PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Terrahawks! Stay on this channel! This is an emergency! By the late 1970s and into the early ‘80s, the genius of Gerry Anderson and his brilliant run of imaginative, exciting era-defining science fiction marionette and live-action TV classics had been pretty much forgotten. Tastes had changed and the genre had become glossier and ostensibly more sophisticated and Gerry’s work with Century 21 Productions just seemed quaint and extremely dated in the wake of the success of the likes of Star Wars and ET. But after several difficult years in the wilderness following the cancellation of Space: 1999 after its second season in 1976, Gerry was back in business, teaming up with businessman Christopher Burr to create Anderburr Productions. Terrahawks was the first fruit of their labours, a show which harkened back to the glory days of the 1960s and took Gerry – possibly kicking and screaming – back into the arms of the puppets and models he had grown to resent years earlier as his plans to move into legitimate live-action filmmaking were continually thwarted both by his reputation and his continuing success in children’s television.

Terrahawks unashamedly revisits the theme of shows like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO. In the year 2020, the Earth is under the attack from the grotesque Zelda, an android from the planet Guk, who has established a base on Mars from which to launch her assault upon humanity. Fortunately, the Terrahawks, a covert organisation operating out of a huge country house in South America, are on hand to put a stop to Zelda’s perfidious plans. In typical Anderson fashion, the Terrahawks – led by the cloned Dr Tiger Ninestein – have a fleet of sophisticated craft at their disposal, from the orbiting Spacehawk commanded by Lieutenant Hiro, the space transporter Treehawk (it emerges, Thunderbird-style, from a tree which conveniently splits open), the bulkier Battlehawk (the house folds open to allow the ship to lift-off) and its detachable Terrahawk command centre (Ninestein’s personal ship) and the Hawkwing, a fighter aircraft which launches, Stingray-style, through an underwater porthole, usually piloted by part-time pop star Kate Kestrel and her co-pilot Lieutenant Hawkeye.

Familiar Anderson tropes, all warmly welcomed back in Terrahawks but what makes the show so different from the earlier series that are so clearly and blatantly its inspirations is that it firmly abandons the slightly po-faced tone of Scarlet and UFO and is altogether a looser and more ramshackle affair. This is very much tongue-in-cheek stuff, its scripts (many written by familiar Anderson names such as Tony Barwick and Donald James under excruciating pseudonyms such as Anne Teakstein and Kit Tenstein) are played largely for laughs, mostly generated by the antics of the Terrahawks’ army of circular robot Zeroids, commanded by Sergeant Major Zero (voiced with maximum fruitiness by Windsor Davies). The Zeroids clearly possess individual intelligence and are capable of independent thought, much to the chagrin of the ferociously machine-unfriendly Dr Ninestein. Equally hilarious are Zelda and her cohorts, the gurgling Jungstar and the brainless Cy-Star and the battalion of ludicrous alien horrors they free from suspended animation in their ill-considered attacks against the Terrahawks. It’s hard to believe that even in 1983 the likes of Sram, the Sporilla and the Moid – Master of Infinite Disguise – were able to engender much more than muted giggles from the intended juvenile audience.

Terrahawks sees Gerry Anderson return to his puppet roots but here, instead of the gantry-operated marionettes of the 1960s, the Terrahawks and co. are operated as sophisticated glove puppets (a process dubbed Supermacromation) which allows for a greater range of movement and expression but still doesn’t really solve the perennial problem of how to make the damned things walk convincingly. The model work never really matches the sheer vibrancy and scale of the work of Derek Meddings (who by now had moved on to feature film production) but much of it is more than acceptable, perhaps let down only by the rather unmemorable and generic designs of the Terrahawk vessels themselves, none of which have the sleek, colourful appeal of the classic hardware from the ‘60s Supermarionation shows.

Despite its shortcomings – most of the stories are just silly, disposable nonsense (although ‘Space Samurai’ contains an extraordinarily passionately-written confrontation between Zelda and Ninestein in which the former explains exactly why she has set her sights on Earth and the latter explains why the planet and the human race are worth defending) – Terrahawks is a lot of fun. Its sense of humour is relentlessly endearing and although it’s far from Gerry’s finest work (he later preferred to forget the series altogether), it’s quite heart-warming to see him revisiting the style of television which made him hero to a generation back in the 1960s. Network has done their best to spruce up these episodes but they still look a bit soft and grainy (although a considerable improvement upon earlier long-unavailable DVD releases) and we weren’t too impressed by the fantastically frustrating menus or the impossible-to-access special features. Anderson completists will be keen to add this one to their collections and we’re rather looking forward to reacquainting ourselves with the even more outrageous second and third seasons.

Extras: Raw FX footage, interviews, extended version of first episode


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