The Random Episode Carusometer: Flash Gordon

Time to tune in to a random episode of a TV show, just in case I made a mistake and judged it before it had a chance to find its feet. This time, the Random Episode Carusometer turns the shades of ratings justice to implacably regard Flash Gordon, which got a four or “Major Caruso” for its fifth-episode verdict.

This time we tune in at random for episode 16, in which lots of people get locked up. Spoilers ahead.

The plot
As we all know by now, the planet Mongo’s just a step away in the world of Flash Gordon, thanks to the power of the Stargate. Sorry rifts. So, in each episode, in some sort of universal yin-yang thing, we swap a few Earth people for a few Mongolians (is that the right adjective?) and the two groups try to mess up the other’s planet.

Episode 16 starts with Ming the mid-level manager (his friends call him merciless) busily trying to weed out the genetically impure, as per The Code. I’ve no idea what The Code is, but despite being a dictator, Ming apparently can’t change it and thus he must kill an imperceptibly mutated baby. Fortunately, Flash saves the baby – but not the parents – and decides to take it to the realm of the genetically impure (no, not a Doctor Who convention) so that they can look after it in their unique, genetically impure way.

After listening to the complex, detailed but completely one-sided political history of the mutants, who have a nifty line in costumes – I suppose, if you’re stuck out by yourself with nothing to do but discuss how impure you are, making outfits for parties is one way to pass your time – Flash instantly decides he’d like to change the entire planet’s culture and attitudes. Fortunately, he knows the daughter of a dictator who can make things happen in a generation or so: Flash thinks long term.

Unfortunately, all goes wrong when the mutos abduct Ming’s little girl, who then surprisingly develops a little crush on the chief muto kidnapper. But oh no! Major plot development! It turns out they’re brother and sister, because Ming’s so evil he’d actually throw his own genetically imperfect son out into the wilderness thanks to The Code. Would you Adam and Eve it?

Back on Earth, Dale Arden – Flash’s high school love – is busy apologising to her fiancé about not telling him about aliens, Mongo, running around with that hairstyle, etc. But he turns out to have a Mongo brain chip in his head and leaves mid-conversation to go on a mission set for him by an evil blonde woman who’s vying for head minion’s job. He has to recover the IMAX cinema – or something that looks a bit fractally anyway. As you do.

Back on Mongo, the big-breasted bounty hunter, who normally hunts for teenage boy ratings while dressed like an extra from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, is running around looking for a plastic gadget that does things to rifts, assisted by Hans Zarkov, the comedy interest. After some really bad hand-to-hand combat against some even worse trained Mongo soliders (seriously, guys, use your guns occasionally), she gets captured, along with Hans.

Then everything turns out all right. Everyone gets released. Hooray!

Except Ming is like really mean to his little girl and the genetically impure people and he blows them up. The douche.

The verdict
While there is occasionally the merest glimmer of thought in the episode, it’s pretty much all just cliché after cliché after cliché. Low budget, poorly acted, not quite camp enough to be given the doubt but camp enough that it just looks silly: Flash Gordon is pretty much a train wreck of a show, the result of being asked to put together a major TV series on too little budget, with too few resources, in too little time and with too many compromises for demographics. It suffers from just enough imagination to tease but not enough imagination to lift it out of the ranks of the less than ordinary.

Characters, when they’re given any characterisation at all, are given the standard emotions that are written down in the golden book of sci-fi clichés. Heroes are heroic without much motivation or thought. Scientists are geeks and unmanly. Female bounty hunters must be implausibly hardcore in situations where they’d obviously get killed if anyone knew anything about fights. All bad girls are sensitive deep down and need love, either from their fathers or from a real man. The bad guy can never be trusted to keep his word, because only heroes keep their word. I’d go on, but I’m bored and they’re clichés so you know them already.

So The Random Episode Carusometer declares that Flash Gordon has actually dropped from its original rating and is now a pure five or “Full Caruso” on The Carusometer. Don’t waste any of your time with it.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.