'THE THING IN THE ICE'
by Francis Moss and Ted Pedersen
Featuring: James, I.Q., Tracy, Gordo, Phoebe, Trevor, Coach Mitchell, Mr Farragut, Scumlord, Jaws, Nick Nack.
Synopsis: In Antarctica, a member of a polar exploration team, Ben, ventures down through a shaft in the ice. Finding an odd dome-like structure in an underground cave, he smashes it open with a pickaxe and unwittingly unleashes a terrible, tentacled monster living deep under the ice. Spitting what appears to be acid, it captures Ben before he's able to take the lift out of the shaft, then terrifies the rest of the team with its huge tentacles as they emerge from the ground. They climb in their helicopter and fly off, but it spits acid at the craft, taking out the rear propeller and causing the helicopter to spiral out of control.
By coincidence, James Bond Jr and his classmates have accompanied Phoebe's father by boat on a geological trip to the remote Station Brightstar on the frozen continent. Mr Mitchell and the class leave the boat onboard a derigible. As they fly over the landscape the pilot notices the damaged helicopter grounded below, and they land to try and help. It's the exploration team, led by a geologist called Sandy Shales, who tells them they are looking for Ben, their missing colleague. James, I.Q. and Coach Mitchell agree to help look for him. But they're not the only ones in the Antarctic: from a second ship offshore, Scumlord views proceedings via a camera on a spy-plane flying overhead. He sends Jaws and Nick Nack to find out what was the cause of the damage to the helicopter. Meanwhile, the pilot of the derigible gets a call from Mr Farragut, saying a serious storm is coming and that they need to get back to the ship as soon as they can.
The search party soon comes across Ben, incoherent and babbling about the creature. While Mitchell takes him back on the derigible to Mr Farragut's boat for medical assistance, James and I.Q. accompany Sandy to investigate. They soon find huge footprints. Nearby, James explores a cave entrance but is greeted with horrific shrieks; a huge, metallic tentacle snaps out of the darkness and grabs his leg, pulling him inside. He uses a flare gun to bring a rockfall on top of the tentacles, and the monster retreats. The gang head on towards the research station, where most of the complex seem to be in ruins - there are strange, twisted pieces of metal lying around in the snow. James heads to check out the cookhouse, but is cornered by Jaws and Nick Nack wielding lasers. He uses one of the metal fragments to bring a shed down on top of them, and escapes.
Offshore, Scumlord berates Jaws and Nick Nack via telescreen for having failed to discover what happened to wreak such havoc at the research station, and insists they bring back whatever caused it - while Phoebe, Tracy and Gordo take great pleasure in watching a seasick Trevor throw up. Mr Mitchell explains to the gang that a storm is blocking communications signals, meaning they can't get in touch with James. After rejoining the others for a snack break, James and Sandy head to explore the ruined research station - tailed by Jaws and Nick Nack - while I.Q. analyses the metal fragment they found. The horrible wailing begins again, and James and Sandy flee as a huge metallic monster bursts through the side of a hangar, firing lasers and acid jets at Jaws and Nick Nack.
James, Sandy and the bad guys are all cornered by the monster, and topple into a mineshaft. As they go down on the elevator, James suggests to Jaws and Nick Nack that they call a truce, as the monster is clearly after all of them, and they should work together to escape it. The crooks grudgingly agree - but as soon as they're out of earshot they discuss their plans to betray James at the first opportunity. On the ship, a scientist explains that the acid is a kind of digestive fluid for the creature; it will eat its way through almost anything. I.Q. calls James on the walkie and explains he's found the acid on the metal fragments - but he's soon attacked by the monster. He observes it liquefying and consuming metal debris, and realises that the creature wants metal, not people - this is why it attacked the helicopter, as it's made of metal.
Underground, James and Sandy find the robot's lair, full of square metal boxes. James deduces that these must be the monster's 'eggs', and the dome its 'nest', which is why it attacked Ben when he got close to them. When no-one's looking, Jaws and Nick Nack steal one of the blocks, and report to Scumlord; fascinated, he orders them to bring it back to him. But as they head for the mine exit they run into I.Q., who rejoins the group and explains the full story, as related to him by the ship's scientist - the creature is actually an experimental mining robot created by the polar research team, but they all fled when it turned on them and began to attack. Now the robot fends for itself, and has learned how to reproduce; the square boxes are actually its eggs, and Scumlord would like to use them to create his own army of deadly robots. Because Jaws has stolen one, the robot returns to protect the rest of its nest.
Jaws and Nick Nack are first to the exit, taking the elevator and leaving the others behind, having set off some dynamite to destroy James and his friends - but James uses one of I.Q.'s gadgets to hook onto the lift, pulling the three of them up along with it. As the lift rises, Jaws falls off while trying to save the 'egg', and tumbles back down the shaft. A huge explosion rocks the mine as the dynamite detonates. The robot and its nest are destroyed, and a badly singed Jaws climbs up the shaft a minute later. Back on the boat, Trevor mocks them all for being so scared of the robot, but is soon terrified himself when Gordo waves a fire hose around to simulate the robot, sending him running for the nearest portal.
Review: There's certainly an atmospheric - and menacing - feel to this very unusual episode right from the horror-movie outset; not only are there no cosy Warfield segments to lighten the mood, but the action takes place entirely in one of the world's most barren and inhospitable landscapes, and the tension is enhanced by bleak snowstorms and huge waves. Perhaps it's true to say that the old robot-turns-sentient chestnut is more sci-fi than espionage, and isn't exactly original, but the realisation here is surprisingly good - the gradual build-up from tentacled attacks to seeing the robot in full is nicely executed. The mournful wailing sound it makes is truly terrifying, and the metal cubes it protects as eggs make for a rather poignant touch, leaving us feeling rather sorry when it's blown to pieces at the end of the episode. One thing that's slightly disappointing, although perhaps not altogether unexpected, is the lack of any discussion whatsoever of the ethical implications of committing, if the creature is indeed to be called a life form, what could qualify as a deliberate mass extinction. Meanwhile, although S.C.U.M.'s involvement in the action is of course obligatory, the organisation's activities aren't by any means the central focus of the plot. This is best illustrated by Scumlord's very limited appearances - all of which are vague and don't really explain what he's up to in Antarctica - and Jaws and Nick Nack's uneasy truce with James. The real antagonist here, we're led to believe, is the robot; yet, unlike S.C.U.M., it's one we can't help but empathise with. Aside from Trevor's usual exploits - which somehow fail to amuse here - the bungling crooks provide the only light relief in an otherwise rather chilling tale.
Highs: The unusual plot and setting make for a welcome change to more traditional episodes, particularly because foiling S.C.U.M. isn't the primary motivation.
Lows: Trevor Noseworthy is seasick - again.
Gadgets & Gizmos: I.Q. produces a set of steel bolas, and a pair of walkie-talkies which can detect the creature's acid spray. But the real gadget of the day is that ass-kicking, acid-spitting, wailing giant robot. Shame it gets blown to smithereens.
Notes: This is one of the rare occasions on which Scumlord plays lead villain, although his role here is extremely limited and there's no direct confrontation.
Ted Pedersen is credited as 'Peterson' in this episode.
Who is the scientist who suddenly appears on board the boat, and seems to know everything about the robot? And if he knows so much, why didn't he pipe up and warn everyone about it before they went trekking off into the snow?
In final level of the SNES game, James faces Scumlord at S.C.U.M.'s Antarctic headquarters. This may be very loosely based on this episode. Indeed, if S.C.U.M. does have an Antarctic base it might explain why Scumlord is floating around off the coast in the first place.