Thunderbird 6 (1968)

Directed by David Lane

Screenplay by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson

Premiered 29th July 1968

Learning from the weaknesses of the Thunderbirds Are Go feature film which premiered to a much smaller audience than originally expected in December 1966, Thunderbird 6 went into production in May 1967 alongside the production of Captain Scarlet which had started in January. The Century 21 studio divided once again with one team tackling Thunderbird 6 while the other continued to produce episodes of Captain Scarlet. This lasted for 4 months. The film was completed and classified by January 1968, but was then shelved for 6 months for release in July. More than 18 months had passed since a new episode of Thunderbirds had been broadcast, and when Thunderbird 6 went into production it had been at least 6 months since the team had worked on any major Thunderbirds productions. How did such a long break affect the finished product and its reception? There’s no doubt that Thunderbird 6 addresses some of the weaknesses of Thunderbirds Are Go, but does it present other problems? Ultimately, this is the final adventure for the International Rescue team produced in the 60’s by the original Century 21 team – so was this film one last hurrah, the glimmer of a new direction for the format, or the reason it all came to an end?

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The opening of Thunderbird 6 is pretty much the exact opposite of the opening of Thunderbirds Are Go. No animated titles and loud music. No dragged out, grandiose special effects sequences – we go straight into the plot. The New World Aircraft Corporation building is hardly the most beautiful thing to ever grace the cinema screen, but this time around we’re not being shown 28 different shots of her like what we witnessed with Zero-X, so that’s okay.

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Bold set design is one of the strongest elements of Thunderbird 6, and though considerably smaller than the Martian Exploration Center’s board room, this conference is still very striking. Now it may not be wise to constantly compare Thunderbird 6 to Thunderbirds Are Go, but considering they share a similar budget, and the same writers, director, and producer, it makes sense to highlight crossovers. The same puppet seen as Commander Casey in Thunderbirds Are Go is used to portray a different character known as Jim Glenn – the President of the New World Aircraft Corporation. He is voiced by Supermarionation newcomer, Geoffrey Keen, an actor most well known for his role as Sir Frederick Gray in the 007 James Bond movies. Sat alongside Glenn at the table are a number of characters who popped up in Thunderbirds Are Go, including Space Colonel Harris. But there is an empty seat at the other end of the room.

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Behind a screen sits a familiar face, sat in a chair which makes him look like a Bond villain. Brains is the first character we see to have been treated to a bit of a redesign especially for this movie. With the development of the new, correctly proportioned Captain Scarlet puppets, a decision had to be made concerning whether these more realistic proportions would be implemented in the Thunderbirds characters in a radical redesign. I think we’re all breathing a sigh of relief that they weren’t, but as a compromise, the heads of the main characters for Thunderbird 6 were reduced in size just a touch. To be quite honest, if you didn’t know about it, you’d barely notice that the heads were any smaller. That said some of the new puppets do look quite different to their predecessors. With his blue glasses on, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between the different variants of Brains, but later on we’ll spot some characters which have undergone something of a transformation. One other puppetry breakthrough which is implemented an enormous amount on this film is the under control puppet. These are operated from beneath rather than from wires dangling down from the puppet bridge. This offered exciting opportunities for more dynamic camera work, set design, and of course puppetry.

So here’s what’s going down today. Brains, under the alias of Mr X (I guess he realised how pompous the name Hiram K. Hackenbacker sounded), has designed a revolutionary new type of aircraft, and the committee have gathered to hear what it is. Jim Glenn is rather excited, in fact it’s “the most exciting moment in the history of our company.” No pressure there Brains. But there’s more, Glenn starts to ponder what this incredible new design might be – just to get everyone’s hopes up. “An aircraft that flies ten times the speed of sound?” Well Thunderbird 1 can already do that so no problem there. “A space vehicle that travels the speed of light?” Well that would just be silly. The ominous music suggests that Brains hasn’t done anything of the sort, in fact he reveals that he’s disregarded any interest in speed or coolness, and instead wants to build an airship. People of a nervous disposition may want to run out of the room screaming now…

I did warn you. I thought that after the whole Cliff Richard Jr. thing in Thunderbirds Are Go we were all done with absolute bizarre weirdness. But no, to get it out of the way early, here are about 4 puppets with specially sculpted heads shown to be laughing painfully hard. The word I would use to describe it? Grotesque. Don’t get me wrong, the detail that has gone into crafting and painting the inside of the puppet’s mouths, right down to the fillings in the teeth, is very impressive. But the way this scene is shot and cut together is truly terrifying, although you can’t really avoid fast cutting when such an expressive face is unable to move or change. In a way, it’s supposed to feel a bit horrific so that we empathise with Brains’ embarrassment, but this has had to be pushed to the extreme because of the rather extraordinary expressions of the puppets’ faces. It’s hard to decide whether this sequence should be there or not. It’s technically brilliant, but considering this is the very beginning of the movie, you might be put on edge a bit if you’ve never seen Thunderbirds before.

The scene transitions over to Tracy Island using footage originally filmed for Thunderbirds Are Go. For this to occur so much earlier in the film that it did previously really suggests that a note has been taken to try and make Thunderbird 6 about International Rescue as much as possible.

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Jeff wants to have a run down of the International Rescue craft… I hope that’s more for the benefit of the audience because Jeff should really have it very clear in his mind at all times what each Thunderbird machines is for. Many sources state that the Tracy lounge has been painted a greener shade than when it previously appeared in Thunderbirds Are Go, but it looks more or less the same to me – maybe fewer books on the shelves.

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Thunderbird 1 – Sleek, first, and fast. That doesn’t really sum up its actual purpose, but sure, let’s go with that.  The launch bay has had a few paint alterations since it last appeared in Thunderbirds Are Go, but perhaps the most noticeable difference is the fact Thunderbird 1 is now facing the camera as it does in the television series… because it looks cooler, let’s be honest.

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Thunderbird 2 – Giant transporter, carries all the rescue gear to the danger zone (aka, the most important one). Curiously, she starts to lift off of the ramp before reaching the end of it… which sort of renders the ramp itself a bit pointless.

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Thunderbird 3 – Designed for space rescues. Unlike the other shots in this sequence which are all brand new, Thunderbird 3’s blast off has been lifted from Thunderbirds Are Go.

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Thunderbird 4 – Capable of withstanding the pressure of the depths. For the first time since Terror In New York City, Thunderbird 4 is shown launching from the island itself. And that’s your lot. No more Thunderbird 3 or 4 for this film… which means no more Thunderbird 3 or 4 ever…

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Thunderbird 5 – Space monitor – capable of receiving or intercepting distress calls from any part of the world. That’s right, against all odds we actually have a new shot of Thunderbird 5 here, and it looks very nice indeed. She’s lit differently, but beyond that the model appears unchanged since it first appeared in Trapped In The Sky. There’s a tiny bit of underside detail which we’ve never seen before.

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With a fist slammed on the table, Jeff declares that he has a feeling they desperately need a Thunderbird 6. He doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t know what it needs to do, but he just wants something… I have to say that this is probably the plot’s biggest weakness, and unfortunately it’s supposed to be the selling point of the whole thing. Surely Jeff would know what sort of vehicle they’re lacking if he really wanted to build one. The fact that Gerry and Sylvia couldn’t quite come up with a decent enough reason for Jeff to want a sixth Thunderbird, strongly suggests that this was intended as nothing more than a gimmick to make people watch the film. Is it a strong enough gimmick though? Unless you’re a die hard fan of the series, you’re not going to feel that enticed to make a trip to the cinema just to see what the sixth Thunderbird ends up being.

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Very bizarrely, we cut to a rough shot of a loud aircraft taking off. It’s rather shakey, and doesn’t exactly frame the Thunderbird 6 title very attractively. It feels thrown in as an after thought. There’s certainly an energy there to get straight to the plot, but nothing beats a nice, attractive title card. Note the new ‘Supermarionation’ logo which was implemented in Captain Scarlet and the other Century 21 Supermarionation shows.

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Brains isn’t having any of Jeff’s vague ramblings and wants to work to a specification. Jeff won’t give it to him though, in fact he never does. His reason is that Brains didn’t have to work to a specification when he designed that airship for the New World Aircraft Corporation. Remember that? Well they built it.

And here she is, Skyship One, shown off in all her glory during the opening credits set to some absolutely delightful music. Skyship One is another incredible design and model from the special effects department, often forgotten about because of Zero-X, but definitely able to compete in my books. I love this ship and her unique shape and characteristics.

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The image fades into a magnificent painting. How clever.

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It’s Virgil who’s painting it. The puppet scale painting is quite different to the version seen in close up. Virgil’s hair appears to be a bit lighter now, and this new version of the puppet does look quite a bit different to the last one. It also looks like Penelope has been given the sack, and her portrait replaced with a painting of some mouldy coffee stains.

Brains is cheesed off because he wasn’t allowed to go on the maiden voyage of Skyship One. The only reason for this appears to be Jeff’s totally irrational and entirely unjustified need to keep Brains locked in the laboratory to design whatever the heck Thunderbird 6 is supposed to be. I don’t think Jeff has ever acted so much like the stereotypical millionaire with more money than he knows what to do with, and it’s certainly not a quality I find very likeable. He’s a complete twerp for most of the film to be honest with you. Anyway, in Brains’ place on the maiden voyage of Skyship One will be Alan, Tin-Tin, and Penelope. So much for Penny being sacked then.

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Meanwhile, down in one of the hangars, young Alan is painting something red and yellow – as indicated by the smudges on his overalls. The new Alan puppet, again, doesn’t quite look like it did previously, but he’s still retained that baby face we all want to punch sometimes.

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Tin-Tin has just finished packing, but Jeff being the nutter he is today starts having a go at her about it. Tin-Tin’s role has been significantly increased in Thunderbird 6 after what was essentially a cameo role in the last film. Her intelligence and ability is still vastly underplayed, however, and her degree from the finest American university isn’t put to much use. Her sole function is to be Alan’s love interest by this point, and it’s a fact we’re constantly reminded of.

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Still wanting to keep the puppets from walking om screen, we’re given this shot from Tin-Tin’s point of view as she wanders towards her lunatic boss/father figure – Kyrano is once again absent from this film, so he may well have died for all we know.

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So according to Jeff, Tin-Tin is far too delicate and sensitive to put up with flying with Alan for an extended period of time in an unconventional mode of transport. Remember at the beginning of the series when Tin-Tin’s first mission was spent flying to the Sun for 65 hours, and then she was the one who worked out how to over power Thunderbird 3’s safety beam to rescue the doomed Sun Probe rocket? Well I guess all that counts for nothing now. I just cannot work out why Tin-Tin’s character took such a backward turn. But hey, at least she doesn’t listen to a word Jeff says.

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The time has come for Alan to make his departure. The family are gathering on the roof of the Cliff House. Beyond serving as landing control in Terror In New York City, this is the only other occasion that the building is put to some use.

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The brothers have come to watch, along with Grandma who has no speaking role in the movie. Jeff is suspicious of Tin-Tin’s absence. I’m suspicious of Virgil’s outfit.

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Some very grandiose music prepares us for an incredible revelation…

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Barry Gray masterfully twists the classic Thunderbirds tune into a comedy piece which is pretty hysterical. The palm trees fall mockingly as the tiny little Tiger Moth biplane putters along the runway.  Curiously, and for the first time ever, the Tracy Villa is actually visible directly above the Cliff House, putting the position of Thunderbird 1’s hangar into question as well as a number of other underground systems.

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The puppet-sized Tiger Moth is a beautiful piece of work, and later makes a reappearance in The Secret Service episode, More Haste, Less Speed. So this is the unconventional vehicle that Alan is travelling to England in. The range of a Tiger Moth is around 300 miles… you try crossing the Atlantic when you have to stop every 300 miles to refuel. Presumably Alan had to call in a few favours from various aircraft carriers to let him refuel there. Or maybe Brains has adapted the engine in some way to last a bit longer…

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Alan lifts off majestically from the end of the runway and turns to start his long journey. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this film is the way footage of the model Tiger Moth blends with live action footage of the plane. For the first time, the special effects team were able to employ a radio controlled model to achieve certain shots. The technology was unreliable, but it did free the team from the restrictions of flying by wire. It is incredibly difficult to distinguish between the different scales, particularly during the film’s climax.

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Poor Brains watches the plane fly away from the balcony of his laboratory which has been redesigned yet again. He certainly milks his misery for all it’s worth, but the guy is essentially being held prisoner to perform a near impossible task.

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Pinned to Brains’ design drawings for a potential Thunderbird Six is a note from Tin-Tin. She’s awfully sweet, but she did stow aboard the Tiger with Alan… Jeff won’t be pleased.

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He over reacts a bit…

What follows is something rather unusual, but nothing really surprises me at this point in the Thunderbirds feature film saga. Alan and Tin-Tin do a little musical number, The Man On The Flying Trapeze, while performing stunts in the Tiger Moth. One assumes that Matt Zimmerman and Christine Finn themselves are the ones providing the singing voices and it’s rather lovely.

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Over at Creighton-Ward Manor, everyone’s decided to dress up. Penelope’s is a very h’elegant outfit previously worn by one of her ancestors, the Duchess of Creighton-Ward. Parker is dressed up a bit too, but it’s never revealed whether he’s spent a fortnight growing the moustache, or whether it’s a fake. The old, ‘Penny over packs’ gag is rolled out again – it’s been over done to the point that I actually never noticed the big pile of suitcases in the corner until now. Rather incredibly, aside from a change in the carpet, the basics of the set for Lady P’s living room have remained unchanged since Trapped In The Sky. Apparently it’s taken Alan two weeks to fly from Tracy Island to England, which sounds like a fair estimate of how long it might take but boy is that a lot of flying.

The Tiger Moth can be heard overhead as we watch her pass by the window. Penelope’s face has undergone some minor tweaks for her Thunderbird 6 redesign and I have to say they’ve still got her look bang on. Coupled with a slightly warmer, more mature performance from Sylvia Anderson, she really is very likeable in this adventure.

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Alan and Tin-Tin look down on a gorgeous model set showing the full expanse of Penelope’s land. There’s something very special about the vast expanses of countryside produced by the special effects team. These huge sets stretched the entire length of the studio floor and are beautifully detailed. They started to pop up in Captain Scarlet but are really shown off in all their glory here. While Scott, Virgil, Gordon, and Brains all visited Penelope in Day of Disaster, this really is Alan and Tin-Tin’s first time seeing the Creighton-Ward estate.

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Tin-Tin ducks down into her seat, suggesting they’ve got a plan for some mischief.

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Penelope and Parker watch from the roof as the Tiger Moth approaches at a very low altitude. It gives Parker the willies, but Penelope keeps her cool superbly. The blend between live action shots of the plane and the model are superb. Does anyone out there know the location that was used for Penelope’s front garden by any chance?

Alan ejects and cruises down onto the roof via a neat little jet-pack. Parker is thoroughly dumbstruck by what’s going on. I must admit to being quite puzzled myself.

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Without any change in his usual facial expression, Parker clearly looks anxious and worried.

Parker continues to express his intense concern that the plane is flying around, wildly out of control with no pilot. The Tiger Moth comes in awfully low over the top of the house, causing the guy to scream and hit the deck. This is turning out to be rather a cruel prank.

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Hopping back up, Parker rather unusually has eyelids fixed to cover half of his eyes. Behind the scenes photos suggest that this is the under control puppet, which is also shown later on to have more dynamic eye movement while Parker hangs from the Tiger Moth’s undercarriage.

Finally, Penelope decides to reveal all, albeit a tad cryptically for poor Parker, commenting simply on Tin-Tin’s excellent piloting skills which are hardly ever put to decent use. She brings the plane down for a gentle landing in a nearby field. Everything looks so lovely and lush and green in this film you’d be convinced the entirety of England was rural Buckinghamshire… which it is because that’s where most of the live action footage was shot.

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Viewers with a sharp eye might just notice the floor puppeteer’s hand which is helping Parker out as he listens by the door to Penelope, Alan, and Tin-Tin. They’re incredibly rude about him and it honestly looks like he’s plotting his revenge against them. That is one very distinctive theme about this film – passive aggression. Parker quietly listens in, full of contempt. Brains suffers in silence while Jeff continually turns down his designs and refuses to give any specification as to what he actually wants from Thunderbird Six. Even Alan keeps his utter disdain for Captain Foster quiet for the most part. The characters are actually starting to get a bit fed up with each other and it’s incredibly juicy, but also feels very off and weird. Parker has always been a source for comedy in Thunderbirds, but one is never forced to feel sorry for him in the same way we are here. Penelope has never tried to be mean to him before and that’s why their servant/mistress relationship is sustainable. But when Penelope starts to treat Parker like an idiot servant it throws off that mutual respect and makes you wonder why on earth he puts up with her. And that’s the thing, the film-makers try to make a thing out of Parker’s embarrassment/anger/jealousy, but then don’t actually do anything with that, he just continues to be as obedient and loyal as ever. It’s just a part of the film that’s never sat well with me, rant over.

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So Penelope knew that Tin-Tin had been aboard the Tiger Moth for the entire two week journey, but for some reason never told Parker during that time… Those two have a very odd relationship indeed. Penelope gives a toast, but can’t quite be bothered to pour Parker a glass of champagne. To be fair, he is driving them to the airport, but still, it’s very sad that he isn’t in on the fun.

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Despite finding the craft’s conception hysterical, Jim Glenn now has a huge and very lovely painting of Skyship One behind his desk… probably so he doesn’t have to look at it. Stood before him are the crew of the ship which includes Power from Ricochet and Dr Ray Pierce from Thunderbirds Are Go. The white, holey dividing wall in the office can also be spotted in the house of the crooks in the Captain Scarlet episode, The Heart Of New York. So Glenn reminds everyone that he’s the boss and doesn’t want anyone to screw anything up – including strict security arrangements needing to be upheld… I’m sure nothing will go wrong…

Alan starts the Tiger Moth by hand as they prepare to make the short trip to the airfield. FAB 1 drives away from the house and so kicks off a very lovely, charming sequence set to some splendid, rousing music.

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We’re treated to lots of these excellent shots showing FAB 1 driving along and the various aircraft up in the air. The model sets continue to be highly detailed. One thing that does make this film feel distinctly different from previous Thunderbirds adventures is the necessity to make everything look more like it belongs in 1960’s England, in order to match the live action footage appropriately.

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Here’s some more of those gorgeous countryside sets which took up the entire studio. Oh, and Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are here by the way. They just pop up out of no-where with none that pompous fanfare to announce them. While the International Rescue team feature much more prominently in this film, the actual Thunderbird machines are once again confined to minor appearances, and perhaps that’s why this film also doesn’t quite feel right to some viewers.

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The Thunderbird 2 cockpit has undergone a few minor changes with a redesigned steering wheel and a microphone added to the chair which matches the one also added to Scott’s chair. The hatch to Thunderbird 1’s passenger compartment which was seen briefly in Thunderbirds Are Go has now gone, as well as a few other changes in detailing. Scott declares that Operation Escort is go… apparently that was the most imaginative name Scott could come up with during the two weeks of planning for this flight…

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A sequence of lovely shots of all the machines travelling together ensues.

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FAB 1 doesn’t appear to have undergone any changes since her last appearance, although a clever person did point out to me the other day that Parker’s microphone is in fact just a television aerial lead! It’s also worth noting that a full size FAB 1 was produced for the publicity of the film. A number of publicity shots were taken of actress Penny Snow posing on top of the car which even made an appearance on Blue Peter. Stories conflict as to whether it was Thunderbirds Are Go or Thunderbird 6 that said car was actually built for, but evidence appears to support that it was indeed the latter. Either way it was used to transport Gerry & Sylvia Anderson to the premiere… before it broke down that is…

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Meanwhile, aboard Skyship One, the roll call is read and each crew member confirms their presence… even though it would be quicker for the captain to just look in front of him, see that everyone is there, tick, tick, tick, tick, bish, bash, bosh, let’s have a ruddy good launch.

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Well this handsome devil has other ideas…

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The crew are well and truly dead. Despite its lighter tone in places, Thunderbird 6 does also have more grizzly deaths and corpses being flung around left, right, and centre than in any other Thunderbirds adventure. Some of that Captain Scarlet disregard for human life has worn off on the screenplay for this film it would seem.

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FAB 1 drives into the airport, barely stopping to be checked by the security guard. There isn’t even a gate. So much for strict security. The building behind the entrance appears to be the bottom portion of the Glenn Field control tower from Thunderbirds Are Go painted white. At the airfield, the bottom portion of the Paradise Peaks hotel from The Cham-Cham can be spotted, as well as buildings which pop up in several places in Captain Scarlet, such as Geneva Airport in the episode Flight 104.

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The Tiger Moth touches down in yet another very green field… rather than on a runway with all the other planes.

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FAB 1 drives towards the smaller Skyship One model which doesn’t appear too much in the film.

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Parker takes FAB 1 up the back passage… sorry…

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Rather unusually, and this happens a couple of times in the film, Thunderbird 2 touches down before Thunderbird 1. I suppose it isn’t that noteworthy, except Jeff did specifically describe it as being “first” at the beginning of the movie… further proof that he’s off his rocker…

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Scott is invited over to the Ball Room. He fancies a dance… any excuse…

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In a surprising turn of events, Parker has been given his own television show. He basically just talks about booze for half an hour on BBC Four at 11:35 every Wednesday night. So far ratings have been surprisingly positive. Rather imaginatively, the show’s called “The Drinkin’ ‘Alf ‘Our.”

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Nope. Parker’s just having a funny turn. And the reason it’s called the Ball Room is because the room is full of balls… of course. The walls, and part of the floor are completely covered in coloured ping-pong balls which apparently burst into flames under the intense studio lighting!

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Penelope fancies another glass of champagne, but this time everyone can have one, basically resolving the whole gosh-Penelope-was-a-bit-mean-to-Parker scenario.

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Foster, now assuming the role of captain makes a speech and he’s clearly winging it. Foster is voiced by another Supermarionation newcomer, John Carson. His performance as the not-so-good Captain is deliciously suave and dripping with evilness.

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Later, the new Skyship One crew prepare for take-off, looking awfully silly in their hats. Because the ship’s course and operations are pre-programmed, they should be able to keep up the pretense that they’re the real deal, but hopefully one of them has read Brains’ manual just in case. Apparently the only way their cover will be broken is if something goes wrong with the ship… seeing as every new aircraft that’s ever been launched in the history of Thunderbirds has gone wrong somehow, it’s fair to say that something will definitely go wrong with this one.

Birds tweet their little hearts out while the countdown ticks down to zero. The ship’s electronic systems whir into action. So what is so revolutionary and special about Skyship One?

This is the gravity compensation room which somehow manages to make the whole ship effectively weightless so that, like an airship filled with helium or hydrogen, it just floats into the air. Pretty neat although how it all actually works, and what it has to do with the big spinny things filling the room, I don’t know. The sound of the machine starting up might be familiar to Joe 90 viewers as the sound of the BIG RAT.

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Off she pops. Technically impressive as all this is, it certainly lacks the cinematic drama of watching Zero-X get pieced together, roar into action, and thunder down the runway at Glenn Field.

With Skyship One successfully in the air, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 blast off for the second phase of Operation Escort.

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Martin arrives in the Ball Room to invite the passengers to dinner in the Bottle Room. No prizes for guessing the theme of that room…

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Once Skyship One crosses the coast, the International Rescue team consider her to be out of danger… even though there’s a track record in Thunderbirds of aircraft getting sabotaged once they’re over a body of water. So ends another exciting International Rescue operation… much like Thunderbirds Are Go it is a little underwhelming to see the Thunderbird craft put to so little use during the first half of the film.

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The Bottle Room is another stunning piece of set design. Skyship One’s incredible interior design certainly make it the most luxurious aircraft ever seen in Thunderbirds. The table is in fact an enormous bottle filled with water and even fish!

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Penelope wants the blinds to be drawn, but because Foster’s a complete phoney he doesn’t know how to override the ship’s programming and do that for her. Rather than pushing the matter any further, Penny just comments on how clever it all is. They’re all set “for a lovely, peaceful holiday…” with a captain who doesn’t know how curtains work…

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Time for the disposal of some corpses. The ocean looks far closer in the brief puppet shot than it does in the rather beautiful, though incredibly sinister, model shot. One question though, if the original crew are being “dropped off” in their uniforms, where did the fake crew get their uniforms from?

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It would appear that Captain Travers from Thunderbirds Are Go has gone rogue, appearing now as the villainous Carter. His voice is provided by Keith Alexander, another Supermarionation newcomer who joined the cast of Joe 90 as Sam Loover, and continued to appear in Doppelganger as the Launch Controller, The Secret Service as Agent Blake, and UFO as Lt. Keith Ford.

The El Hadim Airfrield ten miles south of Casablanca – seemingly abandoned aside from one figure sitting alone at a control panel… the croaky, Asian voice which we will later hear responding to these calls from White Ghost is that of actor, Gary Files who started his career with Gerry & Sylvia Anderson as Captain Magenta in Captain Scarlet and went on to provide guest voices in Joe 90, the voice of Matthew Harding in The Secret Service, and a brief appearance in the UFO episode, Identified.

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This is Black Phantom. The question is of course, is this also The Hood? Well it is almost certainly his face. Is it his voice? Well, with Ray Barrett returning home to Australia, he was unavailable to record Thunderbird 6. The role of John Tracy is briefly filled by Keith Alexander later in the film which doesn’t sound all that much like John. Gary Files certainly has a good go at trying to sound like The Hood. Thus far, all the evidence points towards this character being The Hood going under the pseudonym of Black Phantom. But, the fact he wears a wig throughout the film does suggest this could be a different character, as well as the slightly different voice, and the fact that The Hood suffered a seemingly fatal helicopter crash in Thunderbirds Are Go. He doesn’t dress like The Hood, and it’s not really like The Hood to sit back and let other people do all the dirty work. Sylvia Anderson states in the DVD commentary that this is not The Hood, but could be “Hood Junior” which opens up a whole barrel of worms… Want my opinion on all of this? From the moment I first saw Black Phantom on screen during my very first viewing of Thunderbird 6, I thought he was The Hood, and I still do. That said, the film’s original press fact sheet distributed to promote Thunderbird 6 very much talks about Black Phantom being his own character, and not having any relation to The Hood. It’s also not the first time that a recognisable marionette has been re-used to play a different character. It isn’t inconceivable that this is a different character, but I can’t help but feel that if it looks like The Hood, sounds a bit like The Hood, and wants to steal the Thunderbird machines, then it may well be The Hood.

Night falls aboard Skyship One as it journeys across the Atlantic, probably along the same route Alan and Tin-Tin just took to get to the ship in the first place. The dastardly Captain Foster and his crew are about to start work on carrying out their plan. A message has been written, and the entire ship bugged with microphones so that every word Lady Penelope says is recorded. The White Ghost gang are being paid to manufacture a recording of Penelope speaking the words in the pre-written message by any means necessary. It’s a pretty whacky scheme, but I like it because it’s so ruddy devious. They’re going to get through an awful lot of tape though…

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Skyship One approaches New York City, as indicated by the rather superb replica of the Statue of Liberty which they’re flying dangerously close to.

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But Lady P takes no interest in Lady Liberty, and is fast asleep in her nightmare of a bedroom. It is unbelievably pink in a way that doesn’t look too awful, but sure is overdone. If you liked pink as much as Penelope does, then you’d probably be quite happy with it. Eyelids have been placed over the puppet’s eyes to show her sleeping – the story goes that this scene had to be re-shot because the eye shadow was ever so slightly the wrong colour according to Sylvia Anderson!

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Everybody wakes up for breakfast, and so the recording on this rather enormous tape machine begins…

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Parker wasn’t invited for some reason. The gang cheerily start the day by discussing how horrendous it would be if the airship hit a building… well that doesn’t exactly suggest much confidence in Brains’ design work. Penelope says that if something were to go wrong it would “simply be a case of… *pauses so the microphone definitely picks it up* calling International Rescue.”

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Much like the commonly misinterpreted New York stock footage seen in The Duchess Assignment which people claim shows the Empire State Building before it collapsed in Terror In New York City even though it doesn’t,  this stock shot also does not show the Empire State Building, but actually shows us the buildings around Wall Street, no-where near the Empire State.

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You can actually spot the side of the helicopter that the footage was from filmed from in this shot.

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Anyway, because the crew now have a recording of Penelope saying “Calling International Rescue” they can cross it off their list. Sure hope she doesn’t blab on about International Rescue too much for the rest of the trip…

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And then the budget ran out… actually this is a model model building, if that makes sense. This is Brains’ demo burning building which he’s actually taken a heck of a long time to make. He is about to unveil his design for Thunderbird 6. At last!

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She sure is an interesting looking critter. Not necessarily cool enough to be a Thunderbird, but had it appeared in the series, it probably would have been one of the higher ranking pod vehicles.

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The team have gathered to watch the demonstration in their most hideous shirts. They’ve all been drinking, as indicated by the whiskey shots on the tables, so don’t expect this to go well…

Brains’ very lovely model of Thunderbird 6 drives up to the building and a helium balloon pulls a hose into the air, allowing a little International Rescue team member to ascend. Somehow, by pure magic, the little plastic figure of the rescue victim climbs out of the window and on to the platform all by itself. Nonetheless, another international rescue has been made possible… it’s weird to hear the term ‘international rescue’ used as a description rather than just a name.

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Jeff is thoroughly unimpressed. For the first time ever he actually worries that a machine might be too expensive to bother building… this is the man who commissioned four vehicles that perform the sole function of catching large aircraft with malfunctioning undercarriages… Yes, it may not have the versatility that a Thunderbird needs to have, but surely Brains’ design would be of some use to you Jeff? That said, I wouldn’t particularly want to drive up to a blazing inferno and ascend into the sky with nothing but a helium balloon holding me up. The mobile crane from Path of Destruction, and the jet air transporter from Move – And You’re Dead both perform the function of getting people up to and down from high places. Never mind, at least Brains has finally been given an indication of what Jeff doesn’t want to see. It’s a start! The design is described as “a wasted effort” which is a bit harsh. There’s a very easy way to avoid wasting anymore effort Jeff…

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Brains gets mad. Really mad. In a fit of fury, he throws the model from the table and breaks it. People behave in such a bizarre way in this film. Businessmen laugh to the point of insanity, Penelope lies to Parker for two weeks about Tin-Tin’s arrival and then openly mocks him, Jeff is generally a complete twerp, and Brains actually gets angry to the point of minor violence. It’s all mostly intended as comedy, but it is ruddy odd.

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Skyship One is a magnificent beast. Had it appeared in the television series, it probably would have been one of the mostly fondly remembered guest vehicles. Coming as it does after Zero-X, however, it just doesn’t have the reputation it deserves.

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Another beautifully designed room aboard the ship, dedicated to games. Most ingeniously, there are small chairs made out of badminton rackets, and shuttlecocks used to create a light fixture on the ceiling.

Foster tells a completely made up story about being lost in a jet plane over the Grand Canyon… how do you get lost when flying a jet plane? As a kid, for some odd reason, I always imagined that Foster was just wandering around the cabin of a passenger airliner completely unable to find his seat, so decided to call someone on the ground for help… I was probably dropped on my head as a child… Anyway, all this nonsense has been made up to get Penelope to read off “International Fix System 2404, reference E” from a fake map.

But never mind that, Skyship One flies over the beautifully rendered set of the Grand Canyon while Tin-Tin looks like she’s having some kind of very deep, spiritual experience. This is one of those sequences which would have been breath-taking on the big screen.

A fade transition suggests a certain passage of time, and suddenly the gang are in Rio De Janeiro… but Alan and Tin-Tin are wearing the same outfits they were earlier so they must have made the flight in the same day without really stopping anywhere. Anyway, Alan doesn’t like Captain Foster because of course Alan doesn’t like Captain Foster. But the ominous tape machine continues recording…

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It now appears that Skyship One is landing in Africa. Spot the snakes dangling and wriggling on the tree. Why must this be Africa I hear you ask?

Because Alan is hunting an endangered lion which can only be found in Africa… This stock shot of a lion actually appeared very briefly in the Fireball XL5 episode The Triads – at least it appears to be the same footage but obviously it’s shown in monochrome in XL5. Anyway, naughty Alan.

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Parker enjoys a snooze next to FAB 1 while Penelope continues to reveal information that she probably shouldn’t about Thunderbird 1 and 2 being the most versatile something, something, something.

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Despite her clearly saying “Thunderbird One and Two”, something entirely different is crossed off of the message… The red pen has run out of ink so they’ve switched to black which I suppose is still fairly threatening.

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After finishing their trip in Africa, for some mad reason Skyship One goes all the way back to South America to look at the Iguazu Falls bordering Argentina and Brazil… either the footage ended up in the wrong order or we’re just not supposed to notice the fact their journey follows a very odd route.

The recording continues as the gang have dinner in the Bottle Room… although Tin-Tin must have not been hungry… and Captain Foster has taken the night off from being a bit of a leech. Still, at least Parker enjoyed the… whatever Penelope says…

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Now they’re back on a sort of normal, westerly course. Skyship One is flying over Sydney, Australia, where the Opera House is noticeably absent because it was still being built when Thunderbird 6 was made – although in 1967 it was in a much more completed state than what we see here, suggesting that the footage was at least 4 years out of date when Thunderbird 6 was produced.

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Work on the message is progressing nicely, but there’s one very distinctive line still missing.

It’s a stormy night aboard the ship, and Penelope and Parker enjoy a quiet chat. Penny is looking quite stunning among all her pinkness and blondeness. Parker confesses to getting blind drunk with the stewards, but still finding time to ask them questions about Skyship One which they apparently don’t know the answers to – that’s some top notch undercover detective work right there. Penelope herself says she’s been thinking about the same thing herself… I bet she’s just saying that to sound clever though, I doubt she’s given it the slightest thought up until now.

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Alan and Tin-Tin are hanging out in the Ball Room and Penelope gives them a call. Alan’s watch from Thunderbirds Are Go is re-used here in a nice touch of continuity.

Alan quickly reveals that he doesn’t like Captain Foster as if that was a surprise to anybody. Penelope immediately leaps to the assumption that Foster might have been asking a suspicious number of questions about International Rescue. Turbulence from the storm suddenly causes Penny’s lamp to fall over, revealing a hidden microphone! How a microphone under a lamp would be able to pick up anything much is a bit of a mystery, but anyway, Penelope quickly changes the subject to avoid alerting any attention.

Foster, who has overheard the whole conversation relaxes and the recording continues, but Penelope has turned on the shower, allowing her to converse in secret with Alan and Tin-Tin, warning them to stay on alert…

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Meanwhile, Brains has designed a seriously cool looking Thunderbird 6 model. He’s rambling to himself about having to design another one though. It’s unclear whether Jeff has already rejected this interpretation on the non-existent design brief, or whether Brains has just lost all confidence and doesn’t want to show it at all. It must be said that this craft doesn’t appear to have much functionality beside high speed and looking cool.

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Jeff remarks on Brains’ easy-going attitude, while Scott indirectly comments on the fact that Jeff is being a bit of a twerp for making Brains continue to work on a project without any clear instruction.

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Brains’ easy-going attitude ends up in a mess on the floor.

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It’s John! And the mystery of Penelope’s portrait has finally been solved. For some reason she’s been moved on to a wall at an angle which just doesn’t quite look right. All the portraits have been retaken,  Anyway, John is being voiced by Keith Alexander, and as mentioned previously he doesn’t really try all that hard to imitate Ray Barrett’s high energy performance. In many ways, this portrayal of John is more believable – he’s sitting up in space eating nothing but dried cabbage, alone and miserable. Rather curiously, the Thunderbird 6 Press Fact Sheet gives John’s age as 35, which I don’t think the fandom has ever accepted. You can read it here if you don’t believe me. So John has received a message in scrambled electronic code from Penelope. He reads it, and Jeff tells him to keep in touch… he doesn’t. John appears for one quick moment later in the film, but this is the last time he actually speaks to anyone on Tracy Island… let’s all take a moment to remember some of John’s most memorable moments…

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… I think that just about covers it…

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Scott immediately wants to stop the crew because there’s clearly something fishy going on which could jeopardise the future of International Rescue, but because Jeff is being a complete twerp, he wants to wait until they do something really dangerous before going into action…

Penelope is having her palm read by a fortune teller somewhere in India. She will meet a handsome stranger apparently and should let her heart guide her. The implication of any romance between Foster and Penelope is complete nonsense really because she’s far too smart for that.

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We’re treated to a busy market street scene with lots of new and/or adapted puppets.

Parker is astounded when a snake charmer starts to play the Thunderbirds theme to great effect, although it’s unclear whether Parker’s stoning the crows because of the snake charming, or because of the familiar music… or both…

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Meanwhile, Alan pays an excessive amount of money on a ring for Tin-Tin. It does raise an interesting question though – how rich are the Tracy boys exactly? Jeff is a multi-millionaire but had to spend a fortune to set up the International Rescue organisation, probably not leaving much left over for his sons to squander while working for him. If character biographies are to be believed, all of the boys had some sort of career before International Rescue, so maybe they live off of their earnings from that.

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Skyship One flies dangerously low over a building which vaguely – and I do mean vaguely – resembles the Taj Mahal. It’s a beautiful shot as the sun sets on what was probably the best day of Tin-Tin’s life. She probably went all gooey inside when Alan bought her that ring.

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Penelope looks absolutely stunning in her newly purchased sari. The fish in the bottle table have all been encouraged towards the camera. Foster starts poking around when he learns that Alan bought Tin-Tin a ring. Alan completely blows it by saying that marriage is out of the question because his life in International Rescue is too dangerous to share… well that kills that romance stone dead. What would be so wrong with Alan sharing his life with Tin-Tin? They already live together. Are Alan and the other Tracy boys never going to get married and have children? How will the organisation possibly continue? Has Jeff really asked them to give up any chance of maintaining a legacy? There’s a very good reason why this question was never brought up in the television series – it immediately breaks the format of the show like a twig if you even mention marriage and the continuation of the Tracy family. The boys probably only have about 10-15 years of able-bodied rescuing left in them. What happens then?

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Penelope distracts us from the issue going any further by announcing that she’s going to bed. Foster insists she stay up, his desperation and general creepiness starts to show through all the suave sophistication.

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Another shower conference reveals that only rooms where Penelope goes are being bugged so she is clearly the target. It’s surprisingly intriguing to watch the International Rescue team unpick this mystery even though we, the audience, already know what’s going on.

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Another beautiful Skyship One shot as they cross another body of water, presumably the Arabian Sea.

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They arrive in Egypt at the Pyramids of Giza. The replica of the Sphinx is incredible and looks just as huge as the real thing. The layout of the various landmarks has been shuffled around a bit to look good on camera, but it’s still an amazing piece of work.

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Despite being well travelled, Penelope claims to have never seen the pyramids. Tin-Tin’s never seen them either… there isn’t really any way that you can deny that she has in fact already seen them in Desperate Intruder because she’s the one who points them out. I would have said something funny like “oh she must not have had her contacts in that day,” but no, I can’t even say that – she is either a liar or an idiot, simple as that.

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Penelope decides to bring the mood down by reading out a newspaper report about a plane crash. The newspaper makes fascinating reading. The same paragraph is actually repeated three times. The plane was an Air Terranean DX102… so this was probably Commander Norman’s handy work. It’s possible that the DX102 is related in some way to the D103 seen in Alias Mr. Hackenbacker. Another headline asks ‘ZeroX finds new life on Saturn?’ I’m not sure why it’s posed as a question – either it did or it didn’t. And what’s Zero-X doing going all the way to Saturn anyway? A Mystery Space Station has also been sighted… that would probably be Rick O’Shea and Loman at it again. The photograph appears to show the destruction of Lunarville 7 from the Captain Scarlet episode of the same name.

Oh dear. All of the lines to this devious script have been recorded. The newspaper was a complete fake created by Carter to get the job done. Now it’s time to go through the hours and hours and hours and hours of recording to put the message together. I bet nobody’s fighting over that job.

But never mind the imminent security threat, the International Rescue team are off for a photo shoot with a few camels. It doesn’t end well for Parker. These Supermarionation camels are remarkably realistic, which is probably helped by the fact we never actually see them move.

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Rather wonderfully, somebody actually went to the effort of writing out the entirety of Penelope’s letter which tells the tale of their trip with the camels. It’s very sweet indeed.

Jeff, Scott, and Virgil are relaxing by the pool which appears to have been re-tiled since it last appeared in Thunderbirds Are Go. There is a coded part of the message which Brains needs to work on.

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He’s still hard at work producing beautiful models of potential Thunderbird 6 vehicles. This one looks like some kind of ultra-high speed aircraft/spaceship/submarine – who knows, but it looks fast. This same model appears to have loosely inspired one of the vehicles in the Project SWORD toy range.

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Never mind though. Once again, we don’t know whether Jeff took a disliking to this prototype or Brains has pretty much given up on the entire endeavour.

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Scott looks like he’s stepping into a minefield as he approaches Brains, asking him to decode the letter. Scott’s choice of shirt is another interesting one…

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Penelope’s message is basically to keep waiting for things to get worse. So Jeff does. But for some reason he thinks that the people responsible have “designs on International Rescue.” I don’t know what he means by that exactly, but I certainly hope nobody has been careless enough to let the designs of the International Rescue craft just sort of slip away. I assume he just means plans to do something nasty. Either way, he could just have Scott fly over to Skyship One and stop the whole thing now, but doesn’t because the film isn’t over yet.

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Carter plays back the edited recording so far and rather miraculously it doesn’t sound like several weeks worth of audio from several different environments has been spliced together in a hurry, it really sounds like Penelope is just speaking. Carter asks what the next move is. Foster explains. They’ll make their last stop in Switzerland. Then… well actually that’s as far as he gets explaining the rest of the plan… I’m sure it was good though…

Skyship One touches down in the Swiss Alps, and FAB 1 is taken for a spin, showing off her latest gadget – skis. Captain Foster is astounded by the car, but probably even more astounded by the fact Lady Penelope keeps handing International Rescue secrets to him on a plate.

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Meanwhile, Alan and Tin-Tin are tackling some seriously high-speed skiing which is considerably more impressive than the skiing that was shown in The Cham-Cham which essentially relied on a rolling ski slope while the puppets were stood still. Alan and Tin-Tin are gunning it down some seriously steep slopes, all seemingly performed by the puppeteers up on the bridge.

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In a particularly well performed moment, Tin-Tin manages to reach behind her back and turn on her ski-thruster in a way that doesn’t look too much like a floor puppeteer is just twisting her arm in a way that it shouldn’t go.

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Alan and Tin-Tin make their way up the mountain, although it looks like they might run into a rock or two or four…

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Night has fallen by the time the gang reach the charming Whistle Stop Inn.

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The place is dedicated to trains and has an unusual serving method which we’ll see in a moment, but right now let’s try and identify some puppets, many of which have had a slight makeover since the television series, while many others appear to be new. Among the patrons are the Commander of Matthews Field from The Cham-Cham, and Rick O’Shea from Ricochet.

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On the next table, the only recognisable face is one of the board members of the New World Aircraft Corportation who we saw earlier on in the movie. Sat at the back table may be Bruce Welch from The Shadows and Space Navigator Brad Newman, both from Thunderbirds Are Go but it’s tricky to tell.

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Sat behind Penelope and Foster we can see the Skythrust co-pilot from Alias Mr. Hackenbacker, and Cliff Richard Jr. under heavy disguise. The gang place their orders which are somehow taken note of, either by Foster pushing buttons or by the signal functioning as a microphone linked to the kitchen. Tin-Tin remarks on how fun it must have been to travel on trains years ago… yes Tin-Tin, but then Network Rail came…

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The food arrives promptly, delivered by a small train. How very lovely and original. Note that the table number happens to be 6… as in Thunderbird 6… But where has Parker got to? Penelope tries to pass it off as totally fine that Parker has been sat in the car for a fair while now, as if that’s just the way she treats people…

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But Parker has in fact dashed off back to Skyship One to do some sleuthing!

Parker soon discovers that in the Gravity Compensation Room, the tape recorder has been hooked up to a short wave transmitter. Not quite sure what Hogarth is actually working on but it looks awfully technical.

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The time has come for the diners to return to the ship. Penelope tries to test Foster’s knowledge of the ship by asking what would happen if they didn’t get back to Skyship One before the pre-programmed lift off time. He tries to divert the technical details by comparing her to Cinderella. She looks like she might be falling for his charm but I sincerely hope she isn’t.

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Parker has returned to pick them up, with Alan and Tin-Tin getting towed along behind. Curiously it looks as if the Whistle Stop Inn only had the one parking space, so I’m not quite sure how everyone else in the restaurant got there.

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Skyship One departs and the International Rescue team hold a conference. Parker has discovered that all the bugs have been removed, and the recording has been edited and is about to be transmitted. Alan demands that Parker issue the guns. Things are about to hot up! I must admit the plot was starting to get a little slow.

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The Hood/Black Phantom/The Hood’s son/The Hood’s other brother/The Hood’s weird uncle is informed of the situation. The message is ready for transmission, and he awaits the arrival of the Thunderbird machines. Oh my giddy aunt…

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10 o’clock the next morning, the message is transmitted.

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John Tracy listens aboard a slightly re-designed Thunderbird 5. The buttons and lights around the tape machine have changed, the speaker grilles are now square rather than round, and some white lines have been added around some dials on the main control panel.

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Using the same shots seen earlier in the film, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 blast off immediately – giving us no opportunity to enjoy those lovely full launch sequences for one last time. We get a hint of the triumphant Thunderbirds March but nothing more. Barry Gray’s music for this film is a real treat, but perhaps the departure from and reworking of the original tunes does play a large part in making this feel like something that isn’t always quite Thunderbirds.

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Crooked Bob as I shall now refer to him gives the order for the International Rescue pilots to be shot to pieces if they resist having their aircraft hi-jacked…

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Alan finally works it out. He finally works out who would be stupid enough to respond to a completely random, audio-only message from Lady Penelope despite knowing something fishy was going on involving her, without checking in with her or somebody else first to find out what exactly was going on…

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… I’m afraid so. Curiously, the calendar on his desk has the number 23 upside down on the back, meaning that it is showing number 24 on the front… the same number from when it was last seen in Give Or Take A Million.

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Penelope immediately calls up Jeff to inform him he’s being a blithering imbecile. Because her portrait is now mounted on the wall next to John, the angle looks seriously odd.

All guns are pointed towards the Thunderbird machines as they touch down. Once again, Thunderbird 2 is the first to touch down. The gunman puppet was previously seen as Mason in the episode, Alias Mr. Hackenbacker.

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Crooked Bob wants Scott and Virgil very much dead. We now know that he can stand up, which proves he’s not The Hood, because The Hood would have at least been paralysed by that helicopter crash… or something… I don’t know anymore, his name is Crooked Bob.

But it’s Thunderbirds 1 and 2 that shoot first! In a rather drawn out sequence, there’s a lot of buildings getting blown to bits to ensure all of Crooked Bob’s people are unbelievably dead. We’ve seen Thunderbird 1’s machine gun a couple of times, but this is the first time we’ve seen Thunderbird 2 armed with a machine gun, rather than missiles.

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Mission accomplished! Mass slaughter and justice done!

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Penelope tells Scott to get the heck over to Skyship One before something messy happens.

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Foster and the cronies are preparing for the arrival of the Thunderbird machines, believing that Crooked Bob’s operatives will be in control. But International Rescue have the upper hand because it’s actually Scott and Virgil flying over. So hopefully no-one will stir up the bad guys and make them think something’s up…

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Never mind. Alan blows the whole thing by deciding to take on five armed criminals single handed… there goes that upper hand they had for a few seconds.

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Penelope hears a series of gun shots, very much aware that things are not going terribly well for young Alan.

Alan and Foster are locked in a tricky battle as they try to shoot each other between the Gravity Compensators… Hogarth heads up to the balcony to get a more obtainable shot.

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Penelope gets there first. Here’s a nice, grizzly shot of Hogarth’s body flopping over the balcony…

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Lane, whom you may recognise as Space Captain Greg Martin from Thunderbirds Are Go, is told to get “the other one” as hostage…

Parker, Penelope, and Carter join in the gunfight. Unfortunately, one of them causes a bit of a problem. A stray bullet hits the big orange thing behind some glass.

Sparks fizzle and the sound of the BIG RAT shutting down from Joe 90 is heard as the Gravity Compensators stop turning. The effective weight meter immediately starts to go down…

Unfortunately, the White Ghosts have had time to take Tin-Tin hostage. Alan has no choice but to surrender. He may not want to marry her, but he’d really prefer her not to be dead.

Scott calls in claiming to have lost contact with Skyship One. Fortunately he’s already on the case so Jeff can’t interfere too much…

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Somehow, Penelope, Alan, Tin-Tin, and Parker have all been tied very neatly to the Gravity Compensators. Quite how the White Ghost gang managed to do that without getting head butted by Parker is a mystery. Foster’s feeling pretty good about the whole thing, even though the plan is slowly falling apart. Alan points out that Skyship One is slowly dropping out of the sky, with the jet engines still propelling her forward. He actually calls the ship “this bus” which I’m sure Brains and his shattered confidence would be thrilled to hear… Foster isn’t too worried though, he’ll just worry about hitting the ground when they get to it…

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Skyship One should be at 10,000 feet, but it’s at a mere 2,000 according to Scott. That’s not very good.

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Martin is up on the top deck to keep an eye on Thunderbird 1. He must be awfully chilly.

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Foster gives the order for the heroes to be taken up to the top deck with no false moves… this is a hostage situation not a dance routine…

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Scott pulls up close to Skyship One for a good look, but there appears to be no sign of life. Virgil is on his way shortly so everything should be pretty straightforward from this point onwards. Everyone will just get airlifted off of the ship with no incident whatsover.

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Scott doesn’t look quite so convinced though…

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All of a sudden, Skyship One is no-where near the body of water it was flying over a minute ago. And there’s something in the way a bit…

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Some great work is done here to make the height of the tower truly dizzying.

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Scott explains the danger. Skyship One is losing height and it looks like it may collide with an interceptor tower belonging to the missile base below. It’s a recipe for a classic Thunderbirds disaster, and the music reflects that. One thing though – Scott says that the missile base is five miles east of Dover… which would firmly place it in the English channel… yet there is no water to be seen for miles around… unless the south-east of England has built an extension…

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The crew aboard Skyship One become aware of the danger. All Scott can do now is watch the ship plough into disaster. He asks Jeff to alert all emergency services down on the ground… so knowing Jeff he’ll probably step out to make an omelette for the rest of the film…

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One after another, Skyship One knocks over the towers like dominoes. Huge holes are torn in the hull. All of those beautiful rooms are caving in. The ship eventually comes to rest on top of one particular tower which must be considerably stronger than all the others. The ship balances perfectly on the top.

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The tower begins to crumble. The whole thing appears to be supported on a single solid pole in the centre with a few cables. The purpose of the tower is never revealed but one suspects they transmit signals to interfere with incoming attack missiles. Among the vehicles seen driving around the base, Sam Loover’s car from Joe 90.

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Somehow, this section of the interior managed to survive the crash as the International Rescue team are forced up to the top deck. In a mad panic, Foster continues to maintain control of the situation, refusing to co-operate with Alan.

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Virgil is on his way over in Thunderbird 2. It should be a simple case of lowering the escape unit and picking everyone up from the top deck. Brains is going to oversee the operation. Jeff insists that Brains should be armed because he hasn’t noticed Brains’ violent tendencies throughout the film so far…

Down on the base, personnel are scrambling to get everything vaguely explosive out of the way. The rocket transporter from the Captain Scarlet episode Renegade Rocket and Snow Cougar 21 from Noose of Ice are seen, as well as a vehicle originally seen as a Superon Tanker in Path of Destruction but later converted to the Yellow Fox Tanker in Captain Scarlet.

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Virgil approaches in Thunderbird 2, but the thrusters cause Skyship One to tip precariously – a complication recycled from End of the Road.

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The crew hang on tight as the ship stomach-churningly tips… Scott’s definitely got his smarts on today as he immediately yells at Virgil to pull away. He asks Jeff for a solution… because Jeff has been so full of helpful advice and guidance throughout this film…

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Down on the ground the lunar tractor from the Captain Scarlet episode, Crater 101 drives by.

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Because Jeff misses the blindingly obvious, Gordon is actually the one to step in and save the day. It’s pretty much the only thing Gordon contributes to the entire film but he solves the whole thing!

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Thunderbird 2 departs, much to Foster’s annoyance. He looks unbelievably nutty.

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We cross back to where it all started, the New World Aircraft Corporation. Jim Glenn informs Jeff that Thunderbird 2 has been loaded up with something. I love the little, tense build up to this reveal.

The ship is still technically lighter than air but the pressure on the tower continues to build. Scott secures a line to the front of the ship to keep it steady. That should work for the moment but Thunderbird 1’s going to need to use more and more power to keep her upright.

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Thunderbird 2 touches down in a field with a bit of a broken fence. There’s always a handy field around for launching and landing aircraft in this film. We get a beautiful shot of the enormous Thunderbird 2 rising up to reveal her last pod. The ‘5’ numeral is certainly unusual, but it was not uncommon for the numerals to change font between episodes during the series.

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“I’ve got a Tiger in my tank!” Virgil doesn’t do funny all that often, and making reference to a 1960s ad campaign for Esso proves that.

Surprise! The Tiger Moth rolls out of the pod with Brains at the controls. In the background, Thunderbird 2 picks up her pod and blasts off again.

Live action footage of the Tiger Moth is smoothly blended with the puppet-sized version and the model. Brains is going to attempt to land the Tiger on top of the ship, which sounds ruddy thrilling and dangerous and Thunderbirdsy. Scott gives the order of evacuation as women, criminals, then men… because apparently Alan and Parker are more resistant to getting dropped from a great height than the White Ghost team, although you have to remember that Scott and Virgil haven’t worked out that the crew are up to no good yet, even though it should be pretty obvious by now.

Virgil arrives back in the danger zone and attaches a line to Skyship One just as the meter starts to show that airship is technically no longer airborne, but still just a tiny bit weightless. Things are about to start getting really messy now.

Down on the ground, the tour bus from The Mighty Atom as well as a couple of previously mentioned Captain Scarlet vehicles continue to dash around. The bottom part of the Glenn Field control tower appears once again in the background.

Foster is outraged that International Rescue should attempt to rescue them because he’s definitely off his rocker now. Brains circles the ship, getting ready to land. Lane, who is most likely named after director, David Lane, is ordered to hide on the other side of the ship – I’d tell Foster wear to poke it if he asked me to do that while balancing a thousand feet or so off the ground…

Take 1!

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Not quite the intended outcome…

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Brains pulls up sharply just before turning himself into jam.

The Tiger Moth climbs to make a second attempt at landing on the top deck. Scott has yet another brilliant idea. He’s going to use his jets to slow the plane down and stop it sliding off the end. He gives Alan a warning to ensure everyone has an extra tight hold on the ship. They may get a bit toasted but there’s not much to be done about that…

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With a little help from Thunderbird 1, Brains is able to come to a steady stop. The paneling work that has been drawn on to the Thunderbird 1 model looks great.

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Now that Brains is standing up in the cockpit we get a first look at his brand new uniform! That’s right, Brains has his own sash which we’ve never seen before, despite the number of International Rescue operations he’s previously worked on in the field. As with all the sash colours, it doesn’t match or signify anything in particular, but the uniform suits him well. Over the course of the series, there was definitely a desire to push Brains into action more and more and here they’ve finally gone all out. Meanwhile, Lane creeps up the ladder, with behind the scenes photographs showing that this was another under control puppet.

In order to save a lot of complex puppetry, Virgil simply describes what happens next to Scott. White Ghost take over as Foster forces Penelope into the front cockpit while taking over the rear himself. Meanwhile, Brains passes his gun over to Alan who is probably the more accomplished marksman.

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Gordon points out that things aren’t going well. Jeff tells him to shut up in a mad drunken rage.

Everyone has to work on turning the plane around for some reason… presumably to give the plane something of a runway for take-off… or because Foster’s completely lost it. For some reason Parker gets underneath the aircraft to turn it around from there… not the smartest thing you’ve ever done Nosey…

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Foster starts to shoot at his own men. He’s planning to abandon them and fly away with Lady Penelope into the sunset…

Foster fires up the throttle, but everyone hates his guts now so they desperately cling to the plane and prevent him from taking off. The work done with the puppets here is extraordinary – they really look like they have the strength to hold back a plane.

Alan murders Foster. Simple as that.

In his dying moments, Foster pulls the throttle all the way back, only just allowing everyone enough time to jump aboard the plane.

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Penelope looks around like a startled rabbit.

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The weight of eight bodies drags the aircraft straight down as soon as it takes off.

Penelope just about manages to take control of the plane, the wind whipping her head scarf straight off her… it looked a bit stupid anyway…

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I have absolutely no idea how this Parker puppet is being controlled. Either there’s a hole in the Tiger Moth just above his head to allow for wires, or this is an under control puppet and the legs are completely fake. Either way, it’s a great illusion.

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After careful checks, the live action Tiger Moth took to the skies with pilot Joan Hughes at the controls, and dummies strapped to the wings for this sequence.

Martin decides that enough is enough and he wants command of the plane. He starts shooting at Alan over the other side of the plane… this will end well…

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Lane takes a bullet to the heart and immediately falls from the wing. Tears are shown streaming from the puppets’ eyes as the wind tries to sweep them away, which is a very nice, albeit slightly strange looking touch.

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Parker wants to know what all the noise is about.

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A stray bullet punctures the engine, causing oil to spew out at an alarming rate.

A second bullet soon pierces the hull again, but the next time Alan is bang on target. Martin’s hand slithers down morbidly while he screams in pain… Thunderbirds seriously isn’t the happy, friendly, kiddy show that everyone thinks it is. This film more than any other adventure is aimed much more towards an adult audience.

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And so the perilous flight of the Tiger Moth continues across the endless green fields which appear to stretch across the entirety of England.

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Three tour buses from The Mighty Atom hurtle past camera. It could be that three identical models were produced, or three separate takes of the same model were put together. One quick question, why exactly does Britain need a missile base five miles east of Dover anyway?

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The illusion that the towers are incredibly tall is pretty darn convincing. Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are just having to wait around while everyone on the ground runs away. Unfortunately they can’t do anything more useful or exciting than that.

Lots of footage of the live action Tiger Moth is just sort of thrown in here and there. I must say it does go on a bit. Parker is coping with the situation remarkably well.

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This under control puppet of Parker has the unique feature of eyes that roll up and down rather than side to side. An extraordinary amount of detail has gone into creating eyes which are actually full of blood vessels. It’s not exactly Parker’s best look, in fact it’s a bit grotesque if you look at it for too long.

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Alan manages to climb over towards Penelope and tell her that maybe they’ve done enough flying for one day… you’ll see that it takes her a remarkably long time to grasp that concept.

Things are getting pretty wobbly at the top of the tower. Jeff informs Scott that the missile base personnel need another five minutes to evacuate… he then reminds Scott to do everything he can to prevent the ship from falling… because Scott clearly hasn’t spent the past 15 minutes doing exactly that…

And now for the most infamous scene of the entire film – with a story attached which for some is actually more enthralling than the plot itself. So with the construction of the M40 motorway nearing completion between London and Birmingham, Gerry Anderson and David Lane decided it would be a rather fun idea to do some filming on the deserted strip of road using the Tiger Moth.

Penelope is going to attempt a landing on the motorway. Alan reminds her to pull the throttle back. She doesn’t even attempt to do so.

Parker’s in for a seriously bumpy time which it’s best not to think about too hard. They’re approaching a motorway bridge. The plan was to fly the Tiger Moth under the bridge for a spectacular stunt. Joan Hughes, the pilot, was confident that she could pull it off with no issue, and David Lane had multiple cameras set up to capture the moment. The police were strictly supervising, however, and stipulated that the plane was not permitted to fly under the bridge but could only taxi under with the wheels firmly on the road…

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Whoops… the plane flies straight under the bridge without incident and without touching the ground. It’s certainly an impressive shot, but the filming was immediately shut down. Production Manager, Norman Foster, along with Joan Hughes were charged and taken to court. Hughes asserted that because of a dangerous crosswind, it was far safer to fly under the bridge than to attempt a landing. The case was not heard in court until March 1968, long after production was completed. The judge dropped the charges, with Hughes ultimately being considered in the right for favouring the safety of the aircraft.

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The production team were, however, left with a bit of a problem. After the stunt, filming on the M40 was strictly forbidden, but the sequence was incomplete. Derek Meddings and his team set to work on possibly the most realistic model set they had ever created. Using the radio controlled Tiger Moth, filming was completed on an exact replica of the M40 motorway. In order to match the lighting and background conditions, all of the remaining shots had to be filmed outside in a nearby field. The “miniature” set was an enormous build and is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It is hard to say with 100% certainty what footage is from the live action shoot, and which is the model. It is an incredible piece of work.

The plane zips under another bridge as Penelope struggles to maintain control. The throttle which she’s finally managed to locate won’t budge. Parker’s at his wit’s end.

Penelope looks like she’s finally given up on the whole landing idea and flies over a bridge… only to end up going underneath another one…

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If I were Parker, I’d let go of the wheels while I had the chance…

Eventually Penelope manages to sort herself out and finally abandons the idea of landing on the motorway. That sequence was a real triumph for all involved in the production for overcoming a difficult issue with some incredible film-making magic.

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Just a reminder that things are still very much falling apart over at the missile base. Still a lot of waiting around though…

Back aboard the Tiger Moth, Penelope continues to roam the English countryside while waiting for the engine to cut out. She decides to take a detour via a dirty great chimney. Brains screams… it’s a scream of genuine terror and fear. Parker believes that this is the end… but what he ends up with is a grubby face… which probably wasn’t quite the cold embrace of death he was expecting.

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The evacuation is still going on at the missile base… nice to know that there are a lot of people looking after this base rather than leaving it all automated to blow up of it’s own accord. In the background you can spot the rocket hangar from Ricochet, and in the foreground you can spot the jeep which was last seen in Path of Destruction and appeared countless times throughout the series.

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Jeff reports that the base is finally empty. They don’t even attempt to explore the idea of trying to carefully move Skyship One towards the ground. They’ll just be letting her go and allowing gravity to do the rest…

Now weighing in at 50 tons, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 release their cables after a very dramatic countdown led by Scott, and fly off to find Penelope and the gang…

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It doesn’t take long for things to go a bit wrong…

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Skyship One has managed to flop in half before even hitting the ground. You might want to cover your ears for this one. Also consider that FAB 1 is parked in there somewhere… that’ll be Brains’ next project…

Well I think it’s fair to say that for the last set of explosions ever seen in classic Thunderbirds, they did a very nice job indeed. The sheer scale of the explosions must have knocked people back in their seats in the cinema. The destruction really is colossal and definitely on par with the climax of the previous film, Thunderbirds Are Go. The fireballs may even be quite a bit bigger here, but perhaps not filmed with the same sense of drama that the Zero-X crash had. Not to mention, the destruction of Zero-X is just short enough to leave you wanting more, whereas this one goes on a bit.

Alan’s had enough of Penelope’s flying and wants to take control by climbing into the rear cockpit. In order to do that though he must dispose of the evidence… I mean Foster. Brains gives a big thumbs up to chucking the corpse out of the plane… this film really has changed him…

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The plane rolls upside down as Foster flops out of his seat… I must admit, I forgot he was there. He was very fine villain though, and perhaps demonstrates clearly the evolved maturity of the series. In terms of villainy, we go from a magical bald man who basically hates everything in Trapped In The Sky, to a suave, double crossing, slightly romantic and charming devil who subtly manages to deceive his enemies using his intelligence and coolness in this film. Not exactly the most dignified way for him to go I must admit… some poor farmer’s going to find the remains of Foster’s severely broken body in a ditch…

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The explosions continue back at the missile site. You may notice the sign that says “Danger Radiation Hazard” in the foreground of some shots… we’ll try not to worry about that… Many of these shots pop up again in the Joe 90 episode, Most Special Agent.

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Penelope finally realises that she hasn’t seen Parker for a while. The immediate assumption is that he was left aboard Skyship One. Of course we all know he’s clinging to the wheels, and he probably hasn’t yelled at them because he’s been half concussed for most of the flight.

The engine finally gives up. We’re treated to a few more magnificent shots of the plane set to some equally magnificent music as Alan brings the Tiger Moth in for a landing. I’m not a huge fan of the shakiness of some of the live action shots, and they certainly don’t feel like anything that would normally belong in a Thunderbirds adventure, but they do give the film a unique charm and blend in well enough with the other shots to sit fairly comfortably.

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They plough straight through a tree with a quick yelp from Parker to confirm that he is definitely still with us.

And with that, she plops down in yet another field and ends up in some bushes with a bit of comedy yelling and crashing sounds thrown in for good measure.

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Thunderbirds 1 and 2 have managed to follow the trail of chaos and destruction to rendezvous at the landing spot. Once again, Thunderbird 2 lands first. It’s too much of a coincidence to assume it just happened by accident that Thunderbird 2 lands first every single time in this film only.

Virgil congratulates Alan on his landing, but they all morbidly turn to the fate of dear Parker who they all reckon got barbecued when Skyship One crashed.

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But no worry there because Parker is safe and sound and probably has several serious injuries when the gang all hear him yelling “M’Lady!”

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Unfortunately for Parker he doesn’t manage to stay in the tree for very long…

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So with that all wrapped up and southern England probably under nuclear quarantine, we’re back on Tracy Island to wrap up that rather annoying plot point about Brains designing Thunderbird 6 without being given any specification. I’d like to say this is quite an exciting moment because we have genuinely no idea what Brains might have designed, but let’s be honest, even if you’ve never seen this film before you can guess how it ends, so let’s get this over with. Grandma’s clearly got somewhere else she’d rather be as she clutches her handbag.

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I’ll drop the fanfare – this is Thunderbird 6… officially… it’s the part of the Thunderbirds cannon that fans wish they could ignore but here it is I’m afraid. For International Rescue, I agree it is a very good idea to have a small, light aircraft that the enemy underestimate as a rescue craft. It could prove very useful in a number of scenarios. For the ending of a film which has been building up to the grand revelation of some spectacular machine, however, it’s a bit too cute and lovely to be tolerated without a slight groan of disappointment.

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But Jeff likes it so I guess that’s that. And Tin-Tin is holding Brains’ hand which I suppose we shouldn’t read too much into. It’s the end of the film so we don’t have time to explore the fact that Alan abandoning the idea of marrying Tin-Tin has caused her to explore other avenues…

With one, final launch set to that magnificent march, Thunderbird 6 announces that this is The End. No live action marching bands coming along to spoil the ending of this film, just a simple banner which wraps it all up in a way that you may not be happy with, but still does the job nicely.

Thunderbird 6 is a tough beast to pin down. There are several things that work much better than they did in Thunderbirds Are Go, and several things that don’t. An attempt is made to fix some of the criticisms that are often made against the first film – Thunderbird 6 has International Rescue fixed firmly in the centre of it, ensuring that it is definitely a film about them rather than the Zero-X crew who we didn’t really care that much about.

That said, the Thunderbird machines still don’t quite get enough screen time to do anything impressive. Thunderbirds Are Go at least had the bonus of Thunderbirds 1, 2, and 3 all going out on a mission together for the first and only time, which made it quite special. Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are mostly just there for support in this film and don’t even get full launch sequences. In a film all about a so-called Thunderbird 6, that isn’t necessarily surprising, but there’s just a certain something lacking because Scott and Virgil have so little to do in their magnificent machines.

Talking of magnificent machines, let’s consider Skyship One. Perhaps because she is so underrated, I actually prefer Skyship One to Zero-X as a piece of design. It’s a ludicrous creation which defies gravity basically just because, but there’s also a certain logic to it which I like. The interior designs are beautiful without going too over the top, and she gets to have a great big massive disaster at the end which results in her blowing to bits.

Which brings us neatly to the special effects which perhaps lack the cinematic umph that the model sequences in Thunderbirds Are Go had, but are definitely more focussed on achieving absolute realism. There are shots – particularly during the motorway sequence – which match the live action footage perfectly. The cinematography may not be quite as impressive as the shots of Zero-X which absolutely fill the cinema screen, but the beautiful countryside sets are certainly something to behold.

A similar step towards realism was taken concerning the puppetry. In Thunderbirds Are Go, the puppets barely move for fear of looking unnatural and imperfect. For Thunderbird 6, they ski, climb around on planes, dive to the ground, ride camels, almost get eaten by camels, laugh insanely and roll their eyes in despair. A little more faith is had in the ability of these puppets to work as actors who can emote, and perform action, rather than just sit there and fly ships around all day – although there’s plenty of that too. I don’t think there’s another Supermarionation production which tries to do quite so many different and dynamic things with the puppets as we see in Thunderbird 6. Ambition is an inherent factor, rather than fear of looking silly which one might argue bogged down the later Supermarionation series. The slightly redesigned puppets of Thunderbird 6 are perhaps a further step away from the charming character designs we all love so much from the first series of Thunderbirds, but I think it’s fair to say these are still the characters we know and love.

That said, their personalities have certainly changed somewhat. They have all grown and matured – particularly Alan who firmly takes command of any situation he is in now, which may make him a little bland, but certainly makes him more tolerable. Other characters, however, go through a pretty terrible time in this film. Brains is spiraling into a mental breakdown which is really bizarre for a character who started the series so quietly spoken and clear-minded. Parker is mocked at the beginning of the film and then continually placed in hilarious but seriously hazardous situations – and the rest of the team just forgetting about him at the end of it all is just a bit weird. The overall likeability of the characters has just been brought down a notch for this film, and it makes things generally feel a bit odd.

I think that’s something that people take away from this film particularly – everything just feels a little bit distant from the original Thunderbirds series that we hold dear. The puppets are a bit different, the characters behave differently, the models are a bit different, and the story isn’t quite the same as it would be in a standard Thunderbirds episode. It’s still got all the Thunderbirds elements, but all the parts have been changed out – much like a broom that’s had its handle and brush replaced a couple of times, is it the same broom at the end of it?

Oh, and obviously you don’t need me to tell you that the revelation of Thunderbird 6 at the end is a bit disappointing. Just remember that this was never the intended grand finale for the Thunderbirds franchise. Unfortunately the film’s luke-warm reception made this the last Thunderbirds production made by the original Century 21 team. Who knows where it would have gone next had a third film or another series been commissioned, but with so many things having changed at the studios since production started on Trapped In The Sky, it isn’t surprising that Thunderbird 6 doesn’t feel quite like the same show – but what one can clearly see is just how much the team on the Slough Trading Estate had truly become masters of their own, very special brand of film-making.

To finish off our exploration of the Thunderbirds feature films, there’s just one thing we couldn’t leave out… on Friday 19th May 2017 prepare for the International Rescue team to blast off in an all new adventure… with no strings attached. That’s right, we’ll be reviewing the live action Thunderbirds movie from 2004, directed by Jonathan Frakes – but with a bit of a twist. I am delighted to be welcoming Thunderbirds (2004) expert, Andrew Clements, to the Security Hazard blog to provide you with a fascinating insight into what makes this movie tick. It’s an opportunity to look at this film in a whole new way. Stay tuned!

8 thoughts on “Thunderbird 6 (1968)

  1. Gary

    The “mystery space station” would be Cloudbase. I believe TV21 ran a story about this for some months before Captain Scarlet aired, using this headline.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eddie

    You don’t have to worry about changing all the thunderbird one tunnels when the house appears at the top of the cliff… What you are seeing is the side of the Tracy house not the front.
    Brilliant blog. Loved it all.

    Like

  3. Ian Luck

    I saw this at the cinema as part of my 5th birthday treat. It must have sounded superb, but all I can remember is the gunfight in the Gravity Control Room. Watching it recently, on DVD, I was surprised at how very dark in tone it was in places. The corpses being dumped at sea is quite shocking even now – in adult shows of the time, someone would have simply mentioned it had been done; here, we get an ominous brass sting as each body is tipped out. I always thought that the radar site near Dover was Swingate Chain Home, which was a WW2 Radar site with some hugely high masts. It’s east of Dover, too. That brings me on to my favourite bit of dialogue, which is: “Dad! There’s trouble ahead!”. A great bit of voice work from Shane Rimmer, which, in those four words, conveys alarm, fear, and horror, as Scott immediately gets the wider picture at the danger his family and friends are heading for. The explosions at the end must have been frightening to film. They are big. Seriously big. There’s one where, after the big bang, all this molten debris rains down. I know it’s high speed footage, but really… I’ve loved this series of reviews, sad to get to the end. And, you say let’s see what makes the 2004 movie tick. Let’s not, eh? The kindest word I can think of for it is ‘shit’. And I’m being charitable.

    Like

  4. Justin

    A really great review (and fun read) as always, Jack! Completely agreed that the characters really act strangely in this film.

    It took me the longest time to figure out that the Taj Mahal-esque building in that sunset shot is the Muhammad Ali Mosque in Egypt!

    Like

  5. Dean

    The final real Thunderbirds review, posted the week that the original studios were deemolished. A sad, yet somehow fitting, Irony….

    Like

  6. Scott Taylor

    Thanks for the in-depth looks at the two films. Was there ever a script concept for a third Thunderbirds film that was killed after the commercial failure of the first two films?

    Like

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