So we’re in the home stretch for the last “classic” episodes of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, before the “red sky” seasons get all serious up in this biz. It’s a pretty solid stretch of episodes too, featuring a BUNCH of recurring characters making their final appearances.

“Escape from the Planet of the Turtleoids” (written by David Wise)

Kerma the Turtleoid invites the TMNT back to Shellri-la to help him program some defense robots. It seems Groundchuck and Dirtbag have escaped from prison and joined up with the space pirate Captain Dredd and they’re intent on stealing the gold from Shellri-la. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Krang and Shredder attempt to steal a rare lightning rod that will siphon energy from a solar storm to repower the Technodrome.

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This is the second and last sequel to the “Planet of the Turtleoids” primetime special, and quite a bit better than the previous one. “Return of the Turtleoid” wasn’t a terrible episode or anything, but “Escape from the Planet of the Turtleoids” is much more exciting. It also features the return (and final appearances of) Groundchuck and Dirtbag, so if you had their toys or played a lot of TMNT III: The Manhattan Project on the NES, then this episode ought to pique your interest.

The crux of the story involves the Turtles trying to teach Kerma and the Turtleoids self-defense, as they culturally have a tendency to just roll over and let villains use them as doormats. Wise writes something of a scathing criticism about pacifism and nonviolent solutions; sometimes, the best way to protect yourself is to kick the shit out of your enemies.

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It’s funny, because you can sort of map the rise and decline and resurgence of Saturday morning cartoon violence by watching TMNT. When the show started, the Turtles punched the shit out of people. Then around the second season, the violence had to be downplayed and the Turtles mostly dropped curtains and chandeliers and radial tires on their foes. But with this season, direct violence has been creeping back into the series, with the Turtles punching and kicking their enemies without a second thought.

The B-plot of the episode is entirely unnecessary and only takes time away from what could have been a stronger A-plot. With the Turtles off in space, Shredder and Krang use the opportunity to commit a scheme that will revive the Technodrome. However, in the final seconds of the episode, the Turtles return just in time to blast the cables to their solar power device and thwart the villains. It’s incredibly half-hearted and rushed; the entire Shredder angle could have been cut from the episode which would have freed up precious minutes for Dirtbag and Groundchuck.

“Revenge of the Fly” (written by David Wise)

Baxter Stockman and his alien computer sidekick escape from dimensional limbo with a new scheme: This time, they’re going to turn everyone on earth into mutant insects! The only way to turn the people of New York back to normal is Shredder’s retro-mutagen ray gun, but to get it, the Turtles will have to fight their way through the Technodrome.

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Being Baxter Stockman is suffering. I can’t think of any character in this show who got a worse deal than he did. Here he is in his final episode: he gets the retro-mutagen ray gun in the last seconds, is about to use it to turn himself back to normal… and then the Turtles take it from him and shove him back through the portal to dimensional limbo, trapping him forever.

Jeez, the writers were just sadistic with poor Baxter.

For a final episode, it unfortunately feels way too familiar. “Son of Return of the Fly II” did much of the same shtick as this episode, with Baxter stomping around the Channel Six building, causing mayhem and tormenting Vernon. In my head, I get the two episodes mixed up a lot, since they seem to be cut from the same cloth (or at least written by the same guy).

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I will say, I did like Baxter’s computer sidekick, whom he partnered with for three episodes. Baxter seemed to be losing his marbles in his last few appearances as the fly half of his mind took over. The alien computer became the brains of the outfit, but never abused Baxter like the other characters in the universe seemed to. In fact, most of the computer’s schemes revolved around making Baxter happy; like, all that guy wanted to do was help his friend. It’s kinda touching, but not very.

There’s some discontinuity with this episode, as it seems to completely forget about Baxter’s last appearance in “Landlord of the Flies”. That was a season 5 episode where Baxter menaced the Turtles and Shredder without the aid of his computer friend. “Revenge of the Fly” ignores that appearance completely and instead picks up where things were left off in “Son of Return of the Fly II”, which ended with Baxter and his computer sidekick getting trapped in the void between dimensions.

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In addition to that, the prop animators seemed to have confused Shredder’s retro-mutagen ray gun from “Shredder & Splintered” with the muta-zoo ray gun from “Bye Bye, Fly”. Or maybe merged the two devices. As such, the retro-mutagen ray gun now has a dial on it featuring a bunch of animals similar to the one on the muta-zoo gun. Still, hey, six seasons later and we FINALLY get an excuse as to why Shredder never rebuilt the retro-mutagen ray gun until now (he needed a rare crystal to repower it).

Anyway, Baxter Stockman gets horrifically abused in every universe he appears in; that’s pretty much his lot in life. But his Fred Wolf counterpart seemed to draw the short straw even by that standard, having the hope of humanity stolen from him at the last second and banished to a Hell from which he never returned. At least he’s got that little computer to keep him company.

“Atlantis Awakes” (written by David Wise)

When Michelangelo meets Merdude, the rightful King of Atlantis, the Turtles hope to get their new friend home so he can take his place on the throne. Unfortunately, Shredder beats them there and sets up Bebop as the new ruler of Atlantis.

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So right off the bat, there’s a problem with this episode. The Turtles encountered Atlanteans and saw Atlantis rise from the sea in the episode “The Lost Queen of Atlantis”. That episode was part of the “European Tour” story arc, which as you already know, was aired the same year as season 7 (despite taking place during season 4). So that means season 7 has two episodes about Atlantis that are completely and utterly incompatible.

When the Turtles meet Merdude, he tells them that he’s from Atlantis and they respond in disbelief, with Raphael decrying the sunken city as nothing more than a myth. Donatello recounts the tale of the city recorded by Plato and insists there’s a chance the place may be real. Also, you know, they saw Atlantis themselves when a bunch of Atlanteans kidnapped April and tried to brainwash her into being their new queen. But that’s not important.

There’s perhaps a bit of accidental continuity between the two Atlantis episodes, as both stories see the Atlanteans desperate to find a leader for their people. In the case of “The Lost Queen of Atlantis”, they try to force April into the role, and in the case of “Atlantis Awakes”, they accept Bebop as their prophesied King before Merdude sets things straight. It’s a stretch and more likely the story editor just calling a do-over on a plot. It wouldn’t be the first time (“Planet of the Turtles” vs. “Planet of the Turtleoids”, “Back to the Egg” vs. “Adventures in Turtle-Sitting”, “Menace Maestro, Please” vs. “Phantom of the Sewers”, and so on).

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Disregarding bad story-editing, “Atlantis Awakes” is a competent episode if watched in a vacuum. Its problem is that it’s just sort of boring. Merdude leaves no impression whatsoever, unless you had his action figure, I guess. He’s entirely without personality, being a milquetoast nice guy who speaks eloquently and offers no friction with the cast. Contrasted with the version who appeared infrequently throughout Archie’s TMNT Adventures comic, he doesn’t stack up. The Merdude of the comic was a more gung-ho deep sea adventurer; grizzled and ferocious, but with a sense of humor. He also had his toy’s eyepatch which the cartoon incarnation is curiously missing.

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The only other thing of merit about “Atlantis Awakes” is that the Technodrome is fully operational. It drives across the sea floor and even attacks Atlantis during the climax. Krang makes an offhanded reference to the Technodrome being nearly out of power (I guess it came from the small amount of power they managed to steal in “Escape from the Planet of the Turtleoids”?), so there’s an excuse for why it goes back to being worthless after this episode. Still, any opportunity to see the Technodrome in action beyond a season finale should be cherished.

“Dirk Savage: Mutant Hunter!” (written by David Wise)

Billionaire industrialist A.J. Howard wants a mutant army under his command, and to get it, he hires the services of Dirk Savage: Mutant Hunter. Savage rounds up Napoleon Bonafrog, Genghis Frog and Mondo Gecko with the Turtles being next on his list. The TMNT have other problems to worry about, as Tokka and Rahzar show up to trash the city.

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Holy shit, Tokka and Rahzar! Yeah, they actually showed up in one episode of the Fred Wolf cartoon, pretty much out of fuckin’ nowhere. There’s an offhand suggestion that they might have been created when Shredder experimented with mutagen at the zoo in “Planet of the Turtleoids” (which would also explain the Foot Clan insignia on Tokka’s belt), but no further time is wasted on explaining where they came from. By this point, every kid watching TMNT had seen “Secret of the Ooze”, so what would be the point in retreading their origin?

Tokka and Rahzar in this incarnation are quite a bit more bearable than their movie counterparts. First off, they’re markedly more intelligent and eloquent. Tokka is the dumber of the two, but he can at least speak in complete sentences and doesn’t have that “overgrown baby” thing going on. Rahzar, meanwhile, is exceptionally smart and well-spoken with a wonderfully smarmy voice provided by Townsend Coleman. It’s a bit of a shame we never saw these versions again in the show, but I guess there wouldn’t have been room for them in the “more serious” seasons that followed.

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All that being said, they play second fiddle in the episode, as more of a nuisance to occupy the Turtles and make Dirk Savage look good when he shows up to take them down. Savage has all the appearance of an action figure tie-in character, but believe or not, he never got a plastic likeness from Playmates. He might have been one of the many pitched toy ideas that never made it; who knows.

As a one-shot character, he’s not so bad; a manipulated enemy who turns good at the end. Jim Cummings provides his voice and it’s pretty much the same voice he used for Captain Hoffman way back in season 2 of the series (in “Invasion of the Punk Frogs”). You know, Hoffman’s whole deal was that he was assigned to hunt down all the mutants plaguing New York (and ultimately never appeared a second time). Dirk Savage has pretty much the same agenda, albeit as a freelancer and not part of the police force. Did Captain Hoffman turn in his badge in disgust and go solo as a freelance mutant hunter under a new identity? Probably not, but I like to pretend.

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We get final appearances from a few of the TMNT’s mutant allies. Mondo Gecko shows up; another memorable toyline character who unfortunately didn’t appear enough in the series. Also, Napoleon and Genghis, the only two Punk Frogs that matter anymore, make a final bow. I mentioned it before, but the reason we started to see them exclusively while Atilla and Rasputin were forgotten is because Napoleon and Genghis got toys while the other two didn’t. Sorry, but business is business.

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Anyway, the episode missed a chance to bring back Mona Lisa, so I’m sure some fans will be disappointed in that. She’s popular for some reason.

“Invasion of the Krangazoids” (written by David Wise)

Fed up with the incompetence of Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady, Krang creates six clones of himself to help complete his next scheme to repower the Technodrome. However, when his clones begin to regrow their original bodies, they soon become more powerful than the original and rebel against Krang. Oh yeah, and the Turtles have to stop them.

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Well, it took seven seasons, but now we finally know what Krang looked like before he had his brain plucked out of his body and banished from Dimension X. He was a weird tyrannosaurus rex-looking thing!

The explanation is that Krang’s species are reptilian and therefor able to regrow lost body parts. Krang had that ability taken away from him when he was banished, but his clones don’t have that setback and begin reforming their original bodies. When I was a kid, I spent a long time imagining what Krang’s body was supposed to look like and even remember doodling crude pictures on notebook paper in class. And yeah, I never figured he’d be a naked t-rex monster with ripped abdominal muscles.

Knowing that this is what Krang really looked like, however, begs one remaining unanswered question. If that’s what his body is SUPPOSED to look like, then why did he design his robot body to look like a bald fat man in a speedo and sunglasses? Perhaps we’re better off not knowing the answer to that one.

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The real dilemma to “Invasion of the Krangazoids” involves the clones trying to turn New York City into a volcano (because they want to recreate their natural environment from Dimension X). While all that is going on, Shredder kidnaps Leonardo and April and the Turtles have to save them before they can stop the Krang clones and their volcano.

There’s a major time crunch going on and the Turtles are in a hurry. So you know what they do? They decide “fuck it” and arm themselves with guns, shoot the fuck out of the Foot Soldiers, steal a teleportation device from Shredder, shoot the fuck out of the Krang clones, teleport them back to the Technodrome and douse the volcano with sewer water.

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Yes, the lesson is that if you’re in a hurry and there’s no time to use ninja skills, then just shoot the fuck out of everything with guns. What a refreshing moral.

At the end of the episode, Krang banishes his rebellious clones to dimensional limbo. That’s also where Baxter Stockman wound up in his final appearance. So hey, maybe they’ll run into each other at some point.

“Combat Land” (written by David Wise)

Industrialist Horatio Stressbar invites the Turtles to test out Combat Land, a futuristic theme park where thrill seekers can battle robot warriors. However, it’s all a trap so Stressbar can scan the TMNT’s combat data and create robot duplicates of them.

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Ya know, I’ve never seen Westworld. It’s amazing, considering all the cheesy sci-fi and horror flicks I’ve subjected myself to over the years. Yet that one’s always flown under my radar. But it’s okay; I haven’t seen Gone with the Wind, either. And given the choice, I think I’d sooner watch Westworld.

Anyway, “Combat Land” is, of course, a parody of Westworld; you don’t have to have seen the movie to know that. It seems like a very popular parody among cartoons and I’ve probably seen so many spoofs I doubt I even need to watch the source material.

Beyond that, there isn’t much more to the episode. The robots at the theme park go crazy and try to destroy the Turtles after they’ve been disarmed. There’s a somewhat elaborate scheme on the part of Stressbar, who wants to turn the robots into walking time bombs that will destroy the sewers, thereby forcing the city council to accept his company’s bid to repair them. It adds a little extra material to get the plot through 22 minutes, but not much.

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Back on the subject of renewed violence, there’s a part at the beginning where the Turtles attack Stressbar’s henchmen, who are all overblown poindexter stereotypes. After being accosted by Raph, one of the nerds does the whole “you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses” shtick. Raph slugs him in the face anyway. Man, remember way back in season 2, “New York’s Shiniest”, when the Turtles had to stop a gang of thieves by picking up their van and scaring them off? Because violence is bad and there are always better solutions?

Hahahaha NOT ANYMORE!

“Shredder Triumphant!” (written by David Wise)

It’s the season finale and you know what that means: The Technodrome is back! To keep the Turtles from getting in their way THIS time, Shredder and Krang ship them off to a slave trader in Dimension X named Weasel. The Turtles will have to convince Weasel of the error of his ways if they ever want to get back to Earth and stop the Technodrome.

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So far as season finales go, this one takes a left turn pretty quickly. At the very beginning, Splinter warns the Turtles of a psychic premonition telling him that things aren’t going to go according to formula. The Turtles brush him off and, in unison, deadpan their typical season finale strategy of infiltrating the Technodrome, fighting their way past the Foot Soldiers and disabling the power device.

And the second they actually DO that, Shredder and Krang shove them through the portal to Dimension X and proceed to successfully conquer the city.

It’s actually pretty great, as the Turtles seem legitimately baffled that their old reliable routine has failed them for the first time ever. Shredder and Krang actually revive the Technodrome in the first few minutes and conquer the city by the second act, so this is definitely the furthest they’ve ever made it in one of their schemes. They even capture the entire Channel Six crew and try to chuck them out a window on the upper floor of their building, just to be on the safe side.

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Honestly, by the standards of Shredder and Krang, this is some pretty competent evildoing on their part.

The Turtles spend most of the episode trying to break up a slave ring in Dimension X (the slaves work for Krang, mining ore to feed the Rock Soldiers). There’s a rushed message in there where they convince the slaver who captured them to help free everyone after he sees his kid brother working in one of the mines. “Slavery is bad.” What a complex nugget of wisdom.

While all the stuff with the slave trade in Dimension X is wildly different from what we usually see from these finales, it makes the story stand out amidst the 195 episodes. Wise discards other bits of the formula, too, as Irma of all characters is the one to stop Krang (by blasting him in the back, disabling his robot body); rarely has she ever been so useful.

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In the end, the Turtles also realize that every time they’ve waylaid the Technodrome, Shredder and Krang have just found a means to power it up again. Their solution? Separate Shredder and Krang from the Technodrome. So in the final minutes, they trick Traag and the Rock Soldiers into returning to the Technodrome and send it packing back to Dimension X, while Krang, Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady are still on Earth.

As the sendoff to the “classic” era of the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon, “Shredder Triumphant!” is a solid episode. There’s a lot of self-awareness to it as the characters realize straight from the beginning that they won’t be able to solve the Technodrome problem the same way they always have.

It maybe even segues into the darker “red sky” seasons in content, if just a little. The villains are much meaner in this episode than they’ve been in the past. Shredder holds his own in a lengthy sword fight against both Leonardo and Raphael at the same time (whereas past episodes had reduced him to an incompetent wimp). Bebop and Rocksteady are the ones who try to shove April, Irma and Vernon out the window for their own sick amusement (Splinter, before rescuing them, calls the henchmen “savages” and punches their lights out). Even Krang, when confronting April and Splinter, turns his hands into knives and announces, “I’ll butcher you!”

Jeez. Getting’ pretty graphic, Krang.

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All in all, season 7 has been pretty damn good. In fact, if we were to judge the seasons all in a single lump, I’d rank season 7 as potentially the best, right after season 1. The animation is mostly competent from episode-to-episode, there are a lot of recurring characters who I liked, a return of actual violence as the heroes and villains punch and kick each other, and a bunch of solidly scripted episodes. It’s short, too, at only 14 episodes (not including the European Vacation episodes held over from season 4), so it doesn’t stretch its quality out too thin. There are some stinkers in the mix, yeah, but hardly anything approaching the lows seen in season 3 or season 6.

So the “classic” era ends on a strong note. I hope you all enjoyed it, because starting next season we’ll be entering the “red sky” era where everything gets really edgy.

  • Chris McFeely

    I remember catching “Shredder Triumphant” when it aired, which was at a point well after I’d stopped watching the cartoon obsessively. I remember my rather gape-mouthed reaction to the end. “Did I… was that just the final episode of Turtles?”

    Also, regarding Krangazoids, you might be able to help me with this one, Mark – I will *SWEAR BLIND* that when I was a kid, I read that the reason Krang is a brain is because when he was banished through the portal from Dimension X, only his brain came out the other side. I thought that was something a bit nifty and four-dimensional-ish, and I lived my teens and 20s understanding that to be the case, then when I re-watched the show – nope, nothing! Do you know if that’s from anything? It might just have been a letters page answer in the old UK TMNT comic…

    • Mark Pellegrini

      Hmmm. All I can say is that it was never stated outright as such in either the cartoon or the Archie Comic. The process of how he lost his body, so far as I know, was never elaborated upon, just that he lost it at the same time that he was banished from Dimension X.

      I’ll confess to being a bit of a novice on the Fleetway comic you mentioned, since those are hard to come by here in the US. I have a bunch of scans which I’m gonna start reviewing soon for TMNT Entity, though. If I see anything like that in them, I’ll let you know.

  • Kenshiroh

    I definitely never saw the episodes from this season. I started getting tired of the show when they were fighting generic gangsters and stopped watching at some point. Also, my local CBS affiliate, KIRO, stopped showing most of CBS’s Saturday morning lineup in favor of news. I later discovered that these cartoons that KIRO wasn’t showing were airing on KCPQ (the FOX affiliate) on Sunday morning for some reason, and I did see the “red sky” episodes.

  • Kenshiroh

    They did a similar thing Atlantis in an episode of Superfriends I saw a few years ago on DVD. Superman announces “We’ve found the lost city of Atlantis!”, with the writers obviously forgetting that Aquaman (who is standing right there as Superman says this) is from Atlantis himself.

    • Mark Pellegrini

      Whew, that one’s pretty bad.
      I do remember one kinda like that. In the old 90s dub of Dragonball Z, when the characters couldn’t say “die” so they had to use more colorful substitutes. At one point, Krillen suggests that when the bad guys are through with them, they’ll all go “the way of the dinosaurs”.
      Evidently, the writer forgot that just a couple episodes ago, all the characters were running around with dinosaurs like it ain’t no thing.

  • Liam

    I always liked it when April was changed into some sort of creature.

    • Inquisitive Ingrid

      And why is that? HUH!?