The Thunderbirds opening titles sequence is perfection. But what precisely makes it so? Let’s see…
Okay, literally everything. Everything is perfect. The countdown! The music! The heroic shots of the Tracy boys and their vehicles! The exploding refinery that has nothing to do with anything!
One element of the titles that varied with every episode however was what would later come to be known as the This Episode montage, an exciting sequence of clips immediately following the first sight of the words ‘Thunderbirds’ showing what audiences could expect to see that week. Acting as a trailer for the episode viewers were already watching, this best This Episode sequences opened with a specific series of shots;
1 – Here is a thing.
2 – Here is how the thing might go wrong.
3 – Here is the thing going wrong.
4 – There is now fire everywhere.
5 – THUNDERBIRDS.
If there was ever any concern that such an opening might spoil the surprises that were to come it’s ironic that the reverse situation occurred; viewers kept watching to see those scenes again in context. The sequence is such a simple idea to hook an audience that it is still surprising to think that Thunderbirds was one of the first television shows to make use of it, and although it would become a more common staple of American drama series through the 1970s and 1980s (where a 15-30 second montage of clips would often open the show) it remained relatively rarely used on British television. This perhaps accounts for why we associate it as being an Anderson ‘trope’, despite it only appearing on three of his shows. (Pilot films The Investigator and The Day After Tomorrow also open with similar sequences, but that may simply be a result of only having a single episode’s worth of footage to work with.)
The first season of Space:1999 was the second Anderson series to incorporate it, again featuring short exciting clips set to Barry Gray’s main title theme. Perhaps more interesting on repeat viewings is the fact that the Space:1999 This Episode sequence also regularly made use of clips from deleted scenes, alternate takes, and even the most mundane on-set activity such as Zienia Merton knocking over a cup or Prentis Hancock reacting to direction. If it was quick and looked visually interesting, it was going in!
The This Episode sequence returned in 1994 at the end of Space Precinct’s opening title sequence, with Crispin Merrell specifically scoring the section of the theme tune that accompanies it with a variety of short dramatic bursts ideally suited to be matched to the on-screen action. Once again use was also sometimes made of unused or alternate shots, most noticeably during the recap of Deathwatch at the beginning of Deathwatch Conclusion.
Despite largely falling out of favor in the modern television landscape such opening montage sequences do still occasionally appear on popular shows, such as Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot – with Moore himself admitting that he “proudly stole” the idea from Space:1999! We’re happy that the sequence remains mostly associated with Anderson productions, and hope that future legacy projects will continue to find some way to keep it alive!
(Also, if you get a moment, trying taking the most boring show you can find and cutting together an Anderson-style ‘This Episode’ for it. Hours of fun.)
What are your thoughts on the This Episode sequence; do you find it an essential Anderson element, or a relic of a bygone television era? Let us know in the comments below!