General Rock Renton and the Moon Rangers
I am a big fan of the detective drama Endeavour, considering it to be one of the best UK shows currently in production. It has well rounded, interesting characters and their journey through the sixties affords the writer, Russell Lewis, plenty of opportunity to explore the political and social issues of the time. Lewis further embellishes the scripts with numerous period and contemporary pop culture references, all of which add to the shows charm and appeal. Tonight’s episode “Apollo” set against the historical moon landings of Apollo 11, saw Morse and Thursday investigating the death of a promising young astrophysicist and his girlfriend. Initially thought to be a car accident, it becomes clear that there is foul play. As ever the plot was complex and established story arcs were moved forward. Shaun Evans also made his directorial debut with this episode.
What made “Apollo” especially enjoyable for me, was the story featuring a pair of television producers who bore more than a passing resemblance to Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of Thunderbirds fame. Jeff and Hildegard Slayton (Matthew Cottle and Mary Stockley) ran a studio producing puppet shows very much in the “Supermarionation” idiom. As the murder victim was a scientific advisor on their latest show, Moon Rangers, Morse and Thursday had reason to visit the production studios which were not to dissimilar to those of Century 21 Television at Slough. Hence viewers were treated to footage of the Slayton’s watching daily rushes of a model car crash, the miniature crew blowing up a rocket on a replica moon surface and the puppeteers on a gantry over a miniature set operating marionettes. All of which lovingly referenced the halcyon days of Stingray and Thunderbirds.
And how were such wonders so lovingly recreated? Via the talented folk over at Century 21 Films, the spiritual successor to the original Anderson production company. Having recreated several puppets for their 2014 documentary Filmed in Supermarionation, the team of talent staff subsequently formed a multi-faceted production company providing documentary services as well as miniature and other practical effects. In 2015 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thunderbirds, they produced three brand new episodes of the show using all the classic techniques. The series, produced in association with copyright holders ITV, was based upon three original 1960s voice recordings. With such talent available who else were Mammoth Screen, the producers of Endeavour, going contract to create the fictitious General Rock Renton and the Moon Rangers?
This possibly is the biggest and most complex, pop culture reference and homage to feature in Endeavour to date. However, I don’t see it as self-indulgent but an accurate portrayal of the public interest in science at the time. The real shows that the Anderson’s produced reflected and capitalised upon the optimistic attitude towards the space race. Therefore, having characters such as the Slaytons in Endeavour is a historically relevant. As for the Moon Rangers, for the casual viewer this was a nice period aside. For the Supermarionation aficionados, it was hog heaven. Miniatures, explosions, very familiar looking puppets and the voice talents of Justin Lee and the wonderful David Graham (Parker, Grandpa Pig and The Wise Old Elf). Even Century 21 Films director, Stephen La Rivière, got a cameo appearance as part of the puppet crew on the gantry. As a fan all I can really say is well done to all involved. You made one of my favourite shows, even better.