This is where it all begins. Certainly the episode I’ve seen the most – except possibly for The Uninvited. It’s the setup, the basis for everything else, and it does it all with the snappy chic of the early 1960s. I watched it one more time for this review, and I was still able to appreciate how well it holds up. You almost wouldn’t know how heavily the story was padded out after Gerry Anderson showed it to the ‘big boss,’ Lew Grade at ITC. Lew watched a 25 minute cut and promptly demanded a longer, more epic show every week.

I’m glad he did, because this is one of the best examples of ‘set up and send in IR’ in the whole series. Trapped in the Sky is a great introduction, full of nail biting sequences which get me every time.

So, in the words of Scott Tracy (presumably after an ad break), “let’s recap.” This will contain spoilers, but I’m guessing one or two of you will have seen it before as well!

We open in the least likely place for a futuristic sci-fi show about rockets and explosions. Eerie music plays over a temple in the jungle, and then we’re shown a sinister ceremony. The big bald bad guy of the show makes his first ever appearance – there are flames, a huge gong sounds, and the man commands a statue to speak. Even though he’s wearing a light blue tunic with pink flowery edging, we already know this guy’s not praying for world peace. You can tell he’s evil because his eyes glow a rather interesting shade of yellow when he’s really getting into it. In a brutal, guttural voice he aims his evil intentions at the statue. This reveals that it represents his hapless half-brother, Kyrano.

Meanwhile, on an island somewhere in the South Pacific (although we won’t know that until later)… In a 1960s lounge (that’s living room to you Americans out there!),  the very same Kyrano, looking much less waxy, is chatting to that nice Mr Jeff Tracy, patriarch of the Tracy clan, kindly filling in the background between them, when the bad guy’s mojo kicks in. Kyrano hits the carpet with an awful squeal of pain, and Jeff frantically asks his loyal friend what’s wrong. Unheard by Jeff, the bad guy psychically interrogates Kyrano, demanding to know when something called ‘International Rescue’ is going to start operating. After a little glowy-eyed persuasion, Kyrano screams that the organization is ready now. It’s time for the bad guy, whom we all know best as the evil Hood, to make his move.

The opening sets up a promising recurring villain who only occasionally lives up to the threat in this scene. Perhaps the 60s weren’t ready for him! But now we’re on our way – the Hood plants a bomb inside the new Fireflash passenger plane. This should draw in International Rescue, he cackles! All together, now – booooooo!

And what do we learn next? A pretty young lady named Tin-Tin Kyrano is about to board the same flight, on her way to join her father on Jeff Tracy’s island. She also draws the attention of the two Fireflash pilots – luckily for her, their plan to leave the cockpit once in flight and hit on the passengers gets pushed aside when ol’ Hoody calls in a bomb threat! Tin-Tin has a nice, worried discussion about the situation as the superplane turns back to London Airport. It does beg the question, did the Hood know his half-niece was on board and targeted this aircraft specifically? Or was he just adhering to the rule that any new machine in this world inevitably explodes…?

Anyway, the frantic radio calls between Fireflash and London Airport are also received by a mysterious listener in the sky. Yes, here we see Thunderbird Five for the first time, and very impressive she is, too. The main control room is full of important-looking flashing lights - radio messages from every corner of the world play over the speakers. She’s given extra importance by the strict-sounding drum riff that will introduce Thunderbird Five from now on. The listener inside is the first Tracy brother we meet – blond astronaut John Tracy immediately takes an interest in the Fireflash situation and calls Jeff. On Earth, Tracy Island is fully introduced as the tropical paradise we know and love. Back in the snug ’60s lounge, Jeff’s admiring the tall picture of a yellow rocket which will be very important later on…

We learn that Jeff used to be a VIP astronaut, back in the day. Jeff’s very sweetly concerned over Kyrano, too, considering his recent fit of falling down. Then John’s call comes through. Something’s up with Tin-Tin’s flight. Meanwhile, London Airport Control Tower staff take an X-Ray picture of Fireflash’s hull, and confirm that there’s a bomb – or possibly a can of paint with ‘bomb’ written on it, gaffer-taped to the inside of her landing gear. If Fireflash tries to land, she’s gonna blow up. So she will have to keep circling until a solution can be worked out.

Unluckily for Fireflash, although someone built atomic engines which are good for six months, no one thought to make the plane’s radiation shields last any longer than about two hours. Hate to think about the travel insurance for that one. So, in two hours, everyone in Fireflash is going to start glowing. And not in a good way.

The head honcho at London Tower is not optimistic – he declares that nothing short of a miracle can save the plane now.

This hands our boy John the chance to make the cheerful reply, “That’s just what you might get.” Awesome! He sounds so damn PLEASED when he says it. Time for action – and watching this again, I had a jolt of how great this pilot episode really is, setting up the reasons why they guard their machinery so closely. Now Jeff’s speaking into some kind of audio-log, presumably talking about his new Thunderbird machines, musing that “In the wrong hands, they could be used to destroy life.”  Then it’s time for action.

The brothers gather in a semi-circle in the lounge opposite their father. There’s the darkly handsome eldest Scott, the chestnut haired second-eldest Virgil, blond tearaway Alan-with-a-surprisingly-deep-voice (they hadn’t hired his real voice actor yet!)…and redheaded ‘what, I only get TWO lines?’ Gordon. A moment later, Scott heads to a couple of lamps on the wall and the whole section flips around – he’s now on an automatic gantry heading for his ship, and THEN, oh boy, does the music kick in.

I really worked on watching this with fresh eyes, and the launch sequences are still the most fun to watch. The coolest rocket ever explodes out through the open swimming pool – the sequence prompting mums and dads the world over to say ‘I hope nobody was IN THAT POOL’. Pause for laugh.

Once launched in Thunderbird One, Scott delivers his most-used catchphrase, “Changing to horizontal flight!” He’s very excited by this mission – it’s in every clipped syllable, every bossy but endearing inflection. Even as he blasts on his way, he calls for ‘heavy rescue,’ and the big green bus is also launched. Virgil shows his nerve even now by heading to the picture of that yellow rocket (I told you it was going to be important, remember?) and getting tipped upside-down on the long drop to his ship. Thunderbird Two looks totally wrong but somehow utterly perfect as the backwards wings take her into the sky. Virgil is also hilariously chilled-out compared to Scott’s rapid-fire urgency. You can almost hear him saying, “Yeah, Scott, whateva…”

The Controller at London Tower exclaims, “It’s fantastic!” as if in response to this amazing launch display we’ve just witnessed – but he’s actually listening to a hare-brained scheme from a cheekily-named pilot called Meddings. He retells the backup plan, AKA ‘The Filler.’ (Because that’s what it is – the filler whilst we wait for the fantasy machines to show up, and the whole subplot thrown in by Gerry and his Merry Men to help Lew Grade get his full hour episode.) It consists of Meddings being winched into the Fireflash’s landing gear so that he can dispose of the bomb, and it does seem to take FOREVER to attempt. But I have a new appreciation for this sequence, even if it’s obviously doomed from the setup. Although it wouldn’t be if a) Meddings had been given a rope or some magnets or SOMETHING, and b) they’d just frickin’ CLOSED the hatch he was climbing around in.

But then we wouldn’t need International Rescue to show up. Which would be a major disappointment! Not least to Scott, whose “Let’s hope they succeed” response whilst on his way is perhaps not the most convincing I’ve ever heard….

So, naturally, Medding’s scheme is a bust – the poor guy can’t even reach the bomb, and his obviously puny upper body strength results in him falling out of the hatch and barely getting his parachute open in time. However much it may drag after the tenth viewing or so, this sequence has some excellent model work, and it’s worth it for hearing Scott’s voice actor (the peerless Shane Rimmer) doing a very cheery Texan accent for one of the pilots who helped Meddings.

Things are looking very bad for Fireflash. Now they’ve evacuated London Airport so that the apparently doomed plane can make her risky landing. That’s until the Control Tower spot a fast-moving ship coming in at 7.5 thousand mph! Scott Tracy immediately hails and bosses the hell out of them, whipping the controllers into shape with his staccato requests for secrecy and help moving his, er, equipment. He’s soon installed himself and the Mobile Control Unit at the tower in his best no-nonsense style. The Mobile Control Unit is, I’d say, the BEST portable desk EVER. It has more flashing lights than Thunderbird Five!

The Hood, meanwhile, has snuck back onto the scene and is merrily snapping pics of Thunderbird One with a cleverly concealed ‘hat camera.’ Uh oh…

This is a cue for that other International Rescue gadget to go nuts. The Automatic Camera Detector is another frequently recurring plot device. Once the Hood gets inside Thunderbird One the thing starts flashing like crazy. In the tower, Scott recaps the Fireflash situation and informs Virgil that they will have just ten minutes to pull off this rescue. He also spots the illegal paparazzi in his ship and demands that the police stop the guy. In what will become a recurring theme, the Hood immediately escapes and outruns them.

Then Virgil lands. Could Scott look any more pleased? Thunderbird Two ejects the pod and out pop the chunky elevator cars, whilst Barry Gray’s MOST determined music shows that, oh yes, they have this situation COVERED.

Scott learns that the cops have given up chasing the Hood. Not the slightest bit concerned, he flips to a speaker marked with a, er, teapot…

Introducing Lady Penelope, proclaimed in the credits as International Rescue’s London Agent – she’s taking her tea in a grand drawing room when she receives Scott’s request via a nifty bit of split-screen. Hearing about the Hood’s sneaky escape, she immediately blows off the three coach loads of tourists who were about to tour her stately home, and heads out with her trusty butler/chauffeur/partner-in-derring-do, Parker, in her trademark hot pink Rolls Royce. She sounds gentle and refined. The Hood is in a LOT of trouble.

Time for the rescue. Scott’s coordinating back and forth between Fireflash and the elevator cars. Virgil’s controlling all three cars and he looks like he’s LOVING it. There’s lots of ‘FABs.’ I am very happy. The situation gets even more tense when Virgil spots a fault in one of the cars, but they deal with this by ignoring it. Hmmm.

Fireflash makes its approach. Tension mounts. They line up the cars with Fireflash’s extremities, then Virgil tells the pilots to cut their engines – and wouldn’t you know it, the dodgy elevator car spins out of control and Fireflash barely lifts up in time! Virgil survives this embarrassment and gears up for another try. They have a backup elevator car. Maybe they were kind of EXPECTING this to happen? Anyway, here we go again – this time fire trucks gear up in readiness. Can we have a shout-out for the sound effects? Very atmospheric.

Again, things are TENSE. Fireflash has just two minutes before its radiation shields fail and everyone gets fried.  Everything comes down to Virgil keeping his nerve. The trucks line up, and here we go. The result is nothing short of spectacular. There are squealing tyres, engines burst into smoke – Virgil’s control car veers off and flips over, leaving Fireflash to slow itself down by its nose, which is now making spectacular sparks on the runway tarmac.

It stops. Finally. By some bizarre quirk of bad luck, the bomb falls anyway – but doesn’t hit anything…just hangs by a piece of tape. So I wonder what WOULD have happened, if they’d just tried a normal landing…?

Never mind that – everyone has made it. Even Virgil, who remains chilled out even whilst upside-down, still strapped to his chair. It really was a “Jolly good show,” as the Controller puts it. Scott cuts over the Controller’s thanks and requests that London Airport doesn’t try to track them home. Hmm, again – taking a lot on trust here, aren’t we? (How things have changed since the 60s!) The Controller agrees, of course.

As for the Hood, he’s rapidly blasted off the road by Penelope. Her Rolls Royce is as full of surprises as she is, with its Bond-like hidden machine gun used to great and iconic effect.

Despite her efficiency, she is also the first in a long list of IR staff who decide that they can’t ‘rilly’ be bothered to check that the photo film’s destroyed, and they just assume that the bad guy’s been bumped off. Think again! “You haven’t heard the last of me!” bellows a highly pissed-off Hood, whilst the secret photo film fortuitously ‘poings’ out of his hat in a comic and image-exposing spiral. IR’s secrets are safe…for now.

Now the team has reassembled back on Tracy Island. The Tracys are pretending to be normal playboys whilst the local Doc visits to check on Kyrano. In a very cute family scene, Virgil’s showing off his piano skills, Scott’s losing to Gordon at chess, and Alan’s snuggling with Tin-Tin on the balcony. Whilst they relax, Jeff fishes for compliments by waving the newspaper headline under the Doc’s nose. It reads, ‘International Rescue – Who Are They?’ The Doc says he’d like to shake IR by the hand. Then, having no idea that he’s fulfilling just that wish, he shakes Jeff’s hand. Smooth!

As if prompted, Virgil triumphantly plays the Thunderbirds theme – which swells as an orchestra joins in. Yes, we ALL know who International Rescue are now. And guess what? We’ll definitely be tuning in next week!


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Let’s begin, of course, with the Thunderbirds series premiere episode, Trapped in the Sky. There has been some debate about the fact that The Hood placed a bomb aboard the aircraft his niece was travelling on. The question here being did he or didn't he...know she was aboard? If we look at the scene where Jeff and Kyrano are talking about Tin-Tin coming home, the answer becomes clear. If Mr. Gaat is able to connect with his half brother, from the distance that he did, how could he not know that his niece was just a few yards away in the Air Terrainean terminal building? If he is willing to risk the lives of 600 people just to draw International Rescue out of their island hideaway, why would he not use Tin-Tin to ensure their arrival on the scene? *Ding-Ding* the answer is... he would. Yes, even though it is not out and out mentioned in the show, it conveniently falls in line with his evil plan and of course, adds to the tension.

Even after all these years, this episode remains the classic, knuckle whitening thrill ride it was from the very beginning. You can view it fifty times and you're still wondering if Virgil will be able to save the Fireflash and if he made it out of that crash unhurt. There's no denying that Mr. Anderson had a gift for the suspenseful, not to mention some very talented people in his production crew.

This pilot episode set the tone for the rest of the series and helped to make it the perennial favorite it still is today; children's show my runaway monotrain! The plot is actually quite sophisticated for its time and is not your traditional story of good vs. evil. The characters are of strong moral fiber. Well, except for The Hood, whose plans never seem to come to fruition. Apparently, crime doesn't pay.

We have a close American family unit with its roots in the military, their friend of British Aristocracy, and assorted assistants who double as their extended family. We see that they have a great deal of money, but put most of it back into helping the rest of humanity. They are good role models for both the young and old. Not a bad premise for any show. And then there's the one thing Trapped in the Sky is still giving us. It is because of the many undertones and subplots alluded to in the opening show that we will probably never run out of Thunderbirds stories to write... thank goodness!

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