Saturday, January 16, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) Viewing Order


The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, the one produced by Fred Wolf, had a strange broadcast history.  Some of it aired on CBS Saturday mornings.  Some of it aired in syndication on weekday afternoons.  Some of it aired on the USA Network on weekday mornings.  And some of it even got the Prime Time Special treatment.

As a result, the episodes were badly, badly jumbled up from what their narrative chronology should have been.  Not that there WAS much narrative chronology for most of the show’s run.  While the bookending seasons did have legitimate serialized story arcs, the majority of the episodes from seasons 3 through 7 were episodic with only the occasional multi-parter and season finale to define the order of events.

That said, what little continuity there WAS in those seasons was ravaged, particularly during season 4, and viewing the show in either the broadcast or catalog orders will leave you confounded.  So, having watched through the whole series and reviewed every last episode, I figured I’d try to assemble a workable viewing order along the way.

Keep in mind that TMNT had what can only be charitably described as “lax” story editing.  There are a lot of irreconcilable continuity errors and contradictions which no amount of creative reordering can repair.  My goal was to restore what felt like the “intended” sequence of episodes with maybe a little bit of liberal dot-connecting and imaginative bridging on my part.

Rather than break the episodes up by season, I decided to organize them by the location of the Technodrome or the standing of the main villains.  See the Notes section at the end of the article for explanations about the order or various anomalies.

The Epic Begins

  • Turtle Tracks (review)
  • Enter the Shredder (review)
  • A Thing About Rats (review)
  • Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X (review)
  • Shredder & Splintered (review)

The Technodrome in Dimension X

  • Return of the Shredder (review)
  • The Incredible Shrinking Turtles (review)
  • It Came from Beneath the Sewers (review)
  • The Mean Machines (review)
  • Curse of the Evil Eye (review)
  • The Case of the Killer Pizzas (review)
  • Enter: The Fly (review)
  • New York's Shiniest (review)
  • Splinter No More (review)
  • Invasion of the Punk Frogs (review)
  • Teenagers from Dimension X (review)
  • The Catwoman from Channel 6 (review)
  • Return of the Technodrome (review)

The Technodrome at the Earth's Core

The Technodrome on the Dimension X Planetoid (European Vacation)

The Technodrome on the Dimension X Planetoid (Trapped in Lava)

  • The Dimension X Story (review)
  • Son of Return of the Fly II (review)
  • Michelangelo Toys Around (review)
  • Four Turtles and a Baby (review)
  • Peking Turtle (review)
  • Rondo in New York (review)
  • Shredder's Mom (review)
  • Turtlemaniac (review)
  • Beyond the Donatello Nebula (review)
  • Planet of the Turtles (review)
  • Turtles of the Jungle (review)
  • Name that Toon (review)
  • Menace Maestro, Please (review)
  • Super Hero for a Day (review)
  • Back to the Egg (review)
  • The Turtles and The Hare (review)
  • Once Upon a Time Machine (review)
  • Raphael Knocks 'Em Dead! (review)
  • Bebop and Rocksteady Conquer the Universe (review)
  • Raphael Meets his Match (review)
  • Leonardo Lightens Up (review)
  • Were-Rats from Channel 6 (review)
  • Funny, They Shrunk Michelangelo (review)
  • The Big Zipp Attack (review)
  • Donatello Makes Time (review)
  • Farewell, Lotus Blossom! (review)
  • Rebel Without a Fin (review)
  • Rhino-Man (review)
  • Michelangelo Meets Bugman (review)
  • Slash – The Evil Turtle from Dimension X (review)
  • Poor Little Rich Turtle (review)
  • What's Michelangelo Good For? (review)
  • Donatello's Degree (review)
  • The Big Cufflink Caper! (review)
  • Leonardo Versus Tempestra (review)
  • Splinter Vanishes (review)
  • Raphael Drives 'em Wild (review)
  • Big Bug Blunder (review)
  • The Foot Soldiers Are Revolting (review)
  • Unidentified Flying Leonardo (review)
  • My Brother the Bad Guy (review)

The Technodrome Frozen in the Arctic Chasm

  • Enter: Mutagen Man (review)
  • Michelangelo Meets Mondo Gecko (review)
  • Donatello's Badd Time (review)
  • Michelangelo Meets Bugman Again (review)
  • Muckman Messes Up (review)
  • Napoleon Bonafrog: Colossus of the Swamps (review)
  • Raphael Versus The Volcano (review)
  • Landlord of the Flies (review)
  • Donatello's Duplicate (review)
  • Leonardo Cuts Loose (review)
  • Pirate Radio (review)
  • Raphael, Turtle of a Thousand Faces (review)
  • Leonardo, the Renaissance Turtle (review)
  • Zach and the Alien Invaders (review)
  • Welcome Back, Polarisoids (review)
  • Michalangelo, the Sacred Turtle (review)
  • The Ice Creature Cometh (review)
  • Leonardo is Missing (review)
  • Planet of the Turtleoids: Part 1 (review)
  • Planet of the Turtleoids: Part 2 (review)
  • Rock Around the Block (review)

The Technodrome on the Ocean Floor

  • Krangenstein Lives! (review)
  • Super Irma (review)
  • Adventures in Turtle-Sitting (review)
  • Sword of Yurikawa (review)
  • Return of the Turtleoid (review)
  • Shreeka's Revenge (review)
  • Too Hot to Handle (review)
  • Nightmare in the Lair (review)
  • Phantom of the Sewers (review)
  • Donatello Trashes Slash (review)
  • Snakes Alive! (review)
  • Polly Wanna Pizza? (review)
  • Mr. Nice Guy (review)
  • Sleuth on the Loose (review)
  • Night of the Dark Turtle (review)
  • The Starchild (review)
  • The Legend of Koji (review)
  • Convicts from Dimension X (review)
  • White Belt, Black Heart (review)
  • Night of the Rogues (review)
  • Attack of the Neutrinos (review)
  • Revenge of the Fly (review)
  • Dirk Savage: Mutant Hunter (review)
  • Invasion of the Krangazoids (review)
  • Combat Land (review)
  • Escape from the Planet of the Turtleoids (review)
  • Atlantis Awakes (review)
  • Shredder Triumphant (review)

The Technodrome in the Dimension X Black Hole

Lord Dregg: Friend of Humanity

Lord Dregg: Foe of Humanity

  • The Return of Dregg (review)
  • The Beginning of the End (review)
  • The Power of Three (review)
  • A Turtle in Time (review)
  • Turtles to the Second Power (review)
  • Mobster from Dimension X (review)
  • The Day the Earth Disappeared (review)
  • Divide and Conquer (review)


The Epic Begins

*There’s nothing to note about the continuity of season 1.  It aired as a five-part miniseries, so the chronology is intuitive.  Since the Technodrome wasn’t “stuck” anywhere this season, I took this segment’s title from the VHS tape that (crudely) compiled the first season into a “movie”.

*In the end, the Technodrome is sucked into Dimension X.

The Technodrome in Dimension X

*Season 2 has one major story arc with tight continuity and then a second "arc" with much looser continuity.  The first arc is the Eye of Sarnath multi-parter and its continuity is intuitive (spanning "The Incredible Shrinking Turtles" through "Curse of the Evil Eye").  It's the looser second half of the season that inspired some episode shuffling, even if on the surface it might not seem like anything was needed.

*The second half of the season requires a bit more attention to get the continuity straight, but there's definitely a chronology.  A recurring theme in the season is Irma's desire to meet the Turtles, so episodes like "New York's Shiniest" have to take place before she meets them in "The Catwoman of Channel 6".

*"Splinter No More" sees the Shredder making his first effort to open a portal to Dimension X while "Invasion of the Punk Frogs" has Splinter say that they now know the Shredder is attempting to return the Technodrome to Earth, so those two pair together nicely.  "Teenagers from Dimension X" is another episode where Shredder tries to open a portal to Dimension X, so it has to take place after his first attempt.

*"The Catwoman from Channel 6", as mentioned, sees Irma finally meeting the Turtles after pining for them all season, so it should come near the end.  It also features a line from Krang boasting about the Technodrome's imminent return to Earth, so it makes for a solid prelude to the season finale "Return of the Technodrome" (which ultimately sees it buried at the Earth's core).

The Technodrome at the Earth’s Core

*There is very little episode-to-episode continuity in season 3, so it required only minor rearranging.  That said, there were a few bits of discontinuity to fix-up.

*In “The Old Switcheroo”, Donatello doesn’t recognize the Driller Module and Splinter remarks that the location of the Technodrome is a mystery, so I felt it ought to occur near the very beginning of the season.

*In “Burne’s Blues”, Shredder and Krang begin a brief arc where they need to fix the Technodrome’s air conditioner.  In “Turtles on Trial”, they steal the part needed to fix it.  And in “April Fool”, the episode opens with Shredder mentioning that even though the AC is fixed, it’s still damn hot in the Technodrome.  So these episodes have to happen in succession.

*I placed “Sky Turtles” in the sixth spot of the season because of an off-hand joke from “Enter the Rat King” where Donatello references the events of “Sky Turtles” as episode 6.  Obviously it could not be the sixth episode of the series, but shuffling it to the sixth for the season didn’t hurt.  They’d try this same gag later with “Slash – The Evil Turtle from Dimension X”, but in that case the numbers will be so far off that you can’t accommodate the joke.  This is me stupidly trying too hard.

*I placed "Cowabunga Shredhead" immediately after "Sky Turtles" for a reason, I promise. "Sky Turtles" features Splinter becoming concerned that Michelangelo is eating too much pizza and places him on a diet. "Cowabunga Shredhead" sees Splinter still concerned with Michelangelo's pizza-eating, even opening with him saying "You've been warned," and now resorting to using mind-control to get him to stop. So back-to-back, the two episodes work well together.

*I moved "Leatherhead, Terror of the Swamp" to after "Turtles at the Earth's Core" due to some connective dialogue about April going on vacation. In "Turtles at the Earth's Core," April says that she's trying to choose a vacation and Splinter suggests Florida. Then, in "Leatherhead, Terror of the Swamp," April and Irma are on vacation in... Florida!

*“Green with Jealousy” ends with the Technodrome stealing a tiny bit of energy.  “Return of the Fly” opens with the Technodrome using its last bit of energy to reposition itself.  The episodes were already ordered in succession, so I didn’t have to rearrange anything.  I just thought I’d point that out.

*I put "Usagi Yojimbo" and "Usagi Come Home" back to back due to how the end of the former segues into the beginning of the latter. The first episode ends with Shredder reviewing footage of Usagi and marveling at his skill. The second episode opens with Shredder reviewing the footage from the previous episode and continuing to marvel at Usagi's ability. While Krang does make a joke about "watching reruns," the two episodes segue into each other really well for this reason without "Case of the Hot Kimono" getting between them.

*On the subject of "Case of the Hot Kimono," that episode features the Turtles using both the smaller Sewer Army Tube and the larger Sewer Party Tube (which debuted earlier in "20,000 Leaks Under the City"). "Bye Bye, Fly" features Donatello introducing the Sewer Army Tube to the other Turtles as his latest invention. As such, "Case of the Hot Kimono" has to take place after "Bye Bye, Fly".

*More a thematic shift than anything else, but "Shredderville" works much better as a lead-in to the 3-part season finale. A story about "what if the Turtles weren't around to stop Shredder?" and seeing what would happen should they fail to stop their nemesis is an excellent prelude to the season's big finish (and much better than "Bye Bye, Fly," a random Baxter Stockman episode).

*“The Big Rip Off”, “The Big Break In” and “The Big Blow Out” are a three-parter that ends with the Technodrome being banished to Dimension X once more; this time lodged in the side of a planetoid.

The Technodrome on the Dimension X Planetoid (European Vacation)

*These episodes aired in Japan and parts of Europe alongside the season 4 episodes, where they chronologically take place, but were not broadcast in the United States until season 7 (where they aired on the USA Network).  The 13 European Vacation episodes take place after “Plan 6 from Outer Space” (the first episode of season 4), which ends with the Turtles winning the trip to Europe.

*There is no logic to their trek across Europe whatsoever; they backtrack frequently and the dates provided in certain episodes would have them bouncing between summer-winter-spring like crazy.  I chose to go with the order created by Danish TMNT fan “Danetello”, who organized a more reasonable mapping of their progress across Europe (accounting for seasons and dates).

*That said, even his order had a continuity error in it, as April leaves Paris in “Venice on the Half Shell” which forces it to take place near the start of the European Vacation cycle.  As a result, my order has the Turtles going from Paris, to Italy, to Portugal, which is pretty counter-intuitive if you look at a map.  But jeez, there’s really no way to rectify much of this season (for example: the first two episodes, “Tower of Power” and “Rust Never Sleeps”, are completely incompatible with each other as they tell alternate versions of the Turtles arriving in Paris and the Shredder finding out that they’re there).

The Technodrome on the Dimension X Planetoid (Trapped in Lava)

*The first 13 episodes of season 4 aired in syndication while the rest of the episodes aired on CBS Saturday mornings.  The syndicated episodes were the last to use the original title sequence and episode title cards.  So, unfortunately, shuffling the syndicated and Saturday morning season 4 episodes around will result in jumbled title sequences.

*The episode "The Dimension X Story" features the Technodrome getting trapped in lava, a conflict that will drive most of Shredder and Krang's schemes throughout the season. As such, "The Dimension X Story" should happen at the start of the season (right after the European Tour episodes).

*However, for whatever reason, "The Dimension X Story" is cataloged near the end of season 4, leaving some to think that there should be a stretch of episodes between the end of the European Tour but before the Technodrome is trapped in lava. To see if that could be the case, I went through every episode of this season and looked at all the establishing shots of the Technodrome, trying to determine if any episodes took place before the volcanic eruption.  I took screenshots, listened to dialogue for the word “lava”, compiled lists, revised them, and what was my conclusion?

*There is no way to tell.  Establishing shots from “Plan 6 from Outer Space”, an episode that definitely occurs before the volcano erupts, are reused in episodes that take place after the Technodrome has been buried in lava (the characters even mention the lava problem in the dialogue). Some episodes will use establishing shots where the Technodrome is buried in lava, then later use establishing shots where it isn’t.

*As a result, "The Dimension X Story" most coherently works when placed immediately after the European Tour, with the lava being frequently referenced as the issue keeping the Technodrome from returning to Earth throughout season 4.

*You can also group several of the episodes together via continuity references or inferred continuity. For example, “Son of Return of the Fly II” has to take place immediately after “The Dimension X Story” because the episode opens with Shredder and Krang reeling from the eruption and trying to get a status report on the Technodrome.

*"Four Turtles and a Baby" opens with the Turtles mentioning that they haven't heard from Shredder in a while, meaning it should come after a non-Shredder episode (in this case, "Michelangelo Toys Around"). It also features the Rock Soldiers as having been dispatched from the Technodrome to lay siege to the homeworld of the Neutrinos. "Peking Turtles" and "Rondo of New York" involve Krang trying to create new armies (ostensibly to fill in for the absent Rock Soldiers), so all these episodes can be grouped together.

*I shuffled “Beyond the Donatello Nebula” toward the start of the season because it features a subplot where Donatello is searching for alien turtle life. “Planet of the Turtles” opens with him having found it, so the two episodes go together pretty well.

*"Turtles of the Jungle" features the Technodrome getting caught in a space junk storm. "Name That Toon" opens with the Shredder and Krang declaring that they found debris from an alien spaceship which they can use as a weapon (albeit never saying where they found it, the debris being part of the space junk storm makes a lot of sense). And "Menace Maestro, Please" concludes that storyline with the alien getting the remains of his ship back. So these three episodes work well as a brief "arc".

*“The Turtles and the Hare” and “Once Upon a Time Machine” are a two-parter.  Combined, they formed the “Awesome Easter”, as it was called on VHS.  These episodes aired between seasons 4 and 5 (but are cataloged as season 5).  However, they have the original title sequence and title cards which were discontinued after the syndicated episodes of season 4, which is why I put them near the start of the season.

*A recurring character named Morgan J. Lofty appears in 3 episodes this season, but the order of his appearances was screwed up.  His first appearance should be in “The Big Zipp Attack” (where the Turtles save him and his skyscraper).  His next appearance is either “Rebel Without a Fin” (where he tells the Turtles, “You’ve done it again”) or “Slash – The Evil Turtle from Dimension X” (where he tells the Turtles, “This isn’t the first time you’ve helped me”).  “Slash – The Evil Turtle from Dimension X” aired before the other two, hence why I had to rearrange them.

*Incidentally, in the season 6 episode, “Donatello Trashes Slash”, Michelangelo jokingly mentions that they first met Slash in episode 74.  Unfortunately, there’s no manner of shuffling that can force “Slash – The Evil Turtle from Dimension X” into the #74 spot; not without messing up existing continuity.  So I couldn’t pull a “Sky Turtles” with this one.

*“My Brother the Bad Guy” is a season 5 episode.  Normally, the seasons would end with the Technodrome getting displaced, but season 4 ended on a non-finale for some reason and the Technodrome got waylaid in the Arctic chasm in the season 5 opener.

The Technodrome Frozen in the Arctic Chasm

*Most of these episodes are from season 5 and yes, I shuffled “Enter: Mutagen Man” ahead of “Michelangelo Meets Mondo Gecko”.  I just felt that this segment of my list should open with a Shredder/Krang story.  I indulged myself.  Forgive me.

*“Landlord of the Flies” is one of those episodes with irreconcilable continuity that I was talking about.  It takes place after “Son of Return of the Fly II” but will be ignored completely by the season 7 episode “Revenge of the Fly” (which will also pick up where “Son of Return of the Fly II” left off).  This is what I have to work with here, people.

*For most of season 5, the Technodrome is lodged in the bottom of a dark, icy chasm.  In “The Ice Creature Cometh”, it briefly escapes from the chasm and into the light of day, only to be frozen in place by a melting ice monster.  Any episode with an establishing shot that showed the Technodrome not in that chasm, but in the light of day, I shuffled to the end of the season.

*“Leonardo is Missing” is a season 6 episode, but it features the Technodrome in the arctic, so it takes place during season 5.

*I had a little trouble with “Planet of the Turtleoids”.  It was a prime time special that aired at the start of season 5, then was broken into two-parts and rebroadcast on Saturday mornings in the middle of the season.  Even more confusing, it is officially cataloged as being the finale of season 5.  The establishing shot sees the Technodrome lodged in rocks, rather than ice, though the villains still use Driller Modules to get around, so they aren’t in Dimension X or anything.  It’s a weird anomaly, but since the Technodrome is in the light of day and not at the bottom of a chasm, I guess it goes at the end of the season (as it is cataloged).

*Like season 4, season 5 didn’t have a real finale (since “Planet of the Turtleoids” never actually aired as a finale).  So “Rock Around the Block”, the season 6 opener, is the one that waylays the Technodrome on the ocean floor for the next stretch of episodes.

The Technodrome on the Ocean Floor

*The Technodrome remained on the ocean floor for seasons 6 and 7.  I already mentioned that the European Vacation episodes aired during season 7 in the US and are officially cataloged as season 7 episodes, but they aren’t part of the “real” season 7.  “Night of the Dark Turtle” is the first episode of season 7, at least as it was broadcast on CBS.

*Incidentally, as another bit of irreconcilable continuity, the European Vacation episode “The Lost Queen of Atlantis” and the season 7 episode “Atlantis Awakes” feature two completely different depictions of Atlantis.  And neither episode is aware of the other.

*There aren’t any multi-parters or necessary continuity to this season.  However, “Escape from the Planet of the Turtleoids” ends with the Technodrome stealing a little bit of power.  “Atlantis Awakes” sees the Technodrome using its last bit of power to attack Atlantis.  I figured much like “Green with Jealousy” and “Return of the Fly”, they’d go together fairly well so I shuffled them that way.  I moved “Atlantis Awakes” down to just before “Shredder Triumpant” because the active Technodrome seemed like a good primer for the season finale.

*The season ends with the Technodrome getting launched back into Dimension X, but stranding Shredder and Krang on Earth.

The Technodrome in the Dimension X Black Hole

*Season 8 is the beginning of the “red sky” era where the series got a redesign and a more “serious” edge.  This season, and all that follow, have a strict episode-to-episode continuity so there’ll be no more reorganizing from the cataloged order.

*This season features Shredder and Krang as the main villains (save a three-parter featuring the terrorist group H.A.V.O.C.), trying to get the Technodrome out of Dimension X (where it is lodged in a black hole).  In the end, they're banished to Dimension X and the Technodrome is destroyed for good.

Lord Dregg: Friend of Humanity

*Season 9 is the first of the seasons to see Lord Dregg as the primary antagonist. 

*In this season, he pretends to be a friendly alien out to help the Earth.  Of course, he just wants to take it over.  April exposes him in the finale.

Lord Dregg: Foe of Humanity

*Season 10, the final season, features Dregg forgoing any pretenses of deception and trying to take the Earth by force. 

*Shredder and Krang return for a three-parter, but are ultimately banished to Dimension X once and for all.  By the series finale, Dregg's followers abandon him, the Turtles succeed in defeating him and they graduate from ninja training as Splinter's equals.

Other Stuff

*There have been appearances from the 1987 Turtles outside of the TMNT series proper.  I didn’t include these appearances because most of them are a bit too, uh, “meta”.  Yes, even by this show’s standards.

*For example, “Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue” features Michelangelo, yeah, but in the “real world” where he teams up with Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, Slimer and Alf to convince a teenager that marijuana will destroy him and his entire family.  Just… no.

*The “Turtle Tips” PSAs aired during season 4 as a bridge between episodes (TMNT was broadcast in a one-hour block during that season).  I mean… I GUESS those PSAs could take place during the show, but they feature the characters talking directly to the audience.  I mean, more so than usual.

*The “Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend” anime OVAs, a two-episode series, feature some incompatible continuity… even between their two episodes.  The first episode features the Technodrome underground, the second episode has it in Dimension X.  The OVAs were released after Japan stopped dubbing the American cartoon, so I view them as a splinter timeline branching off from “Donatello’s Badd Time” (the last episode dubbed in Japanese).

*All that being said, I would definitely say the 4Kids-produced “Turtles Forever” film and the various cameos/crossovers with the Nickelodeon TMNT cartoon are “canon”.  However, the writers for those stories play very loosely with continuity that would contradict or impact the Fred Wolf timeline.

*For instance, “Turtles Forever” concludes with the Technodrome returning to the Fred Wolf universe, but retaining the upgrades the 4Kids Shredder imposed upon it. 

*The cameo in the Nickelodeon season 2 episode “Wormquake!” could really take place anywhere between Fred Wolf season 3 (because Casey Jones appears) and season 7 (because the Turtles are drawn in their pre-“red sky” designs). The Nickelodeon season 4 episode "Trans-Dimensional Turtles" is in a similar boat, though it features a completely revised origin for the Fred Wolf incarnation of Krang.  The Nickelodeon season 5 multi-parter "Wanted: Bebop and Rocksteady" features the Technodrome underground, which would seem to set it in Fred Wolf season 3, but it ends with the Technodrome being destroyed, Shredder and Krang being captured, and Bebop and Rocksteady turning over a new leaf.  You just kind of have to roll with it.