|Created by||Gerry and Sylvia Anderson|
|Voices of||Keith Alexander|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||30 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Reg Hill|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Century 21 Television Productions|
|Picture format||Film (35 mm)|
|Original release||29 September 1968 – 20 April 1969|
|Preceded by||Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons|
|Followed by||The Secret Service|
Joe 90 is a 1960s British science-fiction television series that follows the adventures of a nine-year-old boy, Joe McClaine, who starts a double life as a schoolchild-turned-superspy after his scientist father invents a device capable of duplicating expert knowledge and experience and transferring it to a human brain. Equipped with the skills of the foremost academic and military minds, Joe is recruited by the World Intelligence Network (WIN) and, as its "Most Special Agent",[e 1] pursues the objective of world peace and saving human life. Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and filmed by Century 21 Productions, the 30-episode series followed Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
First broadcast in the UK between September 1968 and April 1969 on the ATV network, Joe 90 was the sixth and final of the Andersons' productions to be made exclusively using the form of marionette puppetry termed "Supermarionation". Their final puppet series, The Secret Service, used this process only in combination with extensive live-action filming. As in the case of its antecedent, Captain Scarlet, the puppets of Joe 90 are of natural proportions as opposed to the more caricatured design of the characters of Thunderbirds.
Although not as successful as Century 21's previous efforts, since its inception, Joe 90 has been praised, among other aspects, for the level of characterisation of its smaller puppet cast and the quality of its model sets and special effects. Critics have interpreted Joe 90's spy-fi theme and the choice of a child character as the protagonist as either a "kids play Bond" concept or an enshrinement of children's powers of imagination. Points of criticism range from the violence depicted in a number of episodes to the absence of female characters, which is interpreted either as the inevitable result of the series' composition as a "boy's own adventure" or as being tantamount to sexism.
As for its earlier productions, Century 21 launched a number of merchandising campaigns based on Joe 90, which included toy cars and comic strips featuring the continuing adventures of Joe McClaine. The series was syndicated in the United States in 1969, re-broadcast in the UK during the 1990s and released on DVD in most regions in the 2000s. The idea of a live-action film adaptation of Joe 90 has been considered more than once since the 1960s, but without further development.
Joe 90 is set in the near future. The timeframe is most commonly stated to be 2012 and 2013; various other sources point to an undetermined year in the early 21st century, while the official scriptwriters' guide states that the year is 1998. Based on visual evidence, the events of "The Unorthodox Shepherd" occur in 2013.[e 2]
Nine-year-old British schoolboy Joe McClaine is the adopted son of Professor Ian "Mac" McClaine, a computer expert. Outwardly, the McClaines are an unexceptional father and son; they live in an antiquated Elizabethan-style cottage overlooking Culver Bay in Dorset, and are waited on by their housekeeper, Mrs Harris. Yet, residing in a secret underground laboratory is Mac's latest invention, the "BIG RAT" (Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer), a machine capable of recording knowledge and experience from leading experts in various fields and transferring it to another human brain. At the heart of the design is the "Rat Trap": a spherical, rotating cage in which a subject is seated during the transfer of "brain patterns".
Sam Loover, a family friend and an agent of World Intelligence Network (WIN), persuades Mac to dedicate the services of Joe and the BIG RAT to the organisation: Joe will become a WIN operative with a difference, the unlimited possibilities offered by the BIG RAT serving as an invaluable tool for completing missions.[e 1] After requisite knowledge and experience has been transferred, and provided that Joe is wearing customised glasses containing hidden electrodes (a portable storage device for brain impulses), he is able to carry out missions requiring proficiency in – among other disciplines – flying fighter aircraft,[e 1][e 3][e 4][e 5] spaceflight,[e 6] performing advanced neurosurgery[e 7] and piano.[e 8]
Given that a boy would never be suspected of espionage, Joe's innocence is as useful an asset as the BIG RAT, and he comes to be regarded as WIN's "Most Special Agent".[e 1] Reporting to Shane Weston, the commander-in-chief of WIN's London Headquarters, Joe is also equipped with a special briefcase, which externally appears to be nothing more than a school case but which secretly contains an adapted handgun and transceiver.[e 1][e 9] There is some inconsistency as to why Joe is assigned the codename "90". Contemporary series publicity stated that, in the pilot episode, Joe enlists in WIN as its 90th London-based agent. However, in the episode "Project 90", reference is made to the BIG RAT being documented in WIN's "File Number 90", from which Joe's designation is explicitly stated to originate.[e 10] The series ends with a clip show episode, "The Birthday", in which a selection of Joe's missions are presented as flashbacks at a surprise party on the day that the character turns ten.[e 11]
Like antecedent series, plot elements of Joe 90 include hi-tech gadgetry,[e 12] rescue operations,[e 13] secret organisations[e 10] and criminal or terrorist threats to world security.[e 4] An example of the advanced technology demonstrated is Professor McClaine's "Jet Air Car": a multiple-configuration land-, sea- and air-based vehicle built prior to the events of the series. The in-joke of "WIN", the abbreviated form of "World Intelligence Network", is similar to that of "WASP", the acronym for the World Aquanaut Security Patrol that appears in Stingray.
In the fictional universe of Joe 90, the Cold War—significant at the time of the series' TV debut, owing to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968—has ended, and a world government has been established.[e 1][e 4] WIN is the successor organisation to MI6, the CIA and the KGB, all of which have been merged in the formation of the global network. Although the pilot sees Joe hijacking a Russian jet fighter to expose the secrets of its construction to the West, the storyline is ultimately revealed to be a speculative fiction posited by Weston as an example of the espionage that Joe would have to perform if he were to join WIN.[e 1] The plot twist, in particular the revelation that Russia and the West are allies in the future, is praised by academic Nicholas J. Cull for its "progressiveness of spirit", and for exemplifying Anderson's "[taking] an end to the Cold War as a given in his work". Anderson was motivated by what he perceived as a "duty to the rising generation to avoid perpetuating Cold War stereotypes", once stating that he "tried very hard not to put [his] ten cents into creating World War Three".
Despite the existence of a global government and intelligence organisation, the nations of Earth are still politically divided into Western and Eastern blocs; here, Cull argues, Joe 90 is similar to other Anderson series in that it "unashamedly capitalized on the Cold War cult of the secret agent whose skills defend the home from enemies unknown". The recurring antagonist of WIN and Joe is the non-aligned "Eastern Alliance", which dominates Asia and appears in the episodes "Attack of the Tiger"[e 4] and "Mission X-41".[e 5] Meanwhile, villains in "International Concerto",[e 8] "Business Holiday",[e 14] "Arctic Adventure"[e 15] and "The Professional"[e 12] speak with Slavic accents. "Arctic Adventure" and "Attack of the Tiger" combine the threat from the East with the hazards of nuclear technology: in the former, Joe must recover a stray atomic warhead from the ocean floor while avoiding enemy submarines, while in the latter, he is tasked with destroying an Eastern nuclear device that is about to be launched into Earth orbit.[e 4][e 15] By contrast, an episode that presents the benign aspects of such technology is "Big Fish", in which Joe labours to remove a defective nuclear submarine from the territorial waters of a Latin American police state.[e 16]
Following Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90 was purposely conceived and developed to be a different kind of Supermarionation series, placing the narrative emphasis less on action, advanced technology and visual effects and more on characterisation and plotlines subscribing more to the spy thriller genre than science fiction. Co-creator Gerry Anderson explained, "The show majored on its characters, which I thought were all very good. The puppets had become so lifelike, I now strongly believed that they could carry the action without the usual massive assistance from futuristic hardware." Explaining his inspiration for the series, Anderson remembered his pre-Supermarionation days when he served as an assistant editor for such films as The Wicked Lady, handling recording tape on a daily basis. While pondering on the blanking and re-use of such tape, Anderson made a connection to the human brain's electrical activities, explaining, "I read somewhere that the human brain is controlled by electrical impulses and how thoughts are stored electronically. I started toying with the story potential of a process that would allow the recording of brain patterns and transferring them to another brain. I was really likening it to magnetic recording, where material could be stored or transferred to another tape." When it came to naming the lead character and, from that, the name of the new series, Anderson recalled that on one of his earlier productions, Fireball XL5, the surname "Ninety" had been an early proposal for Colonel Steve Zodiac, and selected it for the new schoolboy protagonist.
Commissioned by ITC financier Lew Grade in the autumn of 1967, with pre-production completed in October while the final episodes of Captain Scarlet were still being filmed, principal photography for Joe 90 ran from 13 November 1967 to mid-August 1968 using two puppet stages at the Century 21 Studios on the Slough Trading Estate[l 1] in Berkshire. The average shooting period for each episode was two weeks, as had been the case with the previous series. The script for the pilot (titled only in production documentation as "The Most Special Agent") was written by Anderson and his wife, Sylvia, as was the custom for every new puppet series that the couple developed in the 1960s. Before the concept of WIN was devised, Joe was to have become the "Most Special Agent" of the CIA. Most of the other episodes were written by Tony Barwick, with Shane Rimmer contributing six scripts. Rimmer was hired to write for Joe 90 while co-writing a book with Barwick, who initially offered him a two-script contract (they were filmed as the episodes "Splashdown" and "Big Fish"). Since he was occupied by post-production on the second Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbird 6, and the development of his live-action film, Doppelgänger, Gerry Anderson was unable to fulfil the producer role as he had done for Captain Scarlet, and instead passed the responsibility to Reg Hill and David Lane. Lane recalls that, in his role as producer, he was "responsible for looking at the scripts, the effects, the puppets, the whole thing really". He found support in Anderson's long-serving collaborator Desmond Saunders, who directed the pilot and served as production controller for the rest of the series. Other directors for Joe 90 included Leo Eaton, Alan Perry and Ken Turner, all of whom had contributed to Captain Scarlet, and Peter Anderson, who was promoted from his earlier position as assistant director to replace the outgoing Brian Burgess and Robert Lynn.
A Christmas-themed episode, "The Unorthodox Shepherd",[e 2] featured location filming to an extent unprecedented for a puppet-based Anderson series. The Secret Service, the Andersons' next production after Joe 90, developed the hybridity further with the incorporation of extensive footage of live actors in long shot, intercut with scale puppet sequences.
Keith Wilson and Grenville Nott superseded Bob Bell as heads of the art department and built the interior of Culver Bay Cottage from a design by Mike Trim. Anderson remembered his satisfaction with the cottage set: "The interior, with its beams and lovely soft furnishings, was really beautiful." The construction of the BIG RAT model, meanwhile, was entrusted to the newly formed incorporated company Century 21 Props (or Electronics), which was responsible for the various gadgets that appeared in the series and was based in Bourne End in Buckinghamshire.[l 2]
Although mostly occupied with Thunderbird 6 and Doppelgänger, Derek Meddings briefly reprised his role as head of special effects to construct Professor McClaine's Jet Air Car. The design concept was a disappointment to Anderson, who commented: "The car looked like no other piece of hardware we had had previously but I was wary of canning it as I feared I might be becoming stereotyped. Maybe the whole thing was becoming a bit narrow; all the ideas were becoming similar." Stephen La Rivière, writer of Filmed in Supermarionation: A History of the Future, views the Jet Air Car as an update of Supercar, the vehicle that appeared in Anderson's 1961 series of the same name, but agrees that while the Jet Air Car is the "star vehicle" of Joe 90, it is visually unappealing in comparison to the "beautiful, sleek design of its predecessor."
The Supermarionation puppets featured in Joe 90 are of the more accurately proportioned kind introduced for Captain Scarlet, and which would also be used for the Andersons' final puppet series, The Secret Service. Simultaneously, the drive for enhanced realism across all major design aspects which started with the preceding series continued for Joe 90. Main character puppets from Captain Scarlet were re-used for Joe 90 with the exceptions of the Captain Scarlet and Captain Blue marionettes. Few new puppets were constructed, the only notable exceptions being Professor McClaine (sculpted by Mary Turner and modelled on 'bouncing bomb' designer Barnes Wallis), Joe (sculpted by Tim Cooksey), and Mrs Harris.
The Joe puppet was the first child marionette to be made as part of the new generation of Supermarionation puppets introduced for Captain Scarlet, for which the sculpting team were careful to achieve realistic proportions for the body of a nine-year-old boy. The puppets of Sam Loover and Shane Weston had each made several appearances in the previous series, but for their regular role in the new series a variety of alternative heads were created from the "expressionless" templates – including "smilers", "frowners" and "blinkers" – and the Shane Weston puppet was re-wigged. Many of the recycled "revamp puppets", used to depict supporting characters for Captain Scarlet, were also duplicated with darker skin colours to portray characters from a range of ethnicities. Further to these requirements, the use of two shooting soundstages necessitated the duplication of all the "expressionless" main character puppets to avoid conflicts over resources between the two filming units. As in the previous series, "under control" puppets, manipulated by levers from below as opposed to wires from a gantry above, feature in Joe 90.
The opening and ending theme and incidental music of Joe 90 composed by Barry Gray, who was responsible for music on other Anderson series. Episodes of Joe 90 start with either a cold open (the first Anderson series to do so) or the main title sequence, which sees Joe sitting in the BIG RAT's "Rat Trap" and receiving transferred knowledge from the machine. The sequence is accompanied by Gray's opening theme, which is dominated by the notes of guitarist Vic Flick, known for performing lead guitar in the recording of the "James Bond Theme" for Dr. No (1962). In Anderson's biography, What Made Thunderbirds Go!, the Joe 90 theme is described as a "dizzying piece of psychedelic pop art that could have been produced only in the late Sixties". The closing credits are superimposed over images of objects such as Joe's BIG RAT spectacles, his WIN badge, and also his briefcase, gun, and transceiver; while the concepts for these images were photographic, the final versions were augmented with airbrush artwork.
In addition to the themes and tracks for the pilot, "The Most Special Agent", Gray composed incidental music for 20 additional episodes of Joe 90. Music for the Joe 90 episodes was recorded between 18 January and 27 September 1968, starting with the titles and the pilot in a session at the London Olympic Sound Studios[l 3] and ending with one of the final instalments, "See You Down There" at CTS Studios. Scores were also recorded at Gray's residence in Esher, Surrey.[l 4]
Gray's compositions for Joe 90 occasionally required the hiring of guest talent. The piano music featured extensively in the episode "International Concerto" was performed by Robert Docker (the human hands seen in the close-up shots of Joe's playing belonged to Gray's son, Simon). "Lone-Handed 90" includes a recurring harmonica, played by the Canadian musician Tommy Reilly.
A CD of the Joe 90 soundtrack, running to 28 pieces, was released by Silva Screen Records in 2006. Awarding a rating of 3.5 stars out of five, AllRovi reviewer William Ruhlmann comments that the scores are "not great writing", but adds that Gray's work was "perfectly adequate, if not inspired." Previous releases include a 45 rpm gramophone record, Title Theme from the ATV Series Joe 90, also featuring various incidental music.
(Original Television Soundtrack)
|Soundtrack album by|
|Released||15 May 2006|
|Label||Silva Screen Records|
|1.||"Century 21 Sting"||0:10|
|2.||"Main Titles" (Stereo. From "The Most Special Agent")||1:58|
|3.||"The Most Special Agent" (Stereo)||3:21|
|7.||"Double Agent Entertainment" (Stereo. From "Double Agent")||2:02|
|8.||"Jungle Fortress" (Stereo. From "The Fortress")||2:03|
|9.||"Dr. Darota's Alpine Clinic" (Stereo. From "Project 90")||1:38|
|10.||"Balloon Flight" (Stereo. From "Project 90")||4:04|
|11.||"Death, Love and Betrayal" (Stereo. From "Three's a Crowd")||3:32|
|12.||"Tragedy Aboard the U85" (Stereo. From "Big Fish")||3:19|
|13.||"Porto Guavan" (Stereo. From "Big Fish")||3:18|
|14.||"King for a Day"||5:18|
|15.||"The Unorthodox Shepherd" (Stereo)||2:24|
|16.||"Mission Tango 120" (From "Hi-jacked")||5:02|
|17.||"Break Sting – Version 1" (Stereo)||0:04|
|18.||"Lyons Maid Commercial"||0:29|
|19.||"Break Sting – Version 2" (Stereo)||0:07|
|20.||"Showdown at Colletti's Hideout" (From "Hi-jacked")||3:34|
|21.||"International Concerto" (Stereo)||3:47|
|22.||"A Piano Recital from Igor Sladek" (From "International Concerto")||1:39|
|25.||"The Colonel's March" (From "Colonel McClaine")||1:35|
|27.||"End Titles" (Stereo)||1:26|
|28.||"Opening Titles" (Stereo)||1:23|
In comparison to Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90 features a smaller cast, voicing just five regular characters. Like Captain Scarlet, the series has been viewed as more "English-sounding", the Andersons abandoning their stipulation dating from the production of Thunderbirds that the puppet cast be American and thus dispensing with the established format of their series' principal character being a "square-jawed, fair-skinned male with a Mid-Atlantic accent". Instead, in a manner similar to Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 focuses on the strong American supporting characters of Sam Loover and Shane Weston.
- Len Jones as Joe McClaine, a nine-year-old adoptee who balances schoolwork with missions as a spy for the World Intelligence Network (WIN), using the aid of knowledge and experience captured by a brilliant invention, the Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transfer (BIG RAT). For realism, Joe is voiced by child actor Jones rather than an actress as had usually been the case for the representation of younger characters on earlier Supermarionation series. On the subject of female casting, Gerry Anderson recalled, "... it always sounded rather odd to me. It never sounded like a real little boy ... With Joe 90, I suggested finding a British kid and making him repeat the lines parrot fashion. That's what we did with Len Jones. His performance was only adequate, but at least it sounded authentic."
- Rupert Davies as Professor Ian "Mac" McClaine, Joe's adoptive father and inventor of the BIG RAT. At the time of production, Davies was well known for acting the leading role in the 1960s TV adaptation of the Maigret novels, and was the most distinguished actor yet to contribute to an Anderson series. Experiencing typecasting as a result of his earlier role as the fictional French detective, voice acting provided Davies with the opportunity to broaden the horizons of his career. In Gerry Anderson's biography, What Made Thunderbirds Go!, Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn credit Mac's "warm yet distinguished" English tones as a "perfect counterpoint" to the American voices of the characters of Sam Loover and Shane Weston.
- Keith Alexander as Sam Loover, a long-time friend of Mac and Deputy Head of WIN's London offices, whom Joe affectionately calls "Uncle". Australian actor Alexander had provided voices for the second Thunderbirds film, Thunderbird 6, as a replacement for actor Ray Barrett. During the 1960s, he provided the voice for another puppet character, Topo Gigio, on The Ed Sullivan Show in the United States.
- David Healy as Shane Weston, the commander-in-chief of WIN's London Headquarters and Deputy Head of the international organisation, who has a penchant for feeble jokes. Healy, an American actor resident in the United Kingdom, had voiced supporting characters in Captain Scarlet, and was often contracted to play transatlantic characters in British television.
- Sylvia Anderson as Mrs. Ada Harris, the McClaines' long-suffering housekeeper, who is unaware that Mac and Joe are members of an intelligence organisation. Anderson, whose voice had first featured in the 1961 series Supercar, was best known for voicing the character of Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds and its two feature films. (The reason for the choice of the name "Ada Harris" is unclear; whether it was a coincidence or by deliberate choice, the name is also that of the protagonist of author Paul Gallico's Mrs. 'Arris novels.)
Supporting characters were voiced by Alexander, Healy and Anderson as well as earlier Anderson contributors Gary Files, Martin King, Jeremy Wilkin, Shane Rimmer and (for one episode, "Viva Cordova") Liz Morgan. Rimmer and Morgan, however, are not credited in the closing titles. Files recalls that he felt honoured to be asked to rejoin the Andersons for another production following Captain Scarlet, and that he was "tickled pink" to be performing with Davies, adding, "I hated the way that so many so-called producers wouldn't meet his eye. He was Maigret forever, you see, in their eyes." Morgan, meanwhile, explains how she was contracted for her single voice role in Joe 90: "They needed a voice, they called around and everyone else was out shopping. So they called me in."
In the United Kingdom, the starts of the regional broadcasts were staggered, with Joe 90 premiering on ATV Midlands and Tyne Tees in late September 1968 and moving on to LWT, Southern and Anglia shortly after. The series reached the Harlech and Channel regions in November and finally Granada on Christmas Day, although the first episode to air was the Christmas-themed "The Unorthodox Shepherd" rather than the pilot, "The Most Special Agent". Granada was one of several regions to broadcast the series under the alternative title The Adventures of Joe 90. Although the series was re-run several times in various regions during the 1970s, it was not transmitted in the Yorkshire region until 1981, when it was secured by ITV for a syndicated run. In the United States, Joe 90 was broadcast in first-run syndication in 1969.
Joe 90 was later purchased for early-morning network transmissions on BBC1 in 1994. Rights holder PolyGram cleared the programme for broadcast on the condition that the "zooming" Joe 90 logo in the title sequence be replaced with a new static version to distinguish it from the logo for the American G.I. Joe toy brand, which, PolyGram believed, appeared too similar. The videotapes used for broadcast were 16 mm transfers of the 35 mm film and were edited for timeslot constraints, with the cold open re-arranged where applicable so that the titles now opened each episode, and the closing credits minimised to permit a Children's BBC presenter to read out viewer birthday cards. A separate 1994 run on Nickelodeon made none of these alterations to the 1960s material. With Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the series commenced a run on the UK Sci Fi Channel in 2009.
For Joe 90's original run, in some regions the end of the title sequence incorporated a zoom-in shot of Joe's WIN glasses accompanied by a voice-over provided by actor Tim Turner, stating, "These are Joe 90's special glasses. Without them, he's a boy. Wearing them, he's an expert." This short speech, intended to warn child viewers not to put themselves at risk by imitating Joe's exploits, has been erroneously attributed to Keith Alexander on the Joe 90 Region 2 DVD box set, on which it is a special feature.
In an episode guide to the Anderson TV series, science-fiction writer John Peel questions Mac's ethics in "experimenting on" Joe to further the development of the BIG RAT. On the subject of Joe as a secret agent he remarks, jokingly, "Presumably there are no child labour laws in the future!" La Rivière's attention is drawn to one of Mac's lines at the end of the pilot, in a scene that he considers "amusing"; the professor's admonition "Don't come crying to me if you get hurt!" represents his preparedness to "abnegate all parental responsibility" towards his adoptive son. Observing the series' subscription to "wider themes in Cold War culture", Cull likens the BIG RAT's powers to brainwashing, but concludes that it is a fundamentally "benign" technology. The more violent style introduced in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons is sometimes evident in Joe 90: in "Hi-jacked", Joe kills an enemy with a grenade,[e 9] while in "Project 90", Professor McClaine is menaced by a drill poised to pulverise his head.[e 10] On the subject of violence, episode director Desmond Saunders comments: "There was an unpleasant side to it which I never really understood. There was something about it that was very strange and sinister."
On the other hand, producer David Lane praises the series for its increased humour following the dark tone of Captain Scarlet and sees Joe 90 as much more family-oriented in comparison to its forerunner, summing up the series as "a great little programme." Anthony Clark of the British Film Institute commends Joe 90 for more effective characterisation than Captain Scarlet, and also compliments the quality of its scripts and Barry Gray's musical score. La Rivière underlines a connection between the child protagonist and the theme of espionage, writing, "The premise that drives Joe 90 taps into the fantasy indulged by most boys that they, even at nine years old, can be James Bond." Writer John R. Cook agrees with La Rivière's points on audience self-identification, describes the series as a "wish-fulfilment fantasy" and suggests that the character of Joe is a mirror image of the target child viewer. Comparisons have been made to later franchises with child protagonists who are in fact operatives for intelligence agencies, such as Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids films, and Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider novels.
La Rivière noted the intimacy of the series and the predominantly male voice cast and characters, suggesting that Joe 90 is "very much a Boy's Own adventure." Out of the 30 episodes, only ten feature appearances from female characters, a fact which La Rivière attributes to the increased demands on Century 21 for its feature film productions, Thunderbird 6 and Doppelgänger. Peel suggests that the female absence leaves Joe 90, with many other Anderson productions, inferior to previous Supermarionation effort Thunderbirds, in which the character of Lady Penelope has a primary role in several episodes. Grouping Joe 90 with the earlier Supercar and the subsequent The Secret Service, Peel concludes, "It is hardly coincidental that these tend to be the least-loved of [Anderson's] series; he had, after all, ignored half of his potential audience." For Peel, this return of the "standard Anderson sexism" is only one aspect of deterioration between Joe 90 and previous productions. Peel challenges La Rivière's asserted "kids play Bond" theme, writing that, "being a somewhat nerdy kid with glasses and brain implants was not really thrilling."
John R. Cook (2006)
Peel's view was contested by Anderson's and Cull's belief that the series, with its bespectacled main character of Joe McClaine, can increase the self-confidence of young viewers who wear glasses: "Suddenly they were proud because they had something in common with Joe 90." Since the series' first appearance, the epithet "Joe 90" has become a popular term of endearment for both children and adults with glasses reminiscent of Joe's (such as snooker player Dennis Taylor). During UK repeats in the 1990s, similarities were drawn between Joe and then-Prime Minister John Major, also known for wearing large spectacles. Jeff Evans, writer of The Penguin TV Companion, criticises the plot element of the glasses, writing, "Joe simply dons a pair of scientific glasses, making him look like the class swot than a secret agent."
Cook reads further into the concept of child empowerment in Joe 90, writing that the series creates a "technological utopia" around youth, remarking, "Through the character of Joe, his brain hardwired at the start of each episode into the BIG RAT supercomputer, the young are shown to be literally at one with technology." He adds that the instant access to brain patterns that the BIG RAT affords to Joe may be interpreted as heralding the development of the Internet over a decade after Joe 90 was produced. With his intellectual horizons broadened, Joe becomes the manifestation of homo superior, yet his youthfulness grants him the power to change the fraught political world in ways that no adult could due to the limitations of their imagination. In this respect, Cook holds up Joe 90 as a precursor to the 1970s television series The Tomorrow People, which also concerned ideas of human transcendence in children. This idea, Cook says, was evident in the title of Joe 90 itself: "no longer is he a nine-year-old boy but instead his status and capacities have been multiplied tenfold to transform him into agent 'Joe 90', his name an appealing futuristic echo of the then distant year of 1990."
Ultimately, Joe 90 has proven to be less successful than previous series made by Anderson. In the Anderson-related book, Supermarionation Classics, the model work and scripts are praised, but it is conceded that the series "failed to arouse more than a passing interest with some Anderson fans." Stephen Hulse refers to Joe 90 as "clearly the most child-oriented of the latter Anderson Supermarionation series" and "technically accomplished", but "one of the Anderson stable's lesser series". However, its spy-fi theme led on to the final Supermarionation series, The Secret Service, which too features an unconventional secret agent (a vicar, Father Stanley Unwin) and an intelligence organisation with a contracted name (BISHOP, an acronym for "British Intelligence Service Headquarters, Operation Priest").
In 1981, a compilation film of the Joe 90 episodes "The Most Special Agent", "Splashdown", "Attack of the Tiger" and "Arctic Adventure", titled The Amazing Adventures of Joe 90, was created under the supervision of Robert Mandell of ITC Entertainment's New York offices. Intended to boost American syndication sales, The Amazing Adventures of Joe 90 is one of a number of composite films of Gerry Anderson productions, which were released both to stations and on home video under the promotional banner of "Super Space Theater". Material for "The Most Special Agent" was re-edited to remove the framing sequences set at Culver Bay Cottage and WIN Headquarters London, with the result that Joe's fictitious mission to steal the Russian prototype fighter[e 1] appears to be a real assignment for the nine-year-old WIN agent. Despite each of the episodes in this compilation receiving a U certificate from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), The Amazing Adventures of Joe 90 was rated PG.
From the 1980s, the distribution rights to the ITC productions belonged to PolyGram Television. Subsequent sales were made to Carlton International in the late 1990s and finally Granada International which, through a merger with Carlton International in 2004, now forms ITV Global Entertainment, a division of ITV plc. During the 1990s, the possibility of a live-action film adaptation of Joe 90 was mooted by PolyGram. The idea re-emerged in the 2000s, when in 2003 the magazine Variety reported that a film version was in the planning stages, to be produced by Disney. However, to date, the film proposal remains to be developed. In 2005, Anderson said of negotiations with Granada, "We have regular meetings and although they are very polite and very nice, nothing ever happens."
When I Love the '70s, '80s and '90s, three British pop culture nostalgia programmes, were broadcast on BBC Two in 2001, a set of Joe 90-themed "trailers" were filmed to precede instalments of the last of these series. In each of the three previews, the character of Joe is depicted entering the BIG RAT's "Rat Trap" to receive the brain pattern of a 1990s household name, from Oasis bandmember Liam Gallagher (representing 1990) to comedian Vic Reeves (1991) to the character of Garth (portrayed by Dana Carvey) from the 1992 film, Wayne's World. On leaving the "Rat Trap", Joe has assumed the identity of each BIG RAT subject and acts and speaks using their mannerisms. Edited versions of the trailers missing the BBC Two voiceovers and logos are included as special feature material on the Region 2 release of the Joe 90 DVD box set.
Authentic 1960s associated media for Joe 90 included a Century 21 Toys range comprising friction-drive and battery-operated versions of Professor McClaine's Jet Air Car and Sam Loover's futuristic saloon. Also available were Joe's WIN briefcase (complete with replica gadgets and pistol) and his WIN badge (reading "Most Special Agent"). Joe 90 was also given its own weekly comic, Joe 90 Top Secret, which ran for 34 issues and narrated the TV episodes in strip form, while also including strips based on the TV series The Champions and Land of the Giants. In September 1969, Joe 90 Top Secret merged with the established Anderson tie-in TV21 (previously titled TV Century 21), which then came to be known as TV21 and Joe 90. After a further 36 issues, Joe 90 strips were dropped from the comic and the new title discontinued in favour of the original TV21.
The 1990s were marked by a considerable interest in old TV series from the 1960s and 70s – Joe 90 was one of those that was among the repeats and was also the subject of a strip series in the Funday Times section of The Sunday Times. Strips from Joe 90 Top Secret were reprinted in a new publication, Joe 90, which was launched to tie in with the 1994 BBC re-runs but which also, after just seven issues, merged into a related comic, on this occasion Fleetway's Thunderbirds. Other Joe 90 print media include 1968 and 1969 Joe 90 annuals from Century 21 Publishing and two short paperback novels, Joe 90 and the Raiders (by Tod Sullivan) and Joe 90 in Revenge (by Howard Elson), published by May Fair Books.
VHS and DVD
In the United Kingdom, the earliest home releases of Joe 90 in the 1980s were controlled by "Channel 5", later re-branded as "PolyGram Video". Released in an eight-volume series and re-packaged in 1992, the set included "The Most Special Agent", "Splashdown", "Attack of the Tiger" and "Arctic Adventure" in their re-edited forms from the 1981 compilation film The Amazing Adventures of Joe 90, which itself received three video releases both in PAL and NTSC format between 1981 and 1986. The 1980s and 90s VHS releases used 16 mm prints, which were of a quality poorer than that of the original film.
In September 2002, a DVD box set of all 30 Joe 90 episodes, sourced from a digital remaster of 35 mm film prints, was released in Region 2 by Carlton. The five component discs were also released individually at intervals between September 2002 and January 2003, and the episodes were also marketed in a new five-volume VHS package. A North American set from A&E debuted in July 2003 before a Region 4 version appeared in October. A French-language release of Joe 90 – Agent Très Spécial (English: Joe 90 – Very Special Agent) hit the Canadian market in 2004. With these DVD releases, the component episodes of The Amazing Adventures of Joe 90 were made commercially available in their unedited form for the first time.
|Joe 90 DVD Box Sets|
|Title and Country||Region||Technical Specifications||Distributor||Special Features||Release Date(s)|
|Joe 90 – The Complete Series
|1||A&E Home Video||29 July 2003|
|Joe 90 – Agent Très Spécial
||25 May 2004|
|Joe 90 – Complete Series
(Both Regions 2 and 4)
|Joe 90 – Complete Series
||Beyond Home Entertainment||8 October 2003|
Blu-ray releases (UK)
|This is Supermarionation/HD21||"The Most Special Agent", "Hi-Jacked"
Also includes episodes from other Supermarionation series
|20 October 2014|
|Joe 90 – Volume 1||"The Most Special Agent", "Hi-Jacked", "Splashdown", "Operation McClaine", "Three's a Crowd", "International Concerto", "Big Fish" & "The Unorthodox Shepherd"||29 September 2018|
|Joe 90 – Volume 2||"Relative Danger", "Business Holiday", "King for a Day", "Double Agent", "Most Special Astronaut", "Arctic Adventure", "The Fortress" & "Colonel McClaine"||10 December 2018|
|Joe 90 – Volume 3||"Project 90", "The Race", "The Professional", "Lone-Handed 90", "Attack of the Tiger", "Talkdown", "Breakout" & "Mission X-41"||10 December 2018|
|Joe 90 – Volume 4||"Test Flight", "Child of the Sun God", "Trial at Sea", "Viva Cordova", "See You Down There" & "The Birthday"||18 March 2019|
- Primary sources
- Written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Directed by Desmond Saunders (29 September 1968). "The Most Special Agent". Joe 90. Episode 1.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Ken Turner (22 December 1968). "The Unorthodox Shepherd". Joe 90. Episode 13.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Alan Perry (9 February 1969). "Talkdown". Joe 90. Episode 20.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Peter Anderson (16 March 1969). "Attack of the Tiger". Joe 90. Episode 25.
- Written by Pat Dunlop. Directed by Ken Turner (30 March 1969). "Mission X-41". Joe 90. Episode 27.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Alan Perry (6 October 1968). "Most Special Astronaut". Joe 90. Episode 2.
- Written by Gerry Anderson and David Lane. Directed by Ken Turner (15 December 1968). "Operation McClaine". Joe 90. Episode 12.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Alan Perry (17 November 1968). "International Concerto". Joe 90. Episode 8.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Alan Perry (20 October 1968). "Hi-jacked". Joe 90. Episode 4.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Peter Anderson (13 October 1968). "Project 90". Joe 90. Episode 3.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Leo Eaton (20 April 1969). "The Birthday". Joe 90. Episode 30.
- Written by Donald James. Directed by Leo Eaton (26 January 1969). "The Professional". Joe 90. Episode 18.
- Written by Shane Rimmer. Directed by Peter Anderson (8 December 1968). "Relative Danger". Joe 90. Episode 11.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Alan Perry (29 November 1968). "Business Holiday". Joe 90. Episode 14.
- Written by Tony Barwick. Directed by Alan Perry (5 January 1968). "Arctic Adventure". Joe 90. Episode 15.
- Written by Shane Rimmer. Directed by Leo Eaton (1 December 1968). "Big Fish". Joe 90. Episode 10.
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- Production locations