12 April 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - The Mighty Atom

The Mighty Atom is another quality episode, and only serves to reinforce the idea that Dennis Spooner is quickly emerging as one of Thunderbirds' best writers. Whereas Vault of Death was an extremely witty episode, The Mighty Atom is actually surprisingly adult in the nature of the threat. It's offset by some more light-hearted subplots, but the balance actually works extremely well and the gravity of the situation is never undermined. This makes it one of the better episodes yet, and definitely one of the most memorable.

It's probably quite appropriate that this was the episode chosen to be shown over the holiday period of 1965 since it's almost like an end-of-term special. It has the Hood, Lady Penelope and Parker and takes place over the course of a year. At the end of December, people seem to love nothing better than looking back at the year that's been and this episode offers just that. To begin with, the Hood attempts to steal the plans for a nuclear energy plant in Australia but blows it up after one shot goes off-target. As a result, he nearly massacres the whole country, which wasn't intended, but he probably doesn't mind too much.

Having failed, a year later another opportunity presents itself to him; a scientist has invented a device known as the Mighty Atom. It is essentially an autonomous robot mouse with cameras in its eyes, but quite forward-thinking for the time I suppose. The benefits of owning this are obvious to the Hood and so he steals it, and heads to the latest nuclear reactor in the heart of the Sahara. Why he goes to such extreme lengths to get photographs of power stations rather than just paying the designer a visit I don't know since it would save him a lot of effort. The logical answer is of course obvious: it makes for better television. Having got the pictures he wants courtesy of the Mighty Atom, the Hood then decides to send the place sky-high to get International Rescue on the scene and photograph their craft too.

He detonates it in exactly the same way as he set off the Australian plant, which shows a design flaw in the second since the designers obviously haven't learned their lesson. Sure enough, the Thunderbirds are soon on their way. They avert the impending catastrophe by inserting the rods into the core (or something) and by destroying the water intake. This episode covers a lot of bases, all very successfully. The conclusion doesn't make complete sense to me: Why couldn't the two engineers insert the rods? How does blowing up the water intake tunnel stop water being taken in, surely some is still going to go in? 

And as usual, Scott is bloody useless. Virgil is doing the rods, and Scott stands there telling him to hurry with seconds to spare. He doesn't bother to do the others that need doing, but instead stands right next to him being critical. He seriously may as well not have bothered coming for all the help he is, since it's Brains that tells them the solution anyway. Given this is a Dennis Spooner script, I have to hope he's also cottoned on to Scott's uselessness too and is taking the mickey. Otherwise it's quite a worrying state of affairs just how poor he really is. Virgil is very much the unsung hero of the series. I'm not even halfway through and I'm sick of Scott. I wish he'd just help out a bit more.

The scenes at the start of the episode are fantastically directed, particularly those when the radioactive cloud is heading for cities. I know it wouldn't actually be as realised here but I think it symbolises what's going on well enough. The empty desert scenes are actually really eerie and put me in mind of the 1971 Nicolas Roeg film Walkabout (which incidentally, is one of the most surreal films I've ever seen, and also one of my least favourite). These scenes are extremely adult and the implications are far greater than normal. The Hood is shown to be prepared to wipe out millions of people - a bit of a step up from rescuing someone trapped down a lift shaft.

In summary, this is a standout episode of Thunderbirds. It's perfectly placed in the series and also in the context of television at the time. Doctor Who, for example, was in the middle of a three-month epic which saw the Daleks plotting to destroy the universe at the same time - also written by Dennis Spooner, coincidentally. This is a very strong piece of television and one of the most memorable episodes this series has provided yet. Just when you think the series is starting to stall (not that I did after the fantastic Vault of Death) there's always a knockout around the corner. More please.

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