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Christmas episodes, like dream sequences, are a tradition on TV; they're also traditionally more lightweight and frivolous than usual. However, the Terrahawks Christmas episode proved to be the exception in Gerry Anderson's canon and bucked the trend of the series as a whole with a poignant allusion to a Christmas spent at war.

It's Christmas Eve at Hawknest, and while Mary and Kate busy themselves with the tree, Tiger is working on his battle plan, suspecting a massive attack from Zelda. He is of course correct (is he ever anything else?), Zelda's fleet lifts off from Mars and so on Christmas Day the Terrahawks crew heads for the Moon in Spacehawk. As the Zeroids battle the Cubes from their lunar trenches, Ninestein and Zelda sit back, safe from the barrage, and await the outcome. But while Ninestein is asleep, Mary calls a truce and the two sides get together for a party...

Terrahawks wrong-footed a lot of older fans as it rejected the serious approach of Scarlet and UFO, going instead for the more comedic approach of Dennis Spooner's Stingray and Fireball stories.This episode goes against the grain of the series' usual frippery and its established tone; although it's wrapped up in a dream sequence, it has quite a point to make about the season of goodwill. The episode deftly sidesteps the religious aspect of the season and instead concentrates on the 'goodwill to all' message, thus keeping it as general as possible for overseas audiences. Instead it focuses on the paradox of a conflict during the festive period. Yungstar, obviously a secular android, describes Christmas as a 'great festival' with 'parties and lots to eat' - he and Cystar are immediately tempted by the opportunity to gorge themselves and get some presents. Pure self-indulgence on their part, but at least it's better than being at war.

The episode makes obvious allusions to the Great War and the plight of the soldiers on both sides who had to spend their Christmas in rat-infested trenches a matter of yards from each other. Most will be aware (if not from the history books then via songs such as Pipes of Peace and All Together Now) that hostilities were temporarily suspended on Christmas Day, resulting in a quick kick-about in No-Man's Land. Similarly, the Terrahawks crew must all spend Christmas on duty rather than with friends and relatives back home. Like the Generals in charge of the war, Ninestein is obsessed with duty, oblivious to his men's feelings and totally lacking in Christmas spirit. In the dream sequence, he is determined to have a final confrontation with Zelda - a war to end all wars - and it is to be on the neutral territory of the Moon. The unfeeling and determined commanders of both sides, Ninestein and Zelda, send their subordinates into battle with no regard for casualty reports and the like. The poignance is rammed home by Yungstar turning up in a pointed German helmet and being sent with Cystar into battle - Yungstar is such a likeable idiot that, despite the fact that he's supposedly an enemy, the thought of him being sent into the trenches at Christmas is quite jarring. Ninestein demands 'blind obedience' from his men, despite conceding to Mary that 'War is lunacy'. In the trenches and under heavy bombardment, Dix-huit can't take much more. A Zeroid with shell-shock? Ninestein, meanwhile, goes off for a sleep while the battle rages to its conclusion - some unexpectedly biting satire from the pen of Tony Barwick.

The paradox of continuing the battle through Christmas is of course lost on the Generals (Ninestein and Zelda) and it is Mary who strikes a blow for humanity and calls for a ceasefire. Yungstar and Cystar board Spacehawk at Zero's invitation, and once the two sides all meet up, their differences - if they ever had any - are soon forgotten. As Christmas is 'a time for enjoyment', they get right down to some song and dance - Terrahawks' version of that game of football in the mud of No-Man's Land. You may not bracket being subjected to Kate Kestrel's tinny 80s songs with a 'time for enjoyment' but that's a purely personal choice - at least their inclusion in this episode is more appropriate than usual. Despite the sombre undercurrent, Tony Barwick's dry wit and love of film quotes is never far away. 'Fly me to the moon!' shrieks Zelda as she heads off to face Ninestein's forces. Later on she does her best Mae West impersonation as she tries to plant a kiss on Ninestein - 'Come up and see me, clone'. As if! Meanwhile Yungstar grooves away with Mary, telling her 'When I grow up I want to be a space train driver'. No doubt those caught in real conflicts had plans for the time when they could resume their lives and make their own choices. Ninestein's dream eventually comes to a horribly sloppy ending when Zelda decides to join in the 'Cavorting with the enemy' and goes looking for a Christmas kiss from Ninestein... luckily that's when he wakes up!

Invariably, Christmas episodes are lightweight offerings best enjoyed through the haze of a few glasses of wine, with little of import to offer other than a chase sequence and a 'Happy Christmas' - the recent seasonal Doctor Who specials being a case in point. Yet despite Terrahawks' reputation as being just for laughs, this episode packs a thoughtful message which is appropriate for the season. Okay, it's not A Christmas Carol, nor is it even Blackadder Goes Forth but it does strike a chord and has a message of togetherness that is worth remembering. It's just a pity Stew couldn't have made it to the party too. Like, yeah man, er, have a really, you know, like, Happy Christmas.

Noel Stein