Thunderbirds – 25. The Cham-Cham

Directed by Alan Pattillo

Teleplay by Alan Pattillo

First Broadcast – 24th March 1966

By this point in the production of Thunderbirds, in the final months of 1965, the team were on a roll. They were racing towards the finish line on the first 26 episode commission from Lew Grade. The series had been on air for several weeks now and the public were loving every minute of it. The pressure was on to keep the format fresh and the focus of the series was definitely changing based on the demands of the public, and the wishes of the producers. Those changes would become more evident in the next series but they’re certainly starting to creep at this point too. The Cham-Cham continues the trend of pushing the talents of the puppet department to the limit. The nature of the story makes it very clear that the puppet stars were basically expected to behave like human beings now. The Andersons and their team were truly attempting to compete with the likes of James Bond and the ITC live action adventure series with a movement towards more mature storytelling, lavish locations, and character-driven adventures.

The Tracy family are taking the backseat on this adventure once again with Penelope, Parker, and now Tin-Tin taking the lead in a story more about espionage than dangerous rescue missions.

The episode opens with a stirring tune first heard in Stingray as we pan across a very carefully designed chalet featuring striking modernist artwork, a grand piano, a telescope, and a Buddha statue. The piano is most likely the same one which normally appears in the corner of the Tracy lounge.

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The camera continues to pan to reveal an enormous computer console at the side of the room, covered in colourful lights and buttons. You can also spot one of Wilbur Dandridge’s gazelle statues on the table from The Duchesss Assignment. The episode title, The Cham-Cham appears on screen. It’s an odd title. Not only is the word completely made up, but the story doesn’t really focus all that much on the Cham-Cham machine anyway. The name is not to be confused with the Bengali dessert commonly known as cham cham… The appearance of the title card is a standalone scene which then fades to black, a technique often used to open episodes of Supercar.

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A new scene opens at a US Air Force base known as Matthews Field.

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A hangar opens containing an enormous transporter aircraft – the RTL2. Outside the hangar you can spot one of the buildings from Cape Kennedy as seen in Sun Probe. The RTL2 is very impressive, but perhaps lacks the design flair of the more memorable guest vehicles from the series. Much like the transporter aircraft seen in The Duchess Assignment, its more subdued colour scheme suggests an attempt to shift towards more realistic vehicle design.

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Looking down on the RTL2 from the control tower are a terribly grumpy commander, and a chap named Scheiler who previously appeared as Hector McGill in Attack of the Alligators! The control tower set itself is the same set previously seen as the London Airport control tower with a few modifications.

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The enormous craft rolls out of the hangar. Scheiler reports that the security systems are operational… apparently that’s what they thought the last time but something bad happened… there’s a bit of history there. He says that “the physical contours of the RTL2 interest me much less than the success of the whole operation.” Someone’s a bit of a negative-nancy aren’t they…

The RTL2 taxis to the end of the runway. The commander checks in with Hitchins, who last appeared as a croupier in The Duchess Assignment. In the background is a new puppet who will go on to play Frank Hooper in Atlantic Inferno.

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The RTL2 crew open up their sealed, top secret orders. The map suggests they will be flying over northwest Canada.

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Captain Savidge was previously seen as Lt. Jensen in Danger At Ocean Deep. This cockpit set has a lot of bits of pieces from other cockpits and control rooms. The steering wheel in front of Savidge was last seen in the World TV helijet in The Impostors, the red levers hanging from the ceiling were used to control the D.O.M.O. in The Duchess Assignment, and the control stick in front of the co-pilot was last used in the cockpit of the Red Arrow in Edge of Impact.

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The navigator, Macklin sits in a separate room. He was previously seen as Carella in The Impostors among many other roles. Rather oddly, the stool he’s sitting on has been borrowed from the bar of the Fireflash as seen in The Duchess Assignment.

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The camera gazes up at the imposing control tower.

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The central control console and the automatic x-ray machine confirm that this is essentially the London Airport control room shuffled around a little bit. The commander points out that the biggest danger to the operation is if the enemies finds out where they are… thank you Captain Obvious… The solution is to maintain radio silence. Sounds simple.

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This is the cargo. It’s big, it’s red, and it’s called the USAF Poseidon. It’s probably a big explosive thing.

The RTL2 thunders down the runway for take-off. But now it’s time to kick back and listen to some tunes. Over the radio, the crew are listening to Radio Maxwell who are playing the latest hit by the Cass Carnaby Five, live from Paradise Peaks: Dangerous Game. It’s a pretty nice tune and having a piece of music essentially form the main focus of the episode is certainly very inventive. Barry Gray had to create a number of different arrangements of Dangerous Game for the episode. It was originally performed by singer, Ken Barrie (of Postman Pat fame), but this was swapped out for instrumental versions in the finished episode.

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It’s a quiet day at International Rescue. The radios are all tuned to Radio Maxwell for this knockout performance of Dangerous Game. Scott and Jeff are studying the map previously used by The Hood in Cry Wolf. Scott’s making some interesting fashion choices with that red tie and that shirt.

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Some alterations have been made to the control panel behind Jeff’s desk. The ‘Auto Transmission Unit’ label which has been there since Desperate Intruder has been swapped out for one that now reads ‘Auxiliary Controls’. Two red light bulbs have also been added which feature more prominently in Security Hazard next week. This alteration can also be spotted in additional material for Martian Invasion.

Elsewhere in the house, Tin-Tin and Gordon are listening to Dangerous Game also. It’s hard to work out whose bedroom we’re in exactly. The wall behind the bed is the same one seen in Virgil’s room in Terror In New York City and Jeff’s room in The Duchess Assignement. The sliding glass door that Virgil enters through was also seen in his bedroom in Terror In New York City so maybe it is his bedroom, but why are Gordon and Tin-Tin just sitting around in there and telling Virgil to be quiet when he comes in. The wall outside of the room in the corridor when Virgil enters was seen in the bathroom in Attack of the Alligators! last week.

Up in Thunderbird 5, John and Alan appear to be performing some maintenance. One of their many radios is also tuned to Radio Maxwell. Alan’s boots don’t quite look like they’re fitting him properly this week. He knows Tin-Tin “really digs this number.” John thinks it’s great too, but says it like he’s never known the joy of music before… which he probably hasn’t.

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All of a sudden, the chilled out mood is interrupted by the news that the RTL2 is under attack!

Three fighter aircraft are chucking their missiles at the RTL2. They bear strange markings which don’t really mean anything much but everyone talks about them as if they’re really significant.

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The relief aircraft are launched. Footage of the Air Sea Rescue craft from Operation Crash-Dive and The Impostors is reused here.

The commander drops the bombshell that this is the third time this has happened! Well this guy’s clearly terrible at his job then. Surely a change of strategy is needed if this has already happened twice before now? The burning RTL2 morbidly falls out of the sky…

Virgil plays his own lovely rendition of Dangerous Game on the piano. Alan is attempting to compete with Scott in the out of place tie competition. He also has a watch attached to his belt which is certainly unusual. Alan begins to suggest that there’s a connection between Dangerous Game and the attack on the RTL2. Scott suddenly gets incredibly defensive over the very notion that this is more than just a coincidence… actually it sounds more like he’s fed up with listening to Dangerous Game on the radio everyday. In between shots, Alan’s head changes from one variant to another for the rest of the episode. He also points out that Dangerous Game has been on the radio all three times the transporters have crashed. I’ve heard the same song on the radio three times in the same journey before so it certainly could still be a coincidence.

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Jeff notes the fact that all of the performances were broadcast live. We learn that the Cass Carnaby Five are currently doing a season at the luxury Paradise Peaks hotel high up in the Alps. Jeff is beginning to buy the idea that there’s a connection… really? Is it really that convincing of an argument? I mean, yes it turns out to be entirely true that there’s a connection, but would that really be your first line of inquiry? Brains is going to get John to radio down a recording of the broadcast and Jeff is planning to send a certain someone out to the hotel… well it’s certainly a bizarre investigation but I guess we’ll just have to go with it and accept the slightly absurd nature of this episode’s plot.

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We shoot over to the Creighton-Ward manor and a little gazebo Lady P has set up in her rather fake-looking garden. It’s a lavishly dressed set but not quite as elegant as one might except from her ladyship. You can see the joins in the layers of fake grass. Butterflies fly through the garden – they don’t actually flap their wings but are just being dangled around on wires.

Parker brings over tea and asks for the rest of the afternoon off in order to “take cook out for a punt.” It sounds a bit rude but he is in fact referring to taking Lil out on a gentle boat ride. I guess those two are an item now! Penelope is happy to let him go and get ready. She receives a call via the teapot from International Rescue. It’s just occurred to me that whenever Jeff calls Penelope she’s always having tea. I wonder if the teapot has ever gone off while Parker’s doing the washing up…

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Jeff announces that he is sending Penny off to Switzerland to investigate the Cass Carnaby Five at Paradise Peaks… she only questions their connection to the transporter crashes in the most minimal way before signing herself up. Maybe she’s quietly thinking that Jeff has finally lost it.

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One thing The Cham-Cham does very well is these little comic moments that stand out from the main plot. Parker is dressed up and in a very good mood, reckoning his cool threads will melt Lil’s stone cold heart. Sadly, his joy is short-lived when the date is cut short by Penelope. They are off on a whirlwind show business adventure which will require the use of Parker’s h’excellent connections in the theatre world… that’s right, Parker used to be in Cats… true story…

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Parker has a meeting with an old friend at International Artistes Management Ltd. They share an office with Atlas Films Ltd. and S.W. Advertising.

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This is Maxie and his huge office. For some reason it became a trend in the later Supermarionation shows for people to sit as far away from each other as possible during meetings in fancy offices. The wall of his office features a host of rare photographs of a few guest characters. The top row from left to right: unknown, Maxie from… this scene, Bill Craddock from Day of Disaster, a Martian from Martian Invasion, the Director of Photography from Martian Invasion, Captain Johnson from Danger At Ocean Deep and possibly the casino owner from The Duchess Assignment. On the bottom row we have Hitchins from this episode, possibly the Duchess from The Duchess Assignment, Bletcher from Martian Invasion, definitely the Duchess from The Duchess Assignment, Sir Arthur from Danger At Ocean Deep, Captain Johnson from Danger At Ocean Deep again, and Frank Hooper from Atlantic Inferno who also makes a previously mentioned cameo in this episode. Maxie’s desk was last seen in the casino owner’s office in The Duchess Assignment.

Parker and Maxie’s dialogue exchange is pure gold. Parker wants Maxie to hire the completely unknown (and made up) signer Wanda Lamour for a season at Paradise Peaks. If he doesn’t, Parker might get back in touch with an old friend by the name of Punchy Patterson. I have always found Parker’s blasé tone in this scene pant-wettingly funny. The Cham-Cham certainly has some of the best genuinely funny examples of Thunderbirds humour.

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So, with the deal done, Penelope has been working on a disguise for her new persona, as well as the marketing materials for the season. It’s a nice painting although probably done in quite a rush.

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Penelope’s dark hair has been beautifully applied using real human hair as was customary for the wigs on all Penelope puppet heads. It’s a very nice look for her, as is the outrageous sparkly number she’s wearing.

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Parker is totally deceived by the disguise, but certainly isn’t alarmed by the possibility that an intruder is in the house. I doubt the disguise would actually convince many other people but apparently it works.

Tin-Tin takes off from the island in the Ladybird jet. Fans have made the assumption that this is Tin-Tin’s personal craft and I get the feeling that was certainly the intention. It’s name is the Ladybird… get it… it’s a Thunderbird flown by a lady… so it’s the Ladybird… I hope that wasn’t the reason it was given that name, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. The cockpit set previously appeared as the cockpit of the Zombite fighter in The Uninvited and the Red Arrow in Edge of Impact. The Ladybird appears again in Give Or Take A Million. The model of the jet itself was previously seen as Eddie Houseman’s jet in End of the Road.

Penelope is at the airport in an… interesting outfit. She’s about to fly out to Switzerland and is asking for developments. Brains is apparently looking for “melodic patterns causing mechanical changes in the aircraft.” Yeah… really. Gordon is basically rolling his eyes in the background.

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Alan points out the main flaw in Brains’ theory – the fact that the aircraft had missiles thrown at them rather than suffering mechanical failures. He swiftly changes tack without making it obvious, instead deciding to look for a code in the music. Among the control panels in this room are the radio used by McGill last week in Attack of the Alligators!, the control console from the Thompson Tower control room in City of Fire, and the tape playback machine from the lab in Danger At Ocean Deep.

We’re swept away to the beautifully snow covered Swiss Alps. Penelope and Tin-Tin are taking the cable car up to the hotel. The music is excellently chosen for this sequence from the Stingray episode Raptures of the Deep. Tin-Tin remarks that this is the highest hotel in Europe… she’s clearly never been to Amsterdam… Despite posing as a singer, Penelope supports Tin-Tin’s notion that she definitely shouldn’t do any singing. Maybe she’s shy, or maybe she has no talent. Maybe we’ll find out later. The Paradise Peaks hotel is revealed and it’s ruddy huge. The model building is fantastic and various pieces of it crop up in the background of scenes a fair bit in future episodes.

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The sun has set and here we are in the reception of Paradise Peaks. You’ll notice that a large amount of this set is the same as the reception area of the Grand Hotel as seen in The Duchess Assignment. Oddly, Maxie from a couple of scenes ago is manning the reception.

The Cass Carnaby Five are playing Dangerous Game to a packed room. The dodgy croupier from The Duchess Assignment is behind the bar as Banino – we’ll see more of him later. Olsen is standing at the back of the room – we’ll also see more of him later. The hotel guests include Captain Johnson from Danger At Ocean Deep, Hugo from Brink of Disaster, Blanche Carter from City of Fire, Sir Arthur from Danger At Ocean Deep, Ma Tuttle from The Impostors, the Duchess of Royston from The Duchess Assignment, and Commissioner Garfield from 30 Minutes After Noon. The band itself is made up of a few new faces. I believe the bass player was last seen as a police officer in Terror In New York City. The drummer goes on to appear as the co-pilot of Skythrust in Alias Mr. Hackenbacker among other roles. Cass Carnaby himself later appears as the Reaper Captain in Atlantic Inferno and at the SEC conference in Thunderbirds Are Go.

The puppeteers do a relatively decent job of making it look like the puppets are playing their instruments in time with the music… although the drummer flailing his arms around on the drums could have perhaps done with a little less screen time.

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The audience applauds as the song ends which is another thing puppets can’t do all that well, and yet a decent job has been done of it here.

Cass throws the spotlight over to Wanda Lamour, mentioning the infection in her throat which is a great way to introduce anyone… Tin-Tin still reckons Cass is gorgeous though.

She immediately gains access to Cass’ dressing room which doesn’t make her seem obsessed at all. Rather oddly, Cass has a picture of the Duchess of Royston on the wall… make of that what you will. There are many items strewn about the place including the Hood’s hat from The Mighty Atom sitting on the top of the dresser. Cass immediately starts hitting on Tin-Tin but all she’s interested in is finding out whether there’s any possibility that they might change Dangerous Game around a bit. Creepy Olsen handles all that sort of thing and he mysteriously wanders off before Tin-Tin can ask anymore questions. In the background you can spot Virgil’s dressing gown from Edge of Impact. Cass lets us know that Olsen’s a bit of an awkward so-and-so.

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It’s often discussed how difficult it was to get the puppets to dance in this scene. It’s filmed incredibly close up which takes care of most of the problem. But with so many puppets so close together the bridge must have been awfully crowded. Olsen and Penelope spin so that one of them is facing camera depending on who is talking which must have required the puppeteers to know the scene and the dialogue incredibly well. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about this whole situation is the fact the Duchess of Royston is dancing right next to Penelope and doesn’t give the game away by immediately seeing through her disguise. Anyway, Penelope is utilising her vaguely European accent for her portrayal of Wanda and basically gets nothing out of Olsen despite some cringe-worthy flirting on both sides.

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With the dancing over with, a familiar voice beckons Penelope over to the bar. It’s Parker! He and FAB 1 originally had to be left behind because FAB 1 would have struggled with the mountain road and… well I don’t know why Parker had to be left behind exactly. But anyway, he’s gotten a job as a part-time bouncer… because troublemakers often come all the way up to the Alps to crash exclusive parties… When Penelope asks for some tea, Parker offers to fetch her some up at once… those exact words… I’d rather not have tea that’s been fetched up by Parker…

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The snow is falling up on the mountain top – a very lovely shot.

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The table from Maxie’s office has been moved in to Penelope’s hotel room for this scene. If you hadn’t already spotted, Tin-Tin is wearing her outfit from End of the Road. Parker is full of information. He has learnt that Olsen is confiding in Banino, the head-waiter, and that Olsen is expecting to receive a message tomorrow. Penelope reckons that might be worth following up… even though we still don’t know for certain that the Cass Carnaby Five have anything to do with the transporter attacks, and there is absolutely nothing suspicious going on so far…

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Tin-Tin opens her special case to contact Jeff. In addition to the radio she also has a gun and two nasty looking syringes.

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In Brains’ lab, Jeff is standing there looking very impressed with everything because he probably hasn’t got the faintest idea what’s actually happening. Braman, or rather the modified Braman puppet which appeared as a guard robot in 30 Minutes After Noon, is sitting in the corner. Lindsey and Wilson’s radio from The Uninivited can also be spotted on a table.

Brains now firmly believes that there is an electronic pattern in the music, he just doesn’t know what the code is or whether the pattern even is a code… so we still don’t know for certain whether Dangerous Game has anything to do with the destruction of the transporter aircraft.

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Tin-Tin tells Jeff that Olsen is looking a bit shifty and that they’ll be investigating him tomorrow. It’s rather nice to have Tin-Tin taking charge of a situation and telling Jeff what’s what.

After the commercial break a new day has dawned. Penelope and Tin-Tin are skiing and this famous sequence is yet another example of attempting to make puppets do things one wouldn’t normally expect them to do. The Cham-Cham is one big ‘look at what our puppets can do’ show essentially. The sequence is very well done except for one dodgy shot filmed from behind where the scenery on the rolling ski slope can clearly be seen popping up to the surface.

Meanwhile, down at his chalet, it soon becomes apparent that the owner of that bizarre computer from the very beginning of the episode is in fact Olsen! Considering the purpose he’s using it for you’d have thought he’d keep it somewhere a little more private than his living room…

Penelope and Tin-Tin soon arrive to catch him in the act. People probably told Brains there was no point installing a video camera in a ski pole. I mean when would anyone need to use that? Well Tin-Tin proves the nay-sayers wrong as she records the computer in action. A message written in some strange form of musical notation appears on the screen and is translated into a message before our very eyes! This was really hi-tech stuff in the 1960’s so you’ll have to excuse the electronic music which suggests that this is all basically something from another planet. But it immediately becomes clear that Olsen is receiving messages through the computer about sabotaging the transporter aircraft to then incorporate into the Dangerous Game tune. Turns out Alan was right all along… first time for everything.

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With the information they need, Tin-Tin and Penelope rush off. There’s an odd piece of dialogue where Penelope, or at least I think it’s Penelope, says, “Come on, we’ve got to warn Jeff.” She does so without moving her lips. Maybe it’s Tin-Tin who says it, although it would be rather informal of her to call him Jeff rather than Mr Tracy.

Their sneaky getaway isn’t so sneaky as Olsen spots the tracks of their skis and watches Penelope and Tin-Tin head back up the mountain through his telescope which he probably uses exclusively for dodgy stuff. And how exactly are Penelope and Tin-Tin skiing back up the mountain at this point anyway?

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Olsen immediately calls up his buddy Banino at the hotel and asks him to “deal with” Penny and Tin-Tin. Parker is on the case!

The girls stop to switch on their ski-thrusts… even though they’ve been skiing somewhat uphill for quite a while now. It is, however, an ingenious device which Gerry Anderson claimed to have invented himself.

Banino pulls up at the top of the mountain in the same car used by the croupier and the casino owner in The Duchess Assignment. He takes aim at Penny and Tin-Tin but quick as a flash, Parker hops out from the back of the car and sends the bullet astray.

Startled by the gunfire, Tin-Tin and Penny stop in their tracks. Consider how big that piece of set would have been to get a shot that wide. Another amusing comedy sequence is about to begin as Parker struggles to pull Banino out of the car for no particular reason. With a terrific “BOM” they hit the snow which puffs up in front of camera.

Banino and Parker become entwined together in a snowball which rolls down the mountain, gaining mass as it goes. Limbs stick out all over the place and remarkably nobody breaks any bones. Penelope remarks that this won’t be doing Parker’s vertigo any good but not in a terribly sympathetic way. The snowball hits a ruddy hard rock and breaks apart like an egg rather than a snowball…

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Parker explains that Banino was trying to kill the girls. Things have suddenly gotten awfully dangerous on this assignment. In retaliation, Parker’s going to lock Banino in the broom cupboard so that they can keep things hush hush.

Grandma has just returned from attempting to force feed Alan and Brains. Penelope calls in with the news about Olsen and with Brains on his way up to the lounge, Tin-Tin plays in the footage of the computer…

Brains enters and lights up the room with his enthusiasm. It’s a Cham-Cham! Of course it is, and I’m Tex Tucker! Who on earth gives a sophisticated piece of technology such a ruddy silly name? Anyway, now that Brains knows how the code is being generated he’ll soon be able to crack it. Hurrah! Jeff clearly gets pretty pumped up as he places Penelope on standby and tells Scott to contact Washington D.C… now you’re just showing off.

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If you’ve ever wanted to see up Jeff Tracy’s nostrils, now is your best chance with this extreme close-up.

Over at Matthews Field, the fourth rocket transporter aircraft is being prepared for launch… that’s right, they’re doing it again. Without a fighter escort or anything they’re just going to send this clearly cursed plane out to face near certain doom. How do they even have any rockets left to be transported? Surprise, surprise, the commander is competing to be the ultimate pompous twerp. Apparently he doesn’t believe the government when they tell him that International Rescue have predicted grave danger for this mission. He starts rambling on about some coot wanting to play musical chairs… wait, what??? What are you talking about?! Get out, just get out of this series, you’re a complete lunatic.

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Jeff is understandably defeated because that berk thought he wanted to play musical chairs for some utterly stupid reason… Anyway, Brains has worked out the key to the code and how Dangerous Game should be altered to change the message. It’s a job for Penelope and Tin-Tin! Parker might help too though… maybe…

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Maybe the commander is working in league with the enemy force… why else would he send his own personnel on a suicide mission and refuse assistance from the government and International Rescue? Come to think of it, isn’t a military commander disobeying government orders grounds for a nasty little court martial? It’d serve him right.

Back at the hotel, Olsen has his “changes” to the tune for tonight’s performance. Cass is getting a bit fed up with all this but agrees to go along with it. Tin-Tin pops out from her rather terrible hiding place and tries to convince Cass to change Dangerous Game to the arrangement put together by Brains. For security reasons he cannot be told the reason behind it, so Tin-Tin fails to entice him with her womanly wiles.

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Meanwhile, Scott is sitting in Thunderbird 1 on standby. Apparently Jeff needs him to take some sort of gamble and a desperate step to make Matthews Field co-operate… a desperate gamble… or you could say a dangerous game… get it? Anyway, Scott blasts off.

It’s time for the show at Paradise Peaks. Tin-Tin announces that Penelope is their only hope now. What’s she going to do? Knock out the drummer? The camera pans across the room to reveal many of the same puppets from earlier although we can now spot Tidman from The Man From MI.5 sat at a table with the casino owner from The Duchess Assignment. The band start playing another rendition of Dangerous Game

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Overhearing the live radio broadcast are these two villainous villains who will strike fear into your heart with their ever so purple uniforms. We have no idea which country they represent but from the looks of their big world map they’ve got it in for England a bit. The set appears to reuse a wall from General Bron’s bunker in Edge of Impact. Hanging from the ceiling is the periscope from The Hood’s submarine from Desperate Intruder. The lieutenant’s console started life as the camera console in Martian Invasion. The Colonel was previously seen as the International Air Minister in Operation Crash-Dive while the Lieutenant portrayed Victor Gomez in Move – And You’re Dead.

The music somehow generates a number which somehow tells the enemy where the transporter aircraft is. The tiddly little fighter planes start to taxi along the runway.

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Just when you think everything’s going to go terribly wrong again, Wanda Lamour takes to the stage. That’s right. It turns out Penelope can sing and she’s going to forcibly change the music and therefore the code. It’s a tad far-fetched but hey, so is the entire episode. Sylvia Anderson herself is providing the vocals, attempting to imitate actress and singer Marlene Dietrich. She can certainly carry a tune, in fact I really do like this performance. I respect the decision to not use Ken Barrie’s rendition of Dangerous Game because it makes Penelope’s performance of the lyrics much more of a surprise. This is therefore the first time we actually hear the lyrics of the song. Presumably Penelope isn’t coming up with those on the spot or anything.

Brains is astounded by the fact Penelope is managing to change the coded message. This therefore changes the readouts for the bad guys just as the fighters are taking off. If you look closely at the shadow being cast on the runway by the planes, you can see that there’s a stick being hidden from camera which joins the rear two models together. This was likely done to make it easier to keep the models in formation.

Olsen looks on from the back of the room. Even though his expression is unchanged, you can just sense his rage and disdain. Supermarionation film making truly is an art form if a viewer can detect emotion from a completely static figure. One’s imagination just cannot help but be engaged by Thunderbirds.

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As soon as the performance ends, Jeff rallies the troops because he knows Olsen is going to be rather cross with Penelope now. Virgil and Alan dash off to Thunderbird 2 and head for Switzerland.

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To the complete surprise of that nutter in charge of Matthews Field, Thunderbird 1 touches down right inside the perimeter of the base.

Using something that looks suspiciously like a paper cup on a stick, Scott yells at the commander for being an utter twerp. As if by magic, Penelope has been able to sing Brains’ change to the code so precisely and perfectly that the three fighter aircraft overfly the airfield… sure, why not… The commander leaps into action and demands that the fighters are destroyed, although he’s still thoroughly cheesed off that International Rescue cracked the case… because he’s a complete lunatic who hates everything good about the world…

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Presumably it’s now the next morning at Paradise Peaks. Fortunately Olsen didn’t come and murder Penelope while she slept.

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Apparently she’s had time to get the dye out of her hair. Penelope frets about not paying her bill… wait, Penelope was technically working at the hotel, why would she have a bill to pay? Anyway, where has that nice fellow Mr Olsen gotten to?

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Okay, so Olsen can just waltz into the cable car control room without anyone caring. This set appears to reuse the railings from the Allington Bridge control room in Day of Disaster. The ladder looks like the same one used by Alan and Grandma to climb the bridge in Move – And You’re Dead. Olsen somehow knows that Penelope, Tin-Tin, and Parker are in the cable car and he wants revenge on them so they “don’t interrupt any more broadcasts.” Yes, that’s right, this thing isn’t over, Olsen plans to carry on using live music broadcasts to carry out international espionage. Hopefully someone will go and smash up his Cham-Cham before he can do that…

Using the control levers seen earlier in the cockpit of the RTL2, Olsen shuts down the cable car. Parker is given the order to press the alarm. Who will come to their rescue? The hotel manager? The cable car technician? The janitor? No, it’s the heroic Cass Carnaby! Somehow he is the only person in the whole of Paradise Peaks to wake up and actually recognize the sound of the cable car alarm. Why on earth would the cabaret singer know what the cable car alarm sounds like? And why is he the only one who goes to investigate?

Olsen has his trusty gas cutter with him and is hacking through the main cable. Penelope is a tad concerned so immediately calls up Jeff. She suspects that Olsen is up to no good.

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Just in the nick of time, Thunderbird 2 comes roaring over the Alps. I know she’s big but would she really be the size of a ruddy mountain?

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Yes, Cass Carnaby really was the only one who could be bothered to go down to the cable car control room. Apparently they’ll let anyone in there now. How did Cass even manage to find it? He took the time to get out of his pyjamas and throw on a jacket though so he obviously didn’t think it was that urgent.

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With the sound effect of a gun going off, the cable finally breaks and the car is set off on its journey down the mountain slightly faster than it usual.

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“Hey, just look at that! He’s cut the cable!” We know Alan, we know.

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The gang are desperately trying to get the door open so that some sort of speedy rescue operation can begin.

Virgil manages to catch up speed to the cable car. For a machine capable of travelling 5,000mph it sure takes a while. Alan fires the magnetic grabs. Unfortunately they’re not the semi-decent kind used in Brink of Disaster and End of the Road. These are the budget magnetic grabs which are a bit weedy.

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Will they hold??

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Nope. Not even a little bit. Surely the cable car can’t be going that fast? Maybe the car just isn’t magnetic. Ultimately though, International Rescue probably just need some better magnetic grabs.

So here is Virgil’s brilliant back-up plan. He has Parker, whose vertigo has already been mentioned earlier in the episode, climb up on top of the cable car ready to receive some tethering cables. It may not be the most sensible idea but at least it makes Parker look vaguely heroic.

The cable is lowered but poor Parker just can’t reach it. The puppetry is superb. You genuinely get the impression that Parker is reaching out rather than just waving his arm around.

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Penelope passes up her brolley to help him reach. She could offer to come up and help, but never mind, this works too.

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After much brolley waving Parker makes his catch and starts pulling the cable towards the car.

Good thing these cable cars are fitted with hoops on each corner in case this exact situation arises. So Thunderbird 2 and the cable car are now attached together… but for some reason there’s a need to pass down another cable and attach that as well…

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Once the second cable is attached, a third and a fourth are also sent down for absolutely no reason except to ramp up the tension and make everything neat and symmetrical. Considering the breakneck speed this cable car is supposed to be hurtling towards the ground at they sure are spending a lot of time on trying to do this perfectly.

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Tin-Tin would very much like Parker to hurry up. I’m sure he’s doing his best y’know.

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Parker has the final cable on the end of his brolley. Virgil and Alan are standing by to fire Thunderbird 2’s retros. For some reason the local ambulance service aren’t feeling terribly confident that this is going to work and pull up at the terminus just in case things turn nasty…

With the hook firmly hooked, Thunderbird 2’s retro rockets blast into action. Very dramatic but probably a tad unnecessary. If Virgil had any sense he would have started slowing the aircraft down a while back which also would have slowed down the cable car in the process.

There’s an awful lot of screeching as the car gently comes to a stop. But oh no! Parker goes flying off the front! Poor chap should have held on a bit tighter!

The cables are released and the car is left suspended a fair distance from the ground still. The luggage has gone all over the place, recycling the same cases as seen in The Impostors. But where has Parker gone? We didn’t hear an enormous, bone-crunching splat as he hit the terminal building so maybe he’s okay… Tin-Tin manages to spot him…

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This is probably up there as another one of the funniest moments in the entire series. Parker has decided to get resourceful with his umbrella and gone Mary Poppins style with it. It may defy the laws of gravity and reality, but so does the majority of this episode. Just don’t try this one at home kids.

Another late night at Paradise Peaks. The lights are being shut off all over the hotel including in the ballroom where Cass Carnaby is giving us one last performance of Dangerous Game. Penelope and Virgil are enjoying a quiet drink. Virgil must have found a flat enough mountain to park Thunderbird 2 on. Cass makes it clear that he’ll miss Tin-Tin very much. Bless ‘im. Ah well, maybe the Duchess of Royston is still looking for a toy boy…

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Tin-Tin takes a moment to reflect on her life with the International Rescue organisation. It’s a simple statement but it does so much to flesh out her character. She’s very much supposed to be the people-person of the team and you can sense that she just wishes she could form a long lasting relationship of any sort which isn’t shrouded in secrecy. But at the heart of it all she loves her home and the Tracy family the most. That said, as the episode ends with a flourish of glorious music, Tin-Tin couldn’t look the least bit interested in Alan brushing his hand against her arm. Maybe next time Alan.

The Cham-Cham is an episode jam-packed with beautiful model work, scenery, and especially puppetry. In terms of production quality it is often heralded as one of the best episodes of the first series. I’d certainly be inclined to agree that this is a good looking episode. The puppets are pushed to their limits and for the most part the hard work has paid off.

Despite the great production values and wonderful musical work, this episode has never really stood out to me as a firm favourite and I think that ultimately comes down to some weak elements in the story. In a story about rocket transporters crashing, a heavy focus on Lady Penelope skiing and singing just doesn’t quite add up right. There’s a reason why this story is so far-fetched and it’s because Alan Pattillo’s script has had to try so hard to force the two different themes together. On the one hand the script tries to tell the story of Lady Penelope and Tin-Tin solving a showbiz related mystery in a glamorous location. But that isn’t very Thunderbirds. So the rocket transporter business is there to make it all a bit more futuristic and technological. The trouble is that this aspect of the plot isn’t very well developed. All Scott does is turn up at the airfield and give the commander a good telling off. It means the Tracy family are sidelined once again. The cable car rescue with Thunderbird 2 attempts to redress the balance with a high stakes emergency, but the scenario is hardly the most exciting that the series has ever seen.

Overall, The Cham-Cham must be praised for looking like a million dollars and doing some wonderful work with the puppets, but perhaps could have done with a slightly more focussed plot to propel it towards the top of my list.

Next week, the International Rescue base itself is at risk of exposure when a stowaway takes a ride in the pod of Thunderbird 2. Chip Morrison is about to see more of International Rescue than anyone has ever seen before. Stay tuned for Security Hazard!

One thought on “Thunderbirds – 25. The Cham-Cham

  1. Technically this is an amazing episode – but it is absolutely one I really dislike because of the very weak story.

    That said – I do like the little nod during the cabel car rescue as Tin-Tin is wearing a garrison cap 🙂

    But lets look at the end – Virgil & Lady P get to have a quiet drink together and listen to Cass Carnaby moan about missing Tin-tin (she’s only bloody outside you twat! She really needs rescuing by somebody from the horror that is Alan Tracy (and Virgil is otherwise occupied)). Alan gets to try to make a move on Tin-Tin (who (thankfully) seems to ignore him. And poor Scott – all he gets to do is yell at a pompous military twat. Though – he probably enjoyed it – I like to think that he knows that Colonel of old from his USAF days and this is something he longed to do. (and somewhere a group of USAF personnel are applauding)

    Jeff is contemplating another job well done as he sinks further into an alcohol-feuled depression wondering how on earth one of his sons got a date with Lady P AGAIN. John and Gordon are probably commisserating with each other about their lack of screen time in this episode. Gordon is pointing out that at least John had lines in this one.

    Brains is going all mad-scientist in his lab and building an army of robots to be used as a top secret security force….. (or wait – did he already do that….)

    Grandma is preparing to force feed her grandsons. Kyrano is probably having a bit of a lie-down and wondering how long it will take for Tin-Tin to get married off.

    Parker has self-medicated and is suffering an alcohol-feulled delusion of being a singing nanny.

    And so we say farewell to another episode of Thunderbirds as it contributes the word “cham-cham” to the English language.

    Like

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