Terrahawks first aired in 1983, and was the first Gerry Anderson puppet series produced since The Secret Service had ended in 1969. Moreover, due to a noticeable downturn in his fortunes, it was the first television series he’d made at all since production had ended on the second season of Space:1999 at the end of 1976. The puppets that would star in Terrahawks however would not be the marionettes he was best known for working with, but instead latex hand puppets capable of a greater freedom of movement than their predecessors. Supermarionation was no more, and instead Terrahawks would be produced in Supermacromation! (And whatever Hudsoncolor was.)
The story of Terrahawks starts in the year 2020, as an alien space armada led by the android Zelda, Queen of the planet Guk, obliterates a human colony on Mars before occupying the planet and declaring war on Earth. Mankind’s only hope for survival are the Terrahawks, an elite fighting force with a secret base hidden beneath the White House in South America and led by the stern but fair Doctor Tiger Ninestein. As his name implies, Ninestein is one of nine clones, with the remaining eight quietly living out their lives elsewhere on Earth ready and waiting to have their minds wiped and replaced with a backup copy of Tiger’s brain patterns should the worst occur.
The less nightmarish side of the Terrahawks organisation includes second-in-command Captain Mary Falconer, Captain Kate Kestrel and her co-pilot Lt Hawkeye aboard the Hawkwing fighter, and Lt Hiro who mans the Terrahawks first line of defence, Spacehawk, and has about as much luck repelling alien intruders as the SHADO interceptors used to.
From Hawknest, the Terrahawks are able to launch an array of fighting machines and equipment to combat Zelda’s continual assaults, but the android Queen is a formidable opponent – and she isn’t alone. Also residing in her Martian base are her slovenly son Yung-star, and her airheaded fashion obsessed sister Cy-star, while somewhere in the base is a cryogenic store carried dozens of alien exiles and refugees who have aligned with Zelda to destroy humanity. These included Sram, a demon drum player whose roar could bring down mountains, Yuri the telekinetic Space Bear, Lord Tempo the Time Lord, and MOID, the Master of Infinite Disguise, plus an army of robotic Cubes.
Aside from Zelda, whom any older unpopular woman in the public eye is always at risk of being compared to, perhaps the most memorable characters in the show were the Zeroids, the Terrahawks’ army of spherical robot soldiers led by Sergeant Major Zero. Essentially reprising his role of Sergeant Major Williams from BBC sitcom, Windsor Davies excelled in the role of Zero, the loyal and lovable robot permanently locked in a battle of wits with Doctor Ninestein. Other Zeroids under his command included the moustachioed French Zeroid 18, rhyming Zeroid 55, and stuttering Zeroid 21, while the Zeroid contingent on Spacehawk was led by the fussy and increasingly camp Space Sergeant 101.
Fans expecting a long-awaited triumphant return to the glory days of Thunderbirds were to be disappointed when Terrahawks first aired in 1983. The show was produced on a significantly lower budget than those of the ITC era, and the earliest episodes showed that the stiff and serious nature of its the stories clashed with the cartoony look of the puppets and pantomime behaviour of the villains. Realising this, Terrahawks very quickly embraced its own shortcomings and used them to its advantage, becoming a madcap and at times deeply subversive comedy. This had the effect of lending greater weight to the dramatic stakes on the rare occasions that the show tried to tell a more serious story, while also providing more of a focus on the characters and their relationships than had been evident in the earliest episodes.
The first season of 26 episodes ended with a cliffhanger that saw Cy-star make a startling announcement, and as the second season opened a devious new character joined the Martian hordes. It-Star possessed two personalities; a timid little girl, and a male mad scientist with a German accent. Even for a series that was already very weird It-star’s addition to the cast plays like something out of a fever dream, and the scene of his birth was so inappropriate for a child audience that it was edited out on first broadcast.
Adding to the strangeness was Kate Kestrel’s side career as an international pop superstar, regularly taking a break from her Terrahawks duties to record songs at Anderburr Records, under the supervision of studio manager Chic King and permanently stressed recording engineer Stew Dapples. In real life, singer Moya Griffiths provided Kate’s singing voice and made public appearances to promote the show, and even released a 7 inch vinyl featuring two songs from the show.
Despite proving popular with younger viewers, Terrahawks came to an end after 39 episodes, but as it turned out this was to be more of an extended hiatus than a cancellation. In 2014 the series returned in audio form from Big Finish Productions, featuring three of the original cast – Denise Bryer, Jeremy Hitchen and Robbie Stevens, plus newcomer Beth Chalmers inheriting the late Anne Ridler’s characters.
The new audio episodes brought back all the classic characters, vehicles and settings of the original television series, while bringing a uniquely 21st-century attitude to the stories. In addition to new regular characters and vehicles, the audio episodes of Terrahawks also succeeded in bringing a greater emotional core to the series, while addressing some of the moral and ethical questions regarding the clones that the television show had largely ignored. The result was 26 brand new episodes produced over the next three years.
Despite being one of the more controversial Gerry Anderson series, particularly among older viewers, Terrahawks has remained a fond and enduring memory for its many fans. Its lovable characters and offbeat sense of humour have ensured it continues to find new viewers on DVD and blu-ray, and its recent critically-acclaimed audio revival proved that the series still had a wealth of untapped potential yet to be explored. More than 35 years after it first appeared on our screens, Terrahawks still continues to “Stroll on!”
Anderson Burr Pictures/LWT – 1983
39 episodes x 25 mins
Producers: Gerry Anderson & Christopher Burr
Associate Producer: Bob Bell
Directors: Alan Pattillo, Desmond Saunders, Tony Bell & Tony Lenny
Lighting Cameramen: Harry Oakes BSC & Paddy Seale
Art Director: Gary Tomkins
Special Effects Director: Steven Begg
Music Composed & Performed by Richard Harvey
Additional Music Composed by Gerry Anderson & Christopher Burr
Jeremy Hitchen, Anne Ridler, Denise Bryer, Ben Stevens, Windsor Davies
Terrahawks Episode List:
- Expect The Unexpected
- Expect The Unexpected Part 2
- Close Call
- From Here To Infinity
- Space Samurai
- The Sporilla
- Happy Madeday
- Gunfight At Oaky’s Corral
- The Ugliest Monster Of All
- The Gun
- Thunder Path
- Mind Monster
- To Catch A Tiger
- The Midas Touch
- Operation S.A.S.
- Ten Top Pop
- Unseen Menace
- A Christmas Miracle
- Midnight Blue
- Play It Again, Sram
- My Kingdom For A ZEAF
- Zero’ Finest Hour
- The Ultimate Menace
- Ma’s Monsters
- Two For The Price Of One
- Child’s Play
- Jolly Roger One
- First Strike
- Cry UFO
- Space Cyclops
- Space Giant
- Cold Finger
- Operation Zero