Retro Sci Fi TV: Thunderbirds (1965)

By | September 15, 2018

A look at shows from the past that may not have stood the test of time and/or that are relegated to their era, but many of us still have fond memories of them.

What Is It? This Supermarionation series from Gerry Anderson focused on the International Rescue Team (IR), an elite group that could tackle dangerous missions using their technologically advances crafts designed for land, sea, and air. Patriarch Jeff Tracy is the leader of the team with his fives sons each piloting a different rescue vehicle. Also assisting the team are super-smart (and ultra-nerdy) Brains and secret agent Lady Penelope.




Aired: 1965-67, Syndication (ATV in Britain), 2 Seasons Totaling 32 Episodes

Starring: Sylvia Anderson, Ray Barrett, Peter Dyneley, Christine Finn, David Graham

Created By: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson

Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi? Not really. But it is worth checking out a few episodes for some retro fun with puppets and cool vehicles.

 

The Skinny: This series is probably the best-known of Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation shows (which used high-tech puppets), and it is also a well-remembered series from its era. It basically delivered straight up action-adventures stories with the team dealing with the challenges presented by the villain and/or disaster of the week. But early fans probably best remember the show for its cool ships and first-rate sfx (for the time) that were unlike anything else on television. This show took Anderson’s Supermarionation (which was mostly just for kids with shows like Fireball XL5 and Supercar) to the next level and extended its appeal to the adult audience. Interestingly, that included a lot of puppets smoking cigarettes (which was heavily edited in later syndication runs) and doing other things that made them seem more adult. It was a ton of fun at the time and was one of the few shows that went all-out with its sci fi action (and of course, there are plenty of explosions). It does not hold up as well today, especially to modern audiences, but it was a notable series for its era and spurred the the imagination of many young sci fi fans.

Cancelled Too Soon? Perhaps. The show was a big hit in Britain, but then television series did not go for extended runs in that country like over in the States. It also did well in syndication in the U.S. (often airing on weekend mornings) and producers were trying to get an American network onboard to help fund a third season. That fell through, ending the show’s run at two seasons with 32 episodes. Two Thunderbirds movies were produced instead, so original International Rescue team had two more missions in the 60’s after the end of the series.

Revival: In the early 80’s, the Anime series Thunderbirds 2086 acted as a sort of continuation of the original. It followed the adventures of the Technoboyager rescue organization which was loosely linked to the original International Rescue team. The series ran for 24 episodes and is not considered part of the Thunderbirds canon. There was a live-action reboot on the big screen in 2004, but that flopped at the Box Office and was not well received by fans. Gerry Anderson (who had sold the rights to the show in the 70’s) worked on a couple of reboots of the premise over the years, one titled Thunderhawks the other Inter-Galactic Rescue 4, but neither resulted in a series. In the early 2000’s, Gerry Anderson attempted to reclaim the rights to the property with plans for a reboot using a combination of CGI and practical effects. Sadly, Anderson passed away in 2012, but the reboot moved forward, titled Thunderbirds Are Go. The first season debuted in 2015 and the show is currently in its third season, with all three available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Interesting Fact: According to Gerry Anderson, Thunderbirds takes place in the same universe as Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray. There were no crossovers for the shows in the 60’s, but with the current trend for creating expanded universes, that seems to open possibilities for the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet reboots.

Where Can You Watch It? The entire series has been released on DVD, though it has not received the Blu-ray treatment yet. The show is also available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video along with the recent reboot of the series.

Retro Toys: Back in the 1970’s, Dinky Toys made die-cast versions Thunderbird 5 (with Thunderbird 4 in the hangar compartment) and Lady Penelope’s car. These were great fun for kids who owned them back in the day and have since become collector’s items. Matchbox later did an update of these which included two additional Thunberbirds vehicles.

Buy Thunderbirds and other classic Gerry Anderson Supermarionation shows on DVD from Amazon.com:

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