Previously on It’s Saturday morning – Do you know what your children are?, I’ve taken a look at Seasons One and Two of X-Men (aka X-Men: The Animated Series). Today I begin my journey through Season Three, beginning with the first eight episodes.
But before I get to that, let me rewind the clock 20+ years…
As previously noted, X-Men began airing in the US in late October 1992. UK viewers – who watched the show via the BBC – had to wait until late 1994 to see the first season.
As the BBC was considerably behind the US, the BBC was able to broadcast Season One and Season Two without a break between seasons. For UK viewers, this meant 26 episodes of X-Men – all airing once a week, for 26 weeks via Saturday morning kids show, Live & Kicking.
This broadcast schedule worked well for those 26 weeks, however, when Season Two was over the BBC was faced with a problem. Live & Kicking was scheduled to run for just over 30 weeks, meaning that there wasn’t room in the schedule to start & finish the third season of X-Men.
There was also another problem: The third episode of X-Men Season Three was the beginning of a five-part story – The Phoenix Saga. If the BBC was to continue airing episodes of X-Men in order it would need to take a break before the five-part story reached its conclusion.
Realising this situation was less than ideal, the BBC decided to air just three episodes – the opening two-part story, Out of the Past, as well as one other episode – No Mutant is an Island.
For now, the BBC was skipping The Phoenix Saga. No biggie, right?
Those who are familiar with No Mutant is an Island will know the episode includes one key plot point: A memorial service for Jean Grey. You see, Jean (sort of) dies during the events of The Phoenix Saga, so No Mutant is an Island has to reflect this situation in some way.
If No Mutant is an Island airs in the correct order, then the reference to Jean’s passing makes perfect sense. Of course, if it doesn’t air in the correct order it becomes a MAJOR spoiler and a rather confusing episode.
So yeah, the cat was out of the bag and viewers were left confused.
To make matters worse UK viewers would then have to wait a little longer to find out why the X-Men were holding a memorial service for a character, who as far as they were concerned, was still alive. In fact, they would have to wait until the series was moved to a new time slot the following year!
But before then, Season One and Two were repeated over the summer holidays, in an early morning slot, with one episode airing each day of the week. This gave viewers the opportunity to re-watch episodes while they patiently waited for the show to resume its run.
It felt like an eternity before Season Three continued, but when it did make its return thankfully the BBC went straight into The Phoenix Saga, before moving onto four additional episodes: Obsession, Cold Comfort and Savage Land, Strange Heart: Parts 1 & 2.
And then it went on a break. Again.
From this point onward, X-Men took yet another prolonged hiatus before it was finally moved to a Sunday morning slot (as part of kids show, Fully Booked). Here the remainder of Season Three was broadcast, along with most (but not all) of Season Four.
Some episodes of Season Four never aired on the BBC and no episodes of the fifth and final season aired.
To the best of my knowledge every episode aired on satellite television, but as mentioned in a previous post, this was during a time when the majority of UK households watched terrestrial television. If it wasn’t on one of the four ‘traditional’ TV channels, then a lot of people presumed it didn’t happen.
I’ll be honest, it was a good few years before I found out that X-Men ran five seasons. Had I known then what I now know about the quality of Season Five, I think I’d rather have continued living in blissful ignorance.
If you were one of the fans who managed to follow the show around the schedules, without missing an episode, well done! It wasn’t easy, was it?
OK, so that is a rundown of the truncated UK broadcast order for the show. Now it’s time for me to work my way through Season Three – watching the episodes in the order they appear on Amazon Prime Video.
Season Three comprises 19 episodes in total. Today I will be watching the first eight.
Out of the Past: Part 1
1min – The Morlocks are back!
1min 30secs – This storyline introduces Lady Deathstrike and the reintroduces the Morlocks.
1min 45secs – The animation has been given a considerable upgrade!
2mins – I say ‘considerable’ – in essence, the backgrounds are less ‘sketchy’ in appearance.
8mins – Flashback time! Parts of Wolverine’s past is explored in this episode, including his romance with Yuriko and his involvement with the Weapon-X Program. Maverick gets yet ANOTHER nameless cameo.
13mins – The animation looks better in this episode than it has in any of the previous seasons, but at times when the characters walk about their movements seem rather jerky.
14mins 45secs – It is revealed that Lady Deathstrike is Wolverine’s lost love, Yuriko. She also happens to be the daughter of the man responsible for implanting Adamantium in Wolverine’s body.
20mins – The episode concludes with Wolverine accidentally releasing an alien creature from a space ship. Silly Wolverine!
The slight change in animation quality takes a little time to adjust to, but overall this is a visual improvement. As for the quality of the story, while Out of the Past: Part 1 isn’t the greatest season opener it’s certainly not terrible.
This episode and the concluding part (see below) pave the way for the galaxy-hopping adventures to come this season. Yep, this season’s big focus is on space!
Out of the Past: Part 2
5mins – Jubilee has been hurt.
6mins – The Morlocks have also fallen victim to the alien creature, who appears to be drinking their essence. How rude.
10mins – With the Reavers also now victims of the alien creature, Deathstrike and Wolverine have to join forces.
10mins 30secs – This episode marks the second and final appearance of Lady Deathstrike in X-Men. Yuriko gets a cameo in a couple of episodes’ time, but Deathstrike is pretty much done.
11mins 30secs – With the slightly updated animation, Cyclops’s costume is now a shade darker than it was during Seasons One and Two. I like it.
17mins – There is a lot of neon in this episode. I feel like I’m in a rave.
19mins – The alien has been defeated; the Morlocks are fine; the Reavers have done a runner; and Lady Deathstrike has buggered off… never to be seen again.
20mins – The episode ends with a teaser for The Phoenix Saga. The teaser – a few flashes of new characters, plus some onscreen text – looks AS CHEAP AS HELL! Thank Zod then that The Phoenix Saga is 100 times better than this teaser.
Unlike Season One and Two, there story arc and structure isn’t quite as rigid for Season Three. There’s still a general theme running through the season (the Phoenix plot lines), but there are a few episodes that could have easily slotted into any other season.
The Phoenix Saga: Part 1: Sacrifice
So, this episode marks the beginning of a milestone for X-Men. Not only is this the first chapter in the ONLY five-part story in the entire series, but it is also the (temporary) beginning of the end for Jean Grey.
As a comic book fan, from the moment I caught sight of the title of this episode I knew what was to come; I knew that Jean’s days were numbered. X-Men was already must-watch TV for me, but now I simply couldn’t miss an episode.
As detailed above, in the UK, this was also the beginning of a new time slot for X-Men – the after school, teatime slot. This meant that (in no uncertain terms) I had to get my ass back home from school in time to watch each episode – no after school clubs, no play dates and no dawdling on the way home could derail my viewing.
My excitement level for these episodes was now off the scale.
3mins – This episode opens with a battle in space and a vision from the Shi’ar Empress, Lilandra. It is clear from the start that this is going to be an off-world adventure.
4mins – Xavier wants the X-Men to board a US space shuttle to investigate a distress call.
6mins – I love the fact that the X-Men are on a secret, stealth mission and yet they’re all dressed in bright coloured clothing. I guess sometimes, the black-clad outfits seen in the X-Men movies do kind of make sense.1
12mins 30secs – The alien villain known as Erik the Red has just been introduced, as has the big bad of this five-part story, D’Ken.
15mins 30secs – Erik the Red is very camp. He also appears to be wearing some kind of red bondage outfit.
19mins – The X-Men are heading back to Earth but the shuttle is damaged, leading Jean Grey to volunteer to pilot the craft. Clearly this is a SUICIDE mission, Jean!
19mins 30secs – Ah well, Jean is now piloting the shuttle which is about to be engulfed by a fiery entity known as…
19mins 50secs – …The Phoenix!
A good start to the story and a genuine feeling that something big is about to unfold.
The Phoenix Saga: Part 2: The Dark Shroud
3mins – Jean is struggling to pilot the ship, so she calls out for help. The Phoenix hears her call.
4mins 30secs – After crash landing in the river, Jean emerges in a spangly new outfit, calling herself the Phoenix.
5mins 15secs – In the comics, Jean became the Phoenix following a similar event and subsequently died during the Dark Phoenix Saga. This story was later retconned to suggest that the Phoenix wasn’t Jean at all and was merely an entity that looked like Jean. In this cartoon, Jean IS the Phoenix.
5mins 40secs – The Beast is wearing a Howard the Duck T-shirt. This has got to be the best Marvel character cameo yet.
9mins – Xavier is suffering from a psychic episode which has caused his mind to split in two, creating a dark personality. This is an interesting idea and one that the show should have explored. Sadly this story line is never really developed beyond this episode. Shame.
9mins 40secs – And now for some cameos: Yuriko (not Deathstrike), Sabretooth and Deadpool.
11mins – With Jean/Phoenix recuperating in a hospital bed, the majority of this episode is devoted to this dark version of Xavier.
15mins – I love the fact that in this episode the Beast wears sneakers, jeans, a T-shirt and a jacket. Most of the time he just walks around in briefs and nothing else.
16mins 30secs – The first appearance of Banshee! He’ll play a much larger role in the next episode.
18mins – Lilandra makes a proper appearance now. Here she provides a little explanation as to what is the backbone of this entire Saga – a war over an alien crystal. The X-Men and the Phoenix will fight to protect this crystal over the next few episodes.
19mins 50secs – And as the episode concludes, the Juggernaut appears!
Arguably the weakest entry in The Phoenix Saga, simply because it goes off on a tangent about Xavier’s dark side. Still, things are cooking up nicely as the story heads into the third chapter.
The Phoenix Saga: Part 3: Cry of the Banshee
3mins – Banshee’s Irish accent is DREADFUL. This episode should be accompanied by an apology to all Irish people.
4mins 30secs – Black Tom has just entered. If it’s at all possible, his Irish accent is even worse!
10mins – Juggernaut and Black Tom are working with Eric the Red. He’s back and he’s camping it up at Cassidy Keep.
13mins 30secs – Wolverine’s answer to how to recognise Lilandra? “She’s from another galaxy. You see someone you don’t know – rescue her!”
14mins 50secs – Something to note: A fair few dust spots have appeared on this episode. X-Men really could benefit from a Blu-ray / HD makeover as this show deserves to be remastered.
15mins – Do I think X-Men will ever get a Blu-ray release? I’d like to think so. The recent Blu-ray release of Batman: The Animated Series was a huge success, so there’s no reason why an X-Men: The Animated Series Blu-ray wouldn’t be equally as successful. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Disney decides to do with the X-Men, once the Mouse House has full control of the property later this year.
16mins 50secs – Gladiator has just made his debut. Gladiator is a member of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. He serves the throne of the Shi’ar, so can be a good guy or a bad guy, depending on who is in charge of the throne.
17mins 50secs – Gladiator has just tossed the Juggernaut into the ocean. That tells you how powerful Gladiator is.
18mins – Incidentally, Juggernaut’s fate won’t be revealed for a number of episodes yet.
20mins – The Phoenix has just fought Gladiator and won, but oh no, the evil D’Ken is heading to Earth!
I LOVED this episode when it first aired and I still love it now, however, the Irish accents for Banshee and Black Tom and appalling!
The Phoenix Saga: Part 4: Starjammers
2mins 30secs – Black Tom can be seen running away from Cassidy Keep. I’ve never noticed this before!
4mins 40secs – Cameos for: Captain Britain, the Hellfire Club and Doctor Strange. The Captain Britain/Doctor Strange cameos aren’t really important, but the Hellfire Club cameo is. These guys will feature heavily in the Dark Phoenix Saga.
6mins – Enter: The Starjammers! I love these guys so much.
7mins 50secs – Jean/Phoenix has just mind scanned Corsair, the leader of the Starjammers. She knows that Corsair is Scott’s father.
12mins – A nice little interaction between Scott and Corsair – both oblivious to their connection.
15mins – This is my favourite chapter in The Phoenix Saga.
16mins 30secs – A big battle between the X-Men and the Imperial Guard. I love this stuff.
18mins 30secs – Rogue gets a couple of nice moments in this scene. She is incredibly strong and so cool.
20mins – As the episode ends, the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.
This show continues to knock things out of the park with this episode. Now imagine if the BBC had only shown half of this five-part story before taking a break!
Right, onto Part 5!
The Phoenix Saga: Part 5: Child of Light
3mins – After two seasons of barely being any use, Jean finally takes the lead and does something! It is a welcome change.
7mins – Everything is going to hell.
10mins – In my opinion, this episode isn’t quite as strong as Part 4, mostly because the majority of the story is devoted to D’Ken being malevolent (which is less interesting). It’s still a good episode though.
11mins – Cameos for: Sunfire, Mjnari, War Machine and Alpha Flight. Spidey also gets a ‘sort of’ cameo.
13mins 30secs – The animation in Child of Light is quite good, with vibrant backgrounds and a few neat touches here and there.
15mins 45secs – Jean/Phoenix is saying her goodbyes as she sets off to save the galaxy.
*Wipes tear away from eye*
17mins – Phoenix is sacrificing herself.
*Wipes another tear away*
18mins – Meanwhile, back on Earth… things will never be the same again.
19mins 30secs – Xavier suggests there is still hope that Jean might be alive. And he’s right!
A sad end, but one that stands out as one of the show’s best. The bar has been raised with this five-part story and thankfully there’s still plenty of great X-Men stories to come.
Incidentally, this story was so good that long before the show got a full DVD release in the UK, The Phoenix Saga was released on DVD. This was back when getting a full DVD release seemed like a pipe dream, so having a story like this get its own DVD made it seem like the best thing ever!
Right, time for one last episode for today.
No Mutant is an Island
2mins – The X-Men are holding a memorial for Jean.
3mins – Cyclops is struggling to move forward with Xavier’s dream and decides to quit the team.
5mins 30secs – No Mutant is an Island takes a look at Scott’s past, specifically his time spent in an orphanage. Thanks to the introduction of Corsair in The Phoenix Saga, we know why he spent time in an orphanage.
8mins 15secs – This episode introduces the villain, Zebediah Killgrave (aka the Purple Man). This is Killgrave’s one and only appearance in X-Men.
11mins – There is a mutant in this episode who has the power to…. transform his wheelchair. Since when was that a mutant power?! That’s just lazy writing!
16mins – Killgrave is using his mind control abilities to influence kids into becoming sleeper agents.
19mins – As the episode concludes, the X-Men have discovered that Jean is still alive! Hurrah! Unfortunately, they won’t mention this discovery for another five episodes.
A pretty poor episode – and don’t get me started on the ‘wheelchair transformation’ power.
After the dizzying heights of The Phoenix Saga, this episode feels like a huge come down. It’s only saved by a few scenes which further develop Cyclops as a character.
Right, that’s it for today. When It’s Saturday morning – Do you know what your children are? returns I’ll be looking at the next five episodes of Season Three.
Feel free to comment on the highs and lows of X-Men in the comments section below. Until next time – bye!