|"The Mighty Atom"|
|Episode no.||Series 1|
|Directed by||David Lane|
|Written by||Dennis Spooner|
|Cinematography by||Paddy Seale|
|Editing by||Harry Ledger|
|Original air date||30 December 1965|
|Guest character voices|
"The Mighty Atom" is the sixth episode of the first series of Thunderbirds, a British Supermarionation television series created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and produced by their company AP Films. Written by Dennis Spooner and directed by David Lane, it was first broadcast on ATV Midlands on 30 December 1965.
Some time before the creation of International Rescue, the Hood (voiced by Ray Barrett) is spying on a nuclear-powered irrigation plant in an Australian desert when he is discovered and challenged by a security guard. A gunfight ensues and one of the Hood's bullets hits a gas cylinder, starting a fire that quickly consumes the facility. Unable to shut down the atomic reactor, Controller Wade and his staff are airlifted to safety before the plant is destroyed in a nuclear explosion. The resulting radioactive cloud seems poised to engulf Melbourne but is dispersed by high winds.
One year later, the disguised Hood hypnotises delegates at a science conference and steals the "Mighty Atom" – an artificially-intelligent roaming surveillance device that looks like a mouse. Travelling to the Sahara, he uses the Mighty Atom to photograph the interior of a new, automated irrigation plant maintained by Wade and his assistant Collins. He then decides to exploit the situation further by creating a disaster to which the newly-formed International Rescue will respond, giving him an opportunity to use the device to steal the secrets of the Thunderbird machines. To this end, he detonates explosive devices around the plant's reactor, fatally de-stabilising it.
With a second nuclear explosion inevitable and rescue by the wind unlikely, Wade realises that the consequences for the region will be devastating. He calls International Rescue for help and Jeff Tracy (voiced by Peter Dyneley) dispatches Scott (voiced by Shane Rimmer) in Thunderbird 1. Lady Penelope (voiced by Sylvia Anderson), who is visiting Tracy Island with Parker (voiced by David Graham) and is eager to accompany the Tracy brothers on a mission, leaves with Virgil and Gordon (voiced by David Holliday and David Graham) in Thunderbird 2 carrying Pod 4.
When Thunderbird 2 reaches the North African coast, Gordon launches in Thunderbird 4 and proceeds to the plant's seawater inlet. Thunderbird 2 continues to the plant, where Scott and Virgil don protective suits and enter the reactor room to re-align the control rods and stabilise the reactor. Gordon then destroys the inlet with a torpedo, cutting off the seawater intake at just the right moment to prevent the reactor from exploding.
Left alone in Thunderbird 2, Penelope, who is afraid of mice, screams repeatedly when confronted by the Mighty Atom as it prepares to photograph the cockpit. Later, at his temple in Malaysia, the Hood connects the device a computer to view the stored images – which, he is dismayed to find, are all of Penelope's terrified face. In a fit of rage, he destroys the Mighty Atom by smashing it with his fist.
One of 11 Thunderbirds scripts to be filmed before the running time per-episode was extended from 25 to 50 minutes, "The Mighty Atom" was originally set almost entirely in the Sahara, with the events in Australia recalled briefly in flashback. To expand the plot, the scriptwriters effectively split the episode in two by prefacing the main action with two new acts, set before International Rescue's founding, which focus on the nuclear explosion in Australia, the resulting fallout and the Hood's theft of the Mighty Atom. Consequently, the first 18 minutes of the completed episode feature none of the regular characters.
"The Mighty Atom" is the only episode of Thunderbirds to feature all of the regular characters and all of the Thunderbirds machines. It also marks the first appearance of Thunderbird 4 in the series.
The two-part version that was broadcast in some UK regions separates the older footage from the material that was filmed for the episode's expansion. Certain scenes were altered to create this format; these include one of a news conference in Melbourne, which was shortened, and another in which the Tracy brothers play a practical joke on Lady Penelope, which was removed completely.
"The Mighty Atom" is named the worst episode of Thunderbirds by TV Zone magazine. Commenting that "for the first half of the episode we're left wondering where International Rescue is", the review also notes the ineptitude of the Hood and criticises the episode's "lazy" writing, point out that the villain's plans are thwarted by nothing more than Penelope's fear of mice. Tom Fox of Starburst magazine is more positive, arguing that the episode contains "plenty of curious aspects" to compensate for the Hood's "outlandish" plans; he gives a rating of three out of five.
Chris Bentley, author of The Complete Book of Thunderbirds, describes the episode as "surprisingly effective" despite International Rescue's absence from most of its first half. He regards the scenes featuring the radioactive cloud as some of the "eeriest" of the series. Marcus Hearn, author of Thunderbirds: The Vault, considers the "sinister" music accompanying these scenes to be the episode's most effective element; however, he believes that the appearance of Penelope and Parker "clutters" the plot. He also argues that Penelope's phobia "diminishes" her character just as the Hood's ill-conceived plans lead the viewer to suspect that he "may not be quite the criminal mastermind his reputation suggests".
In her 1991 autobiography, Sylvia Anderson wrote that the Mighty Atom itself "strains credibility" while comparing the nuclear explosion in the episode's first act to the real-life Chernobyl disaster. Michael Park of the website WhatCulture expresses similar thoughts, arguing that the episode essentially "predicted" Chernobyl: "... at the height of the Cold War, this episode will have given a lot of children (and adults) sleepless nights." Media historian Nicholas J. Cull notes that like "The Man From MI.5" and "Atlantic Inferno", "The Mighty Atom" plays on themes of "nuclear weapons and wider nuclear fears in general".
Fred McNamara of the website ScreenRelish considers a scene in which Parker and Kyrano fight over which of them should be allowed to serve drinks to be the fourth-best moment of the entire series: "... it's hard for any Thunderbirds fan not to smirk slightly when watching this, and knowing that both Kyrano and Parker had their voices provided by the same actor!"
- Bentley, Chris (2008) . The Complete Gerry Anderson: The Authorised Episode Guide (4th ed.). London, UK: Reynolds & Hearn. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-905287-74-1.
- Bentley, Chris (September 2015). Hearn, Marcus (ed.). Thunderbirds – A Complete Guide to the Classic Series. Tunbridge Wells, UK: Panini UK. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-84653-212-2.
- Bentley, Chris (2005) . The Complete Book of Thunderbirds (2nd ed.). London, UK: Carlton Books. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-84442-454-2.
- Payne, Stephen, ed. (Summer 2004). "The Anderson Files". TV Zone Special. No. 57. London, UK: Visual Imagination. p. 39. ISSN 0960-8230. OCLC 438949600.
- Fox, Tom (August 2004). "TV View". Starburst Special. No. 65. London, UK: Visual Imagination. p. 48. ISSN 0958-7128. OCLC 79615651.
- Hearn, Marcus (2015). Thunderbirds: The Vault. London, UK: Virgin Books. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-753-55635-1.
- Anderson, Sylvia (1991). Yes, M'Lady. London, UK: Smith Gryphon. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-856850-11-7.
- Park, Michael (21 May 2015). "Ten times Thunderbirds was way too dark for kids TV". whatculture.com. Archived from the original on 2 November 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
- Cull, Nicholas J. (August 2006). "Was Captain Black Really Red? The TV Science Fiction of Gerry Anderson in its Cold War Context". Media History. Routledge. 12 (2): 198. doi:10.1080/13688800600808005. ISSN 1368-8804. OCLC 364457089.
- McNamara, Fred (30 September 2015). "Ten of the Best Moments from Thunderbirds". screenrelish.com. Archived from the original on 2 November 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015.