Directed by David Elliott
Teleplay by Dennis Spooner
First Broadcast – 4th November 1965
Day Of Disaster demonstrates that when the ambitious Americans of the Thunderbirds world are daring enough to try and send a rocket to Mars, one pompous Brit in love with his rusty old suspension bridge is enough to bring the project to a grinding halt. Yes, the British don’t always come out on top in Thunderbirds and appear to fundamentally lack common sense a lot of the time – such as Lord Silton being driven all the way to the bank in Vault of Death only to have forgotten his key, or Sir Jeremy Hodge in The Perils of Penelope standing at a locked door yelling about how British he is but not actually trying to fix the problem. Day Of Disaster is the next in a line of episodes which shows us how ineffective, yet loveable, us Brits are in Gerry & Sylvia Anderson’s vision of the future… to say nothing of the amazing sequence when the rocket falls off the bridge.
A splendid opening teaser which pretty clearly tells the story and quite rightly shows off some of the best shots of the episode.
A stormy night at the Allington Suspension Bridge. The same spectacular use of rain that was seen in last week’s episode is on display once again. Incidentally, there are two places called Allington in the UK (I used to live on the outskirts of one of them) and neither of them have a river wide enough to justify building a suspension bridge.
The storm is waving the bridge around like crazy as the water crashes around beneath. Up in the bridge control room, two chaps are just sitting and watching. Why exactly a suspension bridge would need a control room that was manned around the clock is a bit of a mystery. It must be a pretty dull job most of the time to just sit and watch a bridge. This storm is probably the most exciting thing to have happened in the past month.
Despite being thrown around from side to side, the bridge controller is convinced everything is absolutely fine. The bridge is clearly indicated on a handy control panel to be under a dangerous amount of stress, which Dave Clayton, the guy who should be in charge, acknowledges will require a full check-up. The controller agrees begrudgingly.
When the storm has settled, the Day Of Disaster title card pops up. As a Thunderbirds episode title it’s about as generic as they come really. In Thunderbirds surely every single day is full of disaster. Although granted this particular day is shockingly bad.
The bridge controller is on the phone with the minister. That’s right, a minister is in charge of checking that a bridge is open. Admittedly it’s a pretty important bridge, but still. The numbered switches next to the controller indicate that this is the camera console unit seen in Martian Invasion.
Our friend Chuck from End of the Road has changed careers and gained a British accent, shown here taking readings from rusty parts of the bridge. One section gives a reading of ‘3’, another gives a reading of ‘0’ but apparently both are fine. A little while ago I asked a chum of mine to come up with a theory about what Chuck’s bridge reading device actually does. This was his response: “I suspect it emits isotopes that are specifically reflected by the material used to construct the bridge. If you get full reflection, it reads 3 and your structure is sound. If you get 0, you’ve got bad microfractures as the isotopes are passing freely through the structure at the molecular level.” Needless to say this chum of mine is much smarter than I am when it comes to this stuff.
Up on the bridge, Clayton awaits the news from his engineers. Sat next to him is the radio unit seen inside the cave in Martian Invasion. The cab of the truck was last used for Ned Cook’s NTBS truck in Terror In New York City. The other engineers are named Kirby and Gerry, the latter presumably named after the show’s producer.
When the all clear is given, Clayton drives off the bridge and takes the elevator back up to the control room, although oddly the elevator doesn’t appear to stop anywhere near the control room.
These two clearly can’t stand each other, a situation made worse by the fact all they do is stare at a rusty bridge all day long. Clayton is insisting that they remain cautious and don’t open the bridge. The Controller doesn’t care and wants to open the bridge to avoid getting badgered by his superiors. Of course we all know who’s right here.
Not this guy. The Controller swears that the Martian Probe Rocket will not get held up at Allington Bridge! He later enjoyed eating those words with a sour garnish of broken bridge.
Speaking of the the Martian Probe Rocket, or Martian Space Probe if you prefer, here it is being transportered on the back of a massive truck set to the ‘March of the Oysters’ tune from Stingray. As rocket designs go it’s somewhere in between the very functional look reached by the Telsat rocket in Ricochet and the more fantastical look previously seen with Sun Probe. The bright blue fins and nose ensure that this looks like a rocket from the future, but everything else about it is pretty ordinary really. The yellow truck it is being transportered on is a lovely piece of model making. The rear section actually popped up as a cameo pod vehicle in Cry Wolf.
The rocket makes its way through the “city” of Allington. Unusually, and this is pretty historic for a Supermarionation series, there’s actually moving traffic on the roads. To see more than one or two cars moving on a road at once in any Gerry Anderson series is practically unheard of so savour the moment people! Parked outside the bank in the foreground is the police car previously spotted in The Perils of Penelope and Terror In New York City. In the background there are a number of buildings which previously resided around the Empire State Building in Terror In New York City including the Fulmer Finance.
On the other side of the Bank we can still see many of the same buildings and another one of those police cars is parked on the right. The bridge in the forgeound is the monorail bridge from The Perils of Penelope.
Inside the rocket, we meet Frank and Bill who help to explain what on earth is going on. We assume that they’re astronauts but they could just be engineers, or both. They’re tuning her up during the journey to make good use of time, even though riding in any vehicle carried on the back of a truck is generally frowned upon. Frank very bluntly explains that if they don’t make the launching it’ll be another four years before Mars is in the right position. They’re so desperate that they’ve actually brought the entire rocket and team over to England from Cape Kennedy just to maximise their chances. Would that really provide much of an advantage to the point that with enormous expense you’d ship the rocket across the ocean and have to build replica launch facilities which presumably don’t really exist in England? Come to think of it, why not just build the rocket in England in the first place? Frank points out that the rocket is basically ready for blast off, awkwardly clicking his fingers even though we know puppets can’t actually do that. But that’s right, it’s full of fuel during transportation which must make it horrendously heavy, to say nothing about how much more dangerous the whole idea just became. But don’t worry, the countdown starts automatically, that means everything will be fine… Anyway, Bill implies that Frank’s family won’t even miss him that much… which is nice…
In a rather splendid moment, we get a peek at Ned Cook’s NTBS truck from Terror In New York City complete with Joe manning the camera on the roof. Fully recovered from their Empire State Building ordeal, it would appear that Ned and Joe are back out on the streets following huge technological feats without any fear of another collosal disaster…
The transportation of the rocket is being broadcast live which must be a viewing experience similar to watching paint dry. Lady Penelope and her guest, Brains, are watching on a tiny little screen while drinking tea. Penelope clearly couldn’t care less.
She actually stops listening to Brains and has a cheeky glance at the camera because she’s so bored by the whole thing. Brains announces that he was invited over to England to watch the blast off by the man behind the project, Professor Wingrove.
Wingrove admits that trying to launch the rocket without the facilities at Cape Kennedy has proven difficult, but somehow making everything automatic has solved that. That probably made sense to the writer when he was coming up with the idea, but Dennis Spooner has neglected to mention how the automated countdown has actually made the launch easier.
But we never find out because Penelope decides she’s so bored of hearing about the rocket that the television needs to be turned off… if I were Brains I’d be pretty fuming. He’s clearly come over specifically to watch this and is enthralled by the whole thing. Bless him, he doesn’t get out much Penny, just let him watch his programme.
On Tracy Island, things are in a shocking state. Virgil’s playing a very odd tune on the piano, Alan’s been out running in the most appalling tracksuit I’ve ever seen which he appears to have made himself, Gordon and Scott are drinking pints of cocktails and all Jeff can do is catch up on paperwork. They’re struggling with the long wait between rescues. Scott remarks that he wishes he’d gone to England with Brains to watch the rocket launch… it’s hard to tell whether that remark is dripping with sarcasm or not…
Grandma arrives looking terribly distressed to start a very bizarre scene about locating her edible transmitter. Obviously when the script for Day Of Disaster needed extending to a full hour, this was one of the scenes which was added. It’s both a nice comedy treat and an incredibly odd moment in Thunderbirds. So the case is simple, someone has eaten Grandma’s transmitter and we need to find out who it was.
For the second time in the series, Alan’s portrait is revealed to have another function. A map of the Tracy Villa is displayed and a flashing red light indicates that the transmitter is located somewhere in the lounge. The map reveals that there are 6 bedrooms plus 2 guest rooms, a laboratory and a workshop on the upper floor of the house, although there don’t appear to be any stairs.
Somehow Alan is off the hook because he ate a ‘light lunch’ which means he couldn’t have possibly accidentally eaten anything at all. So one by one, Jeff sends Scott, Gordon, and Virgil out of the room to see if the light moves. It doesn’t.
Hilarity ensues when it becomes apparent that Jeff is the one who swallowed the transmitter and will have to take the dissolver medicine which Tin-Tin brings in. What fun. The edible transmitters are never used or mentioned in the series again so this scene doesn’t contribute much except to say that the Tracys are just like an ordinary family who have silly quarrels.
The journey of the Martian Space Probe continues, this time passing a piece of building previously seen as part of the Marineville Hospital in Stingray.
The rocket approaches the Allington Bridge. Standby for some great model shots.
It’s pretty lucky that she fits between the supports really.
So far everything is going swimmingly for the bridge controller. Clayton, however, is less than optimistic. As he points out under his breath, “the bridge can take the wait okay in evenly distributed traffic, but can it in one solid mass?” The short answer is no. The longer answer is no and rather than keeping that factoid to yourself maybe you should let the driver of the transporter know that they should speed up to get this over with before something bad happens.
The great shots continue as the rocket inches across the bridge. Look at all those thrusters. Two drivers can also be seen in the cab on the transport vehicle. We never learn what happened to them but one assumes they were fine. Everything in this sequence is supplemented by some classic Barry Gray music.
Penelope has stopped torturing Brains and allowed the television to be turned back on. The voice of Matt Zimmerman’s generic newsreporter narrates the scene, suggesting that Ned Cook really could be covering this, even though the report was being narrated by Peter Dyneley a little earlier. Maybe that reporter mysteriously disappeared… Ned will do anything for a story. Or maybe it’s Eddie Kerr. What fun.
Even in long shot this is a pretty magnificent spectacle.
The tonnage indicator shows that the bridge is overloaded. That can’t be good.
I think it goes without saying that you should be cautious while hanging around at the back of a rocket. I mean if you hadn’t noticed the bloomin’ great rocket then you probably won’t notice the ‘Caution’ sign either.
The bottom of the bridge starts to rattle and rumble somewhat and the bridge cables start to ping off and break with some nice sound effects. Maybe the driver will consider speeding up now.
The bridge controller announces, “She not gonna make it… She’s not gonna make it!” Well I’m glad we can all see that now. Incidentally, the bridge controller later pops up as Officer Flanagan in 30 Minutes After Noon.
Brains spots the approaching disaster and yells at Penelope that the bridge is going to collapse. We don’t cut to her reaction, but I’m guessing she still isn’t all that bothered.
A ton of debris just gets chucked off of the bridge in a manner that definitely looks like it’s being chucked rather than genuinely collapsing. The support tower begins to crumble and block the road. They’re so close to the end you can actually see the river bank.
The transport vehicle starts to slip and slide as the road finally gives way underneath…
The support tower gives way with a massive explosion. Needless to say the tower which houses the control room is at the other end of the bridge and is completely fine.
And in she goes with a great splash. The bridge is completely devastated. Incredible stuff.
The transport vehicle remains afloat and you can just about make out a police escort car too. But the rocket appears to have sunk…
Inside, Frank and Bill can only cling to their chairs in terror as the rocket hits the bottom of the river and all the wreckage from the bridge pours down on top of them. That would be terrifying to listen to from inside.
Silence falls… and oh dear. The clock on the wall starts ticking, meaning that the rocket’s oh-so-wonderful automatic countdown has started just because it’s been tipped vertically. I mean would it have been so hard to install an on/off switch for the countdown just in case something like this happened? It’s a good thing they didn’t go up a particularly steep hill or the same thing would have happened! Because the rocket is buried in tons of twisted metal and debris from the bridge, the only option it has is to explode when the countdown is completed. With that, we come to our first commerical break with the disaster all set up for us.
FAB 1 has set off. Penelope is sporting a ridiculously furry fur coat, and the less said about Brains’ pink corduroy jacket the better. He’s a man without a plan but reckons going to the bridge is the most useful thing he can do. In that jacket you know he means business.
Three floating cranes are dragged into the danger zone by a nice looking boat.
Apparently they were ordered by this bloke who is at least taking some responsibilty for re-opening a dangerous bridge. Three floating cranes… it sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn’t work, but they do exist and provided they’re big enough, floating cranes can lift pretty substantial weights without sinking. It looks like these three are a bunch of tidlers though, so I doubt this will go well.
A diver flops into the water, looking like one of the more realistic miniature figures that the special effects department produced. He’s going to put a radio line down to the rocket because apparently a ship designed to go into space can’t be contacted at the bottom of a river.
In the claustrophobic cabin, Frank is concerned that nothing has happened after three hours. I think I’d be pretty grumpy too if it looked very much like the only thing that had been done in three hours was to order three rubbish cranes from the dock next door.
FAB 1 hurtles down the completely empty motorway. The road suddenly turns from a standard six-lane motorway into four lanes with Parker driving on the right all of a sudden instead of the left. Yet another one of those bubble-topped police cars is in use.
General Peters from Pit of Peril takes on the role of a policeman who is something of a Lady P fan, recognising her car and talking to her like an old pal. Apparently crowds of sightseers have gone to the bridge to watch the rescue operation because there’s nothing more fun than watching three cranes slowly move into position. People in Allington obviously don’t get out much.
Brains is beside himself with worry. He’s worried about the guys back at base mocking him terribly for not doing something about the disaster… I think it’s more likely they’ll mock your jacket to be honest Brains… Penelope suggests he cut across the fields to reach the bridge because apparently he just couldn’t figure that one out for himself. Meanwhile Penelope’s going to draw the crowds away somehow… maybe she’ll open a paint drying exhibition.
Back at the bridge control room, Clayton is on the cigarettes because I’m guessing he wasn’t coming to work today planning to go fishing for space rockets.
Bill reminds us that the oh-so-wonderful automatic countdown cannot be stopped. Frank suggests smashing up the equipment at the risk of blowing up the whole rocket. Seeing as they’re a pair of technicians and/or astronauts they really should know how to dismantle or stop a space craft. Anyway, the bridge controller finally make contacts, declaring that he is ‘central control’. Was it really a good idea to put this guy in charge of the rescue seeing as he caused the trouble in the first place?
Meanwhile, Penelope and Parker are exploring the abandoned Allington Research Centre. The building on the left frequently showed up in lots of locations during The Mighty Atom.
Frank is polite about the controller’s attempts at organising a rescue but knows full well that the big guns are needed for a job like this, suggesting the participation of International Rescue would be a great help. Because he’s a complete moron, the bridge controller acts like that is the worst idea anyone has ever had. I mean why on earth wouldn’t you call International Rescue at a time like this? This guy is an absolutely thick-headed, pompous twerp and joins the Sentinel Commander from Terror In New York City in the Anti International Rescue Pompous Twerp Club.
That same building from The Mighty Atom has popped up again, and in the background is a wall from Stingray’s launch pen.
In a rather amusing moment, Parker wants to check that he is definitely allowed to let loose on the cannons.
Parker opens fire on the same building used as Block D9 in The Perils of Penelope.
Clayton watches from the control room. Even he isn’t the slightest bit interested in watching the cranes. They’re thankful for the scene distracting the crowds… whom we never actually see but have to believe are there. It’s all happening in Allington today.
Surprise! Brains has snuck into the elevator and made it to the control room. I’m sure the bridge controller will be thrilled to have this handsomely dressed fellow around to help.
Well no actually. Mr Pompous Twerp doesn’t want any help because he’s crashed a number of space rockets in his time and knows exactly what to do to fish them out again. Clayton is more than happy to have an ally against his insane boss so allows Brains to stick around.
At the back of the room, but still in plain sight of everyone, Brains uses his watch to contact Thunderbird 5. The sudden zoom of the camera suggests that John is very surprised by the call. It’s obviously been a while. Notice the lemon squeezer nuzzled between the white and pink circles above the main window.
Clayton and the controller are a bit puzzled by Brains talking into his watch. It’s the 21st Century guys, have you never seen an Apple Watch?
Rather bizarrely John reckons that Thunderbirds 1 and 4 are required. Thunderbird 4 I get, but what exactly can Scott do that’s actually useful in this scenario? I guess we’ll find out…
John contacts base. Scott, Virgil, and Gordon are quickly dispatched. I normally skip over the launch sequences in my reviews because they use stock footage, but I just noticed that if you look at the bottom of this shot, you can just about see some fingers holding onto the tippy-turntable which Virgil rotates on during his journey to Thunderbird 2.
Meanwhile, there’s only 5 hours left on the clock! But after 7 hours of work the cranes are finally ready to do something. Thank goodness this episode doesn’t take place in real time.
To cut an awfully long and drawn out sequence short, the cranes didn’t work. All that time was taken to attach them to three random pieces of bridge wreckage but apparently even those couldn’t be lifted. The machines sink and explode and it’s all just a bit pathetic. That bridge controller really is an absolute berk. The cranes are very nice models though.
Down goes the crane. Clayton declares that even for International Rescue there isn’t enough time left, and Brains quietly agrees. Hope is rapidly fading as we head into the next break!
Time ticks on and Alan has forgotten how to use a chair.
Frank is getting a bit sweaty too and lightly waves a tissue in front of his face.
The bridge controller has given in and is attempting to call International Rescue. Brains tells him his radio is too rubbish, which if anything points out a flaw in his design of Thunderbird 5 rather than the radio itself.
Just before the controller chucks Brains out of the window in a fit of rage, the sound of engines can be heard.
Thunderbird 1 has arrived! The lettering is on the belly of the craft. I always thought that Scott had pulled up outside the control room in this shot but then I realised there were no windows and he’s actually pulled up at the bridge support just before the collapsed section.
Scott announces that there’s absolutely nothing he can do until Thunderbird 2 arrives in an hour’s time… great job Scott… really great…
So everyone has to wait around for an hour which fortunately only takes a few seconds of screen time. Thunderbird 2 arrives and immediately launches Thunderbird 4 with the standard stock footage in play. I’m amazed that in the hour it took for Thunderbird 2 to arrive nobody bothered to move the useless floating cranes out of the way.
A teeny model of Thunderbird 4 surveys the buried rocket ship. That certainly is a lot of wreckage and debris.
Despite the fact Brains is trying to be as quiet as possible while co-ordinating the rescue with his watch radio, Gordon feels the need to yell as loud as possible, “Brains! You old son of a gun!” Well done Gordon for nearly exposing Brains’ connection with International Rescue to everyone in the room, very subtle.
The bridge controller is still being a pompous twerp and insists that International Rescue should inform him about what they’re going to do. Remember that this guy is the reason we’re all here sorting this disaster out. Not to mention, aside from sitting in the control room and complaining a lot, there’s not much he could do with International Rescue’s mission plan anyway. He also reckons that Brains has escaped from a mental hospital which he apparently deduced from the fact he talks to his watch and has nothing to do with his taste in jackets…
Gordon deploys Thunderbird 4’s laser cutter to start tearing away the wreckage. The same cutter was seen being extended from the craft in Operation Crash-Dive although for close-ups and long shots of Fireflash’s engines being cut away, a different attachment was used.
More time passes and with some of the wreckage cut free, Thunderbird 2 is clear to come in and grab it. Unfortunately Virgil uses the tiddliest set of grabs available and is barely able to grab anything at all. At least in close-up the larger model of the grabs and the debris looks a lot more impressive. But this is still going to take quite a few trips to clear everything.
For some bizarre reason Virgil flies the wreckage a fair distance away and drops it off in some poor farmer’s field. Why not just drop the wreckage back in the river so it’s at least out of the way of the rocket to save an awful lot of time? This is going to be a very slow job.
Gordon is doubtful that this incredibly repetitive and dull rescue plan is going to work, and frankly the viewers deserve more than this, so Brains has an idea. The bridge controller overhears that missiles are on the agenda. Thank goodness for that.
Yes, that’s right, Gordon’s gotten so bored of floating around that he decides to open fire on the rocket and put everyone out of their misery…
Just kidding! He’s managed to clear all of the wreckage out of the way in one go. Hurrah!
Virgil moves into standby position. I’m sure he’s thrilled that he can stop going back and forth, filling up the fields of Allington with rubbish.
Using her two bumpers, Thunderbird 4 takes an almighty run up at the rocket and smashes straight into it. Bravo! One assumes that the nose section was originally designed to seperate which is why it comes away relatively easily, otherwise Thunderbird 4 is a lot more powerful than any of us ever thought!
The astronauts are sent flying. Goodness knows what they think is happening right now. Probably getting attacked by the infamous Giant Allington Pike…
With a satisfying sploosh the nose cone comes to the surface.
Virgil comes in with a new set of grabs and picks it up. Mission completed! So remember when John said this would be a job for Thunderbirds 1 and 4? Anyone able to come up with a single thing Thunderbird 1 did today?
Looking incredibly menacing, the rocket blasts off. It doesn’t explode on the spot so that’s a good sign. With an incredible splash it leaps from the water, probably scaring the willies out of the bridge controller. Serves him right.
It wibbles and wobbles a bit but maybe she’ll actually make it to Mars after all…
Or not… it isn’t really clear why exactly the rocket chose this particular moment to explode but never mind. It looks as if two different explosion shots have been cut together to make up this spectacular bang. It sure is pretty.
Brains performs a triumphant jig… yes, I think it’s ruddy strange too. How often do you celebrate by flailing your arms and legs around at random while two people just stand there and watch?
In response to this, the bridge controller pulls one final pompous twerp move and sends Brains to a psychiatrist… Somehow Brains just went along with the idea I guess. Maybe they told him they were going to get ice-cream…
This is Dr. Korda. His character was named after Hungarian film producer and director Sir Alexander Korda. The puppet was previously seen as Professor Heinz Bodman in Sun Probe.
Fortunately, before the situation gets any sillier, Lady Penelope arrives to rescue Brains. Rather amusingly she just goes along with the idea that he’s a complete nut job. Korda has a statue from The Hood’s temple sitting in his office… suggesting that Korda is actually The Hood in disguise trying to interrogate Brains for the secrets of International Rescue… or it suggests that he really likes Malaysian scultpures…
For a brief moment, Penelope’s puppet suddenly changes to something akin to her appearance in 30 Minutes After Noon, suggesting this moment was quickly re-shot.
Using her compact, she contacts Scott to inform him that Brains is safe. Nice of him to show some concern…
The side-splitting hilarity doesn’t stop in this episode as Korda assumes that he is the one going mad now because he’s seeing all these people talking to random items… I’m pretty sure this entire scene was written for that one joke.
Everyone’s gone back to Penelope’s for food, drink, and cigars. A mumble of chatter and laughter can be heard, but the rather distinctive laugh of Matt Zimmerman suddenly becomes noticeable, even though he isn’t voicing anyone in the scene. We don’t know where Thunderbirds 1 and 2 have been parked. People might suspect Lady P was connected with International Rescue if they’d landed right outside her house.
Scott picks up the teapot to answer a call from Jeff…
… so Brains suggests he should go to a psychiatrist… just when you thought all the funny was done with, Brains comes out with an absolute cracker like that… but seriously Thunderbirds humour is pretty dreadful. It isn’t actually funny but it does at least provide a lighter tone to a series which could easily take itself too seriously.
Day of Disaster is host to a great idea for a thrilling disaster. The collapse of the bridge and the burying of the mighty Martian Space Probe is a fantastic sequence and sets us up for a very memorable underwater rescue. There’s a lot of waiting around, however, and once the rocket is stuck the situation doesn’t escalate or get more dangerous as time ticks on.
We’re also subjected to a lot of very obvious attempts at trying to put “funny scenes” into the story. They’re okay moments and certainly memorable, but a lot of that running time could have been spent making the disaster feel a bit more severe and complex. Day of Disaster is an enjoyable episode but I tend not to find myself coming back to it very often just because the middle of the story and random comedy scenes don’t contribute much to it and make it drag a little. As with End of the Road, I can understand why many might consider this to be a real classic because of its powerful visuals, but for me it just needed a little more substance.
Edge of Impact is next week’s episode and The Hood is back to cause chaos with the Red Arrow project. We’re back at London Airport so you know there’s going to be trouble!