20 May 2020

Military Sci-Fi Toys: Mattel's Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

During the 1980's there was much change in filed of technology, television, the toy market. What had not changed was the excitement of science fiction, the after-effect of Star Wars, and the urge to make money. All of these elements came into play for many products that are iconic to the 1980's, especially to those of us that are were kids at the time. Several companies attempted to attack the wallets of the parents of 1980's kids with assaults on multiple fronts: toys, tie-in cartoons, and cool futuristic technology. FWS has profiled the two laser tag systems, Lazer Tag and Photon that attempted to use all of the tools of 1980's marketing to promote a high-technology toyline, but there were more...In this installment of Military Sci-Fi Toys, we will be examining the high-tech toyline of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

What is Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future?

Some toylines, like Kenner's Star Wars or Matchbox ROBOTECH, they are a tie-in to a film, TV show, cartoon that existed only to enhance and expand the market possibilities of the primary work that came before the toys. At times, it was hard to see if the toys helped get kids into the show, or it was the show that got kids into the toyline. That was the hope for all companies when they created original works or toylines during the 1980's: to develop another Star Wars or Masters of the Universe. That was the hope for Canadian Landmark Entertainment Group when Gary Goddard, Anthony Christopher, and Marc Scott Zicree gave birth to Captain Power and his merry band of shiny metal heroes in the 22nd century post-Metal Wars darkness around 1985.
There have been two different versions of the show's origin story told. One is that basic premise of the show was thought up due to a need by Mattel for another line of Boy’s toys and Mattel really wanted to include the interactive television they were already developing. The other origin story was told by Goddard in the documentary included with the Captain Power DVD set. He says that he came up the basics of the show, including the name and copyrighted it because he liked the way it sounded. The angle for Captain Power then in 1985 was to be an live-action show for kids with CGI enemy character...which was new for 1985. At some point, Mattel and Goddard were discussing the idea for Captain Power and the toy company wanted to incorporate their interactive technology into Landmark's idea for the Captain Power show. While on the surface, the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV show setting seems like a rip-off of The Terminator with the whole robot revolt trope, it was a little more complex than that. The show is set in 2147 (originally to be 2099) just after the human race lost the Metal Wars to the machine army of Lord Dread and Overmind.
Years before the Metal Wars around 2132, the nations of the world used machines to wage their wars thinking that it would make war more humane. Much like the Cotton-Gin, it actually made the situation worse, and humanity was locked in a cycle of repeated wars. Enter Dr. Stuart Power and his team of scientists with Project OVERMIND. The goal was to have a master control program to take control over the legions of advanced robotic soldiers, called Bio-Mechs, and to end the wars and created a real world peace. That did not happen. One of Dr. Power’s scientist, Dr. Lyman Taggart, merged with Overmind and became obsessed with machine perfection and turned the machines against humanity. With the machines doing most of the fighting, the human race did not have the forces to repeal the machines and the tide turned against the meat bags. Dr. Power developed a secret base, a teleportation system, and the Power-Suits. These Power-Suits allowed one human to be outfitted with a temporary advanced exo-armor and weapons…unfortunately, there were only six. Dr. Power’s son took over the new fighting force and waged the guerrilla war against the machines. This expensive show only lasted one season of 22 episodes and ended on a cliffhanger with a death of a major character.  Directly tied to the TV show was the Mattel toy that had some of the vehicles and playsets interacting with signals from the TV. Every episode contained at minimum one minute to a maximum of three minutes of interactive content as stated in the contract with Mattel.  This made the Captain Power toyline unique, but also the target of parenting groups.

Historical Context of the Toyline
At the time that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was being developed, it was during one of the greatest eras for toys, tie-in licensed merchandise, and programming directed at children. It was also a time of increased computerization, syndicated TV shows, economic downturn, and the Great Laser War. For the toy industry, it had been 10 years since the injection of the Kenner Star Wars toyline and it was showing. The strategy of tie-in cartoons and tie-in toylines had been working, but overall sales were slowing and those toylines without accompanying cartoons were disappearing for the toy store shelves by 1985-1986. This was due to several factors including the aging out factor of the kids that were buying the big toylines like Masters of the Universe, the exploding home video game market, and simply too much options.
With the more historical boy’s toylines not bring in the dollars, companies like Mattel, began to search for the next big thing to excite the market. One of those elements that was thought be able to excite buyers was interactivity.  During this time period, there were two “laser tag” systems battling it out to be the dominate form of laser tag during the Great Laser War along with several home consoles also battling for market share. This greater interactivity was thanks to the rapid progress of computer technology in the 1980’s and more homes were beginning to buy their first computers for work and play during the mid-1980’s. When it came to the mainstay of home entertainment, the TV, things had changed. As the 4th American network emerge, many of the smaller TV stations not tied to a major network made their ratings via unique programming that did come from syndicated programs. At the time that Captain Power swam into the waters of the 1987 airwaves, shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bravestarr, and Ducktales (one of the most popular syndicated TV shows of 1987). Another thing to remember about 1987, there was a major US Stock Market crash on October 19th, 1987.

The History of the Captain Power Toyline
The history of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV show is one that is not yet over due to the possibility of Phoenix Rising. However, for the toyline that ran from 1987-1988 it is done. While much entries on the internet are devoted to the live-action groundbreaking TV series, that lasted one season, the toyline also as a history and story that is both linked to and separate from the TV show. This is article will attempt to discuss the toyline for Captain Power. One of the first things to know about the story of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future toyline is that two different parties were working two elements of the eventual Captain Power interactive toyline separately.
One was Landmark Entertainment's Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher, whom developed the basic concepts of the futuristic live-action show instead of an cartoon when they learned that toy giant Mattel was looking for a new toyline aimed at boys. The other is a more unknown key player of the technology used in Captain Power was Mattel Toys' William Novak. He worked on the interactive technology that was at the heart of the toyline and would be later involved in Mattel's Power Glove for the NES. At the time, Mattel was developing this new technology due to the market projecting that the incorporation of interactivity technology into toys was the next big thing. However, Mattel did not yet have a vehicle for this developing technology. Mattel had attempted to enter the high-tech toy arena before with their Intellivision home video game console and they were looking at the up-and-coming field of "interactive television" as the next frontier for a high-tech toyline hit. When Landmark went to Mattel and proposed marrying the interactive television technology for a toyline that was based around their live-action military science fiction show, it seemed like a winner and the deal was inked. One sacrifice was that Gary Goddard had originally wanted to title the show "The Metal Wars", but was changed by Goddard and Mattel for the sake of the toyline. The name "Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future" was filed with the US Patent Office on November 4th, 1985 with the approval coming on November 18th, 1986. Mattel themselves were betting heavily that interactive television was future to the tune of a hoped for $200 million profit to a company that was suffering. Oddly, Gary Goddard would also later direct the live-action Masters of the Universe in 1987 that was very loosely based on one of Mattel's biggest toy successes.
The public's first look at the toys of Captain Power came during the New York Toy Fair on the 9th of February of 1987. There at the show, there were several other "toys activated by TV" as the South Florida Sun Sentinel called it in their 1987 piece such as Axlon's Tech-Force. It is believed that the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future promotional video was shown as well during these toy shows that were so critical for toy buyers and the toy companies. At some point in 1987, the Captain Power toyline was released prior to the premier of the show. There is no hard date for the release of the toys, but it standard operational procedure for the toys to be present on the shelves before the show or film.
When the television show aired on September 19th 1987, it aired on 96 TV stations in the US (20 overseas), reaching 81% of the TV audience in 1987 according to Entertainment for Mattel VP John Weems when he testified before Congress during the Commercialization of Children's Television hearing on September 15th, 1987, just four days before the show premiered on the airwaves. From September 1987 to March of 1988, Captain Power and his merry band battled on the television, in living rooms, and in meeting rooms for survival across 22 syndicated episodes. This was the critical time for the brand to establish itself and for the fans to be minted and cash spent. According to everyone involved in the production of the show and some of the actors, Mattel had contacted Landmark to include up to three minutes within every show aimed directly at the audience using their interactive toys. These interactive moments were meant to organically incorporated into the story and not a separate event. However, by January of 1988, the books were closed on 1987 and it had been a tough year for Mattel.
According to 1988 business articles, Mattel was holding layoffs and closing the last US-based toy production plant. All of this was to save $10 million after disappoint sales of their new and established toylines. Among these was Captain Power. While Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future had sales at around $42 million dollars, it was not enough. One of the bread-&-butter toylines of Mattel, Masters of the Universe, lost $200 million in sales in 1987 alone and Mattel needed the bleeding to stop. Besides the production plant and the jobs, Captain Power toyline was also another victim to Mattel hatchet. This would seem to be the end of the story, but then in 1988, there was a Series 2 of figures and vehicles released along with being featured in the Mattel 1988 catalog. Oddly, only four character action figures were released in America, with the Series 2 vehicles and playsets being released in Europe only. The majority of the European vehicles and playsets were only released in limited numbers and are some of the most sought after by collectors today with price tags to match. Despite these Series 2 toys, Mattel held to their decision to power down Captain Power and his soldiers of the future in their fight against Lord Dread.

Overview of the Mattel Captain Power Toyline
The American toy market that Captain Power toys entered into was like Thunderdome and would need something to stand out among the crowed field to attach the attention of kids and their parents' money. Like many other toylines in the post-Kenner Star Wars era, Mattel’s Captain Power 1987 toyline was constructed around 3 3/4th inch figures, a few playsets, and some ground and air vehicles. However, unlike many other toylines of this time, there was the much  talked about TV interactivity features built into some of the toys. The TV interaction was the pièce de résistance feature and it was hammered home in both comic book and TV advertisements by showing the XT-7 Power-Jet and the Dread-Jet blasting or being blasted by the TV signals. Both the live-action TV show and anime (yes, the animation was done in Japan!) VHS training tapes had the embedded TV signals to allow for interactive play with the toys. Adding to the toys was a line of roleplay pieces, birthday supplies, lunchboxes, and random other bits that were common in 1980’s toylines. Because the Mattel Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future toyline only lasted about one year, it has in total: 10 actions figures, 9 vehicles, and 5 playsets of various sizes were made. Then that brings us to the interesting geographic puzzle and confusing mess of the 1988 second series of toys.
The majority of the second series of Captain Power toys were sold in Europe According to some sites, the original Series 1 toys were sold by Mattel, and then for the limited Series 2 released in 1988, they were maybe sold by our old friends Arco Toys. I disagree with this. Arco Toys is mostly known for making branded cheap plastic role-play items like toy guns, toy binoculars, and walkie-talkies. Examining the entire line, it is amazing how many toys were sold only in Europe and those were in limited numbers as well. It was like Mattel just dumped what they had and moved on, like some bad breakup. Why did this happen, given that Mattel is an American company and Captain Power was made in Canada? I’ve been unable to locate the answer to this. It could be that the Captain Power TV show was aired later or longer in Europe or it was more popular. Perhaps, the Mattel Europa BV company was tasked with moving the limited number of Series 2 toys by the Mattel of America? 

The Action Figures
When compared to the other action figures available in 1987,the Captain Power action figures were very similar to many in terms of function and movement. What set the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future action figures apart was their chrome-like paintjobs that was only surpassed by the 1987 Kenner Silverhawks and the odd alignment with their on-screen characters.For example. while bulky on-screen, Lord Dread had a confusing lower section that had a very small wrist and big legs that made him unstable and he was outfitted with an bladed weapon not seen on-screen. For that matter, most of the hand weapons seen in the action figures were not accurate to the TV show weaponry. This was especially true of the two BioDreads that used body-mounted weaponry, but the figures had hand weapons. In addition, the BioDreads were larger than the average person in the series, and yet their toy copies are only  four inches tall. They could have been deluxe-sized figures to communicate their fearsome abilities. Most reviewers agree that Hawk and Soaron were the two best of the figure lineup. When it came to the Series 2 figures,two were main characters, Scout and Pilot, and  two of them not seen on-screen: Stingray and Tritor.

Series 1
  • Captain Power
  • Lt. Tank Ellis
  • Major Hawk Masterson
  • Blastarr Ground Guardian BioDread
  • Soaron Sky Sentry BioDread
  • Lord Dread (with pink cape)
Series 2:
  • Corporal Pilot Chase
  • Sergeant Scout Baker
  • Colonel Stingray Johnson (unseen in TV show)
  • Tritor Ocean Attack Warlord (unseen in TV show)
  • Dread Trooper (sales samples only?)
  • Dread Commander (sales samples only?)

The heart and soul of the Mattel Captain Power toyline was undoubtedly the XT-7 Power-Jet light gun. This futuristic attack jet was the star of the toyline and the most commonly seen vehicle of the line in the stores in 1987. It retailed around $32 in 1987 ($76 today). There were three versions of the Power-Jet toy: the standard that was just the light gun fighter, there was deluxe set Power-Jet with the Cpt. Power figure and one of the training VHS tape version, then there was the Gift Set version with the Power-Jet, the figure, and the “BlastPak-1200” attack long-range jet pack system. The oddball BlaskPak-1200 is a rare toy and was only sold in Europe in both the Light Gun fighter Gift Set and in its own individually package. Both sides of the conflict would have used the BlastPak-1200 
Due to the amount of vehicles and playsets that the BlaskPak interacts with, the Blastpak-1200 was likely going to be a major toy if the line had been supported by Mattel. The dark reflection of the XT-7 “Phoenix” Power-Jet was the “Dread-Jet”, the Lord Dread Phantom Striker attack jet. Both of these light-gun jets were able to be a play toy, light guns that could play an odd version of aerial combat laser tag, and they interacted with the TV show and training VHS tapes. Both kept scores, and if it reached zero, the jet ejected the pilot. Nothing else in the vehicle lineup for the toyline is has memorable or common as the XT-7 Power-Jet. For the vehicles like the Captain Power ATR Mobile Photon Cannon and the Magna Cycle are way too gaudy, overdue, and odd to be military vehicles. These were not featured in the TV series…mercifully and only sold in Europe. The oddness continued with the “Mobile Sky-Bike Launcher”, which was an armed manned ground-based mobile transport for two Sky-Bikes and one BlastPak-1200 and was a Europe only toy. There is suggested in some box-art that the Machines were going to get their own Mobile Launcher featuring the BlastPak-1200. This is one of the rarest toys in the entire Captain Power toyline, commanding some of the highest prices due to it being only released in Europe. The Dread Empire vehicles were odd as well with the remote-controlled four-legged mech “Dread Stalker”, the “Interlocker” TV interactive DEW turret, and the rarest Captain Power toyline vehicle, the TV interactive Dread “Anti-Personnel Patroller”. This was again part of the European only toys and likely released in the very limited Wave 2 and possibly only in Italy and/or France. How limited are some of the Series 2 toys? In terms of number for the Europe Series 2 release, here is the information collected by the Captain Power Lives tumbler based on sales on internet auction sites: 3 individually packaged BlastPak-1200 toys, 3 Dread Anti-Personnel Patrollers, 8 Captain Power Mobile Sky Bike Launchers,

The Playsets
Playsets are key foundational items for any toyline due to the fact that provide an anchor for the characters and adventures that kids come up with. From Castle Greyskull to the G.I. Joe Headquarters Command Center, it seems that most toyline had a playset base for their characters. For the limited run of Captain Power toyline, it produced an amazing five playsets. For the record, only two were released here in the States, the Power Base and the Power-On Energizer, the other three were released in Europe for the Series 2 in 1988. The center of the playsets in the Captain Power toyline was the skeleton Power Base that could be added on with the other smaller playsets in the lineup, like the Power-On Energizer, the trans-field communication station, and the Sauron Beam Deflector. Speaking of the Power-On Energizer, it was designed to mimic the power-on sequence in the show and interacted with only the Captain Power figure properly due to his clear chest symbol. One of the stranger playsets was the European only Eden-2 Trans-Field base station. It carries the name of the hidden human colony of "Eden II" for some reason that was never explained and that the playset was more like a froniter outpost. One wonders if the toyline had continued, would there have been more added to the Power Base playset?

The Rarity Guild from the Captain Power Toyline
This guild was made by the good people over at the “Captain Power Lives” tumbler which has been a wealth of important information on the toys during the research phase of this blogpost.

COMMON (US, Japan, and Europe)
  • Pilot, Scout, Cpt. Power, Blastaar, Tank, Hawk, Soaron, Lord Dread
  • Dread Interlocker, XT-7, Power-On Energizer, Dread Phantom Striker
  • Cpt. Power Trans-field Communication Station
  • Cpt. Power Magnacycle (Europe only)
  •  Eden-2 Trans-field Base Station (Europe only)
  • Stingray figure
  • Tritor figure
  •  Soaron Cpt. Power Beam Deflector (Europe only)
  • Dread Stalker
  • Cpt. Power ATR Proton Cannon (Europe only)
  • The Power Base Playset
  • Blastpak 1200 (packaged with the XT-7 or Phantom Striker is European exclusive)
EXTREMELY RARE (All sold only in Europe)
  • Cpt. Power Mobile Sky Bike Launcher
  • Dread Anti-Personnel Patroller (France or Italy only)
  • Blastpak 1200 {packaged individually}
  • Dread Trooper and Dread Commander (possibly sales examples form Taiwan)
Role-Play and other Items
For many watching the TV show, the desire to don their own power armor was met with some plastic-fantastic role play items that span everything from dart guns to even an laser tag golden gun. This is one of the most unique role play items in the lineup and one of the rare examples of an branded laser tag game for a major toyline during the Great Laser War. Based stylistically on the golden directed energy pistol used by Captain Power in the series, the Power Laser was designed to be used in three ways. One was to be a target game with several modes, another was to be used as an one-on-one laser tag system with the sensors being worn on the belts, and then in team laser tag games with the Red Team vs. the Green Team. The cost of the Power Laser in 1987 was $44 (or $102 in 2020 money). In comparison, the similar system sold by Entertech for their Photon line was about $39.  

The Comic book Series

Continuity Comics was a small press publisher that operated in a very hit-or-miss fashion from 1984-1994 and one of their titles was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. On the surface, the idea of a Captain Power comic book series seems like a great idea that could have communicated the world of 2147 in a way that the uneven TV series could not. If Continuity Comics had done something similar to NOW Comics did for their 1988 Terminator series for Captain Power, it could be worth a buy...but, that did not happen. Continuity Comics only published two issues for their Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future and these issues were separated by five months! Adding to the oddness, was that the fact that these comics were not published until after the TV series and the toyline were cancelled. The first issue was published in August of 1988 and then the second in January of 1989. Rubbing salt into the wound was the most of the story of these two comics were recycled from the excellent two-part episode "A Summoning of Thunder" with some new elements with okay art and even worse scripting. Nothing much came from it and the only other Captain Power comic book was published by Marvel UK in 1989 as an 60 page "annual". To sum up, it sucks horribly. Childish writing and coloring caused this to be much worst than the Continuity Comics "series".

The Computer Game
In 1988, Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future computer game would be released for DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64 machine and it was...a game? Developed and published by Box Office, Inc, it was a typical 2D side-scroller with one real mission and a training simulation. Oddly, the training missions are from a first-person cockpit video and more difficult than the 2D section. If more of the game had been from the cockpit and had more variety, this would have been serviceable rather than a soulless cash grab that it is. Other similar 1987 properties got their own computer game back in the day, like Worlds of Wonder Lazer Tag and Photon.
The Prototypes and Rumored Toys
In the 1988 Mattel sales catalog, two new Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future action figures were pictured, but never produced and they were not released…or where they? There is some mystery surrounding the possibly unreleased Dread Trooper and the Dread Commander because according to most toy sites, these figures never produced, however, there are few collectors that have both sealed and loose copies of these very rare figures started showing up around 2007-2014. Some have suggested the Dread Trooper and Commander were either a very limited run, final prototypes/sales copies used by Mattel, or they were released only in Europe.
According to a post on the Captain Power Lives tumbler, they stated that around 12-24 of Dread trooper and commander were made, which means they were likely sales samples. Most of these figures have been found in Taiwan, which is where the figures were made originally. In addition, Captain Power Lives has concluded that more of Dread Troopers exist than the Commander figures.  At the moment, we known of 9 Dread Troopers total, and out of those, 7 are carded examples with two being loose examples. Only one sealed and carded Dread Commander is known to exist along with a loose example that was battered up with missing helmet and weapon. One odd feature of the Dread Trooper and Commander figures was they had these skull-like faces under the helmets...which was not seen on-screen. The other toys were all vehicles and unlike the Dread Trooper and Commander, they were not produced and nor have the prototypes been seen. 
 The Resistance Ambush Pod Station was ball-shaped one-figure pod with a large DE cannon designed to look like debris in the urban battlefield then surprise mother fucker! The odd toy of the bunch was the T.R.A.C 5000 Captain Power allied robot. Originally, I thought this was a mech-like suit for one of the figures, but it actually an interactive motion-sensing toy that “attacks” any incoming enemy with IR beams. Pew-Pew. The coolest toy was based on a Dread armored vehicle seen patrolling the ruins in the TV series, called the Bio-Dread Armored Destroyer, it would have been an interactive toy and awesome. We would have also gotten a larger SkyBike, in the SkyBike ST-300 toy that was also interactive with the TV show and VHS tapes.
Lastly, there would have been an add-on to the Power Jet XT-7 called the “missile lock indicator” that would have been interactive and allowed for plastic missiles to be fired? In terms of the rumor mill associated with the Mattel toyline, there was a vehicle and playset in development…according to rumor. The vehicle would have been the massive jumpship used by Power and Company as their mobile command center. Just like in the show, the Power-Jet would have locked on to the top of the JumpShip, there would have been seating for the whole group. This would have been a massive vehicle and if the rumor is true, than it was nothing more than an idea. There was also the rumor of a playset of Lord Dread’s homebase Volconia that would have been complete with an Overmind.  Of course, if there had been a season two with Mattel’s money, there would have been more toys based on the new season including the newest member of the team, the female commando "Ranger". Since Mattel pulled out prior any real planning sessions on how to market the further adventures of the Solders of the Future gang, we fans have no idea what could have been in the cards for more Captain Power toys. I do think that more toys that did not or would not exist on the TV shows would likely have continued given the setting of the planned second season.

Who the Hell are Stingray and Tritor? 
Despite Mattel cancelling their involvement with Landmark Entertainment's TV show in January of 1988, there actually was a small second release of Captain Power toys released in 1988 in America and Europe! Just four figures were released in Series 2 for America with no vehicles, two being series regulars in Scout and Pilot, but there where these two other characters: Stingray and Tritor. Just who the hell were these characters because they did not seem to be in the TV series?! Originally, there was going to be an aquatic operations character named Colonel Nathan "Stingray" Johnson added to Power's merry band of five, but the entire underwater environment for 2147 was cut due to budget reasons concerning the water tank. The yin to Stingray's yang would have been another BioDread warlord named Tritor, the Ocean Attack Warlord. While both of these characters were cut from season one and were not scheduled to return for a planned season two, these figures must have been in some state of final production to warrant release for the 1988 Series 2 in both European and American toy markets. It is odd to think of the inclusion of an underwater member of the Soldiers of the Future as well an CGI BioDread to combat and control the waters in the post-Metal Wars world.
Odd because none of the season one episodes contain anything related to the water and adding CGI to underwater shoots would have been a real bitch in 1987. However, we know that both aquatic operations characters were designed and in the case of Stingray, the full power suit costume was constructed due to the fact that they used him in the 1986 live-action promo video for the TV series for about three seconds of footage. When the show actually entered into production, the underwater elements were completely eliminated and both characters were cut. Despite my best efforts, I could not confirm if the CGI model of the Tritor BioDread had been mocked up. If these characters had been included in the series, it is likely that they would have only been in a few scenes/situations storylines due to the special effect budget limitations and the limited nature of their operational field. Much like other water-only characters in other media, it is likely that Stingray would have been like Aquaman or Zuma and condemned to filling out TPS reports back at the Power Base while the rest of the Power gang would have been out battling Dread and his tin-cans.

Why Did Captain Power Fail?
It would seem that the wind should have filled the sails of the little Captain Power enterprise and it would be one of the iconic 1980's sci-fi franchises. However, the ship sank for many reasons and Captain Power the show and toyline were dead by winter of 1988. Why? One of the reason came in the form of parenting and children's rights groups disliking the direction of children's television programs and its entanglement in the toy industry. They felt that most cartoons of the 1980's were thinly veiled 30 minute commercials and they contained too much violence. These groups really hated Captain Power and embarked on a tar-and-feather campaign that did result in directly harming the TV show's future along with the Mattel toyline. Peggy Charren, head of Action for Children's Television in 1987 also leveled this at the interactive nature of the toys and their high price tag:
 "It's remarkably unfair, the poor child couldn't participate,'' she says. ``But the problem isn't Captain Power ... it's that when this works, Mattel and Hasbro will do it with all their toys. It's going to take over, and when educational shows work the same way, then you really have a problem with the exclusion of poor kids.'' As we stated above, the VP of Mattel's entertainment division was asked to testify before Congress during their hearings into the commercialization of children's TV in September of 1987 because Captain Power was in the crosshairs of these parenting groups and lawmakers with an interest in children education. It should be noted that Ms. Charren was also at these hearings as well. Mr. Weems raised the point that owning the Power-Jet was not critical to watching and enjoying the show during these hearings.
The also brings up an issue of the price tag of these toys and that interactivity feature. Toys that were high-tech and used interactive features were becoming the hot trend for toys in 1986, 1987, and 1988. Toys like Lazer Tag, Photon, Teddy Ruxpin, and Mattel's own Bravstarr all had technology and interactivity at their electronic hearts with prices to match. Just one of the Captain Power 3 3/4th figures sold for $3.99 (about $9.28 in 2020 money) which is about standard for the time, but it was the Power Jet XT-7 that the show interactivity feature was directed aimed at, and that vehicle came with $32.99 price tag (or about $77 in 2020 money). This made for an expensive toy that was directly tied to a TV show or VHS tapes and it seemed that buyers were not convicted for spend that kind of money that was competing against laser tag systems.
More over, the toys were just okay and they much played up interactivity features was uneven. As someone that liked and watched Captain Power in 1987, I was completely not interested in the toys after seeing them in person and they reminded me of Silverhawks too much. Another element that worked against the show and toyline was that Captain Power was attempted to be all things to all viewers. Some shows span age groups, like Star Trek, Classic Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, or even ROBOTECH. Adult, teens, and kids watched these shows and it was hoped by Mattel and Landmark Entertainment Group that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future could be counted among those types of shows. The issue with this approach is that it often does not work, as Landmark Entertainment figured out too late. During the research phase for this article, I read repeated similar claims by those associated with the show that it was not aimed at kids. Gary Goddard, the developer of the show, said this to Starlog Magazine in March of 1988: "The show was definitely created with an older audience in mind. I'm not saying Captain Power is not for kids. What I am saying is that it's not just for kids." Take for example a show my 4 year old daughter watches: Paw Patrol. I have watched the show to see what my daughter is viewing and understand it when she wants or needs to talk about it. But, Paw Patrol is not a show I'm going to watch on my own and was mostly true was Captain Power for many adults. The show was stuck with a terrible title, which several involved with the show admitted to, it had a toyline, and it had the interactivity element. Moreover, the show was too short in runtime to flesh out the stories it was trying to tell, the writing was terribly uneven as all hell, and it ran in kiddy TV time-slots in most markets. These were all reasons that the show had the deck stacked against it.
We have to also remember that Captain Power was at its gold-armored heart a military science fiction show that took place in a post robot apocalypse that had its heroes in shiny metal armor and the main villain was in bad Borg cosplay with all around terrible writing/dialog. It was either too mature for the kid's or too lame for the adults. Adding insult to injury, the show was expensive to the tune of over a million dollars an episode (around $1.2 million on average), and Mattel was not having the sales of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future merchandise to cover this cost.
In total, the show came in at a total cost of $26 million. This all led to the decision by Mattel to pull their funding of the TV show in January of 1988, and thus, ending the adventures of Captain Power and company. Larry DiTillio, the story editor of the TV show, summed up to Starlog Magazine in January of 1989 the reasons why Mattel pulled out of Captain Power. He listed the backlash from parents groups about the violence, the added expense of having a live-action show instead of a cartoon in the form of residual payments to the Guilds, and lower sales of the toys than expected. Gary Goddard added that Mattel was unhappy about the direction of the show at the end of season one and the setup for season two.
The death of the character Pilot, the loss of the Power Base, and the mental toll on the group caused some major shifts for season two that would likely not be as geared for tie-in toy development as original planned when Mattel and Landmark made their deal. As I've said before, with the fate of one goes the other. When Mattel's toyline was not selling, they pulled the funding for the expensive show to stop the bleeding. According to articles I've uncovered, Mattel sold about $42 million dollars of Captain Power toys and merchandise, but Mattel had planned on around $60 million, leaving a good amount of Captain Power stock on the shelves, bound for the bargain bins.  If the toys had been a massive success, Mattel would have continued with funding the show, but that didn't happen. Despite more than a year of hunting for new partners to fund a second season of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future that did not tie into a toyline, none could be secured, thus ending the story of Captain Power and his merry band...for now

The Planned Second Season of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
In an Starlog Magazine interview from January of 1989 with Larry DiTillio and Gary Goddard, they laid out the planned 2nd season of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future without the involvement of Mattel and their demands for interactive laser battles.Without Mattel's requirements and toy, the show and setting would have been reshaped to focus more on the post-apocalypse/robot revolt elements with increased maturity. With the destruction of the Power Base and death of Jennifer "Pilot" Chase, Captain Power is a broken man and the remains of his team are playing a running battle with Dread forces with Hawk as their leader. The objectives of the machine empire would have changed, and they are now on a campaign to kill the remains of humanity. Lord Dread himself would have gone from cyborg to completely robotic, thus marking the end of the role for the actor. While looking for a new base, the team would interact with those in Eden II, the human resistance, and others in the post-Metal Wars societies, like Tech-Town. During the 2nd season, the character of Tank would have more of the certain and the new member of the Power team, the female commander "Ranger", would have been his love interest. Another female character would have been added for Dread, an android that would have been involved with the character of Scout. Then there was the hinted possibility for Sauron to leave the machine empire and join up with the human side of the war. Another hint was that Larry DiTillio, who called the show's title "the worst title for a TV show ever created", was thinking about changing the title of the show to appeal to more adults and get the "kid's show" label away from Captain Power.
How close was the production team to the 2nd season? There were 18 scripts finished, the series bible was updated when Mattel pulled out in the winter of 1988. This lead to Landmark Entertainment's now disgraced Gary Goddard to seek out new investors in the show as late as the winter of 1989 and it was a fruitless hunt. The planned 2nd season never materialized, but Landmark was able to re-acquire the rights to the first season of the show. Sadly, it would have extremely difficult to get Captain Power off of the ground again in 1989 due to the majority of the production crew and actors moving on to new jobs.

The Legacy and Impact of the Captain Power Toyline
In September of 1987, when Captain Power first started airing on TV stations, it had an immediate impact in both bad and good ways. The ratings and toy sales were actually quite good at the beginning and there were many fans of the Terminator like setting, but it had already drawn the attention of parenting groups. The flame quickly burned out and as we know, it was cancelled in the winter of 1988 to the tune of just 22 episodes. But, that did not lessen the fact that Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future was a groundbreaking show and toyline that attempted to break new ground with interaction and elevating kid's shows and their themes. One interesting side effect caused by failure and cancellation of Captain Power, was the hyped next frontier of toys being the interactive TV concept was halted by the companies working on their own take on interactive television products.
When we consider the show today, some 33 years later, we can see that the kids that grew up with Captain Power (like me) are still discussing it on the internet and asking for the adventures to be continued. That is impressive for a cancelled single season show. Sadly, these warm feelings of nostalgia do not extend as greatly to the Mattel toyline. While still discussed and traded on the internet and vintage toy stores, the prices for much of the toyline is reasonable and there seem to be alot of sealed & carded examples of the action figures, which is telling about the supply vs. demand for Captain Power toys at the time of their release. To me, I've always thought the story of the Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV and toyline was a sad one. A great deal of effort went into the TV series and the toyline and then Mattel pulls out ending the whole grand experiment.

Could Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future have been a Success?
Recently, I was discussing with a friend that I grew up and watched Captain Power back in the day about the article. He asked me if I thought Captain Power the show and toyline could have been a success. When rewatching the series, there were moments I could see a glimmer of hope and possibility with the series, especially in some of the later episodes...but it too late by then and its fate had been sealed. The Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future TV show and toyline could not have been success as we knew them in 1987. The basic concept of the show was sound and interesting to some degree, but the actual show was a mess and the tie-in toyline did not help matters. If the show had been titled something like "The Phoenix Project", been an hour long, dumped the shiny golden armor in favor for something more realistic, altered the designs of the robotic enemy, and not had a toyline tie-in than I could see that this show may have been a success in the syndication market of 1987. Where does that leave the Mattel interactive toys? If the toy company wanted an interactive program for their toyline than it should have been a cartoon and been something like Bravstarr, which was a Mattel property as well.  Oddly, I think the Captain Power the show, if animated, could have been a great vehicle for the toys.

Next Time on FWS...
Back in 1985 when ROBOTECH was airing on channel 41 in Tulsa, I was nine and completely obsessed with all things anime related. One day, I found this mecha toys with box-art that made me immediately think of ROBOTECH and seemed to think I had seen them somewhere before. I snapped up both of them despite not knowing what the hell "Orguss" was. For years, I could not find anything out on these odd robot toys I had...that was until I read Viz Media's Animerica #1in 1993. In the pages was a review of the VHS release of something called "The Super Dimension Century ORGUSS" and then I finally knew what those Orguss mecha toys were and why I had seemed to be familiar with them back in '85. Join us next time when FWS dives into the confusing world that is Super Dimension Century ORGUSS!

10 May 2020

What We Will Fight Over: WATER

Every war is waged for a reason. At times, wars are started to secure some political objective, for some economic gain, revenge, rights of succession, or even love. We tend to think of wars waged over the basic needs of survival are matters for post-Apocalypse films and our early ancestors. However, that is simply not true. There are wars, in both an armed conflict and legal sense, being waged that this very moment for one of the critical elements of life: water. Since the founding of military science fiction with H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, we have seen water being a genesis for future conflicts here on Earth and among the stars. In the installment of What We Will Fight Over, we will be diving into exploring and explaining how water will be the spark of future wars both here and out there.

Why is Water so Important?
This maybe academic and a rather simple section, but, I wondered when working on this article, just why is water so important if Brawndo's got what plants crave. Water is one of the materials in nature that can exist as a solid, gas, and liquid and every living organism on this planet requires water to live.  Water is the universal solvent, allowing nearly all substances to be dissolves in water…save for baked on cheese. Nearly everything we buy as water somewhere in the manufacturing process.
Water is used as the vehicle of transport to waste products out of the organism and needed nutrient into the organism, crossing cell walls and membranes. Here in the ICU hospital environment, we call this “I’s and O’s” and when those are in-balance, the renal (or urinary) system can properly function eliminating wastes in the body via excretion. Not enough water going into the body means that toxicity can build up if the body cannot pull water from other parts of the body’s interior ocean. While water is the critical for life on Terra, it may not be on other exo-planet environments.  Both ammonia and methane have been looked as possible foundations for life on alien worlds if water is not available.

Some Statistics & Facts about Water
With Earth being a closed system for much of its geologic history, the majority of water that existed prior to the rise of man is still around. Some water has escaped the closed system of the atmosphere with the era of space exploration. These are drops in the bucket when compared to the total of water on Earth, which is 1,0260,000,000,000,000,000,000 liters. Out of the trillions of liters, about 97% is saltwater with the remaining 3% of fresh water being trapped in a frozen state…but not for long with climate change. All life on Earth uses waters to live and humans need water for their biological process and to rise the plants and animals we consume. The exchange is about 1 liter of water per 1 kilocalorie. It is much higher for cattle. 15,400 liters of water are need for every 2.2lbs of red meat.
With the rise in populations, the affects of Climate Change on global weather patterns and glaciers, and more demands on water sources; we can see a brewing storm. To this, the UN identified five major rivers that could be the flashpoint for future conflicts: The Colorado River, the Nile, Indus, Ganges, and the Tigris-Euphrates. One of the shocking numbers I learned was that there was 655 conflicts over water identified that more about access to a water source, like damming and diverting. There is some interesting connection between the 2006-2011 drought in Syria and the current civil war. That is what sources on water wars are saying…that water supply issues are one of the driving factors for social unrest and raising tensions that led to armed conflict. Will we see nukes being exchanged over cases of Fiji Water? No likely, but issues rising for water issues could drive other issues towards war.
When we examine the water accessible on other planets, asteroids, and moons of the solar system, we can see that there is indeed extraterrestrial liquid water for off-world colonization in our star system. Two of the first sites for off-world human habitations will be Luna and Mars. Only recently was it discovered that both have sources of extraterrestrial  water. Mars has much more water, that would equal out to be 14% of the Martian surface. While it is true the Moon does have water, it would take one ton of Lunar soil to fill a 32oz bottle of water. That could limit the size of any Lunar colony or outpost and even could fuel conflicts over Lunar water sources.
Further out beyond the belt, is Jovial moon of Europa. Covered in rock and ice, the interior likely has liquid water due to the distance from Jupiter and may have life down into there. Europa is a treasure of off-world water. Along with Europa, there is water on Ceres and a great deal of water on the Saturn moon of Enceladus. In addition to those sources, there is number of the asteroids in the Kuiper Belt and in the rings of the gas giants that bear ice.  When we look out beyond the Sol System, there are some exo-planets that may have liquid water.

  • In the Gliese 581 system that lays 20.22 LYS away from Sol, there are two worlds with the possibility of liquid water: Gliese 581D and Gliese 581G. 
  • In the Gliese 667 system that lays 20.8 LYS away from Sol, there is one world with the possibility of liquid water: Gliese 661Cc
  • In the HD 28185  system that lays 128.6 LYS away from Sol, there is one world with the possibility of liquid water: HD 28185B
  • In the HD 85512 system that lays 36 LYS away from Sol, there is one world with the possibility of liquid water: HD 85512B
  • In the MOA-2007-BLG-192L system that lays 3,000 LYS away from Sol, there is one world with the possibility of  liquid water: MOA-2007-BLG-192LB
  • In the Kapteyn system that lays 12.8 LYS away from Sol, there is one world with the possibility of liquid water: Kapteyn b
  • In the Kapler-62 system that lays 13 LYS away from Sol, there are two world with the possibility of liquid water: Kapler-62e and Kapler-62f
  • In the Kapler-69 system that lays 13 LYS away from Sol, there is one world with the possibility of liquid water: Kapler-69c
  • In the closet star system, Alpha Centauri, that lays 4.3 LYS away, there is a possibility that Proxima Centauri b has liquid water. 
The Difference between a "Water Conflict" and a "War over Water Access"
There are two kinds of wars over water: out-and-out wars over water sources for the most basic of needs, including watering crops and livestock and then there are conflicts over water access. In the past and in some post-apocalypse wasteland, humans will fight wars over water to prevent themselves from dying from dehydration or their crops/livestock. These are rare and are often more raids and small unit actions than large battles. Now, humans have fought wars, mounted invasions, and engaged in legal battlers over water access. This takes the forms of someone building a dam on a critical river that feeds many nations, taking of a warm-water port to allow for year around access to the seas for their navies and shipping interests, and it also takes the form of secure water ways for strategic purposes. We have seen both of these unfold in recent history and it will happen again.

Will  Aliens Really Come Across the Cosmos for our Water?
Since the beginning of our species, we have fought one another for sources of drinkable water and this was just limited to humans, but other members of the animal kingdom fight one another for water sources. Does this mean that aliens will mount a planetary invasion for our great planetary water reserves? No. While we will kill one another for water on this planet and planetary pioneer colonial expeditions could fight one another sources on exoplanets, spacefaring aliens will not look at the heavily populated and nuclear armed Earth as a oasis in the desert of outer space. Simply put, there are other sources of water within our own star system that are easier to access and  do not involve full-scale planetary invasion. Even if the engineering undertaking to extract these extraterrial water sources is complex, it still does not involve armed conflict even if the aliens possess more advanced technology.
Hell, if the aliens were crafty and stealthy enough, they could simply extract seawater from completely unpopulated and un-monitored areas of our global without bothering the locals. This could account for the UFO sightings over and under the oceans. That is not to say that some ancient alien theories of primitive Earth being an alien watering hole are also not correct. At this junction in our human history, any alien invasion force would face stiff resistance from billion of pissed off Terrans just for water these aliens could mine from Europa or Enceladus or Ceres.
The only way I can see that aliens would engage in offensive combat operations to take water from us would be if future humans controlled every interstellar water supply in the solar system and the aliens could not locate an asteroid or comet that met their needs. I think the best example is this: imagine there are two gas stations on the same street. One is heavily defended, like the refiner compound in Road Warrior and the other is a normal gas station where you fill up without mounting a full-scale assault. Which one would you chose? That is simply why the alien invasion of Earth will not be completely about stealing our water.

Will We Fight Over Water in the Near Future?
In the lost history of our species, our ancestors fought over oasis, rivers, and ponds that were the the source of water for miles...and if we are to believe everything being turned out on the subject, we will fight over water in the coming century. Some of this future can be seen anytime when a hurricane is coming or during the recent crisis with COVID-19 with the empty shelves and the fear of the water supply being cut off. It can be best summed up by the World Bank VP Ismail Serageldin said this about water wars in 1995: "If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water."
Why? After all, for many of us reading this article, we can just turn on the tap, or open a bottle of water, or hot a button on their refrigerator and there is magically water. Many of us, including myself, have pools at their homes in Dallas, and water seems like a given for us. Sadly, that is going to change. That likelihood of water being a source of conflict has been placed at 95% by the 2119 due to over 700 million people being displaced due to 2/3rd of the global population being in regions with water supply issues. Even Goldman Sachs called water "the petroleum for the next century". Let us examine several reasons for the coming water wars.
One of the factors that could led to water wars has already been shown in some sci-fi works like Tank Girl and Solarbabies, is with corporations having control over water resources. One source I read called "A World without Water" by Ginger Otis discussed the evils of privatizing the water supply and the current state where 70% of the global water source is controlled by just two companies and they do set prices. Part of the issue with access to clean water is that many that cannot get water is because they cannot pay for it.
In the book "Water: the epic struggle for wealth, power, and civilization", author Steven Solomon says this: "That control and manipulation of water should be a pivotal axis of power and human achievement throughout history is hardly surprising. Water has always been man's most indispensable natural resource, and one endowed with special, seemingly magical powers of physical transformation derived from its unique molecular properties and extraordinary roles in Earth's geological and biological processes. Through the centuries, societies have struggled politically, militarily, and economically to control the world's water wealth: to erect cities around it, to transport goods upon it, to harness its latent energy in various forms, to utilize it as a vital input of agriculture and industry, and to extract political advantage from it. Today, there is hardly an accessible freshwater resource on the planet that is not being engineered, often monumentally, by man." Several articles I read concluded that there is enough water for everyone, but economic factors prevent water from being accessed.
Another issue was raised in the UN World Water Development Report of 2019 is that demand for water use increases by 1% per year and that billions experience water stress leading to death, political turmoil, economic downturn, and sickness. This demand leads to stresses on sanitation of that water. According to the UN report, 6 out of 10 people on Terra do not have sanitation services in their region. This directly leads to sickness and death. These also led to reasons for armed conflict. If you have no power, you will attempt to gain some, even by the barrel of an AK...especially, if you are thirsty. Lastly, we currently live in a world in flux due to climate change, and that alone with cause havoc in rainfall and glacial levels. This is will trigger water issues across the globe and force conflict to secure water supplies.

Water Wars and Off-World Colonies
As the Expanse as taught us, water will be one of the important elements to founding a successful colony out in the black as it was for overseas colonies in the Americas. However, water imported from mother Earth will be too expensive and difficult to ship over the vast distances of deep space. There would also be environmental impacts as well with removing thousands of gallons of water off-planet. Instead, any colony, space station, or off-world installation will have to have a source of extraterrestrial liquid water or ice to supply the needs of the site and to resupply some of the space traffic that comes to the site. These sources of interstellar water could be mined from asteroids, piped from underground sources on the planetary body where the settlement is, or even taken from moons or rings.
This would make these sources of water natural targets for space water pirates and hostile forces looking to dehydrate a colony or outpost. This would be a type of siege warfare in a way, but with much more critical time period. After all, the oxygen they breath could be partly sourced from water or even to re-hydrate freeze-dried space food. Any enemy force that has cut-off the water supply to our space colony could see surrender in short order. Of course, all of these scenarios is depend on technology. If you can reclaim much of your water from waste recycling and out of the air along with the creation/recycling of breathable air via other means, than the importance of regular fresh water resupply somewhat less critical.
If we look at the more near future of space settlement, those water sources will be critical in establish viable colonies and they could be a rest for armed conflicts amount the stars. Various colonial powers could come to blows over both attempting to tap the same underground Martian water source or that pipelines are hijacked. Those acts may result in the death of colonists or a prelude to war. We could see settlers arranging raiding parties and taking back the water well before any nation-states or corporations have time to approve the hostile action. It would be that critical for the settlers on off-world colonies.     

Sci-Fi and the Wars over Water
The connection between wars over water and the genre of military science fiction spring from a single common source: H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel War of the Worlds. This novel founded the genre of military sci-fi along with the trope of “Mars needs Water” due to the time that Wells lived in. The empires of Europe and America where using the developing nations as raw resources colonies to fuel the modern industrial revolution societies of Europe and America. This, coupled with the theory of canals on the surface of Mars pushed by Percival Lowell, fostered a rich inspiration for invaders from Mars looking at the Earth as a raw resource colony with a greedy cold eye. From that point on, one of the reasons for interstellar conflict was given as needing access to water. These struggles for water were between aliens and man and man vs. man among the heavens; and they run through the gambit and all media types. Often creators play up the richness of the Earth and how special it is and how the aliens are from worlds that are dying or used up.
When it comes to water being the trigger for a war between human factions, it is often due to limited water resources on off-world colonies or in post-apocalypse scenarios were control of clean water means life or death. At times, this can mean finding and securing the “water chip” or the right filter, or fixing the filtration system. Securing these water items can and does mean combat. Like all science fiction, it swings wildly between being a hard science POV to a soft-serve science POV, from DUNE to the replicators of Trek

Examples of Water Wars in Sci-Fi:

The Water Crisis from The Expanse
One of the issues that face much of the inhabitants of the Sol System settlements is water. Due to many needs that water fulfills for the off-world settlements, especially Ceres, water is the most precious commodity in the system. Water is used for all the familiar things we know, but it is also used for oxygen production and propulsion. While there are sources of interstellar water, it still must be shipped around the system and there is labor to mine it and move it. There are companies, like Pur'n'Kleen Water Company, that capitalizes on this need…but with massive risk to lives and capital. All of this entails cost and opportunities for piracy. Some of the ice haulers in the series were intercepted and destroyed.  One of the reasons for the intra-system conflicts.

The Visitors from NBC's V Series
While sci-fi on the big screen was hot and many classics of the genre were cracked out due to the massive popularity of Star Wars, the smaller screen took more time. One of the highlights was NBC’s bold 1983 alien invasion story that was told over two nights. Being successful, another miniseries was ordered along with short-lived TV series. While the lizard aliens of V were inspired by the Nazis, their ultimate goal was very standard: enslave some, eat most. However, it was not just the humans the Visitors desired for the dinner table or for slave-soldiers for their wars against the Zedti, they need Earth’s water.
Their homeworld was the 4th from Sirius and the Visitors abuse of the environment had caused their world to be running out of natural resources. It was hoped that Earth’s resource could restore their homeworld or that Earth would be their second homeworld. This theme of water stealing was reinforced by the short-lived ABC miniseries as well.

The Martian Invasion of the Earth from War of the Worlds
Mars has held the minds and the dreams of man for generations, with the 19th century being an banner year for Mars in the popular imagination. Men like Percival Lowell saw canals on Mars and imagined a dry world with a desperate alien population attempting to channel the remains of water to their population centers. These visions of digging aliens and flowing canals lit a fire of creativity in the minds of H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Alexander Bogdanov, and Ray Bradbury. It also gave a reason for invasion and war as in the founding work of military science fiction: 1898's War of the Worlds. With the resources of the red planet drying up and the green-and-blue world looking rich and fat with a low-tech population that the Martians believe their tripods will win the day against them. The goal of securing resources for a more advanced population from a less advanced population was something that H.G. Wells witnessed with his own eyes as the British Empire and other European powers torn through the developing world for raw materials with superior technology. While Britain was not running through India and Africa for water, but the concept is the same. This may have started the trend of aliens coming to Earth for water.

The Battle for the water source in 2001: A Space Odyssey
We all remember the first time we watch this 1968 sci-fi classic and how  it starts off with our distant more ape-like ancestors in Africa battling over a source of water. While this represents a time very long ago, the struggle is the same…we will fight to gain access to water. This eternity struggle to secure resources to allow your group to survive is shown here and how a superior weapon can lead to that security, even if it is a bone.

The Changing of water to sand in The Objective
One of my favorite sci-fi films of the 2000s has to be 2008’s The Objective that was directed by  Daniel Myrick. This very cool blend of horror, UFO lore, and a Special Operations mission to the wilds of Afghanistan is a pure joy. In the film, a small US Army ODA team is tasked by the CIA to go to seek out a holyman for approval of the US-led mission against the Taliban. In actuality, CIA agent has been secretly tasked with identifying a radiological sign in the northern mountains that could be a rumor AQ nuclear device or even a UFO. During the misadventures of the ODA team, they grow sick and their water supply is turned into sand. This use of water as a weapon by the UFOs is interesting take on wiped out the team. By the end, the lack of water is the least of their concerns.

The Destruction of the Water Tanks on the Galactica from "Water (1x2)"
In the second episode of the groundbreaking reimagined series, the sleeper agent "Boomer" Sharon Valerii planted timed plastic explosive, called "G-4", in the main water holding tanks. The aftermath of the explosion caused 60% of the total Galactica water reservoirs to bleed out into space and creating a massive issue with the fleet. Unlike the majority of the ships within the civilian fleet, the Galactica could recycle nearly 100% of their water onboard allowing for the old battlestar to go years without retanking. This made the old grand gray lady the portable water source for the 16,000 out of the 47,000 people.
With the Cylon sabotage, there was only days of water left and a Raptor FLT shuttle was sent out to scout for interstellar water sources on six star systems with planetary bodies within range. While water, in one form or another, is available in outer space, the Galactica was running out of time to locate a water sources. Then Boomer finds an interstellar source in a nearby source. The issue with the water sabotage now is mining the ice from the moon which would take a estimated 1,000 people and the manpower issue is tackled in the next episode. This made water a weapon to put the Colonials in a deadly situation. 

The Eco-Protectorate from Solarbabies
While the 1980’s is enjoying a healthy dose of nostalgia, there are a ton of bad movies that populate the 1980’s sci-fi film landscape and one of them is roller-hockey post-apocalypse film Solarbabies from 1986. In a familiar bleak future, the world’s water is controlled by the Eco-Protectorate and forces the orphans to fight in gladiatorial games that is just beyond Thunderdome. Fighting against the Eco-Protectorate are the Eco-Waters. One of the orphan rolling-hockey teams is the “Solarbabies” and they discover an alien orb that has the promise of water coming back to the land. I’ve seen this movie once and I was not sober and yet it still haunts me…

The Water & Power Corporate from Tank Girl
In the Tank Girl 1995 film, the land down under is setting for our tale of the apocalypse. This time, water is the critical need, not the gasoline. The reason for that was a comet strike in 2021 (something to look forward to) and this fueled a drought. Much of the water in Australia, is controlled by the Water & Power Corporation, which allows them to control the population.  One of the only free water wells not continued by the W&P Corporation is the site of a battle that directly involves Tank Girl. For much of the movie, there is a battle between Tank Girl and the W&P Corporation for control of water.  Water & Power is also in the original comic series as well.

The Society of the Fremen from the DUNE Universe
There is never one drop of rain on Arrakis and the people that live on that hellish world are devoted to preserving every drop of moisture with fanatic methods. Water was harvested from the dead (Freman or killed enemies), their own bodies via Stillsuits, wind collectors/dew collectors, and even stolen from outsiders. Everything in their lives was framed through water conversation and that filtered down into their language. Children raised on Dune, could not imagine what Paul said when he discussed the waters of his homeworld, including rain and oceans. Due to the extreme environmental conditions, all matters boiled down to water, including warfare until the Maud’Did liberated the Freman to the stars and began changing the face of Arrakis. 

The Tet from Oblivion
One of the films of the last few years I’ve enjoyed is Tom Cruise’s Oblivion and beside the painful plot-holes and such, I thought it was overall an enjoyable and beautiful sci-fi film. One element that was shown in dramatic and beautiful fashion was the sucking up of seawater via the Hydro-Rigs. While a cover story was told to the Jack Harpers and Victoria Olsons, the Tet was an alien machine entity that was involved in the systematic exploitation of planetary resources. The seawater was being used for the Tet’s power requirements by hydrogen isotopes extracted from the seawater. When the Tet entered the Sol system, it used one of the astronauts of the interception mission to form a cloned army to attack Earth with help from killer AI robots to secure the water on Earth. By 2077, the human resistance managed to destroy on of the Hydro-Rigs and then managed to destroy the Tet using Tech 49 and a nuclear bomb. There was no word on how much of the Earth’s ocean water was taken by the alien space station.

The Galactic Water Storage from the film Ice Pirates! 
This 1984 semi-comedy was centered a galactic water storage and was a production plagued with many issues and a lower budget than planned. The result of the half-baked story and the limited budget is a total B movie that is terrible. I’ve seen this and I was I could unseen it. The story is that the Templars of the planet Mithra (the Indo-Iranian god of light?) control the galaxy’s water supply by destroying sources and controlling others. In this future, ice cubes are the currency and the ice pirates raid Templar armed cargo vessels for the booty. Deeply unfunny film that could have been interesting is a wasted effort.

Water Shortages on Elaaden and Karada from Mass Effect: Andromeda
Mass Effect is one of the finest experiences I’ve had that makes me feel that I’ve been teleported to a different reality that I very enjoy being in. That also stands with the much-maligned Mass Effect: Andromeda. While about 75% good and 25% bad, I enjoyed my time with the Andromeda Initiative. Most of the “Golden Worlds” that Pathfinder Ryder & Company visit to fix to allow colonization by the Nexus suffer from water issues. On the Arrakis-like Elaaden, is a simple lack of water and on Karada, is tainted and toxic. This causes conflicts over water on both Elaaden and Karada until the Pathfinder unleashes the Vaults and sets the environment back to right.

The Desert Society seen in Dark Horse Comics Race of the Scorpions
Dark Horse Presents was a groundbreaking anthology series for me personally. While I bought the issues associated with Predator and/or ALIENS, there were other gems in those black-and-white pages…and one was Race of the Scorpions. While the series by Argentine talent Leo Duranona was reprinted in other formats, it would see its first release in DHP#23 on October 01, 1988. I came into the Race of the Scorpions with DHP issue number 24, due to the prequel story for the upcoming Dark Horse ALIENS comicbook series. I’ve always like the little I knew about Race of the Scorpions, and I wanted to include it on this list. In the distant future, an ecological disaster transforms the oceans into a soupy nightmare with a hard crust that makes much of the world into a desert. Fresh water is the most precious item and worth killing and dying over. In the story, a gang sets out to find a water source under the crusty layer of the desert sand seas. This was a fortune waiting and the power to change the hostile world. This was a excellent comic and something different from the standard superhero comics or characters/settings pulled from films.

The Aliens from Battle Los Angeles
On of the bolder, and interesting takes on the military science fiction trope of fighting over water is the 2011 film Battle: Los Angeles. Here, an actual alien military force invades 20 of the world’s largest coastal cities from the sea with the goal of securing our water and possibly other natural resources. The nearly 30,000 strong alien force themselves are very interesting and according to some background information, these aliens, nicknamed “the ants”, likely come from an aquatic species that is losing a war for their homeworld and they are seeking out new colony sites. The water they are using is hinted at being used for their fuel and maintaining their biological system. FWS will be discussing this movie in more detail soon.

The need for water in "the Caretaker" Episode of ST: Voyager
The first episode of Star Trek Voyager has an entire plot point circling about water and the rarity of it for…reasons? In the show, the newly transported USS Voyager finds Neelix’s ship and he asks for water for information on the whereabouts of some of the crew. Neelix uses the Voyager crew and their able to magically bamf! water into existence to bargain for the release of Kes. When that goes south, he uses his DE pistol to burn holes into the massive water containers beamed down from Voyager to distract the Kazon-Ogla.  While this plot point is quickly forgotten as the pilot episode move forward, the oddity of this scenario as always troubled me from 1995 onward. We know that the Kazon-Ogla have FTL starships that can leave the system and hunt down sources of interstellar water. We know that the Kazon-Ogla are on Ocampa for the rich Cormaline deposts that are, according to Neelix, “very much in demand”. These riches could have allowed for a trade arrangement to be set up to allow for the importation of water from an out-of-system source. While this plot point was used to demonstrate the power of the Federation replicator technology and the desire for the Kazon to control this technology. 

The Buying up of Water Rights by Quantum from Quantum of Solace 
The director of the 2008 Quantum of Solace, Marc Forster said in interviews that the world is heading for a water crisis. During the film, Dominic Greene says this to the Quantum organization: “This is the world's most precious resource, and we have to control as much of it as we can." Quantum was involved in actions of assassination, political engineering, and bribery to secure water rights around the globe, including in Bolivia. It is heavily hinted that when the world arrives at a water crisis, Quantum would be there with drinking water for the price of submission to the will of the organization. I know that this is not science fiction, but it was too good of an example not to use.

The Combine Draining of the Oceans from the Half Life Universe
When the Combine won against the Earth forces during the 7 Hour War. The Earth became a source for the Combine needs. Horrific changes were made to the Earth and the human race with Stalkers and the draining of the oceans as key examples. While the basic reason for the draining of the oceans was to transport the water from the Earth to needed areas of the Combine empire…there was never any concrete reason laid out. There is some mention of a teleporter in the oceans acting as a drain. The true toll of the Combine rape of the Earth is seen in heartbreaking clarity in HL2 “the Coast” section.

Fresh Water from Waterworld
One of the oddest post-apocalyptic films of all time came out in 1995 in the form of “Mad Max on Water”: Waterworld. Despite being incredibly well-funded, much talent in front and behind the camera, the film was a mess despite an interesting premise. It could only wish to Road Warrior and the passage of time still has no given Waterworld its due. Waterworld is set in 2500AD in a world of water due to climate change melting the polar ice caps and drowning all of dryland (which could not happen). Two of the most important items for trade and were used as money in the various floating Atoll communities is soil and drinkable water. Given the rarity of the Atolls, people between these communities could be trapped would a drinkable water source and die a bad death. Naturally, dirt and drinkable water are items worth attacking and killing over by groups like the Smokers.

The Water Wars from Mad Max: Fury Road
In 2015, we finally got to see the long promised 4th Mad Max film with Fury Road. The villain of the film was Immortal Joe and he controlled a source of fresh water from his citadel. While the Mad Max timeline has never been canonized to the point of Trek or Wars, causing for adjustment from film to film. With Fury Road, there is much made of the Water Wars and the Oil War. The nuclear war that ended the world was fought over the remaining resources and this extends into the 4th film with the control of the aquifer by Immortal Joe. With that control, he doles out the water when he sees fit...holding court over life and death.

The Soames Tablets from DC Comics Hex 2050 Universe
One of the most oddball of the post-nuclear war apocalypse comics is DC Comics' Hex that ran from 1985 to 1987. For decades after the 2nd World War, the Western genre reigned supreme over much of American media with the legions of books, comics, movies, and television to prove it. Then cracks started to appear in the mid-1960's and by the the time the 1980's rolled around, the Western was in massive decline. One of the products of the Western-era was the DC Comic book series and character Jonah Hex. First appearing in 1971 and gaining his own series in 1977 showing the Old West adventures of a scarred ex-Confederate soldier-turned-gunslinger Jonah Hex. His skills with his dual .44 Colt Dragoons become legendary in the Old West along with his scar given to him by a Native American tribe chief for dishonorable combat. For 92 issues, it was all Old West settings and events...then he disappears in summer of 1878 in a ray of light. That light was Jonah Hex being teleported to the year 2050 by a warlord collector Reinhold Borsten. He escapes into the wasteland that this post-nuclear war America trying to find a way back to 1878. This Mad Max ripoff ran for eighteen issues until cancelled by DC Comics for low sales, taking the character along with it, ending one of the last comic book Western heroes.
In issue number #4, Stiletta, who  is Borsten's daughter that is also an armed biker chick that has taken up with Hex, explains how the world came to be in the shit state it is in. Reinhold was a national security liaison assigned to a US government time machine project in the year 2042. After they send the first time traveler several years into the future, 2045, he returns one night covered in radiation burns and near death. He tells Reinhold that a global nuclear war erupts in 2045 and the world is gone. Seeing an opportunity for true power, Reinhold gathers supplies and technology, travels to 2047 to become a great leader in the wasteland leaving his wife to die in a nuclear impact and his daughter to be raised by her grandparents in the world after. With clean water being the most precious commodity in the post-apocalyptic world, Reinhold's company makes the new currency, the "soames"water purification tablet.

The Monogatron Plot from "The Old Man and the Seat" Episode from Rick & Morty
In the first installment of the fourth season of Rick & Morty, we see an alien race called the Monogatrons use a internet date app developed by Jerry and Rick's alien intern Glootie called "LoveFinderrz" as a pathway for alien invasion. The leader of the Monogatrons states his evil plan plainly is to take control of Earth's water while the Terrans are too busy seeking their new soulmates...one after another that does indeed led to a complete breakdown of society, as we saw with the many "soulmates" of Summer.

Next Time on FWS...
It is time to go back again to the 1980's and dig up yet another lost, unloved, and forgotten toyline of the decade that was about the money and the material goods. In 1987, Mattel and Landmark Entertainment gifted the 11 year old me with a post-robot-apocalypse military SF TV show: Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Given that was the 80's, Mattel developed and sold a line of interactive toys for this oddball show about soldier wearing gold armor in the rubble of the 22nd century. In the next installment of Military Sci-Fi Toys, FWS will be going to the Metal Wars and attempt to explain the Mattel 1987 Captain Power toyline!