5-4-3-2-1... It's FAB FRIDAY folks! Welcome to the wonderfully fascinating allure of all things spectacular from the world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
It's worth mentioning that this Sci-Fi Fanatic certainly has a bit of fun with that introduction, but is not blind to the fact there were many others behind the camera that made Thunderbirds go as well as other Anderson productions. There were plenty of players behind-the-scenes that made these productions a success. Like Gene Roddenberry, Gerry Anderson knew how to spot and acquire talent. Derek Meddings, Martin Bower, Martin Landau, Keith Wilson and the list goes on. I brought to your attention producer Reg Hill and his significant contributions behind Thunderbirds in my coverage of City Of Fire [S1, Ep3]. Hill's role cannot be understated and sometimes I feel I should be announcing all things spectacular from the world of Gerry Anderson and Reg Hill with Sylvia Anderson. I don't put this lightly. Anderson reflected quite fondly on the late Hill in FAB #24.
Anderson remembers Hill as the designer behind Stingray and Supercar, an excellent model maker and designer for the group. Again, he was critical in establishing the Special Effects division for Derek Meddings and puppeteer Christine Glanville. Anderson emphasizes Hill's contributions. "The only thing that Reg did not do well was to sell himself. The media latched on to the idea of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the husband and wife team." They indeed sold the husband and wife collaboration. FAB FRIDAY certainly pays homage to that dynamic here. Anderson continued, "For them it made a good story and they pushed it like mad. Reg was the producer of Thunderbirds and the managing director of our company. I was the chairman and it should have been Anderson and Hill, but no matter how hard I tried, it never appeared that way in the press." This, of course, says a lot about the ego of Reg Hill and his amazing contributions to the series. Anderson called Hill "a pillar of strength throughout the great Century 21 adventure." Anderson makes it clear if ever he had to wage war he would most want Hill by his side. It's important to appreciate the likes of Reg Hill, Derek Meddings and Christine Glanville as key components concerning the success of Thunderbirds. There are many as we continue to pay tribute to all connected to the terrific world of Thunderbirds.
The latest in our perilously close look at Thunderbirds offers a healthy dose of our favorite International Rescue craft with Thunderbirds, Series 1, Episode 8, Operation Crash-Dive. The latest installment can best be described as a sequel of sorts to the Thunderbirds classic, Trapped In The Sky [S1, Ep1]. Not only do we get our required dose of Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 2, but we unleash the return of the atomic-powered airliner known as the Fireflash. We also see our second heroic appearance of the classic Thunderbird 4, which first appeared in The Mighty Atom [S1, Ep6].
It's also worth noting that around the time Operation Crash-Dive was being filmed it was decided to extend the episode length of each entry from twenty-five minutes to fifty minutes at about 40,000 Quid [British sterling] per installment. This presented certain challenges as the first episodes had already been completed. Thus, additional footage was shot for Trapped In The Sky during the filming of Operation Crash-Dive so that the Thunderbirds opener would meet the new length requirements. This was done for many of the pre-Operation Crash-Dive episodes.
I must confess that these vehicles have and always will be the real stars in this series for me. It is a love affair beyond words. The iconic craft capture something truly nostalgic for me as noted in my recent special, The Sci-Fi Fanatic BIG 10 Thunderbirds Vehicles. They are simply breathtaking as far as geek love for designs goes and I never tire of adoring them. Whether its looking back at these wonderful Gerry Anderson creations through these wonderful episodes, still images of the plethora of angles taken of each design created by Derek Meddings and company or through the acquisition of some of the representations of these craft by an assortment of die cast replica makers like Aoshima or Product Enterprise, they continue to fascinate. So if my attention tends to go to the visuals and the action in these Thunderbirds classics you'll know why. That's not to say I don't have a fondness for Virgil, Penelope, Brains and the lot. Wooden puppets aside, these are genuinely beloved, fully-formed characters with real personality like the aforementioned designs they piloted.
The story focuses on Fireflash 3. When a mayday is reported no time is wasted as four air to sea rescue jets are launched along with a very nifty hydrofoil in Operation Seahawk. The hydrofoil is one of those watercraft that is a thrill to see because we so seldom see them on television or film. The craft has a rich history that dates back to the late 1800s and it was the British who played a significant role in developing the prototype craft design.
With no sign of the Fireflash the operation is cancelled and all remaining Fireflash vessels are grounded by the International Air Minister. Cut to Tracy Island and commence dreaming that you are laying poolside with the Tracy clan sipping pina coladas under those palm trees. Ah, sweet dreams.
Fortunately, Alan is manning Thunderbird 5 monitoring radio traffic and a device on T5 called the Auto-Fixer has picked up a position call from the Fireflash just moments before disappearing. His father, Jeff Tracy, requests he keep a watch on all Fireflash test flights.
Metal fatigue? Radiation? Sabotage? Gordon, Scott and Virgil stand by for action.
So, the International Air Minister sends up another Fireflash for live testing. It seems a little odd they would take such a risk with the experimental craft without any real answers to their first catastrophe. But, off it goes without explanation. Not much later, down it goes. Still, the Fireflash reports it's position, which differs, once again, from the Auto-Fixer on the T5. Following a break to auto-pilot, everything begins going bananas including the classic "gyro-stabilizers."
The Fireflash runs into a problem in the same location as the previously downed Fireflash 3 "just as we feared" says the control tower. Well, apparently, there wasn't quite enough fear, because the big shots went ahead and sacrificed another Fireflash and crew to the drink known as the big pond without debate. It's safe to say fearless was the operative word of the day.
Alan reports to his father. Jeff summons the boys who are doing what Tracy boys do - target practice fun! If they aren't reading papers or books, sipping drinks with Tin Tin by the pool, then they're sharpening up their six shooter skills. Gosh, the fabulous life of the Tracys. Who wouldn't want to be adopted by that fine group? Love, luxury, super weapons, peace and quiet on a tropical island. Sign me up!
Two men are trapped inside as the Fireflash sinks to the ocean floor. To think someone was off camera frame working with these puppets [Christine Glanville] or variously scaled aircraft is truly incredible. The action sequences and meticulous attention to detail combined with those wonderful Barry Gray compositions made for some truly invigorating and special Thunderbirds' magic. One man is rescued by a heli-craft. Scott, Virgil, Brains and Gordon head out with T1, T2 and T4 and it isn't long before Brains stutters his way to the realization that the men are trapped on the sea bed floor. One thing is certain, International Rescue has a way with working with the locals. For a stealth operation they do push the envelope.
My Boy Wonder raises that age-old question raised here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic in the past, why does T4 get a number and not the Recovery Vehicle? The Firefly? The Mole? It's like the eighth wonder of the world. Nevertheless, with no sign of the Fireflash this is a job for Gordon and the T4. Enjoy.
Oddly enough, the fish in that tank looked awfully similar to the small tropical fish and rising bubbles in my own fish tank. Call me crazy, but I believe that is the exclusive air pump bubbler effect. Hmmm.... The next several minutes of Thunderbirds exhibits the T4 in full-on action effect for the kiddies at home as it moves about the expansive and vast universe of the Supermarionation fish tank.
Voice actor David Graham did a wonderful job on Thunderbirds and provided voices for Brains, Gordon, Kyrano and Aloysius 'Nosey' Parker giving each a distinction all their own. Interesting here that Graham, at one point, has a conversation with himself in the role of Brains aboard the T2 instructing himself playing Gordon in the T4. Despite being an undeniable professional as voice artists go you can certainly note the voice of both characters as uniquely Graham's, even if for but a moment.
Gordon scubas outside the T4 and informs the two men through the Fireflash window that he will torch cut the Fireflash engines off the craft so the remaining body will gain buoyancy and float to the surface where they can be rescued. The one man submersible, T4, goes to work.
T4 gets the job done severing the engines. Are those the atomic engines? The Fireflash floats to the ocean surface. With the oxygen supply low, Gordon proceeds to save the men by cutting the glass to the cockpit. With the cockpit on fire, the men narrowly escape and are hoisted into T2.
T4 and T2 clear the area in a nick of time as the Fireflash explodes in a flash of several explosions conceivably of the atomic variety. This of course happens with the engines at the bottom of the ocean.
As the family celebrates over their brief mission success, it is suggested that International Rescue fly one of the Fireflash jets with T2 running in tandem for safety reasons so that they might isolate the defect within the craft. Yes, Thunderbirds are go! Again! Apparently the airport has Fireflashes to burn. By the way, interestingly enough, International Rescue, in the year 2065 mind you, still corresponds via a letter through snail mail. They can create incredible aircraft, atomic-powered Fireflashes, secret weapons and rescue gear, but e-mail or instant communique is simply of the question. Or is this simply the work of a clever International Rescue? "They never miss a trick," declares the recipient.
Gordon, Virgil and Scott [taking a backseat to Virgil here - I love Virgil!] are en route in T2 with T4. Scott takes the controls of a third Fireflash vessel with one of the pilots Gordon and team saved from the bottom of the ocean. That's one brave pilot. The T2 returns to the skies to assist the Fireflash test flight.
I always enjoy that. Speaking of the T2, we further compound the detailed coverage offered on T2 in The Vault Of Death [S1, Ep7] with consideration of pod loading as performed on Tracy Island in this case to transport T4. For those who adore all things T2 it's worth mentioning a terrific question asked of Gerry Anderson in FAB#65 by Ron Byron of Surrey. Byron correctly determined and ascertained after many years of viewing Thunderbirds, though I believe it has been an engineering mystery for many years by many fans, the loading of pods question appeared to be a physical impossibility. On Tracy Island the pods slide along a belt and halt beneath the underbelly of T2 while its legs are dropped. Now the camera angle is always static and from the front and never the side. Byron, through logical deduction determined that physics simply don't allow the pods to slide under the raised T2 as a result of the location of the vehicle's legs. In other words, there's not enough room for the pod to slide into position. Gerry Anderson responded honestly and with a degree of historical accuracy. "I always intend my programmes to be entertaining and the fact that no-one else has picked up on this error must mean that for the very vast majority I have done my job well." He added, "You also have to remember that we only ever envisaged a programme being seen once (as repeats were a rarity and home video recorders unheard of) so, whilst not wanting to appear sloppy, we never thought such accuracies were imperative." So there you have it from the horse's mouth on the impossible physics of our favorite T2.
In the end, Scott, with Alan's help from T5, discovers a faulty locator giving the incorrect position of the Fireflash. The Fireflash begins making its descent to the water. It will be splashdown in fifteen minutes.
Virgil and Gordon go to work. T2 gets underneath the Fireflash and Gordon is propelled inside the Fireflash underbelly. Unexpectedly, Gordon spots an intruder inside the Fireflash when the lower doors open.
That's a complete head-spinning Exorcist move from John Tracy on the couch. How does he do that? With just minutes and counting, Gordon spots wires that have been cut. Gordon is fired upon inside, but then the assailant jumps out of the Fireflash underbelly. Gordon puts the wires back together to the EPU [Elevator Power Unit] in a nick of time. The Fireflash is saved and so is Gordon. Yet, Thunderbirds leaves the question of the saboteur completely open-ended. This might seem fairly unexpected for a children's action adventure, but there was nothing neat and tidy about the events surrounding Operation Crash-Dive. So ends another thrilling International Rescue mission even if questions are unanswered. I couldn't help but wonder what happened to that very first downed Fireflash. As a kid, I'm sure it would have bothered me. Today, oh well, what's one more Fireflash amongst friends.
Operation Crash-Dive: B
Writer: Martin Crump. Director: Desmond Saunders.
Notable Thunderbirds: T1/ T2/ T4 [Pod 4]/ T5/ Fireflash/ EJ2 Helijet.