One thing’s definitely changed for the better in entertainment in the fifty years since Thunderbirds first took to the skies: series build toward big conclusions. Well, I say that, but when the show screws the landing – like Doctor Who does almost every stinking year – it really does make me want to smack my face into a wall, repeatedly.
Here? Not only did Rob Hoegee and the producers almost succeed in completely thrilling us across 26 half-hours, they wrapped it up wonderfully. This was a great, great episode that builds on all of the hidden secrets of Kayo and the Hood, and is built around, inevitably, the Hood’s invasion of Tracy Island. It ends with some questions being restated and others answered, and if Kayo spent much of episodes 1-23 being underused, they made up for it over the last three stories. This was terrific.
It was also one of the most exciting things our son has ever watched. He was a mess! When things looked really bad for the Tracys, he retreated with his security blanket behind the sofa, and the climax had him a babbling, gabbling explosion of jumping and half-dancing. This was a fine, fine little bit of television.
So that’s it for Thunderbirds are Go for now. The next batch of episodes – probably 13 – is believed to launching in the UK in the next month or so. We’ll definitely pick those up when they’re released on DVD and tell you all about them, probably in the winter. But these 13 are only the beginning; 52 have actually been ordered, bringing the total to at least 78 episodes. There’s a lot more action and excitement to come!
I get the feeling that Thunderbirds are Go was actually at a pretty advanced stage of pre-production before they decided that Tintin needed to be upgraded to Kayo, International Rescue’s head of security, and then they had some trouble deciding what exactly that meant, and what to do with her. So for the previous 23 episodes, she’s an awesome, incredibly cool character, but often on the sidelines and not even spotlighted with a launch sequence for her VTOL jet with its converts-to-a-motorcycle cockpit.
That all changes with this episode, and it’s completely awesome, one of the two or three best of the run. It’s written by Jim Krieg, another veteran of American action cartoons like Ben 10 and the terrific Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s packed with attempted rescues falling apart around the Tracys’ ears, convoluted criminal plans, and friction at home. Scott doesn’t agree with Kayo going out in the field and taking down terrorists and criminals, because that’s the job of the police and the GDF. Kayo counters that she’s preventing the sort of disasters that International Rescue normally has to clear up.
When John calls in with a situation, we finally get to see Thunderbird Shadow’s launch sequence, and it’s almost as much fun as the others, with her jet rolling up a track to a point inside one of the mountains. This section of the wall rotates outward, leaving Thunderbird Shadow parked on the exterior side of the mountain, ready to disengage and launch straight up. Daniel thought that was pretty amazingly cool. I agree.
However, the seat-of-your-pants excitement almost proved too much for him, especially when Kayo looks to be doomed in a high-altitude crash. He just barely made it through Scott pulling somebody out of a crashing airplane in the last possible second; when Thunderbird Shadow starts plummeting to the ground, he whimpered and covered his head and whined “I don’t want to watch this show!!” That’s often how we tell he’s having the best possible time.
Some things never change. Old show or new, the Mole is still my favorite Thunderbirds vehicle.
Daniel really enjoyed the revelation that Thunderbird 2 can electrify its hull! The Tracys need to activate this because they run afoul of a new colonel in charge of the Global Defense Force. This is something that really did, however, change between series. It instantly handles all the credibility questions that our changing world, with its heightened security, created about the original series: how in the world International Rescue operates. In this version, they have full permission and clearance to do so. It makes perfect sense and allows the show to just get on with it, occasionally using the GDF for a platform to launch stories.
This one, however, is honestly one of the weakest ones of the first batch. The grouchy new colonel is so broad-brush evil that he simply can’t be anybody other than (a) the Hood or (b) somebody in the Hood’s employ. Flip a coin; the answer is revealed in the episode’s final scene.
This is a fun episode, one of the best to use the Hood so far. I’m not going to complain about overusing the character this time out since the Tracys know from the outset that he’s gunning for the mcguffin of the week, and also since a teaser for series two emerged a few days ago that strongly hints at new baddies coming soon.
This installment is the first written by Peter Briggs, who was one of the writers behind the excellent Hellboy a decade ago. I hope the producers use him again, because it’s a great concept – robbing an underwater maglev train – and I love the one-after-another obstacles thrown at International Rescue and Lady Penelope. I also liked that they brought back Professor Moffat – Brains’ old flame from “Heavy Metal” – and hope that we’ll see her again.
So how’d the kid enjoy it? Well, normally we watch our programs together after dinner, but since we have plans tonight, I mentioned at breakfast that we’d be watching Thunderbirds are Go later this morning. The kid put his bowl away and went straight to the sofa, because he was ready to watch immediately. It didn’t disappoint him. I don’t think that any episode of either this show or the original that features Thunderbird 4, his favorite of the vehicles, has ever disappointed him.
(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the image to purchase it from Amazon UK.)
Well, just as the Filmation programs we’re watching have threatened to smother us with their earnestness and slow pace, we’ve got thirteen more wild episodes of Thunderbirds are Go to watch! This should keep us on the edge of our seats for a little while.
The first series of 26 Thunderbirds are Go episodes were shown in the UK in two chunks: 13 shown from April to June 2015, and 13 from October to January of this year. For American viewers, those first 13 – renumbered to 12 since they combined the two-parter into one – are still available for Amazon Prime members. Since there’s no word yet on this second chunk, I went ahead and ordered the set from England. 52 additional episodes are in the works; I haven’t seen a premiere date yet, but I believe the third batch of 13 is supposed to start in a few months.
And when those make their way to DVD, we’ll totally be buying them, because this show is just terrific. This time out, it’s another rescue in orbit. On the side, Brains has been developing self-constructing nanotechnology to build a prototype hotel in space. The only flaw is that once again it’s the Hood who’s the saboteur. I do wish they’d create a few more bad guys with some different motives. Lady Penelope is present to urge calm, Kayo’s on board to chase the villain through twisty corridors as the center of gravity shifts, and, flying Thunderbird 3, Alan has to try some desperate maneuvers to keep the space station from crashing into central Florida, because the nanotech will shield the station from burning up on reentry.
It moves at breakneck speed, pausing just long enough for a few cute quips. Daniel was completely thrilled, and, when Kayo was left in a depressurizing compartment for a moment, just about panicked. We really do love this show.
(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)
Yes, this episode has a good deal more meat to it than the previous one. It’s a really zippy half hour in which the Hood has another convoluted scheme to blow up a bunch of uranium processing plants while simultaneously abducting slave labor in the Himalayas to work in his own mine, while also leaving some “abominable snowman” footprints to frighten the locals into calling for International Rescue so that he can kidnap whomever they send.
On the one hand, yeah, that’s about as convoluted and ridiculous a scheme as some of his other sixties tomfoolery – “Martian Invasion” certainly comes to mind. On the other hand, this is actually the only time that the Hood actually confronts our heroes in person in this continuity. He gets away and they never learn his name, but he straps Lady Penelope to a beam to menace her with a Goldfinger-style industrial laser, and then trades gunfire with Scott, who comes to the rescue.
Stephen La Rivière directed this episode, and he and his team deserve credit for alarming our son for the first time in quite a while. The scenes of Lady Penelope threatened by the laser really did freak him out a little. I can’t remember the last time that Thunderbirds had him worried. “Attack of the Alligators,” maybe?
I thought the story was certainly slight and dated, but there’s not a lot that could be done about that. It’s probably a little more impressive than the original audio adventure, though. Bulked up with six or seven minutes of additional material, it actually starts with a big explosion-filled rescue at a uranium plant – named for Derek Meddings, which is awesome – using some dropped-in vocal lines for Scott and Virgil from TV episodes, and it looks fantastic. The Himalayas material also looks really good. There’s one medium shot of the puppets fleeing from the soon-to-explode mine – what happened to the prisoners? – where I think they’re moving a little faster than the marionettes ever did in the sixties, but otherwise it’s another very solid recreation of the original style, so seamless that you can easily pretend this was an original half-hour episode that Gerry Anderson and his team elected to shelve rather than bulk up to an hour when Lew Grade decided the show should be hour-long episodes.
Daniel’s favorite episode of the original Thunderbirds is probably “Path of Destruction,” in which a runaway great big piece of unnecessarily complex technology needs to be stopped before it causes an environmental catastrophe. This episode is largely the same, and even the runaway vehicles have some similarities in appearance, only this story doesn’t have the insulting yokels with the filthy kitchen. Oh, yeah, and it’s underwater.
The human stuff is a little disappointing this time, although the mayhem of the disaster is even more entertaining than usual and downright terrific fun. I didn’t like that the presence of any hidden bad guy automatically made Lady Penelope and John instantly realize that the Hood was behind it. It seems that his plans in this series are far more complex than in the original; this scheme simply must have been in the works for months. I’d prefer they used this villain a little more sparingly if the heroes are going to realize it’s the same guy every single time anybody does anything malevolent.
Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time will return next week, viewers!
Remember back in 2005 when that alien ship crashed into Big Ben’s tower in an episode of Doctor Who and everybody cheered to see something that visually amazing happen in Who? I actually felt a little resentment about it tonight, because Thunderbird 2 gets hit with an electromagnetic frequency field that shuts down all the electrical power in London and in the skies above it. Thunderbird 2 crashing into Big Ben’s tower would have been the most beautiful juxtaposition of two British icons, ever, but they couldn’t follow in Who‘s footsteps like that, so they had to settle with taking the ship down across Trafalgar Square and knocking off Nelson’s hat.
The plot of this show is pure kidvid simplicity – Virgil, Grandma, Lady Penelope, and Parker track down the Hood and the gang of Luddites he has allied with for nefarious reasons – and we really had to turn our brains off and accept that when one of the biggest, busiest cities on the planet has a massive power outage, everybody stays indoors, keeping most of the streets cleared, and waits out of sight so the animators don’t have to bother depicting a city like London dealing with a blackout. Even Daniel wasn’t all that taken this week, but in fairness he did binge through eight episodes of the original yesterday and this episode, by comparison, is pretty light on mayhem.
This series will be available for streaming to Amazon Prime members from April 22.