Doc On The Box – Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Episode 1.14

A new idea for the blog. Many US TV Shows present themselves as mystery shows, but the series are too long to review properly. Basically, by the time I’ve got to the end of the series, I’ve completely forgotten what happened early on – I’m not really a box-set binge watcher, I like to take my time. But these shows are often worthy of a look, so here’s the plan. I pick an episode at random, either from DVDs that I own or by whatever repeat ITV3 or Channel 5 is showing. And then judge the entire series based on that one episode. And first up, the show that helped to start my interest in mysteries. Start the randomiser…

Scooby DooScooby and the gang (this is the classic set-up, btw, not one of the later versions that a 40+ year-old really should know nothing about) read about the problems of C L Magnus, a shipping magnate, whose last few boats have been stolen by the ghost of Redbeard the Pirate. So it’s out to sea to catch a sea-faring spook…

It’s very easy to mock Scooby Doo (or technically, “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?”). The notion of a talking dog who eats sandwiches and likes dressing up is enough for some people. Others would mock the notion of criminals who try to hide their goings on by dressing up as ghosts – because that wouldn’t attract the press at all. My favourite niggle is the fact that the ghost in question tends to show up in the opening scene, doing its ghost act with absolutely no witnesses. This one’s no different. Sure, the coast guard sees Redbeard’s ship in the fog, but there’s no way that he could have seen Redbeard on the deck having a good laugh at nothing in particular. I guess dressing up as a ghost is funny in itself.

Redbeard

This is Redbeard btw – sorry, the ghost of Redbeard. Apparently pirates are susceptible to being tickled by egg whisks.

As a mystery – it’s actually notable (well, if anything is notable here) that the gang don’t actually solve the mystery of who Redbeard is. There are a grand total of two characters that it could be and it’s no surprise who it is, in part due to lazy animators making one of Redbeard’s hench-pirates look like the other suspect (although oddly, it’s not that person). Even so, everyone acts surprised when he’s unmasked. There aren’t any clues either – just lots of running around a bizarrely prepared ghost ship (seriously, why would Redbeard set up an unfeasible floating sword) and a pirate’s cave followed by catching the culprits. As with the lack of clues, there’s a lack of a trap to catch Redbeard either. That’s the sort of thing that I remembered happening, but I guess not this week.

But despite all that, I’ve only one complaint. The stunningly half-hearted canned laughter. Yes, the jokes are weak, but the laughter cuts in at almost random points and it’s amazingly unconvincing – it sounds like there are only about three people watching it.

But for a show from 1969, it stands up really well. Yes, it’s not a proper mystery, but the idea’s there for a young audience. And it’s a lovely bask in nostalgia for me. I’m typing this with a massive smile on my face (in part because I left the disc running and it’s the one with the Spooky Space Kook). It’s such a shame that the formula was messed with over the years (Scrappy Doo and real ghosts!) as this works so well. Kids should be made to watch this as part of a basic education. Highly Recommended.

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19 comments

  1. I love Scooby Doo. It’s a huge part of my childhood and one of the main reasons I love mysteries. But I started watching it from the beginning recently and gave up. The scripts on the original series are just feeble. It really feels like they just wrote down whatever came into their heads. It’s also notable how little characterization there is for any of the gang. They’re all completely one note. I don’t think it’s dated well at all.

    I like some of the later series, though, particularly A Pup Named Scooby Doo for it’s gleeful silliness, and the first series of Mystery, Inc where they actually do some sensible character work (for Daphne, Velma and Shaggy, at least – Fred’s trap obsession seems completely out of place when the others are dealing with real problems with no easy answer). Unfortunately by the end it gets engulfed in insane supernatural back story and becomes utter nonsense. I think the strongest series overall is probably What’s New Scooby Doo?, which doesn’t have any real standout stuff but usually produces a fair-ish mystery with an attempt to trick the audience, as long as you don’t expect the solutions to be physically possible.

    Have you seen Gravity Falls? Not strictly a mystery cartoon, but definitely mystery adjacent! (The major plot twist in the latest episode was subtly but unambiguously clued from as early as episode 2 of the whole series, several years ago, so they aren’t mucking about.) I’m afraid it makes all of Scooby Doo look like the work of bumbling amateurs. The recent mid-season break is easily one of the Top 10 episodes of TV I’ve ever seen (and I don’t just mean kids’ TV). Unfortunately it wouldn’t make any sense as a standalone, but the whole series is worth watching. I don’t think there’s a duff episode in it.

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    • Never heard of Gravity Falls but I’ll keep an eye out. And yes, there are loads of plot problems with early Scooby Doo but it didn’t stop me grinning like an idiot whike watching it. Not sure I could watch a lot in a single sitting though… Of the rest, I saw (and liked) a few of What’s New which was basically a new version of the classic format but nothing else. Just read about them in Wikipedia…

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      • Unfortunately Gravity Falls is very hard to get hold of. It’s nominally a Disney project (although it’s not Disney-ish at all), so the DVDs are incredibly expensive and only have about six episodes on them. The various Disney channels repeat them all the time, but apparently not in any particular order!

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  2. And the award for the least-likely Puzzle Doctor review ever goes to … been decades since I watched the late 60s iteration – with my nieces I watched the more postmodern update which is very knowing and self-referential and which made me laugh a lot – but no, the mystery aspect was no better!

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    • Least likely? I can think of several authors who I’m unlikely to go near, especially the noir ones… but never say never. I was even thinking about another bout with M C Beaton the other day.

      And there is that review of an episode of a popular radio comedy show that happens to have an impossible crime in it – one day…

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  3. The Scooby Doo, Where Are You episodes are all available on You Tube. I saw one and find that the series is basically for children !
    The Gravity Falls episodes are also available on You Tube.

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    • Children need entertainment too! If you’re not watching/reading any kids or young adult mysteries, you’re missing out on a lot. They’re often a lot more inventive and well thought-out than the stuff aimed at adults. And the “adult” parts of crime and its consquences are the bits that tend to sit least well with the puzzle mystery approach anyway.

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      • Agatha Christie books are for children? I don’t think many people would agree with that statement. They may not be high class literature but the target audience is certainly adults, rather than children.

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  4. Scooby Doo, Where Are You was my favorite cartoon growing up–probably because of the mystery elements. Yes, they’re silly but I adore them. And I loved introducing the originals to my son when he was small (and having an excuse to watch them again). Scrappy and his puppy power was an abomination.

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    • Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? It’s astonishing how the images of some of the ghosts – the Space Kook or Captain Cutler – were still vivid in my mind after at least 35 years without seeing them. And while the Scooby Doo movie was pretty iffy (although Matthew Lillard made a great Shaggy) they did treat Scrappy with the contempt he deserved.

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      • Matthew Lillard is really impressive as Shaggy. He took over the voice for most of the recent animated series as well, and he’s basically perfect.

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  5. I love Scooby Doo! I’ve been reading this blog for about a year and a half and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to comment. Not sure what that says about me. I’m pretty sure that watching this as a child made me seek out mysteries like the Hardy Boys which led me to Holmes, which led me to Chrstie, Stout, etc.
    Pointless Trivia – The characters on Scooby Doo were loosely based on the cast of an 1950s sitcom, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Fred = Dobie, Shaggy = Maynerd G Krebs, Velma = Zelda and Daphne = Thalia.

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