This episode was a bit of a struggle to get through and review, and later on we’ll explore just why that was. At least it starts off promisingly, opening with a very dramatic moment at London airport. As the title card comes up, a police car arrives with its siren wailing and the everpresent London Tower controller, Commander Norman, announces that flight “T103” is landing “on final approach” and instructs all emergency vehicles to “take up crash positions.” We’re on “red alert” as a nervous-sounding pilot in Flight T103 tells “control” that they suspect a “hydraulic failure” and have performed a “crash drill.” As the emergency vehicles pull into position, Commander Norman wishes them luck, and the pilot thinks they “may need it.” The plane then lands – very, very badly. It’s on fire in seconds, the whole plane goes up, and the emergency vehicles arrive just in time to put out a pile of smoking ashes. Which also explode AGAIN. There’s no sound except sirens wailing as they fade to black.

As the camera pulls back, it becomes clear that this was a recording of a previous disaster, being watched by a small group of men in a meeting room. The group is led by a bluff uniformed man named Captain Saville, and seconded by London’s Commander Norman. They have watched the footage to illustrate the main danger in “any crash landing” - the “tremendous fire hazard.” There are reporters here, and they ask if something called the “Skythrust” has prepared an answer. Captain Saville confirms that the Skythrust is the safest aircraft flying today, which in the terms of this show simply means it hasn’t crashed – yet. And is probably going to, given that buildup. Saville refuses to elaborate on why Skythrust is so safe, which seems very odd. He then suggests they all go up to meet “Mr Hackenbacker,” who is due to arrive “any minute now.”

A convertible with the top down enters London airport, driven by none other than Brains. Or perhaps it’s his evil doppelganger? His thick blue spectacles have been filled in so they resemble sunglasses. He radios base, referring to himself as “Hiram K. Hackenbacker” – obviously the “Mr Hackenbacker” of the title. Jeff Tracy sounds a bit stilted as he responds to the name. Brains tells him he’s entering London Airport, and Jeff wishes “Brai…Mr Hackenbacker” good luck. This exchange would seem to make it abundantly clear that “Hackenbacker” is an alias and not Brains’ real name…which remains a mystery.

Cute music plays as Brains arrives at the airport and meets the journalists, who are all watching the reveal of Skythrust. Captain Saville congratulates Bra-Hack (as he shall now be known til it gets annoying). Saville gets the name totally wrong, in a running gag, and Brains corrects him and claims that he “can’t take full credit” and that he only designed “some of its experimental features.” Some of these features remain a total secret, purely for the purposes of the plot.

There’s now a close up on Skythrust, and the pilot, Captain Ashton, tells “control” they’re good to go. Saville gives him the go-ahead, although he defers to any “further instructions” that Mr “Hackenbrook” (sic) might have. Brains impatiently corrects him again, then says to go ahead, as he and Ashton have been over it “several times already.” Skythrust begins its launch along the runway, and lifts off. Brains agrees that it “looks good” and the plane soon hits “Mach One” and levels out. Can’t help but notice that it sounds exactly like Thunderbird Two!

The reporter from before still wants to know why Skythrust is so very special, which they “haven’t heard about” but Commander Norman steps in to stoop that line of questioning. He adds that although the plane incorporates some “new features,” that they “aren’t in a position to divulge these at present.” Why? The press man presses again, asking when Skythrust will come into service. The Commander says that it will be “very soon indeed,” and then the press snap a photo of Bra-Hack in his glasses. After this, Bra-Hack tells them he’ll head up to the control tower to get the latest updates from the pilot, Captain Ashton.

On Tracy Island, things are very relaxed, and in the lounge Scott is reading from the newspaper about Skythrust and the mysterious Mr Hackenbacker. Bra’Hack’s photo is on the front page! They’re touting IR’s scientist as “Skythrust’s secret weapon!” Scott recounts the rumours of the plane’s capabilities, including that Brains has been tagged as a “well-known man of mystery,” which is rather shagadelic, baby. Virgil wonders when the Skythrust will go into service, and Jeff rumbles that it “must be any day now,” as Brains is staying on in Europe. It feels like a rift has formed, doesn’t it? Who knew that Brains had all these other projects outside of International Rescue? Although it makes sense; the logical conclusion for Brains’ involvement here is that prevention is better than having to go off for a rescue later on. Anyway, Scott reads out that the Skythrust’s first London-bound flight from Paris is due “very soon," which prompts Tin-Tin to lift up her magazine, too.

Apparently it’s ‘everyone reads together’ morning in the Tracy household, as Tin-Tin (looking very pale for some reason) has been poring over Chic magazine and reveals that Lady Penelope is on the bloody cover! Did Jeff OK that. Are millions of thwarted bad guys yet again (see the ‘Man from MI5’) going to turn up on Penelope’s doorstep with hilariously disguised bombs, now they know who she really is. As Jeff examines the cover he purrs, “Say, isn’t that something." and he says it with an expression that really suggests he’s thinking ‘Get me, I’m dating a supermodel!’ Oh, man. Tin-Tin explains that there’s a whole feature on Penelope in the magazine, and Gordon remarks that “everyone’s in the news this week!" Are we only moments away from following the Tracy Island blog and reading John’s Facebook updates. What happened to secrecy at any cost, guys. This all seems very weird.

Fashion is a very strange place to take the world of Thunderbirds, but it doesn’t stop there. The point of Tin- Tin reading out the Penelope section seems to be to reveal that Penny will be appearing in a charity fashion show for a famous Paris designer called Francois Lemaire, who is also their favourite designer in the world ever. Tin-Tin has the nerve to chide Alan for not remembering who he is. Like Skythrust’s designers, Francois is promising something “really sensational” at his show, but won’t reveal what it is. Yet again, no press release?

In Paris, we might be about to find out. Now, brace yourselves, this part takes forever. Penelope is visiting Francois Lemaire’s fashion house, claiming that as soon as she received his telegram she had Parker book her a flight straight over. Francois is a shamelessly camp fashion designer; either that or they’re milking the accent for every camp syllable they can get. He is thrilled that Penelope will do this “great favour” for him, and model at the premiere of his show. (Just wondering when the magazine interview happened, if he’s only just asked her…) Penelope replies that she would “adore” to model for him, and that she’s always ready to help a good cause. It’s never stated what the charity actually is, but the smart money’s on ‘Donkey Sanctuary.’ Also let’s take a minute to admire the beautiful set they’re in, although who else would

rather see giant alligators tearing apart the Champs Elysee? Anyway, the fashion talk continues, with Penelope asking what his latest “wonderful creations” are. Francois promises her a “sensation” and he really builds it up, claiming that his rivals would give “their right teeth” to know his secret. He is about to spill all when Penelope abruptly stops him. She pulls out a gadget from her handbag, and tells him he’s being “bugged” and that ‘they’ can hear “every word” spoken. She tracks the device to a big bowl of flowers, and after it’s dealt with, Francois tries to tell her again. Once again she stops him, peering through a conveniently placed telescope to a roof opposite the studio window. She closes the shutters and tells the designer that he’s been under “constant surveillance” via a long distance television camera. So, they probably already know, don’t they? Consider that Penelope is only now figuring this out for him. Jeez.

All this espionage has upset Francois greatly, and although Penelope tells him to go ahead now, he’s so freaked that he opts to write the secret with a pen. He begins to write, “I HAVE DISCOVERED A NEW FORM…” but yet again, Penelope is very suspicious and takes the pen from him before he can jot any more. She unscrews it, revealing something mechanical inside. Fortunately, Francois hardly uses that pen, and she thinks that it may not be too late. She tells him to watch as she scribbles a little ‘Eff-U’ type message to those spying on Francois via the pen. She writes: “IT WILL TAKE BETTER MEN THAN YOU TO FIND OUT OUR SECRETS,” and that Morse Code-laced music plays over the scene. Apparently, this device is an “impressor pen,” which transmits whatever’s written with it. Francois is appalled, and she proves the truth of it, printing out the message she just wrote onto a device that she, er, just so happens to have in her handbag. Do those pens only have the one frequency, then? Let’s hope no one was spying on nuclear subs or something down the road. That could quickly get confusing.

Francois is finally ready to show Penelope his secret. Gleefully, like a magician pulling a handkerchief out of a sleeve, he plucks a full sized floaty dress from a container the size of a matchbox! He explains that the material is named Penelon after Lady P, and that it can be “made into any kind of costume desired,” whilst it also “never gets crushed” and can “squeeze up into the smallest space.” Penelope is simply thrilled that she could carry her “entire wardrobe” in her handbag. Perhaps they can use it for the Tracy boys’ uniforms? Let’s hope it isn’t too flammable. Furthermore, it’s like an iPod for clothes. It can be “made to look like any other material.” Francois then has his PA girls model more of the collection for him, demonstrating the material masquerading as a “leather ensemble” and several other types of outfits. Penelope thinks it’s all “marvellous” and the scene ends on a spread of fashion drawings before eventually fading to black.

In the next scene, we’re still in Paris (you didn’t think we were going to get back to Tracy Island already, did you? Waaay more adventures of Lady Penelope to go, here). Relaxing in the fashion salon, Penelope is cooing over her “civilised” tea, served by the frosty Madeline. She picks up a lump of sugar, remarking that it’s “rather big” and delicately dips it in her tea until yet another transmitter is revealed. It’s obvious by now that Penelope came first in her class at international spy finishing school for spotting oversized sugar lumps! Although that’s not really the smartest of hiding places for a bug, unless there are a few more stuffed in the sugar bowl. At this latest intrusion, Francois literally throws up his hands and declares he is “at the end” of his “wits” and feels he is surrounded by enemies. Penelope firmly tells him that the venue for the show must now be changed as they “dare not” hold it at his salon because the “risk” is too great. He wonders, a bit sarcastically, if she means for him to hold it “at ze top of the Eiffel Tower?” Penelope remarks that that would “at least be safer” but very quickly decides on a “just the place,” which she will reveal once she has contacted “a friend.” Hmm, I think two worlds are about to collide.

Back at London Airport, Captain Saville is overjoyed with Skythrust’s performance – it’s now ready to go and he congratulates Brains profusely, even though he seems to have forgotten the name Brains’ is using completely. At that point, Saville’s memory is rescued by his assistant, who announces that there’s a call for “Mr Hackenbacker” on the line. It’s Lady P, and Brains takes it outside in the reception area – or he does once he remembers the alias he’s travelling under! Stand clear of the running gag, people. Observing Brains’ initial confusion, Captain Saville blusters to a long-suffering assistant that he’s “always said…people with good intellect often have no head for names.” So, that’s his excuse. Out in the reception area, Brains is delighted to receive the call from Lady P, who asks “Hiram” if he can grant her “a big favour.”

This favour appears to be arranging a late night meeting at the infamous Café Atalante (last seen in ‘The Perils of Penelope’) where once again, Parker waits in FAB 1 while Penelope downs a Pernod with a handsome stranger. In this case, she’s with Captain Ashton. He’s puzzled how she knows “Hackenbacker” and she evades the answer by saying “allow a Lady a few secrets” and “let’s just say we’re associates.” Instead of saying, ‘but seriously, how do you know him?’ Ashton seems to accept it and calls Hiram “quite a dark horse,” adding, “what brains that fellow has.” This prompts a ‘hilarious’ double-take from Penelope, who swiftly agrees that he has “a lot of talent.” However, the Captain thinks her plan seems like “a lot of trouble…just for a fashion show.” She tuts that that response is “just like a man,” which is when the coffee arrives, delivered by a stereotypically dodgy-looking waiter. To be fair, the Café Atalante doesn’t appear to hire any waiters who aren’t really evil agents spying on Lady Penelope. Instead of poisoning her Pernod, this one has just planted yet another bugging device in the lid of the coffee pot. Parker has a machine that picks up on this and warns her, and of course the sinister waiter runs away as soon as he realises. Seriously, think it’s time to pick a new hang-out, Penny.

Ashton is appalled that they were being spied on, and wants to catch up with the fake waiter, but Penelope believes this is pointless. However, the bugged coffee pot has helped her to prove to Aston just “how important this fashion show is” and now he agrees that they “must switch the location of the preview.” So, to recap the crux of the episode – Lady Penelope wants to put a top secret material that everyone wants aboard a brand new plane with a secret everyone wants. Hold on tight, everyone.

Back to the airport… At last, the Skythrust is getting ready to take off. Ashton and his co-pilot are in the cockpit, and receive some telegrams delivered by a guy who’s suspiciously similar to the waiter at the café. The main telegram is from ‘Hackenbacker’ who says he’ll be “waiting with the Champagne" at “the other end." This maiden flight is going from Paris to London, and the co- pilot wishes that Hackenbacker could have joined them, but Ashton thinks that the flight will already be “special enough."

As the ‘garage’ loading bay on Skythrust is opened up, the fashion set are on their way. Madeline drives Francois in their open top car, which seems very jarring without seatbelts. Francois is angsting over the preparations for the show and whines that his tummy butterflies have become “an ‘erd of buffalo." Madeline frostily tells him that after the show he will be “the toast of ze fashion world." He doesn’t appreciate her practicality, accusing her of verging on the “cold blooded," and then he checks with Dierdre (an English girl who sounds like a much younger Tin-Tin) if the costumes are “all right." She says that they’re fine, although the way that the tiny matchboxed Penelon clothes are tossed all over the back seat seems unnecessarily risky. Wasn’t there a single spare shoebox to keep them all in one place. You could lose a Penelon gown down the back of the car seat, or an avaricious magpie could make off with the whole collection!

As they drive into Skythrust’s rear, Lady Penelope is also on her way. Riding in FAB 1, she asks if Parker will be able to “find things to do” in Paris until she gets back. He assures her he’ll be fine, which seems to suggest that the French police should quickly padlock the Eiffel Tower, just to be on the safe side. Although I reckon Lady P would definitely make him give it back again. FAB 1 drives up to Skythrust and parks badly within it. Captain Ashton notes that Penelope has arrived and goes off to greet her. Penelope is already with Francois in the luxurious cocktail bar. Awesome. She asks him if everything is ready, as he won’t want to “keep the buyers waiting.” Francois is quite impressed by the “conversion job” the airline people have done to facilitate the show, and reveals the fashion runway; which is a sort of grotto painted red, with a curvy raised platform surrounded by chairs for the press and the ‘buyers.’ It’s decorated with flowers and looks very cute. Penelope seems impressed, and calls it “charming.”

A few minutes later, everyone is strapped into their seats, and Skythrust finally takes off. During ascension, Francois reminds Penny that she must “go and get changed” as soon as they have “levelled out” and then starts to panic about the “music.” Dierdre reassures him that “Mason the steward” is “taking care” of that and that although he’s new to the airline (ready your alarm bells) she has explained to him “how the cues will go.”

In London, Tin-Tin and Brains are arriving at Skythrust’s destination airport. Brains is still in his ugly shaded blue specs, which he’s kept on whilst driving through a tunnel, so let’s just hope they’re also X-Ray and infra-red specs as well. He thinks that Skythrust will have taken off, but all Tin-Tin gives a toss about is seeing “the dress show.” D’oh. Brains says that they’ll go up to the control “tower” to pay their “respects,” and then they will go back down to “wait for the plane.” Tin-Tin asks if he’s excited about it all, calling him, teasingly, “Mr Hackenbacker.” He just gives her a look.

Hurrah, it’s time for the Penelon fashion show. It’s in full swing, and whimsical music plays as Penelope models dress ‘Number 17 – Autumn Crocus.” Yes, it looks just how it sounds, and she looks not a little like a daffodil. Her hair is in a ponytail that sweeps down over one ear – dangling from the other is a large metallic earring that reflects enough light to blind the audience. Francois proudly points out the “swirling pleats” of the dress, as well as lots of other details. He emphasises the use of the Penelon in its creation, and an over-excited reporter declares that it’s “the biggest thing in fabric development since the cotton mill.”

As Skythrust flies on, the show continues with a “Scottish Soiree” outfit, which looks exactly the way it sounds, although the model wasn’t actually concealing a set of bagpipes behind her back. Next, perhaps in a nod to a certain famous episode, there’s an “Alligator Attack” outfit, which is strictly for wearing “after dark,” heh. Gold alligator skin peeks out through strategic cutouts in the front of this item. There’s also a burst of very familiar desert music when Penelope models a safari print outfit while wielding a spear. Perhaps to repel any “Uninvited” guests? At the very, very end of the show, Penelope models a bridal outfit, complete with a very unflattering head wrap that makes her look like she’s got an elegant toothache, and her expression as she looks at Francois seems to match that impression, although it’s probably a coincidence. She’s flanked by the two other models, garbed in even more hideous bridesmaids’ dresses.

Now that the show is nearly over, the Skythrust is getting ready to land at London airport and Tin-Tin and Brains have reached the control tower. We are now 30 minutes into the episode, folks. The London controller, who is astonishingly not Commander Norman (probably because Norman’s in the foreground looking out with field glasses), tells the Skythrust pilots that Hackenbacker is there in the tower and “escorting the cutest little number,” along with the largest bottle of Champagne “you’ve ever seen.” This must be one of those stage-show “aside” routines, because despite the fact that Brains is standing next to him, he doesn’t react…nor does Tin-Tin poke him in the eye, or whack him with the Champagne bottle, although she’s sitting well within hearing range. Ah, the Sixties.

The co-pilot reports that the “show and the inaugural flight” were “both a success” (jinx! This is as bad as Jeff Tracy saying “what can possibly go wrong?”) In the back of the plane, Francois preens at the praise from the press; one reporter raves on, saying he can’t wait to tell the “women of the world” about “Penelon.” As they draw closer to London, Penelope wishes to get changed, as it “wouldn’t do” to arrive in London still dressed as a bride! It is sort of hard to take your eyes off how enormous her eyes look with that head wrap flattening her hair…it’s actually quite creepy. Dierdre wonders where the frosty Madeline has gone. Francois seems disinterested, but says he hasn’t seen her “since the show.” In fact, Madeline is busy making some new friends up in the flight deck.

Sneaking into the cockpit by using her ‘being an attractive girl and just wanting to thank the big strong pilots for such a smooth flight’ powers, she promptly pulls a gun and hi- jacks the flight! Of course she’s evil – just check out those massive earrings! She’s already cool about the whole thing, but her mood is hardly improved when the co-pilot says he thinks she’d better give him the gun. He probably feels fairly safe since Captain Ashton’s between him and the business end of the barrel. Madeleine sneers at him not to do “anything stupid" as she knows “how to use this," and Captain Ashton’s definitely feeling less safe than his co-pilot, because he immediately interjects that she seems to mean it. and informs them both that the “plans have changed." The flight is not going to London anymore! (Cue dramatic music underscore.) Madeleine passes them directions to their “new destination," in the middle of the Sahara Desert! As Skythrust changes course, Ashton says that she can’t have fooled herself into believing she will get away with this on her own. She snarks, “Who said I was alone."

Now, it would have been truly hilarious, and brilliant, if earnest little Dierdre was the other hi-jacker. But of course it’s the sinister new steward, and erstwhile bug-planting Cafe Atalante employee, Mason! He aims a gun at the fashion crew, including Penelope and Francois, and snarls that no one will “get hurt” if they’re “sensible” and that there’s just been a “slight change in plans.” They want the Penelon dresses boxed back up, tout suite. Penelope immediately realises that they plan to steal the “entire collection.” So, no one is interested in the secrets of this new aircraft, then? No one? Did the Hood miss the flight? Is he lurking in disguise somewhere, mentally kicking himself for forgetting to set his alarm clock? Anyway, in the cabin, Madeline warns the pilots as they stare longingly at the radio, telling them that “There isn’t a person in this world who can help you now!” Which prompts the segue of the week.

A very relaxed scene unfolds on Tracy Island. Jeff is, remarkably, catching 40 winks on a recliner in the sunlight beside the balcony windows. Scott and Gordon play and intense board game, while Virgil reads something on a sofa by the wall. All are oblivious to the threat that some dresses might get stolen! But right then, Lady Penelope carefully twists the stone of her cocktail ring. This sets the eyes flashing in her portrait in the Tracy lounge and Scott points it out excitedly (he was probably losing the game). Jeff had “thought it was a little too peaceful around here.” Jeez, any quieter and they’d need to start a fight club or something. Virgil also leaps up, declaring, “What’re we waiting for?” and Jeff sends out Scott, and then Virgil immediately afterwards, before they have the slightest clue what the matter is. What if Virg needed to pack the Mole instead of his anti-hijacking kit? During the launches, Scott perkily announces he’s “Ready for the blast off, Father!” which, even without the cross-eyed look, sounds not a little bit dopey. Jeff acknowledges, to which Scott says even more briskly, “Yes, sir!” He must have bet a sizeable amount on that game to be this excited about missing it… Thunderbirds One and Two take off, and only then does Jeff say that he’s going to contact Brains in London to see if he has “any idea what’s gone wrong.” Seems a little late…after all, what if Penelope had set off the alarm by mistake, or someone had nicked the ring?

In Skythrust, Penelope quietly informs Francois that help is on its way, and then loudly declares to Mason that the aircraft will “soon be tracked down.” He tells her that she’s wrong, and that they can’t be tracked as “we’re handling all radio calls now.” Apparently he’s never heard of radar. However, Scott is in hot pursuit and now has a “bearing” on Skythrust, presumably through Penelope’s signal. He thinks he will reach the ship in 18 minutes. Jeff and Gordon are mapping this and when Virgil tells him his bearing as well, Jeff is able to figure out that Skythrust is now heading for the Sahara. He wonders why on earth anyone would hi-jack a plane and “take it there.”

Good question. Beneath the blazing Saharan sun, two grumpy crooks are, predictably, bitching about the sand. If they looked like the two explorers from ‘The Uninvited,’ this episode would gain two extra stars. They’re lurking beside a rickety metal building, suggesting that this is probably an airfield. The crook named Ross tries to call Skythrust, but his buddy, who we later learn is named Collins, tersely reminds him that their radio has a “limited range.” Wow, just what you want in the middle of the desert, a radio that can barely reach the next sand dune….however, Collins is sure that “they’ll be here.” And Skythrust must be getting close, because Madeline finally lets the pilots switch on the radio The airwaves immediately fill with Scott’s clipped tones insisting that the Skythrust responds to the call. Madeline stops them from answering, until Ashton points out that the IR boys “never give up.” At this, Madeline relents and lets him reply, but orders him to “watch” what he says. Like what, given that IR have actually found them? Ashton replies “loud and clear” to Scott, who requests that they return Skythrust to London. Ashton regrets that he can’t do that, although Scott “must insist” that they do! At this, Madeline grabs the radio and demands, “if we don’t? What then?” Not appearing at all surprised by who he’s now speaking to, Scott tells her that they’ll have to “take action” to force them to comply. Madeline is pretty sure he’s full of it, snarking, “Who are you trying to kid?” and it’s worth noting she’s the only one who points out that IR’s job is to “save lives, not to risk them” and she orders him to leave them alone.

Put in his place, Scott radios base and updates them that Skythrust’s hijackers are “not going to give in without a fight!” Bear in mind, this is still over stealing some dresses, and they’ve already been tracked down. However, Jeff tells Scott that Brains has a plan, intending to bluff the hijackers for a bit, which he’s telling Virgil about right now. Aww, man, Scott’s seriously out of the loop in this episode, despite his supposed “first responder” function in a rescue. In London, Brains and Tin-Tin are parked right beside the runway, and Brains instructs Virgil that what he wants him to do will “sound crazy” but that he has “a hunch” that it will work. That’s very scientific sounding. It’s also what he says every time he improbably wants them to blow the crap out of the problem, in order to solve it. Guess what the plan is? Brains wants Virgil to line up a “low velocity, non-explosive missile” and then to “take a pot shot at Skythrust’s undercart.” Yes, Brains is the Michael Bay of rescue strategies. He promises a rather reluctant Virgil that it will be “all right” and to just “trust Mr Hackenbacker.” Virgil doubtfully responds, “OK…Hiram.”

The Skythrust is eight minutes from the Saharan touchdown. The pilots try a last ditch bluff that the runway is too short for their size of plane, but Madeline isn’t fooled for a second. She radios the two crooks in the sand, and cackles – sort of – that “no one” is going to stop them now, “not even International Rescue.” This final comment causes Ross considerable concern, and he wonders what the hell she meant by that! Also, what is their genius plan once they’ve got the dresses? Drive out of the Sahara without being caught? Criminals really don’t think very far ahead on this show.

On Skythrust, the pilots spot Thunderbird Two swooping a bit close for comfort, with the intention of intimidation. It backfires, merely pissing off Madeline, who radios the “crazy fools” and threatens to give Ashton “a bullet through the brain” unless they’re out of sight in the next thirty seconds. She adds “believe me, I’ll do it” and pointedly shoves the gun barrel against Ashton’s temple. Think she means it, Virg! In the back, Mason is still watching over Penny and Francois, who asks her if she saw “the Thunderbird” and Penelope reckons that the machine has “got them worried.” Yes, that’s exactly what you want – worried gun-toting hi-jackers in a highly compressed atmosphere. Mason warns them not to get their hopes up, believing that “mighty International Rescue are giving up.” If only he knew that they never do that…

Thunderbird Two is obeying instructions and ‘leaving the area,’ while actually making a turn that would have turned Alan and Virgil’s brains into jelly. They now realise that they’ll have to use Brains’ plan after all, although that idea is hardly any stupider than what they were just attempting. Somehow, Virgil manoeuvres Thunderbird Two’s big green rear into Skythrust’s “blind spot below their tail” whilst a missile launcher pops up through the top of Two’s fuselage. Alan is in position in Thunderbird Two’s cannon area, seated behind something that looks very Star Wars. Make that pre Star Wars. Alan carefully lines up the sights – it seems odd that the family sharpshooter (and official backup pilot of Thunderbird Two) Gordon, isn’t here to do this. He counts down the range and it’s “missile away!”

The sound of Skythrust getting hit alerts Madeline that something’s the matter. Luckily, she doesn’t immediately follow through on her promise to shoot Ashton. The two pilots see a red light flashing and realise that the “wheel housing” is locked and can’t free itself. Madeleine believes that it’s a trick, but the co-pilot strongly insists that “it’s not.” Ashton swiftly points out the impossibility of a safe landing in the Sahara with “an undercarriage malfunction” and she spits at him not to “blind” her with “science.” They tell her to get hold of Mason to prove they have a problem, since she has said that he “knows about these things.” She begrudgingly leaves to do so. While she’s out of the cockpit, the pilots don’t even try to lock her out, but the co-pilot worries that they “might not fool Mason” if he knows about the (pointlessly secret) “Hackenbacker device.” Ashton bets that Mason doesn’t have a clue.

When Mason arrives in the cockpit and demands to know why they can’t “land in the desert,” Ashton subtly tries to learn what he knows about Skythrust, and then points out the danger of landing in the desert, miles from anywhere, “without wheels.” They’re now four minutes from the rendezvous and things are getting tense, as Ashton lays the scaremongering on thick. He reminds Mason that there’s still nearly 5,000 gallons of fuel aboard and that when it goes up, “they won’t even find the fillings” in his teeth. Mason is quickly coming round to the idea of giving up, but wonders if they’ll even be able to land “at London.” Ashton points out that London is “fully equipped for emergency landings” and that there “at least we’ll have a chance.” Mason agrees to the plan to return, and shouts down Madeline’s protests. He’s terrified, as he’s seen what can happen when a plane goes up and doesn’t want it to happen to him! So, Bra-Hack’s plan has worked, and Skythrust changes course. Jeff Tracy thinks that this is “wonderful” as he reports to Virgil and Alan that he’s had words with “Interpol” and learned that the hi-jackers were meeting two bad guys named “Ross and Collins” who both have “records as long as our arm” for “murder, amongst other things.” Yuck. Wait, so Interpol knew all along? Wait a second…! Then Jeff rather creepily suggests that Virgil and Alan “pay them a call, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.” Alan heartily responds, “Will do.” Um, didn’t he say these two crooks were wanted for murder? What is he suggesting that the boys do, anyway? Is this really part of the International Rescue service..?

Back at London Airport, Tin-Tin frets over “all those fire trucks” which have lined up waiting for Skythrust’s return. We all know how good they are at putting out piles of flaming ash, after all. However, Brains continues to look insufferably smug, saying, “they won’t need” the trucks. Flummoxed, Tin-Tin asks him what’s “so special” about Skythrust, and he smirks, “wait and see.” Skythrust is starting its descent, and reducing power. Somehow, it’s still nowhere near as tense as when the Fireflash was coming down in “Trapped in the Sky.” As they near the airport, Mason is appalled that they still have “over half” a fuel tank left, and asks if they couldn’t “jettison” some? Madeline coldly tells him to pull himself together, but immediately asks the same question. Short answer – no, they can’t. Ashton recommends that they go back to “the rear” which is now apparently the “safest pace.” Mason and Madeline hi-tail it out of the cockpit.

Alone at last, the co-pilot comments that “the proof of the pudding’s in the eating” and that they’re “in Hackenbacker’s hands now.” Skythrust begins a bumpy touchdown, hitting the tarmac in skidding slides. Will the fuel go up this time? As soon as it lands, the upper part of Skythrust’s tail section detaches and rockets skyward. In the tower, Commander Norman is following it with his field glasses. He orders it taken up to forty thousand feet, where they detonate it. Bye, bye excess fuel, no longer able to turn Skythrust into smoking ashes. The big plane scrapes painfully along the runway, and fire trucks race after it. It’s still a bit on fire, but it looks like it’ll remain in one piece. Everyone is safe. Commander Norman summarises the success, saying that Hackenbacker’s “ejectable fuel pod…will revolutionise flying safety.” Yes, it worked, but it also seems pointless to have kept this device a secret until it had to be used. During the trials, sure, to prevent industrial spies from stealing the concept. But on its first commercial flight? Keeping it quiet could only be used to advantage exactly one time. Luckily for Penelope.

Inside Skythrust, the passengers seem fine and Francois asks Penelope if she is all right. She remarks that it was “no worse than one or two conventional landings” she’s experienced (despite the fact that nobody was wearing a seat restraint, apparently!), and soon turns a gun on Madeline and Mason, who are cowering behind a table. When the hell did she get hold of a gun? Wouldn’t that have come in handy a little earlier..? Penelope warns them to “lie still and wait for the police.” Francois is wondering about their “accomplices” but Penelope thinks that “they’ll be well taken care of.”

She’s right. The two crooks are still waiting out in the Sahara and mistake the arrival of Thunderbird Two for Skythrust. Virgil brings her overhead, baffling the two bad guys, who ooh and aah over the “new design.” Alan eagerly tells Virgil to “take her round again!” Virgil actually reminds Alan to “use a live missile this time.”


Let’s take that in. Virgil has just told Alan to fire on another living human being with a live missile. Yes, they’re crooks, but this is downright cold blooded. Surely Interpol would come and get them at some point. This isn’t like letting the aggressive Zombites blow themselves up, or the Hood drive himself off the cliff, or even Scott shooting at the two guys that tried to blow up his little brother until they drove off the road and crashed. This is kind of a whole new moral path we’re carving, aren’t we? It doesn’t bother Alan, though. He responds with a cheery, “FAB!” Thunderbird Two zooms back over the crooks and Alan opens fire even as the two crooks wave and cheer, still believing that this is the Skythrust. Their base is immediately blown to smithereens. Wokka-wokka music plays over their ash-spattered amazement. No, they aren’t dead, not yet, but they’re stranded out in the middle of the desert now, surely. Unless the cops really going to pick them up later on? We need to know! On Tracy Island, Jeff congratulates Virgil and Alan on their destruction with a “well done” and thinks that that about wraps it all up. Jeff thinks that “all the boys deserve a pat on the back and I guess Brains most of all…” This is a very weird episode.

In London Tower, with everyone now safe, Brains gives the running gag its last gasp by forgetting his alias one more time, only to suggest they all head down to the bar and “have a bite to eat” as he’s “starving.” Penelope is just pleased they still have a big bottle of Champagne to open, “Vintage 1993, the best year for Champagne” (although apparently, not so much with hindsight – 1993 turned out not to be a good year for Champagne at all!). Francois follows the Champagne, and says he’d also follow Penelope “to ze ends of ze Earth!” We can all safely assume that Madeline and Mason are being shipped off to Guantanamo Bay right now, or at least its fashion-based equivalent. Alone together, Brains sidles up to Tin-Tin and asks “Miss Kyrano” if he can “escort” her to the “Starlight Room”? That’s the name of the bar they’re off to, not a clumsy euphemism. Tin-Tin responds with a flirty, “I’d be delighted to, Mr ‘Hackenbacker’” and Brains flirts right back with “You know, you can call me, ‘Hiram,’” and everyone throws up in their mouth a little. OK, OK, it’s sweet. A tiny bit too sweet. That sound you hear is Alan sharpening his Brains-offing axe, for when he finally returns. Given the size of that Champagne bottle, which is snatched up by Brains in the final seconds of the episode, it may be quite a while before they make it home to Tracy Island.

A strange one, this episode…as well as the next, “Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday.” They are the clearest examples of the way the show began veering away from the premise of gritty rescues and fantastical technology. Even here, the Tracy boys are not much more than machine drivers who respond ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and hardly even come under risk at all. Only Lady Penelope and Brains get to show off their resourcefulness, and in the smuggest way possible. It’s also telling that the family’s sharpshooter, Gordon, has been ousted by Alan when he takes out the landing gear. At least during “Attack of the Alligators” they were both manning the guns.

Despite the danger to Skythrust, the threat posed by the hijacking isn’t especially high. Yes, there are the lives of the Skythrust passengers to consider. But the secret of Penelon isn’t exactly worth trading a bunch of lives for, is it? If the secret formula for it gets out…guess what? More people will be able to pack way more clothes, far more easily! And probably at a tenth of the price of Francois’s fashion house monopoly! Unless Francois forgot to look into patenting his invention, it seems likely he’ll do just fine. And in any case, the thieves, having stolen the secret in such a hugely public way, could hardly show up in Paris in a couple of months and have their own “look what we invented” unveiling for the press. Who are they going to sell it to…North Korea, so they can pack their military uniforms in camouflage-colored matchboxes?

Also, Francois needs to start background-checking his staff. So while fashion is a nice thing to have around a Thunderbirds episode, making it front and centre is not really gripping material. Besides, it really wasn’t necessary for Madeleine to hijack the aircraft – she had already successfully infiltrated Francois’ fashion house, why not just copy the formula with one of those little microfilm cameras, or abscond with the boxes themselves in a shopping bag one night? Even the Hood would have been smart enough to do that…wouldn’t he..?

No, it seems painfully obvious that the reason for using Skythrust to host the fashion show was to create the whole drama of the hijack situation so the boys could be brought in to save the day. It would even have worked better if the writers had led us down the path of believing the hijackers might actually be after Skythrust’s secret…but they never attempt to do that.

And what was the reason to keep the Hackenbacker device secret, anyway, past the aircraft’s initial trials? When were they planning on letting everyone know? After its maiden flight, or just the next time a plane got hijacked?

It seems vaguely silly, of course, to overthink the plots of the series…it’s easier to put the cover back over the logic button and enjoy. There are things that don’t make sense, here, though…although perhaps I notice it more because I’m a fan of the original series setup of Scott, Virgil and mad but engaging space age fantasies. Scott, the field commander, disappeared from the screen very quickly during the action of this rescue, despite apparently still being in the air the whole time while Virgil and Alan were doing their part. He was also absent during the strangely out of place attack on the crooks left in the Sahara, although he is supposedly the only one of the three with an actual military background. You’d think this would have come in handy for shooting missiles at things. But there I go being all logical again.

There is definitely a noticeable shift in tone and emphasis in season two of the series. This unhappy shift will become even more apparent in the films, Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6.

When it comes right down to it, the “Alias Mr Hackenbacker” plot about a new type of fashion fabric just really doesn’t measure up to a collapsing Empire State Building, or Gordon facing off against the Hood in a lake, or International Rescue risking their lives to protect a couple of trapped scientists from giant alligators!


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Our story (if you could call it a ‘story’) opens with a mid-air disaster as an aircraft designated ‘T-103’ approaches London and discovers its hydraulics have failed, leaving it with no landing gear and causing it to crash spectacularly onto the runway. Immediately on the heels of that mayhem, we cut to an unknown boardroom where a group of high-level suits are discussing the ‘Skythrust,’ the ‘safest plane ever made,’ and which was conceived and designed by a certain, mysterious, Mr Hiram K. Hackenbacker.

Skythrust is Atlantic Airlines’ newest flagship, and Brains, er, the aforementioned Mr Hackenbacker, has arrived to witness the first test flight of his latest baby. In the cockpit, handsome pilot Ashton and his even more handsome co-pilot have apparently swallowed all the hype about Skythrust’s invulnerability, and as the aircraft levels out and breaks the sound barrier, we learn that Skythrust has some ‘secret safety features.’ Famous last words...

Back on Tracy Island, Scott is proving he can-too read by reciting aloud from the newspaper about a certain ‘man of mystery’ (aka Mr Hackenbacker) and his fantastical aircraft designs. But unfortunately Scott is competing with Tin-Tin, who is showing she’s no slouch in the English department either, by reading aloud from Chic Magazine — the cover of which Lady Penelope is currently rather stiffly gracing.

Cue the accordion music and we are transported to Mr François Lemaire in his Paris office, where he is excitedly showing Penelope a new fabric. The fabric is indeed worth getting excited about, for a whole dress of it can be stuffed into a matchbox. Lemaire is so in love with his new creation he has called it ‘Penelon,’ in honour of Our Lady of the Miraculous Cocktail Dress. Exciting stuff, Penelope tells him, but beware! A quick search of the office reveals a bug in the roses, eaves-dropping sugar cubes, ‘impressor’ pens and a high-powered telescope, all trained on Monsieur Lemaire’s fantastical creations. Mon Dieu!

I realise that some of you may be drifting off around this point, but if all of the above was boring you, be warned: it actually gets worse. A lot of too-ing and fro-ing ensues wherein Lady Penelope, in the following order, shows Lemaire how to de-bug his office, agrees to star in his show, hatches a plan for a fashion show on the wing, calls in a favour from Brains and lights a cigarette. Phew. Tiring stuff!

For whatever reason, Atlantic Airlines somewhat gamely agree to allow Penelope and Lemaire to launch Penelon onboard the Skythrust’s maiden voyage. Tin-Tin arrives at London airport to accompany Brains (and raising quite a few eyebrows in the Tower), while Penelope and Lemaire load up the cargo hold of the plane with models and alcohol. The fashion show begins, and we are unavoidably treated to Lady Penelope in a number of Penelon ensembles that run the gamut from safari suits to wedding dresses.

But lookout! Madeleine the model is a double agent, and while Penelope is dolling herself up for the amusement of a handful of chubby-cheeked middle-aged chain-store buyers, Madeleine the model heads for the cockpit. Handsome pilot Ashton doesn’t even get a chance to proffer the old line ‘is that a gun in your pocket,’ as the gun in question is being waved in his face by Madeleine the model, who icily instructs him to redirect the plane to the Sahara desert.

Now, finally, we’re in for some action!

Oh…. no… not quite. We have to endure the moment of realisation in the aircraft lounge when Penelope and Co discover they are being hijacked, and send a message to International Rescue.

Okay, so now, NOW, we are finally in for some action!

But, oh, no, not quite action. No... I definitely wouldn’t call it ‘action.’

While two dishevelled and disgruntled henchmen await the arrival of the hijacked plane in the Sahara, Jeff despatches Scott, Virgil and Alan to Skythrust’s rescue. Scott contacts the cockpit where the handsome Mr Ashton tricks Madeleine the model into answering the call. It’s not a good exchange, as Madeleine is a beeyotch on stilettos and threatens to shoot poor Ashton in the head if Scott doesn’t back off. Brains, in the London Tower (no, not that London Tower) contacts Virgil and tells him to shoot at Skythrust, aiming for her landing gear. Unlike his older brother though, Virgil isn’t one for shooting at people and decides to buzz Skythrust with a few close fly-bys instead. But alas, to no effect. Finally Virgil agrees to follow through and orders Alan to clock some missiles into Skythrust’s undercarriage. Hmm. This isn’t turning out to be a rescue, exactly…

Skythrust’s pilots inform Madeleine that with the undercarriage destroyed, there will be no landing in the desert today and convinces her to allow them to return to London, where Jeff has Interpol waiting. Jeff then instructs Virgil and Alan to continue on to the Sahara, where they gleefully (okay, I might have read too much into that scene) take potshots with live missiles at the waiting henchmen.

Back at London Airport, Brains and Tin-Tin are anxiously awaiting the return of Skythrust and the deployment of the ‘secret safety feature’… which turns out to be a small aircraft-cum-fuel tank attached to the tail-section of the aircraft. Skythrust still has to land on her belly, with all the smoke and sparks attendant with that kind of landing, but at the last moment the fuel-tank on wings is deployed and detonated at altitude (over a quiet suburb, no doubt), which enables the Skythrust to survive its bounce along the tarmac.

The end.

Well. Not quite. The episode closes on Brains snatching up a bottle of champagne and suggestively slipping his arm around Tin-Tin as they head for the Skylounge. Just as well Alan isn’t there, or he’d be aiming a live one at Brains.

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