Transformers Beast Wars was a show that surprised me.
It was a show for kids. But the writers went to some trouble to ensure can also be enjoyed by adults. With memorable characters, villainous infighting, clever plots and references to the old 80s cartoon that us now-adult Transformers fans could pick up, it was a show that drew me in.
And the episode that got me was Dark Designs, in which the good guy Rhinox is captured and reprogrammed to be a bad guy.
It sounds like a preachy storyline intended to teach children a lesson in loyalty and being true to yourself, doesn’t it? I certainly thought so the first time I saw the start of it. I switched it off. But the second time it came on I gave it a go and it both surprised and delighted me. Because when Rhinox is captured and his friends find out he’s been reprogrammed, they don’t rush in to save him. Their leader, Optimus Primal, decides to wait.
He knows Rhinox. He thinks Megatron’s bitten off more than he can chew this time.
The series establishes Rhinox as the engineer, short on words and slow to anger. But when he does let his temper show he does so with his two mighty Chainguns of Doom. When Rhinox is reprogrammed into a Predacon, he really does become a Predacon. He decides he wants to be in charge and starts taking out all the others.
He’s become the worst of the lot. He’s being true to his new self.
The episode ends with Megatron himself turning Rhinox back into one of the good guys. If there’s a lesson for children in the episode it’s “Be careful what you wish for” or maybe “Never mess with a robot rhinoceros.” Disney this is not.
When I first heard about Beast Wars my reaction was “What? Optimus Prime is a gorilla? Ugh!” But Beast Wars was inventive and fun and a wonderful return for me to a childhood hobby I hadn’t realised I still loved. The writers of Beast Wars knew I was out there, a twenty-something computer programmer who was still up for some robot mayhem. They were clever enough to make a show the Transformers fan in me could enjoy. I watched all three seasons.
They turned Rhinox into a bad guy and it worked. I wish I’d been there when they thought that one up.