Thunderbirds – 24. Attack of the Alligators!

Directed by David Lane

Teleplay by Alan Pattillo

First Broadcast – 10th March 1966

Picture the meeting that would have taken place at the AP Films studio before this episode went into production, or possibly before it was even written. Alan Pattillo wants to write a story about International Rescue fighting giant alligators. The team decide they’re going to go for it. One can only assume that from a very early stage it was the intention to use real animals on the set. The stories of the production team working with those beasts are legendary. But of course, the alligators are only a part of what makes this episode stand out as an incredible piece of film making, so let’s explore Attack of the Alligators! in as much depth as possible to appreciate the hard work of the AP Films crew.

The teaser gives just a mere hint of the terror that these beasts will let loose. There seem to be a lot of creepy looking characters wandering around too.

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With no mucking about whatsoever, we learn that there are alligators that are going to attack… and this is one of them… and yes, it’s real. They all are… hence the exclamation mark on the end of the title… it’s well deserved. These creatures make an incredible impact when carefully posed in front of the camera like this. It’s worth pointing out that this and I believe all the other “alligators” in the episode are in fact small crocodiles. Their sizes were presumably chosen to make them look normal size when placed next to the puppets in this opening scene, but ginormous on the model sets later. Unfortunately we never get to see a puppet tackle a giant alligator in the same shot for this reason.

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Travelling down the river are Mr Blackmer and Culp. Think about how much work went into this one shot which lasts for just a few seconds. The water in the tank had to be warmer than usual to accommodate the creatures, and dyed to give it a swampy look. There’s also a patch of dry ice floating on top to look like steam. From the puppet bridge above the set you’ve got all sorts of greenery hanging down as well as a mass of it in the background and foreground. Then you’ve got the beautifully made puppet boat which bears the name ‘Maria’. This piece of set was either built to float or needed to be supported on the water at all times. You’ve got the puppets in the boat as it travels through shot which would require the puppeteers to move very carefully along the bridge in time with the technicians pulling the boat along. All this while trying not to disturb the scenery hanging from the bridge as they walk across. Then, to finish things off are the two baby crocodiles positioned in the shot which have to stay where they’re put but also not look too motionless so that we know that they’re real. As with any shot it also has to be carefully lit, rehearsed, and then the camera has to roll and the crew have to be ready for a puppet, the boat, or one of the animals to do something they shouldn’t. It is no wonder then that with so many elements to consider, Attack of the Alligators! took far longer to film than it was supposed to and reportedly went rather over budget – in part because the crew had to work so much over time to get it finished.

Needless to say the crocodiles were unpredictable to work with. You’ll find that for every shot of them that’s carefully posed and set up, there’s another where they disappear out of shot far quicker than the camera operator was prepared for. Under the hot studio lights, the creatures were often found to be rather immobile and bathing in the heat. In order to get them to move, small electric shocks were administered. It was clear that a film studio facing a punishing schedule was not the perfect environment for these animals to be inhabiting, and many crew members objected to the entire project. Special Effects Director Brian Johnson (known then as Brian Johncock) reportedly refused to be a part of the production because of the animal cruelty. It’s worth noting, however, that Johnson left AP Films to begin work on 2001: A Space Odyssey which started shooting in December 1965. He was probably working his notice during production of The Duchess Assignment in October 1965. It would be wrong to assume, therefore, that he left the studio as a direct result of the animal rights issues.

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The guest characters for this episode are all new puppets, although you can spot at least one of them in additional material for earlier episodes, but we’ll get to him later. Blackmer is voiced with an air of pomposity by John Tate while David Graham’s voice for Culp is dripping with creepy, menacing bile.

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One of the beasts slides down the river bank. There are so many stories from the production team about having these toothy guests at the studio, but the story of the man from the RSPCA is perhaps the most famous of all. The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) were allegedly tipped off by an unhappy member of the crew because of the electric shocks the crocodiles were receiving. A representative visited the studio and was immediately taken to Derek Meddings who explained the situation that a small shock was being given just to make them move. The man from the RSPCA pointed out that they would actually need much larger shocks of about 60 volts to get through the crocodiles’ thick skins. He had noticed that this was the studio where Thunderbirds was being filmed and because it was his favourite programme he came on board to assist with handling the reptiles for the rest of the shoot.

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A house stands in the middle of the swamp. The dense foliage and murky water really make this a great model set.

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Haunting housekeeper Mrs Files stands at the window. As the camera moves towards the window you can spot it and the operator being reflected in the glass.

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The piano next to Mrs Files in this shot dates back as far as Four Feather Falls and still survives today. It was in Christine Glanville’s personal collection before being passed on to Richard Gregory. The prop was refurbished for a cameo appearance in the Thunderbirds 1965 episode The Stately Homes Robberies.

Down in the basement laboratory are Dr Orchard and Hector McGill. Orchard later appears without his beard as Captain Saville in Alias Mr. Hackenbacker. McGill appears as Schieller in The Cham-Cham and was previously spotted in additional material for Martian Invasion.

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Culp gets rather impatient with Blackmer’s whining, abruptly announcing their arrival.

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Orchard and McGill have come to meet Blackmer at the quay. Orchard insists that McGill is his assistant… and nothing more than that…

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Orchard gives Culp a very firm telling off for threatening to leave in the boat without his passenger. Culp is already proving to be a great villain. He has a tone of depression and sadism about him that you just don’t get with most Thunderbirds characters funnily enough…

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A storm begins to roll in overhead. Every book of Thunderbirds trivia ever will tell you that this stock cloud shot is the same one later seen in the opening titles of the 1967 ITC series The Prisoner. Yes, it is most likely from the same piece of footage, but the two shots that are used are not actually identical.

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Time to get to the plot. Orchard’s laboratory is full of nonsensical chemistry experiments which look very important and dress the set superbly.

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Orchard has something super secret that he wants to show to Blackmer who couldn’t sound less interested.

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Some plants are shown sitting in a cabinet – a cabinet which was previously seen as the ‘Autotune’ jukebox at Parola Sands in Move – And You’re Dead. Blackmer refers to the plants as weed… not weeds, just weed… Orchard takes great offence. I would argue that these are all different looking plants but apparently they’re all the same thing – the Sardonicus Americanus which only grows in this part of the river. Needless to say the name is completely made up from other Latin words. Anyway, apparently it’s a very special plant.

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Culp has no idea why Blackmer is visiting but knows there’s probably something juicy going on in the laboratory so just has to have a listen. The dialogue that is played over Culp’s walk towards the window is heard again in a minute.

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We learn that apparently the world is going through a grave food shortage at the moment… probably thanks to Grandma Tracy making so many pies for Scott… On a serious note, this is actually one of the more grim and dystopian predictions that Thunderbirds makes about living in the future. The food shortage can’t be that serious though because Blackmer isn’t exactly thrilled about eating plants from the swamp…

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It turns out that Orchard and McGill have managed to extract and process the juices of the plant to produce a food additive which can multiply an animal’s meat output considerably – meaning that they get really, really big. The drug is called Theramine… not to be confused with the pain relief medication available nowadays, or the theremin musical instrument.

McGill puts the Theramine away in a cupboard meaning it definitely won’t be coming out again in the near future… oh wait, Culp is watching the whole thing through the window so bad things are probably going to happen. Why can nobody see Culp just sitting there in plain sight of everyone?

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Orchard shows off his test subjects.

Small rabbits on one side, BIG rabbits on the other. Funnily enough, the production crew don’t have quite so many stories to tell about working with the giant killer bunnies as they do about the alligators… These are two different breeds of rabbit. The large rabbits are also filmed much closer up and appear to be in slightly smaller cages to magnify their size. Could somebody please write a version of this story where Culp goes a bit mad and feeds too much Theramine to the rabbits instead?

Blackmer is very impressed by the idea, reckoning they could make a wad of cash out of it. Thunder rolls in overhead, letting us all know that things are not going to go well. It’s exactly the same shot of the sky from earlier which famously didn’t quite feature in the titles of The Prisoner.

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Suddenly, and for no particular reason, we’re whisked away to Tracy Island for the launching of Thunderbird 2. Much like the air display in The Duchess Assignment last week, there’s this rather bizarre sequence which doesn’t contribute anything to the plot. Alan needs to fix the island’s aerial mast to restore communications so Virgil’s flying him out there in Thunderbird 2. The incident is never mentioned again and has no impact on the rest of the story. There’s a chance that the material was written to be included as padding for a half hour episode but ended up going unused, so instead it gets to be used as padding here. That’s just speculation though. This is going to be such an easy mission that not only is Virgil not in uniform but he’s even taken his brown waist coat off.

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Grandma is in the same outfit she was wearing last week in The Duchess Assignment and Jeff’s sporting yet another snazzy jumper and some shades which someone must have told him looked cool at some point. She’s expressing more interest in this escapade than most of the big, dangerous rescue operations in the series.

Thunderbird 2 flies around the coast, giving us a rare opportunity to see some other bits of the island. Some believe that this mast is located on the neighbouring Mateo Island, but in the series itself Mateo Island’s existence is neither confirmed nor denied so it’s up to you really.

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The dizzying height of the mast is well expressed with this wobbly handheld shot taken from above. This mast is the same one which The Hood’s plane narrowly misses in additional material for Martian Invasion.

Alan is carefully lowered down on to the tower, getting blown about by the wind.

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Pretty quickly, Alan spots that the problem is a simple one. The junction plates on the leads from dish number seven have got corroded… y’know, that old chestnut. Good thing it wasn’t anything more complicated though or Virgil would have had to fly back and pick up Brains and lower him on to the tower instead, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have liked that very much…

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Alan gets ruddy close to falling off because Jeff Tracy doesn’t believe safety rails are a worthwhile investment… I don’t talk about puppet wires very often on this blog because I’d be here all day if I pointed out every single one, but I do think that it’s pretty amazing that even in high definition you can’t see a single wire in this shot and a huge number of others. No doubt the wires have been carefully painted to match the backdrop and disappear.

Jeff attempts to call Thunderbird 5 to test “whether the fault is really down here on Earth.” He says it as if the whole thing could be a ruse made up by John because they’re just not getting on terribly well these days. The call doesn’t go through. Grandma is much more concerned about it than Jeff who is purely worried about losing Thunderbird 5 rather than his least favourite son…

But John’s soon back in touch once Alan has successfully repaired the damage. Jeff is thrilled to be back in business… and probably less thrilled that he has to talk to John again now… So with that rather pointless but fairly exciting tangent to the episode all wrapped up let’s get back to the plot…

The storm has set in over the swamp. Thunder roars overhead as the rain pours and lightning flashes. The melodramatic storms in Thunderbirds are just incredible.

Mrs Files is getting things ready for the night before turning in. Blackmer will be staying in the guest bedroom because of the storm. Blackmer, Orchard, and McGill are enjoying their supper, sitting on chairs which were previously seen in Glen Carrick Castle in 30 Minutes After Noon. The table was in Lady Penelope’s sitting room in The Duchess Assignment last week. With Mrs Files gone the chaps start to speculate about her hostility towards Culp who will also be spending the night. We learn that Mrs Files was also housekeeper to the previous owner, a Mr Lopez. Lopez and Culp were old chums and it seems like there was something of a past there involving some criminal activity. My theory is that the basement laboratory used to be a meth lab… but you can come up with your own ideas if you like. Suddenly the lights start flickering! The tension!

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Apparently McGill’s just been slacking on household maintenance. The carpet in this room matches the carpet of the casino in The Duchess Assignment. The rocking chair previously belonged to Grandma Tracy in Move – And You’re Dead.

Then things get really creepy as the door creaks open by itself and we’re treated to an extreme close up of McGill’s emotionless face with his big thick glasses.

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Mrs Files has decided to scare the willies out of everyone by standing at the top of the stairs in front of the window as the storm rages behind her. Did she open the door with her mind? Who knows, but the implication is definitely that we’re supposed to find her terrifying and a bit untrustworthy for no particular reason. It adds a level of tension and depth to these guest characters which makes them rather memorable. Of course later we learn that Mrs Files is basically on the good side but having that underlying uncertainty there for some of the story does making things quite exciting. Anyway, she just wants to know if they’ll be needing the keys to the laboratory, which they don’t, so she’s going to look after them… as usual…

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And because Culp’s a nasty piece of work he’s been hiding behind the grandfather clock the entire time and now knows exactly where the laboratory keys are being kept! Is that a bad thing? Probably! He hasn’t actually done anything particularly villainous yet except for showing an interest in the Theramine… the dramatic music suggests this is a pretty bad thing though.

The swamp is bathed in the light of a full moon. There’s more horror movie stereotypes in this episode than you could shake a werewolf at.

Despite Mrs Files preparing a bed for Blackmer in the guest bedroom, it would appear that he’s shacked up with McGill. Plasticine has been put over the puppets’ eyes to make them appear to be sleeping. The door of Orchard’s bedroom is opened and closed again by an intruder…

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Mrs Files has the same wallpaper in her bedroom as Grandma Tracy had in her house in Move – And You’re Dead. The lamp on the night stand previously sat by Penelope’s bed side in additional material for Brink of Disaster.

One moment the keys to the laboratory are there, and the next they’re gone! A very cunning piece of direction from David Lane to maintain the air of mystery and spookiness and avoid clunkily cutting away to a live action hand insert.

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Culp is the culprit… maybe that’s why they call him Culp…

The rabbits are alarmed… maybe he is going to feed them more Theramine after all…

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Culp delicately pours some of the solution into a vial. The movement is incredibly well performed by at least one or possibly two floor puppeteers holding on to the arms. They manage to stay out of shot and the result is very convincing.

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Disaster strikes when the remaining Theramine falls into the sink! Culp makes a grumpy noise to reflect the gravity of the situation.

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He washes the drug down the plug hole… what a resourceful chap…

Covering his tracks, Culp picks up the nearest flask of something green that he can find, pours it into the beaker and pops it back in the cupboard… because a group of scientists would never detect that one green liquid is actually a completely different green liquid. With the deed done, and a vial full of Theramine in his pocket, Culp swans off and turns off the lights…

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That looks like quite a bit more Theramine being pumped into the swamp than was actually poured down the sink, but it’s still ruddy terrifying.

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Goodness knows how difficult it was to persuade this crocodile to swim through shot. Often a rope would be used to pull the creatures through the water in the right direction during filming, but there appears to be no sign of that here.

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The next morning it’s time for Blackmer and Culp to take their leave. Blackmer is enthusiastic about getting Theramine on the market immediately and can’t foresee any issues at all…

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McGill immediately works out that the Theramine has gone… Culp needn’t have bothered really.

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The good ship Maria cruises back up the river…

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Oh boy… overnight the alligators in the swamp have grown into giants. Although the music strikes up quite dramatically, the impact of this reveal isn’t perhaps as big as one might have hoped for. You don’t really get a sense of just how big these brutes are until a bit later. The cold stares and toothy grins are pretty unnerving though.

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The first beast slides into the water and particularly in long shot we don’t really get a sense of just how massive they’re supposed to appear.

It’s tricky to work out just how many of these giant alligators there are supposed to be as they slide down into the water. One of them gives a very alarming jolt before scurrying away, probably due to getting 60 volts straight up its tail.

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One alligator chases after the boat, no doubt being pulled along by a crew member hiding just out of shot. This shot gives the viewer a chance to consider just how massive these creatures are compared to some humans. There aren’t many more opportunities like it unfortunately.

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It’s hard to believe that Blackmer and Culp didn’t hear a beast that size coming up behind them, but nevertheless they have no idea who or what might be rocking the boat…

Surprise! Culp lets out a nasty, chilling scream as the very angry alligator thrashes about. Crocodiles aren’t exactly the most expressive creatures so to make them look this bloodthirsty is quite an achievement!

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Orchard and McGill are ruddy cross with Mrs Files about the stolen Theramine. She claims rather unconvincingly that the room was locked as usual… which it was… but she still somehow makes it sound like she had something to do with it.

Blackmer is trying to shoot at the enormous reptile while Culp screams, “KILL IT!” David Graham certainly isn’t holding back on trying to make Culp and the whole situation as terrifying to children as possible.

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Orchard, McGill, and Mrs Files have heard that there’s a bit of a commotion going on down the river. Dr Orchard has immediately sussed that the Theramine is in the water. One wonders whether there was anything else in the water at the time. Are we going to be seeing giant fish any time soon?

Blackmer and Culp get tremendously splashed… twice.

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The boat is overturned and we’re left this haunting image of Culp flailing around and drowning in the murky depths of the swamp. These puppets are certainly given some rough treatment.

Maria is no more as the alligator lashes out for the last time. Blackmer and Culp gently sink to the bottom of the swamp. Blackmer manages to pop his head back up on the surface. It would appear that the puppets were pretty darn waterproof!

As the alligator silently trudges off, McGill takes a nippy little boat over to the wreckage. He certainly drew the short straw with that job.

McGill has a stick handy for a spot of Blackmer fishing, followed by unceremoniously dragging him aboard. Orchard is on the lookout for more of the toothy terrors.

Blackmer could not look more unhappy about the way his life is going right now. Another alligator comes chasing after them. Usually when an alligator swims only its eyes might be visible above the water. In order to make the creatures stick out on the surface more, there are reports that they were tied to the poles which were normally used to pass puppets up to the bridge, and this enabled them to be held up in the water while being dragged along by the pole. McGill crashes the boat very firmly into the bank.

It’s a bit unclear exactly what happens next, but basically Orchard gets a bit frightened by one particular alligator who lunges into the water on the attack. Mrs Files looks on from the safety of the house.

The creature has made its way to the other bank and Mrs Files is ready at the front door.

Dr Orchard has to run away from one of the giant alligators as it chases after him. Needless to say puppets can’t run very convincingly so David Lane does the best he can, although why writer and fellow Supermarionation director Alan Pattillo thought this could be pulled off well when he put it in the script is a mystery. Orchard is made to bob up and down and side to side vigorously which makes for a pretty decent run while the alligator plods along after him. Barry Gray’s music helps to make the whole thing much more dramatic.

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Just in time Orchard runs through the door and Mrs Files slams it shut. Naturally there wouldn’t have been any threshold above the doorway in order to allow the puppet wires through.

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The alligator approaches the house. Only now can we truly get an impression of just how large this creature is supposed to be next to the building.

We learn that McGill and Blackmer made it back okay through the side entrance. Finally, Orchard remembers that Culp is still out there…

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The alligator starts to attack the house. Used sparingly, this is the large tail which was built especially for shots such as this. It isn’t terribly convincing so we don’t see it all that much.

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Mrs Files declares that they need to head for the basement laboratory to be safe… because when a house collapses you really want to be trapped underneath it…

As we head for the next commercial break, more alligators are heading towards the house. It’s fascinating to watch their webbed feet spread out on the ground as they walk. The creatures are definitely at their most impressive and intimidating when filmed close up.

With the alligators screaming and wailing outside, Blackmer, Orchard, McGill, and Mrs Files are trapped in the laboratory. Someone had time to find Blackmer a blanket while desperately fleeing from the reptilian monsters. Mrs Files has the bright idea to call International Rescue… because they deal with this sort of thing all the time obviously.

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McGill immediately makes the call. The control panel he uses was previously seen as the control unit for Brains’ submarine model in The Man From MI.5.

International Rescue react to the situation as anyone would expect. John is taken aback by the prospect of giant alligators and so is Scott… either that or they both need their hearing tested.

Scott is sent on his way in Thunderbird 1 while Brains is asked to provide some sort of an explanation… I know the guy’s supposed to be a genius Jeff but give him a break – this is a rather unusual thing to happen.

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Jeff sends Virgil, Alan, and Gordon on their way in Thunderbird 2. He suggests they take pod 6… we’ll see whether Virgil payed any attention to that advice later…

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This map is quite the curiosity when given very close inspection. The Ambro River is entirely fictional. Upholding this blog’s reputation for studying the tiniest of details, it was our mission to find out what this is actually a map of. ‘Ambro River’ has been written upside down to face Jeff but all the original place names on the map are facing the camera which is jolly useful. It turns out that this map started out life depicting Southern Ontario, Canada and the U.S. states of Michigan and New York. Somebody in the art department has, however, drawn a few extra bits of land and river over the top to make the map almost unrecognisable.

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Jeff ponders how well Orchard and the gang are standing up to the alligators which he says like it’s nothing… has anyone mentioned to Jeff how ruddy enormous they are?

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One alligator’s tail whacks against the basement window. Quite how the live creature was persuaded to do this we can only speculate… but they probably weren’t happy about it.

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The alligators don’t seem to be having much fun climbing on top of each other… almost as if someone was giving them massive electric shocks to make them move…

Orchard has somehow had the opportunity to access his wardrobe and decided to change his shirt. He starts to get a bit whiny so a beam decides to knock him to the floor. McGill gets awfully melodramatic about the whole thing…

Before you know it, Thunderbird 1 is overflying the swamp. The gang hear the engines while checking Dr Orchard is okay. We then cut back to exactly the same piece of footage of Thunderbird 1 flying over exactly the same piece of swamp again.

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Trust Scott to downplay the entire situation which he merely describes as “pretty hazardous.” Stepping on a recently mopped floor is pretty hazardous, Scott! Three giant alligators knocking down a house is nightmarish! He manages to make contact with McGill and then makes a plan with Virgil. Scott intends to enter the house… good luck with that mate.

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As Thunderbird 1 touches down you’ll notice that the belly of the craft is caked in mud, which happens to match the mud on the ground. It looks like Thunderbird 1 may have already made one unsuccessful landing attempt during a previous take and gotten a bit closer to the ground than it was supposed to, but nobody had time to clean her up properly afterwards.

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Happy The Alligator is seriously in love with that wall.

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Scott is flying across the swamp on his hoverbike.

In order to persuade the alligator to move away from the house, Scott has the brightest idea he’s ever had… I mean really, this one’s a whopper. He fires a missile at the house right next to Happy The Alligator’s face… oh yeah, Scott really knows how to handle ruddy furious animals. The bigger issue possibly lies in the fact a pyrotechnic charge would have been laid on the model set, and a technician would have had to wait for Happy The Alligator to get into position before setting it off and risking injury to the creature.

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For some reason Happy decides to just slowly wander out of the way rather than being incredibly cross with the chap firing missiles at him. This gives Scott a clear passage to the basement window.

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The same piece of footage of Happy climbing out of the river is reused from earlier.

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Because it defies the laws of puppetry, we don’t actually get to see Scott climb in through the laboratory window. Mrs Files reveals that she knows of a secret landing stage to flee the house in case of emergencies which was built by the mysterious Mr Lopez. He never told Mrs Files how to get to it though… but apparently Culp knows the way… but he’s probably dead… so she needn’t have bothered mentioning it really… oh and whatever happened to Mr Files? Maybe he was part of Lopez and Culp’s dodgy activities too…

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Before the discussion is able to continue, a very fake looking alligator tail smashes against the window. Scott concludes that they ought to get out of the basement before it falls on top of them, completely contradicting Mrs Files’ theory that the laboratory was the safest part of the house.

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They escape just in time! The ceiling collapses and blows up all of the impressive chemistry experiments. I hope the equipment was insured against giant alligators taking a disliking to the house.

The destruction continues as one of alligators takes down a huge chunk of the house. Sections of the building were presumably set up to fall away while an animal handler just held the crocodile and shook it around a lot. Meanwhile, Happy pokes his head in where the front door used to be.

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The fake tail is being waved around outside the window, which is about the closest we get to seeing the supposed size of the beasts compared to a puppet.

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Scott is standing by to repel the attack with nothing but a gun, a chair, and McGill.

A bookcase at the other side of the room starts to shimmer and shake. McGill reckons the alligators must be coming in behind it… even though there are plenty of wide open windows and doorways for them to use… Nevertheless, the tension is super high as it starts to look very much like Scott is going to have to take on Happy The Alligator face to face…

It’s Culp! Shock horror! He somehow survived drowning in the murky swamp. McGill sounds genuinely disappointed that Culp wasn’t chewed up by an alligator. Using Lopez’s secret waterway, he’s managed to reach the house and wants to turn the situation to his advantage, threatening to use his stolen vial of Theramine!  Quite what he aims to get out of this scenario I don’t know, it’s not like he can make a bargain with the giant reptile monsters to let him go…

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Thunderbird 2 is approaching the swamp in this somewhat flat shot taken from above. It’s unfortunate that the ugliest Thunderbird 2 model has been put to use here. The river and swamp rolling along underneath look pretty neat though.

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Virgil is a bit perplexed as to why Scott isn’t answering his radio. I would assume the worst and say Happy’s had him for dinner, but Jeff is confident that Scott has some sort of scheme in hand.

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The alligators continue to make an absolute mess of the house. Based on the external damage I can’t believe the living room has remained alligator-free.

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Virgil’s plan to scare off the alligators is quite a bit better than Scott’s was. Because of the sheer scariness of Thunderbird 2’s thrusters the beasts begin to retreat. This TB2 model looks ruddy incredible and huge and beautiful and my oh my.

Gordon’s keen to go and knock ’em out with the tranquiliser guns, while Culp is keen to make a getaway, watching the alligators head back to the river.

Culp refuses to let Scott say a single word to Virgil. Interestingly, Virgil refers to Scott as ‘Mobile Control’ even though Scott couldn’t have possibly brought his mobile control centre through the basement window…

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Somewhere inside Thunderbird 2, Alan and Gordon are ready with the tranquiliser guns which are very impressive pieces of equipment. Gordon is a bit slumped over and doesn’t quite look like he’s using it right…

Thunderbird 2 makes a fast, low pass over two of the beasts. Alan and Gordon take aim. It’s a great little sequence. They manage to hit the first alligator who, with a quick cut, flips over onto its back. Presumably a handler just out of shot did the actual flipping. That must be some incredibly powerful drugs in those tranquiliser pellets to knock out a beast that size. More importantly, how long do they last for?

Virgil makes another pass and the second alligator rolls over. This time it looks like the crocodile was originally put down on the set on its back and either by electric shock or of its own accord rolled onto its stomach – the footage was then reversed to make it look like the croc was rolling onto its back.

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Thunderbrid 2 makes one last sweep of the area. The two beasts are out for the count. Hurrah! Now everyone just needs to leg it before they wake up again.

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As Gordon points out, there’s still one more gator at large… get it… at large… large alligators… Anyway, he’s back at the house.

The ceiling is nearing collapse in the living room. Mrs Files is holding hands with Dr Orchard… McGill might get a bit jealous…

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Thunderbird 2 touches down, apparently finding a large enough area of the swamp with firm enough ground to do so.

Gordon says they can’t use the tranquiliser guns so near the house because there are people inside… even though Scott had no problem at all firing a missile at the house while there were people inside… So the only useful thing Alan can think of doing is jumping on his hoverbike and using himself as bait to lure Happy The Alligator away. Virgil and Gordon aren’t exactly thrilled by the idea but don’t try terribly hard to stop him by locking all the hatches or something like that.

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The end is pretty near for the house as the bookcase takes a tumble.

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Scott is reaching the end of his tether with Culp. He offers to use his ray gun to cripple the reptile. This is the only time in the series the International Rescue sidearm is referred to as a ray gun… mainly because it doesn’t actually fire rays…

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Alan Pattillo has now started to use the dialogue to plug other Thunderbirds episodes he’s written as Culp declares, “One move and you’re dead!” Next he’ll be telling Scott that he’s just got to pop out and look something up on his Cham-Cham…

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The large model of the front of Thunderbird 2 makes another appearance. It can also be spotted in The Mighty AtomMartian Invasion, and The Perils of Penelope. Alan is on his way over to the house.

Happy immediately takes a liking to young Alan and with very little enticement he starts to wander away from the house, presumably viewing Alan as the equivalent of some kind of floating pie shop.

Alan and his new friend are having a wonderful time playing together. The tension is pretty high though… how long until Alan has his head bitten clean off?

Gordon and Virgil are pretty impressed by how well it’s all going.

But suddenly everything’s gone to pot when Alan crashes his hoverbike into a log and falls off. Alan ends up with half of his face and hair covered in green swampy slime which probably took ages for the puppet department to wash out. Happy is closing in for the kill. All this is set to music which was previous heard introducing the Loch Ness Monster in the Stingray episode of the same name.

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Alan’s head wound is gratuitously bloody and realistic. As the shadow of the giant alligator looms over him, this moment really is the stuff of nightmares.

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Open wide!

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With lightning reflexes Gordon opens fire!

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A direct hit! Happy The Alligator is down! Towards the end of this shot water starts to splash back into the swamp, clearly indicating that the footage has been reversed to make it look like the crocodile is rolling onto its back.

With an alligator-free path, Culp decides the time has come to make his getaway… even though he could have just gone back out the way he came in via the secret waterway… in fact why did he even come back to the house in the first place rather than just running off with the vial? Anyway, Culp finally allows Scott to communicate with Thunderbird 2. He informs Virgil of the situation.

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Virgil and Gordon aren’t thrilled with the idea of letting Culp escape with more Theramine, so Virgil instructs his brother to standby in Thunderbird 4… shame they brought Pod 6 rather than Pod 4… oh wait… never mind. You can just about see on the door of the pod when Thunderbird 2 lifts off, and it would appear that they did indeed bring Pod 4. Clearly Virgil knew that his father had absolutely no idea what he was talking about when recommending the use of Pod 6 earlier.

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A particularly bright yellow and smokey Thunderbird 4 takes to the waters of the swamp.

Thunderbird 4 is on patrol… presumably Gordon’s plan is just to blow Culp up at some point. Speak of the devil, he’s making his escape in McGill’s boat from earlier in the episode just to add insult to injury.

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Scott and Dr Orchard have decided to venture outside. Why isn’t Scott rushing off to rescue his poor, unconscious brother who is currently lying in the swamp losing blood?

Suddenly Gordon spots another giant alligator who has remained completely undetected the whole time! This is Happy The Alligator’s brother… Jim The Alligator. Jim decides he wants to have Culp for a late afternoon snack…

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The boat is soon knocked over and poor Culp is cast to the waters of the swamp once more. Dr Orchard and Scott watch from the bank, desperately wondering what has happened to the vial… because Culp’s life is pretty much worthless to them by this point in the proceedings apparently…

Now that Culp has either drowned or been swallowed alive by the alligator, Virgil decides that now is the time to fire a missile at it, rather than a few seconds ago before it had killed anyone.

Using Thunderbird 4’s powerful lights, Gordon searches for the vial… not Culp’s body, they really couldn’t care less about trying to save his life anymore. The Theramine is soon spotted.

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Orchard reminds us all that if the vial breaks, the Theramine will get into the water again and we’ll end up with even more giant alligators… and that just wouldn’t do, would it?

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Gordon has thrown on a scuba suit which he appears to have borrowed from Carl, the villain from The Man From MI.5. This is the only time that Gordon swims underwater not wearing his standard silver and red wetsuit. Thunderbird 4 is surrounded by incredibly dense vegetation which looks rather impressive.

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While searching for the vial, Gordon remarks that it’s like looking for… hey! That’s not quite how the phrase goes Gordon but never mind. He soon finds the vial which doesn’t even have a scratch. No more giant alligators!

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The team are soon back on Tracy Island… wait… what? Aren’t there rather a lot of loose ends to tie up? Jeff remarks that the Theramine drug is going under international control but other than that we’re given no more information about how this catastrophe was wrapped up! Who went to rescue Alan? Did Culp survive? Were there anymore giant creatures left in the swamp? And most importantly, what on earth did they do with the four giant alligators that they knew about? One may or may not have been killed by Virgil’s missile fire, but there are still three that were merely tranquilised. Have they been placed in captivity to avoid breeding any more of them? Have they been put down for similar reasons? What do you do with three alligators the size of buses when you’d rather they didn’t wake up and kill more people? But I suppose the even more important questions come up when we consider the Tracy family’s fashion choices at this point. Jeff’s been wearing a ghastly tartan jacket for most of the episode, Virgil is wearing what appears to be Ned Cook’s NTBS uniform, and Alan is in a blue woolly sweater with a white bib which is also made out of wool…

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Tin-Tin’s been out on a shopping expedition for the entire episode… that’s the incredible useful thing she’s been given to do this week while a major disaster was going on…

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The lads are not terribly forthcoming when telling her all about the rescue operation, deciding to focus on the boring bits rather than the bit about the GIANT ALLIGATORS.

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Never mind that, Tin-Tin has a present for Alan because it’s his birthday tomorrow. Various sources give Alan’s birthday as being March 12th. That could be something to do with the fact this episode was first broadcast on  March 10th. If Alan’s birthday is the day after this scene takes place and does indeed fall on March 12th, then the day Blackmer and Culp first arrived in the swamp at the beginning of the episode would have been March 10th, the same date this episode was first broadcast. That could be how Alan’s birthday was cleverly worked out, or it could all be a complete coincidence. Anyway, Tin-Tin’s mysterious present is in the bathroom…

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Of course Scott has to be the one who turns this into a Carry On film.

Standing around the bath, Tin-Tin encourages Alan to open his eyes. I think it’s fair to say the present wasn’t quite what he was hoping for. It’s a mini alligator! It’s possible that this is one of the crocodiles used for filming. Where on earth did Tin-Tin find a pet pygmy alligator?

Alan manages to slap a smile on his face, even though it’s basically the worst birthday present that has ever been given to anyone ever… Tin-Tin reckons she’s done good though so I guess their little ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance continues and brings the episode to a light-hearted close!

Attack of the Alligators! reputation proceeds it most certainly. It’s a highly discussed episode by fans and the production team behind it. The premise for the episode is about as fantastical as Thunderbirds ever gets, but a firm attempt is made to ground the whole thing in some form of scientific logic which is probably what keeps it so strong. It would have been easy to cast aside the explanation for this freak occurrence so the plot could be solely focussed on getting in as much giant alligator action as possible. But instead there’s a good 20 minutes of story, before any giant alligators appear, which is almost entirely dedicated to establishing the guest characters, their motivations, and the work they are doing that causes this accident to happen. This gives the episode so much more integrity than being a straight monster movie. It’s the strong set up combined with the strong action that makes this such a good Thunderbirds story. There are many, many small plot holes, but only a feature film running time would have solved those. The best Thunderbirds stories seem to combine well-drawn characters, a beautifully presented setting, and a seriously dangerous threat.

How successfully did the production team get to grips with directing their cast of reptiles? Well the end results are by no means perfect with some rough cutting, clearly reversed footage, and some dodgy framing exposing the fact filming with these beasts was tricky. The methods used to make them perform certainly would not be acceptable today, and were very nearly not acceptable at the time either. Whether you’re a fan of their methods or not, the AP Films team worked incredibly hard to get this episode finished against a punishing schedule. The entire team pulled off something truly remarkable with this episode, and Attack of the Alligators! will continue to be one of the most talked about Thunderbirds stories for a long time to come.

Next week, Lady Penelope, Tin-Tin, and Parker are off on a whirlwind, showbiz adventure at the Paradise Peaks Hotel in the Alps. Their mission: to crack the code which is causing the attacks on some top secret transporter aircraft. Stay tuned for The Cham-Cham.

2 thoughts on “Thunderbirds – 24. Attack of the Alligators!

  1. I adored this recap more than any of the others. Such snark! I don’t know whether I giggled more at Jeff’s implication that John sabotaged the communications tower (probably yes) or Scott preparing to defend the lliving room using a gun, a chair & McGill. I also think Happy the Alligator deserves an award for “best acting by a reptile”

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  2. Mary Bierbaum

    Just for accuracy, the map is actually part of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The Great Lakes have been altered to look like the river but you can still see their shapes where the green and blue form the swamp and river. You can also see Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

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