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Posts Tagged ‘thunderbirds’

It’s not often I write about my writing. Maybe the odd reference, but a whole piece about it feels more than a little self-indulgent. Still, I won’t let that stop me…

For a host of reasons, Ravens Gathering is set in the late 1980s and most – if not all – of my stories will be based in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I realised this meant they’d appeal to people with fond memories of those times, especially as they’d be more likely to get the popular culture references. In RG those include Inspector Morse, Columbo and Doctor Who (okay, we still have The Doctor, and the others are repeated, but my point’s still valid).

So, having something of a nostalgic bent myself, I joined some online groups set up to reminisce about those times. Most posts are based on movies, music and TV, and seeing these posts flash up on my screen does bring a warm glow.

One post included a still from the first ever episode of Thunderbirds. Fireflash

Any aficionado will instantly know which one I’m talking about but, for the ignorant among you, I’ll explain shortly.

Apart from childhood memories, the image also reminded me of a lesson I’d learnt when it came to creating stories. I deliberately say creating stories, because the one I’ll refer to here hasn’t been written yet, even though the original idea came to me as a teenager (I haven’t been lying about my propensity for bone-idleness when it comes to writing).

When I get an idea for a story, it’s generally a broad outline and the theme tends to trigger certain scenes in my mind. When I came up with Ravens Gathering, for example, it was clearly going to be creepy and the first image I had involved furniture coming to life. That scene’s still in there (so I’ll say no more about it – that’s spoiler enough for now) and it’s one of my favourites in the book.

The story I created in my teens was originally called Leave Them to Die, a title representative of the lesser quality action movies of the time. It will be changed when I finally get round to writing it – let’s face it, that’s just a bit too retro.

This was an action thriller: lots of guns, terrorists, an extended car, bus and Tube chase, and a threat to crash an airliner carrying a nuclear bomb into London. In my head, it’s evolved over the years and I suspect the emphasis on action may reduce a little in favour of plot and character.

Originally, the climactic scene involved the airliner attempting to land at an airport, but the undercarriage had been destroyed and a crash landing might set off the bomb. To overcome this obstacle, our hero implements an ingenious plan to use (wait for it…) buses to replace the undercarriage.

Now, the flaws in this scheme are obvious and plentiful, but I’ve seen much more improbable stuff in movies than a plane landing on three buses that are racing to match its landing speed. Eighteen year-old me was happy with it. It would be tense, nail-biting stuff that would have the reader on the edge of their seats – and just think how good it’ll look when they make the movie!

As I’ve matured, though, I’ve reined it in and the climax plays out somewhat differently now.

But what’s all that got to do with Thunderbirds? I hear you ask.

The series was re-run in the 1980s and I’m not ashamed to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it when I got in from work (personally, I think shows like this are wasted on kids.)

However, the first episode involves an airliner (Fireflash anybody?) which has to make a landing without being able to use its undercarriage. Of course, International Rescue don’t have to worry about commandeering buses. They’ve got specialist equipment designed for this very emergency and they produce it for what is… well, a tense, nail-biting scene that has the viewer on the edge of the seat.

And if this is bringing back memories you want to relive, here it is.

So, watching this again, I realised that, aside from its implausibility, my climactic scene was a complete rip-off.

Of course, in those days, I was convinced I was capable of producing completely original stories. But it’s become clear that this isn’t the case, that there are only so many basic storylines. And a lot of what we write is inspired by things around us, including the influences we had in our formative years. The important thing is to make it readable, and you do that with characters and a strong story, even if some of those elements have been used before.

What would be a mistake, though, would be to take something as unique as that Thunderbirds scene, which uses futuristic technology in a far-fetched way to entertain children (I know…) and try to incorporate it into a contemporary thriller for adults. Even if those adults yearn for their childhood and are massive Gerry Anderson fans, it ain’t gonna work.

Sometimes, I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve taken a while to get round to writing. Having said that, frankly I’d be delighted if, whenever someone picked up one of my stories, another Gerry Anderson phrase sprang to mind….

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I was out on Saturday evening, so had to wait until Sunday to watch Death in Heaven, the series finale of Doctor Who. Strange, isn’t it? I’m a 51 year old man who watches Doctor Who. What’s even stranger is that I know I’m not alone. And I suspect I’m also not the only non-geek or -Whovian (I believe there’s a difference, but you have to look closely) who watches it.

Clearly there is an attraction for viewers who didn’t see the Doctor in his pre-nineties incarnations. And, yes, I am ignoring Paul McGann’s brief visit, but that’s only because he wasn’t around long enough for us to really buy into his character. Like many other series (TV or movie), part of its success is that, at one level or another, the viewer identifies with the characters. But, and here’s the point I wanted to make, there are an awful lot of older people like me who tune into a programme that is essentially a kids show.

Now, before the dedicated Whovians throw their sonic screwdrivers out of their prams, do hear me out. I know I’m being somewhat cavalier with your feelings here, and appear to be dismissive about your chosen allegiances. Please don’t take it personally – it’s only banter (and I will talk more about “geeks” and “anoraks” in a separate post that’s coming soon). Instead, let’s focus on the serious point I want to make.

I watch Doctor Who as a means of recapturing something from my youth: a sense of excitement and expectation; the sense of wonder I felt when turning the TV on, knowing creative minds would take me to worlds I’d never experience in reality.

The big irony here is that I didn’t actually watch Who much when I was a kid. So it’s more the association with my youth than actually replaying it. And yet, if you watched the finale and you are a certain age, you’d have experienced several moments of nostalgia that were nothing to do with the Doctor.

The reference to Cloudbase will have struck a chord with Gerry Anderson fans, many of whom would have been shouting at the screen to correct the idiot who seemed to think it featured in Thunderbirds. Of course, that was just the writers playing with us, getting us involved. Clever writers.

Then there was the sequence where the plane was breached and characters were sucked out of it. Cross-reference Goldfinger, shortly followed by the pre-title sequence from Moonraker as the Doctor freefalls to the TARDIS. (Did I mention there were spoilers in this post?)

And talking of pre-title sequences, didn’t this one grab your attention? Just like they’re supposed to, like they did in the days of The Avengers, and Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. When Clara told the Cyberman she was the Doctor and the camera closed in on her face, you just knew it was time for the theme music to start.

So, although I refer to Doctor Who as a kids show, I know it’s more than that. It’s a show that appeals to anyone who enjoys escapism, action, adventure, strategically placed humour and clever writing (did I mention that last one already?). And, of course, people like me who remember their formative TV years as being filled with more of that creativity than the “reality” dross that requires limited imagination and presumably even more limited budgets.

I’d be lying if I said I thought Doctor Who was perfect. It doesn’t always work for me, but it works more often than not, which is good enough to keep me watching when it returns. In the mean time, I’ll look elsewhere for my nostalgia fix.

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Katrina Marie

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