Now that we’re through with that detour back to season 4, we can get started on the “proper” seventh season of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon produced by Fred Wolf.
I case you forgot, season 6 left us without any sort of game-changing finale, so things aren’t noticeably different. The Technodrome is still stuck at the bottom of the Arctic ocean and that’s not going to change until the season finale.
But there is something special about these 14 episodes. They’re the end of an era, as it were, as season 7 represents the last “classic” season of TMNT; season 8 through 10 will be the “red sky” seasons that go for a darker, edgier look and feel (to various degrees of success). So, in a way, I think we should all savor this last, more innocent season of Ninja Turtles before things get grimdark.
“Night of the Dark Turtle” (written by David Wise)
After getting electrocuted, Donatello takes on the identity of a masked crimefighter known as the Dark Turtle. While the Turtles are busy trying to rein their friend in, the Shredder enlists the aid of mobsters to steal a new micro-blaster explosive from a government munitions plant. And while all THAT is going on, the evil Triceratons, alien triceratops people from outer space, invade New York. Also, robot dinosaurs?
Holy s--t, David Wise wrote 12 out of the 14 episodes this season. That’s amazing. I’ve been pretty hard on this guy’s scripting and story editing throughout the course of these reviews, not without reason, but his productivity is downright astonishing.
And with that being said, “Night of the Dark Turtle” is one of David Wise’s David Wise-iest episodes. There’s so much stuff, TOO MUCH stuff going on in this episode. I mean, we start out with Donatello going nuts and thinking he’s Batman and then out of the blue freakin’ TRICERATONS! Well what the Hell, I didn’t see that one coming.
I remember not liking this one very much in the past, but rewatching it, the battling plot lines actually coalesce pretty well in the final minutes. It’s overstuffed, but not as badly as some of Wise’s other scripts, and ultimately every element plays a part in the climax.
Shredder’s role is perhaps the most superfluous. It’s never detailed exactly how he plans to use the micro-blaster to conquer the Earth, but I guess it doesn’t matter; this many episodes in, even the ten year-olds in the audience knew he’d never get his hands on it, anyway. Much of his plot line involves enlisting aid from a generic mobster character named Wolf Jackson. Yeah, eight seasons in and we’re still being introduced to more generic mobsters.
Donatello as the Dark Turtle could have filled out an entire episode all on its own, but being paired with the Triceraton invasion, his storyline feels rather shortchanged (as do the Triceratons’). It’s a very, very odd coupling; you’d never expect a story about Donatello becoming a superhero to suddenly segue into an alien invasion. Wise fills Donatello’s scenes with as many Batman-isms as he can, from “superstitious, cowardly lot” to Michelangelo pondering whether they’re on the brink of trademark infringement. It’s fun and Barry Gordon’s Batman-esque voice is the sort of thing you rarely hear from him.
The Triceratons are the real highlight of the episode and something for TMNT fans to get excited over. There were a couple Triceraton toys in the old Playmates collection and this episode was no doubt written to promote the action figures, but Wise actually works in references straight from the Mirage comics, such as mention of the Triceraton Homeworlds (although we don’t get to see the giant space ice cream cones).
Jess Harnell plays Captain Zarax, the lead Triceraton and the only one drawn to look like the toy. The voice he uses is almost identical to the one he’d later employ for Ironhide in the live-action Transformers films. The way the Turtles defeat Zarax and his Triceraton invaders is unusual; the Triceratons are honor-bound not to conquer any worlds where reptiles are the dominant species, so the Turtles use robot dinosaurs to trick the Triceratons into retreating.
Don’t worry, the robot dinosaurs were mentioned briefly in the first few minutes of the episode. It all holds together if you squeeze hard enough and don’t let go.
“Night of the Dark Turtle” is a wacky episode. Shredder and the micro-blaster could have been excised for time and neither the Dark Turtle plot nor the Triceraton plot get used to their full potential. But it’s weird and fun and actually manages to follow its own internal logic rather competently. Though perhaps I should put “logic” in quotations, considering the material.
“The Starchild” (written by David Wise)
An alien named Quirx, otherwise known as the Starschild, has come to Earth to play. The problem is, Quirx has god-like telekinetic powers and is too immature to recognize how destructive his fun and games can be. The Turtles have a heck of a time trying to corral him, which becomes even more difficult when an alien armada shows up to destroy Quirx for all the havoc he’s caused across the galaxy.
On the surface, this is an episode we’ve seen many times over. “Mr. Ogg Goes to Town”, “The Grybyx”, “Camera Bugged”, “The Big Zipp Attack”… they all deal with aliens who have odd or otherwise godly powers coming to Earth and innocently causing mayhem, usually because they don’t know any better.
What makes “The Starchild” stand out is how Wise actually tries to implement a darker undercurrent to the scenario to add some edge to the shenanigans. Quirx, as it is revealed, was given his powers as an infant by his father as a means to bring an end to the war that was plaguing their planet. Quirx’s father was killed shortly after, before Quirx could grow up to understand why he had his abilities and what to use them for.
This isn’t laid onto the audience until the final act of the episode. All throughout the first two acts, Quirx is just making the usual mischief around the city while whining that he wants his father. You start to hate him until you find out that his dad is dead, then you feel a little sorry for the brat. In the end, Splinter uses some theatrical devices to impersonate Quirx’s father and offer some closure, allowing the kid to grow up and use his powers for good.
Is it a great episode? No, I wouldn’t consider it a classic, but the genuine emotional touches are something we’ve never really seen in this show before. The acknowledgment of death and destruction (the alien armada is comprised of the survivors of the planets Quirx has destroyed) is also pretty dark for this show, at least prior to the “red sky” seasons.
I suppose where it falters is that it tries to introduce a villain in the final act, an alien named Drako who wants to use Quirx’s powers for his own ends. Through the first two acts, you THINK Drako is the bad guy, until the Turtles finally corner him and he explains the danger Quirx poses, why the aliens are trying to destroy him, and you realize there is no cut and dry good/evil situation, here.
Well, until the aforementioned last second, when Drako goes full villain. The story could have been much more complex and challenging, but the script ends up resorting to a standard bad guy in its final minutes. The Disney movie Frozen did the same thing and it always struck me as a misstep.
Anyway, this is a pretty solid episode. E.G. Daily provides the voice of Quirx and she does a fine job of making him sound innocent, but without overdoing the saccharine “cuteness”. Daily’s always been good at playing kid voices; one of the few adult voice actors who can pull it off without sounding too artificial.
“The Legend of Koji” (written by David Wise)
Using a time portal, the Shredder travels back to feudal Japan. He intends to destroy Hamato Koji, ancestor of Hamato Yoshi, thereby wiping Splinter and the Turtles from the face of history. The TMNT, of course, follow him and in doing so play a part in the origin of the Foot Clan.
Wow, third episode into the season and it’s still good! Season 7 is definitely one of the strongest seasons in the series with more good episodes than bad. “The Legend of Koji”, as it happens, is one of the best in the whole series.
The Turtles travel back to feudal Japan a lot. In fact, I think they’ve done so in nearly every incarnation but the Nickelodeon cartoon (although they did travel back to 1990s Japan). It’s just something they inevitably do.
“The Legend of Koji” is one of those stories and shares a few ideas with Michael Dooney’s 2-parter “Masks” from the original Mirage TMNT comic. In that tale, the Turtles travel back to feudal Japan and inadvertently have a hand in creating the Foot Clan. Admittedly, “The Legend of Koji” goes about it in an entirely different fashion from “Masks”, so I’m inclined to chalk the similarities up to coincidence (“Masks” having been published a year before this episode was broadcast, and with cartoons taking a full year to produce, it most assuredly was a coincidence).
What’s interesting about this episode is how it takes steps to present feudal Japan and Japanese culture at least somewhat accurately. Both Splinter’s and Shredder’s ancestors appear, Hamato Koji and Oroku Sancho, and as you’ve probably noticed, Wise got the Japanese naming convention correct for a change (familial name first, given name last). In past episodes, “Saki” was treated as Shredder’s last name, as we were introduced to his mother and brother (Miyoko Saki and Kazuo Saki, respectively).
There’s also accurate hiragana and katakana throughout the episode instead of just made-up squiggles (the end of the samurai film the Turtles watch even has “owari” appear in hiragana; although it probably should’ve been in kanji to be more accurate). The outfits and architecture of feudal Japan, while colorful and exaggerated to fit the show’s aesthetic, actually make an effort to stay true to the period even extending to tiny details. For instance, when Shredder pays a messenger to hire bounty hunters to delay the Turtles, he pays him with mon, the coinage used in Japan during the Muromachi period (with the coins accurately bound together by a length of string drawn through the hole in the center of the pieces, too).
The reason I keep remarking on all these details is because this show NEVER put so much effort into such miniscule trappings before. The animation is pretty darn good, too; maybe not on the same level of “Turtles on Trial”, but all the action is very fluid and there are no noticeable errors to speak of. Wise and the production staff must have felt this episode was very special, because you can tell they gave it their all.
Speaking of Wise, he also tries to harmonize some conflicting continuity he’d already established in the series. In the third season episode “Blast from the Past”, Shredder summons the spirit of Shibano-sama, the ninja whom he claims founded the Foot Clan. Of course, in this episode, we see Hamato Koji form the clan. Rather than just ignore what he’d already established, Wise acknowledges Shibano-sama by having the plot revolve around Koji, Splinter and the Turtles searching for his shrine and the artifacts within that would allow Koji to form the clan.
Again: Effort! A little goes a long way.
“The Legend of Koji” is a great one and from what I’ve seen, it’s the season 7 episode most fans tend to remember best. If you’re just skipping your way through the series, only looking for the highlights, then definitely check this one out.
“Convicts from Dimension X” (written by Jack Mendelsohn)
When Donatello’s portable portal generator malfunctions, it allows prisoners from a penitentiary in Dimension X, Skarg, Dementor and the Dregma Brothers, to escape to Earth. Unfortunately, Irma and Vernon wind up taking their place in the slammer.
Just when I was beginning to gush about effort and quality control, this episode shows up.
“Convicts from Dimension X” isn’t too bad fundamentally, just fairly routine and forgettable. The only aspects worth mentioning are the baffling screw-ups in animation and story editing. Animation-wise, we have the usual stuff: Leo with a red bandana, Leo speaking in Raph’s voice, etc. The story editing mistakes are worse, like a scene where the Turtles are shown walking down the street to investigate a dimensional disturbance and then arriving there in the Turtle Van.
My favorite logic error comes during the second act, when Skarg and Dementor roll right into the lair and steal Donatello’s portable portal generator. There’s no explanation as to how they found the secret lair; they didn’t follow the TMNT and they didn’t use one of their many bullshit Dimension X powers to “sense” where the machine was. They just show up.
The B-plot with Irma and Vernon is the usual filler stuff. The Turtles are never aware that their friends are trapped in the Dimension X prison, so there’s no tension involved in having to get them out. It’s just the Channel 6 characters undergoing big house hijinks to better fill 22 minutes.
Is “Convicts from Dimension X” is the worst episode of the season? Well, that’s hard to say. In the grand scheme of bad TMNT episodes, it hardly ranks. It’s certainly more lucid than some of the worst installments even after you’ve accounted for its mistakes. I suppose its leading offense is that it’s kind of boring.
“White Belt, Black Heart” (written by Jack and Carole Mendelsohn)
Shredder hires the Black Heart Gang, a band of thieves led by the ninja Yoku, with designs on using them to steal maps to nuclear launch sites. Mogo-san, Splinter’s sensei and Yoku’s grandfather, comes to New York at the same time to enlist his pupil and the Turtles in helping him save his son from a life of crime.
Mogo-san, as Splinter’s sensei, was referenced back in “The Sword of Yurikawa”, but this is the first we’ve ever seen of him. His existence raises some questions.
Such as: Mogo-san references the Mogo Clan, of which Hamato Yoshi is a member. But I thought Yoshi was a member of the Foot Clan? Or, at least, he was before he was framed for attempted murder by Oroku Saki and banished to America. So, what, did Yoshi switch clans while in Japan, then switch back after being banished? And I assume Mogo-san is aware that Yoshi was framed since he still trusts him?
The history of Yoku as Splinter’s pupil is also a little strange and apparently something that happened “behind the scenes” during the series. Mogo-san says that he sent Yoku to train with Splinter two years ago. Raph makes an off-hand reference to Yoku being “that guy that skipped out on Splinter”, so at the very least, we know Yoku was around when the Turtles were. Mogo-san doesn’t recognize Splinter as Hamato Yoshi, not knowing he was mutated, but Yoku recognizes him, meaning that he at least knew (again confirming that Yoku trained with Splinter after he’d been mutated). But then, when the Turtles capture Yoku in the second act, they blindfold him before taking him to the lair so he won’t know its secret location. But if Yoku trained with Splinter and the Turtles, how could he not know where the lair was? Exactly when and how did all this s--t with Yoku training with them happen?
And since we’re asking questions, why does Shredder want a gang of human ninja working for him so badly? He HAD one of those at the start of the series, the Foot Clan, but then he replaced them all with robots. Did he realize he made a big mistake or something and want to call a do-over?
You know what? Let’s not ask any more questions.
“White Belt, Black Heart” has all the elements that should make it a classic episode, but they aren’t assembled with enough care to reach their potential. There are worthless subplots that exist to kill time, such as Bebop and Rocksteady repainting the Technodrome and arguing over the color, and a secret villain who shows up at the end and amounts to nothing. If the script had gone through a revision or two and maybe lost those functionless trappings, the worthwhile aspects might have been better developed.
The suspense of the episode centers on Yoku and his apparent descent into crime, much to the disgrace of his grandfather. We learn in the final seconds that Yoku was actually a secret government agent assigned to infiltrate the Black Heart Gang and flush out their leader (a bank owner who appeared briefly at the beginning of the episode). So it turns out he never had to go through any crisis of conscience whatsoever and the whole dilemma was a misunderstanding. What a copout.
Sadly, this episode marks the final performance of the late James Avery as the Shredder. I’m not sure what caused him to leave the series mid-season; I’ve read that his obligations to Fresh Prince of Bel Air were making it hard for him to make recording appointments, but that could be bullshit. Whatever the case, the series would try out a few different substitute actors in his absence and none of them would hit the mark.
The Shredder was practically defined by Avery’s performance and he and Pat Fraley (Krang) were one of the best comedy duos in cartoons. Their bickering “old married couple” routine was hilarious and I’m certain much of how the villains were written was in reaction to their performances. It was, of course, a tragedy to lose Avery on New Year’s Eve, 2013; he died due to complications following open heart surgery. He was a funny man, beloved for a number of roles throughout his career, and we’ll never get to hear him again.
“Night of the Rogues” (written by David Wise)
To create a distraction while he excavates an ancient spaceship, Shredder enlists a gang of the Ninja Turtles’ deadliest rogues: Leatherhead, the Rat King, Slash, Tempestra, Chrome Dome, Scumbug and Antrax. To defeat the bad guys, the Turtles call on their own allies: Splinter, April, Irma, Casey Jones and Zach.
With this being the last “classic” season of TMNT before the “red sky” revamp, we say farewell to a lot of memorable characters. I don’t know if Wise did this deliberately, like he knew the “darker” direction was coming, but he throws in quite a few recurring characters this season for one last ride.
“Night of the Rogues” is one of my favorite episodes, even if it isn’t very smart. It’s just the Turtles fighting a whole bunch of recurring villains for 22 minutes, no bells and whistles. But sometimes just seeing all your favorite action figure bad guys (and Tempestra) together in a single episode is all it takes, and the episode is pretty fun because of it. And at any rate, you should try to enjoy it, because you aren’t going to see any of these villains again, save the Rat King (although he’ll get a slight redesign in the next season).
The selection of villains is a little puzzling; there are obvious choices like the Rat King, Leatherhead, Slash and Chrome Dome, but then there are also villains we’ve never seen before (but the characters act like they’ve always been around), like Scumbug and Antrax. The immediate conclusion is that all the characters had action figures and needed to be advertised, but then there’s Tempestra, who never got a toy. I guess they needed a girl?
On the other side of the coin, the Turtles have to enlist aid from all their closest allies, so we get appearances from Casey Jones and Zach (his final appearance). There’s a moral to the episode, where Raphael has to learn that the Turtles rely on humans as much as the humans rely on them, so it seems the allies are limited to just the TMNT’s human buddies (and Splinter). Perhaps that’s a bit too limiting, as what we get is an army of monstrous mutant creatures running in fear from a news reporter, a frumpy secretary and a 13 year-old brat. If Wise hadn’t gone for the whole “trust the humans” angle, maybe the Turtles could have been flanked by Muckman or the Punk Frogs, but ah well.
You’ll notice some odd voice acting choices with this episode, too. Townsend Coleman replaces James Avery as the Shredder for the rest of the season, and alas, his Shredder isn’t very good. Both Dorian Harewood and Jim Cummings alternated as Shredder in the past and both were better, so it’s a bit disappointing Susan Blu (the dialogue director) didn’t go with either of them.
Especially baffling is that Leatherhead has been recast for his final appearance with Peter Renaday replacing Jim Cummings. Renaday tries his best, but he doesn’t even come close. I don’t know why Cummings wasn’t in this episode as either the Shredder or Leatherhead; he’ll even show up later this season as several characters.
Anyway, “Night of the Rogues” is a simple but fun episode. In past reviews, I harped on how the Shredder never recruited more mutant henchmen beyond Bebop and Rocksteady (though not for lack of trying) and the cast of villains always felt limited as a result. “Night of the Rogues” is a special episode because it shows us what the series could have been like all along if Leatherhead and Chrome Dome and all those other weirdos had remained in Shredder’s employ rather than being dusted off only for special occasions.
“Attack of the Neutrinos” (written by David Wise)
When General Traag finally captures the Neutrinos, Krang uses his neuralizer device to turn them into psychotic criminals. While the Turtles are distracted trying to catch their former friends, Shredder and Krang attempt to steal the plans to a hover-thruster which could raise the Technodrome.
Oh god, it’s the Neutrinos.
Well, this is the last we’ll be seeing of them; Zak, Dask and Kala are next in line to say good bye forever this season. As a send-off, it’s about as good as we’re gonna get for these characters. General Traag finally catches them, which is something he’s been trying to do since the first season (that’s pretty much the reasoning we’ve been given as to why Traag and the Rock Soldiers don’t appear more often; they’re in Dimension X, chasing the Neutrinos). The annoying beatniks get into some hijinks and then bid the Turtles farewell in the final act. Good riddance.
The actual “attack of the Neutrinos” isn’t the more interesting part of the episode, as it’s just another distraction cooked up by Krang and Shredder to keep the Turtles off their backs while they commit to some other nefarious scheme. That scheme involves stealing hover-thruster plans from Vernon (who stole them from April, who got them from a scientist), which they use to raise the Technodrome for the first time since it sank into the Arctic ocean a season ago. Oddly, it arises from the water directly off the coast of New York.
There’s also a subplot involving a gang called the Mole Squad, who steal a sonic gun from the scientist character, and of course, the frequency the gun creates is the only thing capable of snapping the Neutrinos back to their senses. It’s a strange sub plot but it kills time, I suppose.
And before you get too excited, the Technodrome only rises from the sea for about a minute before being subsequently returned to the ocean floor. This isn’t a season finale, so of course the Technodrome isn’t going anywhere yet.
So that’s the first half of the “proper” TMNT season 7. Not a bad bunch of episodes; in fact, I’d say the worst episodes of the season are scrunched up in this first half. In the second half, we’ll be saying hello to Tokka and Rahzar from “Secret of the Ooze” as well as action figure character Merdude, while simultaneously bidding farewell to the Punk Frongs, Mondo Gecko, Groundchuck, Dirtbag, Kerma and, though it chokes me up to say this, Baxter Stockman.