EPISODE 01 – "TRAPPED IN THE SKY"

"If this doesn’t bring International Rescue on the scene, nothing will."

 

 

All of the regulars are introduced in this episode bar Grandma, who will mysteriously pop up later at some point with no warning at all. I bet I'll scream.

 

Every episode of Thunderbirds begins with the 5-4-3-2-1 bit followed by a short selection of clips from this week's instalment, accompanied by some highly exciting music. I love these sequences and they helped to hook me onto the show back when I was little. So here we go for the first time:

The Hood’s eyes going yellow; Kyrano screaming and falling over; the Hood taking off a silly mask; the Fireflash aircraft taking off; the Fireflash flying over London Airport; Thunderbird 1 taking off from Tracy Island; Thunderbird 2 taking off from Tracy Island; Thunderbird 1 extending its wings; the Fireflash travelling on some small buggies, just before one buggy zips away; the Fireflash’s blazing nosecone.

Not a particularly thrilling selection of clips, I must say. Somehow they don’t really sum up what the series is about, which they really ought to have done. Later teasers are generally more rapidly edited also, making this one seem dull upon reflection. Oh, and that first clip of the Hood isn’t in the episode, either.

 

The Hood is a naughty man who wants to steal the secrets of International Rescue and sell them to a high bidder. The organisation is just about to start operating and so he decides to lure them into a trap whereby he can photograph the exterior and interior of a Thunderbird craft whilst the IR chaps are out rescuing people from disaster. To this end he plants a bomb inside the landing gear of the new atomic Fireflash airliner, itself on a maiden voyage to Toyko from London Airport; when the plane lands, which it will have to after a few hours (due to the radiation safety factor), it will explode. Once the authorities become aware of the bomb they do all they can to save the plane but things look hopeless. However, John Tracy in Thunderbird 5 overhears several transmissions between Airport Control and the Fireflash and alerts Tracy Island. Immediately, International Rescue go to the aid of the Fireflash aircraft, but the Hood is waiting for them. Can the Tracy brothers save the Fireflash and its passengers? Will the Hood's plan succeed?

 

The Fireflash plane holds about six-hundred passengers, one of whom is Tin Tin, flying to Tokyo for reasons unknown. There's also a smarmy bloke who chats to her a few times and a cocktail waiter shaking his stuff. The pilots of the plane are quite likeable too, including the Aryan Captain Hanson, who'll turn up again in a later episode (in fact they both do, courtesy of lots of stock footage).

 

Before International Rescue arrives on the scene, the aircraft authorities have a crack at saving the Fireflash themselves. Some plucky young blighter named Lieutenant Meddings volunteers to be winched out on a small cone-thing attached by cable to a TX-204 military plane. The cone trails out behind the plane and underneath one of the hatchways of the Fireflash, whereupon the hatch is opened and Meddings leaps up inside, grabbing hold of some of the cables to hold him up. Then he hauls himself around the hydraulic workings of the Fireflash trying to locate the bomb, yanking cables here and there and probably representing a bigger threat to the safety of the plane than the bomb is. What’s particularly stupid about this scene is that the Fireflash pilots don’t close the hatch once he’s inside, meaning that one false move will result in Meddings falling however many thousand feet to his death. It therefore comes as no surprise when Meddings does indeed fall out of the plane and plummets like a safe weighted with sixteen kittens. The Fireflash’s pilot is so distressed that he tips over the entire airecraft (!!!) to get a good look at the falling Meddings and cries out "His chute has failed!" a few seconds before Meddings’s chute opens and the lieutenant lands safely in some nice looking trees. And so all of that went absolutely nowhere. We knew it wouldn’t succeed as otherwise it’d be a pretty pitiful first outing for the Thunderbirds if they didn’t have to do anything.

HANSON: "At least he made it."

CO-PILOT: "Sure was a good try."

No it wasn’t. Still, as a set-piece it’s reasonably suspenseful in places and I can think of worse ways to pad out your episode (and, believe me, Thunderbirds gave us some pretty horrendous ways to pad out their episodes…).

However, soon afterwards International Rescue arrive on the scene and show them how it's done. Thunderbird 2's pod opens to reveal the elevator cars, strange little buggies that carry large platforms on their backs. Virgil drives one manually and the other two are operated by remote control from the master car. The plan is for the Fireflash to land without having to operate its landing gear: the cars race along the track and the plane lands on them instead, after which they eventually screech to a halt and the day is saved. The plan has many hiccups which all add to the drama and it's a fantastic sequence which, to be honest, was never really bettered later in the series in terms of suspense and excitement. This isn't to say that it was all downhill from episode 1 onwards but this is certainly the best rescue.

 

Fairly often things will go wrong during rescues, or else a member of International Rescue will do something very silly.

The first black mark against the organisation occurs with the realisation that Jeff's servant, Kyrano, is related to a terrorist and is susceptible to his evil mental powers. That's not the sort of staff you need, really, is it?

The final rescue doesn't go smoothly at all. First Virgil detects a fault on control car three but when it strangely clears of its own accord neither he nor Scott think anything of it… until, just as the Fireflash is about to land on the cars, control car three spins wildly out of control, rushes off the track, collides with another plane and explodes. Ah. Fortunately, they own a spare control car which takes no. 3's place. However, when the Fireflash has landed on these cars there then comes the difficulty of trying to stop the vehicles under the heavy weight and momentum of the craft. All the cars slam on their breaks and there is much mechanical squealing, oil splattering and general exploding. Virgil's car then goes haywire and bounces off the runway and the Fireflash's tip is screeching along the ground as well. Eventually all the vehicles stop and the Fireflash is saved, though the bomb is dislodged and is stopped from exploding only by the straps that were holding it to the landing gear.

As a behind-the-scenes trivia bit that most people are aware of, the first time an elevator car goes haywire wasn't actually scripted; the prop did indeed go wonky but it looked so good that Gerry Anderson told them to keep it in.

 

Episodes of Thunderbirds included three advert breaks and so, to keep the suspense going, made use of mini-cliffhangers to keep the audience enthralled. Trapped in the Sky for some reason only had two ad break cliffhangers, though this was the exception to the rule.

1: An X-ray photograph is taken of the Fireflash’s landing gear whilst the plane is still in flight. Upon inspection of the photograph, Airport Control's Commander Norman quickly spots the bomb: "This is no hoax!"

2: Thunderbird 1 has landed at London Airport and police cars halt nearby to guard the aircraft and make sure that nobody attempts to board it. However, one of these policemen is the Hood in disguise: "Now to make sure that no one takes photographs of Thunderbird 1… except me, of course. Nyeh heh heh heh!" The camera secreted in his hat clicks and whirrs into action…

 

 

This is the introductory episode, after all, and as such there’s a lot of exposition going on explaining what everything is and what everybody does. We get a great monologue of the stuff at the very beginning of the episode, which opens with the Hood opening some curtains and shouting at a statue of his brother:

HOOD: "International Rescue! If only I knew their secrets… I would be the wealthiest man in the world! And you, Kyrano, my own brother, are in their midst! But because of your misguided loyalties, you refuse to help me! But I have a power over you that will make you speak. Soon you will be under my influence. Even though you are far away, you cannot escape me! Kyrano! Kyrano!"

Quite why he feels the need to say all this to himself I haven’t a clue but, to be fair, I can’t think of any other way that the audience could’ve learnt the information described. It does, however, raise the question of why Kyrano hasn’t done anything to rid himself of the Hood’s influence before; surely he must know what’s causing it, as the Hood himself infers that he’s at least spoken with the chap before. So why does Kyrano keep quiet? Also note that the Hood calls Kyrano his brother rather than half brother as he does later in the series.

___

STEWARDESS: "It’s the maiden voyage of the new atomic-powered Fireflash."

TIN TIN: "Isn’t that the new aircraft that flies six times the speed of sound?"

I’d have laughed if the stewardess had said "No."

STEWARDESS: "But don’t worry: it’s perfectly safe."

Bloody fool.

__

Jeff speaks into his dictaphone:

JEFF: "Top secret… Subject: International Rescue. Our equipment is way ahead of its time. In the wrong hands it could be utilised to destroy life."

This globbet of exposition is soon curtailed by John calling in from the space station. Thank Heavens for that. If we'd learnt too much he might have had to shoot us.

___

JEFF: "Well, Brains, your phenomenal mind made all this possible. Now you’re gonna see it in operation."

Yes… from his chair… in your office… millions of miles away from the rescue…

 

This section will hopefully get filled with juicy double entendres later on. This episode, however, doesn't really have any. Shame.

 

Comedy that isn't funny? Thunderbirds had quite a lot of it, unfortunately. There's mercifully little of it here, though at the end of the episode there's a doctor who comes to Tracy Island to check on Kyrano and then has a chat with Jeff about these mysterious International Rescue people:

DOCTOR: "Oh I sure would like to know who these people are! The one thing I'd like to do is shake 'em by the hand."

Then he shakes Jeff's hand, unaware that he's in the headquarters of International Rescue. Ha ha ha. Richly comic. Gordon's grinning like a mad 'un too, swivelling his eyes about all over the place. The episode itself ends on Virgil playing a snatch of the Thunderbirds theme tune on the piano but it's quite sweet really and is cheesy enough to escape my wrath.

 

Occasionally this series would deliver some cracking lines of dialogue. In this episode I do love Scott's macho bravado in trying to convince Commander Norman to let him land Thunderbird 1.

SCOTT: "Look, there are 600 people up there with about 40 minutes to live! Now you can’t help them but I believe we can! Now what’s it gonna be?"

 

Of course, some dialogue is just plain wretched, or, at least, easily mockable.

The first Tracy Island scene features Jeff and Kyrano chatting about the latter’s daughter, Tin Tin, in a conversation that never fails to baffle me:

JEFF: "Kyrano, I’ve just had news that Tin Tin will be leaving London on Wednesday. That means she’ll be home on Friday."

For a start, I haven’t a clue where Tin Tin’s final destination is. I thought she was travelling to Tracy Island but the next scene indicates that she’s catching a flight to Tokyo. Either way, by the year this series is set will it really take two days to fly anywhere?

KYRANO: "That is good news indeed, Mr Tracy! How can I ever repay you for your kindness to my daughter?"

Calm down, dear, he’s only paid for an air ticket.

JEFF: "Well, she’s got a good start, Kyrano! An education in the finest American university and a European tour to her credit."

The stress of "American" is voiced, by the way. Why did Tin Tin go to one if she comes from Tokyo and is presumably living in Britain? Why isn’t this fine institution named? And a tour around Europe doing what? She could be a stripper for all we know.

KYRANO: "Mr Tracy, you are the finest man I have ever had the privilege to work for!"

Because he complimented your daughter? Has nobody ever done it before? I’d like to know why it is that Jeff deserves this monumental arse-licking.

___

HANSON: "I reckon that’s our only chance. We’re going to try some violent manoeuvres to try and shake the bomb loose."

Far be it from me to give tips on a subject of which I know absolutely nothing but that sounds like the most ludicrous and terrible plan ever conceived.

___

NORMAN: "Fantastic! That’s just about the most fantastic scheme I’ve heard to date!"

Then he proceeds to yell at the bloke who thought of it. It’s funny watching these old shows where "fantastic" had a different meaning…

___

PILOT: "Look, er… there’s no time for introductions but I’d like you to know that… we’re right with you."

Pause as Meddings thinks of what to say.

MEDDINGS: "… Thanks."

I love that bit. It doesn’t transcribe well but it’s just how Meddings seems so utterly timid, as if he really, really doesn’t want to talk to anybody.

___

PENELOPE: "Oh dear. How inconvenient. Just as I’m expecting visitors… Three coach-loads, too."

Lady Penelope has obviously wasted her vast fortunes on secreting dangerous military gear inside her porcelain and, on the brink of destitution, needs to rent out the place to schoolkids and old biddies out on a package holiday. How the mighty have fallen.

___

One of the elevator cars goes haywire and drives into a plane on a different part of the field and explodes.

NORMAN: "Crash crew return to standby positions! Let those aircraft burn! Fireflash is carrying passengers: they’re not!"

Very noble, though I’d imagine an inferno on an airfield isn’t something you’d just want to leave unattended…

___

NORMAN: "How about that character who photographed your aircraft?"

SCOTT: "He’ll be taken care of…"

Cor. Feeling a bit bloodthirsty are we, Scott? He even looks into the camera and gives a little nod of assurance to us, the viewers.

 

Despite being the outcast of the family, John is the first Tracy brother seen, trying to gaze out at the Earth through the big INTERNATIONAL RESCUE label plastered over his window on Thunderbird 5. Thunderbird 5 appears to have a mechanism that instinctively homes in on the most interesting radio chatter as a big light flashes when Commander Norman contacts the Fireflash regarding the bomb. John sends a message to his dad telling him what’s going on and gives Scott the low-down a few minutes later.

Scott and Virgil go out on the rescue (Scott co-ordinates the rescue from Mobile Control and mediates with the authorities) but Alan and Gordon are only given one line of dialogue each ("Ok, Father!" and "Right, father!" respectively). Alan’s voice is also deeper here than it would be later as his voice artist either wasn’t available or not yet cast, so it sounds as if he’s sucking a throat lozenge.

Gordon and Scott are seen playing chess at the end. Impromptu games of chess are quite common on Tracy Island.

 

Scott contacts Lady Penelope via Mobile Control (via a button that lights up with a picture of a tea pot – how quaint). She’s drinking a cup of the hard stuff in her mansion using metal crockery (why?!) when she gets the call to go after the bloke wot took photos of Thunderbird 1. She immediately obliges and tells Parker to get the Rolls. Penny and Parker travel everywhere in the pink Rolls Royce FAB 1, you see, which is a car that develops more and more abilities over the course of the series. Here we know only that it's quite fast and that it has a gun that extends from a grill at the front. They chase the Hood's police car through an insidiously empty motorway and then Penny gives Parker the order to blast the Hood to pieces, whereupon the Hood's car explodes and goes over a cliff-edge (hurrah!). Because, of course, the M1 just stops at the edge of a mountain. Mmm. Yep.

 

The Hood (never named as such onscreen) is the first character we’re introduced too, wearing something with roses on it (?!) and mentally assaulting his brother from afar. By the next scene he’s quickly managed to transport himself from his jungle temple in Malaysia to London Aiport itself in the same time it’s taken for Tin Tin to find the departure lounge (how?) and has got himself the get-up of a technician so that he can fiddle about in the landing gear of the Fireflash plane and plant a bomb (marked "AUTO-BOMB EXPLOSIVE UNIT" in big letters) inside it. He quickly contacts the authorities with a video phone to tell them about it. What’s silly about this is that he sends an audio only message yet feels the need to keep his mask on (taking it off once he’s finished) and doesn’t alter his voice at all. After this he sits around in a van for a while until Thunderbird 1 arrives. By this time he’s sorted himself out a policeman disguise and has been able to nick a police car from somewhere. He sneaks aboard Thunderbird 1, takes lots of photos, triggers the camera detector and makes a hasty getaway, pursued by the most lackadaisical cops you’ve ever yet witnessed in a telly programme ("We have lost contact with pursued car, and honestly couldn’t give a damn," – well that’s the guy’s tone, anyway). The Hood speeds along the M1, heading for Birmingham (?!), but is intercepted by Penny and Parker. His car explodes twice and is a complete write off but the Hood himself is barely scratched, assailed only by comedy wah-wah-wahhhh trumpets. The film then spools out of his hat and he declares that his pictures are ruined. Quite why I don't know as I'm sure the film ought to still be OK…

Kyrano is also here, though his only purpose is to sing Jeff Tracy’s praises as if he’s the Messiah before promptly writhing on the floor whilst giving away company secrets to Jeff’s greatest enemy. Thanks for that.

Jeff Tracy is apparently one of the first men to have landed on the Moon. Ahem. I assume he made up that lie to impress Kyrano and get more sycophantic praise. He also reads the "World News" newspaper, which is very enterprising of him.

Tin Tin is first seen in London Airport. She’s a girl who actually needs to be told by the staff that her flight is about to take off as opposed to listening to the tannoy system herself. She spends the rest of the episode commenting on the action, giving us such pearls of wisdom as the fact that planes often fly very high above the ground. Good stuff. At the end of the episode she's on the balcony with Alan looking out over the ocean. They enter the lounge in such a fashion that you expect them to announce that they're engaged but nobody's interested.

Brains is around and gets spoken to by Jeff but his only part to play in this gripping tale is to show a doctor where the Tracy lounge is. Thrilling.

 

Thunderbird 1 travels at 7,500 mph. It does not require a runway to land as it touches down vertically using little spindly feet things that descend form the wings. Scott directs the rescue from Mobile Control, a very immobile looking computer bank thingy that has somehow been moved from Thunderbird 1 and carried up to the top of the airport control tower. Thunderbird 1 has an automatic camera detector and a "photo alert" light flashes on Mobile Control to warn Scott that the Hood has infiltrated the craft.

Thunderbird 2 is carrying pod 3, which contains the elevator cars: our first pod vehicles, ladies and gents, and very handsome they look too. There are four in total, one being a master car that Virgil rides and the other three being radio controlled (one kept as a spare). One of the cars is destroyed by the end of the episode and the other three are severely knackered.

We’re told that the IR uniforms are only to be worn on call.

 

The centrepiece of the episode isn’t an International Rescue craft at all, but the Fireflash plane. It’s a wonderful prop and would go on to make several appearances later in the series as the upper classes’ airline of choice (though God knows why as it’s always being targeted by terrorists) as well as "starring" in yet another episode, Operation Crash Dive. Yet I’ve never understood what the logic is in having the pilot’s cabin at the back of the plane; they can’t even see the tip of the aircraft! If they crashed into a mountain it’d take ten minutes before they ever found out about it. We’re also told that, though the atomic motors could keep the plane in air for six months, the anti-radiation shield: "Will need servicing in two hours and ten minutes, or passengers will be subjected to radiation exposure." Oh good. Oh goody good-o. In fact, when the radiation safety factor expires it’s estimated that the passengers will receive a fatal dose in less than five minutes. Yet, despite this, everybody still insists on calling this flying death-trap a great aircraft. Eejits.

We also get a good look at the crash tenders! This is Commander Norman’s fancy chat for the army of fire engines and ambulances on stand-by at London Airport, who regularly rush to the scene in a blur of stock footage. They even managed to escape to a different show when they turned up in an episode of Captain Scarlet.

The earlier failed mission to save the Fireflash involves a TX-204 target-carrying aircraft that winches out a small cone thingy that Meddings straps himself to. Incidentally, when Commander Norman asks one of his chaps if there are any TX-204s in the area we cut to some sap sitting at a map of England which coincidentally has two massive plastic TX-204 toys on it and nothing else. Why on Earth does this map just have those aircraft detailed on it? Is it always there? Why?

An earlier scene of the TX-204 shows it towing targets for fighter jets to shoot at. The jets swoop around a bit. Woo.

 

Things get off to a good start design-wise with the Hood’s temple; the sets really do look magnificent, with creepy statues and flames galore. The statue of Kyrano, however, doesn’t look anything like him. And why the Hood has decided to arrange his rubber masks on a dais beneath it God only knows.

I’ve never been altogether comfortable with the "Hood attacks Kyrano" scenes; they’re meant to be innocuous enough, but it always comes across to me as a sort of… mental rape. I know, I’m thinking about it too much, but with the Hood mentally forcing Kyrano to do what he doesn’t want to do, coupled with Kyrano’s rather odd screams ("No! NOOoOoO!!!"), the scenes are far more sinister than they ought to be. Whilst we’re on the subject, why doesn’t Jeff get remotely suspicious when his manservant is rolling around on the floor and crying out, "International Rescue is ready to start operating!!!" A ‘dizzy spell’ my arse.

I’m not quite sure that the first use of the International Rescue beat medley – used to accompany a pan of Tin Tin lounging around an airport – is entirely deserved. And that "Souvenirs" bar in the background is pathetic. Looks like some handbags and assorted condiments. Who the Hell wants to buy those at an airport?

The Hood’s mask looks the same as his usual face, just with brown eyebrows and a wig. What’s the point in that? And why wear one anyway? Nobody knows who he is!

As a general note, this episode starts as it means to go on regarding Barry Gray’s incidental music: it’s utterly superb. Particular favourites of mine are the Fireflash theme used just before it takes off (and later when the first elevator car leaves Thunderbird 2’s pod) and the "Emergency" theme for the rescue later on (the same music used for the opening teasers).

Put your hands in the air for Commander Norman! He’s the frightfully British chap in charge of London Airport and when he turns up in an episode you can bet that all Hell is going to break loose. He graces the series a few more times with his presence later on and he’s a classy gent and no mistake. "Jolly good show, old boy!"

There’s a good shot of John staring at the Earth from space, whereupon the camera has a whacking great close up on the planet that appears to whip down through the clouds and onto the Fireflash. Very nice, is that.

When Meddings’s attempt to save the Fireflash has failed, Commander Norman suggests to the pilots that the last option is to just land and hope the bomb won’t explode. With ten men like him I could rule the world. I do wonder why he doesn’t suggest attempting to land on the sea or something, so that they could attempt to rescue the passengers by boat. A later episode of Thunderbirds is all about Fireflash planes crashing into the sea and sinking to the depths but then they were suffering mechanical failures, whereas this Fireflash could probably keep itself above water for a short time.

One of the men working in the airport Control Tower is intensely frightening. He has a gigantic head and a face like a frog. It looks as though it was a puppet left over from Stingray but I couldn’t be sure of it. Either way, he puts Monkey Bastard from Captain Scarlet to shame.

The final scene depicts one of the oddest staples of the series: operation cover-up. In the Tracy Island lounge there are portraits of the five brothers on the walls, all wearing casual attire. However, when a rescue is on, these portraits scroll up and are replaced by ones of the brothers in their International Rescue uniforms. This is surely the most pointless extravagance yet conceived; why not just keep the unincriminating casual pictures up all the time? Both sets of pictures have the flashing eyes and the audio/visual stuff and you wouldn't have to keep changing the pictures round whenever there was a visitor; for whose benefit are they? In this instance, the doctor is about to walk in and Jeff initiates operation cover-up, which is simply having the pictures rotate to the casual ones. A) It's the evening and all the boys are lounging around and doing nothing so why have the IR versions of the portraits been left up?; B) in some shots the IR versions are still clearly on the walls, instead of the casual ones; and C) that doctor was clearly sat in the London Airport waiting room at the beginning of the episode. It's a small world, isn't it?

 

A fantastic start to the series which introduces a lot though still leaves us wanting to know more (such as why Alan and Gordon have photos in the title sequence yet don't do anything). The script is very clunky but the earnest voice acting lifts the material and the effects are bloody great. The rescue, as already stated, is ingenious and highly engaging on a visual and dramatic level. It's padded in places - the earlier attempts to save the Fireflash most noticeably - but since this is episode 1 you can forgive the makers for holding back the International Rescue sequences. To be frank, you couldn't ask for a better first episode.

 

Next episode: Pit of Peril! Watch the trailer here!

YouTube

 

The Hood, international man of mystery. Oh behave.
HQ - Hood Quarters. Ha ha ha.
The highly alarming frog man. I can only hazard a guess as to why he wears a big arrow pointing to his hand.