Friday, March 5, 2010

Thunderbirds S1 Ep4: Sun Probe

The special effects work employed on Thunderbirds simply blew me away as a kid. It's a shot like this that would have me dreaming of my own rescue scenarios for hours on end in the backyard. Nothing could pull me away from the sandbox.

It's time for FAB FRIDAY and the very best of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson!

While my affection for both Space:1999 and Thunderbirds runs deep, I must admit Space:1999 is hands down the far more challenging series to write about. Space:1999 is both entertaining and mentally satisfying and thus has been more enjoyable to revisit. Thunderbirds is always good for its lighter tone. Still, just when you think things will be fairly routine within the puppet world of Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson manages to shakes things up and tell a story with a new angle. There's always something to set the inner child free to soar through the backyard and plunge into the safety and summer warm sand with those wiggling toes. Thunderbirds are go!
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Sit back and ready yourself for launch of this week's installment, Thunderbirds, Series One, Episode 4, Sun Probe. A man pushes a button just before launch dubbed the Amber Alert. Today, the Amber Alert is a child abduction emergency alert bulletin that has been implemented across the United States and Canada in the event of a child abduction. The Amber Alert mechanism means a little something different in the world of Gerry Anderson and is utilized simply as an alert. Three pilots prepare for take off. I imagine the Sun Probe will be sent to space, perhaps, to probe the sun. Just a hunch. This is an educated guess mind you. "Project Sun Probe is on!" I love how everything in the world of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds is followed by exclamatory punctuation. Things are ON! Everything is a GO! DANGER! PERIL! TRAPPED! There is no shortage of excitement for deliver to our young and fragile minds.
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On Tracy Island, Jeff Tracy tells his boys that a "rocket launching never fails to give me a kick." For us kids at home, we would agree, which is probably why the scriptwriters pointed that out to us. The boys are about to listen to a professor discuss the Sun Probe mission. Jeff asks the boys for Brains whereabouts. He is afraid he will miss all the excitement. Scott scoffs at the notion. Ah, dad, "this is old stuff" to Brains. Brains is just far too superior for such child's play. Ha! Brains is in his room working with his new robot. His robot's name is Braman. Brains is the bomb! Don't bother him with trivial rocket launchings. Puhlease. Meanwhile, the professor discusses the work of the solarnauts. Their Sun Probe will fly through a solar flare to grab a piece of the sun. The Sun Probe craft protects the solarnauts from heat and radiation with twenty foot thick walls. I'm thinking you would need much thicker if you plan on tackling the sun. I'm no scientist, but I question the science in this one. Of course, this is Thunderbirds, so is questioning really necessary? Things are going swimmingly at the moment, but this is Thunderbirds and you know the other shoe will drop soon enough and drop hard.
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Brains works with Braman in his quarters by teaching him chess. Do robots love chess? Lost In Space's Robot plays chess too. Jeff Tracy asks Brains if he'd like to join them for the Sun Probe mission. Brains is like, 'nah, that's all old school, old hat stuff, I have a robot to tend to'. Brains makes it very clear he is well versed on the Sun Probe mission. He knows the plan inside out. How would he know that? Is he clairvoyant too? Brains clearly has access to considerable information or somewhere along the way created or added to the knowledge base for such complex systems.
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On the Sun Probe, the cosmonauts fire retros. Those puppet solarnauts sure have some bushy eyebrows. Those brows look like they might overtake their faces. The Sun Probe nose is launched detaching from the remaining body of the vessel. The probe passes through the solar flare safely. Everything is AOK. It's something of a flawless mission thus far. Surprisingly, with very little difficulty, the probe reattaches to the rest of the Sun Probe rocket. It's astounding really. Something has to give soon.
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On Tracy Island, Brains [a.k.a. Debbie Downer] enters the party room and delivers one of those unforgettable Thunderbirds' lines. "I don't think they're gonna make it." [Repeating] "I-I-I-I don't think they're gonna make it." Brains has become a man who can see the future. Well, not exactly, this of course is the sum result of his scientific calculations to be sure. The Sun Probe is now on a collision course with the sun. Here's Brains in action.
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One Colonel Benson reaches out to International Rescue for help. Jeff Tracy contacts Benson and informs him International Rescue will, [wait for it], attempt a rescue. Jeff Tracy admits it's going to be tough. Come on, you're International Rescue. You can do anything! Brains looks rather disaffected by it all as he plays chess with Braman. The boys just don't "dig" him. The Tracy boys actually say that. They don't "dig" him. I love it.
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It's bad news for the crew of the Sun Probe. Heat is on the rise in the cabin. Refrigeration is increased to sustain the proper cabin temperature. Worse, they are headed straight for the sun. International Rescue must get close enough to fire the retro rockets. The Tracy family and Brains rack their collective brains attempting to come up with the best rescue plan. Thunderbird 3 and Thunderbird 2 are both considered. T2 has a stronger radio beam transmitter. Why T3 wouldn't have the same equally strong transmitting strength for a space vessel is a puzzle. Brains is concerned about the heat and overall radiological impact on the Thunderbirds. Tin Tin is like, 'make up your minds boys before the Sun Probe burns up in the sun.' She indicates the boys have been deliberating for three hours! WHAT! Three freakin' hours!? Holy Toledo! What kind of quick rescue response operation is that? These men are probably in the sun by now. Gordon chimes in with the best option. 'Let's use both' and hopefully one will pay off. You are a genius Gordon. Gordon always was the smart one. It's too bad Gordon didn't come up with that plan three hours ago. Geesh! A two-pronged rescue attempt goes into effect, while the Sun Probe is three hours closer to the sun. Brains tells Mr. Tracy he can modify T3's radio equipment and they can get moving. This occurs, which absolutely crushes the Boy Wonder and myself with laughter.


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Grandma! That is hysterical. Yes, roll out Grandma Tracy's old bones for the rescue operation. She needs to earn her keep on the island. A grandma's work is never done. Poor grandma is probably out by the pool reading her little book and relaxing her old bones in the warm summer sunshine. Meanwhile, her son is cracking a Grandma whip inside to get her moving. Get on that laundry Grandma Tracy! This is the official first mention of Grandma Tracy. She may be taking the first Thunderbird off the island if this work load keeps up. The launch will take place at 0800 hours. Another first, this is the first entry to feature T3. This is a pretty clever little move. Virgil even looks impressed with the couch trick. It's amusing.

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Three's a crowd Scott.
Dang! How about that? These puppets never have to leave the bloody couch. It gives new meaning to couch potato. Can you imagine rolling around several yards on a couch to get to your destination? If you looked closely in the previous clip you may have noted Alan and Scott switch positions on the couch for the miniature shots. Tin Tin is along for the action. I'm still not certain who she crushes on most, but my money is on Alan.
Here's a little T3 action.



T3 is now in space and Alan, the pilot of T3, is in an awful big hurry urging Tin Tin to get the electronics ready. He indicates they will be in the Danger Zone in 65 hours. Good grief! There's no hurrying any of these operations. What's the hurry Tin Tin? Why not make a spot of tea for Scott and Alan while you're at it, maybe a hot meal? That should leave you roughly 63 hours to get the electronics worked out. Alan definitely has the hots for Tin Tin. Back on Tracy Island, Virgil and Brains get their clothes ready, as prepped by garment assembler Grandma Tracy. We do not meet granny in this episode. Brains and Virgil are also prepping snow dispersal equipment. They have a Transmitter Truck and Mobile Computer readied. The Mobile Computer is none other than Braman, but Brains doesn't realize it at the time. T2 readies for launch. Jeff Tracy confers with Gordon expressing his deep concern for the mission. Unless they can transmit and reach the Sun Probe its crew will be "lost." I was thinking a more appropriate word might have been "toast."
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In Space, the Sun Probe crew indicates they will crash into the sun in 24 hours. I'm assuming this scene is later since it was going to take T3 65 hours to get there. 65-24= 41 hours. That just woudn't add up. No time to spare apparently. This is going to take it right down to the [puppet] wire. Alan, Scott and Tin Tin attempt a safety beam transmission but they are just too damn far away. The boys indicate they'll need to get closer. This is going to put them all at risk of heat and radiation exposure. Back at Tracy Island, Jeff Tracy isn't certain they can risk Tin Tin's life. What!? Well, why the hell on Earth did you send her then? That has to be one of the stupidest things you could have done. This is a top secret, dangerous mission, not a damn stroll around the Tracy pool. You have to know the risks before sending in Tin Tin. That's not a well-planned decision it would seem. Kyrano, Tin Tin's father, overhears Jeff Tracy's concerns and interrupts. He tells the boys Tin Tin will go. He assures that both he and Tin Tin owe their lives to the Tracy family. She will do anything necessary. 'Anything?'
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Meanwhile, T2 is making its way to high altitude Mount Arkan to project its signal as part of Gordon's suggested two-pronged attack. This is a great shot and some pretty snazzy driving by Virgil. I love when he tells Brains the ledge "should" be below them. Wouldn't you want to know that if you planned on setting her down? "Should" is not a definitive term. They could be screwed. "Should" musn't be part of the statement.



I love the Transmitter Truck, but then I love anything with tank links and plates on Thunderbirds, which is just about every auxiliary vehicle in their arsenal. Gerry Anderson and Derek Meddings must have loved tank treads too.
Here comes the Transmitter Truck. Ya just gotta love the Gerry Anderson miniatures. It wouldn't be Thunderbirds without a nifty auxiliary vehicle and a few traction issues.

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Vee must stop zee rocket from ending up in zee sun!
I love Brains and Virgil in their Arctic snow caps, gloves and winter gear. Hysterical. These guys look like they're gonna grab some vodka hits and dance with some Russian bears. The boys line the transmitter beam up with the sun. The navigation of such a precise measurement must be based upon instrumentation.

A second attempt is made by T3 to reach the Sun Probe with its safety beam. There is still no success. On Mount Arkan, Brains and Virgil make their attempt. It looks like they are going to need a few things first. This floored me! You must watch!

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I reckon Virgil is a Dunkin' Donuts kinda guy when he's off island.
You have to have the java my friends. That just cracked me up. I'm with Virgil. You just can't work things out properly without a proper cup of coffee. Virgil is all relaxed and overconfident with his man Brains on the job. He's like, 'I can kick back and have a little cuppa Joe, I've got Brains, I'm all set.' It's too damn funny. In space, things are getting hotter for our fearless Sun Probe crew. The hull is smoking. The refrigeration system is shot. Perhaps if International Rescue spent less time deliberating their plan this wouldn't be such a close call. Of course, then we wouldn't have an episode called Sun Probe or have the sheer childhood jubilation of a Transmitter Truck. Tin Tin is getting faint, but hanging in there. T3 makes its third transmitter attempt. It works. The retro rockets fire aboard the Sun Probe. "We're gonna live!" The Sun Probe heads for home. There's a slight problem of course. Now, T3 can't fire its retro rockets. We're lucky we have Gordon and a smashing two-pronged plan in place. T2 and the Transmitter Truck are in place on Earth. Scott flips a gasket and demands the retros be fired. Don't you think they would fire them if they could? Scott can be a real dick. It's a good thing he doesn't know Virgil is drinking coffee.
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Tracy Island receives word regarding T3's troubles. Jeff reaches out to Virgil who is enjoying his hot cuppa in the snow cap. Virgil looks at Brains and he's like "what are we gonna do?" I'm thinking you're going to stick to the same plan that got you got there. Fire up that beam boys. Brains indicates he'll need that Mobile Computer. On T3, Scott has passed out and Alan is working hard to reach Tin Tin. She must turn off the safety beam, but sadly she has passed out too. Alan is their last chance for survival.
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Back at the T2 pod, Brains discovers Braman. Apparently, Braman isn't what he expected. Brains indicates they have made a grave human error by bringing Braman. The Mobile Computer was omitted unintentionally. Brains is going to have to think fast and modify Braman. On T3, Alan acts admirably making his last ditch effort to get to the safety beam mechanism. Virgil convinces Brains he can do it. Brains will convert Baman into their solution to saving everyone on T3. Virgil will make more coffee. That's a joke. The answer is to simply ask Braman to compute an equation. Shouldn't Brains be able to answer the equation? I mean, he programmed Braman and he is Brains. He's a bloody genius. Granted we need ultra quick Braman processing power. Get a load of this equation. No biggie.
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Geesh! Challenge us next time Brains. Virgil even appeared a bit unimpressed with that wooden expression. Braman looks like a guy with an old undersea diving suit. The Transmitter Truck transmits, the retros fire and it's a success. Did you expect anything less? Jeff Tracy informs everyone they will be giving a real hero's welcome to Tin Tin, Scott and Alan. Um, excuse me, what are Brains and Virgil chopped liver? I should think they deserve a little heroes welcome not to mention Virgil makes a bad ass pot of coffee. Seriously, Virgil did get the T2 there. In then end, Braman plays chess with Brains and calls "checkmate." Brains is stunned, "I-I don't believe it. Surely it-it can't be true. A machine cannot have a brain better than mine." It looks that way brother. He's your creation. Brains takes that sort of thing kind of personal and a little hard. Sun Probe delivers another satisfactory adventure mixing a bit of humor, inadvertently perhaps, with its usual mix of tension and excitment.

Sun Probe: C+
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Writer: Alan Fennell
Director: David Lane
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Notable Thunderbirds: T2/T3/Transmitter Truck.

3 comments:

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

Wicked cool blog Sci-Fi Fanatic! I just discovered your blog and had to tell you what a pleasure it was to read your loving review of this Thunderbirds episode. Growing up in the 60's, I watched many of Gerry Anderson's TV programs, but Thunderbirds was always my favorite! I even watched all the episodes again a few years ago when they aired on cable and was surprised how well they held up to these adult eyes. I can't wait to dig into your archives and read some of your other postings on things Sci-Fi! FAB, SFF!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Doc, what a pleasure to have you. Welcome and look forward to having you on board the classic party train.

It's funny, there are days when I think, "Why am I doing this?" other than for myself and then someone like yourself comes along Doc and talks me down off the proverbial sci fi cliff of blogging. Cheers for joining in Doc. Glad to have you.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

One more thing. I agree with you. I find shows like Space:1999, Thunderbirds, Godzilla, Star Trek, hold up very well with their traditional effects and modelling over many of the CGI creations today. These classics still look good to the old eyes.