Dr. Octopus In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six

By the time Spider-Man: The Animated Series aired in 1994, audiences (and networks) had changed. Gone were the squeaky clean fun of the 80’s, superheroes with character were back in due to the success of Batman and X-Men and expectations were high for Spidey’s triumphant return to Saturday morning.

In the first season especially, the show had consistently strong stories and animation and I personally loved it back in the day, I couldn’t get enough. I remember my next door neighbour would come round to watch it with my brother and I and we would guess which villain was going to appear this week. (When The Rhino appeared in The Alien Costume, Part One I won the best and was thus rewarded the finest can of coke anyone ever drank). These were the days before everything’s already revealed on the internet and you were literally clueless as to who was going to appear this week. Even episode titles were unknown before you sat down to watch the show.

I remember especially looking forward to seeing Dr. Octopus appear, because I was more knowledgeable about him than most of the other villains in the show. (I remember my neighbour and I asking my brother who the dude in yellow in the opening credits was, so no, I wasn’t winning any bets with The Alien Costume, Part Two). If memory serves, I had the Doc Ock figure before the episode aired too. I remember buying most of the first wave in a single trip the very first time we saw them because we had a hell of a time trying to find the X-Men figures and my Mum just said “screw it!” and bought the lot there and put them away for Christmas. Bare in mind, this was early September time and I had to look past the figures to get into the bathroom to brush my teeth every morning. Do you have any idea how hard it is for an eight year old to walk past toys that he won’t be allowed to open for months on end? Perhaps my cruellest hildhood memory – it’s a sad subject in the Hamilton household, even to this day.

Anyway, back to the episode. Dr. Octopus: Armed And Dangerous introduced the villain and stands as one of the show’s best episodes rarely seems to make it onto anyone’s top five list. Perhaps it stands as a forgotten classic?

Octavius isn’t just some generic supervillain here – he is an embittered scientist looking for revenge and hoping to use it to fund his experiments. Doc Ock planned to master fusion in hopes of finding a new energy source. His funding was originally paid for by Anastasia Hardy - Felicia’s Mother. When she shut off the grant Octavius funded the experiment himself without the safety barriers - the resulting explosion caused by the accident wielded his metallic arms to his spine and gave him control over them. He then kidnapped Felicia and demanded a ransom to release her. I was especially impressed with the abduction scene, Octavius brakes into her room, kidnaps her and makes quick work of Peter, without saying a word and letting his arms do all the work. You can really tell that the storyboard artists were working hard here which simply wasn’t found in the later episodes – the episode is bursting with small little touches – Peter’s reluctance to introduce himself to Otto as a child, the FBI agent helping Mrs Hardy into her chair as she informed him of her abduction and Peter placing his hand on Mrs Hardy’s shoulder to comfort her whilst Jameson read the message out over the news. If these production standards had maintained throughout the show’s run, I believe it would be remembered in a much better light.

Octavius believed that science justified any crimes he might commit because he was intending to do good with it. He even says it in the episode;

“Their laughter is meaningless. Science is the important thing – it justifies all that we do in its service”.

The show had an original twist in it from the comics, here, Dr. Octavius was a former teacher of Peter when he was a child and from the looks of things, had a great influence on Peter as a young man, especially in regards to his passion for science. Peter even mentions that the quote above is something that he would “never forget”. It was all wonderful stuff, the story, the character and even the dialogue was a cut above average and believe it or not, the show looked stunning!

TMS outdid themselves here with outstanding staging, even better animation and stunning storyboard. The fights in this episode actually look like they hurt, it’s great fun watching Doc Ock effortlessly pummel Spider-Man with his tentacles and then watching Spidey dodge his arms in the warehouse. Pretty DVD screen captures simply don’t do the episode justice this is an episode you have to watch to truly enjoy. The episode is simply so well put together that it’s honestly hard to fault. The show’s usual flows – poor editing, choppy animation and crap fight scenes aren’t present. It also has a nice slower pace that simply never happened in the later seasons.

Special mention must go to Efrem Zimbalist, Jr the actor who portrayed Dr. Octopus. Whilst he is probably best known to most of us as Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series Zimbalist was excellent as the deranged Doctor and really did bring a lot to the role. The dialogue helped him tremendously of course but he delivers it with such finesse, again, it’s simply hard to find fault in the episode. There's some great, great lines in here.

Octopus: Spider-Man! You're making a career of interferance!
Spider-Man: Some career! No salary, no vacation and talk about on the job health hazards!

Octavius: Did you really expect your pathetic webs to stop me?
Spider-Man: It was a throught!
Octavius: Don't waste your time thinking, it may very well be the last thought you ever have!

Octavius: How does it feel, Spider-Man, to know that you can change things but be helpless to do so? Spider-Man: About as bad as I'd feel if I had a name like "Doc Ock".

The one thing I do have a grievance about however, is his design. Not only did it look silly, but it doesn’t fit the character in the slightest. This isn’t some battle suit designed to protect him or whatever, Octavius is a scientist, not a supervillain – why dress him up like one? I think the Eric Larsen white suit or even a trench coat look would’ve fit him better. As it stands though, the armour just looks a little daft. A small sour note on an otherwise amazing episode. On another note, you've got to love that creepy ending too.

But would the rest follow up to the spectacular standards set by Dr. Octopus: Armed And Dangerous?