Joe 90 is a 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”, 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 29, 1968 and April 20, 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.
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