If you were to talk about the shows produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Joe Public would very probably name the big hitters: Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons; unless you happen either to be a fan, or of a certain age, then chances are that you might not necessarily think of series like Fireball XL5 or Supercar.
Both of those programmes do feel at risk of being unfairly overlooked sometimes, as they tend to lack the exposure of some of the Andersons’ later output, possibly due in part to having been made in black and white, rather than colour. As a result, while their series from Stingray onwards have never truly gone out of circulation, monochrome telly tends not to get as much regular mainstream scheduling, meaning that some productions have suffered from being out of sight, and therefore out of mind.
Thankfully, the age of multichannel viewing and streaming services have given more opportunities to bring material out of the vaults; with channels like Talking Pictures TV, as well as apps like BritBox, there has probably never been a better time for access to archive content. Plus, there have also been VHS, DVD and Blu-ray releases for those who want to be able to own their own copies, and the Andersons’ back catalogue has been reasonably well served in that respect.
Now, in order to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Supercar, Network Distributing give us a new limited edition set, not available in shops, bringing the show to Blu-ray, alongside a huge raft of bonus material. For the uninitiated, Supercar is the tale of the titular wonder vehicle, jointly devised by a duo of boffins – Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker. As the lyrics of the theme inform the audience, it can journey anywhere – on land, under the sea, in the air, or even up into space.
At the wheel of Supercar is intrepid test pilot Mike Mercury, and in the very first episode he gains a couple of sidekicks – Young Jimmy Gibson, and his pet monkey, Mitch – whom he rescued after a plane crash. The Supercar team also have an arch-enemy, in the form of Masterspy (a case of nominative determinism at its finest) – who is obsessed with getting his hands on Supercar, to use it for his own nefarious ends – and bumbling sidekick Zarin.
Supercar is a significant entry in the Andersons’ canon for a number of reasons. It was the first to be co-created by Gerry Anderson, rather than him being a hired gun on other similar puppetry-based programming, and it focused on space-age gadgetry, giving rise for the very first time to a soon-to-be-familiar trope of his: the launch sequence. It also marked the birth of a fruitful partnership with Lew Grade of ATV, whose ITC Entertainment would produce the rest of the Andersons’ creations, well into the 1970s.
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In the end credits of the second season, Supermarionation was used for the very first time, describing the Andersons’ patented style of marionette work, which would be a calling card for their stuff over the next decade. Also noteworthy is the fact that Gerry Anderson and his then-girlfriend, Sylvia Thamm, formalised their personal relationship by getting married during early production on Supercar, giving rise to a truly formidable professional partnership which would bring about a strong creative legacy.
Network’s remastering of Supercar means that the show has never looked better, even on its previous DVD release. Such a crystal clear, pin sharp picture does have its drawbacks, and all of the wires used to operate the puppets are more visible than ever before; however, you do have to bear in mind that, at the time when Supercar was made, picture resolution was only 405 lines, and the screen size was typically around 16”, which covered a multitude of sins – the very notion of a 4K, HD era of giant flatscreen TVs would have seemed to be the very stuff of science fiction itself.
The contents of the Blu-ray set are much as they were when Network put out the earlier DVDs; those extras, however, are a veritable treasure trove, with feature-length documentary Full Boost Vertical: The Supercar Story taking pride of place as the showstopper. A precursor to later pieces, like Filmed In Supermarionation and Century 21, Slough, it serves up a real in-depth, behind the scenes look at the show’s making, and as it was first released in 2004, has contributions from a number of key players who have since passed away.
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Another lovely bonus here is the inclusion of a small number of commentary tracks from the late Gerry Anderson himself, which is a real treat. The archives have truly been raided for a selection of rarities and curios, from home movie footage on the set, to ad bumpers, various film trims, and even foreign language versions of the opening titles, with translations of the theme song – if you have ever wondered exactly how to sing that annoyingly catchy tune in French or Spanish, then everything you need is right here.
The question for anyone who has the DVD set is whether or not to double dip here, and get basically the same contents as before, only more high-res. Well, Network has certainly sweetened the pot, by offering lots of material exclusive to this limited edition set. For starters, in the deluxe packaging, you get a 248-page ‘making of’ book by noted TV archivist and historian Andrew Pixley. Also included here is a brand new Supercar comic, and a facsimile Supercar pilot’s licence and club badge.
Network has put together a superior package for anyone who likes actual, physical product, giving the sort of value added extras streaming cannot possibly hope to offer. Just like the description of Supercar itself in the lyrics of the theme tune, Network’s 60th anniversary Supercar Blu-ray set truly is the marvel of the age.
Supercar: The Complete Series – 60th Anniversary Deluxe Limited Edition Blu-ray is out now from Network Distributing.