Thunderbirds – 1. Trapped In The Sky

Directed by Alan Pattillo

Teleplay by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson

First Broadcast – 30th September 1965

In order to avoid any pompous introductions about how “historic” and “iconic” this first episode is, let’s dive straight into the action.

For one time only we have the original Thunderbirds theme tune, which is heard in this episode and never again (aside from the TB65 episode, Introducing Thunderbirds). Also rather uniquely, sound effects are applied to the teaser montage. We get to experience Kyrano’s screams and Fireflash’s squeals before the episode starts. It’s touch chaotic and noisy for those of us used to the soundless teasers in every other episode. Note that the first shot in the teaser, The Hood’s eyes lighting up, is actually taken from a slightly different angle to what we see in the episode itself.

The rest of the title sequence introduces us to the Tracy brothers and their machines along with Brains and Lady Penelope. Thunderbirds 3 and 4 don’t appear in the series for a little while yet, but it’s nice that viewers are teased about space and underwater rescues being possible.

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This episode has no on-screen episode title, as was the case with most of the Supermarionation pilot episodes. Thunderbirds episode titles have a tendency to be a little bit cryptic, but Trapped In The Sky is pretty spot-on. It suggests a high level of threat but doesn’t give away what the threat actually is. Very intriguing.

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Here’s where our voyage into Thunderbirds begins: Deep in the jungle, a bald gentleman stands alone inside a massive temple. Barry Gray’s music strikes up and already we’re getting the impression that AP Films aren’t holding back with this one. The set is lavishly decorated, and there’s an air of mystery, a great way to start any pilot – by showing off something impressive and by making the viewer ask questions.

Rather than just dumping information, Trapped In The Sky does a good job of teasing the viewer with a mystery, and then revealing the answer to that mystery in a satisfying way. The viewer learns things about The Hood and International Rescue, and is shown them through an exciting story, rather than just being told about them.

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As if by magic, The Hood’s shiny curtains pull back to reveal a statue. It may not be an exact likeness of The Hood’s half brother, Kyrano, but it’s still a very nice piece. But why are there masks rotating around the base? We never actually see these disguises in use by The Hood which is a shame – the eyepatch guy looks like a fun alter ego.

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And so The Hood begins to deliver a monologue which I’m sure most die hard fans can recite by heart. He reveals his desire to learn the secrets of International Rescue. And he has some lovely flowers on his outfit. I can’t deny that his later gold costume was much more fabulous, but this one is still pretty cute – although somehow I don’t think that was the look he was going for. Also note the various paint chips at the bottom of the pillar. You can picture The Hood kicking it in frustration.

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Meanwhile, Jeff Tracy has received a letter informing him that Kyrano’s daughter Tin-Tin will be leaving London on Wednesday. Why Tin-Tin would send such a letter to Jeff rather than her own father is a bit of a mystery. But here we are, our first introduction to Tracy Island and Jeff Tracy. It’s nothing spectacular, we just catch a casual conversation between Jeff and Kyrano which fuels the plot. None of the exposition is clunky, it all serves the story.

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Jeff is darn proud of sending Tin-Tin to the finest American university. The amount of emphasis he puts on the word “American” is more than a little comical.

Within 45 seconds of being introduced to this nice, polite character, the audience witnesses Kyrano being mentally tortured, writhing in pain on the floor. Anyone who believes that the original Thunderbirds was ever solely aimed at children couldn’t be more wrong. This is pretty graphic and scary stuff. I distinctly remember being 5 years old first seeing Trapped In The Sky and geuinely hiding behind the sofa during this whole scene. In fact the whole episode was pretty tough to get through because The Hood practically traumatised me. My first viewing of Thunderbirds was mostly during the re-run in 2000, and I didn’t get over The Hood terrifying me until the episode Cry Wolf was broadcast – about 20 weeks later.

Look at him, he is absolutely terrifying. He is ruthless, insane, and has some fantastic eyebrows. The Hood is a character that often gets some mixed reviews. For some he’s a little too much like a pantomime-villain, soaked in melodrama and goofy comedy. At times that is the case, but Trapped In The Sky is by far his best apprearance and it’s just unfortunate that other writers couldn’t quite handle him correctly. He is full of pure anger and rage during this scene and it’s a shame he doesn’t freak out like this again in the series – even if it did traumatise me.

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Kyrano reveals that International Rescue is ready to start operating. What will The Hood do with this information? And what is so important about International Rescue? Yet more intrigue and questions to be answered. Here is the Fireflash, a rather striking aircraft which fans have drooled over for years and years – and I can’t say I blame them – it is a fascinating take on futuristic air travel.

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I must admit that the model-making side of the production of Thunderbirds is not my area of expertise, but I do love all of the toy and model cars that have been dotted around to populate the airport. And the detailed panel work on the Fireflash model looks great.

We get a look around the departure lounge. It’s not terribly busy and we don’t get a good look at many of the puppets in the background. One can only assume that weren’t many revamp puppets available that had been made in the slightly more sophisticated Thunderbirds style at this early stage. The girl in the head scarf looking out of the window could be Lady Penelope? We see the passenger sitting in the background later in the episode, and the chap in sunglasses reading the paper looks like Kyrano’s doctor who we see at the end of the episode.

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This is a slightly bizarre exchange between Tin-Tin and the flight attendant. If Tin-Tin’s so smart to have attended the finest American university and go on a tour of Europe, why does she need a flight attendant to tell her specifically which plane to get on? Particularly as Tin-Tin already knows a fair amount about the aircraft, knowing that it flies at six times the speed of sound. The flight attendant gives the most bizarre response to this fact saying, “That’s right, but don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe…” If there’s one thing viewers can learn from this, it’s that if something is supposed to be safe in Thunderbirds, it probably isn’t. All Tin-Tin did was mention the speed of the aircraft with absolutely no sign of concern or worry. She wasn’t at all troubled by the danger of the endeavour, yet somehow the flight attendant has us all pretty apprehensive now. Also, take a look at the cheap tat being sold on the souvenirs table in the background.

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Of course now the flight attendant has jinxed it! The Hood has planted a bomb on board while disguised as a mechanic. We’ll ignore how the heck he would have actually managed to get past security with a bomb in his bag. Security guards and safety inspectors are pretty worthless in Thunderbirds. But yes, The Hood has strapped a bright red bomb to the undercarriage of Fireflash. All in an effort to bring International Rescue into action. Again, this goes to show his absolute malevolence and insanity, that he would go to such extreme measures to get what he wants.

But never mind all that, we’ve got some gorgeous model shots of the Fireflash taking off. One really gets the impression that this is a massive plane with an enormous amount of power taxiing to the runway. Derek Meddings’ innovative rolling road combined with the rolling sky works very effectively at demonstrating the dizzying speeds of the Fireflash without taking up a lot of studio space. It’s a simple technique that I have seen used in other productions since, but never as well as it was done here.

Once the Fireflash has levelled out, passengers are told they can unfasten their safety belts, and smoke if they wish… Yes, even for a show that tries incredibly hard to not date itself, Thunderbirds is still a product of its time. Speaking of dating, it’s incredibly difficult to work out which parts of Thunderbirds were produced when. Lew Grade famously asked for the first 9 episodes to be extended to 50 minutes after they were already completed. This meant all sorts of material had to be shot alongside new episodes to extend the initial ones. One can’t possibly guarantee that every scene in Trapped In The Sky was shot at the same time as is the case with most early episodes. In this particular scene you can see characters from the episodes Pit of PerilCity of Fire and Sun Probe populating the background. It’s hard to determine exactly what this could indicate, but you will notice that certain revamp puppets appear quite often during certain batches of episodes. That’s one of the things we’ll dive into quite a lot thanks to this blu-ray release. Stay tuned for that excitement.

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Meanwhile, The Hood is being an absolute psycho once again and informing the London Airport Control Tower about his bomb and how it will devestate the plane and the surrounding area.

These video phones look very cool and it is rather satisfying that the same device pops up multiple times throughout the series. It’s just a shame that today’s mobile phones make them look a little clunky. Commander Norman, the chief controller of London Aiport and a firm fan favourite, is rendered utterly speechless by the call. He makes no attempt to question this potential act of terrorism, he just let’s The Hood finish his speech and is left pondering what on earth is going on. What a guy.

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Despite sound being selected only, The Hood chooses to remove his mask after he’s made the call for some reason. And his truck has magically appeared behind him.

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The Fireflash’s maiden voyage continues, and viewers get to be slightly freaked out by the fact the cockpit of Fireflash is at the rear of the plane – demonstrated by some shakey back projection. AP Films really improved and perfected their use of back projection during the production of Thunderbirds and after Trapped In The Sky one notices it a lot less.

Captain Hanson and his co-pilot share a sweet moment. Hanson musters up all his confidence to get up and go to talk to the “passengers”. His co-pilot immediately calls him out with the immortal line, “passengers or passenger, I saw her too and she’s kinda cute.” It is generally accepted that the passenger in question is Tin-Tin, but I guess it could have been any poor unsuspecting lady. Either way it’s a nice little exchange which makes the characters feel all the more human.

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Commander Norman breaks up the banter with the news that someone might have planted a bomb aboard Fireflash. Check out that Air Terrainean hat. The costume department must have made that hat with the intention that someone in the control tower  would wear it. But no-one does. It just sits there for the entire episode. I wonder why there were no volunteers…

 

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Tin-Tin and her travelling companion (I would say toy-boy but we won’t go there), are enjoying a very small bottle of wine together when she notices that the plane is losing height. It is announced that Fireflash is returning to London. The travelling companion is totally chilled about the whole thing but Tin-Tin is suddenly very concerned that it’s a very long way down… as if the plane might drop out of the sky at any moment. It must be the wine.

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Meanwhile, in space…

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Thunderbird 5 is keeping a watchful eye on the Earth. I have to say, contrary to popular opinion, I love the design of the original Thunderbird 5. It may be a tad thrown together from lots of spare parts but I think it’s a great shape, futuristic in a Thunderbirds kind of way. Unfortunately this is more or less the only stock shot we ever see of her for most of the series.

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I guess this is what John Tracy does for most of the day. He just stares at the Earth out of the window. He has two books on a little stool – quite an old-fashioned stool for such a futuristic space station. And apparently John needs reminding which organisation he works for. On the outside of the space station the “International Rescue” words are flipped, so the letters really are only up there for John’s benefit.

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The Thunderbird 5 control panel springs into action, allowing John to listen in to the panic on board Fireflash. The control panel is decorated with lots of interesting grilles and dials which all look important. The technology on Thunderbird 5 is pretty fantastical even by today’s standards, so the sheer size and extravangence of the control panel seems justified. And the big pink flashing light is cool too.

Here’s our first proper introduction to Tracy Island. Unfortunately, we don’t actually see very much of the island in the series, just the same stock shot with slight variations every so often. A stock shot of a real beach is also included here – very nice. Live action stock footage tends to stick out like a sore thumb in Supermarionation, but this work fairly well. The live action footage in the next episode, Pit of Peril, is quite a different story.

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We learn that Jeff Tracy was one of the world’s first men to land on the moon. Of course, just a few years after Thunderbirds was produced, the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon in 1969. What does that do to Jeff’s claim to fame then? Some say this vastly affects the year the series is set in. I tend to avoid worrying about that sort of thing. In September 1965 when this episode was first broadcast, Kyrano saying that Jeff was one of the first men on the moon would have sounded super cool. Jeff saying that it was all a long time ago would have made it sound even cooler and made the series seem super futuristic. It need not be considered much more than that.

Once again Kyrano is delivering a message addressed  to Jeff about his own daughter. One gets a sense during a lot of the series that Tin-Tin and Kyrano have a slightly strained relationship. They’re not exactly close and Tin-Tin certainly seems to have a much closer relationship with Jeff over Kyrano.

It’s quite likely that this scene was added to extend the episode to 50 minutes. Commander Norman wants to be extra sure that there’s a bomb on board so the control tower team x-ray the wing. The main sign that this scene was added later is that the table showing the TX-204 target carrying exercise, which we see later and is definitely an extension to the episode, is laid out behind Commander Norman. He announces that this is no hoax! What a line.

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Following the commerical break, we fade back in to London Airport with a rather jaunty piece of music by Barry Gray.

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Commander Norman’s just checking up on a pamphlet entitled “What To Do When Your Brand New Aircraft Gets A Bomb In It.”

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John’s still listening in on the action. He’s taken his books off of the weirdly old-fashioned stool now. And he’s put his hat on. The International Rescue hats are an interesting creation. For an organisation that gets mixed up in some pretty intense action, one wonders why they have hats to worry about. I mean in a slight breeze they’d just blow straight off.

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Commander Norman’s feeling pretty down about the whole thing. His line “They haven’t got a chance, we’ve just got to sit here and wait for them to die” was actually changed in the 90’s FOX Kids dub to “sit here and hope that they’ll live.” Bit more cheery.

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But John thinks he can offer them a miracle. That’s right folks, I’ve got the feeling International Rescue are about to kick into action.

Here’s a shot that’s always confused me slightly. The camera starts on the portraits and then spins across the room to Jeff’s desk. It looks weirdly sped up or has frames missing or something. Answers on a postcard please.

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Jeff is detailing the dangers of the International Rescue’s equipment. Here’s an example of a very uniquely Thunderbirds-ey piece of technology. Jeff’s using a typewriter that uses a microphone to automatically type what he’s dictating. Old school meets future technology in a bizarre mish-mash that you can totally believe works in the Thunderbirds universe.

Here’s our first look at the TV portraits. Such a cool invention and one of those things that people will forever associate with Thunderbirds.

So Jeff soon starts briefing the boys on their first mission. Not sure exactly what Alan and Gordon are being briefed on but I suppose it’s nice to have all the brothers there so we get a good look at them.

So here they are, Shane Rimmer as Scott Tracy, Ray Barrett as Alan Tracy, David Holliday as Virgil Tracy, and David Graham as Gordon Tracy… wait a minute…

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… yes, Ray Barrett… as Alan Tracy. Can you tell? I think you can tell. The story is that Matt Zimmerman had yet to be hired when Trapped In The Sky was originally recorded. In theory, however, he had been hired by the time the material to extend the episode had been recorded. The standard set of credits for the voice artists is used in this episode and features his name (not that that particularly means much – Anderson credits are notoriously unreliable for telling you who actually appeared in something). I just wish someone had insisted on re-recording that one line before it was decided the episode was done. It does raise some interesting questions about some of the episodes that follow this one. It’s perfectly possible that Matt Zimmerman originally missed more than just this episode – stay tuned for those insights soon.

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While Scott gets ready for launch, Jeff gives Brains a pat on the back. Notice that Brains is wearing a sort of grey/blue waistcoat. Remember that for later.

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Now perhaps you could help me out with this one. As Scott turns around on the wall panel, two characters are heard saying “Good luck Scott” and “Take it easy Scott.” One of those is likely to be Virgil as voice by David Holliday. Whose is the other voice? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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As Scott enters Thunderbird 1, it looks like the real AP Films studio wall can be seen behind him. Ever spotted that before?

The Thunderbird 1 launch music heard here only appears in this episode and Danger At Ocean Deep. Two other things of note here:

  1. Thunderbird 1 rotates very suddenly to its launch position. This is explained away rather neatly in Graham Bleathman’s cutaway artwork as TB1 being on a turntable to set it to a suitable launch position.
  2.  Lemon squeezer. But that’s been mentioned before a few times…

It’s hard to commentate on a sequence that we’ve all seen so many times before. It’s difficult to remember just how exciting it must have been to watch the Thunderbird 1 launch sequence for the first time.

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Blast off!

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Scott contacts John for more information and there’s a very odd moment at the end of this clip. You have to watch very closely but the footage appears to rewind for a split second at the end of the scene. A sign of a slight change to the editing of the episode? In the Trapped in the Sky audio album you can hear some additions to this scene that didn’t make it into the episode. Andrew Clements has restored the scene using alternative visuals in this video.

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Scott requests that Thunderbird 2 join the rescue effort, so Jeff dispatches Virgil straight away. Brains has disappeared to make the tea.

Director Alan Pattillo has cited the Thunderbird 2 launch sequence as being one of the hardest things to shoot about Trapped In The Sky. One can understand the difficulty. The puppeteers succeed in making Virgil not look like a lifeless doll going down the launch slide but it must have taken some careful work. Of course, evey kid dreamed of having their own Thunderbird 2 launch slide. I still do.

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Gerry Anderson talked about this shot being added to the episode in order to explain how Virgil changes from his civilian clothes into his uniform. It’s a nice touch to making the sequence more credible, although when exactly he has time to actually get changed is left up to one’s imagination.

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The mighty Thunderbird 2 rolls along the runway and blasts off. I have to agree with people who say that Thunderbird 2 never looked better than it does in this episode. The original Thunderbird 2 is the perfect shape and colour with nice, neat lettering. Also, spot the little struts underneath the rear of TB2 holding it up.

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Time for some padding! Yes, unfortunately the skill taken to add material to the original half hour episodes varies quite a bit during the series. Trapped In The Sky is an example of an episode that isn’t quite so delicately extended. London Airport’s own attempt to save the Fireflash is dumped in the middle of the episode. It’s an exciting sequence certainly, but it doesn’t add anything to the plot.

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Here’s the target practice tracking table… not entirely sure how it works… it looks more like a board game really.

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Here’s the TX-204. I rather like this funny little plane.

Padding upon padding. We get to watch Target One drop off a target and see an Air Force plane shoot at it. Not a particularly thrilling sequence, but we do get to see our first explosion in Thunderbirds outside of the opening titles. It’s a bit smokey and you can see some of the debris bounce off of the sky backdrop.

Target One is diverted to London Airport, much to the delight of the bored crew. Commander Norman and Lt. Meddings (named after special effects maestro Derek Meddings) share a sweet little moment after he volunteers to board Fireflash. “No Meddings, thank you.”

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News reaches International Rescue of what the London Airport team are planning. Jeff isn’t terribly confident. The production crew have attempted to make this added scene blend seamlessly with the previous scenes in the Tracy Lounge, and it almost worked… except Brains has lost his waistcoat.

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Meddings is all suited and booted ready for his dangerous mission. The Target One captain lets Meddings know that they’re right with him. I should hope so seeing as he’ll be dangling out of the back of the aircraft.

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As Captain Hanson updates the passengers, Tin-Tin and her travelling companion don’t seem all that fussed. They’re just continuing to get drunk so they don’t feel the enormous radiation leak that might hit them. Even in the state of emergency, the bar tender, who later appears as Ralph in Pit of Peril, is still mixing cocktails.

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The combination of back projection with the physical set in this shot makes Fireflash look like a real plane far off in the distance.

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So Meddings is winched across to the Fireflash on his little mini-plane thing. I won’t get too tied up in the laws of physics here but come on…

Meddings manages to leap on board the Fireflash. We get our first use of a live action hand insert in Thunderbirds here. Of course, hand inserts have been used in Supermarionation shows since the days of Supercar. Here’s the stupidest part of the whole episode: once Bob Meddings is inside the plane, the Fireflash pilots decide not to close the hatch. Maybe there’s a reason for this, but closing the hatch justs seems like the most obvious thing to do when a guy is hanging from a cable many thousands of feet up in the air.

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What a shame Meddings can’t reach bomb, just because Captain Hanson can’t be bothered to shut the hatch. Looks like he’s hanging on by one hand there. It’d be a really good idea to shut that hatch…

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He fell? Well there’s a surprise… I mean this entire sequence of padding wouldn’t be nearly as pointless if it didn’t end in such a spectacularly stupid way. If Meddings had failed to dismantle the bomb and somehow worsened the situation, that would have added something to the plot at least. It would have added some tension and drama. This padding just does nothing except demonstrate that you should really remember to shut your inspection hatches.

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Commander Norman is out of ideas. He could, of course ,suggest that they try the same thing again, and this time insist that Hanson actually shuts the hatch. But he doesn’t. In order to avoid the radiation safety factor expiring, the only suggestion Norman has is to try and land the plane and hope the bomb won’t explode. With not one breath taken to consider the lives of the 600 passengers that he’s endangering, Norman just assumes that that’s the best option. Things really are desperate.

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Thankfully, the voice of sanity arrives in the form of International Rescue. That is one thing the padding material does add in this case. A sense of relief that the professionals are finally here to take over.

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Thunderbird 1 is given permission to land. Note that the “T” of “Thunderbird 1” starts on the red nose cone. We’ll get to that later.

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The Hood is still around. Remember how he took his mask off to give us a cheeky smile? Well he’s put it on again. And now he’s going to take it off again to put on a different one. He’s planning to dress up as a police officer. That devious maniac.

Commander Norman is still acting weird. Now that his plan to risk the lives of the Fireflash passengers has been stopped, he’s being sceptical of International Rescue. Scott doesn’t like that one bit. He takes a savage dig at them saying “you can’t help them but I believe we can.” Now to be fair Scott, it wasn’t Norman’s fault that Meddings fell out of the plane. Did I mention someone should have shut that hatch?

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Part two of The Hood’s plan is set into motion. He’s successfully hi-jacked a police car and a police uniform. I love that his eyes light up when he’s happy. Pure insanity.

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Uh oh… people tend not to like this shot very much. It rather prominently shows that “T” on the nose cone that I mentioned earlier. The continuity of lettering on the various models of Thunderbird 1, 2, 3 and 4 is rather poor. A variety of fonts and sizes are gone through and it changes on pretty much every model. It’s considered a pretty heinous crime though for the word “Thunderbird” to be written on the bottom of TB1 like this. It never appears that way in the rest of the series… although I would like to address one thing. Technically this is the way Thunderbird 1 is seen at one point in every single episode. Take a look at the opening titles.

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Now yes, this is a shot taken during the production of Trapped In The Sky, but I just wanted to point it out to anyone who hadn’t noticed that you can see the letter “T” on the nose cone here too, and therefore in every episode.

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During the commerical break, Scott has managed to haul his “portable” mobile control unit to the top of the control tower. We never see how Scott or anyone manages to get the mobile control unit out of Thunderbird 1, and one can’t help but wonder whether it’s worth it a lot of the time. Here Scott uses a number of features on it so we’ll let him off, but it is a rather cumbersome piece of kit that is often only used as a radio.

Anyway, this is the famous Fireflash rescue sequence which is a pretty sacred moment for Thunderbirds fans so I’ll try not to ruin it by being overly critical like I was of all the padding. It’s a solid sequence which builds up tension, diffuses it and builds it up again perfectly… I just have one criticism… why is Scott smiling throughout the entire thing? They really should have used a different face for this bit. Scott is far too happy while explaining the incredibly dangerous plan to Captain Hanson.

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One more thing and then I promise to stop criticising. Thunderbird 1 has landed in a horizontal position. When The Hood enters the cockpit however, the ship is clearly stood up vertically. Okay I’ll stop now… He starts taking pictures using the camera concealed in his police hat.

The Hood triggers the automatic camera detector in Thunderbird 1, and Commander Norman quickly has the airport police on the case.

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Oh boy, Thunderbird 2 has come into land. This is probably one of the most exciting moments in the whole series – you’ll probably hear me saying that a lot. Barry Gray’s music swells to sheer perfection as the mighty Thunderbird 2 lifts up on its telescopic legs to reveal Pod 3. It’s such a fantastic moment and an excellent example of how Gray’s music makes an otherwise fairly standard model shot look incredible and memorable.

Pod 3 opens to reveals the Master Elevator Car. It’s a great reveal and the way Derek Meddings’ special effects team treats road vehicles is superb. The cloud of dust that puffs up from the wheels as the car heads down the ramp gives the model so much weight and credibility. As the first set of pod vehicles seen in series, the Elevator Cars do a great job of looking cool and doing a cool job. How such a large number of them fit in the pod is a bit of a mystery. The theory outlined in Graham Bleathman’s cutaway artwork is that pod vehicles can be stacked inside the pod and lifted up and down when needed. I like it – very Thunderbirds-ey.

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Meanwhile, the airport police fail to apprehend The Hood so Scott decides to contact an old friend…

Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward. One of the most recognisable and important characters in the history of television. Unfortunately she isn’t used to her full potential in this episode. But don’t worry, she proves herself later in the series. I don’t believe, however, that Lady Penelope’s subplot here is an add-on to extend the episode. Parker and Penelope were important characters for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson so I doubt they weren’t originally intended to appear in Trapped In The Sky.

Penelope is of course a picture of British gentility as she sits in her beautifully decorated manor house and pours tea.

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A split screen is used to show Scott and Penelope communicating via her special teapot. It’s a rather abstract editing technique for Thunderbirds and isn’t used again in the series. That may be partly because the dubbing editor seems to have had an incredibly difficult time getting the puppets to appear to be talking in sync with their dialogue. It’s a rough bit of editing but one can just about excuse it.

Penelope is put on the case to capture The Hood. She complains about having to turn away three coachloads of tourists – chuckle. Parker, her butler, appears upon request. Penelope and Parker don’t get much of a chance to show the wonderful flair their characters have in this episode. Their relationship and comedy is developed throughout the series, but in this episode not much is established about them except that they’re British and they work for International Rescue.

Virgil finishes getting the Elevator Cars lined up. The large Elevator Car in the foreground and the two smaller ones in the background create a brilliant forced perspective. Suddenly the mood changes when Virgil announces, “This is Thunderbird 2. I’m ready.” Captain Hanson gets equally dramatic when saying, “However it turns out, thanks.” It is understood by all concerned that lives are at risk and everyone is in an extraordinary amount of danger. You can genuinely sense the fear from the characters (except Scott because he can’t stop smiling). For puppet characters to be able to build tension like that is a testament to the voice actors and Gerry & Sylvia Anderson for writing a script that treats the puppets totally seriously while also understanding that they don’t have too wide of an emotional range. Fireflash makes its approach.

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The vastness of the runway is wonderfully demonstrated by shots like this. They may be small models of the Elevator Cars but that doesn’t mean the landscape doesn’t look massive.

Virgil reports a fault with Radio Elevator Car 3, but with time against them, Scott has to insist they continue with the rescue. TrappedInTheSky00319

Commander Norman orders all emergency vehicles to hurtle towards Runway 29. I love the design of these futuristic fire tenders and ambulances. And the dust trails they leave behind are superbly done.

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The different scale models force the perspective extremely well. The large Elevator Car is in the foreground with the smaller ones in the background and the smallest Fireflash model is on the horizon, menacingly approaching the runway.

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Wow. What a shot. The Fireflash looks enormous and completely dominates the elevator cars. It’s a beautifully designed aircraft. Such an interesting shape. The rolling road and sky are going at full speed as the vehicles scream down the runway. The danger and tension are at an all time high. The Fireflash landing scene is legendary in Thunderbirds as being the ultimate rescue. I’m not sure I’d quite go that far, but it does demonstrate just how special Thunderbirds is and the great potential the series had for generating an enormous amount of drama and excitement using models and puppets. Despite the padding, Trapped In The Sky does build its story to this point very well. The whole episode raises questions about exactly what International Rescue is and what they are capable of. This landing sequence is the pay off for that and should answer all those questions and expertly demonstrates that the rest of the series can deliver the same level of thrills and danger.

Elevator Car 3 goes off course at the last second. The story is that the third elevator car crashing was added to the episode after the model careered off the set in an outtake which Gerry Anderson liked so much he decided to include it in the episode. My guess would be that this outtake was the shot of the tiny elevator car models. The plane which Elevator Car 3 crashes into does look very hastily put together and built for destruction. It’s a wonderful fireball though and adds even more drama to the sequence.

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Commander Norman gets vicious towards his emergency crews, ordering them to leave the aircraift burning. He’s been pretty nasty to people in this episode. I also can’t help but notice that the contrast and brightness of the film print has changed slightly since Elevator Car 3 crashed. I’m not sure what that means might have happened during editing, but it’s worth noting and any experts out there might be able to share some insights.

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A fourth Elevator Car is brought into the mix and Fireflash makes its second approach. The stakes are even higher now. Fireflash’s radiation safety factor has expired, so the crew and passengers need to be evacuated immediately.

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The Fireflash cuts its engines and touches down. For a final bit of nail-biting action, the port wing needs some extra adjustment to get it to rest on the car.

Virgil engages the brakes on the Elevator Cars. The tyres squeal and burn like crazy. You can almost smell the rubber. There’s nothing more exciting in Thunderbirds than watching International Rescue bust up their own equipment to save lives.

Bang and BANG! The cars finally break up under the strain. The weight on that Master Elevator Car must be colossal.

Just in case you hadn’t had enough action, Virgil’s Elevator Car spirals out of control, leaving the nose of the Fireflash dragging along the runway. Did Virgil survive? Will the bomb go off? Will the Fireflash break up? The music is intense!

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???

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Phew, I can feel your sighs of relief. For a bomb that looks suspiciously like a tin can painted red, one doesn’t half feel like it could explode at any second. The emergency is over. What an incredibly tense sequence that was.

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Commander Norman congratulates Scott by being incredible British and saying “Jolly good show, old boy.” Because of course he does. Scott has decided to stop smiling though. He checks in on his brother.

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Virgil is comically slumped upside down in the over-turned vehicle. What a lovely way to tell the viewers that they can relax now. Virgil’s hat even fell off. Told you they were a silly idea.

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Meanwhile, to wrap up the sub-plot, the incredibly pink FAB 1 is cruising down the M1 motorway to catch The Hood. But where are all the cars? The M1 is supposed to be one of the busiest motorways in Britain. You’ll find that most of the streets in Supermarionation shows are empty and unpopulated.

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Penelope is a little bit ridiculous in this episode. Her voice is just a little too breathy, her fur coat a little too furry, and her cigarette holder is a little too long. Later on she drops a lot of the poshness and just becomes a straight-up secret agent who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Parker does all the work here.

Explosions galore! Really graphic violence on show here. I can’t believe Penelope thought no-one would notice. They blow up a criminal, presumably with the intention of murdering him, just because he had some photos. That’s a bit harsh. The explosions look great though.

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The Hood’s credibility as an absolutely evil maniac takes a bit of a knock here. He survives the explosion… somehow… but the musical “boing” when the photos pop out of his hat is a little comical. I mean it’s great that good triumphs over evil and everything, but when he threatens that International Rescue haven’t heard the last of him, I wanted to be afraid… very afraid. Sadly the threat gets a bit lost in the comedy.

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The episode concludes with a beautiful moonlit scene back on Tracy Island. Virgil plays a lovely piece on the piano, demonstrating his creative side.

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Brains announces that Kyrano’s doctor would like to come into the lounge. So Jeff engages Operation Cover-Up which switches the portraits of the Tracy boys from uniform to casual wear. Virgil couldn’t even put his cigarette away for a photo.

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Here’s the doctor. He was last seen wearing sunglasses and reading a newspaper in the departure lounge at London Airport.

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Not sure what Gordon’s smiling about. The entire organisation’s cover is being blown behind his head thanks to this continuity error.

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Fortunately, the doctor doesn’t notice the blunder. Alan and Tin-Tin come in off the balcony looking thoroughly love-struck. It’s lovely to see that Tin-Tin made it to the island okay. Alan certainly looks pleased.

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After a final handshake with the doctor, Jeff declares, “Boys! (Even though Tin-Tin is standing right there) I think we’re in business!” Virgil then spectacularly plays us out, with Barry Gray’s Orchestra joining in to finish off. A very nice, happy ending with all sorts of promise for future adventures full of excitement.

In summary, I think it’s very important to remember that Trapped In The Sky is not perfect. If it was there would be no point in making any more episodes. But it puts the series is a great position to grow. It demonstrates the basics of the format and it does so with style and excitement. More characters are due to come to the forefront, more vehicles are going to dazzle us, but fundamentally this pilot episode sells the series’ format perfectly by showing us a nail-biting rescue using some of the show’s most important characters and vehicles. The build-up of tension in the story would have worked a lot better had the additional sequence showing Bob Meddings’ rescue attempt actually contributed something, but aside from that you can see how Gerry & Sylvia Anderson’s story develops straight towards that epic climax on Runway 29.

Next week we’ll be looking at Pit of Peril – probably the worst example of how to extend a half hour story into an hour long story. But we do get to see more pod vehicles!

 

8 thoughts on “Thunderbirds – 1. Trapped In The Sky

  1. Justin

    Really fun, eagle-eyed review, Jack! Great read.

    A note about these remastered episodes: they’ve got their share of VFX picture fixes (which annoyingly affects film history analysis). For example, the reversed frames of John Tracy you’ve mentioned are not part of the original episode, rather a decision made by the restoration team to cover up a film tear. Commander Norman’s videophone used to noticeably jerk when “End of Call” appeared, but this too was corrected. Many optical fades throughout the series have also been affected (footage has been reversed so that the “pop” to the optically printed dissolves doesn’t appear).

    As a last bit of trivia you (and everyone else) probably knows, the TX-204 pilot is a certain regular Stingray character … 🙂

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  2. Chris Rolfe

    Loved the write up. Very funny in parts, A friend of mine had an LP record which had audio of this episode on side A and a Captain scarlet episode on side B.
    We used to play it over and over again.

    Fireflash and Zero X are briliant aircraft.

    One wonders would those aircraft have been able to fly if they were real?
    I know People have said that the Thunderbirds aircraft would never have been able to fly in reality. But I wonder. when you look at the F117 Stealth bomber which was nicknamed the wobbly goblin because of it instability was only kept in the air by computers. And as for the Stealth test bed Tacit Blue which looks like a shoe box, well you wonder how that ever got off the ground. So it could be possible that Thunderbird 2 could have flown using fly by wire/computer technology. Gerry was a very clever man, and a visionary of the future. thanks to him and Sylvia my childhood was full of excitement and fun.

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  4. Mr Ron

    Yes, the APF studio wall has sadly been visible long before the remastering. What’s also off putting, once you’re aware, is its reflection on FAB1’s radiator grille in the end titles..

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