A journalist said something bad about ‘Thunderbirds’.
Naturally, such action demands a retort.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Gerry Anderson’s classic and most famous work, Thunderbirds. Now this of course means that someone thought it necessary to reboot the series. And typically that someone had to be ITV, the television giant having acquired the rights around the turn of the century. Last week, in response to the traditional uproar that accompanies such a move, The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage thought he’d get some quick, cheap social media shares by stating that the original was “rubbish”, “boring”, “cheap-looking”, lacking distinct personalities, and that everyone should get over the fact that a reboot was in production.
Now on the final point, I agree with him. Thunderbirds has rarely left the world stage for long since its incarnation in the mid-60s, with remakes, comics, a live-action feature film, and even a stage show coming and going in its wake. Therefore one more reboot is simply one more reboot, even if Alan, Gordon and John look as though they’d barely be able to buy a pack of smokes, let alone handle billion-dollar equipment. ITV are certainly making a go of it, but in the end it will probably fall well short of the standard set during the 60s. The point is that fans of the original, myself included, probably won’t watch past the first five minutes anyway, so there’s little to no reason to compare them.
Mr. Heritage’s apparent bitterness towards our heroes perhaps stems from the fact, according to his column, that he’s 33, and therefore wasn’t part of the two major Thunderbirds generations (children of the mid-60s and early-90s, the latter of which was when I first got my soon to be weekly fix). Just a guess, but it would makes sense, as instead he would have been on the verge of his teen years when the first nationwide re-runs began on BBC2 in 1991, thus there’s a chance he saw the whole thing as painfully uncool (to be honest, I probably would have felt the same way). No harm there. However, this means that he probably didn’t actually watch much of it, as he would know that his sentiments are rather lazy and, frankly, not much cop.
Mr. Heritage is of course entitled to his opinion. However, since he offered zero evidence for his proposed theories I will provide just enough of a direct retort here, before discussing the show in more detail in the following article. First, “rubbish”. Mr. Heritage’s use of previous reboots to prove his point lets him down here, as a show spanning multiple generations of fans and spawning countless remakes, spin-offs, an indirect parody by two of the finest satirical minds in film and television today, and a Blue Peter model to replace the lost promise of many a 90s child’s Christmas present are, of course, clearly signs of a “rubbish” show. Second, “cheap-looking”. Everything from the mid-60s could be considered cheap looking by today’s standards, the live action stuff just as much as Supermarionation. A relevant parallel would be Howard Hughes’ revolutionary project, Hell’s Angels (1930). Does it look cheap today? No. Does it appear dated? Certainly. Thunderbirds is the same. And to be honest, when the craft behind the show, especially the special effects, the voice work, the direction, and the scoring are taken into consideration, it’s slightly embarrassing to call it a cheap production in any capacity. Third, the lack of distinct personality traits. For the Tracy brothers, sure, Mr. Heritage has a case, but only to an extent. Scott, and in particular Alan Tracy, both demonstrate somewhat interesting third dimensions as the show progresses, at least for an action show. In terms of the supporting cast, characters such as Brains and The Hood go as far as their names suggest, but were so unique that it didn’t really matter, whilst the likes of Lady Penelope, Parker and Jeff Tracy all develop more than a little of what could be called “depth” throughout.
But come on Mr. Heritage, boring, really? The concept’s ridiculous, many moments unintentionally hilarious, the recurring villain a resident of the fantastic, all of which are essentially ingredients of a great action production, which is precisely what it is. Anderson originally thought, following the success of Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray, that he would be given backing for a live-action production, but to no avail, so this time he made his ‘puppet show’ at least feel as a real as possible. Gone were the classic well-rounded heroes with comic book names, such as Steve Zodiac, Mike Mercury, and Troy Tempest, replaced by five brothers and their well-meaning, widowed father. Anderson wasn’t trying to be clever or outlandish when he made Thunderbirds. Instead, he and his team just put an outrageous amount of imagination, mythology, and attention to detail into a relatively simple premise. This led to a no limits approach, culminating in the inclusion of real life baby (‘giant’) alligators in one episode. Minds were also turned lose on the task of inventing cool-as-fuck civil aviation and engineering projects that existed within a sense of normality in their futuristic universe, outside of the fairly ridiculous nature and apparent continued secrecy of the Thunderbird craft. Said projects turned out to be one of the highlights of the show, although of course they all had to contain sufficient health and safety flaws, else there would have been no need for a major rescue every week. Therein lies the key to the aforementioned simple premise however, as tense, well worked action, an always epic atmosphere, and general leave your brain at the door entertainment resulted in a great all round television show, particularly in the eyes who’ve always loved it the most: children.
For part two of my short ‘Thunderbirds’ special double-header, building on what’s been discussed here with greater detail and in-depth specifics, see Scene Kid #2: “We’re running out of runway!”.