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Recap / Mystery Science Theater 3000 S03 E21: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

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"And kids, don't miss Santa at Apache Plaza!"

Film watched: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

This was the first Christmas Episode and it became a holiday staple on the Comedy Central cable channel in the years following its 1991 premiere, helping it become one of the series' most popular episodes and introduced the film to a new generation in the form of younger MSTies.

Some of the original cast would later form Cinematic Titanic and took a second go at the film seventeen years later, this time the full length version. Mike Nelson's RiffTrax would later riff it in a 2013 live show.

The episode is available in the Gizmoplex here.

The Segments:

  • Crow and Servo are looking over Christmas catalogs for presents they want. Servo wants a inflatable bathtub pillow, Gypsy wants a pony, and Crow wants to decide who lives and who dies.

Segment 1

  • The Mads present the "Wish Squisher", a machine that turns cool gifts into boring gifts. Joel and the Bots present their own line of Misfit Toys; a pair of buttery-sweet toaster dolls, "Road House (1989) the Board Game", an Easy Bake Foundry, and Mr. Mashed Potato Head.

Segment 2

  • Crow writes a soon-to-be classic Christmas carol he calls "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas", and ropes Servo and Joel into singing it.

Segment 3

  • Crow and Servo freak out after discussing how mediocre this week's film is. Joel cheers them up by bringing them a bunch of other Christmas specials and films on tape, though some of them are a little lousy.

Segment 4

  • Joel and the Bots present their essays on Christmas. Crow's essay is about the economics of Santa and his elves. Servo's essay is about Santa visiting the Satellite, which quickly turns into a gory description of what would actually happen to Santa and the reindeer if they flew into space without a spaceship. Joel's essay is about '70s office Christmas parties, full of alcohol and sexism. The crew wonders if they're all being too jaded and cynical, but Gypsy provides a Nativity scene inside her mouth to cheer them up.

Segment 5

  • Joel and the Bots sing their own version of "Angels We Have Heard on High" and receive their stocking gifts. Joel receives a letter from a Coast Guard officer sending season's greetings. The Mads exchange gifts; Dr. Forrester gets a watch band, and Frank gets a copy of Final Exit.

The Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians contains examples of:

  • The '70s: Joel's essay on the Christmas office party of that decade.
    Joel: Back when a fully stocked bar was considered standard office furniture, and office parties were like something out of a Playboy cartoon. The desks would be overflowing with every kind of hard liquor, why there were gallons of scotch, bourbon, vodka, gin, not to mention Galliano, Amaretto, Midori, rye, German crockpot gin, you name it, and sexism was blatant. Boy oh boy, you'd find salesmen groping secretaries in the mailroom, keys would be exchanged, and although this was Christmas, Jesus was nowhere to be seen.
    Servo: ...Jeez, Joel, and you thought I was bad!
  • Adoption Diss:
    (Torg grabs the kids)
    Voldar: Now, destroy them! Crush them!
    Crow: (as Torg) You were adopted.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: Crow's new yuletide standard "Let's Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas":
    Servo: Oh, let's have a Patrick Swayze Christmas this year!
    Crow: Or we'll tear your throat out and kick you in the ear...
    Servo: It's my way or the highway, this Christmas at my bar
    Crow: I'll have to smash your kneecaps if you bastards touch my car!
    Joel: I got the word that Santa has been stealing from the till
    All: I think that that right jolly old elf had better make out his will!
    • Joel lets Crow finish, but has his doubts about whether this is suitable content for the season, or a 'Bot Crow's age.
    Crow: How long before it becomes a standard?
    Joel: (Beat) I think you gotta come with me. (drags Crow off to punish him)
    • As a side note, someone played this song for Patrick Swayze during a radio show a few years after the episode aired. He loved it.
  • Badass Santa: Throughout the episode, Joel and the 'Bots imply that Santa is carrying a gun, and that he would eventually fight in The Vietnam War.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick:
  • Call-Back: When Torg the robot is first mentioned, Crow immediately thinks of Tor Johnson and quips "Time for go to bed!" from The Unearthly.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Newsreader Andy Anderson.
    Crow: No you’re not, you’re Rip Taylor.
  • Clothes for Christmas Cringe: The Mads' invention for the week is the Wish Squisher, a nefarious machine that takes cool toys that kids actually want to receive for Christmas, and transforms them into boring, practical gifts. They demonstrate the Wish Squisher's power by transforming a slot car racetrack into a pair of socks, and a box of video game cartridges into "underoos that won't fit for two years".
  • Dude, Not Funny!:
    • During a shot of the Martian ship in space, Servo riffs, "You know, if they cancel Battlestar Galactica, I'm gonna kill myself." Joel quickly puts up a hand to shut him up.note 
    • Joel later scolds Servo when his lyrics to "Hooray for Santy Claus" gets a little too dark for Joel's tastes.
      Servo: They'll die in the vacuum / They'll burn on re-entry...
      Joel: Tom, stop! You can't do that.
    • Then, there's some strangeness involving a Leather bar and some cocktail sauce.
  • Fridge Logic: In-Universe, Crow wonders why Lady Momar made Santa a fake beard as part of his spare costume (besides Dropo putting it on to assume the role).
  • Gift of the Magi Plot: Parodied. Dr. Forrester and Frank, being evil, invert this horribly. Frank gets a watch band for Dr. Forrester, at the expense of stealing and selling the watch it's for. Forrester, in turn, has been secretly drawing blood from Frank and used money from the plasma to buy Frank Final Exit, a controversial book about assisted suicide.
    Frank: Oh, Henry!
  • A God Am I: Crow's Christmas wish is to decide who lives and who dies.
  • HA HA HA—No: How Servo imagines Kimar's reaction to one of Dropo's jokes:
    Servo: Ha ha. Kill him.
  • Hollywood Giftwrap: Dr Forrester's invention exchange, the Wish Squisher, wraps gifts this way, in service of the prop's gimmick (flipping over the box and opening the opposite lid).
  • It Was with You All Along: When the Martians realize that there are hundreds of Santa lookalikes in just one Earth city, Crow responds:
    Crow: Santa is in all of us!
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Crow concludes his essay with this, alongside Technology Marches Oninvoked and Fridge Logic.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre:
    Servo: And now, for your enjoyment, some suggestive scenes of jets refueling.
  • Laughing Mad: Joel and the bots assume this must be going on when Santa meets Bomar and Girmar for the first time, and everyone starts laughing with no provocation.
    Servo: You know, it's the little things that can clue you in to drug abuse.
  • Long List: Joel tricks Frank into sending up a whole bag of VHS tapes of Christmas specials and movies, and lists off several choice titles.
  • Losing Horns: When Rignar finds Dropo hiding in the spaceship's radar box, Joel and the 'Bots make a "wah-wah-wah!" sound.
  • Mondegreen Gag: Joel and the Bots' rendition of "Angels We Have Heard On High" consists of this.
    "Angels we have heard are high... softly sipping old Champagne... OH-OOOOOH-OOOOOH-OOOH-O-REOS... inexpensive daaannish!"note .
  • My New Gift Is Lame:
    • "Weaponized" by the Mads in their invention, the Wish Squisher, which turns gifts any kid would love, like cash and video games, into socks, Underoos they'll need a few years to grow into and "your four-year-old sister's raisin collection".
    • And in the movie:
      Crow: Laundry baskets! Kids will go nuts for them!
  • National Stereotypes: Santa tells a joke and wonders why the kids aren't laughing. Joel quips, "We're Norwegian."
  • Now You Tell Me: When Chochem explains the reasons for the malaise of the Martian children:
    Chochem: I have seen this coming for centuries.
    Crow: Why didn't you tell us, pops?
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Servo notes that one of the US military's radar dishes more resembles a patio table with cardboard paper towel tubes glued to it.
  • Pac Man Fever: TV's Frank demonstrates the Wish Squisher with a box full of "video cassette cartridge games".
  • Police Brutality: Santa makes a bunch of baseball bats at his toy factory. Joel quips, "Oh, those must be for the L.A.P.D."
  • A Rare Sentence: When Voldar ominously remarks that "No one on Earth will ever know that Santa Claus was Martians." Joel is...incredulous to say the least.
    Joel: Do you realize what you just said?
  • Retroactive Legacy: During the opening credits, they shout that it's adapted from a novel by Eudora Welty.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder:
    Wernher von Green: Who wouldn't give everything to bring Santa back to our children?
    Servo: Oh, me!
    Joel: (raises hand) Uh, me.
    Crow: Over here! (whistles)
  • Running Gag:
    • Pia Zadora and her Golden Globe (for Butterfly), beginning with "Will you buy me a Golden Globe?"
      • In the Cinematic Titanic version, Joel quips that they thought Pia Zadora being in this was pretty funny, but now he can't remember why.
    • Every time the Martians fire one of their rockets, causing a rushing sound and the whole ship tilting, Joel or the bots blame it on "Lentils".
    • Whenever Kimar addresses his team by name, when searching for Santa, Joel & The Bots come up with other names that sound just as strange as the Martian ones.
    • "What's Vietnam?"
  • The Scrappy: invoked Everyone hates would-be Plucky Comic Relief Dropo. Tom Servo openly wishes for him to get run over by a train.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Tom Servo's reaction to Dropo dressing up like Santa:
    Servo: You know, he's simple. Simple, but stupid.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Crow is on a Patrick Swayze kick, inventing a Road House (1989) board game and composing a Patrick Swayze Christmas carol.
    • When Mrs. Claus gets excited about being on television, Tom sings "Ed Sullivaaaaaaan!". He then follows it up with "When she thinks of the mass media, she touches herself."
    • After Joel and the bots note how the Martian spaceship is apparently "a lot bigger on the inside", it's immediately followed up with "Oh, like the TARDIS!"
    • One of the show's stock riffs: when Kimar and his men confront the two kids, Joel and the bots harmonize as The Three Stooges: "Hellooo... Hellooo... Hellooo... Hello!"
    • When the Martians see Santa's workshop, from a distance, through a telescope lens: "Rosebud."
    • When Kimar and his men barge into Santa's workshop, Tom riffs "NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!"
    • "I said LUNCH, not LAUNCH!"
    • When Voldar and his two sidekicks are sneaking into the factory in the most bumbling way imaginable, Servo turns them into Democratic Senators of that time...
      Servo: "'s Joseph Biden, Howard Metzembaum and Ted Kennedy like you've never seen them, before!"
    • "A Child's Christmas in Space" is named for Dylan Thomas' story "A Child's Christmas in Wales", and its opening lines draw on Thomas' radio drama Under Milk Wood.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Dr. Forrester introduces himself as “New Santa”.
    Frank: Then what does that make me?
  • Special Effect Failure: Lampshaded:invoked
    • Joel and the bots crack up upon seeing the "polar bear".
      Tom: ...Oh, you have got to be kidding me!
      Joel: (as Billy) Hey, check it out! There's a stupid guy out here in a crummy bear costume!
    • And then they agree that Torg's costume is even worse.
      Joel: It's a guy in a cardboard box with a coffee urn on his head!
  • Stepford Smiler: After Crow wonders if the Mads’ wish squished would work in reverse if a really crummy gift was put through it, Joel responds with “Hush Crow, you’ll anger the overlords”.
  • Stock Footage Failure: Invoked. After a copious amount of stock footage of Earth "attacking", a character walks onto the bridge of the spaceship...
    Crow: Wow! There's a ton of stock footage out there!
  • The Stoner: When Santa can't remember the names of his own reindeer, Tom Servo wonders, "Yes, what's in the pipe, Santa?"
  • Take That!:
    • At several points, Joel and the bots claim Pia Zadora's Golden Globe was bought, not earned.
    • When the Soviet Union denies launching any new satellites, Servo quips, "Like they could afford it."
    • As the Martian kids are listening to Mars' propagandist "educational tapes", Tom chimes in:
      Servo: Tony Danza is a fine actor. Sinbad is funny. Blake Edwards makes a really good film.
  • Tempting Fate: After Betty says that Martians coming up to her would make her scream, the Martians appear.
    Crow: Oh hey, I’m a victim of circumstances.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: During the end credits:
    Crow: Santa Claus — killed in Vietnam.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain:
    • Everything in Tom's stocking consists of items that, since his arms don't work (something addressed at multiple times), he can't possibly use.
    • The SOL crew initially gets excited about a couple of the films Frank sent up, but the wind gets pulled out of their sails. First, Joel finds It's a Wonderful Life, but it turns out to be "the Marlo Thomas version" (a made-for-TV production from 1977 known as It Happened One Christmas), and then he finds Miracle on 34th Street, but that's "the David Hartman one" (another TV production, from 1973).
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: Among the VHS tapes TV's Frank has sent up to Joel are, respectively, a curmudgeonly old man, a curmudgeonly old woman, and a curmudgeonly old man and a curmudgeonly old woman discovering the True Meaning of Christmas.
  • You Answered Your Own Question: Kimar does this during Dropo's introductory scene.
    Kimar: Dropo, you are the laziest man on Mars. Why are you sleeping during working hours?
    Joel: (as Dropo) 'Cause I'm the laziest man on Mars!
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Said verbatim by Tom when the "polar bear" shows up. Crow and Joel can only laugh.