Despite the customary eye-catching effects, Renegade Rocket is a bit of a muddled Scarlet episode and falls prey to some common pitfalls. Apart from the plot itself resembling a piece of Swiss cheese, our man Metcalfe is hardly in it.
The Mysterons take over Major Reeves who launches a Variable Geometry Rocket from the remote Base Concord and then escapes with the Flight Program Unit, preventing anyone from destroying the rocket before it reaches its target. The Angels give chase while Scarlet and Blue have no option but to work through the book of 10,000 codewords. They learn that the VGR has been programmed to destroy its point of origin, Base Concord. Reeves plunges his jet into the sea, and the Unit sinks slowly to the seabed as the VGR speeds towards the base. With seconds left, the rocket explodes harmlessly - however despite Scarlet and Blueís valiant efforts, it turns out Navy divers recovered the unit and destroyed the rocket remotely.
The episode features a theme common in science fiction, dating back to the earliest work of H G Wells and Mary Shelley, that of the effect of advanced technology on people and the fear of it going out of control. Itís a theme that Andersonís series return to frequently - Thunderbirds (Path of Destruction) and UFO (The Responsibility Seat) to name but two all feature similar scenarios of runaway machinery. The destructive power of the VGR rocket is poetically turned against its originators by the Mysterons and the saps who built it have no way of preventing it from destroying its target, Base Concord. Itís notable that Reeves pulls rank to ensure the rocket is launched, perhaps demonstrating the power a rogue officer could wield at the height of the Cold War - itís a little reminiscent of Dr Strangelove in that respect, but without Shane Rimmer or the jokes.
Although the underlying theme is familiar, the plot unfortunately does not bear close analysis. Reeves shoots someone then legs it from Base Concord in a stolen jet, thereby advertising his guilt to the world - if heíd taken the FPR and hid in the bushes outside the base, they probably would never have found him, and without the unit, couldnít have destroyed the VGR.
For reasons known only to herself, Rhapsody tries to reason with Reeves; she expects him to agree to be escorted back to the base - firstly as heís a Mysteron itís unlikely, secondly he knows thereís a bloominí big VGR about to blow the place to bits so itís doubly unlikely. In the end he takes the Ďthird wayí and plunges into the ocean, probably to get away from such asinine questioning.
What also doesnít hang together is why anyone is bothered about saving a base which has been evacuated. Once the staff are gone, thereís no danger to life until Blue decides he wants to stick around and gamble with his neck (itís hardly a gamble for Scarlet, heíll only get a little singed). In a previous episode (Heart of New York) Colonel White refused to risk his menís lives to save a bank, this time those same men disobey his orders but for the flimsiest of reasons and with a 1 in 10,000 chance of keeping their skin intact.
The characterization is thinner than usual for the series - unusually, Colonel White is revealed to have a friend - not exactly a close friend as he still calls him ĎMajorí - but heís not exactly devastated to learn poor old Reeves has succumbed to the Mysterons. The second string Angels are given more screen time in this episode, which is particularly unexpected as itís at the expense of the regular characters. However itís only a superficial change - the opportunity to flesh out their characters is spurned and they remain disappointingly one-dimensional. Their dialogue is interchangeable and the somnolent vocal performances for Melody and Harmony donít help - Melodyís barely bothered when her aircraft is hit and sheís forced to eject, effectively sapping the tension from an otherwise dramatic sequence. The visuals are the main thing that holds the episode together and Derek Meddingsí flying scenes are a little more elaborate than the norm. The shot of Melodyís Angel seen in Reevesí rear-view mirror is quite elaborate for such a fleeting sequence and itís a nice visual flourish.
Ralph Hartís dialogue is for the most part mundane, and it fails to distinguish between the characters at all. The best line is when the newly retrometabolized Reeves quips blackly, ĎI feel like a new maní. Thatís more like it. Otherwise thereís a lot of telling rather than showing - Rhapsody pointing out to us that Reeves is crashing his aircraft, when we can see that from its downward trajectory, and so on.
Continuity buffs will no doubt be more interested in discussing the fact that Black can kill an intended victim by merely making him feel unwell - and from a distance, too. We also get a mention of the International Fix System from Thunderbird 6, though whether thatís enough to marry the two series together continuity-wise is doubtful.
Although the episode is well-paced and grabs the attention, its routine dialogue makes it very run of the mill. If you also strip away the special effects youíre left with very little of substance. Renegade Rocket, though visually appealing is a below par episode. Itís not a patch on stuff like Winged Assassin or Noose of Ice and is sadly a forerunner of effects-led films like Independence Day and its ilk - flashy, nice to look at but insubstantial and ultimately unfulfilling. For plotting and characterization Iíd have to give it an obligatory Ďzeroí, but thankfully itís a rarity in the series. And amen to that.