THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!
If those words mean nothing to you, you obviously haven’t lived a full childhood, and I feel sorry for you.
Yes, I’m talking about Thunderbirds.
Created by the late Gerry Anderson in 1965 and running until Christmas 1966, Thunderbirds was the fourth project of APF films that used Supermarionation as a filming technique involving puppets with electronic motors in their heads to allow eye and lip movement.
The story was set in 2065. Jeff Tracy (a former astronaut and millionaire) has set up a secret rescue operation on a secret island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. The team is formed of Jeff Tracy’s sons; Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John, each in charge of their own specialised vehicles. Thunderbird 1 was the rapid response vehicle, getting to the scene of disaster before the others and advising on what machines should be brought in to help by Thunderbird 2. Thunderbird 2 was the giant transport vehicle, which could carry a variety of rescue equipment including Thunderbird 4 (the submarine used for underwater rescues) and The Mole. Moving into the extraterrestrial, Thunderbird 3 dealt with any disasters in space, and acted as the transport between Tracy Island and Thunderbird 5. Thunderbird 5 was the space station that kept tabs on all activity on earth and forwarded any major disasters on to Jeff and the other sons.
The majority of disasters that occurred within the weekly episodes were industrial style accidents, such as the collapse of the Empire State Building and the meltdown of a nuclear reactor. Not all the catastrophes were caused by accident. Sometimes the evil Hood, a man who could hypnotise anyone with his glowing eyes, and half brother of Kyrano, manservant in the Tracy household, would try to obtain the plans for the Thunderbird vehicles and use them to create an unstoppable armada.
The Tracy’s didn’t work alone. They had the help of numerous agents throughout the globe, most notably, Lady Penelope, their London based agent (though living in Kent, strangely) who was driven around by her butler Parker in her iconic pink Rolls Royce (FAB 1). Also important was the engineer and genius behind the machines, Brains, who occasionally accompanied the team on their rescue missions.
Thunderbirds may have been the most popular of the Gerry Anderson series, however it was far from the only one. Another popular series was Captain Scarlet.
Captain Scarlet revolved around Spectrum and their battle against the Mysterons, a race who lived on the surface of Mars and declared war on earth after a team of scientists fired upon a Mysteron citadel unprovoked. The retaliation of the Mysterons lost Captain Scarlet one of his allies (Captain Black) and led to numerous attempts on the destruction of the earth and the world leaders. Many of the attempts were thwarted by Captain Scarlet, rendered indestructible by a previous attempt on his life by the Mysterons.
Captain Scarlet was the eighth series by Anderson, and the first to use a more realistic puppet head that was less of a caricature than previous iterations. The cast was also more diverse, featuring the first black puppet in any of his works with the character of Lieutenant Green and the multi-ethnic Angels, an all female squad of highly trained jet pilots.
The series was a lot darker and edgier when compared to previous works, and so was deemed not suitable for young children.
Finally, let’s talk about Stingray, one of the earlier series by Anderson, showing between 1964 and 1965. The show was the first of the Supermarionation to be filmed in colour.
The show revolved around Troy Tempest of W.A.S.P, captain of the titular Stingray, and his protection of the world’s oceans. Tempest encountered various marine lifeforms that both attempted to help and hinder him over the course of his adventures, such as Marina, a mute woman who was slave girl to King Titan, the ruler of the sea, himself convinced that the land dwellers were attempting to take over his kingdom.
The cast of main characters was rounded out by Phones, a Dixie navigator, Commander Shore who is bound to a hover-chair and his daughter Atlanta Shore who occasionally accompanied the Troy and Phones on their missions. The series was very well written and was well received by the audiences.
All of Gerry Anderson’s creations were absolutely fantastic, and I would strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen them to give them a try. Recently, Thunderbirds had a very positively received remake featuring a combination of animation and modelled sets to tell its updated stories. It’s not quite the original, but it’s still a great way to enjoy Anderson’s creations in a more modern setting.