Saturday, 4 April 2015

Top Six Amazing Thunderbirds Rescues

After fifty years (and ignoring one production which must not be named) Thunderbirds is returning to screens with new stories. It's a chance for entirely new audiences to discover the show and for the franchise to live on. Still, with a few hours to go, that doesn't mean we can't look back at the classics one last time to pick out a few favourite moments.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Thunderbirds was a children's television show during the 1960s focusing upon International Rescue, a privately funded search and rescue organisation. Run and operated by the Tracy family, and backed by their considerable wealth, it operated anonymously, answering calls for help which the local authorities could not deal with. When not rescuing others, they were occasionally called to assist in matters of espionage or deal with threats to their own secrecy.

While many viewers today are more familiar with the parody Team America, the show itself was a huge hit at the time and held a cult following for several decades to come. Given this was long before the coming of Lord Bruce of Timm, it's cartoon competition was often lacking in terms of serious storytelling or animation, so it's not hard to see why. This is ultimately being written for those familiar with the show however, so be warned that spoilers are likely to arise.

Still, without further ado, here's a few of the best rescue operations to ever show up in its original run.

6. Day of Disaster - Rogue Rocket

One of the few moments where Thunderbird 4 was given the chance to be at the forefront of any rescue efforts, and ultimately a situation which really symbolises what the series was about. You had a disaster too great for the authorities to handle, trapped innocents, a ticking clock and International Rescue having to find some way to emerge victorious.

Despite through testing and preparations, as the rocket for NASA's Martian Space Probe operation is being brought across the Allington Bridge, the structure buckles under its weight. Tilting and then collapsing, the rocket is dragged into the river along with both astronauts, burying them under hundreds of tons of debris. Worse still, the impact has initiated the rocket's internal countdown timer, which is slowly ticking away until liftoff and certain death for those inside.

What makes this one interesting is the front-line roles of characters. Unlike almost every other episode in the series, International Rescue itself isn't called to assist in the rescue. In fact, it's quite the opposite, with the bridge controller refusing to call for help in order to deal with the matter himself. What's more is that this was a chance for Brains, the creator of so many of the show's wonderful toys, to get a front-line seat in assisting the others. First sneaking inside the control centre to gain information on the disaster itself and then quietly guiding the operation from one side.

With an ending involving them escaping with the skin of their teeth, a rather unique use of explosives and a few unexpected twists; it follows a traditional formula but messes with it enough to keep it truly engaging.

5. Ricochet - Brace For Collision

Thunderbird 2 is one of the vehicles which tends to get the most screen time, but hardly the most glory. It was the utility belt of the group, used to bring some shiny new piece of equipment or rescue vehicle onto the scene more than save the day itself. This said, Ricochet is one of the episodes where the vehicle was given a chance to be at the front and centre of the action rather than a taxi.

After a rocket goes off course and critically damages a pirate radio satellite, causing it to begin tumbling out of orbit. With a Middle-Eastern oil refinery as its destination, Thunderbird 3 attempts to rescue the remaining crew as 2 moves to intercept the rogue spacecraft before it hits its target. However, before they can fire upon the vehicle, voices are heard still being broadcast from within. With the satellite now low in the atmosphere, Virgil and Brains find themselves unable to risk killing a man in cold blood, even to save hundreds of others. Their only answer lies in a far more dangerous plan instead.

This is only half of the story to be sure, but it's this latter half which proves to be the most memorable. While Alan's docking and rescue with the satellite is a crucial moment to be sure, the visual impact of Thunderbird 2 being effectively used as a bumper car to knock it off course is the far stronger of the two. Not to mention the far more dramatic when the two become entangled before they can break free.

It's one of the more infamous moments where the show truly went "damn physics, full drama ahead!"
If anything though, that only made watching it all the more awesome.

4. Vault of Death - "May I borrow one of your hair-clips, milady?"

As important as the brothers and their magnificent flying machines are, International Rescue's agents hold a special place in the fandom's hearts. It's moments like this which really remind you why.

The situation is dire. Accidentally trapped within a air tight vault inside the Bank of England, a man is slowly suffocating to death. After realising that their equipment cannot hope to breach the main door in time, and the only key too far away to reach, Alan and Virgil take to the underground in the hopes of cutting in via a far weaker wall. As this is taking place, Lady Penelope and her butler Parker arrive, only to have their own plan to solve it fail. Parker at this point, former criminal and safe-cracker, takes one look at the inches thick door and asks for a hair-clip. Just seconds after the other two forcibly blast their way inside with explosives, Parker manages to force the door open with a bent piece of wire.

Yeah, where million dollar equipment and high tech gadgets failed, one talented butler pulled it off with a hair-clip. Even if he arrived just after the others achieved their own goal, that alone earns it a place on this list.

The other reason that this stands out is that it's one of the more obvious moments where International Rescue is forced to find a way around the shortcomings of their equipment. Usually the initial solution comes from deploying something new or taking a new approach with their technology rather than abandoning it entirely to achieve their objective.

3. Attack of the Alligators! - Reptile War

Of all the episodes on this list, this is easily the most unique of the entire series. While hardly averse to science fiction of any form, it was the first time Thunderbirds really went into full bore mad science on a genetic level.

The threat here came not from natural disasters, sabotage or a prototype gone haywire, but a lab experiment gone wrong. In their efforts to solve world hunger, a group of scientists are developing a food additive. Labelled Theramine, it is soon proven to encourage gigantism in flora and fauna of all sorts. As it turns out, experimenting on this next to a river with a booming population full of alligators was a disaster waiting to happen. One act of attempted industrial sabotage later, and suddenly the isolated house the scientists are working in is surrounded by kaiju.

The episodes itself focuses primarily upon the scientists being besieged inside the building, slowly being driven deeper into the basement by the monsters. Even once Thunderbird 1 arrives to try and buy more time, things do not improve, leaving Scott trapped within the building himself. The actual solution finally arrives with the deployment of Thunderbird 2 and 4, picking them apart with tranquiliser guns and heavier duty weaponry.

Yeah, it's mostly here for the reptiles, but it's also where more or less the entire unit gets a chance to shine. Scott single-handedly braving the house, Virgil bringing down the biggest ones with a missile, and Gordon and Alan taking them out with the aforementioned tranquilisers, then trying to lead the remaining ones away on a hover sled. Well, all of them except John, as ever.

2. 30 Minutes After Noon - The Ticking Bracelets

While usually advertised as a show about a privatised rescue operation, the truth is that many Thunderbirds episodes were often more closely aligned with 1960s spy stories. Few really show that better than 30 Minutes After Noon which focuses upon betrayal, sabotage, organised crime and infiltrating a hostile group launching terrorist attacks. How do they start this? By forcing unwilling innocents to bomb targets and steal documents by rigging them with explosive bracelets.

The actual moment worthy of mention in this episode isn't the initial rescue itself, where one of the aforementioned innocents is trapped in a burning building when his device goes off. Instead it's where International Rescue actually races to take down the much bigger threat involving a plutonium storage facility being sabotaged. If it goes up, apparently it'll take at least half of England with it.

With the MI5 spy who infiltrated the group trapped within and the criminals escaping, the heroes break up into two groups. Virgil and Scott force their way through the multiple blast doors to the center of the plant being held using the sort of vehicle which would usually be classed as a siege weapon anywhere else. At the same time, Lady Penelope races to stop their enemies as they attempt to flee in a helicopter. It's definitely among the best of the series, as there is something perpetually going on. Even in the build up to the disaster you have a spy trying to convince his way inside a hostile group, and once things get going you have a simultaneous chase sequence and rescue operation. It blends suspense with action, outstanding effects and some surprising twists such as when the heroes find they cannot possibly disarm the bombs. 

A definite high point for the series, and one beaten only by a single, far more famous moment.

1. Trapped in the Sky - Flight of the Fireflash

Or at least the landing, and really what else was going to be here? 

After being sabotaged, the new atomic powered hypersonic jet Fireflash is unable to land. With its main wheels rigged to explode should they deploy, and multiple efforts to reach the explosives failing again and again, a desperate plan is soon put into motion. With the arrival of International Rescue, and the atomic shielding rapidly failing, the jet is set to land atop several fast moving Elevator Cars. Tasked with keeping speed with the descending aircraft and bearing its immense weight, it takes two efforts to land the vehicle, each time almost ending in disaster.

This was the moment which defined Thunderbirds for many, including backer Lew Grade, and understandably so. It's the first real time we see International Rescue using their machines in action and, for its time, it was something which seemed big budget for the small screen. For both the fictional world of the setting and the audiences, this was the first chance people had to see just what the group could pull off. Outdoing anything seen in Stingray, and even following series, it showed something which should have otherwise required a film budget pulling off an action packed finale with surprising realism for its time. Despite it being five decades old now, it's safe to say it's aged fairly well.

The success of this rescue really cemented what was to follow and left the pilot on a bright note, with Jeff Tracy proudly announcing "Boys, I think we're in business." 

So, those are the best rescues of the classic series from this writer's point of view. If you've got your own ones you'd like to throw out there or disagree with any please leave them in the comments, i'd like to hear what fond memories others have.

1 comment:

  1. "We're not gonna make it! We're running out of runway!"

    No matter how many times I watch that sequence, it never fails to send shivers up my spine.