In 1966 I went to the cinema in Mexborough in South Yorkshire to see this movie. One of my favourite scenes was the dream sequence where Alan Tracy visits a nightclub in outer space (The Swinging Star) on a date with Lady Penelope and finds Cliff Richard and The Shadows performing a song called Shooting Star.
One of my least favourite scenes was the fire-fight between the Zero-X crew in their exploration vehicle and the Rock Snakes on the surface of Mars. Truth be told, it scared the crap out of me as a six-year-old . . .
Thunderbirds Are Go – the first foray into full-length motion pictures for the successful Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds TV series – begins at Glenn Field as the Zero-X spacecraft is being assembled for the first manned mission to Mars. The crew consisting of Captain Paul Travers, pilot Greg Martin and navigator Brad Newman, with scientists, Doctor Grant and Doctor Pearce, are preparing for their mission.
Unfortunately, also onboard is the arch-criminal called The Hood, who is attempting to photograph the inside of the spacecraft. As the takeoff commences, the elevator control traps The Hood’s foot causing the craft to fall back to earth as it cannot climb properly.
The spacecraft crashes into the sea, but not before The Hood manages to remove his foot and parachute to safety. The crew uses an ejection capsule to make their escape.
Two years later and Mars is in a favourable orbit once again and a new Zero-X has been built. A commission has been set up to find out why the first Zero-X crashed. The ruling is sabotage. One of the commission members demands that International Rescue be brought in to safeguard the new Mars launch.
Jeff Tracy maintains that the Thunderbirds should only be launched when someone is in immediate danger but eventually relents and agrees to the operation. As Thunderbird 1 is launched from Tracy Island, Jeff calls Lady Penelope and asks her to guard against sabotage from the ground. She poses as a reporter for the Universal Mail.
At a press interview, Penelope gives the crew each a medallion with a homing device installed. Just before take-off, Parker tests the devices and finds out that Doctor Grant is not onboard the Zero-X. Scott goes on board to find an impostor impersonating Grant. It is The Hood again, who then makes an escape. Lady Penelope, meanwhile, has located the real Grant, who boards the Zero-X and they lift off successfully.
Lady Penelope and Parker chase The Hood in her pink Rolls Royce, FAB 1. The Hood switches to a motorboat but fortuitously FAB 1 has hydrofoils for just such a situation (!) and gives chase across the water. A helicopter picks up The Hood and fires on FAB 1. Parker uses a machine gun mounted in the front of the Rolls to destroy the helicopter.
The scene then changes to The Swinging Star nightclub, where Lady Penelope, Virgil and Scott are dining. Alan has to fly back to the island in Thunderbird 3, annoyed that he cannot go.
“A shooting star will shoot you and Mars will go to war
The man in the moon will jump on you if you don’t love me no more”
Alan is then called on an emergency, but he falls from the satellite and tumbles through space . . . but in fact wakes up on the floor of his own room, having simply fallen out of bed during a bad dream.
Six weeks later and the Zero-X is about to land on Mars. The nose of the spacecraft is used for landing, while the rest of the body remains in space. The Martian Excursion Vehicle (MEV) is used to travel on the surface of Mars where the crew see strange coiled rock formations.
They attempt to blast one for samples, but these rocks are in fact creatures (the aforementioned Rock Snakes) who awakened by the shooting, start to attack the MEV by spitting fireballs from their mouths.
The Zero-X is now approaching Earth six weeks later. The two lifting bodies used during take-off are now waiting to connect to the main body. They are remote-controlled, and due to the attack of the rock creatures there is a failure which causes one of the lifting bodies to crash into the Zero-X.
The escape capsule is also damaged, so International Rescue is called into action as the Zero-X is heading for a collision with the village of Graigsville.
Thunderbird 2 intercepts the Zero-X in mid-air and Alan is winched aboard to the landing gear where the circuitry for the escape capsule is located.
As Brains gives instructions to complete the circuit repairs the crew escape and Alan just manages to bail out as the Zero-X crashes.
A fault with the winch on Thunderbird 2 prevents Alan from returning to Tracy Island by air. Instead, he is given a ride in FAB 1 with Lady Penelope. She then takes Alan to The Shooting Star for a meal and entertainment.
Alan believes he is finally alone with Lady Penelope but discovers he is surrounded by his family (all in disguise). And oh, how we laughed . . .
I love a happy ending.
The film premiere on 12 December 1966 at the London Pavilion was a massive success, and executives at United Artists told Gerry Anderson that they anticipated the Thunderbirds film series would soon rival James Bond.
Sadly, the movie proved to be a box-office disaster, and United Artists were so surprised and confused by its failure that they put it down to a fluke – and immediately commissioned a second film, Thunderbird 6 (1968).
Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward