By Kenny Smith and Lita Beerstein
IN THE 1980s, fans of Gerry Anderson and Christopher Burr’s hugely popular puppet series Terrahawks learned the catchphrase of the lead character, Dr Tiger Ninestein – “Expect the unexpected.” That saying proved to be true in April 2014, when Anderson Entertainment and Big Finish announced the return of the series, with a deal to produce an audio series of eight brand new episodes.
For the uninitiated, Terrahawks is set in the near future, with a team of brave heroes, led by Tiger, with Mary Falconer, Kate Kestrel, Hawkeye and Hiro, defending the Earth from attacks at their base in the Hawknest. Their arch-nemesis is Zelda, her son Yung-Star, sister Cy-Star and nephew It-Star, who are based on Mars and launch a series of raids upon the Earth using an array of alien creatures – the shapechanging MOID (Master Of Infinite Disguise), Sram with his thunderous roar, and the time travelling Lord Tempo.
The Terrahawks possess some fantastic vehicles – the Battlehawk, Hawkwing, Treehawk, the Terrahawk and Spacehawk – and are aided by Hiro’s mechanical creations, the Zeroids, led by Sergeant Major Zero.
Overseeing production on the series is Gerry’s son Jamie.
He recalls: “I had a chat with Nick Briggs at BritSciFi – a sci-fi convention in Leicester in 2013 and we became chummy over the next few months. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do Thunderbirds with Big Finish,’ was a regular line, but we knew it wasn’t available at that point because of the new Thunderbirds series, and ITV’s desire to keep the focus on that.
I had been emailing Christopher Burr, who owns the rights to Terrahawks and we manage it for him, and I said to Nick over lunch one day: ‘What about an audio series of Terrahawks?’ From the other side of a chalice of Brussels sprouts Nick said, ‘Alright!’
“Nick admitted he didn’t really know it that well, but knew it had its own fan base.”
Jamie continues: “It’s Captain Scarlet meets Red Dwarf, as it has the darker feel of the former, but it also has the comedic aspects of the latter. Both facets are thingswe’ve been able to develop and explore for the audios.
“The series has sat gathering dust for such a long time, it’s been brilliant to be able to create brand new stories, and to put in some backstory.”
The new series kicks off with The Price is Right, written by Jamie. With the prospect of budget cuts and a spot inspection looming over their heads, the Terrahawks intend to showcase themselves to the best of their ability. A surprise attack from Zelda, however, gives them a bigger chance to demonstrate their worth than originally bargained for.
There’s plenty of nods and winks to the audience, though – look out for a reference to there not being an attack from Zelda for 30 months, and it feeling more like 30 years.
“Nick suggested we had an info-dump episode, because they are always quite naff, but because it’s Terrahawks, there’s a lot of humour about the way we do it, and bring it into the audio medium.”
The series continues with Deadly Departed and A Clone of My Own both written by writing duo (and script editors) Stephen La Rivière and Andrew T Smith, who joined with Jamie to write Clubbed to Death, No Laughing Matter by Terry Adlam, Timesplit by Chris Dale, 101 Seed by Gerry Anderson and adapted by Jamie Anderson, and Into the Breach by Mark Woollard.
101 Seed, particularly leaps out, as it was written by Gerry Anderson, and now Jamie has adapted it for inclusion as an audio. Work had begun on the proposed fourth TV series of Terrahawks, for which this episode was originally devised.
“It was a happy time. What was really nice was, I wrote The Price is Right, and then picked up 101 Seed, and it was nice to see how much was shared between the two scripts in terms of style. It was a good fun story, and it wasn’t too difficult to adapt for audio”.
With a couple of exceptions, the original cast have returned to play the parts once again – Jeremy Hitchen as Ninestein, Hiro and Hawkeye, Robbie Stevens as Space Sergeant 101, Hudson and Yung-Star, Denise Bryer as Zelda and Mary Falconer. Windsor Davies, the original voice of Sergeant Major Zero, has since retired from acting, prompting Jeremy to take on the part – and it’s a brilliant recreation.
Jamie admits he feared that getting Denise Bryer – now 87 – to play her roles again was initially a worry.
He explains: “I was expecting Denise to tell me to get lost. Initially she said, ‘I’m such an old lady now… I’m not sure I’m up to it nowadays.’ But she was lovely about it. Having worked with her before, Stephen made the initial approach, and told her we couldn’t do it without her, because she was so wonderful. We promised we would pick her up, take her to the studio, she would be properly fed and watered, and we would take her back home again.
“She thought about it, and then told him, ‘In my old age, I’ve rather become Zelda, so perhaps it’s appropriate for me to come back.’”
“Stephen had previously told me that David Graham, who was Parker in Thunderbirds, once said to him that Denise was without doubt one of the most talented actresses he had ever worked with, and was just amazing. He may well have used that line to butter her up!
“Having got Denise, who was the one I was most worried about, I was then able to go to Jeremy and Robbie, who are still very friendly – they’re best mates after 30 years, and they said, ‘Let’s do it!’
“We tried to get Windsor, but I got a message back from his daughter saying, ‘Thanks for asking, but he’s now retired.’
“Luckily, though, I’d heard Jeremy telling a few stories about Windsor and doing his fantastic impression, and since he seems to play every other character in Terrahawks, I knew he could do it!
One newcomer to the Hawknest is Beth Chalmers, a Big Finish regular, who has taken over from the late Anne Ridler as the voices of Kate Kestrel and Cy-Star.
Jamie says: “Nick had suggested Beth, as she’s very versatile with her voice. I met her for lunch, and she said, ‘Oh, I loved Terrahawks, I remember it really well,’ and she then leapt into doing Cy-Star and Kate impressions.
“It was a much easier process than I thought it was going to be – and it was great fun. And on the day, even with a new member, the whole cast just slipped straight back into things as if it was 1986 all over again!”
Getting the original voice actors isn’t the only treat in store – Jamie and the team were able to locate copies the original incidental music which was specially composed for the show, and this too features in the stories, adding to the authentic feel.
“We had to get the music and sound effects together,” he says, “which were not as readily available as I’d hoped.
“Eventually, we amassed several reels of material – two inch tapes, VHS and pieces, from a whole variety of sources and Mark Ayres very kindly cleaned up the old effects tapes. Some of the material had been transferred from a one inch tape to a VHS, and then copied to another VHS, which had added quite a buzz to them, unfortunately.”
One of the sound effects located was the distinctive bleep made by the Zeroids when they’re speaking.
Jamie laughs: “It’s nice that they came up with these literal audible speech mark noises for the Zeroids, and otherwise it could have been difficult to identify they were robots. It’s almost like the original sound designers knew it would be good for audio drama!”
“Overall through the old cast coming back in, and a lot of love from everyone involved – particularly Stephen La Riviére and Andrew T. Smith who went above and beyond the call of duty at every turn, and really helped to set the tone of the series – I’m absolutely thrilled with what we’ve come up with!”.
But it’s not just the new audio series that will excite Terrahawks fans. Anderson Entertainment and IDO Design and Animation are working on an animated web series – Zeroids vs Cubes – featuring the two main robots from the original series. The series, which was teased on the Gerry Anderson Youtube channel last year, will start in the spring.
Both projects will be celebrated at Andercon 2015 in Leicester this June.
Terrahawks will be available as a download, and on four CDs, with a bonus, behind-the-scenes CD featuring interviews with the cast and crew from April 2015 from bigfinish.com. For more Zeroids vs Cubes news, keep an eye on gerryanderson.co.uk