Now this was a tough one. Being a Thunderbirds fan since I was seven years old, you’d think that choosing the best episode of the series would be no problem. Naturally, I know the series off by heart – every disaster, every rescue, and every shot where the puppeteer’s hand can be spotted operating Thunderbird 2.
But choosing one episode out of a show where so many episodes offer multiple tales of danger, excitement, and strong moral messages proved to be a tad more difficult than I first thought. However, looking past such surface levels, Thunderbirds is a show that boils down to delivering a message of the value of life. Once I had that in mind, one episode immediately sprang to mind that embodies this ideology perfectly – “Brink Of Disaster”.
So, let’s examine the immediately enjoyable aspects of this episode. A shady business man, Warren Grafton, turns up on the doorstep of International Rescue’s London agent Lady Penelope, asking her to invest in his unmanned, automatic monorail company. She turns him over to International Rescue leader Jeff Tracy, who embarks on Grafton’s monorail to discuss the venture further, along with trusted companions Brains and Tin-Tin.
Naturally, the train runs into disaster, with a bridge collapsing into a deep canyon. As the train is fully automatic, it proves almost impossible to stop it, and the Thunderbirds blast off into another thrilling rescue. While this is all going on, Grafton sends in two crooks to rob Penelope of her jewel collection.
The two plots compliment each other brilliantly, one providing a dramatic rescue operation while the other is lighter and more comic, thanks to the pantomime-esque duo of Selsdon and Malloy as they attempt, and ultimately fail, to rob Penelope.
Lady Penelope’s London mansion, situated in quaint, English countryside, is contrasted back and forth with the barren American landscapes that Grafton’s monorail charges along. This provides a wonderful sense of scope, and gives an idea as to how far-reaching Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson was willing to take the show.
But let’s probe a bit deeper. Any fan of the show will tell you that it’s the vehicles that are the stars of the programme, not the characters. However, in “Brink Of Disaster”, there’s a very well-played out sense of character between the selfless Jeff Tracy and the money-grabbing Warren Grafton. Both are men of the same background – indeed this is why Grafton attempts to lure Jeff into his company. They both represent men with interests in the development of scientific technology, but with very different goals.
Jeff uses his expertise to protect lives and avert disaster (after all, he’s the guy who single-handedly pioneered the construction of International Rescue), whereas Grafton uses his expertise to cut corners and risk the safety of others in order to make a profit. Their machines also add to the symbolism: Grafton’s train puts lives at risk while Jeff’s save the very same lives.
The morals of the show are brought home immediately after the rescue when Grafton boasts about how despite the nail-biting rescue operation that has just taken place, he’ll escape jail. After this speech, the next shot is of Grafton and his goons – in jail.
The notion of man-made machinery going haywire is a timeless plot device in science-fiction, which perhaps points to the enduring appeal of Thunderbirds – a show that regularly features machinery in distress only to be saved by different machinery.
“Brink Of Disaster” is simply one of those episodes that defines Thunderbirds. It offers more than the visual immediacy and dramatic impact that almost every other episode features, but is perhaps one of the few episodes in which morals are held up high for everyone to see. While on other, more apparent levels, Parker and Penelope get a good jaunt out and we see Jeff, Brains and Tin-Tin in an unusual location, as opposed to being stuck on Tracy Island while the Tracy brothers have all the fun.
But the episode is not without its faults, even though they are only minor ones. “Brink of Disaster” serves as a prime example as to how useless Thunderbird 1 really is. TB1’s main role is to be the first on the disaster scene. Scott assesses the situation and reports back to Tracy Island so that the Tracy family can work out what heavy duty equipment is needed.
Here, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are launched at the same time, so Thunderbird 1 can really only sit back and watch as Virgil takes care of the situation by removing the carriage in which his family and Grafton are trapped and bringing it down to the ground before the remainder of the bridge collapses.
The salt is rubbed a little further into the wound when, as soon as Virgil places the carriage safely on the ground, he tells Scott he’s no longer needed and can shoot off back to base. But as I say, it’s a minor problem. Thunderbird 1 is still my favourite craft, the ship has such a sleek, gorgeous design, and in every other episode it showed of its array of gadgets (missiles, mobile cameras, sonar sounding equipment, a mobile control unit, and a hover jet – shame none of those got put to use in this episode!).
But overall, I think you’d be hard-pushed to find another episode of Thunderbirds where morals are laid before the audience in such a bare and brutal manner. “Brink Of Disaster” not only does this, but executes it with grace, humour, pacing and the usual mind-blowing mixture of adventure, excitement, and of course, explosions.
Did you agree with this review? Or do you have your own favourite episode of Thunderbirds? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a tweet!