Thunderbirds – 6. The Mighty Atom

Directed by David Lane

Teleplay by Dennis Spooner

First Broadcast – 30th December 1965

Ever wanted to see a television show that combines a major nuclear disaster with a comedy robot mouse? Me neither, but The Mighty Atom has both anyway!

It looks like we’ll get our first glimpse of Thunderbird 4 in this episode, I hope it does something exciting like sitting there for most of the rescue doing nothing!

It’s probably worth noting now that much like the tone of the episode, the tone of this review is probably going to jump about all over the place.

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I love the neatness of this title caption with the small ‘THE’ at the top. Nice.

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Establishing shots of the Australian Atomic Plant show off a number of buildings and constructions that would have been lying around the studios at the time. The whole sub-plot featuring the Australian Atomic Plant and the crisis which ensues would have been added later to extend the episode. I believe that the giant spherical tank in the background is in fact a painting.

As the tour bus drives through the complex, the fuel tanks from the launch of Sun Probe can be seen in the background of both of these shots. You can also see the Sun Probe’s launch gantry in the shot on the right. The building on the right of the first shot appears to be the same one that appears on the left of the second shot. We’ll be seeing it in a lot of different locations throughout the episode. The tour bus itself is a lovely retro-futuristic design and was supposed to look like it was hovering rather than being driven on wheels. It is one of the few original model vehicles used for the series which still exists.

Inside the bus, a tour is being given by one of the scientist who couldn’t be trusted with a proper job. David Graham’s portrayal of the tour guide is rather good fun. He drones on in a wonderfully nasally Australian accent which suits the rather dull exposition he’s delivering. Driving the tour bus is a puppet that later appeared as Commissioner Garfield in 30 Minutes After Noon. Among the passengers is London Airport’s Commander Norman and another member of his team, as well as the doctor from Trapped in the Sky and Lord Silton from Vault of Death. One of the two reporters is Eddie Kerr, although he is not named as such until The Impostors, but as with City of Fire we assume that its the same character.

The explanation given about the function of the plant is a little rough around the edges but I’ll try to clarify. Its all part of an irrigation project which pumps sea water into the deserts of Australia in order to make them more habitable. Presumably this is all powered by the atomic reactor. Even though a considerable number of machines seen so far in the series, including the Fireflash and the Sidewinder, are powered by atomic reactors the press are apparently quite concerned about this particular one. And I get the feeling they have every right to be, not because they aren’t well maintained…

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But because their security is shocking. The Hood is back! He’s managed to waltz straight into the plant without anyone noticing. I feel like I recognise the giant column behind him with the number ‘2’ on it from somewhere else, but can’t quite place it right now – let me know in the comments if you recognise this piece of set! Behind that, however, is a section of the Allington Bridge which gets surveyed by Chuck in Day of Disaster turned upside down – hope that useless piece of trivia helps somebody.

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The Hood’s wearing a rather fetching brown crocodile skin jacket. Did he skin the crocodile himself? Probably. He is a nasty fellow after all.

The builders of the puppet set and the miniature set collaborated pretty well for these two brief shots. See if you can spot any differences because I certainly can’t.

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It’s been pretty well disguised here, but you can just about see a crack down the back of The Hood’s head. To access the inner workings of the puppets’ heads for adjustments to be made, the back of the head would need to be removed. The hair on most puppets could easily disguise the resulting crack where the panel seperates. On bald characters, such as The Hood, the crack is noticeable and would often need to be disguised using plasticine.

This is the main reactor. The building seen beneath the tank is also seen as the hangar of the Fireflash in Operation Crash-Dive.

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Plant technicians Wade and his assistant have a quick moan about the reporters touring the complex. There’s probably a reason why Wade turns up later in the episode and his assistant doesn’t. The assistant rather flippantly suggests that there’s no chance of a radioactive cloud spreading across Australia. Boy does he get proven wrong.

With an adorable little camera in his huge hands, The Hood takes a picture of a sign pointing to the Sea Water Intake. We learn later that the sea water intake itself is underwater, miles from the desert areas on the coast… so I’m not quite sure what this sign is actually pointing to except a green hose on the wall next to it.

Soon enough, The Hood gets caught by the guard. Now I would assume that a huge irrigation plant like this would be pretty darn noisy. Alterting everyone’s attention with a tiny whistle might not be terribly effective in those conditions and running to find an alarm might prove more advantageous. Notice at the bottom of the frame a floor puppeteer helping out the guard with his whistling endeavours.

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So rather than immediately running back the way he came in, The Hood decides to pull out a gun and attempts to single-handedly fight off the entirety of the plant’s (admittedly lackluster) security.

Two flashing bulbs inform the technicians of danger. The control panel seen behind the assistant when he enters was previously seen on board the Sidewinder in Pit of Peril.

The Hood runs around like a bit of a headless chicken while the press look on. Its hard to work out exactly what the reporter says to the tour guide but it sounds like, “What price security now?” Seeing as we haven’t seen them discussing security previously I don’t really see what he’s going on about, but he’s also got a point… probably…

The Hood is asked nicely to give himself up. Behind him is the same air purifier control panel that we saw just a few seconds ago. Written very clearly on the wall behind the guard in big, big lettering are the words “No Smoking”… as if that wasn’t obvious. But it says nothing about gun fire so The Hood just goes for it.

Rather than doing the decent thing and taking the bullet, the guard drops to the ground and allows a glass hemisphere marked ‘GAS’ to get hit and smash. Of course we don’t know exactly what danger this will cause, but The Hood knows its probably not good so gets out of the way. There’s another rusty bit of the Allington Bridge on the ground behind him.

There’s a nice big explosion and an enormous fire starts up and quickly engulfs the building, chucking debris everywhere. The security guard that fell to the floor probably got incinerated instantly… might as well have taken the bullet and prevented a nuclear disaster… although that’s probably not a popular opinion.

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The same Fire Department building and fire tenders from City of Fire are dispatched to tackle the blaze. I like the idea that fire departments all over the world in Thunderbirds use the same equipment universally.

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As the fire tenders move out, you can see the launch control building from Sun Probe in the background.

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This loud speaker is seen in a number of episodes in a number of locations later in the series including Parola Sands in Move – And You’re Dead and London Airport in Edge of Impact.

The reporters are being quietly shipped out of the plant as quickly as possible, driving past the fuel tanks from Sun Probe once again.

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The fire continues to rage and an explosion causes a tiny yellow car to leap into the air as the terrified passengers attempt their escape.

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Needless to say The Hood isn’t terribly happy about all this, but only because he failed to retrieve the plans of the atomic station. Why he wants them in the first place is a little unclear, but its established later that at this point in the story, International Rescue had yet to become operational, so maybe this is the sort of thing he used to do for a hobby before they were set up.

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The reporters are frantically submitting their stories about the incident. These futuristic phonebooths are also seen in Move – And You’re Dead and The Hood uses one in Trapped in the Sky. The two green couches in the foreground appear to be the same design as the one used in the Tracy Lounge to access Thunderbird 3.

The fire is quickly approaching the main reactor which Wade is attempting to shut down using the control rods. The rods are made of elements that absorb neutrons to reduce the rate of fission in nuclear reactors. But Wade says that with the sea water intake still operating there’s no way to bring the reactor under control. So why don’t they shut off the intake? Because they can’t… and what’s even more stupid is that they decided not to include a shut off feature on the intake of the Sahara station seen later either.

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The reactor apparently starts “racing away.” I think this is supposed to mean that the rate of fission is increasing rapidly to dangerous levels… but ‘racing’ isn’t actually a technical term used to describe atomic reactions in the real world. The decision is made for everyone ot evacuate the plant and let the thing blow up. So I know the place is burning down and everything, and they don’t want to be anywhere near the place if it does go up, but they do seem to give up rather easily considering the nuclear disaster that Australia could face as a result.

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Time for the return of the rather oddly shaped TX204 from Trapped in the Sky, this time taking on the role of a passenger plane.

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A tiny miniature version of the plane wobbles across the sky over the burning plant.

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It comes in to land, making a beautiful cloud of dust beneath it, most likely sprayed from the belly of the craft.

With the fire getting very close to the main reactor, everyone evacuates. The blue car seen here is later seen in Edge of Impact driven by The Hood. You can still see the fuel tanks from Sun Probe in the background.

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Wade has barely had time to change out of his radiation suit. Even though they’ve had several hours to get away, the press are also taking the flight out of the danger zone.

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The fire has completely stripped the paint off of the reactor…

Soon the pipes explode and quickly the entire reactor blows up in a spectacular blinding flash of fire and smoke. The entire plant is engulfed in the explosion and it looks absolutely spectacular… until…

I have a bit of a problem with these shots. At first I thought they were stock footage of a real atomic explosion. But they’re not. They’re three seperate shots of a cloud rising up into the sky which have been slowed down rather more than they should and cut together in an incredibly bizarre way which just makes it look like random stock footage that’s been thrown in. Credit to them for making it look like real footage, but it just looks like it doesn’t belong for some reason and detracts from an otherwise great special effects sequence.

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The explosion causes a radioactive cloud to start spreading across the Australian desert.

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A press conference has been called at the same building which turns up in various roles in The ImpostorsCry Wolf, and Ricochet.

Among the reporters is the news reporter (minus his glasses) from Sun Probe and Operation Crash-Dive, and Commander Norman.

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I love the lighting in this shot. You believe that the General is hiding away backstage, nervously waiting to announce big news but keeping a stiff upper lip.

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He doesn’t handle it all that well. “Relax everybody, I’ll come straight to the point,” is how he opens. History would probably have judged him a little better if he hadn’t tried to downplay the seriousness of the disaster and encouraged everyone to chill out. I do love the design and colours of this set.

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The reporters get as close as puppets can to looking like they can do some writing. They’re told that without a change in the weather, Melbourne faces serious contamination and will need to be evactuated. Nice job on getting everyone to relax, General.

Next we’re treated to some shots of the cloud very slowly rolling across the desert. There’s even some nice lens flare from the sun. This is all paired with some chilling electronic music from Barry Gray which succeeds in making the cloud look rather threatening. That said, this is some rather slow padding for the episode.

But all of a sudden the wind picks up, and as it howls across the desert we’re shown some grass, trees and tumbleweed to clearly demonstrate that this wind is blowing strong enough to dissipate the radioactive cloud. Again, it’s a slow sequence but it does manage to demonstrate a pretty abstract concept clearly on screen.

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Because this is a version of the future that still uses typewriters and such like technology, we get to watch the news come in that the wind is moving the cloud south-southeast. Presumably the cloud is being blown through the national parks south of Canberra and northeast of Melbourne and out to sea… yeah that’s right, I looked at a map to check all this stuff. Hopefully it’ll be dispersed enough by the time it reaches New Zealand!

Insert stock footage of newspapers being printed. This is the first of a couple of instances when this footage pops up in Thunderbirds and it does go some way to representing the prevalence of the press and media in world affairs of the series, something which hadn’t really been tried in previous Supermarionation shows.

Is that John Tracy posing as the editor of the Melbourne Herald? The newspapers in Thunderbirds are always a treat. This one is dated Friday, December 24 1964 (the day was actually a Thursday). The first capitalised word of the report is SLOUGH.

The newspaper office set is nicely detailed and even features a little water cooler in the background. The same set is used as Garfield’s office in 30 Minutes After Noon. Again, the reporter is seen doing some pretend writing as he hears the news that all is well with the radioactive cloud.

In case you hadn’t grasped it yet, the cloud is being blown away. They decided to include more shots to prove it.

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And another newspaper is used to inform us that now, 12 months on, another atomic irrigation plant is going to be opened. This is how the link is made between this Australian sub-plot, and the original part of the episode. Its been interesting to see how a world without International Rescue tackles such a huge disaster… by just letting it happen and hoping it will go away again. This newspaper has the same date on it as the last one. Some curious headlines here include a genuine report about a comet, and “‘Airport On Map Is A Housing Estate.” Whatever that means. The article once again features the word ‘Slough’ a few times.

Back at his temple, The Hood is reflecting on his previous failure and swears he has a masterplan to get the secrets of the next atomic station. This is the first time we’ve seen him in his lovely gold outfit. I don’t know why he has it but it looks cool and evil anyway. He yells the wonderful line “With the fortune that these secrets will bring, my empire will grow and I shall be invincible!” Does The Hood have an empire now? Maybe he means a business empire? But he never mentions having any other business interests in the series. He just tries to steal the plans of International Rescue, or he gets hired to do other people’s dirty work. But sure, if he thinks he has an empire then I guess he has an empire.

Here’s a rare opportunity to see John flying Thunderbird 3. Provided you’re watching the series in production order this scene is a rather nice piece of continuity as Alan got dropped on Thunderbird 5 last time in The Uninvited, so now he’s getting picked up. We learn that Lady Penelope is on the island and she’s itching to get out on a rescue. John arrived late to pick up Alan because he was just enjoying the human interaction far too much.

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Lady Penelope is smoking like a chimney on the balcony surrounded by Virgil, Jeff, Grandma and Tin-Tin. As Grandma is there one suspects that this, and potentially the entire Penelope subplot were added to the episode later. Curiously, Operation Cover-Up has been engaged, even though Penny is a fully fledged member of the team.

Virgil looks cooler than cool having removed his waistcoat and put on some funky shades. He suggests that since they started operations, Lady Penelope’s been seeing more action than the rest of the team. This could refer to her adventures in the Lady Penelope comic strip which debuted before the start of the series. Grandma gets a bit catty with Penelope when it’s implied that she’s going deaf. I don’t blame her, Penny calls her “Grandmama” which is a bit annoying. Then she drops some heavy hints about wanting to go on a rescue which Jeff awkwardly tries to avoid because for some reason in this episode she just comes across as kind of useless. It isn’t until later in the series that Penelope gets a chance to prove herself properly when the writers actually start to see her potential as a character meant for more than just comedy. The Mighty Atom is by far her weakest appearance.

TheMightyAtom00345.jpgMeanwhile, Parker and Kyrano are having an argument over serving drinks. This is the first time we’ve seen the rather lovely set of the Tracy kitchen. David Graham does a great job in this scene arguing with himself as he plays both characters. Of course it does boil down their roles to just being servants who argue about servanty things, but it’s still rather funny.

As they pull the tray back and forth, if you look very carefully at Parker’s left thumb, you can see a pin has been stuck through it in order to secure it to the tray. Ouch!

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Down goes the tray!

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“From the sounds of it we’re gonna stay thirsty…” That right there is probably one of the funniest lines in Thunderbirds.

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To make her peace, Grandma threatens to go and visit Penelope one day, who through gritted teeth expresses what a wonderful idea that would be. Because clearly these two hate each other now… Anyway, back to the plot.

At a Government Research Unit in some country somewhere, a person with live action feet is walking towards the same building which kept appearing in shots of the Australian atomic irrigation plant. I love that through the window you can see stairs inside the building.

Professor Holden is showing some scientists a mouse. But not just any mouse! The Mighty Atom!! Yes, its a robotic mouse. Among the items seen on Holden’s desk is Jeff’s ashtray/speaker. It’s possible that this is another scene that was added to the episode later as the plot can function without it. The puppets that appear include General Peters and Ralph from Pit of Peril, the bad driver’s husband and the tower controller from City of Fire, and Professor Wingrove from Day of Disaster. The scientist portrayed by the tower controller puppet is clearly voiced by David Holliday. Aside from Virgil, Holliday only voiced this and one other guest character in the entire series. That’s basically because his voice was too distinctive. Oh and of course ‘Professor Langley’ is The Hood in the same disguise that we see in Martian Invasion and in the background of The Duchess Assignment.

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The mouse itself suffers in one key area. Holden praises it for looking just like a real mouse… except it doesn’t. It almost does, but the way it moves just makes it look like a little prop being dragged along the ground by a fishing wire. The tiny puppet-scale version looks even less convincing. That isn’t to say the prop-makers didn’t do a great job at trying to make a tiny mouse that looked like a real mouse. They did the best they could with a rather silly idea. Not to mention, a modern audience is hardly going to be wowed by the fact the mouse contains a “powerful miniature camera.” In the sixties I imagine it was somewhat more impressive than it appears today.

The Hood is given the remote control device and assists in the demonstration as the Mighty Atom takes photographs of Holden inspecting some control panels. A larger stuffed mouse is used for these shots and lights are flashed and reflected off of the eyes to make it look like little bulbs flashing inside the eyes. The mouse has been programmed to recognise the profile of the human face so Holden reckons they could use it for spying because scientists look at secret control panels sometimes… I guess that makes sense…

Once they’ve finished the photoshoot, the mouse is plugged in to a little projector with the Thunderbirds version of a USB attachment. One assumes that this is technically a prediction of digital photography before its time. It is slightly odd that Holden wobbles around in all of the suposedly still photographs.

Finally the other scientists are impressed, and The Hood likes the device so much he knocks out everyone in the room.

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There’s a shot that will give your kids nightmares!

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Back in his temple, The Hood is rather thrilled to have a sidekick in the form of a comedy robot mouse. We’ve gone from a massive nuclear disaster to The Hood placing all his trust in a mouse… see what I mean about the tone of the episode shifting all over the place.

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Meanwhile, on Tracy Island, Tin-Tin and Penelope are reading their favourite publications – ‘On The Town’ and ‘Travel’. Penelope’s getting pretty restless and melodramatic about the fact no-one in the world is facing extreme enough danger to require International Rescue. I’m sure if Jeff had been there he’d have given her a half hour lecture about the importance of life and how International Rescue isn’t just a set up for people to go strutting around in cool ships. Her attitude towards rescues in this episode is just so naïve and frustrating because it makes her sound like such a flat character compared to what we see of her later.

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I believe this is the first whip pan transition that we’ve come across in Thunderbirds! These are generally used to imply that the next scene is set in a geographic location very far away from the previous scene. They’re usually accompanied by a bit of music which also implies rapid movement. I like them. Its a really simple thing but it helps to communicate an awful lot in a fast paced way.

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We see a jeep driving through the desert. Recognise this shot from last week? Yes, this exact same shot appears in The Uninvited when Lindsey and Wilson are driving to the waterhole.

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The model truck and puppet set are the same as the one’s used for Lindsey and Wilson’s jeep in The Uninvited. The Hood pulls up on a road over looking the atomic station. I really love this shot. You can really believe that The Hood is high up above the plant, and the way the model set blends with the painted mountain backdrop is superb. I also really like the model set of the plant itself, which is nicely detailed and layed out with lots of little buildings and tanks.

We get to look through The Hood’s binoculars at the Saharan Atomic Station, including a building in the foreground which looks like it was previously seen as part of London Airport in Trapped in the Sky. Rather bizarrely though, this building doesn’t appear to exist during the first shot when the Hood stops the jeep.

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“And now my friend, to get what we came for.” Assuming that everything up until this point wasn’t originally a part of the episode, I sincerely hope there was a scene in the half hour version of the script which explained why The Hood was placing all his confidence in a dead-looking mouse. Its a testament to the padding material doing its job of expanding the story. Although it means this is quite an International Rescue lite episode, developing the back story to The Hood’s interest in the atomic station and how he came to aquire the Mighty Atom definitely helps to make this episode a little more palatable than it would have been. But of course, we don’t know for certain how the plot of the original half hour version of the episode has been changed and affected by the added material.

Another whip pan transition brings us to The Hood being down in the atomic station. Just like with the Australian plant, security must be incredibly poor for The Hood to be able to waltz in as he pleases. As the camera tracks over to The Hood, notice the steering wheel of the monorail car from The Uninvited in the background, as well as a reappearance of that giant column that I pointed out in the Australian plant earlier but couldn’t identify.

The Hood sends off his little friend to go and take photographs of the plant control room. How that will help him to sell the plans of the station I’m not quite sure, but fair enough, every little helps. Folks sometimes complain that The Hood was one of the weaker elements of Thunderbirds, either because his fantastical powers didn’t fit with the scientific basis of the series, or because he was too over the top. In my opinion there are times when he’s used really well, and other times when he really isn’t – this is one of his weaker moments. While it is amusing and entertaining for The Hood to be playing with a robot mouse, it does little to solidify his image as a ruthless criminal. As I mentioned in my review of Trapped in the Sky he is brilliant in that episode because without any concern for loss of life, he mentally tortures his brother and plans to blow up a plane full of passengers just to bring International Rescue into action. That’s pretty serious and heavy stuff and it makes him scary. Fortunately he does end up taking similar action in a moment which helps to redeem his evilness.

So as a new plant assistant, Collins, checks the control panels the Mighty Atom takes some pictures.

The mouse gets spotted and runs for cover, looking as menacing as a toy mouse can do.

Then Collins leaves the room and the mouse continues to take pictures… even though, according to Professor Holden, its only programmed to take pictures of the human profile. Anyway, at least we get a good look at the set of the Sahara control room which is a completely different design of the Australian one, seeing as this is the one that was built when the episode was originally shot. It appears to use the same floor as the Thompson Tower control room from City of Fire.

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Probably because he actually put some effort into trying to save the Australian Atomic Station compared to everyone else, Wade has been trusted to look after this one in the Sahara. I’m not quite sure why he refuses to take Collins’ word for it that there was a mouse in the room – maybe Collins is normally a pathological liar…

With a flick of the control and a tug on the mouse’s fishing wire, the Mighty Atom returns to The Hood who is absolutely chuffed of course. But he couldn’t just let it rest there…

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In a rather bizarre and surreal moment, we get to hear The Hood’s inner monologue – something that we get to hear most of the time anyway because he pretty much only has himself to talk to most of the time. But what’s even weirder is that shots of the Australian plant blowing up are overlaid across The Hood’s face as he remembers what all that destruction looked like. I don’t know what to make of this in terms of whether its original or not. Obviously the footage of the Australian plant explosion is added, but it could be that in the original version of the episode he said this line out loud, or didn’t say it at all and just went ahead with blowing up the plant. Who knows, but this bit is weird and a little terrifying, that’s all I can say for definite.

Despite making Penelope look like something of a buffoon, I do rather like this little scene. Alan convinces her that Scott is in grave danger, and she starts getting hyped up for a rescue mission. But Virgil and Gordon come in and have a good laugh at her, revealing that Scott’s only in trouble with Grandma for sampling some cake. If this and last week’s episode are anything to go by, Scott should weigh about 300 pounds by this point. Its all pretty amusing, albeit at Penelope’s expense. I think it just goes to show how fed up the Tracy were with her at this time.

Luckily for The Hood, he just happened to remember to bring his bag of high explosives along for the trip.

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We’re shown some establishing shots of the station, including that same building that was seen at the Australia plant and the Government Research Unit.

The Hood starts to position mines all over the place. Excellent use of live action hand inserts, although its a shame the hands they used weren’t abnormally large like the ones on The Hood puppet.

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Any shot of The Hood sneaking around is a treat. The Air Conditioning Plant door featured prominently in City of Fire.

While The Hood makes his escape, Collins cranks up the exposition, highlighting how lush and green the area directly in front of the window is. Originally this would have been a key explanation of the irrigation plant’s function, but after the Australia sub-plot, the audience are basically experts by this point.

In the future we’ll stop using our phones as timers and go back to good old fashioned stopwatches.

Parts of the station detonate right on cue, although not with quite the same devastation that we saw in Australia.

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Wade starts to panic, knowing instantly that there’s no way he’d be trusted with a third atomic station after this one went belly up.

While The Hood looks on at the chaos, control board 5 is lighting up like crazy. This is apparently the control board that informs them everything’s falling apart and that only sabotage could possibly explain it.

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Presumably with some careful re-dubbing, Wade informs Collins that they can’t just run away from a large flaming atomic reactor because of what happened in Australia.

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This time Wade is going to see it through. He declares that they need to call International Rescue. I mean he could just use the control rods to shut down the reactor – but wait, yet again no-one’s thought to install an emergency system to shut down the sea water intake… So they can’t do anything about it. Bravo to the plant designers.

The Hood rather wonderfully declares “All right, Thunderbirdswe’re waiting for you!” The music does the best it can to make the mouse look threatening and you almost forget how silly it is.

John picks up the emergency call and immediately informs Jeff and the team.

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Brains points out the need to cut off the sea water intake underwater… rather bizarrely his shirt has buttons in the middle of it that don’t appear to join anything together… Anyway, Jeff announces this is a job for Thunderbird 4 – the first time we’ve heard it mentioned and the first time its being brought into action!

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Of course because Penelope is choosing to act like a petulant child in this episode she starts nagging Jeff to let her go out on the rescue. Rather amusingly Jeff attempts to ignore her again and get on with his actual job of dispatching the necessary International Rescue personnel. Eventually he gives in.

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Scott has to yell “Here I go!” as he leaves in order to get everyone to focus back on what’s actually important.

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As Scott and Virgil board their craft in the usual way, we get to see the passenger elevator to Thunderbird 2 for the first time. Its not quite as flashy as the regular craft entry systems, but it serves its purpose… although there’s no top to it so how it actually functions remains a bit of a mystery.

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As the fire continues to rage, all Wade and Collins can do is watch their special ‘Emergency’ meter go up… even though they’re both trained technicians and should be able to just go into the room with the control rods and slow down the rate of reaction from there. Even if it doesn’t work they could at least try it…

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For some reason Gordon has yet to change into his uniform but Virgil has. In this shot you can just about see the wiring underneath the control desk in the bottom right corner of the frame. Penny’s pointing out how fabulous everything is because that’s pretty much all her character is capable of doing at this early stage in the series.

The Hood is still watching the inferno when Collins points out that there’s still one problem they haven’t discussed yet. Is it the fact no-one’s learnt anything since the disaster in Australia? Or that the sea water intake really needs a shut off mechanism? Or that someone should at least try using the reactor control rods? Or that security is so incredibly poor that any old criminal can just wander in and blow the place up? No actually, its none of those. Its that the person responsible could still be around – even though that doesn’t really matter now – its not like he could do much more damage if he tried… Anyway, then the Hood teleports into some bushes.

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Thunderbird 1 swoops into view. Not the best shot of her that we’ve ever seen. There’s just something about the composition of the shot that’s a little off.

Thunderbird 1 comes into land. Since Wade and Collins last looked out of the window at exactly the same view, the whole landscape has flipped with the building and car moving from the right to the left. From what we can assume is the Hood’s view, Thunderbird 1 lands behind a bush, which doesn’t look very elegant on camera.

Meanwhile, something very exciting is about to happen. Thunderbird 2 hovers over the sea and without any warning, Pod 4 is dropped from the craft and hits the water with an enormous crash. This is always an exciting sequence for me with the water filmed at high speed to make the force at which the pod hits it look enormous. I think its fair to say we can all ignore the kind of damage that would be done to Gordon and Thunderbird 4 if this were real life. In Thunderbirds it looks cool and is the fastest way to get the craft into operation.

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Thunderbird 2 flies off, the first time we see it in flight without a pod loaded.

The pod door opens and the launch rail is extended with more glorious splashes. Gordon is ready and in position. The cabin of Thunderbird 4 is a simple set, and even though there isn’t much to it I wish we could have gotten a better look at it during the series.

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Thunderbird 4 hurtles down the launch rail and plunges into the water. Perhaps not as hyped up as the other Thunderbird launches, but still very exciting.

Having just finished working on 39 episodes of Stingray, AP Films were more than equipped for the task of filming underwater shots. If you’re not faimiliar, the effect was achieved without the cameras or models getting wet. Instead, a narrow glass tank full of water was placed between the camera and the set so that everything was filmed through the water. With the water lit from above and gentle ripples created, it achieves the illusion that everything’s underwater fairly convincingly.

Here’s the sea water intake that we’ve heard so much about. Gordon is ready to receive his instructions. Unfortunately that’s almost all that Thunderbird 4 gets to go do for the rest of the episode.

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Scott has set up a sort of miniature version of his mobile control unit. It includes the controls for Thunderbird 3’s safety beam as seen in Sun Probe. Scott informs Gordon that he’ll have to stop the water coming through the intake as soon as the reactor is under control… why they can’t just stop the water now and then get the reactor under control is a bit of a mystery but I guess it creates some tension. Scott then asks how long they have. With 20 minutes to go, he obviously decides that there’s no rush to get on with it and instead waits for Virgil. Why is everyone dragging their heels so much about using the control rods?

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Another odd composition here as a podless Thunderbird 2 isn’t so much flown through shot as swung across the set.

Virgil’s told to hurry up because Scott is incapable of doing anything by himself. We don’t see a podless Thunderbird 2 flying around nearly as much in the rest of the series as we do in this episode so its rather odd to see.

Now The Hood is able to send his furry friend on another mission. How The Hood thinks the mouse will be able to access the Thunderbird machines without help or why he thinks the mouse will be undetected by the photo alert systems remains unexplained.

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Probably because he’s a bit fed up with her, Virgil leaves Lady Penelope to take charge of the radio… even though she does nothing of the sort, nor does she particularly need to. Presumably because she wasn’t originally a part of the episode the writers weren’t able to add her to scenes of the actual rescue operation, but surely if they wanted her in the episode so badly why did they not find her something decent to do? I know she’s made the butt of the joke at the end, but is that really all it was for? It just doesn’t fit right. I don’t think Virgil would be cruel enough to drag her all the way out to the Sahara to do nothing, not even observe the rescue. Nor would her character normally stand for it. I cannot emphasise enough how far off the mark her portrayal is in this episode.

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Back at base, Brains is getting a little restless. There’s a few of these scenes during the series where everyone at home just sits and worries. But it looks like Alan, Kyrano and Parker weren’t invited to this particular party. Alan could still be in Thunderbird 3 after switching duties with John? Kyrano and Parker could be busy having a fist fight over who gets to serve the crumpets…

John delivers a passionate update on the situation as if his life depended on it. This guy should perform Shakespeare. Jeff looks utterly enthralled.

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Brains points out that they’re probably going to use the reactor control rods to bring the reactor under control… as if that wasn’t the obvious thing to do in the first place.

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Things are hotting up at the Saharan station. Again, not quite as dramatic as what we saw in Australia but still some nice big bangs.

Scott and Virgil have entered the control cabin and are presented with the rods and a series of flashing red lights. The task is simple. Carefully push the rods into the wall until all the lights turn green. Why are International Rescue somehow more qualified to do this than the two technicians? Not to mention its just not very exciting to watch is it? If it weren’t for Barry Gray’s quiet but tense music, this would be pretty boring to watch. I don’t mind rescues that don’t feature large amounts of hi-tech equipment or anything, but while the stakes are rather high, International Rescue just don’t look all that special on this mission.

So Virgil slowly pushes a thing into a thing while Scott watches the light turn from red to green. That’s basically it set to some wonderfully tense music. Why Scott specifically needed Virgil to do this we don’t know.

Nothing says dull like The Hood sitting patiently and Gordon checking his watch. I mean it is fairly tense, but there’s certainly much more exciting rescues in the series that are also slower-paced and full of tension.

Time ticks on and things hot up slightly.

Number 4 gets done.

And then number 5. Ta-da!

Scott gives the order for Gordon to fire missiles! Now it hadn’t been previously discussed on screen as to how Gordon would actually stop the flow of water through the intake so this comes as an exciting surprise.

The missiles are fired, most likely from behind Thunderbird 4 rather than inside it as the ship is being very deliberately filmed from the side. The missiles strike and the intake explodes, not looking very much like its underwater it has to be said, but otherwise an exciting climax to the sequence.

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We’re treated to a similarly dramatic explosion above the water which causes the rocks in the foreground to wobble a fair bit.

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This triggers a rock fall underwater which presumably seals off the remains of the intake once and for all.

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Collins slumps back in his chair in a rather well puppeteered moment and everyone considers it a job well done. But there’s just one thread left to be tied up…

Yes, the Mighty Atom somehow gets aboard Thunderbird 2 and gets spotted by Lady Penelope who screams because her character is horrendously under developed in this episode. There’s not much to say about this that hasn’t been said really. Its moderately funny, but presumably wasn’t the way the episode originally ended if Lady Penelope was added to the story later as she appears to have been.

Thunderbirds 1 and 2 blast off. Notice that they’re still using the version of Thunderbird 1 with the letter ‘T’ on the nose cone.

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Of course Virgil finds it absolutely hysterical that Lady P screamed at a mouse. Who knows what state he found her in when he got back. Presumably there was no sign of any photo alert being triggered. We know Thunderbird 1 has a highly advanced camera detector, and one would hope Thunderbird 2 has a similar device. Anyway, Virgil says they’re going to pick up Thunderbird 4 and return to base. Sadly we never see how Thunderbird 4 and Pod 4 are retrieved in the classic series.

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Back in his temple, The Hood is feeling awfully pleased with himself. How he actually got away with any of this we’ll never know.

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He plugs the mouse in via the USB type thing…

Needless to say, he’s not a happy bunny. Unusually there is a direct jump cut between his regular face and his angry face. Generally the director will cut away to something else to make the change in expression seem more natural.

What a fine photo album. I say photos, every single “still” shot sees the carefully posed Lady Penelope puppet wobble about a bit. Apparently the pictures are completely useless to the Hood. Although it does let him know two things. 1: Lady Penelope is scared of mice. 2: Oh wait, Lady Penelope is associated with International Rescue! Of course he has no way of proving that to other people, but at least he knows it himself now and could probably use that to his advantage.

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But no, he just crushes the thing with his massive fists. Very amusing indeed and it does highlight just how stupid he was to trust a robot mouse in the first place. The puppet does have a hard time actually hitting the mouse…

But one lucky hand double got to finish the job, and a nice job he does too – that’s one squashed mouse.

I used to really like The Mighty Atom as a kid. It’s often remembered as being the only episode to feature all of the regular characters in speaking roles and all of the Thunderbirds machines in some capacity. It also has a nice sub-plot in the form of the radioactive crisis in Australia – it helps to expand the way the world of Thunderbirds works as we see the involvement of the press and the government/military in dealing with disasters without International Rescue around. I also like how seriously the threat of a nuclear fallout is treated.

There are funny moments to lighten the load though which would have been a good thing except for the fact that they don’t fit at all with the two characters primarily involved. In my opinion, The Hood would not be seen dead with a furry mouse in his hand. He works best when he’s being brutally nasty and killing people and there’s nothing that stops you being taken seriously more than hanging out with a piece of fluff and calling it your “little friend.” Then there’s Penelope. For the entire episode she’s the butt of the joke and I can’t believe that she isn’t given more to do than just sitting around complaining, or screaming at mice. As for International Rescue themselves, their involvement is mostly unecessary. They don’t appear much in the first half of the story, and it holds out well considering, but when they do finally arrive on the scene they do things that anyone could and should have done earlier.

Overall The Mighty Atom is exciting for its mostly solid special effects work, and for the first (albeit very limited) appearance of Thunderbird 4. But many of the elements of this episode are done much better in other parts of the series with The Hood, Lady Penelope and Thunderbird 4 all getting stronger moments in different episodes.

Next week, one of Parker’s ex-associates comes back to haunt him, and the Bank of England could become one employee’s tomb! Stay tuned for Vault of Death.

3 thoughts on “Thunderbirds – 6. The Mighty Atom

  1. Pingback: Thunderbirds – Extending The First Eleven – Security Hazard

  2. James

    Great scenario I often tie the bringing the extension for this episode was tied in with the extension of Pit of peril Vault of Death and City of Fire as well as the hour of Day of Disasters hence the puppets at Holden’s presentation. I’ve often considered that the scientists also do the same for the extension material for Vault of death in the roll call scene.

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  3. I think that this episode has one of the most realistic characterisations by the puppeteers in the entire series. When Gordon and Lady Penelope are descending in the passenger elevator Lady Penelope is looking everywhere and taking everything in, whereas Gordon’s just standing there in a “Ho, hum. Seen it all before,” kind of way.

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