The World of Joe 90
Ian Coomber acts as our tour guide to some wild and far flung places as we piece together the world of Joe 90. Pack your passports and your WIN briefcase, you might find more than you bargained for…
Supermarionation series such as Stingray and Captain Scarlet may have featured a world where individual nations had set aside their differences and worked together, but it has to be said they did so with the benefit of their enemies coming from some rather uncharted territories. The world of Joe 90 meanwhile, which is largely earthbound and only ventured into the shallowest of oceans, naturally needed its enemies to come from more routine locations. Much like the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, organisations like the World Intelligence Network were still comprised of allied countries spread out across the globe, but that’s not to say international co-operation was unanimous.
Throughout the series the McClaines thwarted threats throughout the world, albeit one which was slightly different to our own. Despite most of their exotic locations eventually remaining unidentified with even border control guards only welcoming them to “our country”, WIN’s most special agent’s initial missions all took place in fictional lands. In this way Joe 90 was able to offer a fantastic vision of a world which was not only populated by diverse cultures with unique charms, but in keeping with its predecessors, had also overcome the Cold War. Although we could only guestimate the location of places referred to merely as “hostile territory”, here’s a guide to where Joe’s successful operations can be pinpointed at least on WIN’s map of the world, if not our own.
The Amaztecs – Child of the Sun God
Although not a specific country, the Amaztec tribe flourished hundreds of years ago prior to European contact. Essentially nothing more original than Amazonian Aztecs, the beliefs of their remaining descendants are hijacked by a criminal group posing as the God of darkness Huitzilopchtli, enabling them to procure a rare paralysing blow dart poison with which they hold four world leaders hostage.
With the help of Dr. Aston’s knowledge of their customs however, including their belief that children are sacred, Joe is able to pose as the child of sun God Quetzalcoatl. By gaining the Amazetec’s trust himself he is able to oust the criminals and recover the antidote needed for the world presidents. In order to do so however, he has to overcome the trial of entombment, something which is exactly as it sounds.
Ardaji – King for a Day
After the assassination of its Sultan by Regent Shazar, WIN is needed to intervene in the power struggle of Ardaji, a Muslim country situated in the Middle East. With strict customs governing the coronation of Prince Kahib who has also been kidnapped, Joe 90 utilises the brain patterns of the royal tutor to take his place and fool the Regent. Although it has to be said that a British boy taking the place of an Arabian would raise a few eyebrows in these more enlightened times, the episode is also the best example of bringing a wider range of diversity to the series.
By passing all of Shazar’s tests, – refusing to eat after landing in Ardaji until returning to the royal residence, not meeting the Vizier until the coronation itself – Joe manages to convince even the most (wrongfully) trusted advisor that he is the true Prince. The ruse may not last long, but luckily it was just long enough for the real Kahib to be rescued and installed on the throne of the country he was born to rule.
Borova – Business Holiday
A country known for its sun, sea, and sand, Sam Loover recommends Borova when Professor McClaine decides it’s time for a much needed holiday. He also recommends its surfing, much to Joe’s delight, but fails to mention how the newly installed government is threatening world peace by taking over a former World Army base.
Situated just outside the town of Benelita, the Army were forced to leave but did so on the condition that the base would be destroyed. Not sticking to their side of the deal however, instead it becomes the new property of the Borovian Army, along with all the missiles still stationed there. Although the seaside resorts of Retva and the cheekily named Pullova remain unscathed by WIN’s mission, that didn’t stop miles of forest from being decimated by the armoured A14, not to mention the tanks sent to stop it, during Joe’s mission to destroy the base in spectacular Supermarionation fashion.
Eastern Alliance – Attack of the Tiger
Although obviously being an antagonistic super-power, it is never made clear exactly which countries make up the Eastern Alliance, and even the little evidence we are given is conflicting. Joe is sent to destroy a missile base before it launches a nuclear device into orbit (contravening their disarmament agreement in the process), and whose own radar screens seem to place it in the middle of Japan’s largest island, Honshu. The intelligence which preceded this meanwhile, was gathered by an agent who was shot when trying to cross a land border almost immediately after surveying the base.
The depiction of its soldiers is also somewhat erratic; although the redressed Western character puppets can be seen as a money saving necessity, their only dialogue being the repetition of the same stock phrases does reduce them to a basic stereotype which is now thankfully an element of a simpler past rather than the idealistic future Gerry Anderson’s series often tried to depict. That said however, the appearance of one of our own stiff-upper-lip British fighter pilots does at least offer some small self-aware measure at redressing the balance.
Kuchunga – Colonel McClaine
With the development of the Kuchunga Tunnel, a project which would allow travellers to drive between Kuchunga and its unnamed neighbour in less than an hour, comes the prospect of economic strength. But like other massive projects it’s not without risk either, as the resources needed puts a massive strain on both countries. Little else is revealed about Kuchunga itself, although sabotage of the tunnel’s construction forces Joe to traverse its neighbour, a journey described as “200 miles of the worst country in the world.” A route which passes the Lamona River and over a tough mountain range with threats of storms and landslides, all the while carrying a cargo of liquid explosives sabotaged to detonate at 5,000 feet above sea level.
Porto Guava – Big Fish
When a submarine takes on water through a faulty missile hatch, not only does it find itself crashing on the sea bed, but having drifted 10 miles off course, does so in waters belonging to Porto Guava. A military dictatorship under the control of President Juan Chavez who has recently been persuaded to hold free elections; something which the discovery of the submarine would jeopardise creating a situation Shane Weston can only describe as “dynamite”. Something which also makes international espionage the only solution, and which is made even more dangerous with the threat of firing squads and a shoot first, ask questions later mentality.
Despite the dangers however, Mac and Joe’s appearance as holidaymakers doesn’t raise any eyebrows from Miguel, their charter boat skipper who is more than happy to accept their haggled price (i.e. bribe) to use his boat unaccompanied. Stylised around Cuba – Miguel’s cousin in Miami is hardly accidental – as well as similar Central American and Caribbean countries, the naming of Porta Guava after a tropical fruit can also be seen as a play on ‘Banana Republic’, a term first coined in the region.
Santa Marina – The Fortress
As would be expected from a South American country sharing a border with Panama (locating it in real world Columbia) Santa Marina is home to a lush rain forest. It is here where a secret WIN operation goes wrong however, requiring Joe 90 to undertake a rescue mission of not just agent Fleming, but also his microfilm detailing the location of every other agent in the region. Arriving at the Loreno river Joe commandeers a hovercraft left by the previous agents and sets off on the long journey to the titular Fortress, a journey which even requires him to camp overnight amongst the local wildlife. Breaking into the interrogation room he’s able to reach agent Fleming in time to save him from his captors, although the fact the room is bugged means it’s a race back down the river to reach the microfilm before they do.
Soviet Russia – The Most Special Agent
Although Joe 90 isn’t the only series in which the pilot episode stands out against the regular episodes, it is one which does so in a rather unusual way. After being made aware of the BIG RAT and the opportunities it presents to international espionage, Shane Weston envisages a scenario in which Joe might steal a MIG 242, a Russian fighter jet which is faster and more heavily armed than anything developed in the West. So far, so 60s, but in order to reaffirm how hypothetical his tale has been, Weston concludes by stating that in fact there is “no conflict between Soviet Russia and the West”, something Professor McClaine and Sam Loover are no doubt aware of, but which would be news to the audience at home watching in 1968.
Something half-way between the international co-operation seen in previous series and the real world Cold War antagonism, Weston describes Russia as being a competing super-power, but one which allows its pilots to be interviewed in London, and invites Western dignitaries to Moscow. This might just be to show off their latest (and superior) military capabilities, but by portraying Russia in such a way, Joe 90 gave young children and families their very own spy drama they could enjoy together whilst simultaneously adhering to the Supermarionation vision of nations finally uniting, and fighting enemies other than the more traditional foreign governments and agencies.
Our thanks to Ian for his informative trip across the world of Joe 90, certainly a fascinating place to visit! What’s your favourite episode of the series? Let us know in the comments section!
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