THUNDERBIRDS

Thunderbirds are Go! Millionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons are International Rescue, an organisation dedicated to carrying out dangerous search and rescue missions. Operating from their hidden base on Tracy Island, they pilot the Thunderbirds - rescue vehicles designed by the island's genius-in-residence, the stuttering engineer Brains. They're aided by their aristocratic agent in London, Lady Penelope, and her faithful chauffeur Parker. Standing against them are villains like the Hood, who want to claim the Thunderbirds secrets for their own nefarious purposes.

This is the classic Supermarionation series that instantly springs to mind when Gerry Anderson's name is mentioned, and is undoubtedly his finest hour - but we still want to know what FAB stands for.

 

Episode Listing

Episode 1 Trapped in the Sky 30th September 1965
Episode 2 Pit of Peril 7th October 1965
Episode 3 The Perils of Penelope 14th October 1965
Episode 4 Terror in New York City 21st October 1965
Episode 5 The Edge of Impact 28th October 1965
Episode 6 A Day of Disaster 4th November 1965
Episode 7 30 Minutes After Noon 11th November 1965
Episode 8 Desperate Intruder 18th November 1965
Episode 9 End of the Road 25th November 1965
Episode 10 The Uninvited 2nd December 1965
Episode 11 Sun Probe 9th December 1965
Episode 12 Operation Crash Dive 16th December 1965
Episode 13 Vault of Death 23rd December 1965
Episode 14 The Mighty Atom 30th December 1965
Episode 15 City of Fire 6th January 1966
Episode 16 The Imposters 13th January 1966
Episode 17 The Man from MI5 20th January 1966
Episode 18 Cry Wolf 27th January 1966
Episode 19 Danger at Ocean Deep 3rd February 1966
Episode 20 Move - And You`re Dead 10th February 1966
Episode 21 The Duchess Assignment 17th February 1966
Episode 22 Brink of Disaster 24th February 1966
Episode 23 Attack of the Alligators 10th March 1966
Episode 24 Martian Invasion 17th March 1966
Episode 25 The Cham-Cham 24th March 1966
Episode 26 Security Hazard Thunderbirds are Go! 3rd October 1966
Episode 27 Atlantic Inferno 3rd October 1966
Episode 28 Path of Destruction 10th October 1966
Episode 29 Alias Mr Hackenbacker 17th October 1966
Episode 30 Lord Parker's Oliday 24th October 1966
Episode 31 Ricochet 7th November 1966
Episode 32 Give or Take a Million Thunderbird 6 26th December 1966

 

 

Episode 4 - Terror in New York City

A trigger-happy US Navy ship shoots down Thunderbird 2 as it returns from a rescue mission. Following this, International Rescue is called on when the Empire State Building collapses while it's being moved (!). The problem is, they need Thunderbird 4 to rescue the survivors, but it can only be moved into action by Thunderbird 2.

From the dramatic opening sequence, this episode doesn't let up on the tension. The idea that a Thunderbird craft is vulnerable - that it can be shot down - is something of a revelation, given Andersons's usual hyperbole about the spaceships and vehicles that featured in his series (Supercar can travel at 3,000 mph, for crying out loud!). It adds an additional frisson of danger to the episode, as we realize that the Tracy boys can actually be hurt. Admittedly, the problem of getting Thunderbird 4 to the rescue site is solved rather easily (using the Navy ship that shot down Thunderbird 2), but on the other hand, it illustrates the tightly-plotted script admirably; no deus ex machina cop-out is employed here. There's further evidence of this in the chain of cause and effect that makes up the second half of the episode; the explanation for the building's collapse (subsidence caused by underground rivers) is linked to the threat endangering the survivors, and neatly leads to the dramatic final act, in which a second unstable building threatens to collapse upon the survivors and Thunderbird 4.

The singularly odd idea of moving the Empire State Building is well-realized, with a satisfyingly chunky-looking earth mover hauling the skyscraper around - even if the building itself looks a little insubstantial. Also, the fact that it's a well-known monument lends a note of realism to proceedings. Eerily the scene of the collapse and the resulting fields of rubble are uncannily prescient of 9/11 - but that's an observation made after the fact, with a weight of cultural baggage behind it. The most implausible element of the whole story is that only two people are placed in jeopardy by the building's collapse - TV journalist Ned Cook and his cameraman. In any case, this can be put down to the limitations of puppetry, a perennial problem for Anderson. All things considered though, this is a dramatic tense story, and easily a contender for the best Thunderbirds tale.

 

 

 

Episode 14 - The Mighty Atom

Before International Rescue was formed, master villain the Hood had attempted to steal the plans for an atomic station in Australia. He failed on that attempt - honestly, can the guy do anything right ? - and is about to have another go. Key to his plans is a tiny surveillance device disguised as a mouse - the Mighty Atom.

It's astonishing how a series can oscillate between such extremes of quality as Terror in New York City and The Mighty Atom, but Thunderbirds manages it. The opening flashback sequence is a nice idea, but id does mean that International Rescue doesn't turn up for about 20 minutes.

For the first half of the episode we're left wondering where International Rescue is. This sequence also enshrines the Hood's status as the world's worst supervillain; it doesn't even take International rescue to beat him. Both he and the scriptwriter are clearly making the whole thing up as they go along; while the Hood's at the atomic plant, he hits upon the idea of blowing it up and drawing out International Rescue so he can steal their secrets.

The there's the clunky expository dialogue; at one point, two atomics plant workers sit around explaining the functioning of the installation to each other, and then conclude with the deathless phrase "... and all this handled by the two of us". It's lazy scriptwriting, as is the fact that International Rescue doesn't actually prevent the Hood sneaking his spy camera aboard the Hood's nefarious plans by., er, standing on a chair and shrieking at the Mighty Atom.