02: PIT OF PERIL
I always feel that this
episode demonstrates the show’s purest intentions. It seems to take
forever for the Thunderbird machines to show up, but there’s a lot
of care taken with the setup.
We open on a long series
of stock footage showing live-action animals and jungle scenery.
Cute safari music plays over the top. It changes abruptly as a metal
claw swings into view and rips a tree out of its way. The cute – and
not so cute – beasts scatter as something enormous muscles its way
through their dense rain forest. A wobbly-looking metal leg thumps
the ground as it moves. Here the music makes me think of a rather
When the metal monster
is revealed, it resembles a cross between an AT-AT from Star Wars
and an elephant from a Salvador Dali picture (albeit a stumpier
version). It belongs to the World Army, and a helicopter has been
following it. Inside the ‘copter, a man named General Peters chats
to his colleague, Ralph. We learn that the weird machine is named
the Sidewinder, and will be useful for calming the bush wars
in this part of the world which otherwise they couldn’t reach. I
hope he realises he’ll be stalked by angry environmentalists, too…
the thing could clear a whole rainforest given half a chance.
The General gets in
touch with Sidewinder’s crew; a man named Colonel Sweeney
plus two other men. They’ve been testing the big tin can in the
jungle for three weeks, and they’re understandably keen to get back
to civilisation. They’re told to head for the next rendezvous
position, where they can leave the Sidewinder to the mechanics. The
helicopter – tagged ‘Copter Watchdog,’ flies away.
Of course, no
experimental craft ever lasts long in the Gerry Anderson universe,
and the Sidewinder is no exception. As it begins to stomp,
the ground underneath it cracks and crumbles violently. Lots of dirt
flies up in the air, the jungle explodes once more, and then the
earth swallows the Sidewinder whole!
No, International Rescue
still aren’t in it yet. Be patient…
General Peters catches
on that the Sidewinder’s not responding, and heads back to take a
look. All that’s left is dirt and miles of smoke coming up from a
crater. The General frantically tries to call his crew and they very
slowly come round. At this point I realise that the crew member
named Johnny is voiced by Shane Rimmer. Which pleases me even as it
The crew report that
they are about 300 feet beneath the surface. Worse still, they’re
upside-down, which means they’re completely stuck. It’ll take heavy
lifting to raise the 500-plus ton machine and the General grimly
realises they’re so far out in the wilderness that no one can reach
them anytime soon.
It’s reaching 220F
outside the Sidewinder’s hull and Sweeney has even more bad
news. The atomic reactor requires refuelling. When it runs out, the
cooling system will stop working. They’ll be fried. No one learned
from Fireflash, then! Maybe International Rescue need to
publish some sort of advisory booklet on maintaining nuclear
reactors, so that they’ll last the extra ten minutes before help
So, desperate measures
are called for. Yet it’s not so desperate that they call
International Rescue yet. We’re still at the point in the series
before they’re instantly called up, or have to make their own
emergencies to shoehorn in Lady P. But more of that in later episode
For now, the World Army
have to make do with their own resources, and this involves sending
down two volunteers to examine the Sidewinder’s position.
Bear in mind that the pit it’s in is ON FIRE and all these guys have
to protect themselves is a breathing mask and some wet cloth. I know
they can’t get hold of heavy lifting gear in time, but you’d think
they’d have taken thirty minutes to source a couple of fire suits
and a pair of gloves!
Anyway, the first guy,
Lieutenant Mead, is winched into the pit to check out the Sidewinder
and only gets a little glimpse before he’s screaming in pain. Highly
disturbing. Mead is hastily yanked out, covering his scorched face
with his hands (again, highly disturbing). The ‘we’re so screwed’
While this attempt is
going on, we’re fifteen minutes in and guess who’s listening in from
Earth’s orbit? Radio monitor, John Tracy, of course, in fabulous
Thunderbird Five. John picks up that things are pretty
desperate, and contacts base. Jeff Tracy is chatting to Scott and
Virgil when the call comes through and the three of them listen to
Mead’s doomed effort.
Scott’s naturally eager
to blast off and help the guys in trouble, but Jeff vetoes the idea,
as they “can’t go uninvited”. (Which namechecks an upcoming episode,
a little. Sort of. ) Anyway, Scott’s enthusiasm lands him on
‘standby’ duty, where he gets to sit in Thunderbird One
waiting for the go signal. I’d like to point out that Virgil
continues to lounge around in the Tracy house ‘til he’s actually
needed, but I’ve gotta give Scotty full points for enthusiasm!
Whilst Scott twiddles
his thumbs, the army guys argue over who ought to go into the pit of
certain peril next. The General’s buddy, Ralph, volunteers, but
Sergeant Reynolds reasons that he’s the better choice. It seems that
their next plan is to hook a loop of metal wire around one of the
Sidewinder’s legs and hoik it out that way. So the Sergeant is
lowered down – what, still no gloves? Just call International
Rescue, you morons!?
actually succeeds in hooking the loop over the Sidewinder’s
leg before he, too, starts screaming in pain. They pull him out and
send the secondary helijet to take him to hospital. Then they try to
lift, or at least turn over the Sidewinder using the army
helicopter. Which is a bit like Nicole Richie trying to land a blue
whale. It’s just not physically possible.
Even more amazingly,
though, this almost succeeds in at least tipping the Sidewinder
upright, which allows for some lovely smoke effects against the
wonderful, grungy model work. Despite their efforts, however, the
Sidewinder slides inexorably over onto its back again. Ralph
wants to give it yet another try, but the General is getting
increasingly frustrated, and wishes they were closer to civilisation
(although I’m sure there’s probably a Starbucks lurking a few feet
away). Then they could get some decent equipment in for a proper
That word finally
reminds Ralph of this little organisation he’s heard of…
The official call goes
out, and finally, Scott can blast off! Happy, ‘they’re on their way’
Scott has snapped into
full rescue mode and rapidly assesses the situation. Going from
John’s info, he calls for Thunderbird Two to be loaded with
Pod Five, and for Brains to come along to help work on the crater.
Virgil hops off the couch and springs into action, with a very
stately launch sequence for Thunderbird Two… I can only
imagine how fast it’d all load these days, but nobody rushes the big
green machine. No siree.
Then it’s Whirrr-click-BOOM
and Virgil’s away, too.
The guys in
Sidewinder are worried about the aircon, whilst the General
grumbles that IR are taking their time. Which is, of course, when
Scott shows up and lands. Scott learns that the radio’s failed in
Sidewinder, but we know that the air purifier is on its last
legs and the heat is increasing. The General reckons there are two
hours left. Scott reassures him, and sends in a little camera device
to check out the Sidewinder.
According to Scott, this
floating milk bottle is “specially constructed to withstand extreme
heat”, but he still sounds kind of relieved when the thing actually
works! At this point, Virgil lands and Scott goes over to TB2 to
watch the camera’s footage. The General continues to rant that IR
aren’t working fast enough.
The apparent inaction is
due to Brains and a serious-looking Scott and Virgil analysing the
camera’s results. They really are at their frowniest here. Brains
figures that Sidewinder, ironically, fell into an old
military equipment dump which had been slowly smouldering beneath
loose dirt for years. They’ll need to remove the crust before they
can pull Sidewinder clear.
So, this time it’s the
fearless Virgil who’s being lowered into the pit. Fortunately, he
came fully equipped with a protective suit. (The wuss!) When he
reaches the bottom, I love the way he says “the smoke is too dense”
as though he’s kind of peering through it, whilst his voice is still
at its calmest compared to Scott’s. Virgil begins to lay explosive
charges. Scott directs him and the army and then heads over to IR’s
drilling machine, intending to get Virgil out before detonation!
Come to think of it, wouldn’t it have been easier to use the Mole to
get Virgil into the pit in the first place?
Well, I guess that’s why
they’re IR and I’m just the reviewer…
While this is going on,
the guys in Sidewinder aren’t doing so well. There’s just
eight minutes of coolant and purified air left! But Virgil’s almost
finished, and up on the surface, Scott brings out the superbly
designed Mole – the iconic big drill on wheels. At one point, the
Mole hits some tough rock and Brains has to redirect him. For some
reason, I find the moment where Scott says “Turn me” here rather
This is a great team
effort, as Brains waits for the Tracys to get clear, so that he can
detonate the explosives. Everyone strenuously explains exactly what
they’re doing as the Mole withdraws and Scott sweats in his
close-up. The Mole pops up out of the ground – on some reversed film
footage. Now they’re clear, Brains gets to blow it all up!
So, we get our
explosives fix – and the International Rescue Team are on the last
part of their rescue. This is just as well, as Sidewinder’s
cooling unit is about ready to give up, and the General’s climbing
Brains reassures the
General as Virgil brings out the next bit of Awesome International
Rescue Equipment™. The Recovery Vehicles are like the Elevator Cars,
only they have magnetic plungers attached instead of those springy
platforms. Virgil controls all three again, seated in one whilst
using remote radio for the other two. I just hope that the Recovery
Vehicles are a tad more reliable.
In the control car,
Virgil looks appropriately grubby after his walk in the crater’s
inferno. He’s only taken off his helmet and he’s looking good in the
white fire suit. Now it’s all up to him again. He fires the plungers
and they connect to the Sidewinder with some satisfying
Lots of skidding and
grinding follows as Sidewinder is pulled inch by very painful
inch up the side of the pit. Of course, one line fails for a
heartstopping moment. “Let’s hope it’s not damaged,” Virgil mutters
as he reels it in to try again.
There’s a terrific score
playing over this, emphasising Virgil’s tough battle to haul the
Sidewinder’s immense weight up the jagged, crumbling slopes. The
tension increases when the Sidewinder slips, but Virgil keeps
going and then – then – there! They did it!
Sweeney just has time to
register that they’re out and to marvel, “It’s a miracle!” before he
collapses. Dream music and a swirly screen lead us to his recovery
in a medical tent. Scott is there, watching over him and the other
two men. Scott obviously wants to make sure they’re okay, and stays
long enough for Sweeney to thank him, and IR, on behalf of his crew.
Virgil takes off in TB2,
whilst Scott chats to the General outside. I like to think that this
is because Scott’s the military guy, no question. The General’s
snarky attitude has completely changed; he’s very happy now about
International Rescue’s success. Scott accepts his thanks and
requests the General’s secrecy. Then he takes off, and the General
wishes he had guys like that in his army. Well, he probably would,
if he could be bothered to get heat-proof suits…
So, overall, this is a
PURE International Rescue adventure. Can I point out that all this
happened without the need to find a reason for Lady Penelope to show
up? Or even the Hood plotting a disaster (although conspiracy nuts,
please, go nuts). What we had here was a desperate situation, good
people in peril, and IR only getting there at the very last minute
to succeed within a whisker of failure. I particularly liked the
character of the General, whose understandable impatience flips
around the minute they pull it off.
This is a solid episode
that can at times seem a little dry, but definitely demonstrates
International Rescue working at their best and smartest.