillard (Catherine Sutherland).
Whilst in the previous season the departure of a number of the main actors led to the show having to use old footage and stand-ins to make it look like they were still present for a few episodes, here the show is able to give one of its original rangers the send off they deserve. It also gives enough time to establish Kat as a character before she joins the team and takes over for Kimberly, with ten episodes from her first appearance to her becoming a Ranger.
The third series also introduced an element that would becoming incredibly important going forward, the Zeo Crystal. With the use of the original suits making it harder and harder to use new Super Sentai footage Saban planned on changing the heroes costumes and powers, but rather than springing this on the audience they took the time to set it up across the season.
This culminated in to what is for some people one of the stranger parts of season, a mini-event/mini-season called Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers. A ten episode story that sees all of the Rangers turned into children and sent on a quest to find the scattered pieces of the Zeo Crystal, the series introduced the Alien Rangers of Aquitar.
Using the costumes from Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, the Alien Rangers were five people from another world that would protect the Earth whilst our heroes are without their powers. Whilst a lot of fans disliked this part of the season as it didn’t feature any of the main cast, them having been replaced by children, it did lead to a massive expansion in the Power Rangers mythology with the introduction of a second team of heroes.
This isn’t the only expansion to the franchise made in the third season, however, as the very first story acts as a backdoor pilot for the series Masked Rider, another Saban that utilised the same format of recycled Japanese footage, this time from the series Kamen Rider Black RX. This spin off would last for two seasons.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season three is a strange series, as it’s quite different from previous years. It has a clear sense of where it’s going, and is doing its best to set up the upcoming Power Rangers Zeo. Perhaps it’s this focus on the future season that makes it feel weaker, or perhaps it’s having the last ten episodes feature a new team of Rangers and a strange children’s quest through time, but it’s definitely the weakest of the Might Morphin era.