Review by Cavan Gilbey
Big Finish’s recent collaborations with Anderson Entertainment have been simply brilliant, bringing many of Britain’s best cult action sci-fi shows back to life with audio adaptations of otherwise inaccessible novels and comic strips. This month sees two major releases; a pair of full cast Thunderbirds stories based on fan-favourite comic strips and this audio annual which collects a series of short stories written for the respective show’s annuals. Anything Can Happen brings together Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90, some of these shows I am more familiar with than others; Joe 90 is the one I am least familiar with outside of the basic premise and insanely catchy opening theme. This collection makes for a good, nostalgic listen, harkening back to an era of pulpy camp story telling that certainly charms and excites and its great to have these otherwise rare tales preserved by excellent narration from Nicholas Briggs and Wayne Forester and sound design from Briggs and Benji Clifford; makes them closer to feeling like traditional episodes of the shows rather than simple short stories.
The first pair of stories, Four Hours to Eternity and Aquaphobia come to us from the universe of Thunderbirds and both seemingly linked by the theme of entrapment due to the greed. In the first story it’s a bank vault, essentially having the story play out as a vastly truncated version of the tv story Vault of Death, and in the second it’s a bathysphere at the bottom of a deep sea trench. One thing this pair of stories get immediately right is the pacing of the rescues performed by the International Rescue team; I think Aquaphobia does a slightly better job with the way that Gordon is essentially held hostage at one point by a greed fuelled explorer and that leads to some great tension where we wait for the other explorer to wake up and help. Fours Hours on the other hand doesn’t feel as interesting mostly due to the stronger sense of rehashing a TV plot line, I do like the idea however that one of the criminals assumes that plans he made while in prison for years will still work; just hubristic short-sightedness which adds to the comedic tone that many Thunderbirds episodes captured really well. While I really enjoyed Aquaphobia, I couldn’t help but think Four Hours might have been a slot that could be filled with something a bit more unique or at the very least something that wasn’t already freely available to listen to.
Stingray is up next with Aquacade Emergency and Marineville Must Go, two stories showing how easily the domestic life of the Control Tower can be disturbed. I am was a bit surprised to discover that these were the stories that I enjoyed the most, despite my quite limited knowledge of the show outside of the core elements and characters. The first story is a short story of subterfuge as the devious Agent X-2-Zero infiltrates a celebratory mock battle re-enactment, a set I really enjoy as it feels exactly like something that could have so easily have happened in the few episodes of Stingray I’ve seen. The battle and action prose in this story is surprisingly fluid and reads really well, which is more than what you can say for some modern full length novels that have long action sequences. Marineville Must Go is by far the most comedic story of the whole set and involves a plot to demolish the headquarters for archaeological purposes, naturally Commander Shore is less than thrilled and pushes himself to really ridiculous lengths in protest. There’s a great scene where Troy and Phones have to humour Shore by pretending to be a pair of ghosts in order to scare off the busybodies, naturally this fails and leaves everyone feeling a bit embarrassed. I will even go as far to forgive this story for having an ‘it was all a dream’ ending; the biggest story telling cardinal sin. The audience for this was obviously children who might be aware of certain overplayed tropes so it can get away with it somewhat. Both great stories at the end of the day, and easily the ones that offer the most fun of the set in my opinion.
Next we have a pair of Captain Scarlet tales; Mirror of Vengeance and The Midas Menace. And if I am being perfectly honest with you, I really didn’t get on with this pairing at all. A shame since I’d probably consider Captain Scarlet my favourite Gerry Anderson show, but these stories didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I found them very poorly paced and quite forgettable unfortunately. The one element I remember really enjoying was the body double elements of Midas Menace, that opened up the story for some interesting espionage but the rest of narrative didn’t play the cat and mouse elements it was going for very well and left me wanting more from the story. These are a bit of a disappoint me and it annoys me I couldn’t get on with them despite my affection for the show.
Finally we have the Joe 90 story The Cracksman. Now I really am not familiar with this show outside of the general premise that Joe can have certain skills implanted into his brain via a machine so he can help the secret service on special missions. In the case of this story however, a car accident leaves Joe thinking he’s actually one of the country’s most wanted criminals. It’s a fun premise and the story does play it off with a light tone, having the comedic image of a nine year talking with this cockney accent being the central joke. There’s some great tense escape scenes throughout, and I quite like the ending where they realise they can use Joe’s memories to capture the sought after criminal. I may very go off and actually try some episodes of the show if I can find them anywhere.
At the end of the day this an excellent collection of short stories, sure I didn’t get on with the Captain Scarlet stories but I can easily see others finding fun in them. This is a great way to celebrate Anderson’s history and pantheon of shows; especially the ones considered the most iconic. I would honestly love to hear another one of these that has stories from UFO, Space 1999 or Fireball X-L5 alongside some of the more famous shows. A must buy for Anderfans.
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[…] to produce full cast audio drama adaptation of the comic strips that would appear in the likes of TV Century 21. The first set, Thunderbirds vs The Hood came out earlier this year and was such a fun time for […]