One of the key purposes of a pilot episode is to answer questions that viewers (and financiers) may have about the format of the series. It can set up a few mysteries to engage the viewers for the rest of the series, but for the most part, a pilot should intelligently impart exposition through an exciting and intriguing plot. The Investigator, Gerry Anderson’s 1973 return to mixing Supermarionation with live action, has baffled fans for years. It’s a bizarre concept filmed in an equally bizarre way. We previously reviewed the film in full (which you can read here) and essentially concluded that it raises more questions than it answers.
If you are not familiar, The Investigator is a benevolent, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient alien being who has come to Earth from an unknown planet in the future. He wants to help humanity learn from its mistakes and make bad people repent for their crimes. In order to assist him “more easily”, The Investigator miniaturises a boy and a girl, John and Julie, and gives them a special car and boat to get around the island of Malta. The pilot film sees John and Julie pursuing Stavros Karanti, an art connoisseur who is attempting to steal a precious 14th Century masterpiece.
It’s quite a head-scratcher, and the questions which the pilot episode raises point to flaws in the format, or areas which needed further development. If this series had gone ahead, would those questions have been answered? Let’s explore those questions and plot-holes in order to speculate what could have happened if The Investigator became a full series.
I should preface by saying that had The Investigator been commissioned, I have a very strong feeling that a new “first episode” would have been produced. Lessons were learned during the disastrous production of the pilot which more than likely would have encouraged Gerry and co. to want to start all over again. With a healthy budget, one would assume that the series would have been more studio-based rather than facing the problems of taking the puppets on location again. The shoot in Malta had proved very difficult, but for the purposes of this article let’s assume that the series would continue to be set in glamorous Malta. My first question would therefore have to be:
Why did The Investigator come to Malta?
Malta is a very small country and in the grand scheme of things does not have a major crime problem. Yet The Investigator decided to make a small cave on the coast his hideout while John and Julie ran around the island to chase an art thief. From a production point of view, the location was chosen because Gerry was impressed with the island during filming of The Protectors. But surely an alien destined to fix all the wrongs in the world would want to focus on countries where crime poses a bigger risk to the population of the planet?
Maybe Malta was just a practice run for him and he had bigger plans to visit countries all over the world the right wrongs. This would have been extremely ambitious for the series but would have given the show the international flavour that 1970’s action adventure shows were desperately seeking.
Or, what if The Investigator was seeking out John and Julie specifically and thus came to Malta to track them down? If The Investigator did have plans to take his mission global, would John and Julie have gone travelling with him, or would new agents be chosen in each country? This brings us to a bigger question about the pilot episode:
Who were John and Julie and why did The Investigator choose them?
It’s difficult to like John and Julie because we learn next to nothing about them in the pilot film. They are a boy and girl who inexplicably have matching blue jumpsuits. That’s about it. Are they brother and sister? Are they friends? Are they in a relationship? Do they live in Malta? Are they just there on holiday? Do they have a family? Are they children, teenagers, or young adults? Consider what we learn about the Tracy family in Trapped In The Sky. We may not learn much about the individual characters’ quirks and personalities, but we at least get a grasp of the family dynamic and what they are doing.
One must assume that John and Julie were going to remain as the main stars of the series. A new first episode would desperately need to show how John and Julie became involved with The Investigator in the first place. The Investigator pilot film should have established all this but instead tried to show what a typical episode would be like, leaving all of us wondering how any of this came to be in the first place.
Let’s assume that The Investigator went looking for John and Julie specifically to help him because of their strong moral fibre and instinct for fighting injustice. But in the pilot they don’t sound especially excited to be doing all of this. In fact they seem to be doing it against their will and are thoroughly unprepared and scared by what’s going on. This isn’t helped by the fact that John and Julie are one-third their normal size. Which leads me to…
Why were John and Julie miniaturised?
The Investigator claims that John and Julie will be able to assist him more easily now that they are two-foot-tall. But it’s clearly a hindrance and for every moment that being tiny helps them out, there’s another which demonstrates how ruddy inconvenient it is. Maybe over the course of the series, John and Julie would have learnt how best to use their reduced stature while on missions. Future episodes could have put them in situations where being small actually gives them an advantage.
Are they going to be two-foot-tall forever now? We assume that it is only a temporary affliction but there’s no confirmation of that fact given. Maybe they were only miniaturised for this one episode, and future episodes would have seen them given different powers and abilities for fighting crime, although I get the feeling that this was supposed to be the main gimmick of the series and would probably have been worked into every episode.
Why Stavros Karanti?
Of all the horrible people in the world, why did The Investigator decide to go after an art thief who basically doesn’t harm anyone except a church? He also wasn’t a particularly hardened criminal and probably could have been broken with an egg spoon. Maybe The Investigator was trying to make John and Julie’s first mission an easy one, or maybe Shane Rimmer and Sylvia Anderson couldn’t think of anything else that would possibly happen in Malta when they were writing the script.
So yes, catching an art thief is something that two inexperienced and miniaturised teenagers could conceivably manage with The Investigator’s help. If, however, The Investigator really wants to stop humanity’s greed and injustice he should probably recruit some real secret agents who know a thing or two about capturing criminals. That ultimately would make for a much more exciting series – a special division of the CIA or MI.6 who use The Investigator’s powers to tackle seriously bad stuff going on in the world.
Ultimately, The Investigator as a character had a huge amount of potential and was a rather exciting idea. Unfortunately it was forced into a mediocre plot with a couple of mediocre characters. If The Investigator were ever revived as a series, one would essentially have to strip out every element of the original pilot film and just leave the title character. A secret service organisation receiving the assistance of an all-powerful alien being has exciting possibilities and a lot of dramatic potential. Based on Joe 90 and The Secret Service, I’m actually astounded that the Andersons didn’t do something more like that, rather than the bizarre story that we ended up with…
Read our full review of The Investigator here!