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Thunderbirds Thursday: The “Lost” Super Space Theatre Compilations

Thunderbirds‘ received a generous burst of fresh publicity in the early 1980s when it and several other classic Gerry Anderson productions had several episodes stitched together and released as compilation ‘movies’. Numerous sets of similarly themed Thunderbirds episodes were latched together and released as Thunderbirds to the Rescue (1980), Thunderbirds in Outer Space (1981), and Countdown to Disaster (1982).

Six episodes from the classic series became reinterpreted as these special releases, all chosen for their similarities in stories and/or settings. However, with plenty of other episodes from the series left up for grabs, which other pairings of episodes would also have made popular releases? This Thunderbirds Thursday, we’re examining the “lost” Thunderbirds Super Space Theatre compilations that might have been!

The Super Space Theatre series, as it came to be known, were instances where several similar episodes were latched together with their opening and end credits removed and presented as though they were a ‘movie’. The first of these was 1978’s Destination Moonbase Alpha, based on Space: 1999‘s two-parter The Bringers of Wonder, and released to capitalise on the success of Star Wars. That release’s own success prompted ITC to consider other possible means of capturing audiences old and new with other classic Anderson properties in their back catalogue for cinema, cable and satellite TV, and eventually releasing them as VHS tapes during a period of home video releases of classic movies grew in popularity.

With the widespread availability of these classic productions on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services, the Super Space Theatre compilations have been made practically redundant by the passage of time. However, their significance shouldn’t be downplayed. Even with their less-than-stimulating title sequence reimagings, questionable soundtrack alterations, and laser beams replacing missiles, they surely helped to reignite interest in Anderson material, and are some of the earliest instances of these episodes returning to the public eye, as evidenced by their commercial success when they came to be released on home video.

Each of the three Thunderbirds releases does a sensible job of placing thematically neighbouring episodes together. Trapped in the Sky and Operation Crash-Dive offer a rare two-part story for Thunderbirds, so it makes perfect sense for Thunderbirds to the Rescue to bind these adventures together and present them as a prolonged, cohesive narrative. Thunderbirds in Space brings together Sun Probe and Ricochet, two episodes that feature not only space-based adventures for International Rescue, but also bring in Thunderbird 2 to join in with the rescue action. Countdown to Disaster is perhaps the less unified of the releases, bringing together the large-scale disasters of Terror in New York City and Atlantic Inferno.

Let’s investigate which other pairings would make great Super Space Theatre compilations!

The Perils of Penelope & The Man from MI.5

Given the evergreen popularity of International Rescue’s aristocratic spy and her chauffeur, it’s surprising to find that Lady Penelope and Parker lacked a sizeable presence within the Super Space Theatre series. It’s not as if Thunderbirds lacks Penelope-centric episodes, something reinforced by an entirely different series from the compilation films. The Incredible Voyage of Stingray rather pointedly brings together four Marina-centric episodes, clearly emphasising her appeal as a character. Why a Thunderbirds release didn’t pursue a similar path isn’t known, but if it had, surely The Perils of Penelope and The Man from MI.5 would make a decent offering.

Paired together, both episodes highlight Thunderbirds‘ spy-fi capabilities away from its techno-disaster sci-fi. Both of these episodes have a handsome focus on character rather than spectacle and showcase Lady Penelope’s espionage stylings to entertaining effect. It’s also rather crucial that the episodes be placed in this order. The Perils of Penelope shows Penelope acting with her male accomplice, Sir Jeremy Hodge, but with The Man from MI.5, she faces criminal mastermind Carl alone, elegant, charming, and ready to dispense deadly danger!

The Uninvited & Desperate Intruder

With these two adventures, we have a pair of stories that dabble in ancient civilisations and the pursuit of long-lost treasures, along with the unforeseen disasters that such pursuits can bring! In the case of The Uninvited, it brings about the destructive powers of a covert military group, while in Desperate Intruder, it provokes the full menace of International Rescue’s nemesis. Both episodes have a tonal consistency between them that makes for strong paired viewing, but they also showcase some of the more brutal jeopardies faced by members of International Rescue.

Both Scott and Brains suffer from severe attacks in both of these episodes. Within the opening minutes of The Uninvited, Scott is shot down in Thunderbird 1 by Zombite fighters across the Sahara desert and is forced to crash-land. Less violent but equally extreme, in Desperate Intruder, the Hood targets International Rescue’s exploration of Lake Anasta and buries Brains up to his neck in the desert, leaving him to face the scorching sun. They make for a pair of memorably dramatic instances of our heroes facing some of their deadliest assaults and would make for an engrossing double bill of events.

Brink of Disaster & Path of Destruction

As a thematic follow-up to Countdown to Disaster, this compilation would tie together two of Thunderbirds‘ trickiest and most nail-biting disasters. Both of these episodes feature some of the most spectacular special effects sequences devised by Derek Meddings and his team. Indeed, Meddings’ contributions would often be highlighted in the credits for the Super Space Theatre films, as well as on the back covers of their home video releases and accompanying press material. It was around this time that Meddings’ Hollywood career was making great strides with extensive work on various James Bond and Superman films of the 70s and 80s, another aspect of these compilation films designed to match the success of then-modern blockbusters.

These episodes feature a pair of runaway vehicles winding up in perilous balancing acts. In the case of Brink of Disaster, Warren Grafton’s doomed monorail train ends up balancing off the edge of a collapsed section of track that’s destroyed by a crash-landed helijet. In Path of Destruction, the mighty Crablogger ends up balanced on a mountainous ridge above a near-completed dam and must be drained of its explosive fuel before toppling over the edge. As well as boasting similar disasters, the inclusion of Penelope and Parker in these episodes lends both of them a nice b-plot rhythm that works well when pairing the episodes.

The Mighty Atom & Martian Invasion

This may be the most unusual pairing of episodes on this list. The juxtaposition between nuclear annihilation and comedic send-up of the film industry may not be entirely complimentary, but The Mighty Atom and Martian Invasion are bonded by their main antagonists being the Hood, another core Thunderbirds character surprisingly underserved by the actual compilation films. Both of these episodes feature two of the Hood’s deadliest and most elaborate scheming in provoking International Rescue into action, whilst the clashing moods of both episodes highlight how easily Thunderbirds could slip into different tonal gears.

The Hood’s plots to out International Rescue so that he may steal their technological secrets highlight how nefarious he is. In The Mighty Atom, he’s content to allow a possible nuclear devastation of Australia take place, whilst in Martian Invasion, he situates himself within a film studio, posing as a producer, supposedly gaining the trust of those around him so that he may jeopardise the filming of a low-budget B-movie. Pairing these two episodes together offers a solid showcase for what the Hood’s unique brand of villainy adds to Thunderbirds.

Despite its brief lifespan, each and every episode of Thunderbirds carries unique hallmarks that are distinct from each other while maintaining enough shared similarities in settings, premises, and types of rescues to justify some substantial considerations as to which episode combinations would make even further Super Space Theatre compilations!

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Written by
Fred McNamara

Atomic-powered writer/editor. Website editor at Official Gerry Anderson. Author of Flaming Thunderbolts: The Definitive Story of Terrahawks. Also runs Gerry Anderson comic book blog Sequential 21.

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