Gerry Anderson was, of course, the doyen of puppets. Starting with the likes of Four Feather Falls and The Adventures of Twizzle in the 50s, he soon went on to create much loved classics such as Supercar, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.
But he’d always wanted to work with real actors and over time, that’s where his focus went, with The Secret Service mixing live action and puppetry and both UFO and Space: 1999 being fully live action. Was that the end for Anderson and puppets?
No, because in the 1980s he returned to TV to give us Terrahawks, which gave us both a new scenario and a new puppet technology that took many aspects of his previous shows and combined them in one. It’s the year 2020 (gosh, how far away that looks now, hey?) and in common with previous Anderson shows UFO and Captain Scarlet, there’s an alien invasion underway and only a lone taskforce with a range of advanced technology is able to protect us – the Terrahawks. Led by Doctor Tiger Ninestein – the ninth clone of one Dr Gerhard Stein – the Terrahawks consisted of both human and robot members piloting and driving a set of vehicles similar to those of Thunderbirds: the Battlehawk, the Terrahawk, the Hawkwing, the Treehawk and the space station the Spacehawk, as well as HUDSON, a camouflage-capable Rolls Royce.
The aliens they are facing are androids modelled on the oldest and wisest citizens of their planet, Guk, and so are grey haired and wrinkled. They’re commanded by Zelda, who like the Mysterons has power over matter, and her not especially bright son Yung-Star. As well as the androids themselves, there’s also a collection of monsters, including a Sporilla (a seven-foot tall metal-eating Space Gorilla), and a group of occasionally sympathetic characters with special skills, such as MOID (the master of infinite disguise), who can mimic anyone but has no face of his own, and Lord Tempo who can travel in time.
Probably the most memorable aspect of the show were the foot soldiers in this war: the zeros and the cubes. The Terrahawk’s zeros are spherical robots, who can increase their mass and crush objects, and the aliens’ cubes, which can combine together to create objects such as guns. Why so memorable? Because at the end of every episode there’d be a game of noughts and crosses involving the two enemies.
The series was a lot more tongue-in-cheek than previous Anderson efforts and clearly was aware that adults who’d grown up with Anderson shows would be watching with their kids. This went right down to the credits given to authors: Tony Barwick and Donald James wrote many of the episodes under pseudonyms such as Anne Teakstein, Felix Catstein, Katz Stein and Leo Pardstein – clearly references to the nine-lived Tiger Neinstein.
The technology used by the show, Supermacromation, was also considerably superior to that used previously by Anderson, with latex making the puppets more human and animatronic-style robotics ending the need for strings.
Unlike other Anderson shows, it lasted an amazing three seasons for a total of 39 episodes; also unlike his other shows, it’s had few repeats, which means it’s comparatively little known today. Nevertheless, the series is fondly remembered by those who watched it and a new audio series will be produced by Big Finish, the first release expected in April 2015.
It’s Christmas time, though, and as a special present, the producers have polished up the Christmas episode of Terrahawks, A Christmas Miracle, and stuck it on YouTube – free to view for a month. Enjoystein!