We open on a TV reporter in a helijet presenting viewers with the newest 21st Century construction. The Thompson Tower is a mighty feat of engineering, raising a mile into the air and another two miles deep. It’s stuffed with shopping malls, theatres, cinemas, plus a monorail which we will never see. Let’s face it, it makes the whole of Dubai look small time. But not, I fear, for very long…

Then we’re back on Tracy Island, where Brains is using Scott and Virgil as guinea pigs to test a new gas he’s invented. Called Oxyhydnite, it can apparently be used to slice through doors in record time. Scott and Virgil are wearing masks and fetching blue boiler suits as they work on a steel door in the test area of the lab. However, Brains has no idea what the gas will do to the user. Which should ring alarm bells right there. So he’s treating Scott and Virgil like those monkeys in 28 Days Later. And look how that turned out…

Tin-Tin notices that Virgil’s blood pressure has risen slightly, but Brains just puts it down to the concentration he’s applying to cutting a square into the steel sheet. Jeff comments that they’re “almost enjoying themselves.”  Mr Tracy, if they’re that starved of fun, then you need to order up a foosball table or Nintendo Wii or something, right now!

Suddenly the ‘things are gonna go wrong’ chords start up in the background music. They check out Scott and Virgil’s breathing – I’m not entirely clear why – and then our boys both fall forwards, one after the other. They land on their backs, but personally I’m just grateful they didn’t manage to set each other on fire with the gas cutter.

Several days’ stubble growth later, and Scott and Virgil are still tucked up in the sick room, fast asleep. Brains assures Jeff that, physically, they’re fine. Apparently the Oxyhydnite gets into the pores of the skin and knocked them out that way. Their breath masks worked but were no use at all in blocking the ill effects. So it’s back to the drawing board – but surely some decent Hazmat suits would do the trick? Anyway, at this point, Scott starts to wake up! He’s feeling great after an amazing sleep. Virgil comes round with the same response. Jeff is very sweet to them both, checking if they’re okay. They feel good enough to get right out of bed, and Jeff encourages them to enjoy the great day on their tropical island paradise. Awww.

Now we’re back at the Thompson Tower, or rather the road leading up to it. The three members of the Carter family are driving along, trying not to get killed by a crazy woman driver™ and her useless husband. Joe Carter, the dad, tells his wife, Blanche and their kid, Tommy, that ‘drivers like her are a menace.’ I still want to know why Blanche is in the back with Tommy, though.

Joe’s words prove prophetic when the unknown female driver speeds up to the Thompson Tower. Once inside the tunnel she proceeds to confuse the accelerator with the brake pedal. Crashing into the car park, she smashes the whole damn car into a barrier and into all the other cars nearby. She and her husband hightail it out of the underground parking lot just seconds before the whole shebang, er, bangs. Big time.

The Carter family have arrived at the Thompson Tower – presumably having taken a different route to Psycho Driver Lady. They’ve had enough time to get hopelessly lost beneath the mighty structure. To be fair, the corridors look less appealing than those in the London Underground. Blanche reminds Joe that she told him he should have bought a guide book, but I guess he didn’t want to pay the $8 for a souvenir document. This whole building is very poorly managed, if you ask me. Where’s the ‘you are here’ wall map? The Carters hear a faint rumbling in the distance. Ah, don’t worry…it’s just a disaster happening half a mile away.

Meanwhile, unknown to them, the increasingly HUGE fire in the car park caused by the female driver’s crash has alarmed the guys in the building’s control tower. They are sensibly based what looks like freakin’ miles from the Thompson Tower itself, and quickly start to shut down the doors and evacuate that section of the building. This involves some ve-ry sl-ooow doors sliding through sections in each corridor.

Then the first Technical Problem rears its head – the sprinklers aren’t working!

This is not good news for the doomed Carter family. Joe, Blanche and their little boy Tommy are still lost somewhere beneath the tower, wandering the corridors. Tommy is getting fed up and races on ahead. Bear in mind that they’re already lost, but they not only let him run off, but then he decides to hide somewhere. On top of that, he picks a place CLEARLY marked ‘keep the hell out.’ As he skips obliviously into a storage room, we see that the control tower chaps are still checking and sealing up the burning corridors – and getting nearer and nearer to the hapless family.

Tommy’s mum and dad come to get him, pretending to be cops. This is somehow cute and extremely cringe-making at the same time. Whilst they’re ‘arresting’ Tommy, the control tower guys check and decide that their corridor, D50, is clear and promptly seal the fire doors with the Carters still inside.

Back in the car park, everything’s still exploding – and not just once but multiple times. Oh yes, always lots of bang for your buck with this show. The control tower guys are praying that the fire will still burn itself out now it’s sealed in. Then Big Technical Problem number two raises its head – a faulty vent shaft has sent the inferno shooting upwards towards the rest of the building!

All I can think is that the Thompson Tower’s owner wanted the insurance money. This gargantuan building is a piece of crap…particularly where we see smoke POURING in underneath its supposedly ‘fire proof’ doors! As the rest of the building catches violently on fire, the control tower couple assure each other that the building is, somehow, being totally evacuated. Not that we’ll ever know exactly how.

Then, even though the whole of Thompson Tower is almost empty, the control tower crew have a sudden attack of competency and spot the Carters standing stuck and confused in corridor D50. How ever will they get them out?! As the heat increases, the Carter family start to panic and shout for help. Then the observation camera flickers and dies. Things do not look good.

Ever noticed that IR seldom rescue more than three people at once? This episode is no exception to that rule.

On Tracy Island, looking very much better and freshly shaved after their long naps, Scott and Virgil are taking it easy by the pool. When asked, they say they feel better than normal, which has to ease any concerns Brains might have about using them for his nefarious science purposes…not to mention making us wonder if the writers are making a sly sixties-era drug reference about the fun side-effects of Oxyhydnite gas. The boys are sipping what look suspiciously like cocktails, but it’s impossible to tell if they also have a case of the munchies. Alan ogles Tin-Tin swimming, but apparently can’t join her as he’s due to go up for his shift in Thunderbird Five, presumably so John gets a chance to tan. Or talk to someone who isn’t screaming for help. Or break his Facebook addiction.

Whatever’s going on up in IR’s satellite, it’s driven John nuts enough that he’s chatting away to himself as he packs his bag on Five. He really can’t wait to get back – which makes it an even funnier and more human reaction when the distress call from Thompson Tower comes through. The inevitable ‘Calling International Rescue’ draws a very plaintive “uh oh” from our boy in the purple sash.

But, International Rescue are now the Tower’s only hope, so there’s no choice. John learns that the whole mile-long length of the tower is about to crash down on top of the tunnels where the family are trapped. John radios Tracy Island with the news. Scott and Virgil quickly leave the poolside and Scott orders Alan and Tin-Tin to come up, too.

The control tower assistant is relieved that he remembered International Rescue are around (still early days, people), but as usual they’re bitching that they haven’t heard anything from our boys in blue yet. Which is, typically, when a member of IR calls them up. It’s Jeff this time who quizzes the control tower on the situation and Scott heads out on a very quiet, clanky-clunk launch sequence in Thunderbird One. Virgil also gets a quiet launch shortly afterwards, but there’s no Brains joining them on this rescue. Time, as ever, is very short.

Fire trucks are being pulled out of the danger zone as the Thompson Tower is fully evacuated and now more likely than ever to crumble. It starts to explode and collapse as Scott arrives and, hat at a jaunty angle, checks the map of tunnels under the tower. He’s looking for the quickest way to reach the family. Under the Tower, the Carters are panicking as the rubble shakes and loosens the ceiling tiles.

The situation is definitely getting worse. As Virgil arrives, Scott realises there’s only one way they can possibly save the family in time. They’re going to have to use the experimental Oxyhydnite gas, of course. He tells Virgil the desperate situation. Virgil readily agrees, despite his doubts. Scott is definitely at his best here – he bluntly lays it out to his father that they have no real choice. Either he and Virgil risk using the new gas, or they might as well go home. Tin-Tin suggests using just a little of the gas, but her suggestion is shot down because of the time limit. I’d also like to bring it up again – let’s try better protective suits?

Scott sends Virgil out in the first pod vehicle of the episode. It’s the Firefly, a great big shovelling device with a huge scoop that specialises in clearing piles of rock and being very useful in general. A bit like Virgie. They need to clear the rubble from the collapsed Tower so that they can get in underground with the Mole, which we saw sort-of rescuing the ill-fated Sidewinder an episode ago. Dressed in a fetching white asbestos suit, Virgil starts working. Scott warns his brother to be careful playing in the white-hot rubble and goes off to prep the mighty Mole.

Just watching this sequence with the Firefly makes it obvious that, handled correctly, Thunderbirds would make the most awesome action movie. Never mind buildings collapsing and trapped families, Virgil’s frown of concentration where he’s all eyebrows and sweat – whilst the flaming rubble climbs higher – is worth a film all to itself. The rubble is tricky to shift, and just when you think it can’t get any more gritty and dramatic he brings out the Firefly’s cannon. De-ci-sive music plays and Virgil blasts the crap out of his surroundings. Then he trundles the mighty machine in and easily finishes what he came there to do. See? Easy.

This is the cue for Scott to tag team in with the Mole. His “You ready, Virg?” is met with a cute “Ye-ep”. Aww. Virgil steers the Firefly back and lifts the scoop up over the driver’s cabin in a way always looks a bit like a victory cheer. It rumbles on its way back to the big green motherbird.

Oh, and the guys in the tower control room are in awe at IR’s “great equipment”. That line* got used way too much to be entirely innocent. Don’t you reckon? Hmmm.

Virgil joins Scott in the Mole. Scott’s calculated the optimum position, apparently he didn’t need Brains’ help for that this time. They have to enter the corridors from another angle for…some reason they can’t just bust into the corridor and rescue the Carters, hence the need for the gas. The Mole – another brilliant design – reaches the path cleared by the Firefly and bites into the earth like a hungry, er, blind rodent with big teeth and paws. Scott informs Virgil that although all the electronics are bust by the disaster, the power to the lights is still working in the corridors. “That’s one blessing, but the only one,” he says, grimly.

As the Mole emerges like a monster from the movie “Tremors,” we are shown that in their room, the Carter family have been overcome by the smoke. Pressed for time (a common theme!), Scott and Virgil hop onto their hoverbikes and zoom down the corridor. Crunch time. Virgil watches Scott take on the first door – impatient as ever, Scott tells Virgil to increase the pressure. The guys in the control tower are listening as Scott and Virgil ask each other if they’re feeling all right. Scott feels fine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything…

Scott also seems to have taken on all the door cutting by himself. The brothers comment on the extreme heat, and may I reiterate how useful some asbestos suits would have been? (Jeez, fellas, why don’t you listen to me?) Scott kicks down the second door, and they continue their dangerous mission.

Back in D50, Joe Carter grows conscious enough to fling himself at the burning door and plead for someone to rescue him and his family. He panics when he sees flame coming through the door, thinking that the fire has reached him! In fact, Scott and Virgil are right outside, and it’s the Oxyhydnite burning through the metal that he’s seeing. Somehow, they made it without the gas causing them to collapse like it did the first time. “Maybe Brains can supply the answer,” Scott mutters, before barking, “Stand back, Virgil!” and booting the door down. Luckily, he appears to miss Joe as he does.

They’ve cut it very fine (another common theme)! No sooner do Scott and Virgil grab the Carter family and zoom out of corridor D50, than the whole structure collapses in a mess of ash and flames. The control tower crew are horrified as they watch the entire network of tunnels disappear under the rubble. The tower controller says sadly, “Reckon they’re the bravest guys I’ve ever…”

Wait a moment – the Mole is coming back! The controller calls them, and Scott replies, with well-deserved cockiness, “All present and correct. We made it just in time.” Now maybe that should be their motto?

After the dust, flames and asbestos have settled, and our boys are back in the Tracy lounge, Brains debriefs the family on how Scott and Virgil managed to survive their second attempt with the gas. Using some extremely ropey-sounding science, he says that the extreme heat in the corridors evaporated the gas before it could affect the user – all he has to do is heat the canisters from now on, and they’ll be using Oxyhydnite in perfect safety.

Virgil inquires what Tin-Tin is reading, calling her ‘honey.’ I can only assume he gets away with this because Alan’s in Thunderbird Five. She’s reading an article about the Thompson Tower disaster and its cause – an inept driver. This prompts Scott to make a crack about ‘women drivers,’ which dates the show horribly. It’s not quite up there with Mickey Rourke in Breakfast at Tiffany’s but it’s approaching the same zip code. Anyway, to keep the peace, let’s just assume for the sake of modern audiences that he was being ironic. No? Not convinced? Well, I always put my hands over my ears and go ‘lalala’ at this point.

Dated sexist jokes aside, this is another of Thunderbirds’ most iconic episodes. The plot device with the gas is rather simplistic, but treated with enough weight that it gets away with it. Both Scott and Virgil prove the lengths they’ll go to in order to rescue anyone – and even Jeff shows what he’s willing to risk if the situation demands it. Add in some great pyrotechnics and a compelling story – not to mention the gigantic tower seeming less ridiculous all the time – and you have a superb and faster paced episode from a series that’s just hitting its stride.

* “Those International Rescue boys sure have some great equipment!” *


<< back to Episode Index


Over forty years after its first airing, not only is this episode still one of my personal favorites, but it's also a very socially relevant commentary on why we don't need yet another higher, more extravagant and even more inaccessible (from a safety standpoint) skyscraper. The men of International Rescue are called in as a family becomes trapped in amongst 350 floors of retail and lodging facilities in the Thompson Towers during a raging fire. Some of the scenes of this rescue have now become eerily reminiscent of 9/11.

As the show opens, we are introduced to roving reporter Ned Cook, who enthrals us with his descriptions of this architectural marvel. The scene then switches to Brains' s laboratory on Tracy Island, where Scott and Virgil are training in the use of an experimental gas, Oxyhydnite, used for cutting through steel structures. This works well in the foreshadowing department and adds an element of uncertainty as both Tracy men are overcome by the gas and wind up in the sick room. Then, as they are recuperating by the pool, the call comes in and Thunderbirds One and Two, taking The Mole and The Firefly with them, race to the scene.

Blanche, Joe and Tommy Carter are unaware of just how perilous their situation is at first. Mom and dad are shown sweetly playing hide and seek with little Tommy, who fancies himself a gangster cornered by the police. The scene down in the parking garage though is one of absolute carnage, involving a fiery car crash. Miraculously though, no one is killed or even severely injured. As the flames reach the higher floors, we also get a glimpse on the side of what it must be like for John as he awaits the monthly change of shifts in Thunderbird Five.

After arriving and assessing the conditions at Thompson Towers, Scott determines the only course of action is to go in with The Mole and use Brains's gas to cut through to the victims. Not only does action is to go in with The Mole and use Brains's gas to cut through to the victims. Not only does he have to convince Virgil that it's the only course of action, he also must 'lay it on the line' to his father that there is no other alternative. In the end, he is proven correct and the family is saved. Incredibly, Scott and Virgil are saved from the gas by the extreme heat.

The one thing about this episode that has always hung me up is not the fact that so much 'to do' is made about the ineptness of women drivers. That was pretty much standard conversation in the mid 1960s. What I'll never understand is why the driver of the car that started the fire wasn't cited and why she was allowed to keep her license and continue her rampage. But, I guess that's just one of those details that fell by the wayside back in the 'innocently ignorant' 60s. Gotta love it!

<< Episode Index
<< Characters
<< Thunderbirds Machines

<< Thunderbird Three's Silo