The Legend Begins: A Thunderbirds Diorama

Take a look at this beautifully detailed diorama by Andrew Clements entitled, ‘The Legend Begins.’ By making use of kit pieces and miniature vehicles, some of which appear in original Thunderbirds special effects shots, Clements has imaginatively constructed a striking physical representation of how Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 2 might have been constructed. He has been kind enough to share images of his creation and given us a little bit more information about the thought process behind it. Here is his report:

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In the year 2055, following the tragic death of his wife, billionaire and former astronaut, Jeff Tracy, took his five sons to an uncharted tropical island. They spent ten years setting up the secret headquarters of International Rescue, an organisation dedicated to saving lives, wherever they may be in distress. The fantastic machines have come to be known by one name: Thunderbirds. But what happened before the Thunderbirds were go?

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Dateline? 2064. Location? A hidden aircraft construction hangar housed within the walls of a huge natural cavern, built under a blanket of top security by forty of Jeff Tracy’s most trusted associates. The facility houses some of the most advanced manned and automated assembly equipment in the world. The aim? To construct two highly specialised aircraft capable of operating under near impossible extremes of speed, altitude and temperature.

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Rescue 1: A small reconnaissance rocket capable of speeds in excess of 15,000 miles per hour, designed to provide first response rescue and triage until the arrival of the main rescue equipment.

Rescue 2: A huge flying transporter capable of carrying payloads of 100 tonnes at 2,000 miles per hour to disaster scene on the planet.

The whole project started after spying my old Imai super-size Thunderbird 2 in the loft one day. I’d bought it on eBay years ago and having no experience at model making, I’d botched the paint job completely and added all those silly extras like giant wheels and missiles that a lot of the Japanese model kits seem to have. So it had been sitting around in a pretty sorry state for so long that I decided “to heck with this, I’m going to make you into something useful”.

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Inspired by Chris Thompson’s Building the Behemoth and Andrew Skilleter’s artwork in The Complete Thunderbirds Story, I decided to show Thunderbird 2 under construction. This way, I could repaint the whole thing grey/silver and hack bits of it off…huzzah!

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First thing I did was take off the decals, saw off the tip of the nose and take off one of the engines. I also cut out the cockpit windows (a real pain to do). I removed the pod as I figured it would be assembled separately (though later added it back in as it looked better). After a few coats of grey and sourcing some screen accurate Matchbox vehicles to populate the hangar, I set to work building a display base. I wanted it to be fairly large to enable long shots of the model and hangar walls, but I think I probably overdid it a little and was left with a lot of extra space. So I decided to add in my equally badly painted Thunderbird 1 model and ran from there.

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A lot of the gantries and little pieces are taken from the frankly awful Dalek Factory building set. I knew I’d never build it again, so the pieces got repurposed for their new home. I didn’t have a set plan for how to add detail to the hangar, so I improvised, adding in everything from kit sprues to coffee packet rails. A little more paint, including floor outlines for Rescue 1 and 2 and it was all done!

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Thank you to Andrew Clements for sharing this inventive project with us. Do you have any cool Gerry Anderson related projects you’d like to share with us? Get in touch via the contact page or on Facebook.

Thunderbirds Are Go! Remaking The Future

When it comes to Thunderbirds Are Go I’ve played my cards pretty close to my chest because the internet is generally a place where you either love or hate something and any opinion in between is too complex for some to comprehend.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the first series of 26 episodes. As a piece of children’s televison it’s pretty outstanding and I can totally understand why younger viewers would absolutely fall in love with the show – I know I would have done if I was 5 years old again.

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That said, I think a lot of fans of the classic series are a bit perplexed as to why Thunderbirds needed a remake at all. If ITV wanted to celebrate the legacy of Thunderbirds, why not just repeat the original series so that a new generation of fans had the opportunity to see it? It worked well in the 1990’s and again in the early 2000’s, why not try it again now? There are a couple of reasons why I believe this wasn’t a viable option and it has to do with a big change in the way entertainment works.

A repeat of the original Thunderbirds series in its entirety would mean ITV giving up at least an hour of air time every week for 32 weeks. The BBC weren’t affected by this so much as they don’t sell advertising space. As a result they repeated them almost constantly in various timeslots for several years. It wasn’t that much of a loss for them and saved them having to make new shows to maintain a loyal audience. ITV, however, need to sell advertising space and therefore need a strong guarantee that their shows will have strong audience figures that keep coming back every week. That is why reality TV shows and talent contests appear to be on constantly. They’re a big televisual event watched by millions who come back every week and that makes them prime advertising space.

For ITV to take an hour out of their week of scheduling and hand it over to a repeat run of a 50 year old children’s series lasting over half of the year would be something of a foolish business move. One 50 minute episode (or the three 25 minute TB65 episodes) might be a nice novelty watched by a few million people on a good day, but comitting to showing all 32 episodes would be a sure-fire way to lose some money after a while. And it’s not like relegating the series to the depths of ITV3 or ITV4 would trigger a huge revival either. As much as we may not like it, reality TV shows and talent contests dominate the schedules and generate money from advertising in a way that a repeat of our favourite Supermarionations shows never could. Instead, ITV decided to take a different route for Thunderbirds which was guaranteed to at least have some success and provide them with an opportunity to actually make a new television series – which is what big TV channels should be doing really.

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So Thunderbirds Are Go, a remake of the original series, is now being watched on TV and online all over the world. Children, by all accounts, absolutely love it. It has action, intrigue and adventure. Is it perfect? No. Was the original series perfect? No. I love Thunderbirds but I can’t deny that there are bits that I think are silly, boring or nonsensical. The same applies for Thunderbirds Are Go. For almost every mistake or bad choice made for the new series, there could be a matching one for the original series. Scott may wear fingerless gloves in the vacuum of space in Thunderbirds Are Go, but he also speaks without moving his lips in the classic series episode The Impostors. For every shot in Thunderbirds Are Go that doesn’t blend CGI with model all that well, there’s a hugely noticeable continuity error in the original series like Thunderbird 1 suddenly turning around as it comes down the launch ramp.

Neither series is perfect, but the errors in both can be ignored if you’re engaged with the show, particularly if you’re a young child who is too caught up in the excitement to care whether Alan Tracy could actually surf in space in the new series, or whether it would have made much more sense for Captain Hanson to shut the hatch of the Fireflash once Meddings was inside the plane in Trapped in the Sky. 

Now of course the main argument for Thunderbirds Are Go‘s lack of appeal to some fans is the fact it doesn’t use puppets, and that CGI just isn’t as good. I can’t deny that puppets are very appealing to watch. Miniatures being brought to life is something that every child dreams of and puppetry is a superb artistic form that with enough time, money and skill can produce incredible things. Gerry Anderson himself never really appreciated the puppets, and even he understood the benefits of making a series using CGI rather than puppets with New Captain Scarlet. The simple fact is that Supermarionation puppets are outdated and to produce a full blown television series using them would look like an enormous step backwards. The Thunderbirds 1965 series has proved that puppets are intrinsic to the charm of the original series. Firestorm from Anderson Entertainment is going to prove that puppetry technology has come along way since Thunderbirds. Those who disapprove of the new CGI characters are also just as likely to disapprove of new Thunderbirds puppets being produced with the latest technology that will be on display in Firestorm. People want the Supermarionation characters back in new adventures – by some miracle that came about with Thunderbirds 1965 because of the mini-album recordings. Beyond that, making Thunderbirds in exactly the same way as it was in the 1960s is impossible because a lot of the people who made that possible – including some of the voice artists – aren’t around any more.

The new Thunderbirds Are Go uses CGI over puppetry for many reasons including time, money and the ability to involve the characters in more action. That much is obvious. It is also worth stating that Thunderbirds Are Go chooses not to use puppetry because it would place the series in direct competition with its predecessor. The use of CGI is something that immediately seperates the new series from the classic series. It makes the shows different enough for a child to not just want to see one series but, with any luck, both series. If Thunderbirds Are Go was to utilise state of the art puppetry, the classic series would date even more than it already has and automatically become the version of Thunderbirds with the ‘less good puppets’. With two entirely different approaches, both series can still be successful in their own right and without being their own direct competition.

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Of course, one of the biggest controversies about the new series was the decision to show it at 8am on a Saturday. The Saturday morning slot infamously killed any chance that New Captain Scarlet  had of being successful in 2005, so people were naturally concerned when a similar slot was announced for Thunderbirds Are Go. There are a few differences between what happened with the scheduling of these two shows, however. New Captain Scarlet was a dark series with violence, politics and fear at it’s core, but because it was animated, and the fact it was based on puppet show, the series was painted with the children’s show brush. Because it was buried in amongst the Ministry of Mayhem Saturday morning programming, it also did not have it’s own specific timeslot. All in all, New Captain Scarlet did not belong in such a slot and was never produced with this in mind. It had much more adult appeal than ITV gave the series credit for. Thunderbirds Are Go not only had it’s own designated timeslot every week (something even Doctor Who can’t seem to pin down these days) but is also much lighter in tone and fits in better with the traditional idea of what a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon series should be.

Would the show be more popular if aired on a Saturday evening instead of the morning? Possibly. Can ITV make more money showing something like The X Factor on a Saturday evening instead of Thunderbirds Are Go? More than likely. That doesn’t mean Thunderbirds Are Go is being mistreated in the same way that New Captain Scarlet was. Episodes get multiple repeat showings during the week and are available to watch online at any time. The series is available to buy digitally and on DVD. It has sold all over the world and been well advertised and supported by ITV and beyond. The series couldn’t really be given much of a better chance. I would rather it was on during Saturday evenings instead of what ITV normally have on, and most Thunderbirds fans would say that too. But the rest of the British public probably don’t mind all that much. Thankfully, there’s more to the success of a television show than what time it’s on these days, and that stuff Thunderbirds Are Go does well. It utilises all modern methods of marketing and merchandising to ensure that it is successful beyond just being another show that you see on a Saturday morning.

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But what about the show itself? Well it’s made some changes to the original characters and format – most I like and were essential to updating the series. Kayo has replaced Tin-Tin. Some people can’t even get over the fact the character’s been renamed. How, I don’t know, it seems pretty simple to me. But once you’ve wrapped your head around that abstract concept you realise that it basically had to happen. Tin-Tin doesn’t do much in the original series except get upset and be Alan’s love interest. Her role as a scientific assistant to Brains is kept fairly minimal. Kayo’s role as head of security for International Rescue doesn’t come to the forefront until the end of the first series of Thunderbirds Are Go but the developing arc of her character really gives the show a strong backbone. She has hidden depths which make her way more interesting and important than her 1960s counterpart could be.

Jeff Tracy has disappeared. His character is still referenced and has an important role in the series’ ethos despite not actually being there. I was initially confused by the decision to write out Jeff but when Rob Hoegee, the head writer, explained the reason for Jeff’s disappearance at the premiere screening of Ring of Fire, I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. He said that in the original series, the Tracy boys were driven by asking their father what to do, whereas the new series sees the boys using their own initiative and asking what Jeff might do. There’s no denying that Jeff is a great and memorable character, but the new series functions perfectly well without him, expands John’s role in the show considerably, and gives the boys a chance to think on their feet and do even more dangerous and spur of the moment stunts to save lives.

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Brains is now Indian… apparently that’s a big deal to some people. I cannot begin to understand why people criticise this, because it’s not like their criticism is particularly complex or justified. They get about as far as saying that having an Indian Brains isn’t as good… and then don’t actually back it up. Aside from being a different race, the Brains of the new series is almost exactly the same character as he was in the original show, so he isn’t actually any different at all in terms of what he contributes to the series. Simple as that. Having more diversity in Thunderbirds Are Go is, undoubtedly, a good thing.

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Lady Penelope has a dog called Sherbet. Yes, okay, I must admit, this is a tad childish for my tastes. Thunderbirds was the first Gerry Anderson puppet series to not feature some form of animal as a main character and it was a better show for it. But hey, I’m sure some kids find Sherbert hilarious and he’s never the central character, so I can let that one go.

 

Grandma has changed too, but only in the sense that her cooking has gone from being amazing, to being terrible. I cannot decide whether the constant jokes about Grandma’s cooking start to grate a little, or whether I actually find them a little bit funny. It’s no worse than some of the humour that comes up in the original series. Remember the edible transmitter interlude in Day of Disaster? Did you laugh out loud at that? I know I didn’t. Thunderbirds humour isn’t really supposed to be funny, just light, entertaining and for the most part – padding. The humour in Thunderbirds Are Go strikes a similar chord.

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The action of the show is great. As the series progressed things got more and more intense as the explosions got bigger and bigger. Initially I was sceptical, but now I’m glad they saved up the bangs – it gave us something to look forward to.

The re-designs of the International Rescue craft are not to everyone’s taste, but for merchandising purposes, and to fit the new design of the rest of the series, it made perfect sense for the machines to get an update. Thunderbirds 1-4 aren’t all that different to their classic series counterparts. Thunderbird 5 is considerably more functional and credible in the new series although I must admit to actually really liking the design of the original TB5. Introducing a new machine in the form of Thunderbird Shadow is made a little unnecessary by the fact it hardly appears in the first series, although I’m sure we’ll see more of it in action once series two arrives.

Ultimately, Thunderbirds Are Go succeeds in doing everything it needs to do. It has a life of it’s own which allows it to co-exist with the original series without degrading or competing with it. You can choose to ignore it, or embrace it whole-heartedly, or you can sit on the fence and like bits of one series and bits of the other. Yes the puppets might have more charm, yes I might prefer Thunderbird 5’s chunkier backside, but at the end of the day, a wise man in a movie which was also called Thunderbirds Are Go once said “the only bad publicity, is no publicity.” Thunderbirds Are Go is a show made with good intentions which cleverly uses the trends and oddities of modern television to its advantage and has made Thunderbirds a well known name for a whole new generation.

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The Investigator – Part 2

At the end of Part 1, teenagers John and Julie had completely failed to prevent the vaguely villainous Stavros Karanti and a moustache on legs called Christoph from stealing a priceless 14th Century painting. This is mostly due to the fact that a mysterious alien intelligence called The Investigator had miniaturised them to 1/3 normal size in order to assist him in making the world a better place… we’ve already established that this was completely pointless.

So with Karanti on the run, Christoph disappearing to get a haircut, John completely recovered from falling off a light fixture, and Julie still completely incapable of doing anything, what will happen in the thrilling conclusion of Gerry Anderson’s lost pilot film from 1973, The Investigator?

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Dawn has broken, and an ambulance has arrived to pick up the security guard that Christoph took a disliking too. It was just after 4am when that happened. It’s 5am now. It took the ambulance almost an hour to attend a man who could well have a fatal head wound. The Maltese ambulance service must have had a very casual approach to life threatening injuries back in the 70’s.

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Notice the vignetting at the edges of the frame and the incredibly damp courtyard. Looks like bad weather and low lighting caused issues during filming. It appears that the vignetting could have been caused by the necessity of a wide lens aperture because of the bad conditions.

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While John and Julie return to their shed to work out what the heck they can do, Karanti and Christoph leg it. They’ve got their saucy sailor on standby. Something tells me they don’t give much of a damn about any of this.

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It’s time to say goodbye to Christoph. Look at him. He’s so fabulous. He’s going to head back to the yacht, have a shave, set sail and find a deserted island in the South Pacific. Something about wanting to set up an International Rescue organisation. I don’t think it’ll catch on…

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John and Julie are out on patrol in their miniature car… which takes up the entire road. Without any solid plan they’re driving around the whole of Malta hoping they’ll spot a car with “I’ve pinched a famous painting” written on the side of it.

They switch on the visual scanner which actually looks pretty nifty and with a bit of luck they find him heading to the airport!

John and Julie attempt to make a U-turn. This is the moment where the integrity of The Investigator completely falls apart. This is the exact point where editors David Lane and Len Walter just had to give up on trying to salvage the footage they received from the shoot and just put something watchable together. The shakey footage of the car turning around has been sped up a ridiculous amount to reduce the awkwardness of the entire endeavour of trying to make a giant red brick turn around. This is then followed by the re-use of that awful shot of the car driving along the beach which I ripped apart in my previous article. Why John and Julie would go back to the beach in the context of the story is anyone’s guess… but it’s pretty clear that all the good, and not so good, shots of the car driving around had been used up by this point. I can’t believe that experienced Supermarionation editors like David Lane and Len Walter would have messed up cutting The Investigator this badly so one can only assume that they had very little good stuff to work with in the first place.

Some funky incidental music from The Protectors plays over this montage of Karanti and John and Julie racing to the airport. Its cheesy as heck but so is the whole thing so it actually all seems to fit pretty well.

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Now to be fair, this bit looks pretty nice. The car drives straight and true down the runway as the camera follows it. It suggests that the model wasn’t really designed for the rough tracks of the Maltese countryside. On the smooth tarmac she looks almost cool.

Karanti reaches the airport while John and Julie break in to his private plane. It was actually Julie who first speculated that this was his getaway plan. So I guess that’s her incredible power from The Investigator. John can work any piece of technology while she magically knows that the villain owns a plane. I guess that’s pretty neat… very convenient for the plot.

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In the time that Karanti takes to reach his plane, John and Julie have constructed a makeshift seat from a suitcase and a rope. Well, John did. Julie’s just standing there watching. Well, she may have helped. We just didn’t see. But you know Julie by now, do you really think she did anything useful? And why does Karanti already have a suitcase in the plane anyway? Does he keep it packed just in case in case he feels like breaking the law and making a getaway?

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Karanti made it to his plane. Just one question. Where’s the painting? Unless he’s folded the canvas up really really tiny in his pocket Karanti doesn’t appear to have it with him. Did Christoph take it with him? Nope, he runs away from the car empty handed (I actually went back and checked). Maybe they dropped it off somewhere else. Or he left it in the car. Or not. Maybe that was something of a production oversight… which happens to make this conclusion, and indeed the entire plot of stealing the painting, completely nonsensical.

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The plane takes flight! And look at what’s on the side! SH-AAD. That’s obviously a reference to the alien defence organsiation SHADO from UFO… obviously. I bet Gerry wishes he was still making UFO. Why did he bring back puppets again? We’ll get to that later.

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Karanti confidently takes control of his plane, safe in the knowledge that he stole a priceless painting… which he forgot to actually take with him. But at least no-one found out… except that light fixture he randomly decided to shoot at. What was up with that anyway? Wait… oh yeah… the plane hasn’t actually left the ground. The clouds don’t move for the entire scene and I doubt actor Charles Thake had any idea how to fly a plane, although he does a decent job of looking like he does.

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Then Karanti hears something. Its the voice of Scott Tracy…

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That’s right, John and Julie’s brilliant plan is to pretend to be the voice of Karanti’s conscience. Because Karanti would obviously be completely convinced that his conscience had the same voice as the pilot of Thunderbird 1… obviously. That’s a cool voice amplifier that John has though. Another brilliant piece of Investigator technology that he’s mastered the use of. Meanwhile Julie is trying to work out whether she’s left the gas on at home.

While John tries to mentally torture Karanti, Charles Thake actually gets a chance to do some acting. Someone actually bothered to turn the microphone on for this scene and point the camera at an actor’s face. Karanti cries, “that voice… where is it coming from?!” Good question, but seeing as you’ve just checked that the plane is completely empty I don’t really know who you’re asking. Then again, they say talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. And he does start going mad. So I guess they got that right.

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John threatens to use power to persuade Karanti, like he has so many times. When? What did Karanti do that was so bad? Why does The Investigator hate this guy so much? All we’ve seen is Karanti completely mess up a theft. Beyond that he doesn’t seem all that bad or nasty. Maybe if we’d actually seen him doing something nasty to someone prior to stealing the painting we might believe he was a villain threatening the goodness of mankind. But right now he just doesn’t seem that bad. But John says he is so I guess it must be true…

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Anyway, its time for Julie to do something for once. She’s been given a piece of Investigator technology. I know, it’s risky, but it’s dead simple. It’s just a box with a single button on it. John gives her the cue.

Suddenly the plane spirals out of control! Somehow John and Julie have a box with a button on it that can make a vehicle go out of control. Maybe Julie was sitting on it while they were driving the car.

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It’s only after the plane has done a complete flip that John decides they should buckle up… that would be after their incredibly lightweight bodies were flung to the ceiling and back. Oh and by the way, John says “fasten safety belts,” when there’s only one safety belt shared between them. That bugs me for some reason.

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Karanti tells us that the controls aren’t working. I think you’ll find they never do in these situations.

Julie presses her magic button and the plane goes out of control once again. You know, to really teach Karanti a lesson.

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He shouts for help! Or he’s having a tricky bowel movement… or both. If it were me in that situation it’d probably be both.

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A few threatening spins later, Karanti is begging for mercy. John really twists the knife now. He declares that Karanti has a led a terrible, unmerciful life up until now… apparently. Now he has a chance to do some good. I think for the benefit of the entire audience, we’re all glad he decided to give in. The “plot” didn’t really have anywhere else to go.

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“This is Signor Karanti, I have a confession to make… I left a painting in the back of my car that wasn’t mine. I’m leaving the country now but if you just put it back it’ll be like I never did anything. Is that okay? I mean if you really need someone to blame there’s a guy with a moustache sailing a yacht to the South Pacific right now. Maybe you could arrest him instead? It was his idea anyway… honest.”

Fairly dramatically the police arrive and stop the car in front of the plane while it taxis in. It’s a pretty slick stunt… but it’s a rather dangerous thing for the police to do. And look at how fast the copper runs out of the car. All very dramatic but very unecessary when he’s a tubby art thief that just admitted to doing the crime and is now turning himself in.

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It’s that horse again! We’re back at the church to round up the episode with a moral lesson. The Secret Service used to end sometimes with Father Unwin preaching to his congregation with a moral lesson based on the events of the episode. I like those bits because it’s like Unwin giving a cheeky wink to the audience about the fact that apparently being a priest and being a secret agent deal with similar issues. At the end of The Investigator, however, it’s just a bit too pompous…

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Julie’s watching. And I’ve just realised who she reminds me of.

Get it? The yellow eyes? Never mind…

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Just as the priest gets to the most exciting part of his whole “good triumphed over evil” spiel, he is rudely interrupted by the church bells. He’s actually a pretty decent actor as well. Doesn’t even get any credit despite his speaking part. Anyway, who’s ringing the darn bell?

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Oh it’s John! Oh how cute and funny. He’s doing what every good spy does after cracking a case. He rings a bell and draws as much attention to himself as possible. What a good idea…

John and Julie return to their cave to speak with The Investigator and make their report. But he has seen all that has taken place. That includes how much the two of them have struggled with their reduced stature and almost lost their lives trying to stop an art thief. Maybe next time he won’t bother with the miniaturisation thing and let them get on with tackling something important. The Investigator claims that he is beginning to understand Earth civilization a little better. John and Julie have learned a thing or two about humanity too. Mainly that humans tend to be better at catching criminals when they aren’t foot and a half tall puppets. The Investigator finishes by saying, “That of course is the whole idea.” Why is it now the “whole idea” to teach John and Julie about society? Are they aliens too? Or have they done a crime and need to be rehabilitated? It’d explain the weird clothes.

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In terms of leaving some intrigue for future episodes that’s pretty much it. Just that everyone has a lot more to learn about each other. That’s it. At the end of Trapped in the Sky, after an incredibly dramatic rescue which saved the lives of 600 Fireflash passengers, Jeff Tracy shakes a man’s hand and reads about International Rescue in the newspaper before declaring, “Boys! I think we’re in business!” Yes! We’re getting more incredible adventures like this one where the International Rescue team will save lives in jeopardy in a futuristic world full of amazing technology. This is great!

At the end of The Investigator we’re left with a vague promise that The Investigator will teach humanity to be better people, with John and Julie helping and learning along the way. What will the adventures be like? If they’re like the one we just watched then oh dear. I am sort of curious to see what future episodes of The Investigator would have been like. Whereas the production of previous Supermarionation pilot episodes had really hit the ground running and been the first episode produced of a series, The Investigator feels very much like a pilot episode where no plans had yet been made to continue shooting a second episode immediately. It’s a self contained production which, had the series actually happened, probably would have been chucked in the bin and a new first episode would have been made – fixing the errors in the concept, story and production which hold it back in this pilot.

Of course, these 25 minutes are all we have of The Investigator, but if there had been more, I think it’s safe to say that it would have been vastly different to what we’re presented with today.

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Now to finish up I can’t help but call into question why The Investigator happened in the first place. If the basic outline of Gerry Anderson’s career, and his aspirations, are to be believed, The Investigator just doesn’t really fit in. He spent most of the Sixties producing high quality puppet series, aimed at children but with an adult appeal, with the intention of making them so good that he would be given the opportunity to make live action films and series. This opportunity came in the form of the movie Doppelganger and then the series UFO. Both retained the futuristic technology but were set in the not too distant future akin to Joe 90 and The Secret Service. While the intended second series of UFO was in development as the series broadcast around the globe, Gerry was given the format of The Protectors, a more traditional ITC action-adventure series, by Lew Grade which also used live actors and filmed in many glamorous locations all over Europe. So in amongst all this apparent success, why did Gerry possibly want to go back to using puppets, albeit with live actors and an exotic location thrown into the mix?

Although UFO was a massive breakthrough for Gerry in achieving his dream of creating more grown up films with live actors, the series had received criticism from America for being a little too soap-opera-esque with too much focus on grown-up issues. The Protectors had given Gerry trouble dealing with actors. UFO had just about managed to achieve success in terms of merchandising despite its more adult audience, but The Protectors had next to no merchandising opportunities attached to its format or target audience. Ultimately it was merchandising that propelled the success of the Supermarionation series in the Sixties. It made the likes of Dinky Toys a lot of money while raising the profile of Century 21’s work and also making them a lot of money.

So when the opportunity arose for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to show a pilot for a new series to their friend George Heinemann, vice-president of specialised children’s programming for NBC in America, they wanted to get back to their profitable roots producing children’s shows with puppets and models, while also enjoying some of the luxuries of live-action film-making. Thus, The Investigator incorporated both.

With the new model vehicles and miniaturised puppet characters, the opportunities for merchandise for the series were looking good. In fact they were looking so good that Dinky Toys jumped the gun quite a bit. They were so confident that a new Anderson series would be a hit that they wanted to start working on producing toys straight away – since UFO there had been something of a dry spell for making new toys with Gerry Anderson’s name plastered on them. So work began on producing moulds for two new diecast toys based on The Investigator car and boat. They invested thousands of pounds into making all this happen so you can imagine how panicked they were when the series didn’t materialise. They decided to release the vehicles under the guise of a green military command car and a coastguard amphibious missile launcher. The car was even advertised on the packaging as being designed by Gerry Anderson, desperate as they were to make a return on their rather hasty investment. But when looking at Reg Hill’s designs for the car and boat, and how ill-suited they are to the shows’ format, one can’t help but feel that they were more or less designed to be toys in the first place. And to be fair, they do make very nice toys, so its pleasing that The Investigator achieved a secret life beyond this failed pilot.

Of course if Gerry and Sylvia had wanted to return to making profitable Supermarionation shows so badly, why not go back to the Slough Trading Estate and make a full blown series again rather than combining it with-live action? Sadly the puppet stages at Century 21 had closed at the end of The Secret Service and the special effects stages at the end of UFO. Those studios were specially adapted for the purpose of producing Supermarionation series over the course of the decade. To recreate that again with the same crew would have cost a lot of time and money, not to mention I think the Andersons were quite attracted to the idea of filming in Malta and still having the option of using real actors so that the demands on the puppets were strictly limited.

Ultimately The Investigator seems like the cheapest, easiest excuse the Andersons had to bring back Supermarionation and return to the profitable world of merchandising for children’s TV and making a show that would be popular worldwide. The live-action and puppetry combination allowed them to have the best of both worlds. The puppets had more commercial appeal but could be difficult to work with and would normally require a specially equipped studio if being used rigorously. The live actors made for a faster filming experience but with the puppets taking on lead roles there would be no need to deal with high maintenance stars. In many ways it was a great compromise for many of the problems the Andersons had dealt with in the past. Unfortunately they didn’t take into account how weird this would all look on screen. The format of The Investigator with its fairly bland characters and plot may not be anything special but neither was a lot of children’s TV in the 1970’s. Had Gerry not been totally ashamed of the finished pilot episode and refused to show it to NBC, he may well have gotten a full, albeit vastly different, series out of it because there’s definitely worse stuff out there. But by the Andersons’ standards The Investigator fails in achieving the slick, high quality productions for which they were famous. They had a desire to achieve the same success as previous Supermarionation shows, but by cutting corners and saving money. They did sort of try to push boundaries, but not nearly as bravely as they had done before.

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Oh and even the end credits seem to be specifically designed as an advert for the toys. Rant over.

The Investigator – Part 1

“This is the voice of Lew Grade, from a galaxy a million lightyears away – we have observed the cancellation of the The Secret Service and would strongly suggest you don’t try this live-action/Supermarionation crossover thing again. Gerry Anderson has selected an earth boy and girl to star in another one though. Through John and Julie he’s going to make a really bizarre pilot episode which won’t make your world a better place.”

The Investigator is a pilot film that was devised and directed by Gerry Anderson in 1973. The film returned to the practice utilised in The Secret Service of combining live actors with 1/3 normal-size Supermarionation puppets. It was shot entirely on location in Malta, following a visit made by the crew of Anderson-produced live action series The Protectors. It features the vocal talents of Peter Dyneley (Jeff Tracy) as The Investigator, Shane Rimmer (Scott Tracy) as John, and Sylvia Anderson (Lady Penelope) as Julie.

The half-hour pilot has much to entice Anderson afficinados with the three Thunderbirds cast members taking on roles and this being the final Supermarionation production. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite deliver the best performances or Supermarionation artistry that had been honed over the previous decade by the AP Films and Century 21 crew at the Slough Trading Estate. This feels like a few of the crew took a holiday to Malta and decided to take some of the uglier puppets with them and make a little home movie.

That said… I do love it. There’s so much wrong with it that I can’t help but enjoy the bizarre madness of it all. I hope that will become clear in my commentary, or I’ll discover that I actually secretly detest it. Anyway, in a similar style to my Thunderbirds 1965 articles, I am going to disect The Investigator, the Supermarionation series that never was. Prepare for the loudest, most conspicuous spy car you’ve ever heard, some funky tunes, and a man pretending to fly a plane which clearly hasn’t left the ground.

The Investigator
Story by Shane Rimmer
Screenplay by Sylvia Anderson
Devised and Directed by Gerry Anderson

The episode begins with a very weirdly animated shot of the Earth which we zoom towards while The Investigator declares that because the human race has screwed up, he’s going to help out with the assistance of a boy and a girl called John and Julie with the intention of making the world ‘a better place’. Quite a claim. And a fairly exciting premise really. A mysterious alien intelligence with unknowable powers training two inexperienced but dedicated kids to tackle international espionage, environmental disasters or political corruption has a huge amount of potential for mystery, suspense and action. It’s pretty similar to Joe 90 in that respect but with the added draw of an alien presence that we don’t know much about – similar to the Mysterons in Captain Scarlet. So a sort of Joe 90/Captain Scarlet crossover sounds pretty cool, and pretty identifiable as a Gerry Anderson concept.

But then, once the opening narration is over, something happens.  The theme tune and a horrendously fast-cutting montage kicks in. I like the tune, its catchy and cheesy, but it doesn’t exactly sell the idea that this show is worth taking seriously. Barry Gray’s music for the previous Supermarionation series never sent up the fact that the stars were puppets – it took them seriously and worked with them to create great drama, action and sometimes comedy. Vic Elms’s theme for The Investigator is fairly generic and basically all it does is fill the space where some opening and closing music was needed.

As I’ve said, the montage itself goes way too fast – mainly because the music doesn’t set a pace for it all that well. Unfortunately faster editing doesn’t always equate to generating excitement and tension. I’m forced to take the teasers in the opening of every Thunderbirds episode as an example to demonstrate what’s wrong here. The Thunderbirds teasers show just a few carefully selected moments from each story which tease the progression of a disaster and builds to the moment just before International Rescue saves the day, then cuts abruptly to the rest of the opening titles. It generates intrigue and excitement, showcasing the established format and the established characters and vehicles and demonstrates how they will be put to use in this week’s episode. Whether the situation will be resolved successfully is left until the end of the episode and keeps the viewer hooked. In contrast to this expertly paced editing in ThunderbirdsThe Investigator opening montage takes the entire episode and squeezes it into 30 seconds that one cannot possibly make sense of because it jumps around all over the place due to the rushed nature of the plot. All the viewer can really take from it is that there are some boats, a weird red car, some puppets, some people, some more cars, a plane that can’t fly that well and a police car turning up at the end. Stay tuned for a story with all that stuff in it… and absolutely nothing else!

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Very abruptly the montage finishes and a shot of a headland establishes the location. Its somewhere sunny and by the coast, but that’s all we get. Hardcore Anderson fans kind of take it for granted that The Investigator is set in Malta because the story of it being filmed there is about as famous as the episode itself. However, to any casual viewer the setting is never firmly established, and there are lots of aspects that lead one to question where we actually are. I’ll come to those as the episode goes on.

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We’re in a cave with two puppets. Oh. I’m sorry. Two miniaturised people…

No, I’m sorry, they are puppets, and not the most attractive puppets at that. But we’re supposed to believe that they are human beings that have been shrunk down to 1/3 normal size. How do we know this? Because John’s reading a giant book and Julie’s cooking a huge fish. So many questions already. I’m guessing John and Julie normally hang out in this cave when they’re normal size, hence all the books and the fish already being cooked, but its never confirmed. Otherwise I want to know how such tiny people caught such a big fish and dragged in all the books. Also, from a production point of view, if you’re trying to push a really abstract concept to the viewer, like people being miniaturised, and you’ve only got a few establishing shots for that to be done in, then why do it in a dark cave with only a few sort-of-large props lying around? Regular Supermarionation viewers are used to accepting that the puppets are full size humans so a few heftier hints are really needed to confirm that John and Julie have been made smaller. It would have had much more impact to have seen John and Julie surrounded by lots of huge everyday objects in a very busy environment like a city to make it really clear how small and vulnerable they are.

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The Investigator speaks to John and Julie through the form of a green light which flares at the camera in a rather striking way that I actually quite like. Of course this accounts for why John and Julie speak with him in a darkened cave. The implication is, however, that The Investigator only communicates through this green light and potentially only in this particular cave. This suddenly rather limits how much the character can feature in future stories. Unfortunately, the exposition is rather limited. A pilot episode is intended to demonstrate the format of a series and essentially dump as much information for the viewer as possible while also delivering a really good story to capture and audience. The Investigator chose to leave most of the necessary exposition to the side and try to get to the “story” as quickly as possible. All that is said about John and Julie’s miniaturisation is that The Investigator did this so they could assist him more easily. This is ultimately the main failing of this pilot episode and the format as a whole. Because the simple fact is that John and Julie being made smaller is of absolutely no use to them on their mission and is much more of a hindrance than a help. It makes them vulnerable, unable to get help, and means that every piece of equipment has to be custom made for them. None of the benefits of being miniaturised are layed out except that John and Julie are harder to spot… which if proper agents had been hired for the job rather than children wouldn’t have been a problem anyway. And why does The Investigator ask two teenagers to do the job anyway? Obviously it makes them more relatable characters for the intended audience but in terms of fighting crime and getting stuff done it makes them a bit useless. And why are John and Julie wearing matching outfits? And are they brother and sister? Are they just friends? And why do they have mid-atlantic accents when they’re supposedly from Malta? Are they just tourists? Are we definitely in Malta? I have no idea. See what I mean about this making no sense?

So anyway, The Investigator starts to explain the “plot”. A bloke on a boat called Stavros Karanti is planning to steal a painting from the island (we know we’re on an island now). Julie reminds us that it’s a 14th Century masterpiece – it’s about the only thing she does know because for the rest of the episode she’s pretty thick and needs John to explain everything to her. Anyway, that’s the “plot”. That’s it. The Investigator’s hope to save mankind from itself begins with stopping a man stealing a painting. You know how I said the Joe 90/Captain Scarlet type format had a lot of potential? And that a pilot episode should demonstrate that potential to the full? Well never mind because we have two puppets trying to stop a tubby man and his sidekick steal a painting for 25 minutes. I’m being a tad harsh of course, but compared to the grand scale of the previous Supermarionation series you can see why this is a bit of a let down.

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Oh wait, here’s the title. Just in case you weren’t wowed enough by the mystery and intrigue already, here’s a picture of the Earth under a square magnifying glass. It’s a nice piece of symbolism which represents the format well but I have just one question… who has a square magnifying glass?

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John and Julie have made it down to the beach. Julie is close to being blown over by the light breeze. We get a good look at the newly made puppets by a company called Voluscene Ltd and operated by Supermarionation regulars John and Wanda Brown. There isn’t all that much to say about them really. Their faces are similar to those seen in the later puppet shows but for some reason there’s something really wrong with their eyes. John’s are bright blue in a slightly scary way, and Julie’s eyes are yellow and completely lifeless. It doesn’t help that the puppets aren’t able to be lit in the usual way because they’ve been taken on location. Puppets on location had been experimented with very briefly in The Secret Service but it’s been exploited fully here and unsurprisingly it doesn’t look right. All things considered the puppeteers do a great job and a decent effort is put into hiding the wires and photographing them as well as possible, but it still doesn’t look right. Because of their realistic proportions, the later marionettes used in Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and The Secret Service were never able to move as freely as the earlier puppets. This was because the bodies were too small and light, and also because the more realistic puppets simply didn’t look right doing puppet-like movements. So when the puppets who can’t move like human beings are put into a real world environment that isn’t custom-built for them it just doesn’t look credible that the characters are anything other than puppets – there is certainly no way that they pass for human beings.

Then something really weird happens. Just as John and Julie discuss the uncertainty of the whole situation, a huge bang goes off and when the smoke clears a big red car appears. That’s right, a BIG red car. My opinions of the infamous Investigator car are mixed. As a piece of design by itself I think Reg Hill has made a very striking vehicle that looks great as a toy (more on that later!). The model itself looks okay, but not only does it not hold up at all well to the model making standards of the previous Supermarionation series, but the design itself simply does not fit the requirements of the show’s format.

Here’s a list of problems with this car, with consideration of the fact it is being used by miniature spies trying to remain incognito:
1. It’s too darn big – if you’re trying to drive home the fact that your characters are smaller than normal, don’t give them a vehicle that’s almost the size of a regular car!
2. It’s too darn red – even if the villain you’re trying to sneak up on hasn’t spotted the car because of it’s size, they’ll definitely spot it because of how much it sticks out. Red doesn’t camoflauge with anything!
3. It’s too darn loud – even if the villain you’re trying to sneak up on is completely blind, they’ll still think a Formula 1 racing car is thundering towards them when John revs up the engine of this baby.

To top it all off, the car is established on screen with a really camp piece of music that fails to stir any confidence in its subtlety.

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John explains to Julie how all the features on the car work. How Julie got into it at all is a bit of a mystery as the car doesn’t appear to have any doors. How John came to know all about the car is explained away as basically being a special power given to him by The Investigator. Okay, fair enough, John has a special power of being able to know how technology works instantly. It’s not an amazing power but it’ll do. So what’s Julie’s special power?… Anyone? …Nope, me neither…

So the dynamic duo attempt to drive off in a sequence that doesn’t inspire much confidence in the characters or their new technology. As they aimlessly drive around the beach, the engine roars away and the characters awkwardly try to shout at each other over the awful noise. The camera operator clearly has no idea where the car is going and struggles to keep the thing in shot. All this comes as a result of the model car’s radio control system receiving major interference during filming, making it incredibly difficult to steer and keep under control. The machine was petrol powered and capable of reaching speeds of up to 30mph. That doesn’t sound like much, but when a huge red brick comes hurtling towards a film crew at 30mph completely out of control, you bet they all jumped out of its way! Gerry Anderson said that “it just went mad.” My question is though, if these shots of the car look so out of control and aren’t filmed all that well, why are they included in the finished show? Most of the episode looks like it’s supposed to be there, but this looks like some outtakes that made it in by accident. I don’t doubt that these were the best shots they got, but they could have just been cut out altogether. If this made it in, what on earth did the outtakes look like?

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Eventually the car struggles up a bumpy track to the top of the cliff.

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A GOAT! Why do we cut away to a goat reacting to John and Julie’s arrival? I don’t know. But it’s the not the last time an animal is going to steal the show…

Using the sonic detector, John and Julie are able to listen to conversations being had by Karanti and his sidekick Christoph from far away. Pretty neat. It also means that the film crew don’t have to get too close to the actors while they’re talking. This is the case for the majority of the live action footage. Characters are only shown talking either when they’re really far away, or they have their backs turned from the camera. Unfortunately it sticks out quite badly that all of the dialogue has been dubbed on afterwards to save time and money.

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Karanti leaves his yacht on a speedboat to take a look at the painting he intends to steal. Actor Charles Thake does his best with what he had to work with, but most of the time he just doesn’t really look like he wants to be there. I mean look at him. He’s dressed up in a suit getting splashed with water in a tiny little boat that’s going just a bit too fast. He probably has no idea who his character is or what he’s supposed to be doing. It sadly suggests an issue with the way The Investigator was directed. No-one knew exactly why they were shooting certain things and it means the shots don’t really link together into a story. Rather than being a shot of Karanti contemplating the wicked excitement of getting his hands on a treasured piece of art, it’s just him driving a boat really fast with no sense of any feeling or emotion.

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John and Julie attempt to tail Karanti without being spotted in their big, red, noisy car. Fortunately there’s no-one around to see them. But someone in the town must have wondered why a racing car was driving through at full volume.

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They find an empty garage to hide the car in.

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A HORSE! Here’s our second animal reacting to the Investigator car. Again, I don’t know why. I guess it’s funny.

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Karanti meets the church tour group. I don’t think they’re actors. If they are, they weren’t really told anything about what they were supposed to be doing. But they do sort of look like random people dragged in off the street or members of the crew forced to go in front of the camera.

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John and Julie wait until they can follow the group inside the church undetected. I like this shot of them hiding behind the canon because it shows how tiny and vulnerable they are. Unfortunately because puppets can’t run convincingly we don’t see very much of them sneaking around quickly.

Inside the church, John pops up from behind a book. With the limits of the puppetry this is the closest we get to some exciting snooping being done.

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Karanti persuades… some guy… to tell him about the church’s security arrangements, thus revealing everything he needs to know to steal the painting. We don’t actually hear what these security arrangements are. We have no idea how difficult or easy it will be for Karanti to get into the church, so no tension or intrigue is created. The viewer doesn’t really learn anything about the painting, or how Karanti plans to steal it. None of this sequence matters. Nothing John and Julie have done up to this point has been important to furthering the plot. They just followed him around a bit and learned that he’s going to steal the painting, which The Investigator had already told them anyway. So the first part of this episode hasn’t really done much… but wait!

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WOOOOSH! Wait? What just happened? Was that a transition?  I think so. It happened very suddenly. Something span around. Not sure what. Maybe it was a supersonic jet. It sounded like a supersonic jet. I think it’s supposed to be movie code for ‘a fast passage of time’. Something more subtle would have done the job though and made it look less weird.

John and Julie sit on a cliff spying on Karanti’s yacht once again. Above is a side by side comparison of the finished shot and a behind the scenes photo showing John and Wanda Brown operating the puppets under the direction of Gerry Anderson. You can see that they’re actually holding the cables carrying the electronic impulses to the puppets in their mouths! The strings are also much shorter than what would normally be used on the previous Supermarionation puppets operated from the overhead bridge. Shorter strings would ordinarily allow for more direct control of the puppets, but they don’t really move much here, so that’s a missed opportunity I suppose. It’s good to see Gerry behind the camera on a Supermarionation production. Aside from the first episode of UFO, his last directorial credit was over a decade before The Investigator on the first episode of Fireball XL5. Although he was very involved as a producer in steering the Sixties shows, he did a huge amount of the ground work while directing the likes of Four Feather Falls, developing the way puppets should be filmed and treated on set. One can only imagine how much pressure Gerry was under to keep this extremely difficult production going in Malta. Meanwhile, Reg Hill was back in England receiving the footage and checking over what was being shot. It wasn’t good of course, but Hill decided to keep quiet at the risk of discouraging the crew.

The sonic detector rather inconveniently goes out of range. So John and Julie need to get closer in order to overhear Karanti’s plan. Fortunately they have a boat… a special one… all part of the Investigator service… yeah, really.

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A super secret spy boat! And just like the super secret spy car, the boat is incredibly loud and brightly coloured so you’ll hear and see it coming a mile off. The boat struggles its way across the waves (made by the film crew’s own boat) with the characters rigidly strapped in. It lacks practicality and elegance, but again it makes a great toy (I promise to get to that later!).

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John and Julie get aboard the yacht and learn that Karanti plans to steal the painting that night. They’re perfectly secluded and couldn’t possibly be caught. But wait… what’s Julie got her foot on? A glass? Why is she doing that? What if it fell over and made a noise? That wouldn’t be good…

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Nice one Julie. Didn’t see that coming at all.

Karanti and Christoph somehow hear the tiny glass getting knocked over and decide to search the deck… even though they’d be able to see a full-size person really easily with a quick glance. John and Julie take up some really bad hiding places and stand lifelessly still.

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Julie gets a good look at Christoph’s lovely new shoes. She just stares at them with her dead, yellow eyes.

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Christoph is played by Peter Borg. He has a moustache… just in case you hadn’t noticed. That’s pretty much his contribution taken care of.

And it’s time for another boat ride. They certainly got their money’s worth out of the boats. So we get a rather long sequence of John and Julie chasing Karanti’s boat. Well, we get some random shots of the two boats boating around, but its implied that there’s a chase going on. The sequence goes on so long that…

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WOOOOOSH! Another supersonic jet transition!

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And the boat’s still going! We transitioned from a boat chase, to exactly the same boat chase! I do not understand how the editing of this thing works.

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The time has come. Karanti and Christoph are going to steal the painting. Exciting!

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John and Julie are ready and waiting to stop them. Or at least watch them. It’s worth noting that this sequence appears to have actually been shot during the night. ITC shows were often in the habit of shooting day-for-night which never looked terribly convincing. The lighting in this sequence is actually pretty well done. Its mysterious and the slower pace of it all actually does well to build some tension.

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Suddenly the whole adventure takes a darker turn when Christoph knocks out the security guard with a blunt instrument. I know I’ve ranted already about how ineffective the heroes are because they’ve been miniaturised but this really takes the biscuit. John goes inside to somehow apprehend Karanti and Christoph while Julie is left to look after the guard. Of course she can’t actually do anything useful because she doesn’t appear to have any useful skills or abilities, but also because she’s too darn small. So far being 1/3 normal size hasn’t helped either of them out at all.

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Inside the church, John is watching… always watching. Look at those eyes. Look at them.

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Karanti and Christoph retrieve the painting… didn’t really take much effort.

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But John has an outstanding plan to stop them!

He blasts the church organ and the haunting noise terrifies the dastardly villains!

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Meanwhile, Julie just about manages to make a phone call. She’s incredibly unhelpful when talking to the very British emergency services operator. Well done Julie.

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John decides the next genius step to take in apprehending the villains is to swing around a bit. I guess he’s trying to scare them off…

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And it works! But… they have the painting. So all John really achieves is making them run away with the painting a little bit faster. Well done John.

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He goes for another swing. Thrilling stuff.

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Then Karanti gets really scared for some reason and decides to fire a gun at the swinging light fixture. Why? If you’re successfully fleeing a crime scene, and as far as you know you’ve gotten away with it without anyone spotting you, why ruin it by firing a loud gunshot in the middle of the night at a random object that happens to swing at you vaguely spookily. Why not just make good your escape? But hey, firing gun shots is exciting, so who cares if it makes sense…

Karanti and Christoph run out of the church. Charles Thake (Karanti) is running incredibly carefully across the rain-soaked courtyard to ensure he doesn’t slip over. Really adds to the drama. Peter Borg (Christoph) is less concerned for his safety and just goes for it – much more exciting.

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Julie has managed to put the phone back and made her way into the church. She made it just in time to completely fail to help John apprehend the thieves. Well done Julie. Well done.

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Oh my goodness! Has John been shot by Karanti? Did he just fall from swinging around too darn much? Or is he just taking a nap? Find out in part two of The Investigator!

We’ll take a break here too. I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats to find out how this completely nonsensical plot concludes, but you probably want to go outside and live your life for a bit.

Spoiler Alert: We never find out what happened to John. He’s okay though after the commerical break so I guess he wasn’t shot. Great drama.

Have you seen The Investigator? What did you think of it? Would you have liked to see more episodes? Let us know in the comments below.

You can pick up The Investigator and all the Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson on DVD from Network here!

 

 

 

John Tracy’s Greatest Moments

Thunderbird 5 is where all the action is at. And International Rescue’s most dynamic hero, John Tracy, is at the centre of it all with a watchful eye on the world. Here’s a collection of his most exciting moments from the classic series.

1. That time he just stood there all silent and mysterious in Trapped in the Sky.

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2. That time he needed a clipboard to deliver as many cold hard facts as possible in Pit of Peril.

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3. “Metal fatigue?” – That time when John solved the mystery of Fireflash 3’s crash in Operation Crash-Dive… and was proved completely wrong… and then didn’t say another word for the rest of the episode.

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4. That time he really wanted a dirty old bar of gold in Desperate Intruder… and then didn’t say another word for the rest of the episode.

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5.”Wow-wee that’s serious!” – That time John got a little too excited about Britain being wiped out by a nuclear disaster in 30 Minutes After Noon.

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6. That time he actually got to go out on a rescue in Danger At Ocean Deep. He didn’t actually do much though. He had an argument with Scott afterwards though because he’s a thug like that.

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7. That time when John used his angry face for the first and only time during the series in The Duchess Assignment. He was obviously really concerned about the Duchess of Royston.

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8. That time when bed head took over in Atlantic Inferno.

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9. That time John had the incredible ability to speak with Gordon’s voice in Ricochet.

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10. That time he was too darn dedicated to come home for Christmas in Give or Take a Million.

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John Tracy, we salute you for standing up to the producers and proving that you were a good character… by doing next to nothing for most of the series… well done. But hey, at least you got a bit more to do in the new series.

 

 

 

Lavender Castle

‘Lavender Castle: A place of legend, fabled right across the universe.’

This Gerry Anderson series seems to live up to its tag line of being a bit of a lost legend. For a long time I knew nothing about Lavender Castle beyond its title until I bought the DVD a few years ago. I had guessed from the title that it might not be like other Gerry Anderson shows whose titles immediately suggest a focus on futuristic machines or organisations. Lavender Castle seemed like something in the realm of magic and fantasy, not the usual Gerry Anderson formula. But when I watched it for the first time I realised that this series wasn’t so different from other Gerry Anderson shows, but also had something very special and unique about it.

PDVD_036Being born in the mid 1990s, Lavender Castle should have been my first exposure to a new Gerry Anderson show when it aired in 1999 and 2000 on CITV. I would have been the perfect age for it and watched CITV pretty regularly and yet have absolutely no recollection of seeing the series at all.

It turns out that not many Gerry Anderson fans have seen or tend to discuss this relatively recent series. Why? Well there are all sorts of reasons for this, and none have them have anything to do with the quality of this beautifully made show. It mostly comes down to the show being a ten minute part of a whole afternoon of television shows for children on ITV and could have easily been missed. It’s an off-putting slot for older fans. It suggests a show that is exclusively for young children when most Anderson series are aimed at a family audience of all ages. Sadly, ITV failed to learn from this and multiplied the problem considerably when scheduling Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet (2005), and even now, CITV’s Thunderbirds Are Go (2015) hardly seems entirely suited to its early morning timeslot.

PDVD_037The result of this unfortunate scheduling, and a title that doesn’t suggest that this follows the traditional Gerry Anderson formula, is a show which seems to have been forgotten by fans despite being very strong in a number of areas. In this article I hope to make the case for Lavender Castle and encourage others to give it a try.

The Story

Lavender Castle follows the adventures of the diverse crew of a spaceship called the Paradox. They are searching for an illusive place of peace and harmony at the centre of the universe called Lavender Castle, the greatest source of power ever known. The villain of the series, Dr. Agon is also searching for Lavender Castle but with the intention of destroying it and plunging the universe into darkness. Each episode sees the crew of The Paradox face off adversaries in their continuing quest to find Lavender Castle and defend it from Dr. Agon and his forces of evil.

PDVD_001The basic premise of the series is a simple battle of good vs. evil mixed in with an incredible quest. It’s pure fantasy and perhaps this is where the series differs from previous Gerry Anderson series which had always tried in some way to ground themselves in reality. As much as fantastical things happen in shows like Thunderbirds or Space: 1999, one always pictured them as an alternative view of the world we live in. Lavender Castle diverts from that idea and puts us into a completely different universe to our own, but retains the good vs. evil and advanced technology themes that Gerry Anderson shows are famous for.

This different approach comes from the fact that the concept and characters for Lavender Castle were pitched to Gerry Anderson in the late 1980s by fantasy artist Rodney Matthews. They developed the idea together for many years with Matthews contributing all of the design work. Following rejections from the BBC and Carlton Television, the series was eventually picked up in 1996 by Carrington Productions International who financed the project which was produced at the world famous Cosgrove Hall Films.

PDVD_003The series was produced using a combination of outstanding stop-motion animation and CGI animation. Mackinnon and Saunders, who have since built the puppets for the upcoming Anderson Entertainment pilot Firestorm, constructed fully articulated puppets closely based on Rodney Matthews’ sketches. The stop-motion work is immaculate, bringing the characters to life with precision and artistry while retaining the charm of earlier Anderson shows.

The Characters

Captain Thrice

PDVD_030Thrice is the captain of the Paradox. He’s an older creature with three eyes and a warm heart. He’s a caring and wise father figure with a special knowledge of Lavender Castle.

Walking Stick

PDVD_010Captain Thrice is assisted in his mobility and decision-making by a walking stick that can talk. It was carved from laplon wood by Thrice and mysteriously given life by Lavender Castle.

Roger

PDVD_034The key pilot of the Paradox is Australian-accented Roger. He was formerly a decorated starfighter pilot. After being captured he was rescued by Captain Thrice and joined the crew.

Isambard

PDVD_028The ship’s Scottish engineer. He has a passion for inventing and caring for the Paradox. Roger and Issy are good comrades.

Lyca

PDVD_031Lyca is a beautiful creature with butterfly wings allowing her to fly. She is a Floran biologist and medical specialist who serves as a doctor on the Paradox. Alongside Roger she was rescued from capture by Thrice.

Sir Squeakalot

PDVD_014A robot fitted with an Outel processor and housekeeping technology, knighted by Queen Zarla. ‘Squeaky’ as he’s affectionately known takes care of all housekeeping duties onboard the Paradox.

Sproggle

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Sproggle is an orphan with child-like innocence who struggles as the navigator of the Paradox. He has trouble telling left from right which oftens causes the ship to go off course into all sorts of unexpected adventures.

Dr. Cedric Agon

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Dr. Agon is an evil mastermind who commands the Dark Station. He will stop at nothing to destroy Lavender Castle.

Short Fred Ledd

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Fred is a one-legged pirate sailing the Galak Sea in an anicent galleon called the Cutting Snark. He answers to Dr. Agon and often attempts to thwart the Paradox crew.

As you can see, the characters are fantastic pieces of design by Rodney Matthews. Much like the characters of earlier Anderson classics, it’s pretty clear cut which side they’re on. The heroes are dependable, intelligent and brave. The villains are nasty, ruthless and misguided. Good always triumphs over evil. The Paradox crew are a good team and, like many other Gerry Anderson shows, a family-like unit. They’re mismatched and some members of the team are stronger than others, but when combining their efforts they are more than a match for Dr. Agon.

The technology in the series is wonderfully inventive. The Paradox is essentially a cottage with engines strapped to the back. A great machine to inspire a child’s imagination. Dr. Agon’s Dark Station is an enormous black fortress which could not look more evil. The station’s shuttle craft is known as the Mammoth Machine which releases huge black clouds of smoke as it chugs through space. They are machines of absolute fantasy which don’t resemble any vehicles of the real world. Determining how they work is an act of pure imagination which may be less satisfying for those inclined towards pure science in their Anderson shows, but if you love Thunderbird 2 and don’t care how it takes flight, then Lavender Castle‘s fanciful approach to space travel might just be your cup of tea.

Gerry Anderson often re-used voice artists on multiple series, but in this case all four cast members (David Holt, Kate Harbour, Jimmy Hibbert and Rob Rackstraw) only worked for Anderson on Lavender Castle. They are, however, recognisable in many other children’s television series of the time and are incredibly versatile, sharing the main roles around seamlessly. They voice the characters with great integrity and humour. The same qualities exist in Crispin Merrell’s music which is an enjoyable highlight of the series – a full release of the soundtrack would be a wonderful thing.

Ultimately, Lavender Castle may not be instantly recognisable as a Gerry Anderson series with it’s use of stop-motion animation, an all new voice cast and pure fantasy universe. At its heart, however, the show has a lot of the same themes and elements commonly associated with the Supermarionation series. The episodes are produced to an incredibly high standard with stunning design and loveable characters from Rodney Matthews, exciting adventures, and a simple battle of good versus evil. I urge any Gerry Anderson and/or fantasy fans to give this series a try. It is a worthy addition to the Anderson canon which has its own unique charm and continues the producer’s desire to push the boundaries of high quality film-making.

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Thunderbirds 1965: The Stately Homes Robberies

Have you ever listened to The Stately Homes Robberies mini-album? It’s pretty awful. The dialogue couldn’t be clunkier, the action is absolutely minimal, and to have a Thunderbirds adventure witout any Thunderbirds in is rather bland. Fortunately, when shooting this episode for the Thunderbirds 1965 project, Stephen La Rivière and his team had the common sense to almost entirely tear apart the original audio and put it back together again with as much action and intrigue squeezed in as possible with the addition of dialogue from the television series. Any scenes in the original mini-album that didn’t work have been cut down or cut out and it makes for a much improved and much more genuine Thunderbirds episode.

One of the great treats that this episode has to offer is not what’s in front of the camera but who’s behind it. David Elliott returns to direct his first Thunderbirds episode in almost 50 years. His work on the original series produced a number of highly regarded episodes. Here’s a complete list of his directorial credits on Thunderbirds.

  • City of Fire
  • Vault of Death
  • Martian Invasion
  • Terror in New York City
  • Day of Disaster
  • 30 Minutes After Noon
  • Cry Wolf
  • The Duchess Assignment
  • Path of Destruction

A great variety of episodes, all of them full of tension and suspense building up to some very dramatic rescues. Many of them feel like big-budget disaster movies but some episodes like Vault of Death or The Duchess Assignment are charming character pieces driven by Penelope and Parker’s involvement in the plot – The Stately Homes Robberies is very much closer to this particular style of episode.

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David Elliot and Mary Turner back on the set.

Also returning to the puppet bridge is original series puppetry supervisor, Mary Turner. Alongside Christine Glanville, she was responsible for ensuring that the puppetry on the original series was of a high standard. Mary and the other puppeteers performed the marionettes in such a way that they were captivating to watch without steering away from Gerry Anderson’s quest for human-like behaviour. Mary was a great pioneer in making the puppets feel like real people, while also making them into fun characters, and her work on The Stately Homes Robberies reflects that superbly.

Let’s take a close look at what makes The Stately Homes Robberies an adventure which concludes the Thunderbirds 1965 project in style.

The Stately Homes Robberies
Based on the mini-album written by Alan Fennell
Directed by David Elliott

Another exciting opening teaser montage shows us immediately that we’re getting a far more action-packed episode than the original mini-album had to offer.

The episode opens with the camera panning across the lawn of a magnificent house built by model-maker David Tremont. The detail is superb, even with a little garden shed in front of the house.

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The tree in the foreground looks wonderfully mossy. My theory is that, in-keeping with the original production team’s style of set-dressing, this is a real piece of a tree. If it isn’t, then they’ve done a very good job of making a prop that looks like a real tree.

PDVD_014A helijet, very similar in design to the helijets seen in Brink of Disaster, has landed in the overgrown garden, littered with rubbish – details which make the scene look all the more real. Barry Gray’s suspenseful music gives the viewer the feeling that the helijet isn’t supposed to be there and that misdeeds are afoot.

The camera moves through the doors in the hallway of the stately home in a style which echoes the introduction of the castle in David Elliott’s 30 Minutes After Noon. The next few shots are a great treat for eagle-eyed Gerry Anderson fans. The piano seen here is in fact believed to be the earliest surviving Supermarionation prop. Christine Glanville passed it on to Richard Gregory who recently restored it to it’s former glory. It was first seen in the saloon back in Four Feather Falls but even went on to appear in Joe 90. Little piece of trivia – I was actually lucky enough to carry this prop in and out of the second Andercon convention in 2015. It was very fragile and beaten up at the time so it looks like the restoration has worked a treat!

PDVD_018We continue to move through the seemingly deserted house. Note the Supermarionation head sculpt sitting on a pedestal. There are probably lots of other treats hidden in this sequence so if you spot any that I don’t point out, let me know in the comments below.

PDVD_020Portrait of a Gazelle as seen in The Duchess Assignment. Is this the Duchess of Royston’s place? Nice little mystery to solve there…

PDVD_022A very dramatic swing of the camera reveals a shady looking character robbing the safe! And another head sculpt!

PDVD_024What happens next will shock anyone that might be familiar with the tedium of the original mini-album. This statue says it all.

An almighty explosion. The beautifully crafted model is torn apart by huge fireballs. A great piece of work by Malcolm Smith whose pyrotechnics look stunning when shot at high-speed. Just the right amount of smoke and fire makes for some wonderfully gratuitous destruction. As with so many models on Thunderbirds the house was built to be destroyed in a spectacular fashion. This moment sets the tone of the episode perfectly – the original mini-album story has been injected with some genuine danger and tension. Whatever International Rescue are about to get involved with, they’re in for some deadly trouble.

PDVD_033This is just a small thing but it’s easy to take for granted. The font and layout used for all the captions across the three episodes is absolutely spot on. Imagine if people who didn’t know Thunderbirds had been given the job of making the episode title captions and used a font that was close to the original but wasn’t quite right. Its the sort of thing that one may not think particularly matters provided there are puppets and Thunderbird craft on the screen. But to truly re-create Thunderbirds little details like getting the font right and spacing out the lines of text correctly are also very important to immersing the viewer in the experience that these are episodes from the 1960s.

Stock footage of newspapers being printed is used in a couple of episodes of Thunderbirds and its almost like a code for: something big and dramatic is about to be announced or exposed which will probably put International Rescue into action. It may look like random stock footage of newspapers being printed, but it’s also a small device that builds tension for a big reveal.

Grandiose headlines are spread across the newspapers. Notice the Thunderbirds supplement from the Television Mail in the background with Lady P on the cover.

The newspaper seller and television reporter are brand new puppets made especially for this episode. They only make brief appearances but its great to see the world populated by new characters. The fog of London whips up around them in a way that echoes the opening of Vault of Death. It may look a tad melodramatic in both cases, but it produces a moody atmosphere which looks great on camera and gives the puppet performances more integrity.

PDVD_042News has spread to Tracy Island, with Jeff spotting the headline in his own newspaper. It’s a nice little scene and I like the idea that sometimes Brains and Jeff need to get away from it all by taking their chairs down to the beach for a private moment.

PDVD_043Jeff doesn’t quite seem to have managed to get out of his pyjamas in this episode. This is in-keeping with a number of ocassions in the original series where he dresses just a little too casually for a man hurtling towards 60 years of age. Liz Comstock-Smith cannot receive enough credit for not only perfectly capturing the beautiful costumes of Penelope from the series, but also some of Jeff’s uglier outfits. She could have made all of the costumes look fashionable, but instead fully took on the brief of making new costumes that were actually true to the characters wearing them. As a result, she’s skillfully managed to make Jeff’s choice in clothing as tasteless as it was in the original. That was supposed to be a compliment to her great talent although I realise it may not have sounded that way. I honestly love every single costume in this mini-series.

Aside from the Tracy Lounge, the only other set from the original series that needed to be rebuilt with meticulous detail was the interior of Lady Penelope’s mansion. It’s another triumph for the set building team who even had to paint the detailing on the wallpaper by hand. The set is dressed with furniture, curtains and a lovely carpet which could have come straight off of the original. Penelope and Parker discuss the recent robberies in a scene drastically cut down from the mini-album.

PDVD_049They are being overheard by means of this great looking listening device which uses lots of kit parts and everyday items to create a classic looking piece of Thunderbirds technology.

From their helijet, the villainous Mr Charles and Dawkins are listening in. These new puppets were sculpted by Stephen Mansfield and combined with the voices of Peter Dyneley and Ray Barrett make for two fantastic characters with a lot of personality. It’s comforting to know that there are artists out there who can look at the original Thunderbirds puppets and know exactly the right way to craft new characters in the same style after so many years.

Penelope and Parker drive off to the Wickfens store, leaving the way clear for the robbers to strike at her home. Fortunately the discussion from the mini-album between Elaine Wickfens and her model Cynthia  has been cut here – anyone who has listened to it will know why that’s a good thing. The passage of time is marked by a simple clock wipe transition – I love classic editing techniques like this. They pop up every so often in the early Supermarionation series and they add to the almost comic book style and fast-paced action of the shows.

PDVD_060Mr Charles and Dawkins overfly the Creighton-Ward manor. This section of roof only appears once and yet has been beautifully made in a style that replicates what we see of the roof in Thunderbird 6.

PDVD_064Penelope’s servants are knocked out by gas capsules dropped down the chimney. Of course we never actually saw any such servants in the original series aside from Parker and Lil the cook. Nevertheless, much like the new areas of Tracy Island seen in Introducing Thunderbirds, the opportunity has been taken to briefly add something new to the canon of Thunderbirds.

The scene inside the Wickfens store is nicely decked out with a clothes rack full of other costumes seen in the Thunderbirds 1965 episodes.

PDVD_079Meanwhile Parker puts his feet up because apparently he doesn’t like “hanging around ladies’ shops.”

PDVD_080Charles and Dawkins have gained access to the house. The lighting in this shot, and indeed for the entire episode, is superb. Small amounts of light creeping in through windows create long, menacing shadows that make the atmosphere of the episode moody, mysterious, and a little bit scary, echoing episodes like Vault of Death and the climax of The Duchess AssignmentThunderbirds does night scenes in a very particular way which, once again, the Thunderbirds 1965 team have captured just right in this episode.

PDVD_083Penelope and Parker are alerted to the break-in at Creighton-Ward manor and rush back there. While on the road they pass one of the Superon tankers seen in the episode Path of Destruction. Another lovely detail that closely ties in these new episodes with the original series. It also continues the practice of utilising whichever models are available from the workshop to populate the world.

PDVD_091Penelope and Parker watch as Charles’ helijet flees the scene. Such a great looking shot. The helijet has been made to look really far away and cloaked in darkness. Foliage overhangs the road in an almost gothic manner when combined with the large iron gates.

From FAB 1, a listening device is fired and attaches to the helijet with a satisfying clamp, allowing Penelope and Parker to see and hear Mr Charles plotting with Dawkins. Even though more modern editing techniques have been used, the video screen effect has been made to look exactly the same as it did in the original series. Shock horror, Mr Charles is planning to steal the crown jewels!

PDVD_097And now, just to annoy and divide fans of the series, here’s a calendar. Nothing gets Thunderbirds fans more riled up than a calendar. I’ll remain impartial here and just say well done to the production team for coming to an agreement with each other on this one at least. I wonder if a vote had to be taken before shooting this.

Stock footage of Big Ben also used in Vault of Death sets the scene as Charles and Dawkins land outside the Tower of London, ready to steal the crown jewels. The trees blow around in the wind as the helijet touches down. Lovely to watch.

Mr Charles and Dawkins are shown walking into the Tower of London. They bob up and down in a slightly more exaggerated way than a lot of characters do. It’s a very charming moment because it gives them even more personality and actually uses their limitations as puppets to give the impression that they are bumbling crooks. They’re not supposed to be taken seriously so they’re allowed to move in a more exaggerated and puppety way. It’s certainly not the way a more serious character like Jeff or Scott would walk into a room.

In contrast to this, Penelope and Parker are shown walking in using live action inserts. As our heroes they need to be taken more seriously so are shown walking in a much more realistic way.

PDVD_115Dawkins encounters a Beefeater and proceeds to knock him out with gas, and look who it is! That’s right, Ned Cook has retired from his career as a news reporter and taken up a post guarding the Tower of London. Such good fun to see characters reused in this way!

Parker and Penelope soon catch Mr Charles and Dawkins stealing the crown jewels. The jewels look superb and have clearly been made with great care. They don’t look like little plastic toys but a scaled down version of the real thing. That’s also true of a lot of the props and miniatures in Thunderbirds.

They spot the bomb on the ground and the camera rushes in dramatically on Parker as the music strikes up definite cause for concern. At this point the episode diverts even further from the mini-album as Lady Penelope sends International Rescue an emergency signal.

The Tracys receive news that there is a bomb in the Tower of London. Having departed from the mini-album, the Thunderbirds 1965 team have patched together pieces of dialogue where possible from the television series. It’s pretty seamless, and particularly when dialogue from different episodes has been combined together, viewers wouldn’t really notice unless they were listening out for it. In any case, it’s a small price to pay in the name of putting the International Rescue team into an otherwise Thunderbirds-less episode.

Thunderbirds 1 and 2 blast off and head for England. Only the minimum amount of the launch sequence is shown here, maximising the speed and urgency of the situation and indicating that we’re heading for a great, fast-paced climax to the episode.

PDVD_135Meanwhile, Penelope apprehends Mr Charles and delivers a wonderful line of dialogue: “I don’t like using guns, the bangs give me a headache.” Somehow Sylvia Anderson delivers that line in such a way that it sounds incredibly threatening.

PDVD_139Penelope and Parker are knocked out by one of Dawkins’ gas capsules and the bomb is set to explode in 5 minutes. The race against time has begun. This bomb prop is another instance where the production team have managed to capture the way the prop makers in the 60s thought future technology would look. Hence why it is bright blue and covered in little grilles and flashing lights. For dramatic effect, each bulb represents another minute of time running out.

Virgil and Gordon arrive on the scene and launch Thunderbird 4, making use of footage from the episode The Man From MI.5. As with the shot of Alan and Brains boarding Thunderbird 3 in Introducing Thunderbirds, the production team have had the common sense to use the only existing shot of Thunderbird 4 launching at night. It may sound like an obvious thing to include, but if they didn’t instinctively know these episodes inside out, they probably wouldn’t know that such a shot existed.

PDVD_147Here’s a great new model shot of Thunderbird 4 arriving at the Tower of London via Traitors’ Gate. It’s a lovely model of the submarine which, like the other Thunderbird machines, went through a great variation of markings and colours in the series. The version seen here is an amalgamation of those varations to create an instantly recognisable version of Thunderbrid 4 which closely matches all of the stock footage. Like many other models, the Traitors’ Gate is only seen once, made especially for this sequence.

From Thunderbird 1, Scott manages to scan the area and track down the bomb. The graphics that appear on the scanning screen are very in-keeping with the type of thing seen in the series. They are often simplistic designs which clearly illustrate something to the viewer. This is particularly important in the case of this sequence because there is so little dialogue available for the characters to explain the situation. Nevertheless, director David Elliott and the team that adapted the script still effectively communicate the drama and the situation to the viewer with carefully chosen stock dialogue and great visuals. It’s interesting to think that in amongst a project created to put visuals to audio recordings, the challenge of this climactic sequence would have been to put audio to the visuals.

The floor plan of the Tower is transmitted to Gordon’s video watch, a quick nod to another classic aspect of Thunderbirds. It’s a piece of fantastical technology that now exists in the 21st Century.

Without hesitation, Gordon begins work on deactivating the bomb. Connecting wires solves a lot of problems in Thunderbirds. It repaired the EPU of the Fireflash in Operation Crash-Dive and the escape unit of Zero-X in Thunderbirds Are Go (1966). Echoing his moment of heroism in Operation Crash-Dive, the cables spark and flare as Gordon tries to shut off the bomb. He remains silent in concentration while Scott desperately requests an update over the radio. Great tension builds up as the bomb starts to smoke, ready to blow. The picture fades to black for a commerical break.

PDVD_184With the bomb deactivated, Penelope and Parker wake up and immediately set off to pursue Mr Charles in an exciting chase sequence which expertly uses Barry Gray’s music. Once again, back projection is utilised for the interior shots of FAB 1 as the roadside whizzes past.

PDVD_187They detonate the listening device still attached to the hull of the helijet and the craft heads for a crash-landing.

Down it comes and up she goes in a nice big fireball. I’ve talked before about models being filmed in a fairly simplistic way in Thunderbirds compared to the way vehicles and aircraft are shown on screen in modern cinema. The helijet flies down from the top right hand corner of the screen and explodes in the bottom left corner. In terms of movement it’s a very simple shot and no more complex than any of the other flying shots seen in the series. They’re easy shots and movements for children to imitate in play, and it’s a part of what gives the series a ‘toys come to life’ quality which producer Stephen La Rivière often says accounts for part of the success of Thunderbirds.

PDVD_202Of course, as a family show, Thunderbirds doesn’t usually show characters getting seriously injured or killed, despite the number of highly combustable machines in the world of the future. If you think too hard about it of course there are a lot of people who die but it isn’t shown explicitly. Mr Charles and Dawkins sit in the wrecked cockpit, Dawkins still amusingly operating the controls. It’s a great source for light Thunderbirds humour, something that always remains charming and simple in amongst the enormous drama and visual spectacle. These moments of comedy often have a lovely little fanfare from Barry Gray to go with them and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Without his monacle and covered in dirt, Mr Charles looks a bit like a petulant child being told off by Lady Penelope. We learn a little about family history as Charles’ motivations for committing the robberies are revealed. Penelope plays it cool as always.

PDVD_211Parker and Penelope go back to the Tower of London and return the crown jewels. We’re treated to one more addition to the story from the Thunderbirds 1965 team.

PDVD_215Parker fantasises about being decked out in the crown jewels in a wonderfully surreal moment. It echoes Phones’ rather bizarre fantasy in the Stingray episode Loch Ness Monster when he dreams of being a true highlander. This moment is one last bit of fun thrown in by the production team who you can tell had a lot of fun in amongst the hard work making these episodes. Parker’s snobbishness is allowed to shine through magnificently. After all, we’ve had Lord Parker… why not King Parker?

PDVD_218The episode wraps up the adventure with a lovely scene back in Penelope’s house as she reads about the incident from The Foxley Heath Times, her local newspaper. It says of Lady Penelope that “no gentler or more charming person ever graced the earth.” At the end of these three episodes which heavily focus on the character of Penelope, it seems more than appropriate to end in this way. Prior to the release of the episodes, Sylvia Anderson, the creator and voice of Lady Penelope, sadly passed away. Her achievements as the co-creator of Thunderbirds were endless, but Lady Penelope is the role she was most famous for and incredibly proud of. This is the final scene to feature Sylvia playing the role, and she could not have given a gentler or more charming performance.

PDVD_221The Stately Homes Robberies surpasses all expectations and expertly uses extracts of the original mini-album and dialogue from the series to create an action-packed, suspenseful episode of Thunderbirds. It takes a very abnormal and unusual story and elevates it to stand alongside many Penelope-led adventures from the television series. David Elliott and the team do a superb job of capturing the style of specific episodes, many of which were also directed by Elliott. My hope is that he enjoyed the experience of going back to Stirling Road to make Thunderbirds again, as well as Mary Turner and all the other former crew who visited the studio during production. If it weren’t for their hard work back in the 60s, Thunderbirds wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today.

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Some of the talented team behind the scenes on The Stately Homes Robberies.

This concludes my series of articles about the three Thunderbirds 1965 episodes. My thanks have to go out to the members of the Pod 4 Films team who have supported me in writing these in-depth posts. They have been working tirelessly on this project even before the Kickstarter campaign launched back in July 2015 and haven’t stopped for breath for almost an entire year. They have lived and breathed this project and it shows in the outstanding work they have done on the episodes themselves and the high standard of the reward items they produced for Kickstarter backers. Ultimately, a hugely ambitious dream for most Thunderbirds enthusiasts has been achieved through this project – three new episodes have been produced using the original voice artists and the original Supermarionation techniques. It’s a dream come true, and I sincerely hope that fans can appreciate just how lucky it is that this project has been completed to the incredible standard that it has. The people behind it have worked extremely hard and if you ever have the opportunity to thank them, please do.

Four words to sum up the achievements of the Thunderbirds 1965 project? Oh alright then…

“Thunderbirds Are DEFINITELY Go!”

 

 

 

 

 

Thunderbirds 1965: The Abominable Snowman

“In the frozen Himalayas, in the land of mountaineers,
Where the local folk are frightened, by the strangest kind of fears,
Though it may be just a rumour, its been talked about for years!
THE ABOMINABLE SNOOOOWMAN!”

Good, well now that’s out of the way we can get on with taking a look at the second episode from the Thunderbirds 1965 mini-series, The Abominable Snowman, based on the Century 21 mini-album entitled F.A.B. released in April 1966. Just a reminder, these episodes are available exclusively to Kickstarter backers and aren’t commercially available for the moment. Now that I’ve mentioned that, let’s go!

The Abominable Snowman
Written by David Graham and Desmond Saunders
Directed by Stephen La Rivière

Following the less conventional Introducing Thunderbirds story which focuses primarily on exposition, The Abominable Snowman is an opportunity for viewers to enjoy a typical Thunderbirds adventure full of rescues, explosions and intrigue. The teaser montage from the opening titles confirms this by expertly revealing glimpses of the episode without giving too much away.

It’s often difficult to pin down and define exactly what makes Thunderbirds so enjoyable, and I think that’s because there are so many different aspects and types of story that are told depending on the episode. That level of variety is something that the three Thunderbirds 1965 episodes capture very well, with each episode representing a different type of Thunderbirds episode, and where possible the team have made changes to the mini-albums to accomodate for further aspects of the series which weren’t originally present.

The best example: the uranium plant sequence which opens this episode. Big disasters are naturally a visual element of Thunderbirds so they don’t really form a part of the mini-albums, but they are of course an integral part of the television series. So this new sequence has been shot to provide the viewer with some big bangs. The Meddings Uranium Plant, named after the series’ special effects director famous for his explosions, has been sabotaged and International Rescue have to put out the fire before the plant overloads. It’s a classic Thunderbirds crisis. The episode opens with a fire truck whizzing past camera, akin to the opening of Terror in New York City. The eagle-eyed viewer can immediately spot that the various structures of the plant are constructed from model kit parts which is how so much detailing was often achieved on models in the original series.

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A wonderful tribute to Derek Meddings. Not the first time his name has cropped up in a Thunderbirds episode – 5 Security Hazard points to the person that comments below to tell me when the first time was.

Two famous faces appearing from the National Television Broadcasting System – is that Troy Tempest of Stingray fame operating the wonderfully oversized camera here? And of course a lovely new Ned Cook puppet is in front of the camera, albeit with a slightly different voice. Every so often newly recorded bits of voice acting creep in to the action where absolutely necessary but they still retain that classic style of acting and don’t distract from the pre-existing dialogue. The new voice of Ned Cook passes perfectly for a young Shane Rimmer.

The fire and explosions look spectacular. Everything detonates as willingly as it does in the original series without holding back. Receiving credit for his work on the pyrotechnics is Malcolm Smith who has managed to create some incredible fireballs, bangs and flashes by carefully analysing the explosions seen in the original shows. He then had to source the right materials and chemicals to make sure they looked the same, whilst having to overcome the hurdle that certain elements used for the effects back in 1965 are now banned in the name of health and safety. An excellent job has been done to ensure that the effects have the same mass and energy on screen despite using safer materials. A full interview with Malcolm Smith all about his pyrotechnics work is coming soon to the Security Hazard blog!

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Thunderbird 1 arrives on the scene and doesn’t she look amazing? The model was built by Mamas Pitsillis, complete with working wing motion which we get to see in action later.It’s a struggle to find two shots of Thunderbird 1 in the original series where the model looks the same, so the design for this model appears to be an amalgamation of markings and colours to provide an overall classic Thunderbird 1 look that viewers recognise.

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The mighty Thunderbird 2 arrives carrying some fire extinguishing capsules. This model is huge and when you look at behind the scenes photos which show just how big the model is, the crew must have had a challenging time getting her to move on screen. After all, when making the original series Thunderbird 2 was a constant problem for the special effects team as she would often fall off her wires and need repairing!

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The flames continue to roar as Barry Gray’s exciting music reaches its peak and Thunderbird 2 drops its capsules to extinguish the blaze. Brian Johnson who directed many of the special effects for Thunderbirds, visited the Thunderbirds 1965 studio during production and sent a letter to team saying that ‘seeing the footage made [him] do a Quantum Leap back to the Sixties and the Century Twenty One studio.’ Johnson also offered his original camera crane to the production which was used multiple times when shooting the episodes.

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Following the exciting opening, John receives a mysterious distress call on Thunderbird 5 with someone claiming to encounter the abominable snowman. Then we get into the story as it appears on the mini-album with only a few cuts and additions made to enchance the drama.

Viewers are treated to another lovely panning shot of the Tracy Lounge, specially constructed for the production. It’s a typical scene of the Tracys at leisure with a few characters dotted around reading and enjoying the view.

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John calls in to report the distress call. Rather than creating a new puppet of John and filming him on a reconstructed Thunderbird 5 set, footage from the series is cleverly recycled and manipulated to make the character appear to be speaking the dialogue from the mini-album. Nothing is lost from doing this for such a short scene and it’s a technique used throughout this episode. It means the production team were able to concentrate their efforts on the heavy workload that the rest of the episode demanded. Such are the marvels of editing on a computer and having characters that only speak by moving their lower lip open or closed.

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Jeff’s fashion taste has calmed down a bit since Introducing Thunderbirds. Now that International Rescue has started operations his desire to wear flamingo-based clothing has diminished in favour of a similarly tasteless white cardigan and black jumper.

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Scott has some wonderful 60’s style clothing in this scene which is also in-keeping with his casual costumes in the original series. The head of the puppet is slightly different to what we’ve seen before, particularly when compared to stock footage of Scott from the series. But this is nothing new. Scott’s face changes ever so slightly multiple times across the Thunderbirds series, as do all the characters, most noticeably in between series 1 and 2 when the puppets were cleaned up for their big screen appearance in Thunderbirds Are Go. As the characters are sculpted by hand, producing exactly the same result twice is near impossible. Spot the difference between these three pictures of Scott Tracy – all of them with slightly different faces.

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Fifty years later, this version of Scott and all the other characters is an excellent composite of all the different variations that appear in the series.

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Jeff contacts Lady Penelope and Parker, who happen to be in Delhi so that they can investigate the mysterious claims that the abominable snowman is prowling the Himalayas.

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Back projection is used to show passing scenery  while inside FAB 1. The temptation form modern film-makers would have been to use a green screen and add the background in post production, thus saving time and effort during shooting. It probably would have made for a more realistic effect too. But back projection was a technique used for driving scenes not just in Thunderbirds but in countless films and television series of the period. It may not stand up well when viewed today, but it gave the essence of driving and that’s often all a series like Thunderbirds requires. No-one would believe that the puppet characters are driving down a real road, so in a way the use of back projection fits in with this artificial world that the Andersons created. With great expertise, the back projection technique was therefore revived for Thunderbirds 1965.

We now get our first glimpse at the snowy Himalayas as the abominable snowman comes in to attack an innocent bystander (who looks remarkably like Jeff Tracy!). The P.O.V. shot of the snowman approaching the hut may not seem all that Thunderbirds-ey, but every so often shots just like it do appear in the series. Types of shots usually reserved for live-action photography were utilised regularly on the original series by directors who wanted to give the puppet stars some integrity. Filming the puppets and models as if they were real actors or vehicles is what gives Thunderbirds and the other Supermarionation shows such credibility and was Gerry Anderson’s way of making his puppet films stand above what had gone before. Using P.O.V. shots like those in The Abominable Snowman is just one way of going about doing this.

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Spot the monotrain in the background of this shot – a really nice little easter egg for Thunderbirds fans.

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One of the marvellous things about the miniature world of Thunderbirds is that everything had to be made, and that includes the rear end of the horse that viewers are treated to here. The horse and carriage which carries Parker, Penelope and International Rescue agent Gallup Din to the Ski-Copter airfield is also beautifully made with rich fabrics and materials.

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Lady Penelope’s sari is a wonderfully elegant costume by Liz Comstock-Smith which respects the philosophy of the original series of not merely dressing her up like a child’s doll but giving her a real wardrobe that a fashionable, well-travelled agent would have. Gallup Din gave the production team an opportunity to create an entirely new character in the same way that characters were often designed for the Supermarionation series. Actor Sanjeev Bhaskar was the basis of the new sculpt made by Stephen Mansfield, in the same way that famous faces of the day were the inspiration for the puppet sculptors in the Sixties. It’s a great sculpt, making Gallup Din one of the most memorable Thunderbirds guest characters to date.

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Penelope, Parker and Din arrive at the Ski-Copter airfield and we’re treated to this lovely shot making great use of forced perspective. I mentioned this in my last article but I love the little plasticine figures in the foreground, just like the ones used in the original series. The hangars, the Ski-Copters themselves and even the control tower in the background are well-detailed miniatures which could have been made by the AP Films model makers. This shot looks like one of the typical airfield shots that you see in Thunderbirds where the model workshop would have been raided and anything that fitted in found a place in the scene to make it look busy. The Thunderbirds 1965 crew appear to have had a similiar repertory of models and scenery that were used to fill the set.

The Ski-Copter carrying Penelope and Parker to the mountains is an inventive design which does what many a popular aircraft does in Thunderbirds – roughly taking the rules of aerodynamics to create an aircraft that looks like it could fly, and then adding lots of interesting and distinctive features to make it a vehicle of fantasy. The crash sequence shows off some lovely, detailed control panels made using gadgets and instruments sourced from some very 60’s piece of technology.

The Hood, disguised as Penelope and Parker’s guide, jettisons the fuel of the Ski-Copter. It’s the first use of a human hand! I do love this quirk of Supermarionation and I’m glad that despite the fact it always sticks out, no matter how well the set and costume is up-sized, these insert shots have been put to full use in this episode. A shot from the episode Martian Invasion has been re-coloured to show the fuel splattering all over the hull.

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BANG! The Ski-Copter goes up in a massive explosion as it crashes into a mountain. Fortunately, Penelope and Parker are safe as the passenger pod floats to the ground on an emergency parachute. Unfortunately, the disguised Hood has led them into a trap…

Live action close-ups, as performed by Géraldine Donaldson, demonstrate that Penelope has twisted her ankle. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure this is the first time a bare human foot is seen in Thunderbirds – the Security Hazard blog is your number 1 source for useless Gerry Anderson related trivia. It is remarkable, however, that not only have the puppets themselves been shot in exactly the same way on screen as they were in the original, but so have the live-action inserts which must have been a challenge to achieve in themselves.

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The beard, moustache, eyebrows and wig form a typical disguise for The Hood here. Note how his hand is slightly larger than those seen on the other puppets. The same technique of giving The Hood larger hands was used 50 years ago on the original series in order to make him look stronger and more powerful. Also note the left-over kit parts attached to the door of the Ski-Copter.

The Hood and Parker enter the ice cave. Similar cutting techniques have been used to those often seen in the Supermarionation series in order to give the impression that Parker has walked closer to the steel door without actually showing him walking. The ice cave walls, much like the mountains in exterior scenes, have been carved out of polystyrene.

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We don’t get to see their faces, but it appears that The Hood’s slaves are being played by puppets such as Jeff, Alan and Troy Tempest who appeared earlier. During the original series, the production team relied on their large repertory of puppets to populate crowd scenes, many of whom were recognisable for playing popular characters or even for playing a different character in the same episode. So if you happen to recognise any of the puppets you see in the background of certain shots in these episodes, it’s certainly nothing new.

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With Parker captured in the ice cave and Penelope marooned in the Ski-Copter pod, it’s time for International Rescue to act. Director Stephen La Rivière certainly takes great advantage of having a full set of the Tracy Lounge to use with this lovely shot of Jeff and Scott standing on the balcony while the eyes of Penelope’s portrait flash in the background.

Some more great shots here. Eagle-eyed viewers might spot the fact that Penelope’s portrait has vanished while Jeff is talking to her – a classic Thunderbirds-style blooper! At least none of the portraits swap between uniform and casual wear in the same scene as we see in Trapped in the Sky!

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Thunderbirds 1 and 2 prepare for launch and we have another first for the series. This is the only episode in which Thunderbird 2 is actually seen loading Pod 2! Could it be some never before seen footage of the original launch sequence, or could it be some clever editing? You decide…

Now you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to feature this short P.O.V. shot in the article. It’s because this is the only shot I was actually fortunate enough to watch being filmed when I visited the Thunderbirds 1965 studio for a day. And I can tell you that it took a real team effort to pull off even a short scene like this. Director Stephen La Rivière took a starring role as The Hood, walking towards the Ski-Copter door carrying the heavy camera used for filming. Justin T. Lee kept an eye on the monitor to ensure that the shot looked just right. David Tremont crouched down uncomfortably behind the set, trying to remain out of sight as he opened the pod doors. Lindsay Holung operated the Penelope puppet from the bridge above, just in case she was spotted through the window of the pod. Andrew T. Smith positioned himself next to the set with a box of polystyrene shavings doubling as snow which he poured into a fan held by Géraldine Donaldson on the floor. Several takes were made to get this very short and seemingly simple scene. Even though there were no complex effects or puppetry involved, the team worked to their limits to put this shot together with polystyrene flying everywhere, a heavy camera proving difficult to walk around with and everyone desperately trying to keep out of shot, making for really tough work. But the results speak for themselves: a great piece of film-making produced with everyone working their hardest using the modest techniques inspired by a pioneering group of film makers in the 1960s.

The Hood enters the Ski-Copter, Ray Barrett giving a charmingly melodramatic performance as he attempts to convince Penelope of Parker’s demise. Lady P isn’t convinced and comes out with the spectacular put down of, ‘You sir, are a blaggard.’ The Hood takes desperate action, knocking her unconscious with his mysterious powers. When I was a kid The Hood’s glowing eyes used to terrify me. Not in a traumatising way, but I would literally hide behind the sofa whenever his eyes glowed. I just about managed to contain myself this time round, but it still gives me chills.

The specially made mask which The Hood removes was incredibly thin and made this a very difficult shot to achieve under the hot studio lights. You can just about see a floor puppeteer’s fingers holding The Hood’s arm, reminiscent of the countless appearances the floor puppeteers made in the original series to make the characters move convincingly. This most famously extends to a shot in The Uninvited when Tin-Tin needs a helping hand getting out of her seat! Also, take a look at The Hood’s furious eyebrows. What a fantastic expression for a diabolical mastermind.

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After the commercial break, Thunderbird 1 arrives on the scene in this lovely overhead shot as the wings open up. The ground whizzes past as the supersonic craft thunders towards the danger zone. It’s very similar to the overhead shot of Thunderbird 2 arriving on the scene in Attack of the Alligators, among many other examples.

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Meanwhile, The Hood is threatening Lady Penelope who is tied to a steel girder. The Hood’s dominance is simply communicated with the camera positioned looking up at him – one of the most basic techniques of film-making but one which you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with the filming of puppetry.

I love shots like these in Thunderbirds when a laser cuts through metal and leaves a distinct burn mark. It doesn’t happen in the series so often that it becomes particularly noteworthy, but it’s certainly a recognisable element of the series which is always achieved on screen in a certain way. It would have stood out quite a bit if this shot hadn’t been done properly here, so I’m sure the people involved in making it happen would have looked closely at the original episodes to work out how the effect was done, and tried to replicate it as best as possible.

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Having tracked down The Hood’s second Ski-Copter, Thunderbird 1 comes in to land, its jet blasting away the snow below. A slow and dramatic landing like this would only take a few seconds to actually film. When the jet was fired, the operator would basically pop the model down on the set pretty quickly. But when shooting the scene at high-speed, the motion is slowed down and makes the whole thing look much more grand and impressive as Thunderbird 1 settles down gracefully in the snow.

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Thunderbird 2 enters the area, beautifully dirtied down with a sprinkling of snow to give the impression that the craft has been flying through the blizzard for some time. This was a practice championed by Derek Meddings and his team to make all the vehicles look well-used and less like models.

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Meanwhile, Scott Tracy enters the ice cave, ready to face The Hood. Introduced here for the first time is the International Rescue cold weather uniform. Many may argue that because no such version of the uniform is seen in the series it shouldn’t be used here. However, similar to what I said in my Introducing Thunderbirds article, if nothing original was invented in these new episodes like new costumes, vehicles, characters, sets or props and everything was an exact replica of something from episodes 1-32, they wouldn’t have been made in the spirit of the original series. The 60s production team were constantly making changes or additions to what was seen on screen based on what the episodes needed. These episodes can stand up as episodes of Thunderbirds in their own right because they do something that every good episode of the original tried to do, and that was to bring something new and exciting to the screen and keep pushing and pulling the format of the show to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Yes, Thunderbirds 1965 attempts to re-create aspects of the original series, but these are new adventures which have their own set of demands and requirements. Making changes to things like costumes was a necessary element to keeping everything fresh. And let’s be honest, the cold weather uniform does look pretty cool… or do I mean warm?

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Penelope’s struggle while tied to the girder is a particularly fine piece of puppeteering which demonstrates a great deal of control over the marionette. Even though she is standing still, her small and subtle movements bring the character to life. Combined with some well used live action hand inserts and the fast-paced editing, this scene captures the race-against-time drama of Thunderbirds superbly.

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Scott enters the scene and aims his gun at The Hood. A hysterical outtake for this shot can be seen by clicking on the image above. Using a combination of live action and puppets in the same shot was ocassionally used in the original series with some rather surreal results.

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With carefully timed pyrotechnics in Scott’s gun and the control panel, Scott is seen to shut off the laser beam by opening fire at the controls. The shot only lasts for a few seconds but if you watch closely you can see that the explosions are perfectly timed one after the other.The Hood has been shot by Scott’s tranquiliser and Penelope appears to be safe.

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Parker arrives just a little bit too late to be of much help, but I love his little hat and his pickaxe all covered in just the right amount of snow.

While Scott, Penelope and Parker are distracted, The Hood jumps up and has just enough time to set off the destruction of the control panel and the entire ice cave before escaping.

Thunderbird 2 finally arrives on the scene but sadly doesn’t get to do too much before Scott orders Virgil to keep away from the impending detonation of the mountain. It seems unusual that, with the exception of Introducing Thunderbirds, Thunderbird 2 and Virgil don’t appear in the original mini-album recordings used for Thunderbirds 1965. These new episodes do a good job of adding them in where possible but it is unfortunate that they don’t have a true opportunity to shine – if only the mini-albums had been a little more geared towards providing some epic Thunderbird 2 action!

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Thunderbird 1 takes off just in time before…

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BANG! The whole mountain goes up in a ball of smoke and fire! True Thunderbirds style!

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A lovely little shot of the snow covering up the footprints of the abominable snowman… but does that mean The Hood had special shoes when he was stamping around pretending to be the snowman? An important question…

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Thunderbirds 1 and 2 rendezvous and fly back to base to mark the end of the episode. Barry Gray’s magnificent music swells to a triumphant climax as it rightly should. I’m sure the crew were glad to be finished with blowing polystyrene snow around!

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Considering this was the first episode to go into production, Stephen La Rivière and his team utilised and improved upon their experience from their documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation, to produce a fantastic episode of Thunderbirds with so many classic elements faithfully brought back to the screen after a long absence.

Next time – David Elliot is back in the director’s chair, and the homes of the English aristocracy are being robbed, with Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward next on the list! It’s The Stately Homes Robberies.

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Thunderbirds 1965: Introducing Thunderbirds

For those of you who aren’t aware there are now 35 episodes of Classic Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds 1965 project was funded by Kickstarter backers and produced by Stephen La Rivière and the Pod 4 Films team. They attempted to bring three Thunderbirds audio adventures to the screen using classic Supermarionation techniques. The finished results are superb pieces of work which recreate the Thunderbirds formula, warts and all. After all, no episode of Thunderbirds is perfect in terms of continuity or sophistication. The Thunderbirds 1965 team have worked tirelessly to artistically capture the essence of those slight imperfections which are still incredibly enchanting to watch. This resulted in 3 episodes that truly feel like episodes of Thunderbirds made in 1965, something which only a dedicated team of Supermarionation experts could have achieved.

In this series of articles I intend to take a close look at each of the three new episodes, often looking at individual shots, and analysing what makes them so much of an authentic Thunderbirds experience. Today I’ll be taking a look at Introducing Thunderbirds, based on the Century 21 mini album of the same name released in October 1965. This is a prequel to the series which sees Lady Penelope and Parker travel to Tracy Island and meeting Jeff Tracy for a tour of the International Rescue headquarters.

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Written by Alan Fennell
Directed by Justin T. Lee

Forget Trapped in the Sky, this is the first episode of Thunderbirds. From the outset, the minutest details line up to convince the viewer that they are watching an episode produced in the aftermath of Stingray and Trapped in the Sky was in pre-production.

Following the original 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown from the glorious high definition prints of the series yet to see a full release in the UK, the attentive viewer is met by the familiar Thunderbirds theme. Well, sort of. You see, Trapped in the Sky features a unique version of the opening theme which was changed on future episodes. It is also the only episode to feature sound effects during the teaser montage following the countdown. Introducing Thunderbirds utilises this same version of the theme and also includes sound effects in order to give the impression that it was produced around the same time as Trapped in the Sky before changes were made to the series on episode 2, Pit of Peril.

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When I first heard this version of the theme at the premiere screening on January 4th 2016 I knew that dedicated Thunderbirds fans were in for a treat. A great level of care had clearly been taken by the production team to satisfy those who knew the series inside out. It was a brave move to not include the “proper” version of the Thunderbirds theme on the first episode but it illustrates that Thunderbirds is full of inconsistencies and in order to recreate the series truly, those inconsistencies and imperfections had to be carefully included in the new episodes. They don’t cause distraction or ruin the experience but enhance it and make the viewer believe that they are watching Thunderbirds as it would have been produced by the original AP Films team.

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The episode opens with stock footage of Tracy Island, as seen in Trapped in the Sky, set to music from Stingray. Music from the previous Supermarionation series makes up the majority of the soundtrack for Introducing Thunderbirds which maintains the illusion that this episode was produced immediately after shooting had finished on Stingray. This is solidified further by the shots of Lady Penelope’s yacht which follow. Imagine if this episode were produced in 1964, and Gerry and Sylvia Anderson themselves had said “Well, we’ve just filmed 39 episodes of Stingray which had a lot of water shots. Derek Meddings and his team must be good at them by now, so maybe we’ll start our next show with some water shots too, that way we know they’ll be decent.”

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Of course the special effects shots directed by Stephen La Rivière and Justin T. Lee here are beyond just being decent. A birdseye view shows FAB 2, Lady Penelope’s yacht, cruising across the screen from left to right. The way craft appear to move on screen in all the Thunderbirds 1965 episodes is very reminiscient of the original series. They move in the direction they’re going either by remaining stationary with the background moving behind them, or they enter screen one way and exit the other way. It’s a basic cinematic language which reflects the punishing schedule of filming in the sixties, and how miniatures were shot as a whole back then. The Thunderbird 1965 could have filmed their models in a more complex and dynamic way, but by retaining these simpler shots, the result is much more authentic. The way the boat moves, combined with the very blue and, rippling water, the lighting, and the quality of the model itself all add up to a shot that could easily have appeared in the original series.

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Above we have the deck of FAB 2 and our first glimpse at the marrionettes. The camera pans up as Parker walks towards Penelope. The way the puppet walks certainly doesn’t convince anyone that the characters are anything other than puppets, but the walking in the original series never convinced the viewer of that either. In fact I have to say that this walking shot is one of the best I’ve ever seen in Supermarionation, immediately indicating the care that went into shooting the puppets for these episodes. The Penelope and Parker puppets that star in all three episodes are absolutely stunning. The marrionettes crafted by Barry Davies for this mini-series are excellent recreations and Penelope in particular is a triumph. As one of the less-caricatured faces in Thunderbirds, recapturing her features must have been difficult, but Davies has really succeeded here.

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When the characters speak, the dialogue isn’t new. The adventure was originally recorded for release on LP in 1965. The recording has been cleaned up by Mark Ayres and in the case of Introducing Thunderbirds, the story has been changed little in this screen adaptation. Cuts have been made to the more descriptive dialogue now that the audience can see what’s going on, but beyond that the episode is a straightforward visual interpreation of the original recording with a few bits and pieces added or taken away.

As they approach Tracy Island, Penelope and Parker take to the water in FAB 1. A beautiful model of FAB 1 is combined with a fantastic recreation of the puppet scale FAB 1 set. Behind is a set of FAB 2’s cargo hold. The sets were built by Hilton Fitzsimmons against a tough schedule and when combined with similar lighting to the original series, they look like they could have been designed and built by Bob Bell. The sets feature the same props, instruments, patterns and fonts that were used to detail the sets back in the sixties, with Fitzsimmons often sourcing the same materials.

FAB 1 sails through the water with little splashes appearing on the windscreen and drives up the ramp onto Tracy Island. Jeff Tracy awaits them. There are lots of things I love about this shot.

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1. The palm trees swing back to make way for FAB 1 because of course they do.
2. The miniature of Jeff standing on the runway is just like the poorly detailed little figures that the special effects team on the original series always used.
3. The flat angle that this shot is filmed from is very remeniscient of shots of FAB 1 from the original series.
4. FAB 1 is completely dry after its dip in the ocean. I doubt any of the directors on the original series would have remembered to make the model or set vaguely damp either. A classic bit of Thunderbirds discontinuity.

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Jeff Tracy meets Lady Penelope and Parker for the first time on screen. He’s sporting his best flamingo shirt for the ocassion. Jeff had some questionable fashion choices in the original series, and Liz Comstock-Smith has brilliantly captured this and the distinct look of all the characters’ costumes perfectly. It was an excellent choice to create all new designs for the characters rather than borrowing all of them from previous episodes. New additions like these costumes are an exciting treat. It wouldn’t be as much fun if every single element was an exact copy of something from episodes 1-32.

However, there was one aspect of the series that did have to be an exact copy. The Tracy Lounge.

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The huge Tracy Lounge set was beautifully recreated for the Thunderbirds 1965 project using measurements taken from 3D computer renderings of shots from the original series to ensure that everything was exactly the right size. The details are superb, with paintings, plants, furniture, books and other props made to look exactly like they did on the set as it appeared in the first 26 episodes of Thunderbirds with one exception. In place of Penelope’s portrait, a painting called ‘Mexican Plain’ from the Supercar episode, A Little Art. We’ll get to why that is later.

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Parker brings in Penelope’s suitcases, providing a great deal of light humour which is what makes Thunderbirds so enjoyable to watch. Meanwhile, Jeff begins to explain the details of the International Rescue organisation to Penelope. First he talks through all of the portaits on the wall as the camera pans across the five Tracy Brothers.

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The original images used for the portraits in the first series of Thunderbirds no longer exist, so the team carefully captured the images from the episodes themselves and included them in the set. It simply would not have looked right to see the later portraits used in the series 1 version of the set.

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After falling over several times, Parker’s shins become bruised. Though not specified in the dialogue, the team decided to dirty Parker’s trousers to suggest his many falls. Wonderful detail. Then Jeff begins to describe the function of the space station Thunderbird 5, a sequence which is opened by what is possibly my most favourite shot from the entire Thunderbirds 1965 project.

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What a great shot. The camera gazes up at Jeff with his sharp eyes looking up into space as if he can see all the way into orbit. His flamingo shirt really is absolutely fabulous. This composition really reflects Thunderbirds’ striking comic strip style and brings the character to life. This is a shot that sums up the incredible excitement of Thunderbirds. I’m so glad that this pose made it onto the cover of the DVD and Blu-ray. Absolutely love it.

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Jeff, Penelope and Parker leave to make their tour around the island. Parker is charged with the burden of carrying Jeff’s mobile control console. It’s a heavy, clunky, bright red piece of Thunderbirds technology. It has that typical 60s view of future technology that the series is well known for with lights, bright colours, and lots of buttons to press. Note the kit part under the side handle.

We get to our first commerical break with the screen fading to black in a way that looks exactly like it was shot and edited on film.

Jeff, Penelope and Parker stop FAB 1 at a point on the island which Thunderbirds fans have never seen before, a vantage point overlooking the swimming pool. That’s another treat that comes from this project, getting to see locations or shots that didn’t appear in the series.

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Jeff turns on his control unit to watch the launching of Thunderbird 1. The high definition stock footage has been treated very skillfully to look like the slightly flickering and blurry images that appear on screens in Thunderbirds owing to the way the effect was originally achieved.

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The launch sequences are the same as those originally shot for Trapped in the Sky and reused throughout the rest of the series. The use of stock footage in Thunderbirds 1965 has two purposes. It allows the production team to show things on screen as they appeared originally without having to go to the enormous expense of shooting a very similar sequence again – a technique used well, and not so well, in the series. The second purpose, as I’ve just touched upon, is the fact that stock footage is reused constantly in the original series anyway so it’s something of a staple of Thunderbirds. Sometimes it matches up with specially shot sequences, sometimes it really doesn’t. The reuse of footage is the thing that contributes a huge number of continuity errors. That footage is, however, an important part of what makes Thunderbirds, Thunderbirds. So quite rightly, the TB65 team have used shots from the original series whenever necessary in their episodes in order to expand on certain elements and achieve things that their limited budget couldn’t accomodate.

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Once Thunderbird 1 has blasted off, the trio drive to the other side of the island to watch the launching of Thunderbird 2. Parker admires the “photo” in the lounge which Virgil uses to access the launch slide. Penelope corrects him, stating that “Parker always calls paintings, photos.” Her voice oozes with condescension which is brilliantly reflected in the way the puppet’s eyes shift, Jeff gives a little look and Parker furiously drops the control unit. A great example of the marionettes being used to show very human emotions.

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The brilliant Thunderbird 2 launch sequence begins. Doesn’t she look beautiful?

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With the aid of modern editing, I assume it would have been easy, or at least possible, for the editors to fix the continuity error pictured below from the original stock footage. Despite selecting Pod 4, Pod 2 is seen on the left of Thunderbird 2 before it leaves the hangar when it should be Pod 3. Due to the constant reuse of this shot, the same error occurs multiple times in the original series. Therefore, to allow for the authentic Thunderbirds experience, the error has been retained here. It just wouldn’t have been Thunderbirds if it had been fixed so that the ‘2’ became a ‘3’. Instead, they kept the original stock footage as any director or editor on the original series would have done. As I’ve said before and will continue to say again, Thunderbirds is by no means perfect so to go back and fix those errors wouldn’t produce the same result as the episodes made in the 60s.

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Now I could be wrong, but is this a new shot of TB2 on the runway?

I don’t recognise it but it looks so much like an original part of the launch sequence that I’m torn between saying whether it was shot by Pod 4 Films, or AP Films. Now that’s how talented the people behind these episodes are. The Thunderbird 2 model used on this project which features more prominently in The Abominable Snowman is a stunning replica of the first Thunderbird 2 model used in the original series.

Parker looks out across the ocean as Thunderbird 2 takes off with the sun in his eyes. Such a clever detail which makes the whole world seem so believable and makes the puppets seem like real people.

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Pod 4 is dropped in the ocean and Parker watches the launch of Thunderbird 4 through some binoculars which is a really lovely prop. The classic ‘looking through binoculars’ effect which is used so much in Thunderbirds is put to use here over the stock footage of Thunderbird 4 hurtling down the launch ramp into the water.

Next, the characters head up to the Round House to watch the launch of Thunderbird 3. The camera moves down from looking out at the ocean to Jeff, Penelope and Parker standing at a railing. It’s a charming shot for many reasons. The viewer gets a good look at the ocean backdrop which looks exactly the same as what can always be seen out of the windows of the Tracy Villa in the original series. The effect is achieved by simply sticking pieces of tinsel to a dark blue backdrop and allowing them to shimmer in the light. With the talent of people like Anderson stalwart Richard Gregory on the team, they could easily have come up with a more sophisticated effect that looked more convincing on screen. But in order to make it look more like Thunderbirds, they had to go with this more primitive approach which looks superb.

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Now take a look at those strings. Yes, we can all see them. And we can all see them in the original episodes. The AP Films and Century 21 team tried so hard in all of the Supermarionation shows to hide them. Sometimes, even under the scrutiny of high definition blu-ray players, they appear to have succeeded. But sometimes they didn’t. The Thunderbirds 1965 team sourced the same type of wire to string their puppets and as a result, the visibility of the strings is on par with the standard set by the original series. They don’t distract the viewer or reduce the integrity of the puppet performances, in fact you barely notice them. If Gerry Anderson could have had the option of digitally removing the strings back in the 60s I’m certain he would have done. Unfortunately for him, that technology wasn’t available and as a result the puppet control wires are visible to those who seek them, and therefore in order to remain faithful, they’re also just about visible in these new episodes.

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I know it sounds obvious, but with Thunderbird 1 having already been launched, Scott isn’t around to co-pilot Thunderbird 3 with Alan. This makes for a bit of a problem with stock footage because most of the time when Thunderbird 3 is launched, Scott is sat right next to Alan. Fortunately, in Danger at Ocean Deep, Alan is accompanied by Brains when going up to Thunderbird 5 and the launch sequence was reshot accordingly. Therefore that is the sequence used here. Once again this shows some great expertise of the original series for the editors to know that this was the only version of the launch sequence that they could use. Thank goodness AP Films went to the effort of reshooting the launch sequence for Danger at Ocean Deep or this sequence wouldn’t have made as much sense. 

Unfortunately in between getting off the sofa in Thunderbird 3 and getting in the elevator up to the control room, Alan suddenly changes into his outfit from Sun Probe, reusing shots from that episode. This is a problem with the sequence from Danger at Ocean Deep and there’s no way the makers of Introducing Thunderbirds could have gotten around this aside from building a replica of the Thunderbird 3 control room, specially creating a replica of Alan’s Danger and Ocean Deep costume, and shot for shot remaking this short scene with their own Alan puppet. Not only would this have been somewhat jarring anyway, but seeing as they didn’t bother to do it in Danger at Ocean Deep, it makes sense that they wouldn’t do it for Introducing Thunderbirds either. Again, it all helps to make this feel like a Thunderbirds episode made in the 60s with the same restrictions that they had back then.

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With the tour concluded, evening falls on Tracy Island, and Penelope and Jeff are in the library. They have changed outfits – something which happens often in the Thunderbirds 1965 episodes and demonstrates the great versatility of the costume designer.

Jeff goes to open the safe where secret documentation about International Rescue is stored only to discover it’s completely empty. Penelope immediately suspects Parker who appears from around a corner, a hilarious moment which got a lot of laughs at the premiere screening.

PDVD_038.jpgJeff is surprisingly chilled about Parker breaking into his safe and stealing the top secret plans of the entire organisation and remarks that with Lady Penelope and Parker on the team, ‘Thunderbirds are definitely go’. The episode concludes with an incredibly stirring montage of all five Tracy brothers in control of their respective craft set to the standard end title music. And remember that mysterious painting in place of Penelope’s portrait that I mentioned earlier? In a wonderful touch, her portrait is now revealed in its rightful place, signifying that she now has full membership to the organisation and the series is now ready to begin. Its a fantastic sequence which serves as a great tribute to a team of heroes that have been thrilling and entertaining generations of viewers for over 50 years.

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The end credits utilise the Trapped in the Sky edition of the closing theme, in-keeping with the style set in the opening titles. Even the Mole is absent from the end credits as it wasn’t included as standard until Pit of Peril.

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Congratulations to Justin T. Lee for directing a very fun episode of Thunderbirds. Originally, Introducing Thunderbirds was designed purely to serve as an extended piece of exposition to explain the format of Thunderbirds to those that were unfamiliar with it at the time. Turning the fairly bland script into a full episode that could stand up with the others must have been a daunting task. The team succeed in making an exciting adventure which has several treats for hardcore fans of the series, and is the perfect introduction or re-introduction to Thunderbirds for casual viewers.

Stay tuned for the next Thunderbirds 1965 article where we take a journey to the Himalayas for an encounter with the abominable snowman!

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Terrahawks: HD Preview Clip!

Take a look at this beautifully restored clip from the Terrahawks episode Gunfight at Oaky’s Corral. This clip comes from the upcoming HD release of Terrahawks on blu-ray. This summer, Network will be releasing the first 13 episodes which make up series 1.

Click on the image below to see the clip:

Terrahawks HD Gunfight at Oaky's Corral

As you can see, the quality is so much crisper and cleaner than the DVD release which utilised video tape copies as their source. The source for this blu-ray release are recently rediscovered original film prints.

Looking forward to more clips like this from the Gerry Anderson YouTube channel and the release of the first series!