BotP Universe G-Force Spectra Episodes Fan Stuff Misc.

Battle of the Planets - Couch Potato

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It's not G-Force, it's not Gatchaman and it's not Eagle Riders. It's a whole evening of Battle Of The Planets - quite clearly the best cartoon ever! Or so reckon M J Simpson and co...

Nostalgia here we come. If popularity can be measured by the speed and enthusiasm of audience response, then the most popular TV SF series ever must surely be Battle of the Planets. Mere mention of the name, a glimpse of a video sleeve, or a bar of the cool signature tune is enough to elicit gasps of nostalgic wonder from all who grew up in the late '70s and early '80s.

So tonight, clutching the only two Battle of the Planets videos any of us have ever seen, we convene for an evening of retro-cartoon fun. Cav, Pete, Andy, Lindsay, Nick and Mike are the Sofa Spud Squad. Spectra awaits!

7.50 pm "The Fastest Gun In The Galaxy"

"Battle Of The Planets!

"G-Force: Princess! Tiny! Keyop! Mark! Jason! And - watching over them from Centre Neptune - their computerised co-ordinator, 7-Zark-7! Watching - warning - against surprise attacks from alien galaxies beyond space!

"G-Force: fearless young orphans protecting Earth's entire galaxy! Always five, acting as one! Dedicated! Inseperable! Invincible!!!"

It's a blistering title sequence, complete with triumphant martial music and impressive-yet-nonsensical voice-over.

Nick: "Ah, it all comes flooding back now."

Andy: (clearly displaying a deprived childhood) "Not to me. I have to confess - I don't think I've ever seen it."

This being an all male Couch Potato, there's a cheer of approval for the shot of Princess performing a mid-air somersault. It may seem sad, but for a whole generation of schoolboys that weekly flash of Princess' pants was a prime sexual thrill.

7-Zark-7 explains the set up of this week's plot: an ancient gunslinger is being released from prison. Bad guys Spectra pick him up and transport him to their home planet, where he is put in charge of a new cannon which can freeze its target. It doesn't make much sense.

Mike: "In the original Japanese version, each episode was an hour long. What we've got is 20 minutes of that, with 7-Zark-7 added to explain what's happening." **(see note below)

Most of this episode is taken up with discussion of who the characters resemble.

Lindsay: "Tiny sounds like Yogi Bear!"

Nick: "I recognise Mark's voice, but I can't place it."

Cav: "I used to think that Jason was the best until a girl I fancied went out with a guy called Jason."

Andy: "Mark, Jason ... Hang on, it's Take That."

Pete: "I once made the Phoenix out of Lego."

There is also some amusement over the first appearance of chief bad guy Zoltar, replete with big ears ...

Mike: "In the original, apparently, he's gay."

Pete: "And look - he's wearing lipstick!"

Cav: "Wasn't there an episode where he takes his cowl off and he's got long blond hair?"

Mike: "In Japan, aliens are often represented as Caucasians. Just like aliens in the West often look Oriental."

G-Force separates the Phoenix into its five component vehicles. The "cryo-gun" freezes Jason's racing car, Keyop's bubble car, and the Phoenix's main body, piloted by Tiny. Princess, atop her motorbike, is about to suffer the same fate when Mark's jet-plane intervenes. The cannon blows up and the old gunslinger lies injured on the snowy wastes of Spectra. "It was the only life I knew, and the only planet that wanted me," says the old gunslinger. "Don't worry," says Princess. "We'll take you back to Earth."

Lindsay: "I bet he dies in the Japanese version."

8.50pm "The Thing With 1000 Eyes"

We open, as ever, on an underwater shot of Centre Neptune.

Andy: "Those three fish swimming past are the same ones that we saw in the last episode."

An Earth survey craft is flying over an alien planet which looks remarkably similar to New York. The crew wear finned helmets and double breasted flight suits that make them look like the Rocketeer.

Nick: "Er, doesn't that bloke have the same voice as Mark?"

Mike: "Well they only had about six voice artists to do the entire cast."

Suddenly the light dawns - it's top American DJ, former presenter of America's Top Ten, and legendary toupee (and bad jumper) wearer, Casey Kasem!

Nick: "It is! It's Casey Kasem! Let's take a look at the hot hits on this week's R&B;chart ..."

An Earth survey craft is flying over an alien planet which looks remarkably similar to New York. The crew wear finned helmets and doublebreasted flight suits that make them look like The Rocketeer.

Nick: "Er, doesn't that bloke have the same voice as Mark?"

Mike: "Well, they only had about six voice artists to do the entire cast."

Suddenly, the light dawns it's top American DJ, former presenter of America's Top Ten and legendary toupee (and bad jumper) wearer Casey Kasem!

Nick: "It is! It's Casey Kasem! Let's take a look at the hot hits on this week's R&B;chart..."

Mike: "He used to do loads of cartoon voices. He was Shaggy in Scooby Doo."

G-Force are briefed on the situation by Chief Anderson, who looks remarkably like an archetypal '70s male porn star. From now on whenever Anderson appears there will be discussion over which Scandinavian country he has recently been visiting. The five youngsters are wearing their ultra-tight, brightly coloured t-shirts and flared hipsters.

Cav: "They actually look very trendy."

Mike: "Not in the early '80s, they didn't."

But a press of their wrist-units and a cry of "Transmute!" leads us into a fab montage of their bird-based costumes.

Andy: "Why are they wearing those stupid impractical visors?"

Pete: "Princess looks like a duck."

Lindsay: "You couldn't drink out of a pint glass with that on your head."

Intriguingly, for this episode the Phoenix has been coloured gold - which we all find disproportionately impressive. This is explained by Chief Anderson as an anti-matter coating necessary for deep space travel. Or something.

Because 7-Zark-7 was animated in America several years after the Japanese series was made, he rarely interacts directly with G-Force. When Mark appears on a vid-screen, he is a crummily-drawn US approximation of the character. There are howls of derision from the sofa.

Mike: "As I recall, there's one episode where Mark and Princess actually visit 7-Zark-7. At least, I assume it's them. It could have been any two people in daft winged costumes."

Meanwhile, on the alien planet our heroes are battling the titular monster which looks remarkably like a spotted dick (note on UK English here - spotted dick is a pudding with dried fruit in it) ! "It's a giant plum pudding!" screams Princess. Cav suggests that it might, in fact, be a giant potato: "They have eyes, don't they?" (Please note: all comments comparing this and other monsters to senior members of the Future Publishing board have been edited out, in the interests of continued employment.) The Phoenix can only survive by transmuting into the Fiery Phoenix.

Cav: "This is what I remember! This is great!"

As G-Force returns to Earth, their "computerised coordinator" wonders what he has done wrong, and why Mark wants to see him. It seems that this is indeed that legendary episode of which we spoke! And, yes, Mark (and Princess) are incredibly badly drawn. And why have they come to see Zark? Because it's his birthday. Princess gives him a kiss. "Well, this has been an exciting day for everybody," burbles 7-Zark-7.

The Couch Potato crew are stupefied...

8.40pm "Keyop Does It All"

Pete: "What? This is nothing but smut!"

Mike: "What do you expect? It's Japanese animation. Just be thankful Princess hasn't been raped by a demon."

Cav is immediately delighted to find that we open with 7-Zark-7 relaxing. He's wearing a tank top, and talking with his faithful robotic canine companion.

Cav: "It's 1-Rover-1! Brilliant!"

Lindsay: "He's much better than K9."

Zark's other colleague is the neverseen Susan, presumably some sort of computer, who has the sexiest female voice on the planet. After changing into his wings/cape, Zark flies across the control room, a distance of about 12 feet.

In this episode, Keyop has infiltrated Spectra's headquarters. Zoltar's henchman of the week has a ridiculous mane of blond hair.

Nick: "It's David Coverdale!"

The Spectra superweapon this time is a sort of giant, psychedelic robotic moth.

Andy: "What is it?"

Mike: "It's a sort of MechaMothra."

Andy: "Yes, but what is it?"

Keyop is taken prisoner, but escapes by duping the guard then knocking him unconscious. Incredibly, the guard's uniform fits Keyop, and other guards accept him, even though he is about half the size of anyone else in the cartoon...

G-Force come to rescue Keyop but are forced to hide underwater, where the Phoenix rigs for silent running. Somehow, they move a lot of fake debris into the airlock silently, but when Jason drops a screwdriver, the Mecha-Mothra's sonar spots them immediately and moves in for the kill. Mind you, the location finding robot lobsters probably have something to do with it.

Andy: "This doesn't make any sense at all."

Mike: "That's what happens when you edit out two thirds of a programme."

Cav: "I used to fancy a girl who looked exactly like Princess."

Pete: "A bit flat, was she?"

9.05pm "The Great Brain Robbery"

7-Zark-7 bemoans what a tough life he has, working 24 hours a day seven days a week ("I didn't know he worked for Future," laughs Nick) before spotting an alien beastie stealing a brain-in-a-jar. Unfortunately, although Zark can see what's happening he's helpless to prevent it because he's not part of the plot.

Chief Anderson, fresh from his success in Danish Nurses Go To Town, calls on G-Force. Mark sits up in bed, shirtless, and hopes are raised of seeing Princess in her night attire. Incredibly, she's sharing a room with Keyop!

Cav: "Keyop? She's shagging Keyop?"

Mike: "7-Zark-7 one week, Keyop the next. She's a popular girl."

Pete: "She's the only girl."

Princess' popularity is further assured by a quite gratuitous shot of the white cotton undergarment which so excited us during the title sequence.

In battling the bad guys, G-Force do their "whirlwind pyramid" trick which impresses us all mightily. This is followed by Tiny and Keyop running away in a very amusing manner. It is then discovered that the brain robbery is the work of Spectra agents, led by an ugly alien.

Lindsay: "Why are G-Force always surprised that Spectra are behind it? They're the only baddies."

G-Force and Chief "Sven" Anderson, in mufti, attend an Ideal Robot Exhibition, the centrepiece of which is a giant "fembot" body, which looks a little like a huge, transparent, headless Metropolis Maria. The brain creature attacks the exhibition, slides into the robot and turns it into a huge alien-looking thing.

A "Transmute!" into the Fiery Phoenix is called for, after which it's announced that President Kane (who he?) has ordered scientists to develop artificial brains for peaceful purposes only. The episode ends with the sultry Susan speculating what she could have done if she had had the fembot body which makes Zark's antennae spring up!

9.30pm "Harry Enfield &;Chums

Tim Nice But Dim mimes to Dire Straits and Kevin the teenager gets laid.

10pm "Peril Of The Praying Mantis"

Centre Neptune and there are the same three fish! The McGuffin of this week's Episode is "The Conway Tapes" which must be destroyed for no good reason.

Nick: "Russ Conway? Why don't they like Russ Conway?"

Andy: "Maybe it's Conway Twitty?"

The praying Mantis of the title is a giant, flying robotic thing which looks exactly like.

Mike: "A lobster! That's a lobster or a crayfish. Or something."

It's certainly nothing like a praying mantis. Spectra are also armed with a squadron of jetplanes.

Pete: "I bet they attach to the sides of the praying mantis-lobster thing."

Cav: "I'm starting to get really disappointed in this. I thought it was so good once."

A major discovery in this episode is that the character we've all been referring to as "Fat Bloke" has the full name "Tiny Harper" Okay, so it's not that thrilling, but none of us knew it. Suddenly, Lindsay has a revelation:

Lindsay: "Those kids in the flared trousers and numbered T-shirts; they're connected to G-Force in some way, aren't they?"

Cav: "We haven't yet seen their vehicles transmute. You remember, Mark can turn his biplane into a jetfighter"

The Spectra planes are attaching themselves to the sides of the giant flying robotic thing...

Pete: "I was right!"

The gist of this story is that Tiny is unhappy because an old friend, "Captain Jack," has disappeared, but he bucks up when he realises that their mission is to destroy the thing which attacked captain Jack's boat.

But nobody cares about that, as the discussion turns to the few other anime series to have made it to British TV in the '70s and '80s.

Andy: "This is very like Marine Boy."

Pete: "Yes, there is quite a lot of water."

Lindsay: "I liked Thunderbirds 2086. They should remake this with puppets."

10.25pm "Giant From Planet Zyr"

"The security perimeter has been penetrated!" wails 7-Zark-7. Cue innuendo from the chortling spud incumbents... But the cheap laughs are cut short by what rapidly turns out to be the best episode of the night. For starters, it has a radically different establishing shot of Centre Neptune.

Andy: "Look at all those fish! There are thousands of them! I was getting fed up with those three tiddlers."

A growing suspicion that possibly in the Japanese version all the stories take place on Earth (rather than planets that look like bits of Earth) is bolstered: the Phoenix travels across space but the viewscreen still shows a blue sky. Presumably the original episode was set in India, as the cave which G-Force explore is full of Hindu statues. Suddenly, our heroes are under attack and what an attack! The statues all have detachable, flying vampire heads! Evil stone faces with wicked teeth hurl themselves at Mark and his team...

Cav: "This is brilliant!"

Now the headless necks of the statues are spurting out streams of liquid fire...

Pete: "You wouldn't get this in crap like The Space Sentinels."

The main monster, the titular giant, is a 500-feet tall statue which can fire deadly rays from the four faces on its rotating head. It stomps, Godzilla-like, through an "alien" city (probably Bombay), causing massive damage.

Mike: "Yes! Wholesale destruction of property! This is what we want! "

In order to destroy the statue, G-Force must not only transmute into the Fiery Phoenix, but also perform the dangerous task of splitting up into the ship's five component vehicles while still transmuted. The statue cannot deal with five smaller Fiery Phoenixes and crashes to Earth. Its final destruction is easily the biggest, most realistic atomic explosion ever seen in a kids' cartoon: a technicolour mushroom cloud that leaves the Couch Potato Team gasping.

Nick: "I'm really glad we finished on a high note. That was more like it."

Mike: "Yep, it was brilliant."

** This was probably said in jest, but is not true. The Gatchaman episodes were not an hour long (I WISH!!!), but were approx. 25 minutes long. Sandy Frank edited out the more violent parts of the episodes, and to make up for the time lost, inserted animation from an American animation studio.