He does have his "You're never disabled so long as you have courage" line here but it's as close a mention to his health status as I recall. Take note, certain corners of the internwt. Diversity of representation is when you just put folk into stories without making a big deal of their status.
Considering that many of the original 1984 cast of characters have yet to feature significantly in the series, it seems odd that after only six episodes an entirely new character gets a story almost all to himself. It highlights how much the cartoon is a vehicle for showcasing new toys, and is perhaps why the order of the episodes as broadcast differs from the order as produced - pushing the introduction of new 1985 characters to the end of the season closer to the time they’d appear in shops, and giving the initial cast more time to become established. Only the Dinobots enter the series early on, by neccesity because they appear in the three part Ultimate Doom storyline more obviously than Skyfire does, and it’d be a glaring continuity error if they appeared there before being created by Wheeljack.
In production order, the introduction of new characters is much more spread out, with Skyfire being the first under the spotlight here. The pilot introduced us to no less than 30 different Transformers, giving an ensemble feel to the show. Of those, only Prime, Megatron, Starscream and Bumblebee have stood out as focus characters so far, with many of the others having only had a line or two in the proceedings. Because of this it almost feels odd to think of any of the mid-card cast getting an episode focused exclusively on them, because that would suggest that eventually everyone would get their turn in the limelight. The cartoon works in the early episodes as a team effort, and the pace and scale of the stories means that a lot of characters can be involved each week, so reducing that to hand over an entire episode to a single character gives Fire in the Sky an unusual narrative feel.
In future though, these spotlight stories will quickly become the norm with the sheer number of toys brought to market in 1985 and beyond, and the cartoon series production bible makes it very clear that most of the second season episodes were planned in advance to highlight and promote specific new toys on a pre-set rota.
On the origin of Skyfire, if the cartoon production bible is taken as gospel it seems his history was altered from his toy biography to suit the cartoon right from the start. In the character list Skyfire is the only one of the original Autobot rosta not to feature in the pilot episodes, and while his cartoon bio clearly uses the extended Marvel comics version as it’s start point (evidenced by the mention of details such as being able to reach speeds of mach 4.2), it plays down the ‘reckless and daring air warrior’ stance of the Marvel version, and expands instead on his position as a more rational scientist. By necessity to make the plot for Fire in the Sky work, Skyfire has to lean more toward pacifism than aggression. It also obviously replaces the concept of him being built on Earth with him crashing on it in the distant past instead.
This again shows how the characters’ personalities and actions are manipulated and changed to suit the plots of the episodes, rather than the other way round. This is made even more obvious by the unlikely notion that Starscream was a scientist in Cybertron’s pre-war days. This isn’t alluded to in any of his biographies, let alone specifically stated, and seems completely at odds with his personality. Compounding the problem is the flashback scene in which Starscream leaves Cybertron with Jetfire on their fateful mission of exploration, which can’t be justified in any way. If Earth was close enough to Cybertron for two Transformers to reach it in their vehicle modes, why weren’t the two planets linked sooner, and why do the Decepticons now need a space bridge to get back? Perhaps more obvious is the fact that Starscream appears in the flashback in his Earth jet mode, four million years before such a vehicle exists. This also means that Skyfire’s jet mode is still his Cybertronian form - which begs the question why he has a human sized cockpit. Where the boundary is between accepting what is seen on screen as cannon and what is just an animation error is severely tested here.
It’s also clear this back story has been shoehorned into the plot with little real thought for the consequences; Skyfire has swapped places with the Dinobots as the character lost in Earth’s past to allow Grimlock and friends to become the first Earth born Transformers in their own no less logical debut episode. One has to wonder if all of this is a chain of events caused by the pilot episode having left Shockwave on Cybertron in this continuity, requiring plots to be made up to cover the cracks and bios to be hastily rewritten (the cartoon bible entry for Snarl still refers to his past on Cybertron from the toy version). What’s certainly true is that the writers’ room on the comic put far more thought into the continuity of their stories than the cartoon equivalent.
These irritations aside though, this episode is a marked improvement on the last couple because it’s far slower paced and takes time to tell a story which works well in itself to create a moral dilemma for Skyfire. It also allows for Starscream’s duplicitous nature to become much more despicable than the immature braggart he has come across as so far, making the character really quite a dislikeable bully - perhaps the kind of kid everyone watching the cartoon has to put up with at school. The reaction on the faces of the Autobots when Starscream mercilessly shoots Skyfire helps to show how truly shocking this moment is - that Starscream can turn on an old friend in an instant when he feels threatened.
This then is obviously the moral of the episode, that friendship and trust have to be earned through our actions toward each other. Skyfire begins to show his gut instinct that the Decepticons’ actions are wrong almost immediately. He is shown as a gentle giant, reinforced by his ludicrous size when stuck outside the cave in which Megatron imprisons Spike and Sparkplug. As he peers though the entrance it almost seems like he could reach inside and pick up Megatron in one hand.
It’s interesting how episodes of this series carry morals almost subconsciously. They aren’t made explicit as was the case with other contemporary shows such as Masters of the Universe. Cartoons based on toy series were still a relatively new idea at this point because of a change in US law allowing them, and it’s almost as if the producers felt the need to inject some kind of moral or social comment for children to justify the purpose of it existing to sell toys. Examples of that so far have been Prime sacrificing himself twice, showing how leadership comes with responsibility; Chip’s introduction episode subtly addressing disability by taking mobility away from Prowl; and Divide and Conquer showing how teamwork can overcome adversity.
The business here of picking your friends carefully is set up in the opening scenes, where the basic difference between the factions is reinforced again; the Autobot larks in the snow are all in good fun and the camaraderie between them is tinged with affection. In contrast the Decepticons’ insulting jibes are far more barbed and snide as they work at the pole on the crystal shaft. These two scenes almost feeling like padding, but given the theme of this episode is centred on friendship they present the two sides very differently to the younger viewer, which subconsciously helps set up sympathy for Skyfire when he’s inducted into the wrong camp.
Not eschewing all of the standards set so far, Prime battles Megatron once again at the episode’s conclusion, rather effectively this time with shards from the all important crystal. However it is of course Skyfire who saves the day, getting revenge of sorts on Starscream, and the titular fire in the sky is shown as the Aurora Borealis above his ‘grave’. Whether this is supposed to be the actual northern lights, suggesting they’re created by the crystal, is debatable and scientifically worrying, but the fact that Skyfire has to sacrifice himself to correct his own mistake - something that Prime has done several times so far and lived through - may show how the legal problems with the character meant he was intended to be tidied out of the way in case he was never coming back. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
I put the Movie in the middle based on introduction of characters. But series 3 is last due to too many animation errors. How many times have you seen Ultra Magnus transform to robot mode & leave his trailer section behind him? Only Human.
I put the Movie in the middle based on introduction of characters. But series 3 is last due to too many animation errors. How many times have you seen Ultra Magnus transform to robot mode & leave his trailer section behind him? Only Human.
Here's the thing. Yes, some of the animation is crappy. But let's be fair, at this point the animation of the entire show is so old, it's all equally crappy. And some eps of season 3 have animation that hasn't been topped in Transformers (Call of the Primatives, for example).
I like S3 because it's far more interesting in scope, does a lot more with the plots that aren't just 'The Decepticons want to steal energy' and actually does stuff with characters as well. A lot of the plots are interesting sci-fi ideas or character-driven as opposed to just mashing everyone against Megatron's latest giant purple griffin.
The episode begins with something of an info-dump, informing the viewer as well as the Autobots about the place of dinosaurs in Earth history after tremors around the Ark lead to the revelation of some enormous skeletons. Meanwhile the Decepticons are learning all about hydro power through similarly awkward dialogue, despite having already covered that particular source of energy when they attacked Sherman Dam in the pilot episodes. Both scenes feel surprisingly forced and come across as a more deliberate attempt to be educational than anything previously, but then fall short by not actually going into any detail about either subject.
Fire in the Sky showed how the cartoon wrote its own introduction to the series for Skyfire, contradicting the Jetfire toy tech spec, and this episode effectively does the same for the Dinobots. The origins of the Dinobots are less clear cut than Jetfire’s when it comes to the toy tech specs, with only Snarl’s reference to “longing to return to Cybertron” conflicting with the route the cartoon takes (although bizarrely that reference remained in his cartoon bio anyway). The Marvel bios do muddy the waters further though, adding that both he and Swoop were given dinosaur forms by the Ark four million years in Earth’s past - which serves only to reinforce the point that the cartoon didn’t feel it had to be held to what was written about the characters on their toy boxes.
This is a shame really, because the creation of the first three Dinobots is another example of how the cartoon doesn’t step outside the bounds of simple functionality with its imagination. This episode is about introducing them, and the writing takes the shortest route to doing that by simply getting Wheeljack to build them. This again demonstrates the economical writing of Donald F Glut that we saw in Divide and Conquer, and sadly it seems no one in the writers’ room wanted to give any thought to the question of how Transformers create life. Here they just seem to do it. The machine shop visuals of the construction of the bodies is understandable, after all Transformers are not organic, but the Dinobots gain sentience simply through their construction, and are shown to have limited intelligence for no reason other than the fact that they originate from dinosaurs. There’s no hint that dinosaur DNA is in some way linked to their creation; the real dinosaurs are simply inspiration for hard hitting fighting machines (in itself debatable given Sludge and Slag are based on herbivores), so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be as articulate and intelligent as the other Autobots. Their purpose seems to be that of the Incredible Hulk in the Marvel Universe, demonstrating a ‘Hulk Smash!’ kind of chaotic but heroic mentality.
In addition, it isn’t too much of a leap to see similarities in the piecemeal construction of the Dinobots and the way they’re fired into life to the popularised film interpretations of Frankenstein. The lumbering violent forms of the Dinobots echo Boris Karloff’s performance in the 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror tale; powerful, childlike and outcast.
It’s debatable why the Autobots feel they need this extra firepower at all when they haven’t displayed any desire in the series so far to destroy the Decepticons, rather prevent them from doing harm. They claim to want to get the edge on their enemies, yet they outnumber them almost two to one and so far have foiled every plan Megatron has come up with; Optimus is clearly of a mind not to deal a killer blow as he has had the chance several times.
On the flip side, this simple creation process does raise the question as to why Shockwave isn’t knocking out new Decepticons by the battalion now Megatron is able to deliver energon to Cybertron via the space bridge. That said, the Shockwave of the cartoon is initially not seen as the cold, logical scientist shown in the comics. His bio is completely different and labels him the “Caretaker of Cybertron” with “no greater ambitions”.
Of the characterisation in the episode, it’s nice that Huffer stays true to himself and worries that everything is going to go wrong, which it inevitably does, and there are other moments in the story that pleasingly touch on personalities and abilities even if it’s just Trailbreaker being the force shield guy again and Sunstreaker worrying about being punched in the face marking his paintwork.
Oddly, Prime leaves Bumblebee, now embedded as the smallest and weakest Autobot, in charge of the Ark while the others leave to stop the Decepticons. This is patently stupid, but means Wheeljack won’t face any opposition when he returns to his creations; which he does to upgrade their brains enough to give them sense, but again not enough to make them intelligent. Is the idea that being newborns the Dinobots are effectively babies? It doesn’t seem like it because of the way Wheeljack can just upgrade them; it seems more that their position is almost deliberately as subservient drones to be wheeled out as shock troops when necessary. This attitude is also present in the way Optimus ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings’ Prime allows them to be walled up alive like some medieval torture when he decides Wheeljack’s idea hasn’t worked. The cartoon skips over quite how horrific that moment actually is. Discarding the imperfect is hardly in the ethos of the Autobots but shows Prime’s surprising disregard for the Dinobots as sentient life until he admits his mistake at the end of the episode. It’s a clunky moral, and one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as there’s no comeback for his actions, but as a box ticking exercise never being too big to admit your mistakes at least works alongside the other vague attempts morals the show has pumped out so far. The awkward relationship the situation creates though is useful in providing a reason why the Dinobots don’t ever quite gel with the rest of the Autobots, and Prime in particular.
Interestingly, the Dinobots are the only characters in the series so far with robot modes out of scale with their toy equivalent (apart from Ironhide and Ratchet, whose cartoon forms don’t look anything like their toy ones anyway), purely to add to their imposing presence. Being the biggest and heaviest of the Autobots, naturally the Dinobots are also the only ones that can magically fly unaided. Once again the cartoon goes for shortcuts rather than sense, Glut cutting exposition and saving animation wherever possible. Other examples of that in the episode’s conclusion include Wheeljack suddenly possessing the power to take out Megatron with a single shot (and in that one action proving the Autobots don’t need the Dinobots anyway), and the unlikely premise that Wheeljack can fire Sideswipe and Bluestreak’s weapons at his comrades to dry them out and then recharge their batteries.
However, we have already proven that it is very easy to pick apart any of these cartoon episodes. They don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny. The question is one of whether the stories are enjoyable, and this one is just as good an introduction for the Dinobots as Fire in the Sky was for Skyfire, albeit one that is more rushed and skips over the moral questions it raises rather than having a go at examining them.
Have you noticed that between comic and cartoon Jetfire and Dinobots effectively swap origins? One is made on Earth, the other was marooned from Cybertron years ago.
Yep. I mused on that a bit in my Fire in the Sky write up. The way the cartoon messes around with the history as told by the tech specs and comic is interesting. I was wondering if they were swapped because Shockwave is kept on Cybertron, meaning there's no menace on Earth for the Dinobots to be resurrected to combat. The end result is two histories for the Dinos and Jetfire that don't make sense, whereas the comic versions fit much better.
It must have all been rushed because Snarl's cartoon bio still talks about him missing Cybertron, and I also find it interesting that Shockwave's cartoon bio is completely different to the Marvel one. Calling him a 'caretaker with no greater ambition' is completely wrong!
Another illogical premise gives way to a reasonably entertaining episode as Skyfire returns from the dead to become the Autobot equivalent of the local bus service. Fire on the Mountain has a lot going for it, but as we have already seen with several episodes, it isn’t wise to look too deeply beneath the surface. The first surprise is that Skyfire isn’t dead after all, which makes nonsense of the Autobots mourning him at the end of Fire in the Sky. Rather than praising his sacrifice, it now seems that he could simply have been dug from the ice and thawed out, as Sideswipe and Wheeljack do here. The fact Wheeljack is one of the Autobots fetching him does suggest that some thought may have been given to Skyfire needing repairs before coming back to life, but if that was in the original outline it gets compacted into to him being simply heated up; rather like the way in the last episode that Wheeljack dried out and then recharged the imprisoned Autobots - simply by shooting at them. Another example of the way script may not have translated fully to screen in this is the way Megatron refers to his new weapon as a ‘frame’ made from the stolen metal bars. Instead they seem to have been melted down to cast a less grand (and once burnt out decidedly phallic) gun.
As well as Wheeljack, Sideswipe is also a sensible choice for the recovery mission given his piledrivers can crack the ice, but there is also the fact that these two Autobots are the only ones with bios that mention flying, which would obviously assist with reaching the North Pole quickly. Maybe it’s overlooked that Wheeljack has a range of only 800 miles, and Sideswipe can fly for just two minutes, but the thought at least seems to be there, if not explicitly mentioned, as to why the Autobots have to travel the incredible distance to the North Pole to resurrect Skyfire for the purpose of airlifting other Autobots the shorter distance to Peru. So, points for some thinking can be awarded, even if the script overlooks giving us that explanation. That doesn’t excuse though the ‘making it up as we’re going along’ feel to the ongoing plot though, as the writers suddenly realise that to travel any real distance the Autobots need some kind of shuttle.
This of course means that Skyfire has to maintain his larger than life appearance, and in this episode he’s shown to be large enough in jet mode to carry a sizable number of Autobots inside him. Large enough in fact that the cockpit would fit an Autobot rather than a human - something that came in to question in his introduction episode when it is established that he is still in his Cybertronian mode.
It’s easy to overlook the flaws in the plot though because this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that manages to pack some interesting character tit-bits into the usual breakneck pace. Douglas Booth is on writing duties, whose previous effort Roll For It, was equally thought provoking in how it introduced Chip.
For example, this episode carefully develops the relationship between the three Decepticon jets, giving Thundercracker and Skywarp characters as well defined as Starscream’s. After the testing of the gun Thundercracker speaks out when Starscream lies and blames him for the poor quality of the steel frame, leading to his indecision later in the episode over whether to let Skyfire destroy the super weapon or not. On one hand, he muses, Starscream would take the credit anyway if he defeated Skyfire, but on the other he could blame Starscream for the weapon’s destruction if he just kept out of it and let Skyfire do it. Starscream overhears his thoughts though, and then uses this to blackmail him. It’s a small moment, but unusual in the straightforward black and white battle most episodes present and brings Thundercracker to life. Then at the episode’s conclusion Thundercracker’s annoyance at how he’s been dealt with even gives him the temerity to criticise Megatron’s leadership.
Another thing that stands out in this episode is the quality of the animation. The characters are better defined than usual in many shots, and the choice of camera angles is often low to add to the dynamic nature of the posing. Examples of that would be when Sideswipe is cutting Skyfire from the ice, when Brawn manages to steal Megatron’s canon, and Soundwave’s action pose when firing Megatron - which is almost anime-esque in energy.
It’s nice too that Windcharger finally gets some attention, and Brawn also gets to steal the limelight again. Splitting the focus on the huge number of Autobots on the rosta can’t have been an easy job for the writers, but some seem to feature more than others - notably Wheeljack because of his role as engineer, and also Trailbreaker seems to turn up a lot to use his shield. The fact that Prime and Bumblebee are the key players though is made clear again at the start, when of all his team it’s Bumblebee that Prime asks why he thinks the Decepticons would steal the metal bars. Why Bumblebee? Jazz was clearly shown as the second in command in the pilot episodes, but since then it’s Bumblebee who is treated like one.
When it comes to it, much of this episode is a big fight - but the action is so tightly choreographed and injected with characterisation that it never becomes dull. Shifting the action to the Andes seems to be purely to give the mysterious crystal a back story that gives it an element of stereotyped mystery and magic, evidenced in the local characters and Luisa. It’s odd that no direct connection is made between this crystal and the one at the North Pole given the other links between the episodes, in fact with the mines in Burma too, but as another strike plane focussed episode, this time resurrecting Skyfire and giving Thundercracker a character, it’s a great companion piece to Fire in the Sky and equally as entertaining.
Watched in sequence FOTM suddenly feels much more kinetic and full of beans than the previous episodes. Even the fights have more energy and verve to them. Barrels along like a rocket. The Brawn v Megatron subplot is quite fun and Windcharger gets something to do!
Yes. It's mostly a big fight but the characterisations really add to it, esp Thundercracker, and it's fought on different fronts for variety. It's creative and the animation is more stylized. Great episode.
As with the two episodes featuring Skyfire, SOS Dinobots and War of the Dinobots run together as a two parter - presumably split up in the broadcast order for the sake of variety. This second introductory Dinobot episode could be criticised for using the same basic premise as Fire in the Sky, but the difference here is that Grimlock is persuaded to change allegiance because of his own delusions of grandeur, rather than Skyfire’s simple gullibility. Never-the-less, Megatron pulls off the same ruse twice in the space of four episodes, which should at least provide Optimus Prime with an agenda for Autobot in-service training days.
After establishing this week’s source of power (a meteorite heading on a collision course with Earth, which the writers can be forgiven for because they must have been running out of options by this point; a super charged meteor is no less unbelievable than a mighty power crystal in Peru) the second half of the Dinobots’ introduction starts with the Decepticons apparently evaluating their performance against the new Autobots in their previous encounter. Megatron is quite scathing of his troops’ inability to combat them, conveniently forgetting that he himself spent most of that battle incapacitated by a single shot from Wheeljack. If the encounter under review isn’t the one from SOS Dinobots that in itself opens up the first evidence of an untelevised story, however it seems more likely in terms of continuity that it is the first meeting.
For once the plot isn’t irrational or illogical, possibly because unusually it is derived from character and personality rather than the other way round, and it shows how even Megatron is concerned by the power of the Dinobots - the first time he has admitted any kind of chink in his armour. At times his bravado and the patronising approach he takes to the ineptitude of his team comes across as someone having to ‘grin and bear it’ so to speak, that he has to put up with what he’s got but it doesn’t really matter because he’s powerful enough to resolve issues himself, but here he is pretty up front with the rest of the ‘cons that the Dinobots have tilted the power balance in favour of the Autobots. His solution to look for a weak spot and then use that to turn the Dinobots against the Autobots is very fitting given the somewhat underused theme of ‘deception’ indicated by the Decepticon name; Megatron is being pleasingly clever for once here - his approach isn’t about strength and domination through firepower and oppression.
Soundwave then is tasked with finding the weak spots, and here unusually performs his own stealth operation because of his mind reading ability. Rather than ejecting Laserbeak or Ravage to spy on the Dinobots as would be usual, he has to go himself - which leads to the unlikely sight of one of the largest Decepticons trying to quietly sidle up on Grimlock and co so he can get close enough to use his parlour trick. There is a convenient bit of shorthand going on here - Laserbeak could eavesdrop, but not mind read, so in an animation-light moment Soundwave gets to use an often forgotten ability from his tech spec and hear the thoughts of the Dinobots with very little need for anything to move on screen.
The result of this is that Megatron labels the Dinobots hostile, stupid and arrogant (although it does sound like he calls Grimlock ‘elegant’, which conjures interesting images of him trying to use vanity as a weak spot). This gives rise to the plan of making Grimlock feel superior to Optimus Prime and manipulating him into attacking him.
It’s important to remember that Grimlock hasn’t been hypnotised into doing this, he is doing it of his own free will based on an amoral desire for strength and power, and points have to be deducted here for the being bricked up and discarded moment from the previous episode not being brought back up when Grimlock confronts Prime. As discussed previously, that moment is so horrific that it would be nice to see Prime try to justify it, but perhaps it would have been too intricate a plot thread to try and explain through dialogue to a viewer who may not have seen SOS Dinobots.
Meanwhile in the Autobot camp, Optimus is pleased enough with the way the Dinobots have worked out that he orders the construction of two more. Snarl’s ability to absorb solar power is specifically highlighted by Wheeljack when he is introduced, straight off the tech spec, but Swoop’s unique flying ability is a bit of a damp squid considering all five Dinobots can mysteriously fly in robot mode anyway. While talking about abilities, it’s also worth pointing out that yet again Trailbreaker is wheeled out as the force field guy, this time trapping the meteor in an energy cage to dampen the explosion when it detonates.
Of note too in this episode is the way that Grimlock’s head undergoes a redesign from his previous appearance, making it much more angular and aggressive. This seems to have been a conscious decision to change his look, because the Sunbow animation model reference for Grimlock shows the second head squeezed onto the sheet after the initial design was done. It’s a significant improvement, and makes a tremendous difference to his presence. The Dinobots didn’t do too well in the way their toy heads were simplified for the cartoon, making them far too rounded and dopey looking.
Because this episode focuses on the response the Decepticons make to the presence of the Dinobots, there is a nice symmetry between it and SOS Dinobots in that the first half of the story is about the Autobot point of view, and the second the Decepticons’ reaction. It covers moral issues to a degree, while also packing in several stand out battles in that not only does Optimus have to battle the three renegade Dinobots, but the Dinobots battle themselves as well as the Decepticons. As a fight card that’s a pretty attractive proposition for one episode, and beats the usual title bout between Prime and Megatron by some way.
On top of that is the character development that Grimlock gets in the story, which on the surface seems slender at best, but when examined closely leads the viewer deeper into considering the nature of the intelligence of the Transformers. The Dinobots are created on Earth, have new brains, and are clearly intended to be subservient heavy artillery, yet Grimlock’s reasoning allows him to see himself as superior to Prime because he is stronger. Ultimately he admits to feeling jealous of Prime’s leadership, and appears to relent having understood the emotion. So here is a new robot life learning emotions by experiencing them, which in itself shows that there is no specific limitation placed on the Dinobots development by Wheeljack; they can learn and grow. However because their speech patterns don’t change, and their intelligence seems to peak somewhere below the rest of the Autobots, it gives the impression that being created on Earth with limited resources they are missing some Cybertronian element that gives them a permanent learning disability.
With episodes like this it’s no wonder the toy range took off the way it did. When Chip says at the start of the episode, “No matter how many times I see it, it’s always outrageous” as the Autobots transform, it’s a none-too-subtle reminder that this is a show designed to sell transforming robot toys. But when it’s done right it becomes so much more than just that, and this episode encapsulates all that is great about the early days of the range - interesting characters, a wide variety of transformations, plots that explore motives and desires on top of the backbone of the quest for energy and the conflict between the two factions. As a whole it’s a package that inspires, illustrates and entertains in equal measure.
It’s hard to look at this episode in isolation without coupling it with its other two parts. Unlike the first part of the three-part pilot story, which had the impact of introducing the Transformers for the first time, this one is much more a setup for the main attraction than it is a good story in its own right. It does though have one of the most cataclysmic cliff-hangers of the entire series, which makes it worth wading through the first fifteen minutes.
It is almost unique in the first series in that it focuses as much on human characters as it does robots, which is frustrating because the opportunity to tell us more about them is largely denied by the nature of the plot. Sparkplug gets a lot of screen time for example, but because of his role as a mindless stooge the story can’t give us any more detail about him or his life. Spike’s mechanical response to his father’s predicament doesn’t really give us any more to go on with him either. Then there is the introduction of Dr Arkeville, done largely as Chip’s was after the effect. He is already working with the Decepticons at the start of the story and is visually every inch the mad scientist. Sadly though he has no more character depth than that, and leaves the viewer without a plausible reason as to why he would want to help Megatron pull off a plan to destroy his own planet. Perhaps it’s implied by the skull cap and robotic hand that he feels he is more robot than human, but once again the cartoon scuffs over motives in favour of using stereotypes for the sake of speed.
Conversely, the question of why Megatron needs a human to help him create hypno-chips could lead to an interesting exploration of exactly how much the Transformers can discern about human biology from their cybernetic perspective - clearly not a lot going by their need to use Arkeville - but this interesting premise is also totally ignored; perhaps because the Decepticons don’t have a natural scientist on Earth, which might also be why Arkeville is introduced in the first place. They have no equivalent to Ratchet and Wheeljack because of the way Shockwave is misused.
In fact the increased presence of the human characters in this episode only serves to show why most fans prefer the stories that don’t feature humans at all. The Transformers aren’t shining examples of three-dimensional characters by any means, but they’re far more interesting than the supporting cast on offer. There’s something comforting about hearing Sunstreaker moaning about his new hydrofoils not matching the colour of his paintwork - the adherence to the character biographies is forced but reassuring. In fact the most vain of the Autobots gets no less than three lines in this episode highlighting his primary character trait - his name must have been on the ‘toys to push this week’ list. It’s also nice to see Prowl feature again, this time in a role more in keeping with his position as military strategist for the Autobots. Windcharger gets to use his magnetic field, although his character otherwise seems totally at odds to the speed freak indicated by his bio; “Enthusiastic but impatient” he is not. Cliffjumper too gets to use his glass gas gun, and it’s happily named as such, but what the depth gauge is about is anyone’s guess. Surely internal sensors would make more sense.
Very quickly the series has become a global affair, with the Arctic and Peruvian jaunts of recent episodes matched in this one by Megatron’s desire to go all the way to a solar power plant in India just to mount his deception. Oddly the Autobots eschew the recently installed Skyfire air service and opt to ‘roll out’ for the journey, possibly due to a lack of joined up thinking in the writers’ room, or possibly due to the fact there seems to be a limit placed on the number of individual characters shown in each episode. Past the pilot the viewer is only ever treated to a subset of the Autobots each week, with the others mysteriously absent or said to be ‘on patrol’.
When broken down into basics, what this episode needs to do is demonstrate the power of the hypno-chip and arrive at a point where the space bridge transports Cybertron to Earth for the cliff-hanger. It almost manages this convincingly, and until the second aborted attack on the Ark things do seem to go well for Megatron. The main Autobot force is distracted in India, allowing a covert Decepticon mission to gain entry to the Ark and abduct Sparkplug as part of the questionably named ’Operation Guinea Pig’ (that Soundwave didn’t get to eject a cassette while saying this is a crime). Sparkplug is then implanted with the new hypno-chip device so he can be used as a plant at Autobot HQ to switch off the defence alarms and allow a larger Decepticon detachment to mount a surprise attack.
Consider - what is the objective of the second Decepticon attack? Are they trying to destroy the Autobots by using Sparkplug to disable the ship’s defences, or simply prove the hypno-chip’s use? Why does Sparkplug need to disable the Ark’s defence alarms for the Decepticons to invade when earlier three of the cassettes walked straight in unchallenged? Then when Spike uses fire retardant foam of all things to dispel the Decepticon attack it makes a nonsense of the last ten minutes.
The conclusion of the episode though makes up for the preceding silliness, and is attractive because of its potential to be a game changer. Megatron’s plan of bringing Cybertron to Earth and then enslaving the population to work as Energon producing drones is possibly the most audacious idea he has in the entire series, and the visuals that go with this as the Transformers’ homeworld emerges from space above the Earth are suitably dramatic. Perhaps it seems odd that something as important as aligning the first pylon is left to Sparkplug, but then that does reinforce the point of the episode about humans being used as slaves. Odder is the way that Optimus believes Megatron without question when he is told that not aligning the pylons will catapult Cybertron irrevocably into deep space because he is using the knowledge of the viewer from when Shockwave mentioned this a few minutes before rather than his own experience.
However Prime’s dilemma does make for a superb ending. As raging winds tear at the Earth and Cybertron appears, it’s Optimus himself who has to complete Megatron’s plan to ensure the safety of their world, only to put the human one in mortal danger. It’s a much bigger idea than the show has presented so far, and a great hook to bring the viewer back next week.
Not the best episode of the run so far, but certainly the one with the biggest scope. Makes Megatron look like the planet killer he ought to be. My question about it, if you wade through the ramble above, is what motivates Arkeville to betray his entire race? And where did Megatron find him? He's got no back story.
Because it draws everyone together over three parts it has the feel of an end of season finale, but it's more like a summary of developments so far before the next batch of new character intros. It's very uneven this first season.