“Flaming Thunderbolts!” Yes, it’s the unexpected return of Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks!
Terrahawks, for those who don’t know, was something of an anomaly for Gerry Anderson; previously, every show he produced was bigger in scale (& budget) than the last & after moving into live-action with the shows UFO & Space: 1999 (as well as the feature film Doppelgänger AKA Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) Anderson thought he’d never have to work with puppets ever again. But after a painful divorce & the end of his fruitful association with the impresario Lord Lew Grade, Anderson had trouble getting his new show, Thunderhawks, ‘off the ground’. That all changed when he teamed up with Christopher Burr – with the show re-titled Terrahawks & financing coming from London Weekend Television (LWT) & Time Life, Anderson was ready to make a welcome return to the small screen! However, the funding secured was much lower than had been expected so he had to make an unwelcome return to using puppets & 16mm film, both which he’d though he’d left behind for good. The resulting show looked a lot cheaper than many of his puppet shows for APF & Century 21, although the model work from Steve Begg was impressive & clearly influenced by his illustrious predecessors Derek Meddings & Brian Johnson.
Even though the show is ridiculed by some Gerry Anderson fans (the great man himself was often embarrassed to recall the show), it was a hit & ran for three seasons from 1983 to ’86. The reason it was a hit was simple: it was essentially “Gerry Anderson’s greatest hits” taking bits from Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO & Joe 90.
The Terrahawks are a highly-funded, yet top secret organisation, who protect the Earth from evil aliens led by Zelda based on Mars, from their South American rainforest base, the Hawknest. As is usual for a Gerry Anderson production, The heroes (& villains) have incredibly powerful craft (each with their own special features) at their disposal as well as an armoured Rolls-Royce coated with colour-changing Chameleon paint named HUDSON (Heuristic Universal Driver with Sensory and Orbital Navigation – essentially FAB1 meets KITT from Knight Rider). First in command is Dr. “Tiger”(first name unknown) Ninestein, who is one of nine clones, so if he gets killed in action, another clone (who is living a different life outside of the Terrahawks – one of his replacements was a City Banker) is called up and has his mind wiped & replaced by Ninestein’s mind. Finally, I mustn’t forget to mention the R2-D2-inspired robotic heroes; the Zeroids & their evil counterparts, the Cubes.
To start this review, I have to allay any fears some of you may have of this being a blatant cash-in; it isn’t. Firstly, Big Finish are known for their audio continuations of several favourites of yesteryear. Secondly, the director of this first volume of stories, Jamie Anderson, treats his father’s legacy with total respect. Authentic music is featured throughout (maybe a little too authentic, as the Fairlight CMI-composed music has dated badly and the main theme sounds like it was taken from a DVD, probably because it was) and some of the sound effects are original. Finally, the original cast has returned minus the late Anne Ridler, who’s been replaced by Beth Chalmers and Windsor Davies, who was approached but Mr. Davies’s daughter politely informed the producers that her father is retired from acting. Sergeant Major Zero is now played by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein himself, Jeremy Hitchen, who took on this additional role as the producers were impressed by his impersonation of Windsor.
So then, what do you get for your £30? Well, you get eight episodes spread over four CDs and a nice bonus disc of behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast and crew, plus promotional materials, which you can download as couple of PDFs. For £25 you can download the audio as a 820MB Zip file instead, for which you’ll also get the promotional PDFs.
‘The Price is Right’ – by Jamie Anderson – takes place thirty months’ after the TV show; Ninestein quips, “Thirty months? Seems more like thirty years!”, which is a little nod to how long it’s actually been. As it’s been so long since any activity, Lois Price has been dispatched to see if the Terrahawks have been delivering good value for money; will she slash their budget, maybe even shut them down for good or will there be a return from a certain android from the planet Guk…?
In ‘Deadly Departed’ – by Stephen La Rivière and Andrew T. Smith – just as we’re getting used to the return of Zelda, it seems that she’s been killed in combat and the Terrahawks are bequeathed the bulk of her estate! But there is – of course – a catch!
For those who’ve always wanted to know more of Ninestein’s backstory and that of his ‘father’, Dr. Gerhard Stein, ‘A Clone of My Own’ – by Andrew T. Smith and Stephen La Rivière – is required listening.
‘Clubbed to Death’ – by Stephen La Rivière and Andrew T. Smith with Jamie Anderson – has a more modern feel, dealing with Zelda’s new business venture; the payday loans company Zonga and English entrepreneur, Dick Branston, who’s in something of a pickle.
‘101 Seed’ was adapted by Jamie Anderson from a previously unused fourth season script by his father. It’s Lt. Hiro’s birthday and Sgt. Maj. Zero has a last-minute gift which came from a rather dodgy source.
Dick Spanner, P.I. writer/creator Terry Adlam (who also worked on the original Terrahawks) provides the most comedy-oriented episode, ‘No Laughing Matter’, which sees Zelda unleashing the Northern stand-up cyborg Cy-Splitter (minus his digital TV and tea-loving “Mun-keh”), on an unsuspecting universe.
Chris Dale’s ‘Timesplit’ sees the return of one of Zelda’s old monsters, the Lord of Time himself, Lord Tempo, who’s able to travel through time without the aid of an old Police Box or even the Shield of Cher!
Finally, ‘Into the Breach’ – by Mark Woollard – sees the introduction of a new type of super-Zeroid – the Cyberzoids, led by the a cold and unemotional 001 (well, at least he wasn’t nicknamed “Pops”), who probably favours an “Oozi nine-millimetah!” There’s also a welcome, albeit brief, vocal appearance from the late, great Gerry Anderson himself.
As a lifelong fan of Gerry Anderson’s productions, and as someone who enjoyed the original show the first time around, I found this an enjoyable experience and thought the moments of paying fan service were nice, especially the Capt. Black-esque, “This is the voice of Zelda…” and the naming of the channel ‘TV 21’ which was named after the old comic which focused on Anderson’s productions (his production company Anderson Provis Films (APF) was later renamed ‘Century 21 Productions’ (pronounced “two-one,” not “twenty-one”)). It has to be noted that these audio adventures are a slightly different beast to the original children’s TV show. Granted, it may be devoid of any visuals (which is actually an advantage, as this audio production allows it be be an altogether grander affair, as opposed to the original, which was a touch cheap and cheerful), the main difference is the audience it’s aimed at – while I’m sure some children who are familiar with Anderson’s work will enjoy it, I doubt they’ll appreciate the satirical material, mentions of hot topics such as epigenetics, and the pop culture references, such as the little nod to Only Fools and Horses, “This time next year, we’ll be billionaires!”
It’s far from perfect, though, and a little short on proper out-and-out laughs – there was only one line (delivered Denise Bryer as Capt. Mary Falconer) which genuinely made me laugh, possibly as it reminded me of an episode of Frasier; “Oh, Tiger! Must you be such a buzzkill!” Jeremy Hitchen sounds, somewhat distant as Dr. Ninestein, even though he’s fine playing the other characters. It would have been nice (as in other Big Finish productions) to have had the credits read over the noughts and crosses end music and the rather weedy synth title music replaced by the new orchestral version of the main theme, which can be heard on the real gem of the package; the behind-the-scenes CD. But don’t let that put you off; if you’re only even slightly familiar with the original ’80s show, then this is well worth investigating, and if you’re a Gerry Anderson die-hard, then you should buy this, especially as it’s clear that it’s made with care by people who love Anderson’s work and wish to continue his legacy in a way of which he surely would have approved. It’s undeniably good to hear Denise Bryer (who came out of retirement just for this) on fine form as the evil android from the planet Guk: Queen Zelda!
Volume 02 (due in April 2016) will feature more of the same (+ I hope a prototype Cyberzoid-1k made of a mimetic polyalloy?) and features a voice familiar to Radio 4 regulars: Nicholas ‘Just a Minute’ Parsons. It can currently be pre-ordered from Big Finish at special rates: CD £25.00 or to download £20.00. You can also download the Vol. 1 episode ‘Deadly Departed’ and the short ‘Zelda’s The Night Before Christmas’ for free if you’re still unsure here.
In the meantime you can check YouTube for more from the people behind the Terrahawks audio adventures:
Andercon 2015: Terrahawks LIVE (by Stephen La Rivière and Andrew T. Smith, no doubt influenced by Monsters, Inc. and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life)
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Zeroids Vs Cubes – Episode 1 – Party – YouTube
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