Tuesday 11 November 2014


CAPTAIN POWER AND THE SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE was, ultimately, one of those long-forgotten shows that went nowhere but - at the time - was pretty revolutionary.  

Not only did it (thanks to future BABYLON FIVE creator JMS and others) infuse kids TV with a quality of storytelling (and production standards) usually associated with Primetime but it also pioneered super-high-tech interactive technology to help flog toys.  When it worked.  And it demonstrated that CGI technology, however clunky by modern standards, could be used to make movie-esque production standards viable on a small screen budget and schedule.  Another neat trick that JMS would use on B5.

It was Mattel's interactive elements that was, pretty quickly, the show's undoing.  The technology (which encouraged kids to use the toys to fire at the screen in order to interact with the on-screen visuals) was, at best, flakey and often didn't work at all.

Not that it stopped parents and campaigning groups generating a lot of negative buzz about the toys - and the show - by claiming that airing a show that required you to buy the toys as well (not really true… the show works fine on its own merits) was a step too far in the increasingly blurred area between kids programming and extended toy commercials.  

For whatever reason, the toys failed to catch fire in the market place during their first year on the shelves and, suitably chastised, Mattel decided to abandon the Captain Power line.  With no toys… there was no need to continue to bankroll the show and it ended after a single season.

The series barely scrapped into the UK at the time.  I recall picking-up an ex-rental VHS copy (which looked pretty crappy) of assorted episodes that had been compiled into a movie (as was the fashion at the time) presentation.  TV broadcasts were, as I recall, restricted to one of the satellite channels: probably WH Smith's (yup, the ropey high street retailer was also a broadcaster in the late 1980s/ early 1990s) LIFESTYLE CHANNEL, a motley compilation of gameshows, imported soaps and other less-than-premium shows that formed part of the initial SKY TV offering.  It closed at the end of January 1993.  

I don't recall ever seeing the toys in the UK although it's entirely possible that Mattel shipped over unsold stock from the States in an attempt to liquidate the line in international markets.  

MARVEL UK published a rather nice CAPTAIN POWER ANNUAL which seemed to have very little distribution at the time but surfaced as remainders later.  It contained all-new material and suggests that, briefly, Marvel might have considered it a license worth having.  Whether there were any tentative plans to roll out a regular comic is unknown.

This contemporary article on the show hails from STARLOG MAGAZINE issue 138 (cover-dated January 1989).  The show ran during the 1988-89 TV season in first-run syndication.  

It's recently been released on DVD, complete with a new documentary about the history and production of the show, and is well worth getting hold of.  

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