Directed by Desmond Saunders
Teleplay by Martin Crump
First Broadcast – 16th December 1965
Operation Crash-Dive is one of those Thunderbirds episodes that I don’t mind watching again and again. It is a firm favourite of mine and I always enjoy it. Why is that? Well I can’t actually put my finger on it. It certainly has a number of specific Thunderbirds ingredients that I love in one episode so those must have an influence. But there must be more to it than that, because I watch this episode a lot more regularly than many of the others. Let’s crash-dive into the review and find out what I find so watchable about this episode (sorry about the pun)!
Is there enough Fireflash for you in this opening teaser? We can just about see International Rescue are involved in this episode but the focus is very much on the adventures of London Airport and its unluckiest aircraft…
The original title of the episode was The Test Crew which perhaps makes a little more sense than Operation Crash-Dive, a title which makes it sound like they rather deliberately ditched a number of Fireflash aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean… although Operation Crash-Dive does admittedly sound a lot more exciting than The Test Crew.
We’re back in the London Airport Control Tower and Commander Norman has managed to keep his job, although the same can’t be said for the rest of his team who have been replaced by Lt. Burroughs. The set of the control room has had some minor alterations since its appearance in Trapped in the Sky which you can see here. The strange, bulky, canon-like machine that used to sit behind the control desk is now gone, although it does appear again later, suggesting this scene could be a later addition to the episode. The control desk has had a few of its dials and knobs changed as well as the big emergency button now in the middle. It also appears to have been a painted a slightly more subtle shade of green.
Using footage from Trapped in the Sky we’re shown Fireflash 3 taking off. One assumes that a number of Fireflash aircraft have been manufactured by this point and are in constant use. Fireflash 1 is presumably the one we saw in Trapped in the Sky and whatever happened to Fireflash 2 is a bit of a mystery.
This is the pilot of Fireflash 3 who is wearing a completely different uniform to that worn by the Fireflash crew in Trapped in the Sky. Maybe it was assumed smarter uniforms would make for smarter pilots who would actually remember to shut number 4 inspection hatch when there’s a man inside… Anyway, this puppet was last seen as the security guard at the Australian Atomic Plant in The Mighty Atom and is frequently seen later in the series. He says that he plans on climbing to 150,000 feet. Considering most commerical airlines today aim for between 36,000-40,000 feet for cruising, that’s pretty impressive/ridiculous.
As Fireflash 3 starts to level out, Commander Norman reports to the International Air Minister that Fireflash has taken off with “no mishaps.” Apparently they were expecting mishaps. Considering they’ve built at least three Fireflashes and have loaded this one up with 600 passengers bound for San Francisco, you’d have hoped they’d be passed the point of expecting mishaps and having to report to someone as important-sounding as the International Air Minister whenever something happens to go well.
And then, of course, she starts wobbling and the music informs us that a mishap is indeed about to occur. The engine intakes on the rear thrusters of this model of the Fireflash appear to be grey rather than black as they’ve been previously. My guess is that in true Thunderbirds continuity tradition they’re going to switch around a bit.
Fortunately the London Airport Control Tower has just had a big new “Mayday” sign prepared for such a situation as Fireflash 3 calls in reporting its position and claiming to be losing height. Lt. Burroughs, by the way, is being portrayed by the same puppet used as Solarnaut Asher in Sun Probe.
Burroughs gets to press the big new emergency button which rings that rather weedy colander siren that was last seen in The Uninvited.
Some very cool Air Sea Rescue jets blast off. It’s rather neat that they have this on standby at London Airport, albeit it must have been a very costly thing to set up and hopefully gets very little use. Anyway, Burroughs refers to their rescue mission as Operation Seahawk, just to make them seem even more cool.
Commander Norman can’t be trusted with the big control desk so he has to sit on a little stool with the radar instead. Actually he’s giving orders to the Navy so I guess that’s pretty cool.
It looks like Bob Meddings from Trapped in the Sky is now working with the Air Sea Rescue division because he’s just so darn dedicated and heroic – albeit he is being voiced by a different voice actor now. We’re shown a number of shots of a rescue boat sailing around and the ASR jets in flight, searching for the missing Fireflash craft.
After the commercial break there has been a passage of time and Operation Seahawk has found nothing. Commander Norman looks out into the distance at what is rather clearly a painted backdrop – normally it’s not quite so obvious. Quite why the view from the control tower is a vast marshland rather than an airport I don’t know. For my money everyone gives up on the search for Fireflash 3 a little too easily, just letting those 600 passengers disappear without a trace.
The jets and the boat turn around and that’s that.
Meanwhile, in the beautifully decorated office of the International Air Minister, everyone’s getting a good telling off. Peter Dyneley does a wonderfully over the top French accent for the Minister who is rather furious that Fireflash keeps crashing and so grounds the aircraft to carry out tests. Patterson, a disgruntled engineer, points out that they already have tested Fireflash… even though there was nothing actually wrong with the first Fireflash, someone just put a bomb in it. The only real issue with the aircraft was that the radiation shields needed constant servicing and that was a known and willingly accepted problem, for some reason. I can only assume that the mysterious Fireflash 2 was the one that had all the problem that previously needed testing. The Minister also claims that Fireflash cost £5 million… that’s pretty cheap even for a revolutionary plane in the 1960s. The unit cost of a Boeing 747 in 1967 was $24 million.
The newspapers are all over the crisis. As always, the papers are dated Friday, December 24th 1964 and have the same adverts in the corners.
At International Rescue HQ, Jeff, Tin-Tin and John are staring at a blank screen. The spare Thunderbird 3 couch has also been moved into a corner. Jeff’s desk has also been raised up for one of the few times in the series.
Oh no, they’re not staring at a blank screen, they’re watching the same news reporter from Sun Probe who points out that it has been six months since the events of Trapped in the Sky took place. One can’t help but wonder why International Rescue weren’t called in to help look for the missing Fireflash 3.
John questions whether it could have been sabotage again, which Tin-Tin immediately doubts… probably because it’s John asking. John’s down on earth, by the way, which is pretty neat! He doesn’t say or do anything much unfortunately, and this is probably the episode which has the most scenes take place on Thunderbird 5 out of any Thunderbirds episode, and they’ve all conveniently been handed over to Alan.
John suggests it could be metal fatigue which Jeff immediately dismisses as 1 out of 101 things that could be wrong with Fireflash… probably because it’s John. Jeff’s desk is lowered into place. It’s a neat trick although Jeff probably has to remember to get everything off his desk that he needs before sending it up into the rafters. Tin-Tin is still full of praise for the Fireflash. She reflects the opinion of the average Thunderbirds viewer who loves all the great looking vehicles that are in fact complete failures because they crash a lot. In fact the merit of a Thunderbirds vehicle is often based on how spectacular they look when they explode.
Jeff orders Alan to monitor the Fireflash tests from Thunderbird 5. Alan reports tracking Fireflash 3 to a position 50 miles away from where the crew had reported they were. It certainly is a puzzle. But if Alan was able to track down the aircraft to her actual position, why didn’t International Rescue do something about it? At least go and recover the wreckage and search for survivors. After all, they manage to do it the next time it happens.
One really nice part of this episode is the fact we get to see rooms in the Tracy Island Villa that we never get to see again. We’re also provided with a nice list of all the other rooms in the house which include a cinema and a music room to provide the Tracys with entertainment, seeing as they’re basically stuck on the island most of the time.
Scott, Virgil, and Gordon are playing snooker when they get the call to remain on standby. Curiously, the balls on the table change position in between shots. Presumably this happened in between filming when the rather visible wire controlling Virgil’s cue stick and/or the balls on the table was removed for the next shot.
Fireflash is up on scaffolding being tested remotely. Because of the use of back projection, it’s unclear whether Patterson is supposed to be seeing the Fireflash through a window, or via a camera. This piece of set was seen as part of the control room in the Australian Atomic Plant in The Mighty Atom.
The desk which Patterson is sitting at is the same one used in the London Airport Control Tower.
A piece of paper tells him that all of the tests prove Fireflash to have no inherent faults. Apart from having a metaphorical ‘Kick Me’ sign stuck to its back. I can’t be certain, but I think that most of what we’ve seen so far with the Fireflash 3 disaster and its aftermath has been padding material added to the episode to extend it from its original half hour form. The use of pieces of set and the Security Guard puppet from additional scenes in The Mighty Atom suggest this. Later scenes in the International Air Minister’s office were presumably added, so one assumes that the earlier scene was also a new one. So it’s possible, therefore, that the test flight that Fireflash is about to undertake was brought about for different reasons originally, possibly more closely tied to the events of Trapped in the Sky.
Commander Norman is conducting a briefing which is being attended by two of the scientists from the Government Research Institute in The Mighty Atom as well as Controller Wade from the same episode.
These are our two brave heroes… or our two expendable heroes…
They will be flying Fireflash (4?) to San Francisco with no passengers. The cockpit set appears mostly unchanged from its appearance in Trapped in the Sky. One assumes that the blond chap referred to as Bob is the co-pilot and the unnamed man with the marvellous moustache is the pilot, although this does get a little mixed up by Gordon later.
With ground tests complete, the pilot prepares Fireflash for take-off. Behind him on a little green table is that communicator device that we’ve seen before a couple of times. You may remember me ranting and raving about it in my Sun Probe review because the light-bulb kept changing colour for no particular reason…
Fireflash takes off and they report their position as they cross the coast. Alan is tracking the craft on Thunderbird 5 and looks very put out indeed when he discovers that they reported their position incorrectly.
Wait a minute… did that bulb just turn yellow again? It did? Oh happy day… Not to mention there’s something a bit off about the pilot’s face in the shots featuring the yellow light bulb. I think it’s just the way it’s lit, but this does indicate that these shots were done at a different time to the rest of the scenes inside the Fireflash cockpit.
In between the Fireflash taking off and being in the air, the Control Tower set has moved around a fair bit with that canon-type thing making a re-appearance as well as a TV Monitor. These then disappear and are replaced with the automatic x-ray machine. It is supposed to be a circular room with a rotating desk, so it could just be that we’re seeing a different side to it each time, or that different scenes were filmed at different times.
Suddenly everything starts to go wrong with the Fireflash as the elevator power unit fails to operate. I’m not sure what that is exactly but I assume it keeps the aircraft in the air.
We’re back to how the control tower looked before take off as Fireflash starts to lose height and the radio begins to fail.
So here’s an odd shot. The backdrop shows the sky with what we assume is the ocean across the bottom. One is thrown off at first because it just looks like a darker patch of sky, but it is in fact supposed to be the water reflecting the clouds. Fireflash flies across the top corner of the screen and then a parachute drops through the shot. I’m sure the intention was supposed to be that Fireflash was far off in the background and the parachutist was in the foreground, but instead it just looks like the scale is vastly off.
Back at base, Scott, Gordon, and Virgil are in the Tracy Island shooting range when the call comes in that Fireflash is in trouble. The emergency button on the central desk of the London Aiport Control Tower has made its way on to the wall. The gun selection on the wall includes two WASP pistols from Stingray as well as what I assume to be more old-fashioned guns from Four Feather Falls. Nothing quite brightens up a shooting range like a nice floral display.
Meanwhile, one lucky special effects technician got to rather spectacularly chuck Fireflash into the water.
Despite the force and speed that she hit the water with, the only external damage that seems to be have been done is the port wheel housing snapping, and I sense that wasn’t actually supposed to happen.
With the full support of Barry Gray’s music, Fireflash begins to sink into the water slowly and painfully.
The parachutist we saw earlier hits the water too. We assume of course that he jumped out of the Fireflash, but that is intentionally left unclear for the grand reveal later.
The pilot and co-pilot try to unjam the emergency exit with quite a considerable amount of force. I’m not sure the effect of them hitting the set was achieved with the puppet’s weight alone, but whatever was done to make it look real works well.
But with a few final bubbles, the Fireflash sinks before the crew can escape. How an emergency exit can get stuck exactly I don’t know, but they obviously didn’t check it very carefully during testing.
This moment was presumably added to the episode to coincide with the later sabotage sub-plot. The saboteur, a puppet that later appears in The Impostors as well as many other episodes, is picked up by the enormous craft also used in The Impostors as the fake Thunderbird 2.
After the commerical break, Jeff has a different head on to what we’ve seen so far in the episode. He orders Scott out to scan the area from the nearest coast. Then he addresses Virgil who is smoking a cigar and tells him to take Gordon, Brains, and Thunderbird 4. When we cut back to Jeff, his face has changed back and he suddenly has a cigar in his hand. Smooth.
Thunderbirds 1 and 2 blast off and a whip pan transition brings us to a lovely farm on the coast of Ireland. The music which establishes the farm is one of only two musical cues from the series Four Feather Falls to have been re-used in later shows (aside from clips from the show appearing in Fireball XL5).
Thunderbird 1 comes in to land with wheels as has been the case during the series so far. For the first time, however, the larger Thunderbird 1 model with skids on the landing legs touches down. The same continuity error comes up quite a lot as a result of this change and the reuse of stock footage. The farmer also appears in Martian Invasion as part of the film crew.
Scott is thoroughly furious that he’s had to land in Ireland.
But then he learns that there are cows and he cheers up a bit.
Here’s that one shot that somehow became a publicity photo which is used in every newspaper article or every bit of a merchandise ever associated with Thunderbirds… except for when the photo gets flipped and it drives everyone a bit potty. Anyway, Thunderbird 2 is approaching the danger zone. Brains requests that Fireflash’s circuit diagram be sent to them via radio-photograph… because Thunderbird 2’s wi-fi must be down… I was surprised to learn in my research, however, that there is such a thing as a wirephoto which could send photographs down a phoneline.
Scott’s made himself at home in the barn with Kathleen the cow, who happens to be the last in a short line of Supermarionation puppet animals. After this, all animals that appeared in the puppet shows were done for real. That is, until a horse’s backside makes an appearance in the Thunderbirds 1965 episode The Abominable Snowman.
Scott activates an unusual, yellow piece of machinery for scanning the ocean. The farm itself is a beautiful piece of model making. The attention to detail is superb, right down to the thatch roof.
Meanwhile, Brains is studying Fireflash’s circuit diagram. Anyone who can actually work out what this is a circuit diagram for deserves a medal. The puppets’ arms are being held and manipulated by floor puppeteers just out of shot.
Scott continues to scan the area but finds nothing floating around. Maybe let Kathleen have a go?
Finally Brains manages to figure out some technical gibberish to explain what happened. They realise that the escape hatches would not have operated and so the crew could be trapped inside the now sunken Fireflash.
I don’t know if Brains and Gordon are supposed to be looking at the camera during this eureka moment, but I’m glad they do because it’s cute.
Sure enough, sitting on the ocean bed is the Fireflash with a little light on in the cabin.
The crew are attempting to contact London Tower, but to no avail, not even with a thorium-beam transmitter. Thanks to the internet, we have this:
You can look at more hilarious comics like this one right here from someone far more entertaining than me.
Thunderbird 2 crosses the coast magnificently as Gordon trots off to board Thunderbird 4.
Thunderbird 4 is launched and Gordon has donned a wet suit. We’re treated to some lovely shots of Thunderbird 4 exploring the depths of the ocean set to some eerie music. Unfortunately in the interest of making sure Gordon’s facing the right way at all times, a shot of him was flipped in post-production.
Gordon goes straight past the Fireflash but fortunately Bob the co-pilot was paying attention so they put on all the lights they can… which consists of one light. But one faint light is all Gordon needs to see through the dark, murky water because he’s great like that.
The pilot tells Bob to keep flashing… ooer.
Gordon spots the Fireflash, and reports back to Virgil and Brains who are getting a bit tetchy with each other. But Brains believes that cutting the engines off will cause Fireflash to float to the surface. I have no idea whether that would actually work. It makes sense to remove as much weight as possible and that the thrusters would be the best place to start. But as I’m sure we’ve all guessed, with so much weight at the back of the plane, Fireflash would never get its backside off the ground. But who cares, it looks cool and sometimes that matters more.
Gordon leaves Thunderbird 4, which we see the puppet-sized version of for the first time here, and swims across to the Fireflash. Swimming puppets is nothing new for the team behind Stingray, and although it’s something that could never be done realitstically, the puppeteers do a great job.
Using a device called the light-type, Gordon starts to write messages for the Fireflash crew to inform them of the plan. The device certainly has an interesting keyboard layout. Gordon’s swimsuit would have had to be recreated in full size, at least in part, for these live-action inserts.
Bob? Why do you need binoculars to see a few feet in front of you? It’s not like you need them while you’re flying the plane… I hope…
Assuming Gordon is floating right in front of Fireflash’s cockpit in the tail plane, I’m not quite sure what the backdrop behind him is supposed to be. He lets them know that they will cut the engines off to allow Fireflash to float to the surface where he will then get them out. Solid plan.
When Gordon arrives back at Thunderbird 4 it’s clearly revealed that the side nacelles of the craft don’t go back very far on the puppet-size model. That makes me the 512th Thunderbirds reviewer to point that out. The thing is, even though I’ve known about this goof for years and years, I’ve never actually taken the time to look out for it up until now.
And so Thunderbird 4 moves into position for the rescue and Gordon extends the laser beam cutter. Gordon has his special goggles on which somehow manages to make the skin around his eyes look stretched even though… well… he’s a puppet.
The question is of course, can a laser beam be used to cut through such thick metal underwater. Well in theory, yes it can. Technology to make this possible has been developed but it requires a gas jet to be fired concentric to the beam in order to create the right environment for the metal to be cut underwater. But that aside, the effect is fairly well achieved here with big flames adding to the drama. You can just about see where part of the line has already been cut for where the laser will travel.
In close-up, the laser cutter looks like quite a different sized device to that seen in the model shot and approaches the cutting at a different angle.
The first thruster finally breaks off. A wire can be seen trailing down from the flame on Thunderbird 4’s cutter. The Thunderbird 4 model itself also has quite a noticeable join between cockpit and the rest of the model.
The thruster crashes down to the ocean floor with a fantastic cloud of dust and rubble.
As Thunderbird 4 moves towards the second thruster, the pre-cut line is even more noticeable. The very small model of Thunderbird 4 is also so lightweight that even slowed right down the wobbles are still detectable.
An enormous amount of heat appears to be being generated in the cockpit. Bob certainly is sweating his guts out.
The second thruster falls and Thunderbird 4 immediately moves out of the way. Will the plane float? Find out after the break!
It does! Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Fireflash gently rises up through the water. How it manages to remain horizontal the entire time is a bit of a mystery. She also looks very naked without her thrusters.
She triumphantly rises from the water. You can just about make out a few flecks of seaweed that have clung to the hull – more of that would have been nice to see.
We won’t address the issue of scale here… that comes later… Thunderbird 2 could be far off in the distance in this shot. It’s only later that one really starts to question it.
The tiny little Thunderbird 4 comes up alongside, the size of the water and the difficulty of lighting making it a struggle to focus the camera on the minute lettering on the craft.
The controls start to smoke and sizzle as the heat of the laser and presumably the water in the electrical system begin to take their toll.
Using some kind of sucker device, Gordon starts to climb up to the cockpit. In the puppet shot he puts his left hand on the glass first, but then in the live action shot he puts his left hand on the hull.
Whatever Gordon has planned, the pilot sure looks worse for wear…
Gordon just loves lasers so much he has a portable one with him where ever he goes. It’s a really powerful looking piece of kit. International Rescue certainly use a lot of different cutting devices throughout the series and this has to be one of the more badass. The effect of Gordon actually slicing through the glass is simply achieved by cutting away to the pilots and the smoking control panel and each time cutting back to Gordon with a larger cut made in the glass.
Gordon has a look of determination on his face that shows he just doesn’t care whether the heat of the laser beam is going to cause an explosion. He seems completely oblivious to how much the crew are choking to death. His ruffled up hair looks ultra cool too.
The cockpit actually catches fire, filling the room with fumes, and still Gordon manages to ignore it.
This is the first appearance of Thunderbird 2’s hatch of many things. A rescue capsule that size would certainly take up a lot of room in the front of Thunderbird 2. Notice what appears to be yellow tape next to the red air intake.
Gordon finally cuts the hole, and the Fireflash crew look at him like they had no idea he was there the whole time.
Gordon drops down into the water with a satisfying splash. Now he has to swim back to Thunderbird 4. He’s certainly keeping busy on this mission!
Then Gordon confuses us all by saying that the co-pilot is aboard the capsule and the pilot is just climbing in. Even though there isn’t really anything to prove otherwise, it’s generally accepted that Bob is the co-pilot while the moustache man is the guy in charge because he sits in Captain Hanson’s chair and does all the talking to London Airport. But Gordon seems to think it’s the other way around…
The rescue capsule gets brought aboard Thunderbird 2 and she flies away. The main fuselage where the pod would normally be certainly looks a little bit rough and ready with kit parts stuck on unevenly and some slightly messy glue work.
Thunderbird 4 also makes good its escape as the Fireflash starts to smoulder. The thrusters spit sparks a little as they make contact with the water.
And up she goes in a chain of spectacular explosions. The effects team had gotten really good by this point at capturing the enormous waves that would rush towards camera after a big bang in the water. The tension of the whole rescue sequence builds up brilliantly to this point from delicately cutting off the thrusters to the whole craft going up in flames. Thunderbird 4 may not looks its best in this episode but it certainly is put to good use. I think I’ve mentioned previously that Thunderbird 4 rescues are among my favourites so it’s no wonder I like this episode a lot.
Back on the island, everyone is watching a blank screen again.
Oh no, they’re watching that news reporter again. He mentions that International Rescue have most likely provided the answer to the technical issues plaguing the Fireflash – which most likely would have been the end of it in the original version of the episode. Brains looks terribly concerned for some reason. Take a good look at all the different puppets in use here. Virgil informs Jeff that Scott’s “take-off from England was delayed for some reason.” Even though he was in fact in Ireland… did I mention that Virgil failed Geography?
Awww, John’s smiling. John never smiles. Scott has returned from the farm having successfully milked the cows. I mean he could have just lied and told the farmer he had important International Rescue business to attend to, but no, he willingly agreed to milk the cows. Scott probably would have brought Kathleen the cow home with him if he could. Instead he brought home some tasty treats including milk and… other stuff… maybe some Pringles?
So that would have been a rather fun little end to the episode, but suddenly it all kicks off again. We enter into the second half of the episode which makes up the majority of the additional material produced to extend the episode. I like this padding method because it essentially means you get two episodes for the price of one.
Gordon and Jeff’s faces are distinctly different to what they were a moment ago if you compare them.
Alan felt it was important to let everyone know that a meeting was happening about the Fireflash… which isn’t really a very interesting bit of news but thanks anyway, Alan.
Apart from a few extra chairs appearing and the paperwork on the International Air Minister’s desk moving around, the set looks exactly as it did earlier, suggesting that this and the earlier discussion about the demise of Fireflash 3 are indeed both added scenes. Everyone flings around their ideas about what could be wrong with the Fireflash planes, with the Minister asking everyone to chill out and deal with it… in simple terms that’s what he says anyway. The doctor from Trapped in the Sky is supervising the meeting for some reason. The International Air Minister is later seen as a baddie in The Cham-Cham.
Jeff is pondering what can be done to solve the problem with the Fireflash. For some reason he has Operation Cover Up engaged. One assumes that the set was configured this way for another episode and there was no time in between filming to put it back to normal on the assumption that no-one would notice.
Virgil comes up with the idea of International Rescue flying a Fireflash and keeping Thunderbird 2 on standby to tackle any issues that arise. Jeff is impressed and decides that it is “time for International Rescue to act.” I don’t think putting on a play is going to help anyone Jeff…
A letter is received at London Airport informing them of International Rescue’s intentions. You can just about make out the International Rescue logo through the paper which is some rather brilliant detail. In an attempt to discover the organisation’s location, Commander Norman in fact learns that the letter was posted at London Airport. Seeing as Tin-Tin wrote the letter on the island, someone had to fly all the way over to England in a plane that wouldn’t be too recognisable just to post a letter. Why not dictate the letter to someone like Lady Penelope and have her write and send it on their behalf? Anyway, Norman makes plans to have Captain Hanson fly the Fireflash with them and casually mentions that they saved his life in Trapped in the Sky… although they did basically save everyone’s lives in that episode by preventing an enormous nuclear disaster…
Alan and Jeff discuss the operation. Jeff informs us that Thunderbird 2 is loaded up with Pod 4, the diving escape bell and the laser beam cutter. We never see International Rescue’s diving escape bell in the series and one assumes that the laser cutter seen in 30 Minutes After Noon wouldn’t be much use on board Fireflash or in the ocean so Jeff probably isn’t referring to that one.
Thunderbird 2 crosses the coast. Gordon has ditched his International Rescue uniform for a more practical aviation suit which doesn’t suggest he’s planning on going swimming today. Aside from the very end of Security Hazard, this is the only other time in the series that Scott hitches a ride in Thunderbird 2.
A radar operator voiced by Shane Rimmer has taken Commander Norman’s previous spot looking after the radar, meaning all he can do is stand there with some binoculars looking important.
Fireflash rolls out of its specially shaped hangar which we last saw as a building in the Australian Atomic Plant in The Mighty Atom.
Captain Hanson is at the controls. He looks like he’s had a bit of a facelift since his appearance in Trapped in the Sky. It could just be the different lighting but there’s definitely something that looks odd about him. The uniform is back to what we saw in Trapped in the Sky although the Air Terrainean badge has disappeared from the sleeve and replaced a gold pin badge on the chest.
So here’s what we assume is Fireflash 5. Ain’t she pretty?
Commander Norman gives the order for airport security to be tightened. For some reason the shot of the airport buildings clearly shows the BAOC terminal building, but the Air Terrainean building which is normally seen on the right side has disappeared…
Hopefully anyone planning a holiday today is going to get a refund. Although the shot is very similiar, the Airport Entrance seen here is not the same set as the entrance to the Thompson Tower parking lot seen in City of Fire.
The camera dramatically moves towards Commander Norman as he confirms with International Rescue that all the arrangments have been made for their arrival. It very much implies that his job is on the line if he allows yet another Fireflash flight to get screwed up. How he still has that job at all must be down to pure luck.
At exactly 12 o’clock, Thunderbird 2 comes in to land at the end of Runway 27 next to the Fireflash. It may be a little closer to the camera, but Thunderbird 2 is clearly slightly bigger than the Fireflash. Remember that for later. The model seems to have received a lot of that wonderful dirtying-down treatment to add realism to the point of almost looking a little untidy.
Jeff is super duper serious about not allowing anything to go wrong.
With Scott now in position in the Fireflash, looking furious throughout the entire flight, the operation can begin. Alan is up in Thunderbird 5 ensuring everyone remains in contact with each other. If only Commander Norman had taken the first test flight this seriously none of this would have happened. Silly Norman.
Scott and Hanson share a little moment. Why Scott thanks him for helping International Rescue out I don’t know… I would have thought ensuring the Fireflash was airworthy would be Captain Hanson’s problem moreso that Scott’s. Then again, Scott’s probably distracted by Hanson’s plastic surgery to care about who thanks whom.
As Fireflash taxis away for take-off the camera pans over to Thunderbird 2 again. Just remember that size comparison.
This is the third Fireflash take-off we’ve seen in this episode, the same piece of footage from Trapped in the Sky used each time, but I have to say it always looks epic. Scott seems less thrilled about it.
Tin-Tin is on standby with her typewriter made of lego-like bricks.
Virgil blasts off to catch up with the Fireflash. Thunderbird 2 starts to gather speed along the runway. The number 2 on the tail section has moved back slightly and the model used for this shot generally seems to be a little bit shorter.
Here’s a lovely shot of Fireflash from above showing the very detailed coastline going by below.
Alan discovers that as before, Fireflash’s automatic locator is working incorrectly and giving the wrong position. Scott says thanks rather insincerely.
Fireflash changes course and Thunderbird 2 follows. Notice that Fireflash has gone back to having those grey grilles for engine intakes instead of the three black holes on each side.
Fireflash starts to lose height and radio contact with London Tower is lost. Commander Norman begins to plan his letter of resignation. Losing another Fireflash is one thing, they basically grow on trees by this point, but losing an International Rescue pilot would spell the end of his career.
Using International Rescue equipment, radio contact is reopened and Scott informs Virgil and Gordon of his inability to get the nose of the plane up. Scott demonstrates by wiggling the steering wheel up and down. Even though it has been well established that this is how the pitch of the aircraft is controlled, it still just makes it look like a broken steering wheel.
Because Commander Norman is fearing unemployment he simply suggests that Scott and Hanson bail out but Scott’s having none of it. So Virgil suggests they engage their previously discussed plan. Although this plan isn’t actually named on screen, my guess is that this is the eponymous Operation Crash-Dive! How exciting! You have to love Virgil’s cheeky glance at the camera here while Gordon delivers a catchphrase from The Prisoner before The Prisoner was even a thing.
It looks like you can actually see where the thrusters might have been glued back on to this model of the Fireflash after they were cut off in the first half of the episode. Or that’s just a coincidence and they broke off during filming.
Gordon gets ready to depart Thunderbird 2.
There’s no denying that the scale between the models in this shot is completely off as Thunderbird 2 moves into position beneath Fireflash. Assuming Thunderbird 2 is 250ft long (which is about the size of an Airbus A380-800, the world’s largest passenger airliner) Fireflash would be approximately 700ft long if this shot is to be believed. Not to compared to the Fireflash’s landing in Trapped in the Sky, Thunderbird 2 as seen here is about the same size as one Elevator Car. The more commonly accepted estimation of Fireflash’s length is 380ft.
As the hatch opens Gordon gets a glimpse of some dastardly villain. The hatch appears to have the same markings as the hatch used by Bob Meddings in Trapped in the Sky. Let’s hope Captain Hanson remembers to shut it this time…
This is getting silly now. Thunderbird 2 just got even smaller.
Gordon fires the magnetic clamp up into the Fireflash, an effect most likely achieved by reversing footage of the clamp being pulled away from the set. Gordon is pulled up into the wing.
Alan gets a bit sassy with Tin-Tin when she asks how long Gordon’s checks will take. He says, “That depends on what he finds, when he gets in there,” in a tone that attempts to make Tin-Tin feel a bit stupid for asking.
Gordon explores the inner workings of Fireflash which has been detailed with a wide array of electrical and mechanical components to make it all look very complicated. It’s a simple but effective set which manages to feel claustrophobic.
Gordon discovers that the cables of the Elevator Power Unit have been cut. Sabotage! He then hears a gunshot which is either loud enough to be heard all the way up in the cockpit, or Scott and Hanson hear it over the radio.
It’s that dodgy bloke we saw in the lifeboat earlier! At least one assumes it is as he’s now wearing a helment and goggles. They’re the same goggles that Gordon was wearing earlier while using Thunderbird 4’s laser cutter.
A gun fight ensues between Gordon and the saboteur. This is the first time we see one of the International Rescue sidearms which has a little light at the end of it rather than appearing to fire a bullet. I don’t know what that does exactly. It could be a laser gun possibly, Gordon does like lasers… The type of sidearm used by International Rescue does vary from episode to episode.
The saboteur’s head turns a bit like that of an owl’s…
Hanson left the ruddy hatch open again…
Gordon opens fire on the saboteur as he attempts to jump from the plane. It’s unclear as to whether he actually shoots the guy. He does look rather lifeless as he falls through the hatch although that could just be because the floor puppeteer had to chuck him quite hard.
Fireflash starts to get dangerously close to the water and begins to make the exact same noise as Fireball XL5 taking off.
With no time to fix it properly Gordon is the ultimate daredevil and takes the cables and holds them close enough together for the enormous voltage to flow through, creating some fantastic sparks, flames, and flashes.
Cor it gets awfully close!
But she overshoots just in time!
Gordon is nearly blinded by the flames. What a guy. And the poor special effects technician that had to hold those two cables together must have been feeling brave that day. Presumably Gordon’s going to have to hold those cables like that all the way back to London. I hope he brought sunglasses.
Back on Tracy Island, things are a little bit awkward. A newsreader is explaining the resolution of the Fireflash crisis, but everyone is distracted by how much he sounds like Virgil… especially Virgil. This was the last time David Holliday provided the voice of a guest character for the series outside of crowd scenes because his voice was just too darn distinctive as Virgil. The newsreader puppet is later seen as Tom Prescott in 30 Minutes After Noon. He explains that, thanks to International Rescue, it has been revealed that an “international gang” was responsible who are either called “Benton Aircraft Espionage” or were “bent on aircraft espionage.” I’m inclined to believe the latter. If you had the audacity to name your company something with the word ‘espionage’ in the title, I’d have thought the police would be on you like a shot.
Jeff has turned Operation Cover Up on again. The TV suddenly cuts out.
Scott is not at all happy. He looks ready to punch the person responsible for turning off the TV.
Grandma comes in to reveal that she’s blown the fuse while putting the apple pies in the oven. The exact same thing used to happen in a house I rented as a student, except the food involved was generally frozen pizzas rather than freshly-made apple pies.
Virgil and Scott put on some cheeky grins and volunteer Gordon to go and fix it. He declares, “Here I go again!”
Much laughter is had at Gordon’s hilarious outburst and so ends another Thunderbirds episode.
Operation Crash-Dive is certainly a worthy sequel to Trapped in the Sky which puts the beautifully designed Fireflash into more danger than ever before. Thunderbird 4 is put to great use in this episode and Gordon sees more dynamic action here than in any other episode. The action is great and the tension builds up nicely in both rescue situations. There are also some nice comedy moments here and there. As I said previously, this is like two Thunderbirds episodes put together which, although structurally unusual, does extend the story in a fairly rewarding way with two exciting climaxes as opposed to one.
I said at the beginning of the article that this is an episode I come back to again and again and I think the reason for that is just because of how unusual it is. It’s unusual for a Thunderbirds episode to be a sequel. It’s unusual for an episode to have two rescues in. It’s unusual for Gordon to be the key hero. It’s unusual for Alan to be up in Thunderbird 5 for the whole episode. It’s unusual for Scott to have to milk cows. Writer Martin Crump, and presumably the team that helped to extend the script, have pushed the format of Thunderbirds a little further than normal in this episode and done things to expand the universe on-screen.