Dedicated, Inseparable, Invincible (Except When Confronted With Carnivorous Plants): Part 3
Roger Finn thundering through the 'Broom Cupboard' and telling a departing Andy Crane live on air that he'd done a "bloody good job". Caron Keating more or less having an orgasm whilst getting a massage during a Blue Peter expedition to Russia. The Housemartins doing The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death on The Wide Awake Club, lyrics about The Queen throttling children and all. For no readily obvious reason, eighties children's television was seemingly full of blink-and-you'll-miss-them-and-then-refuse-to-believe-anyone-who-actually-did moments of unintentional unsuitability like these. And we haven't even started on the more widely acknowledged I'd Like To Ask Five Star Why Are You So Lego Man's Head Fell Off clip show-friendly side of things yet.
Yet there's one thing that all of the above, and so many more incidents like them, have in common. They were, to greater or lesser extents, random and spontaneous instances of something 'going wrong', and nobody planned for them even to take place, let alone to be transmitted. Less celebrated, yet in some ways more disturbing, were some others that were actually intentionally thought up, scripted, filmed, vetted, cleared, and shown to an audience who were in no way expecting anything like it to assault their Charles In Charge-anticipating critical faculties. The jarring sweariness of The December Rose and The Cuckoo Sister, the Bronski Beat-backed racially-fuelled punchups in Sticks And Stones, the infamous 'Gro-Bust'-flinging catfight in Aliens In The Family, Sophie Aldred's negligibly-necklined costumes in Knock Knock, the troubling and barely legally acceptable insistence of the producers of The Queen's Nose on using Melody as anything from a wet t-shirt model to a bukkake receptacle, and pretty much anything that ever happened in Grange Hill. Well, apart from when Ro-land stole some 'Minto' bars.
As we've already discussed at some length, the appearance of Princess' thinly concealed lady area in the opening titles of Battle Of The Planets would definitely fall very much into this category. But the two-part story The Fierce Flowers went off in a completely different direction and into what was at the time - and still now if we're being honest about it - totally uncharted territory for children's television. Without a word of exaggeration, it presented unsuspecting viewers with disturbing jolting hints of eco-horror, emotional brutality, and even worrying hints of proto-'torture porn', all of it only just about kept in check by the deft re-editing that Sandy Frank Entertainment had deployed to make the more adult-orientated Japanese original suitable for younger dubbed international audiences. You're probably not unreasonably thinking that this widely held opinion is actually just a collective hazily-recollected mass distortion of childhood thrills, and that closer and more recent examination would no doubt reveal The Fierce Flowers to be in fact rather tame. Well, I've examined it closely and more recently, and 'tame' it is most definitely not.
Admittedly, though, it does start in a deceptively tame fashion. Part 1 of The Fierce Flowers opens, somewhat inevitably, with an establishing shot of 'Centre Neptune', the underwater residence of those controversially-inserted sex-and-violence-replacing plot-hole-covering comedy robot narrators 7-Zark-7 and 1-Rover-1. The former, as is his chirpy C3P0-infringing wont, is busily informing the audience about how much he loves the thankless task of monitoring the entire galaxy for surprise attacks by alien domination-seekers SPECTRA, when he is suddenly interrupted by 'Susan', the Caramel Bunny-voiced flickery light-represented Artificial Intelligence housed in an Early Warning Station on - cough - 'Planet Pluto'. For technologically bewildering reasons, 7-Zark-7 has a 'crush' on Susan which causes him to blush - yes blush - uncontrollably whenever she compliments him. There's no time for any of this now, though, as she's calling to report that an unidentified flying object has apparently been launched by SPECTRA from the 'Crab Nebul-ay'. Which isn't a 'sultry' mispronounciation, as Zark immediately repeats it, and that's about as far from 'sultry' as you can get.
Aboard said Nebulay-flung unidentified flying object, birdy-faced Captain Morlok is reporting to SPECTRA head honcho Zoltar - whose gender, it should be noted, randomly alternated in the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, a complication that was averted in Battle Of The Planets by the pretence that he was periodically deputised for by his 'sister' - about his latest plan for conquering the Earth. He doesn't say too much about what it actually entails, though Zoltar's exclamation to nobody in particular "greetings Earth people, I am sending you flowers from Spectra", followed by what appears to be Richard Herring's laugh, does rather give the game away somewhat.
Hardly surprisingly, this is followed by a sinisterly surreal sequence of unsuspecting passers-by cooing at a huge swathe of blossom falling gently from the sky, which cuts to a downpour of torrential rain, upon which the fuckers start germinating with nasty-sounding rasping electronic burbles. Within minutes, they've self-cultivated into big spidery lotus things that look like they mean business. And if that wasn't unnerving enough, they suddenly get up on their hind tentrils and start walking, developing a really quite unpleasantly undertoned liking for cornering young women in alleyways. 7-Zark-7, not unreasonably, considers this an apposite moment to alert G-Force. From the look of it, he might also have saved us from things getting even more visually ugly.
At that moment, G-Force are all in their pre-'Transmute' off-duty proto-Britpop civvies, and are hanging out in a sandwich bar that, for no readily obvious reason, Princess is looking after for a friend; though, given that her name in the Japanese original was Jun and there's a great big letter 'J' outside, maybe it's actually technically her own translationally-inconvenient sandwich bar. Cheapo disco sounds play in the background while Tiny pulls a face about the lack of 'Spaceburgers', Keyop splutteringly helps out with the washing up on a promise of payment in 'apple pie', and Jason and Mark are already frowning over front page newspaper reports about the agressive floral proliferation. Yep, he's really on the ball is 7-Zark-7.
As the others set off to investigate the flowers, Princess stays behind for a moment to lock up, and - you guessed it - that's when we get a really creepy shot of an advancing flower reflected in the glass she's cleaning. Clearly unconcerned about the absence of 'Spaceburgers' from the menu, a couple of them have made their way into the sandwich shop, and even after 'transmuting', Princess find that she needs all the kung fu kicks and assistance from her trademark electrified yoyo thing that she can get. Eventually, after a lengthy fight, she manages to overpower all of the pollen-powered intruders, of whom there can be no debate about their rather audience-inappropriate allegorical properties...
Over at the research centre headed by their Mr. Benn's Neighbour-lookalike scientific advisor Chief Anderson, G-Force are being briefed on what he's been able to deduce about the flowers so far. Presumably filling in for a fair amount of snipped material, he informs the assembled Transmutees that the plants are carnivorous, and have been subjected to sufficient scientific analysis for 7-Zark-7 to have been able to devise a protective suit that will enable anyone swallowed by one to withstand their digestive effects. Which is handy, because he's also deduced that in order to be able to fully understand them, someone will have to be swallowed by a flower and survive. Princess, it transpires, has already been selected for the honour. Why not send Keyop, you might wonder, as he's smaller and we could do without him saying 'rou-boot-deet' every three seconds anyway? Oh, because the protective suit 'seems to work particularly well on females', apparently. This, coupled with the scenes of female commuters being chased and cornered by flowers and some clearly toned-down overtones elsewhere, suggests that something rather worryingly misogynistic has been lost in translation. Thank fuck, then, for 1-Rover-1.
In fairness Keyop does offer to go in her place, apparently not having paid the slightest bit of attention to what's just been said, but Princess insists on undertaking the mission herself, and heads off on her motorbike to the sound of yet more daft funk (which, amusingly, sounds not unlike Daft Punk). Keyop, against her wishes, tails her in his rubbish bug-like car thing, and witnesses her being swallowed by a flower in a really quite unnerving and quite unpleasantly sexualised manner. Needless to say, on seeing this he goes "a-a-aaaaaa" and flees the scene, only narrowly avoiding ending up as suit-deficient flower food himself. A pacing 7-Zark-7 observes that their plan seems to have 'backfired', which is a bit strange given that this was their exact plan all along, and 1-Rover-1 assists by 'barking'. He also tells us that the rain is 'unusual', and that he suspects that it may have been generated by SPECTRA. Yes, thanks for that, Columbo.
Meanwhile, the remaining members of G-Force are sitting around recapping all of that stuff about the protective suits working better on women. Fuck knows what they were actually saying in the original, as the action then cuts abruptly to a truly nausea-inducing weirdly tinted scene of Princess convulsing inside a flower. Back at the conversation, we find out that this is an even worse situation than it appeared on nauseatingly tinted face value, as in the drier weather the flowers have shrunk considerably. Yet it appears they can think of little to help their miniaturised petal-enclosed friend other than that they should wait and "let Zoltar play his hand". As luck would have it, Zoltar is indeed playing his hand, and after reflecting on the success of the plan so far and handily revealing that the rain was caused by his taking over of Earth's 'main reservoir', he sends a batallion of Armed Motorised SPECTRA Units to put G-Force out of action. Unfortunately, his uniformed bikers are easily averted by some deft highway manouvres from Mark and company. Yeah, it was worth waiting for him to play that hand, wasn't it.
With that little diversion out of the way, Chief Anderson outlines his plans to simply bomb the flowers out of Percy Throwerdom. Everyone agrees with this course of action apart from Jason, who angrily breaks ranks over the risk that indiscriminate flower-torching poses to the still-trapped Princess. He's overruled, though, as nobody can see that they have any other choice, and to the strains of what appears to the a distant relative of the theme from The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, Mark jets off in a sort of converted crop duster to set fire to huge swathes of flowers. As he does so, he's haunted by really quite freaky visions of Princess giggling whilst spinning round in front of a psychedelic backdrop. And after all that, it turns out that it was a totally pointless exercise anyway, as Zoltar scoffs that "fire cannot destroy them, you have only released more spores". Well, that's one way of setting up a second episode.
As the flowers set about repollinating themselves, 7-Zark-7 delivers an inappropriately chirpy episode-ending monologue about how his work defending the galaxy must go on, though he won't leave his post "until we've rescued Princess". They really ought to make their mind up what their actual gameplan is. Even allowing for the fact that the two wittering droids were introduced to give the programme a lighter edge, this is a very jarring way to close proceedings. And we've got another twenty five minutes of it left...
NEXT TIME: Princess gets drawn by someone with their eyes shut and their hands tied behind their back, Mark ghostwrites My Booky Wook, and 7-Zark-7 fails to be of any use whatsoever...