It’s worth remembering that nobody intended for Give Or Take A Million to be the end of the Thunderbirds television series. It would be wrong to judge it against other series finales because for the production team, this was not considered to be the end of Thunderbirds. It looked as though A.P. Films, now Century 21, had found their winning format and would continue making Thunderbirds for as long as there was a demand for it. Hopes were also high for the Thunderbirds Are Go movie to launch International Rescue into a string of adventures on the big screen. Although the movie failed to perform at the box office, there was still hope for further success, and so Thunderbird 6 was commissioned. But for the television series, the plug was pulled very suddenly by Lew Grade when the sale of the series to the American networks fell through – a result of him raising the price too high. But that high value sale was necessary for the production of Thunderbirds to continue being financial viable to Grade, it was something he had counted on – and without it, the most expensive television series in the UK at that time simply could not continue. And so, rather unluckily, the last episode we have been left with is this Christmas special – a merry escapade for a Christmas Day evening, but when weighed against the rest of the series, is lacking some pretty vital components.
In the mid-1960’s, the UK was gripped by the Radio Caroline phenomenon, a pirate radio station broadcasting from a ship off the English coast without a government license. It was popular for bravely busting the BBC’s broadcasting monopoly and circumventing the restrictive music broadcasting rules of certain record companies. Something about this cool and rebellious concept struck a chord with Gerry Anderson, who theorised that in the future, pirate radio ships would be replaced with pirate radio satellites broadcasting from orbit without a license. It’s a wonderfully inventive notion, and one which I feel is extremely well executed in this episode. The story also gives us a rare Thunderbird 3 mission, a fun guest character, and it gives us a little break from the Penelope based adventures which otherwise dominate the second series.
Two new names are brought to the credits of this episode, with a script written by Tony Barwick, and direction from Brian Burgess. Neither of them were new to the world of Thunderbirds. Barwick was hired during the first series to write additional material for the episodes originally created as half hour stories. He continued to work with Gerry Anderson on a number of projects until his death in 1993. Barwick had essentially taken over script editing duties from Alan Pattillo who had turned away from his full time role at the studio by this point. This episode appears to have been Brian Burgess’ first job as a director. He is also credited as production coordinator on Thunderbirds Are Go, and went on to direct five episodes of Captain Scarlet as well as working as visual effects production manager on the series. Burgess then worked as production manager on the live action Anderson feature film, Doppelgänger. Burgess was presumably filling in the gap left by David Elliott and Alan Pattillo after their departures as directors for the series. Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday, and the following Barwick/Burgess episode, Ricochet, perhaps give us a taste of what the series would have been like had it continued past Give Or Take A Million, with new talent rising up through the ranks of the studio to provide their interpretation of the format.
Alias Mr. Hackenbacker isn’t exactly one of the most talked about episodes of Thunderbirds. Indeed, before sitting down to watch this one I had no idea what I was going to make of it. The simple fact is that I really enjoyed it. There’s lots of action, intrigue, entertaining characters, great technology, all building to a thrilling conclusion… which admittedly does match the climax of Trapped In The Sky almost shot for shot. Maybe that’s the issue here, or maybe it’s the somewhat cheesy fashion show plot that puts people off this one. The plot elements don’t necessarily gel together perfectly, but for me there’s still a good mix and balance between the fashion show stuff and the revolutionary new aircraft getting hi-jacked stuff. Let’s dive into it!
Path of Destruction brings the Thunderbirds format right back to basics. A big, yellow, dangerous machine goes out of control and causes mass destruction – International Rescue have to stop it. That’s what it boils down to and that’s probably why people love this story so much. Maybe it’s too simple and contains much that is highly unlikely and highly unfortunate, but hey – this is Thunderbirds and that’s why we love it. There’s a lot that is imperfect, but suspend your disbelief and enjoy this cracking good story.