It’s been a really, really long time since I last watched this one. I best remember this episode for being about a desert in serious danger of exploding, and containing long periods with no Tracy boys at all. Watching it again, I found it much better than I was expecting. One of the oddest things about re-watching the Thunderbirds episodes is realizing how much my attention span has shrunk, and frankly this has been good practice for getting it back!

So let’s start. The episode opens over a set of silver industrial buildings somewhere in a desert, and the spooky space music last heard in Sun Probe plays here. Apparently, this is an atomic irrigation plant and a bus load of reporters are being given a top secret tour! The point of the station is to power the transfer of sea water, where it’s presumably being desalinated, before it’s pumped into the Australian desert to reclaim the land. Bearing in mind that it’s atomic powered, the journos are naturally a little jumpy about potential dangers. They are repeatedly told by their guide that “It’s perfectly safe…nothing can possibly go wrong…” Now where have we heard that before? D’oh.

Well, I’m sure that this atomic pile would behave perfectly if they just upped the amount of security. Our old friend The Hood has already sneaked on site and is lurking and taking pictures of the place. He has his own spooky music which swells as he anticipates the wealth he will gain from stealing these secrets!

Two controllers discuss the potential the plant has for making Oz radioactive. But nothing can possibly go wrong. Can it?

At that moment, the Hood utterly fails to be inconspicuous (seriously, he may as well have dressed up as a clown and can-canned across the atomic reactor). A lone security guard starts yelling at him, prompting a gunfight that, inevitably, involves the destruction of some important looking cylinders. The nuclear power plant catches fire!                                    

The journos have been watching, or at least listening to, all this drama from their tour bus. Time to evacuate, I reckon…

The power station’s controllers send out the ever-useless bunch of fire trucks. As I say, high time to evacuate…

The journalists finally start to zoom off in their bus, and we’re now following two reporters who are apparently more desperate to get to a phone than, say, a nuclear bunker!

The fire chief at the plant reports that the fire is getting out of control (huge surprise there!). The Hood hides behind some presumably lead-lined bushes and swears that ‘they have not heard the last’ of him! That’ll tell them.

One of the journalists from the bus has elbowed his way to a phone and is now reporting that the fire has reached the nuclear reactor. Eeek! At this point, the two controllers are inside the reactor room trying desperately to shut it down by pushing the rods in the right sequence. They’re lamenting their inability to halt the sea water intake, as apparently this would prevent the thing from blowing up. And here, ladies and gentlemen, we have this episode’s: ‘Design Flaw they can’t be bothered to fix before their inevitable next attempt with exactly the same design.’ Anyway, the two controllers figure it’s high time they evacuated the area too.

An aircraft which we last saw in Trapped in the Sky, gently depositing hapless airman Meddings underneath a Fireflash, lands at the doomed power station and collects the last few stragglers. A warning noise gets shriller as reactor pressure increases. The plane takes off, accelerating away from the acres of smoke and shooting flames. There’s a boom, some crackling, some more smoke and then – NUKE! Yes, a mini-mushroom cloud (it’s clearly meant to be one) ascends above the regular clouds.

A moment later, some sinister-looking white MIST is curling its way across the Australian desert, like something from the eponymous Stephen King movie. It’s accompanied by eerie music that really gives it a spooky edge. It drifts and drifts.

Now we’re at a press conference, and the two journalists from the bus are here to cover it, too. They listen to an Australian army General named Speyer, who debriefs the journalists with a warning that the creepy white mist is a radioactive cloud that they’ve been unable to disperse. The press have been downplaying the seriousness of the explosion to avoid a panic (this is from a simpler time, people) but now Speyer wants the public warned of a serious threat, as the deadly cloud is approaching Melbourne and only a miracle can save the city now.

There’s yet more footage of the mist rolling along the desert landscape, slow and irreversible. They do stay on this for a little bit too long, but all of a sudden a new blast of air starts to shred cloud apart and disperse it fully. Well, at least it’s just New Zealand’s or the Philippines’ problem now! The newspapers start to roll the good news – headlines cheer that the wind has changed and now Melbourne is completely safe. One of the journalists from the tour bus says he is also relieved, but as was often the case in early Thunderbird episodes, they manage to make him sound a tiny bit doubtful about the ease of their reprieve.

The next headline we see is explaining that a year has passed, and the scientists are trying another atomic irrigation plant. There’s a big question mark over this, asking ‘Is It Safe?’ Well, not with the Hood still breathing, no. From his Malaysian temple, the criminal mastermind poses before Kyrano’s statue. Hoody’s in his gold suit of evil, and he’s so excited by his plan to steal the atomic plans and expand his empire, that his eyes glow gold too, for no reason at all!

Up in space, Thunderbird Three is docking with Thunderbird Five. All obvious jokes have been made, so let’s grow up and move along. Heh. John Tracy presses a button and swaps over with Alan – it looks like it’s John’s turn in the satellite and Alan grumpily inquires why he’s so late. John explains that Lady Penelope has arrived on the island, prompting a lot of excitement (perhaps they had to sober John up?). John tells Alan that it’s been very quiet anyway, but that Lady P is very eager to go on a rescue with them.

Back on the island it’s sun loungers all round, and Virgil is commenting that it’s been so quiet that Penny’s had more ‘adventures’ than they’ve had! I take this line as a subtle nudge for kids to buy the TV21 and Lady Penelope comics. Ah, if only we could. Lady Penelope plays the placid aunt quite sweetly here, asking “grandma-ma” if she heard what “dear Virgil” just said. Apart from setting off various strands of fan fiction regarding Virgil and Penelope’s own adventures, Grandma simply says yes, of course she did, she’s not deaf! Penelope reiterates that she won’t really feel part of IR until she’s gone with them on a rescue, which Jeff is clearly less than thrilled about supporting! He changes the subject to wondering where their drinks are.

In the Tracy’s kitchen, the slaves…sorry, servants are bickering over who gets the privilege of serving the household. Kyrano and Parker are wrestling over a tray of drinks, and it’s not too long before they shatter the beverages to oblivion! Points to Parker for use of the word ‘mitts,’ though.

I liked this little slice of island life, not least because Grandma gets to comment that she’s visited a great variety of places, except for a stately home, and generally appears much less woolly and borderline senile than she acts in almost any other episode. I can see Grandma up on Thunderbird Five now, getting the tour during construction!

Now it’s night time at a bunch of secret government buildings. There’s a top secret demonstration in progress led by a scientist, Professor Langley, who’s desperately trying to justify spending $4 million tax payers’ dollars on a small stuffed mouse. One of the audience, who unnerves me by having the exact same voice as Virgil, laughs that they’d be better off creating an electronic cat to catch real mice! (Do electronic cats dream of electronic sheep? Discuss).

One man is asking all the other questions. As he’s dressed in a bad white suit, with dodgier facial hair and sounding vaguely Welsh, we can only assume he’s the Hood in disguise! Professor Langley explains that the ‘mouse’ is named the ‘mighty atom’ because of its espionage capabilities. It can sneak around taking pictures of screens in secret laboratories, as it’s programmed to zoom in on people’s faces with its camera (hidden within the miniscule mouse eyes). The pictures are then downloaded by plugging it into something not dissimilar to a USB hub. If a human comes after it, it’s programmed to scamper off and hide, “just like a real mouse!”

The Hood thanks them for their help and promptly zaps everyone in the room with his evil eye mind power thing. He swipes the mighty mouse and the next shot is him back in his hidden temple, giggling about his greatly increased chances for world domination!

Back on Tracy Island, Lady Penelope is really hoping some hapless people will get into trouble so she can go along on a rescue. Those weren’t her exact words, but karmically she’s screwed.

Now we’re in the Saharan Desert and having flashbacks to the previous episode, “The Uninvited.” The Hood has what looks like the same jeep that archaeologists Lindsey and Wilson were driving, which in one shot is heading for the dried up oasis from that episode, and in the next is rounding on a hill right above this episode’s ‘Unavoidably Doomed Nuclear Facility 2.0.’ The controllers of the new nuclear desalination plant have no idea what’s lurking just above. The Hood has the electronic mouse with him and appears to like chatting away to it as he gets ready to send it in. The facility’s security is as bad as ever, and the Hood sneaks on site and releases the mouse with his well-manicured hands. The mouse is soon taking pictures of the controller examining a screen marked ‘Danger.’ Probably worth keeping an eye on that dial.

The technician, Collins, spots the mouse and, as promised, it cunningly hides behind a desk. Then it starts taking pictures while there’s nobody around. Time to check that guarantee, Hoody. The Hood soon recalls the mouse and is very pleased with himself – but then he remembers the disaster he caused a year ago and figures it’s time to multi-task and, this time, lure International Rescue to the scene. Yes, it’s a great plan - all he has to do is set off a potential nuclear explosion, then hang around and take pictures and have absolute faith that IR can pull it off before he’s fried. You have to admire his faith in the Tracys!

Back on Tracy Island, Penelope is still bored rigid, hanging out in the lounge, when Alan rushes in to tell her that Scott’s in real danger and needs rescuing! Penelope freaks out, rather dozily calling for action from all the Thunderbirds and Parker and the Rolls (eh?) and exclaiming that she has no idea what to do. Then Gordon and Virgil appear, too, and all three burst out laughing. They were winding her up, of course, although it transpires that Scotty was caught sampling some of Grandma’s special cake for that evening – so basically, his ass really does need hauling from the fire! The pranksters admit that they are boooooored, too. Sheesh, just not enough people in mortal peril to keep them entertained. Perhaps they need a pet.

The Hood is creeping around the nuclear plant with a package ominously marked ‘high explosives!’ So that should end well, especially considering that it only took a wayward bullet to send it sky high last time.

Inside the facility, the two technicians (of COURSE there are only two!) are congratulating each other on how they can get the whole plant to work by themselves, and are pleased by how green it’s making the Sahara. Good for us, bad for scorpions, I guess.

Just outside, the Hood is counting down – then BOOM!

The technicians panic – apparently the ‘yup, it was sabotage’ warning lights are flashing, and they only have two hours before they’re vaporised. Luckily Collins immediately thinks of calling International Rescue, who weren’t operational at the time of the other disaster, a year ago. Certain that this would happen all along, the Hood settles back to wait with his pet mouse.

John, of course, picks up the message and Jeff sends Scott out to the danger zone. Jeff also decides to send Thunderbird Four to cut off the sea water supply (which caused the previous plant to explode). Penelope protests that she wants to go with Virgil and Gordon, and Jeff eventually agrees, but not before a particularly attention-getting “Here I go!” from Scott as he whizzes round on the wall. Gordon politely shows Lady Penelope to Thunderbird Two’s passenger chute (we will never, ever see where this leaves from!) whilst Virgie heads to TB2 using his normal launch tube.

Penelope is excited to be present on board and admires all the Thunderbird craft. Virgil agrees and says that’s why there are some people who will stop at nothing to get hold of them! Who can he possibly mean?

Scott arrives at the danger zone, and there’s a nice overhead shot from behind him in the cockpit.

Virgil drops Pod 4, and Gordon launches in Thunderbird Four for the first time! Gordon zips over to the sea intake pipe, and basically sits there to await further instructions – Scott tells him he has to stop the intake at the exact right moment, or they’ll all go up. There’s now just twenty minutes to go! Tension mounts as Virgil arrives at the site and Scott barks at him to hurry it up! I’m sure Virg didn’t take it to heart, as they are all about to get nuked if they don’t move it!

The Hood has waited until both craft arrived at the site, and now he re-launches the mighty mouse.

Virgil hurries to the danger zone as requested, and gets Lady P to stay put by telling her to ‘keep the radio contact open.’ Full marks for BS, Virgie!

Scott and Virgil don protective suits and head into the reactor to play with the rods. Apparently there’s now just five minutes to go – what have you been doing, guys?! This adds greatly to the tension, with Virgil slowly sliding in the rods – steady now – and waiting for a click and a green light to flash instead of the warning beep. There’s a lot of these and not long at all!

Gordon’s waiting impatiently underwater, checking his watch.

Smoke is appearing all over the nuclear plant. I note that we haven’t even seen the fire trucks this time, and presumably they cut back on staff just in case this did ever happen again.

The technicians inform our boys that there’s just ninety seconds left! Virgil quietly says, “That’s better,” as another light beeps green. More smoke billows. Scott and Virgil are almost there – and with a final click, Virg shuts down this end of the nuclear pile. Scott yells at Gordon to fire missiles! Gordon does, and BOOM! Rocks tumble and the deadly salt water intake is stopped. The reactor warning alarms quit yelling and there’s an appreciable silence. Phew!

Things are a lot less silent inside Thunderbird Two. Lady Penelope spots the Hood’s spy mouse and proceeds to scream her head off! Not a good day for feminism, but somehow still extremely funny!

In the next scene, Penelope is saying “I fail to see why you’re still laughing, Virgil,” and the ‘still’ part of that line is priceless. Virgil manages to swallow his sniggers long enough to tell her that they’re off to pick up Gordon and return to base.

Back at the Hood’s temple, the international criminal master-mind is only now checking out the mouse’s footage from the rescue. When it reveals nothing but Lady Penelope cowering in terror, the Hood does a fantastic Victor Meldrew impression, howling “I don’t believe it!” and proceeds to pound the poor mouse machine flatter than road kill with his well-manicured fist. It looks like International Rescue’s secrets are safe once again – albeit through sheer dumb luck!

This episode is full of classic moments which immediately came flooding back as I began watching it. I love the focus on the reporters at the start, explaining the first nuclear crisis, and the eerie shots of the mist drifting across Australia. Also, Lady Penelope’s role as batty aunt rather than chic superwoman was a nice change, as was the little prank played by our boys. Would like to know where the hell Scott was for most of the episode, though, which goes some way to explaining why I’ve hardly re-watched it over the years! Overall, this is a strongly plotted episode which is, however, still slightly too slow, but does contain a tiny mouse-shaped camera, so basically it’s impossible not to enjoy!


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I think my favorite thing about this episode is the impressive pyrotechnics displayed in it. The fun begins early on with the total destruction of a nuclear power facility (through sabotage), and the ensuing radioactive cloud that changes direction as the wind does, threatening humanity from the Australian outback.

What makes it sometimes annoying, is the way Lady Penelope is treated like window dressing for International Rescue’s U.K. faction. We are shown that when it comes down to a down and dirty rescue, her assistance would not be seriously considered. I guess spying and shooting up the bad guys is all they feel she can handle, even though she’s received some of the finest training available in her profession. She’s only a *gasp* woman, after all. You pretty much knew where the writers were going when they set a mouse, albeit mechanical, loose inside Thunderbird Two at the same time Lady Penelope was a passenger. They seemed determined to discredit her before her character even got established with the audience.

Her visit to Tracy Villa is not without its charming moments though. Penny’s chat with Grandma, for instance. And, the hilarious tug-of-war between Kyrano and Parker in the kitchen, with each man wanting to show the other up as the most capable server. The practical joke from Gordon, Alan and Virgil left me kind of wondering why it is that Lady Creighton-Ward wouldn’t know more about IR’s procedures. Isn’t she one of their most trusted and valuable agents, if not THE most valuable?

And, concerning The Hood. He still hasn’t learned how to get a good photograph of anything IR related. He did, however, get a picture of said valuable agent. One would think he’d do a bit of research into who she is and what she’s doing on TB2, as opposed to getting mad at an inanimate object and bludgeoning the evidence to death. His characterization seems to be a total contradiction because on the one hand, he has a mind powerful enough to take control of a whole room full of scientists. On the other, he ends up acting the buffoon.

The rescue itself here is pretty anti-climactic, although there is a tense moment with Scott and Virgil at ground zero inside the nuclear facility.

All in all, I don’t believe this one was ever a fan favorite, but it IS an interesting study in both the dangers that come into play when you’re generating nuclear power, and the sexist attitudes of the 1960s. That’s some combination to co-exist in one episode. But then, that’s part of what makes Thunderbirds so unique and most of the time, so very watchable.

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