Thunderbirds – 29. Alias Mr. Hackenbacker

Teleplay by Alan Pattillo

Directed by Desmond Saunders

First Broadcast – 16th October 1966

Alias Mr. Hackenbacker isn’t exactly one of the most talked about episodes of Thunderbirds. Indeed, before sitting down to watch this one I had no idea what I was going to make of it. The simple fact is that I really enjoyed it. There’s lots of action, intrigue, entertaining characters, great technology, all building to a thrilling conclusion… which admittedly does match the climax of Trapped In The Sky almost shot for shot. Maybe that’s the issue here, or maybe it’s the somewhat cheesy fashion show plot that puts people off this one. The plot elements don’t necessarily gel together perfectly, but for me there’s still a good mix and balance between the fashion show stuff and the revolutionary new aircraft getting hi-jacked stuff. Let’s dive into it!

Planes, clothes, and Brains in dark glasses. That pretty much sums up the episode. You can all get back to work now.

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So let’s get one thing straight right here. Hiram K. Hackenbacker is Brains’ alias. It is not his name. Hence the title, Alias Mr. Hackenbacker. That’s taken care of that.

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In the background of this shot you can spot the blue tower from the Paradise Peaks hotel as seen in The Cham-Cham. Parked on top of another building is a tiny World Navy helijet from Atlantic Inferno.

As suggested by lots of re-used footage from Trapped In The Sky, we’re at London Airport. Flight D103 is about to crash land without its under carriage lowered. I’m guessing International Rescue didn’t leave any Elevator Cars lying around after their previous visit…

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From this angle the D103 looks almost two dimensional. Rather eerily we never see the inside of the plane during this opening sequence, contributing to the tension and the rather morbid outcome of this landing.

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Waiting at the end of the runway are a number of emergency vehicles including an ambulance first seen in Trapped In The Sky, the transporter truck and Superon tanker from Path of Destruction, a fire tender from City of Fire, and another ambulance which has been adapted from The Hood’s blue truck from Edge of Impact. This is also supplemented with shots from Trapped In The Sky of emergency vehicles rushing down the runway.

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The model looks considerably more impressive when filmed at this angle. This is another of Mike Trim’s designs for the series and certainly looks like a more realistic aircraft when compared to something like Derek Meddings’ design for the Fireflash.

Flight D103 comes screeching down the runway and bursts into flames.

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The entire plane is consumed in not one, but two enormous fireballs which look like some of the biggest bangs in the series so far. The passengers and crew on board couldn’t have possibly survived. This is by far one of the most hard-hitting disasters in all of Thunderbirds. The scale of the destruction is enormous and the death toll is high.

It turns out this whole event is part of Captain Saville’s movie collection which he’s unveiling to the press. If I were in charge of PR at London Airport I’d ask him to keep that major catastrophe quiet. The first reporter to speak is played by Frank Hooper from Atlantic Inferno, and the second is McColl from Path of Destruction. Also visible in the background is Dick O’Shea from Atlantic Inferno. The first reporter is initially voiced by Jeremy Wilkin, as is the second reporter, but then the first reporter starts to speak with Paul Maxwell’s voice. Paul Maxwell starred in Fireball XL5 as Colonel Steve Zodiac. He then took on the role of Captain Paul Travers in Thunderbirds Are Go. No doubt it was for this reason that he then went on to make uncredited contributions to this episode only. Maxwell would go on to voice Captain Grey in a number of episodes of Captain Scarlet, and appear in the UFO episode, Sub-Smash. Captain Saville confirms that his new plane, Skythrust, has been designed to eliminate all risk of bursting into flames when hitting the runway.

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Look who’s sitting in the corner but our old friend Commander Crash-Dive… I mean Norman. He’s had a bit of a makeover since his last appearance in the series and to be honest he doesn’t look too good for it. He’s attempted to dye his hair to get rid of the greys which emerged with each Fireflash disaster, and for some reason gotten some thicker eyebrows. His eyes are also pointing all over the shop. It doesn’t look like Norman’s running the show on this occasion, but he has been allowed to watch… which is probably safer…

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A mysterious stranger is driving towards the London Airport entrance which has been redesigned yet again since its last appearance in The Impostors.

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Who is this mysterious stranger? I can’t think of anyone who would wear such distinctive blue glasses. He calls up Jeff Tracy and announces himself as Hiram K. Hackenbacker. Jeff completely gives the game away, or almost does at least, and reveals that this is in fact International Rescue’s loveable boffin, Brains. I never would have guessed. So Brains is wokring under an alias in order to avoid any possible connection being made to his work with International Rescue… and because nobody else would put up with a scientist being egotistical enough to only answer to the name ‘Brains’.

Brains pulls up at the the front gate and meets the same security guard with the same uniform and the same office that we saw in Path of Destruction last week. Brains’ security pass has been signed by a member of the prop department, Tony Dunsterville. He reportedly designed the Spectrum emblem later seen in Captain Scarlet.

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The officer falls for the charade and Brains is directed over to building 67. Rather helpfully it’s the one labelled number 67.

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Brains has joined Captain Saville, Commander Norman and the reporters on the observation roof. The floor of the roof is instantly recognisable as the floor of the Space Exploration Centre’s orange and black conference room from Thunderbirds Are Go. Brains must have his contacts in because he decides to take his glasses off for most of this scene. Captain Johnson from Danger At Ocean Deep can be spotted manning a camera in the background.

Emerging from a ruddy great hole in the ground is Skythrust, a new airliner designed in part by Brains. It’s a pretty cool plane but does suffer a bit from not looking terribly pretty from all the angles she’s filmed from.

It turns out that Brains’ alias is a little hard to grasp for Captain Saville who manages to make a reasonably good running gag out of miss-remembering ‘Hackenbacker’. Brains doesn’t want to take all the credit because he only designed the pretty bits of the aircraft… Inside, many of the controls are adapted from those of the Zero-X in Thunderbirds Are Go.

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Captain Ashton is automatically proven to be a nice bloke purely because he’s being voiced by Paul Maxwell. The co-pilot is portrayed by the puppet which previously appeared as the lieutenant of the Reaper sub in Atlantic Inferno.

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Skythrust does have quite a chunky rear end which serves as an enormous cargo bay. Very functional, but perhaps not the best looking aspect of the design from certain angles. The plane is essentially a giant lunch box with wings and a cone sticking out the front.

Commander Norman watches through boring normal binoculars while Brains pops on his binocu-glasses. Skythrust takes off rather splendidly.

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Through the binoculars we get another angle on this very interesting aircraft. It’s just quite odd to see an aircraft of all things built around a giant square box.

With the Skythrust leveled out, the show is pretty much over. The reporter is curious to learn more about her super secret special abilities. We know the new technology has something to do with safety, but we’ll have to wait and see. Intriguing! Commander Norman announces that Skythrust should be going into service soon once it has a certificate of airworthiness… he’s not allowed to sign those himself anymore… Brains poses for the briefest photo-shoot in history and announces he’ll be in the control tower keeping an eye on things. Norman says “see you later” as if he won’t also be going back to the control tower to do the job he’s supposed to be doing…

Some very lovely music introduces us to the gang on Tracy Island this week. Skythrust has been featured in an aviation magazine… or rather the beginning of an article has been stuck into a random book about aircraft.

The cover of the magazine appears to be a blue watercolour painting… rather than a picture of a plane or something. Only Virgil and Jeff are vaguely interested in hearing about Brains’ achievements as Tin-Tin is reading something completely different while Gordon and Alan stare blankly at the table. Brains is hanging around in Europe a little while longer in preparation for Skythrust’s first commerical flight from Paris to London.

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Tin-Tin reveals that Penelope is on the cover of ‘Chic’ magazine. The same photo of her was also used on the cover of the Television Mail. 

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Gordon proclaims that everyone’s in the news this week… even John, who broke the world record for the number of baked beans consumed in space in two minutes… funnily enough, nobody’s fancied popping up to Thunderbird 5 to give him the award yet…

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Anyway, the news is that Penelope might be participating in a fashion show for Francois Lemaire, her favourite Parisian designer. But what could be so special that it would arouse such interest from Penelope?

Stock footage of the famous city  as well as some generic French-type music introduces us to Paris, and more specifically, the office of Francois Lemaire…

The camera pans across the lavishly decorated set which manages to avoid looking hideous. The chairs will later go on to feature in the lounge of Cloudbase in Captain Scarlet. The stairs out on the balcony can also be seen in Thunderbirds Are Go by the Tracy Island pool. Penelope is very excited to learn about Francois’ sensational new creation.

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Ray Barrett does a superb job voicing the outrageously camp Francois Lemaire. His costume is similarly stunning.

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Penelope has to put an abrupt stop to the proceedings. She is wearing her coat and hat from Danger At Ocean Deep and The Duchess Assignment.

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She pulls a hairbrush from her handbag which is actually a detector for hidden microphones, and it’s registering one hidden somewhere in the office! Suddenly things got a whole lot more serious!

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A tiny little transmitter is located in the flowers.

Penelope then goes to check Francois’ conveniently located telescope to check outside. She apparently sees a long-range television camera… we’ll have to take her word for it.

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Feeling a tad insecure, Francois chooses to instead go and write down his great secret. Penelope’s left eye goes a bit wonky with the sheer excitement of it all.

Because Penelope’s so ruddy clever, she works out that Francois’ rarely used pen is in fact an ‘impressor pen’ which can transmit anything that is written down on the paper. It’s certainly a creative invention. I want one. Penelope proves it by writing out a threatening message and printing it out on her little printer which she apparently keeps in her handbag at all times just in case she needs to demonstrate an impressor pen to anyone…

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Francois becomes delirious. Ray Barrett’s delivery of the line “peeping Thomases at the window” is hysterical. Also, just take a good long look at how hideous that wallpaper is.

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We are introduced to Francois’ two leading models, Madeline and Deirdre. One is sent to make tea and the other is asked to try on clothes. It looks as though Madeline might have previously been seen as Mrs Lucas in Path of Destruction, while Deirdre has appeared in various roles previously including the makeup girl on the set of Martian Invasion.

Francois is finally able to reveal his creation. He pulls out a small matchbox and begins to pull fabric from it. This is all set to some pretty intense accordion music just to make sure you know how ruddy fabulous all this is. An entire outfit has been pulled from the box without getting creased or crumpled in the slightest. Francois has developed a new fibre from which to make clothes that can be squeezed into impossibly small spaces. It’s nice to know that in the world of Thunderbirds, there are technological advancements outside of the aviation and construction industries – it makes the whole thing seem rather more complete and thought out when we have moments like this. The fabric is named Penelon, after Penelope. How sweet. On Francois’ desk, you can spot a phone from the press conference scene in Thunderbirds Are Go.

Deirdre models an ensemble which apparently looks like leather, although we’ll have to take his word for it because we don’t get a good look and her ghastly sunglasses are too much of a distraction anyway. More design sketches are put up on the screen to take us into the commercial break. How lovely. I’ll admit this is hardly the most interesting scene for Thunderbirds fans that are purely into the tech and explosions, but I rather like the character of Francois and knowing that new technology is playing a large part in all aspects of life in this vision of the 21st Century.

It’s time for tea, and Madeline is offering Penelope sugar – I promise this episode gets more intense later. Using her unique powers of observation, Penny notices a particularly large lump of sugar which happens to be hiding another transmitter. That’s a pretty terrible place to put a bug seeing as someone might actually do exactly what Penelope does do and put it in their tea. Someone needs to go back to spy school. The question is, who might be responsible for doing this? Is it the person who made the tea? Well that would be Madeline, but she couldn’t possibly be a baddie so we won’t bother suspecting her. It must have been the owner of the sugar cube factory who desperately wants to know the secret of Penelon…

Francois is understandably fed up. Penelope insists that the location of the fashion show has to be changed because “the risk is too great.” If she’s worried about risking the secrecy of Penelon then holding a fashion show in the first probably isn’t the way to keep it quiet. And frankly there’s not much chance of any other type of danger or risk coming up at a fashion show so they’re probably all right to go ahead with it as planned. Nevertheless, Penelope has had a cracking idea for where the show should be held.

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Over at London Airport we’re treated to this stock shot of the main control tower. Parked in front is a little bus with ‘Air Terrainean’ written on the side – what a nice detail.

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Over in building 67, Saville announces that Skythrust is ready to go into service. On his desk is another one of those phones from Thunderbirds Are Go. The circular desk which last appeared in Maxie’s office in The Cham-Cham has been redressed to appear here. Commander Norman is sitting in the corner in case he breaks something. A call comes in for Mr. Hackenbacker, allowing us to get in one more gag about Saville forgetting names. It’s still funny though so that’s good.

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Brains picks up the call on another phone from Thunderbirds Are Go. The floor is the same orange and black floor from the SEC conference room and was last seen a few scenes back on the observation roof. The walls of this set have been taken from Jim Lucas’ bedroom from Path of Destruction.

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Penelope is using a radiophone, which, you guessed it, is the same phone seen in the press conference in Thunderbirds Are Go. Those things are springing up everywhere. The radiophone booth does look quite a bit like a shower cubicle… Rather suspiciously she asks if Brains is alone… saucy…

A shot of Paris in the evening is reused from The Perils of Penelope. Outside of a restaurant, Parker is parked… sorry, but he is.

Penelope has returned to the Atalante which was also her restaurant of choice in The Perils of Penelope. The place has, however, had a complete makeover since its last appearance. The puppets in this scene are tricky to identify but they include Stevens from Danger At Ocean Deep, and Dick O’Shea from Atlantic Inferno sat outside in glasses. Franklin from Path of Destruction can be spotted sitting behind Ashton who apparently never changes out of his uniform. Penelope is very done up indeed.

Ashton, handsome though he is, appears to have one eye on Penelope and one eye pointing down at his dinner. Sitting behind Penelope appears to be Cass Carnaby from The Cham-Cham and a puppet which last appeared as Simms in Path of Destruction. Penelope refuses to reveal how she knows “Hiram Hackenbacker,” which makes it sound like she’s been a bit indecent with him. Naturally, Ashton can’t see what all the fuss is about with the fashion show.

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The waiter, who previously appeared as Patterson in Operation Crash-Dive, comes to deliver coffee.

Parker alerts Penelope via her compact that another transmitter has popped up on his detector. It must be in the coffee pot… because putting a bug in the tea worked so well last time… The waiter could not look more suspicious as he watches from the kitchen.

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With no subtlety at all, the microphone is clearly visible in the lid of the pot. These guys are really bad at this.

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Ashton now appreciates the seriousness of the situation and insists that the location of the fashion show needs to change. His eye is unbelievably wonky. I’ve only started to notice these dodgy eyes on the series 2 puppets but the chances are it happened a bunch on the earlier puppets too and I just managed to go through all 26 episodes of the first series without noticing.

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Skythrust taxis out and the camera zooms in on the cabin in a way which throws everything else into soft focus and ends up really making the model look like a model. It’s probably this shot more than any other that lets the Skythrust down on screen.

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Mason the steward arrives with some telegrams wishing the crew well. Mason is played by Victor Gomez from Move – And You’re Dead with a moustache. Hiram K. Hackenbacker promises champagne upon their arrival in London because he’s such a party animal apparently. That just doesn’t sound like something Brains would say. Hackenbacker must be Brains’ much more cocky alter ego.

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Skythrust’s enormous back end produces a ramp, allowing vehicles to be transported in the cargo bay. Fireflash also has a bay for cars, suggesting that people in the future just have to take their cars on holiday with them.

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Francois, Madeline, and Deirdre are driving along the runway towards the plane in a pink, but not too pink, car. The puppet set was used as Brains’ car earlier in the episode with a different lick of paint. All of their outfits are pretty over the top, but I think Francois wins for his cape alone.

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The clothes are safely stored on the backseat, looking rather like a selection of over-sized liquorice allsorts.

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They enter Skythrust through the rear… I’m sorry, I’ll try not to make such indecent comments again…

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Only Penelope could manage to overdress to a fashion show. She also wore this outfit in The Cham-Cham and it looked a bit silly then too. Parker is being left to fend for himself in Paris. Why he isn’t brought along for the fashion show I don’t know. He would be completely and utterly disinterested which would have been comedy gold.

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Parker takes FAB 1 up Skythrust’s back passage… well I tried…

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Penelope and Francois enjoy a quick drink at the bar which first appeared in the cocktail lounge at Parola Sands in Move – And You’re Dead.

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The passenger lounge has been converted for the show and looks very striking. The round sofas which first appeared in Fireball XL5 have been reupholstered since their last appearance in The Duchess Assignment and additional material for Brink of Disaster. Some unusual music is played over this scene which doesn’t sound much like Barry Gray’s work but presumably must have been.

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Cars are clamouring to use Skythrust’s back entrance…  but there’s only room for one at a time… fortunately we fade to black for a commercial break, preventing me from talking anymore about the matter.

With all the passengers aboard, Skythrust starts to thunder down the runway for take-off. Francois and the ladies are midway through getting everything ready. Considering Francois is supposed to be a big deal in the fashion world he doesn’t have much of a team to help out with this sort of thing, although as we’ll see later he shouldn’t have even trusted the people he does have with him. We learn that Mason the steward is going to be helping with the music. He’s new to the airline you know…

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Brains and Tin-Tin are on their way to London Airport to meet the Skythrust upon arrival. It’s never mentioned why exactly Tin-Tin has flown over to join Brains, but she’s super excited about the fashion show so it probably has something to do with that.

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Skythrust is heading for London. It’s only a little thing, but my brain tells me that she should be pointing the other way seeing as London is west of Paris rather than east…

Francois is presenting the show and is about to unveil the first outfit. In the audience, Jim Lucas from Path of Destruction can be spotted as well as the lady in the red coat who was sat outside the Atalante earlier… or at least a different lady wearing the same coat. Penelope looks stunning of course and very Sixties. It’s incredibly rare to see a puppet in a skirt this short, and it looks as though these legs have been specially made without any knee hinges, and high heeled shoes sculpted as a part of the feet.

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Hugo from Brink of Disaster portrays a fashion buyer who is incredibly excited about Penelon. Both he, and the fashion buyer sat behind him, go on to play a pair of Santa actors in Give Or Take A Million.

A wide variety of costumes are unveiled. They clearly look like they’re made of different materials, making it slightly hard to buy that they’re all made of Penelon. Nevertheless, they look fantastic. The costume department headed by Elizabeth Coleman never receives enough praise for all of the costumes seen throughout Thunderbirds – there are a heck of a lot of them. They’re all specially made from carefully sourced material which not only has to be thin enough to not affect the movement of the puppet, but also has to feature patterns small enough to look convincing on screen. It must have been extremely tricky to keep up with the schedule, particularly when characters like Penelope go through a different costume in every scene sometimes. The process of changing costumes must have been pretty delicate work too. Combined with that, the ladies go through a variety of hairstyles to match their costumes which also must have been quite a challenge.

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The final piece of the collection is a little… strange. The Penelon bridal dress with a couple of bridesmaid dresses to go with it. The actual wedding dress isn’t too bad, but the bridesmaids… well it’s not the best look.

With the show successfully completed, Skythrust is ready to touch down at London Airport. Commander Norman is looking out for her through his binoculars… he’s probably facing the wrong direction. The control tower set has been revamped a little with a new automatic x-ray machine and a new control console which featured in the Crablogger Base Control room in Path of Destruction last week.

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His eyebrows have been trimmed quite a bit and his glasses removed, but the voice strongly suggests that this is Lt. Burroughs from Operation Crash-Dive. Unfortunately, he chooses to describe Tin-Tin as “the little number” which Brains is escorting. He’s actually more flattering to the bottle of champagne they’ve brought in than he is to Tin-Tin.

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Deirdre has managed to get changed already but for some reason Penny’s gone all Miss Havisham on us and won’t remove her wedding dress. Jim Lucas looks absolutely furious sitting in the background. Penelope finally decides it is time to get changed before they land. But where oh where has Madeline got to?

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Oh she’s just hi-jacking the plane… as you do… Of course nowadays it seems ludicrous that Madeline could get a gun anywhere near the plane.

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The co-pilot tries asking politely for Madeline to just hand over the gun. Nice try mate…

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Madeline reveals that they have a new destination in the middle of the Sahara… I don’t think she’s quite thought this through.

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Skythrust is now shown flying in the right direction towards London, but she’s turning around so never mind.

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Mason, who if you’ll remember is new to the airline, holds the passengers at gunpoint. He’s in on it too. He demands that all of the outfits from the show be boxed up for him to steal. Now here’s the thing that’s a little unclear about this episode. Have Mason and Madeline been plotting this whole time to steal the plane, or the Penelon collection? I’ve always taken it that their primary objective was to steal the plane, and that the collection was just a bonus. When I discussed this matter with a fellow Thundernerd, he revealed that he’d always assumed the exact opposite. After all, why would Madeline need to bug Francois’ office to learn more about Penelon? Maybe she was bugging Penelope because she knew of her link to ‘Hiram Hackenbacker’ and Skythrust? Otherwise, why would she and Mason go to the effort of flying an entire plane out to the Sahara just to get hold of a few boxes of clothes? And would their conspirators in the Sahara really be that interested in Penelon anyway? We’ll see, but in my eyes the evidence points more towards them wanting to steal Skythrust primarily, rather than the clothes.

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Madeline is confident that they have this thing in the bag. She’s certainly played it very cool up until now.

Meanwhile, on Tracy Island, Jeff has been on the bottle since dawn and has therefore passed out by the window. Gordon and Scott are playing a very complicated looking board game. Virgil is reading a book all on his own.

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Everyone sits patiently in their seats while Mason stands on the stage with a gun. The lady in the red coat looks pretty relaxed about the whole thing. You can also spot Nurse Nimmo from Give Or Take A Million among the passengers.

Penelope has a plan. She uses her handy dandy emergency ring… which for some reason she didn’t feel the need to use as soon things turned nasty. This immediately triggers Penelope’s portrait.

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Scott, Virgil, and Jeff immediately leap into action. We get a brief shot of Virgil actually using the new rocket painting to enter the Thunderbird 2 launch slide. He actually manages to speak while being tilted backwards which you can imagine was a nightmare to shoot. The scene immediately cuts to stock footage from series 1, causing the painting to suddenly change – fortunately Virgil is wearing the same outfit in both shots.

Scott, Virgil, and Alan are ready to fly out to rendezvous with Skythrust. A chunky bit of silver panelling is going right down the middle of Thunderbird 2’s hull which I don’t believe we see anywhere else.

Penelope teases Francois a bit with the promise of help arriving soon. Mason’s pretty confident that with Madeline in charge of the radio, nothing can go wrong. He sounds very pleased with himself indeed. What exactly is he planning on doing with all of these passengers once they get to the Sahara and presumably steal the plane?

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I forgot to mention this last week, but a radio microphone has now been added to Scott’s chair. Alan was originally using a headset microphone in Atlantic Inferno. This new microphone does shake around a fair bit during flight.

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Using data from Scott and Virgil, Jeff is able to pinpoint Skythrust’s exact position on a map. Needless to say, this map looks a tad out of date by today’s standards.

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Jeff and Gordon are rather stumped by why on earth Skythrust is being taken to the Sahara desert. Actually Gordon is still stumped by how Jeff managed to work out all that clever stuff with the map…

Out in the blazing heat of the desert, Ross and Collins are waiting at an airfield. Their truck was seen earlier as an ambulance at London Airport. Ross has played a number of roles in the series including Kenyon in 30 Minutes After Noon. Collins appears to be Chandler from The Duchess Assignment. These two blokes are the ones receiving delivery of Skythrust and the Penelon collection. Which do you reckon they’re more interested in?

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Madeline wants the radio switched on as they approach their destination, but who calls in but our old pal Scott Tracy. He tries to get all threatening, suggesting they’ll turn to forceful methods if Skythrust doesn’t head back to London. Madeline holds her own and refuses to comply.

Jeff informs Scott that Brains has a grand scheme to call Madeline’s bluff and Virgil is being filled in right now… for whatever reason Scott wasn’t considered important enough to learn about this plan and doesn’t actually appear again for the rest of the episode…

Brains and Tin-Tin are parked at the end of the runway where they were presumably going to meet Skythrust. Virgil is being told to open fire on Skythrust’s undercart. He’s understandably cautious, but is told to, “Just trust Mr Hackenbacker.” Virgil responds by calling him Hiram… they’re all starting to take this alias thing a little too seriously now and it’s making Brains dangerously cocky… although his solution to most things is usually to fire a missile at it.

Ashton quite rightly points out that Skythrust is just too big and heavy to land on a desert airstrip. That’s the one thing which makes me wonder whether stealing Skythrust wasn’t originally a part of the plan. Madeline is finally able to call up her buddies. The shot of Collins reflected in the side mirror is pretty neat. It is announced that all is going well and that even International Rescue won’t stop them… which probably means International Rescue is going to stop them.

For some reason Virgil and Alan aren’t going ahead with Brains’ plan for the moment and are instead trying to spook the hi-jackers by flying dangerously close to the plane. I’m not entirely sure what they hope to achieve by doing this but it’s rather cool to see Thunderbird 2 being thrown around like a toy and pulling off these stunts.

Madeline is pretty grumpy about the whole thing and gets real serious with her gun, holding it right up to Ashton’s head and threatening to shoot if there’s anymore International Rescue monkey business.

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Thunderbird 2 pulls away, but Virgil declares that it’s now time to try out Brains’ plan… not sure why he decided against it originally but never mind.

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The missiles pop out of a hatch. They’re a completely different design to the Thunderbird 2 missiles previously seen in Martian Invasion.

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Alan takes his seat at the missile launcher. The same device is used to fire a line across to Zero-X  in Thunderbirds Are Go.

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There’s definitely some echoes of Zero-X visible in Skythrust’s design when you look at it from this angle with the colouring and the way the panel lines are drawn.

Some Barry Gray goodness is used to ramp up the tension as Alan counts down to firing his missile. We get an extreme close-up of his face which looks to have had the paint applied a little too thick… which probably isn’t the first time Alan has been described as being a little too thick… Nevertheless, he makes a direct him on Skythrust’s undercart. That pretty much brings the Tracy boys’ involvement in the rescue operation to a close.

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Sure enough, a fault appears in the undercart, so I hope Thunderbird 2 has the Elevator Cars packed inside because it looks like they’ll be needed! Ashton is adamant that they can’t land in the desert without wheels, but Madeline finds this all a little bit too scientific apparently so goes to get Mason.

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Fortunately, Mason knows absolutely zilch about Skythrust’s secret abilities… even though he’s supposed to be a steward so I would have thought basic training about Skythrust’s safety procedures would be a must… unless maybe he isn’t a real steward… he is new to the airline after all… So the decision is taken for them to turn back and head to London. Good thing Skythrust is still full of fuel, nearly 5,000 gallons to be precise.

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So it’s time for Skythrust to turn around once more. I promise not to complain about which way she’s pointing again.

A very concerned Alan reports in to base that Skythrust is heading to London. Jeff has been doing his homework and suggests that they pay a visit to see Ross and Collins, who are apparently wanted murderers. They sound delightful.

The fire trucks and ambulances are assembled at the airport just as they were at the beginning of the episode. Tin-Tin is very worried, but Brains is totally chilled about the whole thing because Hiram K. Hackenbacker is a cocky so-and-so. He even refuses to tell Tin-Tin what’s so darn wonderful about Skythrust. No sign of those Elevator Cars yet though…

Skythrust is almost back on English soil with almost half her fuel still aboard. Ashton insists that they can’t possibly jettison any of it before they land… I mean they probably could but Ashton wants to try out his new toy…

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Madeline and Mason are sent to the back of the plane and the time has come to see what all the fuss is about as Skythrust makes her final approach…

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Hope those Elevator Cars are ready now!

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If this guy keeps his job after yet another security lapse at London Airport, then there’s something wrong with the world.

Looking ruddy epic, Skythrust swoops in over the runway. Guess those Elevator Cars never turned up. The shot of the runway rolling stretching out ahead of the plane is lifted straight from Trapped In The Sky. The same music is even played which accompanied the Fireflash landing.

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This one’s gonna leave a mark.

But wait! The entire tail fin blasts off and soars up into the sky! Well that was unexpected…

Lt. Burroughs has a special button on his desk which blows up the remote controlled pod. Wait, what’s happening?

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With lots of glorious screeching and smoke billowing everywhere, inter-cut with shots of the crash tenders from Trapped In The Sky, Skythrust slowly comes to a halt on the runway as the rolling road and sky are gradually brought to a stop. Really great stuff.

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Commander Norman decides to explain what just happened to the audience at home. It’s incredibly surreal, mainly because his face looks a bit weird in this episode. The music slowly builds in a slightly terrifying manner just to make it even weirder. So Brains’ special device was an eject-able fuel pod to prevent aircraft from exploding as soon as they hit the ground without wheels. That’s pretty neat, although perhaps not quite the grand surprise we were all waiting for.

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The emergency services arrive in completely different vehicles to the ones we saw earlier via the Trapped In The Sky stock footage.

Penelope plays it totally cool of course, claiming to have experienced worse conventional landings than that. Madeline and Mason are cowering in the corner because things haven’t really gone their way. It’s at this point that Penelope decides to pull a gun on them… why didn’t you do that hours ago before we went to the Sahara and back? Nice one Penny…

Ross and Collins are still awaiting the arrival of Skythrust. Ross claims he never liked the idea of hanging out in the desert. Just a shame we never learn what they were actually there for in the first place. In an extremely well done shot, Thunderbird 2 emerges through the sandstorm and roars overhead.

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The chaps remark on the ‘new design’, believing Thunderbird 2 to be Skythrust. The fact they knew about Skythrust’s new design suggests they were probably there to steal the plane rather than the Penelon collection.

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Thunderbird 2 doesn’t look tiny very often, but for some reason this shot doesn’t make her look as imposing as she usually does.

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As Ross and Collins wave at the sky full of joy and happiness, Alan’s ready to ruin their day…

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Well they’re almost certainly dead now… International Rescue specialises in capital punishment these days apparently…

They’re not dead! Hooray! After killing an entire plane full of people at the beginning of the episode, it just wouldn’t be right to blow a couple of murderers to smithereens too… Jeff is jolly pleased with how it’s all gone… time to go and pass out on the sun lounger again…

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Deirdre, Penelope, Francois, Norman, Ashton, Burroughs, Brains, and Tin-Tin are having a quick chat up in the control tower. The co-pilot has been left to clear up the mess. Commander Norman remarks on the incredible achievements of the day, introducing a whole new era in aviation safety…

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But Brains and Penelope just want to eat and get wasted. The champagne is vintage 1993, “the best year for champagne.” When the episode first aired that would have been hilarious of course. Any champagne experts out there know whether it really was the best year for champagne?

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Francois has basically lost his mind by this point, claiming that he will follow Penelope to the edges of the Earth… The poor chap has been left with absolutely no confidence because Penelope has basically shown him that the entire world is out to get him.

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Just to finish off his high of being rather smug and full of himself, Brains puts his arm around Tin-Tin, insisting that she calls him Hiram… okay this has gone too far. Brains needs to take off those ruddy sunglasses and have a long, hard look at himself. Just because you design one eject-able fuel pod doesn’t mean you can just have your pick of the ladies, sir. Incidentally, Tin-Tin’s suffering from a slightly wonky eye. Brains grabs the champagne and they all head off to the Starlight Roof to celebrate the successful crashing of Skythrust… hooray…

Alias Mr. Hackenbacker is a pretty solid episode. It’s got plenty of action and intrigue, a fairly cool new aircraft for us to enjoy, and some glorious special effects. The fact that the episode borrows a lot of ideas from Trapped In The Sky doesn’t really lower it’s entertainment value, but it does show how the focus of the series has shifted since then. Rather than being a simple story of a plane getting sabotaged and International Rescue saving it with some cool machinery, Alias Mr. Hackenbacker has multiple layers to it which all lead towards the special device being revealed at the climax.

True, not all the elements of the story meet together all that neatly, leaving us wondering what exactly Madeline and Mason were planning in the first place, but generally speaking the scripting is much more sophisticated than it was when the show began. The main characters and the guest characters are more fully fleshed out with Penelope and Brains taking centre stage. The downside of this, and perhaps the reason why Trapped In The Sky is considered superior to Alias Mr. Hackenbacker, is that the Tracy boys have to take a backseat on this one and affect the outcome of the plot very little. That, and the fact Skythrust just isn’t quite as pretty as Fireflash.

Overall though, I have to recommend Alias Mr. Hackenbacker as being a fun episode with a great variety of Thunderbirds elements for everyone to enjoy.

Next week, the town of Monte Bianco faces disaster after an accident at the solar energy station on the mountainside… it’s a job for Lord Parker! Stay tuned for Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday.

2 thoughts on “Thunderbirds – 29. Alias Mr. Hackenbacker

  1. Great write-up once again! I watched this one again a couple of weeks back (after not seeing it for years), and really enjoyed it too. I like the more sophisticated plots in these later stories, and the puppets all move better too.
    Having said that, I didn’t enjoy this one so much when I watched it as a young child for some reason – as with Captain Scarlet, I found it quite hard to follow.
    I assumed it was the Penelon they were after – good point about the plane!

    Like

  2. Regarding the 1993 vintage, from what I hear 1993 was a pretty awful year…

    My one memory of this episode was not seeing it the fist time around – I got into Thunderbirds from the 1991 repeats and this episode was broadcast on my 12th birthday. For some reason my family didn’t want to cancel my birthday meal just so I could watch Thunderbirds 🙂

    Like

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