Spectrums and Shadows: The International Rescue Legacy

by David Kennedy


(Author's note: The following was found, written on plastic-coated paper, folded up inside a surprisingly old and battered copy of The Zen Military: A History of UNIT (due to be published next year) in a second-hand bookshop. The footnotes are my own comments.)


Few people today in remember the cold war against alien invaders in the 21st century. Even fewer are aware that the advanced machinery used by our agencies was originally designed by a charitable organisation for search-and-rescue operations.


No-one really knows why millionaire astronaut Jeff Tracy founded International Rescue. Most believe he was just a good man who wanted his money to achieve something, perhaps inspired by his great-grandfather's work as a police detective. Others say he sought to atone for something in his past, or had a Calvinistic streak and believed he had to fight against the Original Sin in his soul [1]. It certainly wasn't for the publicity, as the people behind International Rescue remained a secret from its founding in 2055, in the wake of the Third World War, to its collapse, ten years later.


Tracy, along with the young scientist Hiram K. Hackenbacker (nicknamed "Brains") created four powerful vehicles (the Thunderbirds) for his rescue work. They were piloted by his sons, and co-ordinated by his youngest son John from the advanced comsat Thunderbird 5. They apparently used design technology donated by both the Knight Foundation and Professor Popkiss of NASA, inventor of the multi-purpose hovercraft "Supercar". Much of the technology used by 21st century organisations would be based on Popkiss' "Superautomation" vehicle. The real breakthrough in the Thunderbird vehicles was their nuclear compression engines.


In 2065 IR was taken over by Spectrum, an offshoot of the United Nations Intelligence Security Yard Corps, which in turn had started as an offshoot of the UN Intelligence Taskforce. Spectrum had been founded by Colonel Charles Gray, a retired commander in UNISYC. Col. Gray intended to create an organisation that would combat alien menaces, but utilise the scientific attitude of UNIT, as he felt the more aggressive and "gung-ho" displays of UNISYC could cause more harm than good. To maintain secrecy while allowing accountability, Spectrum agents were given colour based "code names"; Colonel Gray becoming Colonel White. (It has been suggested that Spectrum was actually the latest version of an organisation predating UNIT, and dating back to the 19th century. However, there is no evidence to support such a supposition.)


Spectrum deduced that Jeff Tracy was behind IR, and began trying to buy equipment from him, hoping to use it in the battle against alien invaders. Most people believed, however, that there was no threat of invasion, and that humanity had enough to worry about following WWIII. Tracy, in particular, refused to see what he and "Brains" had designed get turned into weaponry. He was, however, prepared to donate some of his plans to exploratory organisations such as UNDERSEA and Starfleet. Eventually however, Spectrum simply commandeered the whole organisation. The Tracys dropped out of sight, and Brains found himself in Spectrum, reworking his designs into Angel Interceptors and Spectrum Persuit Vehicles.


This, then, was the situation in 2065, when Spectrum based itself in the former CIALD Helio-carrier, renaming it Cloudbase [2] and began watching the skies. The recent First Contact with Vulcan had made them more aware than ever that aliens were out there. If Cochrane had attracted the attention of a group of friendly aliens, might he not also have attracted unfriendly ones?


Before long Spectrum began picking up signals from Mars. Their top agents, Captains Conrad Turner and Paul Metcalfe, codenamed Black and Scarlet, was sent to investigate.


Metcalfe had an interesting family tree. In addition to coming from a long line of UNISYC agents, and being the direct descendent of the first man on Mars, Major (later General) Thomas Carrington, Metcalfe could also claim descent from a multi-identitied gentleman known as "Peter Joshua", "Alexander Dyle," "Adam Canfield", "Brian Cruikshank", "John Robie" and "The Cat".  His real name was Joshua Thornhill, brother of advertising agent Roger Thornhill [3].


The Spectrum team discovered an alien base. While they were deciding what to do next, the base began radiating strange green beams. Captain Black panicked and destroyed the base. The form the retaliation took is not clear, but on their return to Earth he was apparently dead, and Scarlet apparently alive [4]. They were the first victims of the aliens we would later know as the Mysterons. (It should be noted that this was a made-up term for beings far too unlike us to even have a communicable name. The "Voice of the Mysterons" reported by those contacted by the aliens was a series of impressions and urges, not understandable speech.)


The corpse of Captain Black was somehow animated by the Mysterons, his rivalry with Scarlet turned into a bitter hatred. At the same time, Scarlet himself was revealed to be a duplicate, created by the Mysterons and, like Black's corpse, infused with their energy, which restored damage. Scarlet had been mind controlled to destroy Cloudbase, but was able to shake off this conditioning.


It was many years later that the truth behind the Mysterons was learnt. At first it was assumed, looking at the records of previous invaders, that this might be the work of the Hive-Tocs [5] or, given the Martain connection, the Fendahl [6], or even the so-called Ambassadors of Death [7]. Eventually it would be discovered that the Mysterons came from a universe utterly unlike our own, and the connection between the two was slowly corrupting both of them [8].


This connection was maintained because, while Turner was simply a puppet, Metcalfe had been fully infused with the energy of the Mysterons. They could not disconnect from our universe without killing him, and they had made him unkillable. As a result they felt they had no choice but to attempt to conquer our world, acting through Captain Black and other humans they seized control of. Spectrum, and especially Scarlet, who had a near-telepathic connection to Black and other Mysteron agents, fought a shadow war against them for three years.


Eventually, they made two breakthroughs. Spectrum psychologist Dr Beige (real name Douglas Jackson) and Lieutenant Green (Seymour Griffiths) devised a plan to capture Captain Black, using Scarlet as bait, to encourage him to attack Cloudbase in a stolen Angel fighter. This was successful, and represented a considerable coup on Spectrum's part. While the Mysterons had a number of agents on Earth, Black and Scarlet had been the only ones not eventually destroyed by the possession.


Soon afterwards Colonel White learnt that the Mysteron signals came from a single source on Mars. Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue (Adam Svenson) were able to locate and destroy it, severing the connection to the possessed, although Blue died in the attempt. Scarlet, of course, could not die, even in a vapourising nuclear explosion on an airless rock. Unaware of the permanent link between Metcalfe and the Mysterons, Spectrum believed the crisis was over [9].


In 2070 the newly promoted Captain Green quit Spectrum and published his expose Spectrum is Green. This book revealed the existence of Spectrum and the Mysterons for the first time. The response of the world public has been compared to that when The Zen Military was published, but Lethbridge-Stewart's book at least gave a positive portrayal of UNIT. Griffiths portrayed Spectrum as the instigators of the war (which was technically true), and as causing the collapse of Earth's economy in its pursuit of resources (arguable). Most of all, Captain Scarlet was portrayed as an alien creature, utterly detatched from humanity. Metcalfe disappeared, somehow persuading Jeff Tracy to let him stay on Tracy Island.


Tracy, who had also been the victim of negative press, ever since he first claimed Spectrum had stolen his vehicle designs, died soon after, in 2071, and his sons drifted away. The exception was John, who stayed with Metcalfe for a while, before making one last great voyage in the Thunderbird 2, crashing in the Brazilian rainforest.


According to some sources, the press portrayal of Tracy as a Howard Hughes figure was deliberately created by Spectrum, goading him to suicide [10]. His despair must  have been increased by the fact that a police/military organisation called the World Aquanaut Security Patrol had, in 2065, commandeered various documents from UNDERSEA, including the plans to the Stingray submarine. Even Starfleet, despite its best intentions, had added weaponry to the Fireball-class spaceships he designed. (This had, of course, prove to be a sensible precaution, as the most famous Fireball-class ships were the Anastasia, commanded by Daniel Dare, and the Fireball XL5, captained by Steven Zodiac, both of which had a number of unfriendly alien encounters.) The negative coverage of Tracy, however, did not turn into positive coverage of Spectrum.


As the backlash continued, Spectrum was eventually reduced in size and forced to go underground. Following the resignation of Colonel White, Spectrum became the secret organisation SHADO, under General James Henderson and the obsessive Commander Ed Straker [11]. Their main enemy would turn out to be a group of Colonists [12], who were harvesting human organs. Straker, however, remained convinced that the Mysterons would return, if indeed, the UFO invaders weren't them. He held them and Metcalfe equally responsible for the death of his cousin, Captain Adam Svenson [13]. "Brains" Hackenbacker (who was now almost entirely unaware of the world outside his laboratory) continued working on vehicle designs, including the SkyDiver submarine/aircraft launcher (based on plans for an unrealised addition to Thunderbird 3) and adapting the Spectrum Persuit Vehicle design into the SHADO Mobiles and the Angel Interceptor into the Lunar Interceptor. The Lunar Interceptors were based on SHADO's Moonbase.


The furore caused by Griffiths' book also led, briefly, to a lack of interest in space travel. If we didn't bother them, maybe they wouldn't bother us. The newly invented transporter negated the need for any vehicles at all! Only a few eccentrics like the elderly Daniel Eldrad and young Henry Archer retained an interest in warp propulsion. Of course, we learnt how wrong this attitude was following the attack by the Ice Warriors [14].


Although Earth resumed contact with her colonies and the Vulcans after the war, rebuilding civilisation was a long and arduous task, and one that the continued drain on resources by SHADO did not help [15]. Although it's existence was officially a secret, enough information filtered to the public for it to be a focus for resentment. It was rumoured to be hidden under a film studio somewhere in London. Some believed it to be BBC Television Centre, although most reports claim it was Pinewood Studios.


By 2095, the Colonist attacks had ceased. SHADO, however continued to grow, quietly buying up and improving the Stingray sub and Fireball ships, and increasing the size of their Moonbase. General Henderson had retired, putting Commander Straker in command, with Col. Alec Freeman as second in command. Straker remained convinced the Mysterons were still out there ready to strike. He was to be proved right.


The Mysteron attack in 2098 devastated the world. The corrupting effect of their "beams" were given full reign. It was theorised that they may have decided that, if they couldn't prevent the effects our world was having on theirs, all they could do was accelerate the effects their world had on ours, in the hope of making our universe suitable for colonisation. However, as no-one really understands how the Mysterons think, it is impossible to be certain.


Straker concluded the only way of stopping them was to kill Paul Metcalfe. Forced to abandon the Pinewood HQ, he quickly reopened the Cloudbase, recalled the long-retired pilots of Angel Squadron and put the elderly Dr Hackenbacker onto designing a weapon that would kill Captain Scarlet. Col Freeman was sent to locate Metcalfe, along with a mysterious scientific advisor [16].


Arriving on Tracy Island, Freeman was killed by Captain Black, before another agent used the weapon to kill Black. Conrad Turner had already killed Dr Jackson and two Stingray operatives in his escape from SHADO's Seabase Prison. In consultation with the scientific advisor, Metcalfe agreed to come quietly, providing he was given time to put on his Spectrum uniform. The SkyDiver was sent to collect him and the SHADO agents.


Despite the scientific advisor claiming this would only make things worse, Captain Scarlet was molecularly destroyed upon his arrival on Cloudbase. Either fortunately or unfortunately, this didn't work. 


In addition to the large number of civilian casualties caused by the breaking of reality, the Mysteron attack also saw the deaths of Brains, Juliette Pontoin (the former Angel Squadron leader "Destiny") and (it is assumed) Captain Keonig and all hands on the Moonbase, which disappeared, leaving a huge crater. It was at first thought that they had been sucked into the Mysteron's universe, but later studies showed that they had been pulled away by a spontaneously occurring warp field [17].


With the advice of the scientific advisor, Captain Scarlet concluded the only way to end the connection was if he entered the Mysterons' dimension. The rift between the dimensions was located, and Sky-1, the aircraft segment of SkyDiver flew into it, with a crew of Scarlet, Straker and the unnamed scientific advisor. Only the advisor returned.


SHADO command fell to the SkyDiver's Captain Peter Carlin. It is believed the organisation quietly disbanded or folded itself back into UN Intelligence Command. Ten years later reliable matter/antimatter engines would finally be achieved with the Enterprise NX-01. The age of Superautomation was over.



[1] This suggestion has, for instance, been made in Doctor Who: The Indestructable Man by Simon Messingham (2004), a roman a clef on Spectrum and SHADO which seems to be either based on future information not available to Gerry Anderson, or to interperate that information is a shocklingly different way. While much of the information of the events of that novel may have been gained from the Doctor himself, via the BBC's usual sources, it seems that much of the divergent background information came from Spectrum Is Green (2070), the somewhat bitter autobiography of Cpt. Seymour Griffiths (Captain Green), which is quoted throughout. The Doctor himself refers to this book as having an "unreliable narrator".


[2] The Helio-carrier was the inspiration for the SHEILD Helicarrier in Marvel Comics. Its full history will be detailed in the forthcoming The Lethal Luthors- A Deceptive Brilliance: William Luthor article. For now, suffice to say it was kept aloft by Cavorite, and had therefore remained airborne long after CIALD abandoned it. The solar powered device that should have rendered it invisible had long since failed, however.


[3] The series Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet claims Metcalfe's father was the first man on Mars. However, it is known that the British Rocket Group first reached Mars in the 1960s. General Carrington's career following the return of Mars Probe 6 is detailed in the Doctor Who serial "The Ambassadors of Death".


Joshua Thornhill appears under the first four names in the film Charade, and by the latter two in the film To Catch A Thief. His brother appears in the film North By Northwest. Both Thornhills were played by Cary Grant, on whom the makers of Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons based the puppet of Metcalfe.


[4] It would seem from this that the Captain Scarlet remake gave a more accurate account of the first encounter with the Mysterons than the original.


[5] See http://www.pjfarmer.com/secret/aliens/tocsnogs.htm


[6] See the Doctor Who serial "Image of the Fendahl".


[7] See the Doctor Who serial "Ambassadors of Death".


[8] This was discovered towards the end of The Indestructible Man.


[9] Shown in the prologue to The Indestructible Man.


[10] More background information in The Indestructible Man. This appears to have been confirmed to the Doctor by John Tracy, however the former Thunderbird-5 operative was somewhat less than sane at the time.


[11] I know the series UFO had Straker and SHADO in 1980. It was wrong. Purple wigs didn't become a popular fashion accessory until 100 years later.


[12] See http://www.pjfarmer.com/secret/aliens/Parasites.htm


[13] It is interesting to note that Ed Bishop, the actor who voiced Captain Blue (and may have been the model for the puppet) in Captain Scarlet also played Commander Straker in UFO.


[14] The events of the Doctor Who serial "The Seeds of Doom", and subsequent "Thousand Day War" referenced in the novel Doctor Who: Transit.


[15] Either due to the implications of Spectrum is Green, or in order to simplify things, The Indestructible Man suggests that the devastation of London in 2096 is entirely the responsibility of the Mysterons and Spectrum/SHADO, failing to mention the Martian conflict at all.


[16] That would be the Doctor...


[17] It would seem the setting of Space: 1999 was a century out as well. And also that the ludicrous idea of the entire moon being taken along was precisely that.