Thunderbirds (TV series)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds are go!

—Opening narration

Created by preeminent special-effects man Gerry Anderson, Thunderbirds was the story of the Tracy family, a wealthy clan of billionaire astronauts who embarked on a unique philanthropic venture.

Jeff Tracy, and his five sons (Scott, Virgil, Gordon, John and Alan) formed "International Rescue", an organization whose purpose should be self explanatory. They used technology designed by their resident Techno Wizard, "Brains", which was far beyond anything possessed by any military or civilian agency on the planet, even given the series's far future setting of the early 21st century.

Every week, some monstrous disaster would occur, and the boys (primarily Scott and Virgil) would pilot their awesome Thunderbird aerospace craft to the scene, moving at speeds that would make an aeronautical engineer drool. Scott would get there first, survey the situation, and call back to Virgil, who would then arrive at the scene with the right equipment loaded into the cavernous interior of Thunderbird Two's "pod". Amongst other things, a drilling vehicle (Mole) or an underwater rover (Thunderbird Four) could be loaded into Two.

There were five Thunderbirds, one for each brother:

  • Thunderbird One: Was the most used. Looks like a space shuttle, moves like a jet fighter.
  • Thunderbird Two: A ginormous plane that could load equipment or smaller vehicles in his hangar space.
  • Thunderbird Three: An actual rocketship. Mostly used to get to Thunderbird Five.
  • Thunderbird Four: A small submarine/underwater rover.
  • Thunderbird Five: A Space Station.

Acting as an espionage back-up, to prevent any of IR's tech from being stolen and used for military or destructive purposes, was prim and proper spy Lady Penelope, and her rough-edged cockney Battle Butler Parker, in Penny's pink six-wheeled Rolls-Royce limousine, FAB 1.

The miniatures used were cutting edge for the time. The show was described as feature film quality, to the point where Lord Grade, the head of the commissioning company ITC Entertainment, upped it from a half hour to an hour long drama (necessitating additional scenes to be shot for the first few episodes).

Oh, and all the characters were puppets. The show was filmed in Supermarionation, which is really just souped-up marionettes.

This show is a classic in its native Britain, and around the world. The first season was such a success that it was decided to make a full-blown movie before production began on the second season; the result was Thunderbirds Are GO, wherein the Tracys must rescue an imperiled Mars rocket after a scrape with the local lifeforms.

Expected to be a blockbuster of James Bond proportions, it performed poorly at the box office; amid corporate fears that the bubble had burst, Gerry Anderson was instructed that the second season be cut back to just six episodes. United Artists, surprised at the failure of the first movie, subsequently commissioned another - Thunderbird 6, where designing a new Thunderbird vehicle is put on hold when a state-of-the-art luxury airship is in danger - and this also flopped. In 2004 a live action/CGI action movie directed by Jonathan Frakes, and starring Ben Kingsley and Bill Paxton, was released. It was not well received either.

There is a Recap in desperate need of assistance! Thundernerds are go!

Tropes used in Thunderbirds (TV series) include:
  • All There in the Manual: The recurring villain, The Hood, was never named in dialogue or credits in the original TV episodes, only in publicity materials.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Kyrano and Tin-Tin are just made up names that sound Asian.
  • The Atoner: Parker used to be a criminal used to be exclusively a criminal.
  • Awesome but Impractical: Pretty much everything, but the Crablogger and Sidewinder get special mentions.
  • Battle Butler: Parker. Weaponized car and all.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: International Rescue is altruistic and will stop at nothing to get you to safety. However if you take pictures of their technology they will have Lady Penelope shoot you off the road.
  • Broken Aesop: "Atlantic Inferno." Supposedly Scott learns that being in charge is harder than it looks. In reality, Scott is a good leader - his only problem is that his father doesn't back him up.
    • Thunderbird Six. Jeff repeatedly turns down Brains' ideas for a new Thunderbird on the basis that the ideas are only suitable for a single type of rescue mission. Fine and good, except that (a) this applies to every single one of TB2's pod vehicles including Thunderbird 4, all of which Jeff presumably approves of, and (b) it's hard to conceive of any great number of uses for the vehicle that ultimately is made Thunderbird Six (see Cool Ship below).
  • Catch Phrase: "Thunderbirds are GO!", "F.A.B.", and to a lesser extent, Parker's "Yes, M'Lady".
    • Brains' "Of course! Why didn't I think of it before?"
  • Christmas Cake: Lady Penelope (26 years old in the original series.)
  • Circle of Shame: In Thunderbird Six, when Brains outlines his idea of building an airship, a roomful of air industry executives laugh at him. The film's DVD Commentary points out that, since all the characters are marionettes, lots of laughing puppet heads had to be constructed even though each of them would only appear in one shot.

"Sure, they laughed - and then they built it!"

  • Clip Show: "Security Hazard" - a surprisingly good one at that centering around a boy who snuck onboard Thunderbird 2 after a rescue.
    • Done well because the clips are cut and edited to put spins on the previous episodes so the IR team can impress the boy. For example, the "Sun Probe" episode clip is edited to suggest Thunderbird 3 never got into a bit of a pickle after rescuing the probe.
      • This also averts one of the cliché standbys of Anderson series - many of them are prone to "it was all a dream" episodes (especially Stingray, which had three), but here it's averted by the boy himself, after they've returned him home and he's gone to sleep, waking up and thinking that it was all a dream. It still doesn't excuse Alan's endless, film-killing Dream Sequence in Thunderbirds Are Go, however...
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • The vehicles:
      • Thunderbird 1: silver
      • Thunderbird 2: green
      • Thunderbird 3: red
      • Thunderbird 4: yellow
      • Thunderbird 5: gold and silver
      • F.A.B. 1: pink
    • The pilots wear pastel-coloured sashs and belts:
      • Scott: light blue
      • Virgil: yellow
      • Alan: off-white
      • Gordon: orange
      • John: lilac
  • Compilation Movie: Three, all airing in 1981, under Anderson's Super Space Theater title.
    • Countdown to Disaster, featuring the episodes "Terror in New York City" and "Atlantic Inferno."
    • Thunderbirds in Outer Space, featuring the episodes "Sun Probe" and "Ricochet."
    • Thunderbirds to the Rescue, featuring the episodes "Trapped in the Sky" and "Operation Crash-Dive".
  • Continuity Nod: Several projects and vehicles, such as the Fireflash atomic powered airliner and the Sunprobe project, as well as characters involved in those projects, turn up more than once and reference the previous encounters. Not surprising really, they did still have the models after all.
  • Continuity Snarl: Hoo boy! The series was first released in 1965. Since then we've had; two (three) movies, comics, novels, annuals, guide books and interviews with the cast/crew - all of which largely contradict themselves.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The average rescue is set up by means of a series of comically ludicrous coincidences and horrible design / engineering. For example, in "Day of Disaster" a vehicle is transporting a giant rocket. Fully fuelled. With people inside. And it's set up with an unstoppable automatic launch countdown. And they have to cross a weak bridge. And there's a storm. And the bridge supervisors are idiots.
  • Cool Car: F.A.B. 1. Yes, it's pink.
  • Cool Garage: Tracy Island, with all its retractable and hidden landing and launch bays.
  • Cool Plane: Fireflash, a futuristic supersonic jetliner just look at it Here's a modern 3D render undeniably cool.
  • Cool Ship: Five main ones, and many more which needed to be rescued. More specifically:
    • Thunderbird 1, piloted by Scott, is a hypersonic aircraft powered by a nuclear thermal engine, designed for getting to the crisis scene as fast as possible to gather intel.
    • Thunderbird 2, piloted by Virgil, is a giant less-hypersonic-but-still-fast lifting-body transport for moving the gear that Thunderbird 1 called for. (This one is unsurprisingly the most frequently seen of the lot, appearing in both (all right, all three) movies and all but one episode of the TV show.)
    • Thunderbird 3, piloted by Alan, is an SSTO rocket used for space rescues and reaching Thunderbird 5.
    • Thunderbird 4, piloted by Gordon, is a submarine for underwater rescues. Often transported in Thunderbird 2's pod 4.
    • Thunderbird 5, manned by John, is a space station capable of monitoring all radio frequencies world wide to listen for distress calls.
    • Thunderbird 6, introduced in the movie of the same name, is an antique Tiger Moth biplane. It earned the name when it proved the only aircraft in the Tracy arsenal both light enough and slow enough to land on top of a distressed luxury zeppelin.
      • Brains also designed several Thunderbird 6 prototypes more in-line with the original five units--each was a perfectly viable vehicle in their own right, but all were rejected because Brains was going through a Heroic BSOD at the moment.
    • Also the Mole, used for underground rescues, and a host of souped-up construction gear hauled in TB2's pods.
  • Cut and Paste Translation: The redubbed half-hour version from Fox Kids, as well as the truly hideous Turbocharged Thunderbirds.
  • Darker and Edgier: The movie Thunderbird 6. It has an actual body count for crying out loud!
  • Did Not Do the Research: The 2004 movie, which appears to have been written as a Spy Kids knockoff with the "Thunderbirds" brand added more or less as an afterthought. A particularly egregious example is when the Bank of England is misnamed the "London Bank". Also, in the DVD extras, Thunderbird 3 (the spaceship) is described as having a top speed of "5000 MPH" ? er, people, try sticking a 2 on the beginning of that, or better still, an extra 0 on the end.
    • Also in the movie, not only do the news reporters refer to them as the Thunderbirds and not International Rescue, but they filmed them. If you were an uber Thundernerd, you'd think "Where's the damn Automatic Camera Detector?! I thought they weren't supposed to be filmed!"
      • Though in the more modern world, the idea that they can keep everyone from filming them is pretty silly, when every Tom, Dick and Harry is carrying around some sort of digital camera. Even the most repressive of the world's governments are finding that it's nearly impossible to keep video of what they are doing off the Internet.
    • The 2004 movie also shows International Rescue as having been around for a long time, contradicting the first episode where it's made out that the Fireflash Incident was the first rescue.
    • Don't forget that many series examples exist, including having a crust of topsoil form over a large gaping hole.
      • And an island in the South Pacific having a five-hour time difference with the UK.
  • Diegetic Theme Cameo: Virgil plays the theme song on a piano at the end of the pilot episode.
  • Dream Sequence: In Thunderbirds Are Go, Alan has a lengthy dream in which Penelope takes him to a nightclub in space.
  • Drill Tank: The Mole, one of TB 2's pod vehicles, sets a gold standard for the type. It has rockets to push it into the ground, for fab's sake!
  • Drives Like Crazy: Lady Penelope, of all people, at first. She grows out of it.
    • Well, until she's force to fly the Tiger in TB 6.
  • Easy Logistics: In "Ricochet," we find out that even a pirate radio station can put a manned space station into orbit. This is apparently so common that nobody can keep track of the launches. This raises some questions as to how on Earth nobody has found Tracy Island yet.
  • Eek! A Mouse!: A plot point in "The Mighty Atom."
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: International Rescue.
  • Executive Meddling: A positive example when Lew Grade ordered the series be made with hour long episodes. This required the series to delve into more sophisticated plot and characters to make up for the time, which made the series a cult classic.
    • further series were denied after The Movie (actually two movies) bombed, although this still had some positive effects.
      • ITV holds the rights to the series and has refused to return them to Gerry Anderson or allowing him to either remake or continue the series ala Captain Scarlet. Thankfully as of early 2011, that appears to have been resolved to allow Anderson to proceed.
    • Sadly, a negative example from Lew Grade, and an unintentional one at that: The show was axed from airwaves after Grade's rather unsuccessful trip to America, where all three major networks were bidding on the show. Thanks in part to Grade's playing each network off the other and trying to raise the price, when one network dropped out, the others followed suit, and Grade felt that without American involvement the show was too expensive to produce.
  • Exty Years From Now: The series was set in the 2060s, conveniently exactly one century after it was made (as is the case with almost all of Anderson's series).
  • Fake American: All VA's (save Virgil's, who quit after season one) were either British, Australian or Canadian, while most of the main cast was (implied to be) American.
  • Faux Action Girl: Tin-Tin actually does have an IR uniform and occasionally joins the boys on a rescue mission... but stands as the person who ended up in need of rescue the most.
    • Averted in the 2004 movie. Tin-Tin gets to do a bit of butt kicking. As does Penelope.
  • Finagle's Law: The series loves this trope, as the vast majority of episodes revolve around something going terribly wrong, thus motivating the characters into action. A notable example is the episode "City of Fire" where a giant building goes up in flames because of a car accident in the basement. Naturally, cars in The Future are all Made of Explodium...
  • Five-Man Band: Arguably, the Thunderbirds are the main characters.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:

Scott Tracy: Now, what would Tin-Tin want to show Alan in the bathroom?

    • In "The Perils of Penelope" Alan pouts that his brothers are "off to The Folies" without him, an establishment known in the past for it's rather risqué costumes.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: When the main villain, the Hood, uses his mesmeric powers on any other character, his eyes glow yellow.
  • Good Is Boring: Averted: a series mostly about rescues, without much of an antagonist and little real conflict has plots just as exciting as its more conventional successor Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.
  • A Half Dozen Guys in A Basement: Well saving the world is a family business.
  • Humiliation Conga: Tends to happen to The Hood a lot.
  • "I Know What We Can Do!" Cut: In "Security Hazard".
  • I Love Nuclear Power: Atomic Power won't grant you superpowers, but it'll do just about anything else in this show. Including allowing something as unlikely to so much as bump two inches off the ground as Thunderbird 2 to fly in three dimensions like a helicopter. Also, Stuff Blowing Up.
  • Ink Suit Actor: In the first movie, Cliff Richard appears as his 2060s descendent.
  • An Insert: Human hands pressing a button for a puppet character. The series also liked to use cutaways to get around the problem - you'd see, say, Parker holding a cigarette when Penelope would ask for a light, then cut to another shot, then to Penelope holding the lit cigarette.
    • One episode takes this a step further by having a human hand holding a pen in the foreground with a couple of puppets in Forced Perspective in the background.
      • The 2004 movie, as an in-joke, cuts to a puppet hand pressing a button at one point.
  • Karma Houdini: The reckless driver who sets off the disaster in City of Fire, resulting in the complete destruction of a skyscraper shopping complex and thousands of parked vehicles, which must run into the millions of pounds of damages, is seen again at the end of the episode. Not only is she free and apparently not held liable for the disaster, but she has a brand new car of the same make as the one she crashed, is completely uninjured, and driving as recklessly as ever.
  • Kid Appeal Character: Alan
  • Large Ham: The Duchess of Royston is about as hammy as puppets get.
  • Made of Explodium: In the Thunderbirds universe, everything can explode or burn with really cool flames if the plot commands it. Or even if it would just be really cool if something exploded. If something is introduced that might conceivably blow up, rest assured that it will have done so by the end of the episode.
    • The tail end of the opening credit sequence has a totally random oil refinery in the background. Its only purpose is to explode.
  • Made of Iron: The Hood crashes at least three times in the series, including once flying a light aircraft into a villa. His face gets a bit dirty, and the film he's transporting is destroyed. It's implied, however, that he's Killed Off for Real in Thunderbird 6.
  • Master of Disguise: The Hood, and, to a lesser extent, Penelope.
  • Mission Control: John Tracy up on the TB 5 station, Jeff Tracy back at HQ, and Scott once he was on the scene of the rescue. Folks spent a lot of time talking to microphones on this show.
  • The Mole: Kyrano, a reluctant example. As well as a machine named the Mole.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Parker would occasionally slip back into his old habit of stealing, like when Penelope caught him sneaking off to the casino with safe cracking equipment.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Many of the cast's voices or appearances were cribbed off then-current celebrities.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Pretty much the raison d'etre of many episodes, like the Fireflash in "Trapped in the Sky," an atomic-powered aeroplane which would have killed all of its passengers by radiation poisoning if it didn't land within 2 hours, and the Crablogger in "Path of Destruction," an atomic-powered logging machine which was going to blow up if not shut down properly.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: IR's policy of strict secrecy concerning their equipment when the Tracy family could possibly save thousands of lives, not mention make a spectacular profit, by licensing out the designs of their Thunderbird vehicles to the various nations and organizations wanting to augment their own emergency response forces. Presumably, this is to keep IR's equipment unique and the plot complication of keeping that secrecy.
  • Padding: A positive example to a degree. When Lew Grade insisted that the episodes be hour long ones, the producers had to pad out the time of their first stories already scripted and in production. What they did was add in additional plot twists and character asides such the trope immediately below which gave the stories a great sophistication than what they thought was possible.
  • Parental Bonus: As a true "all ages" program, episode plots and characters were very well written, particularly after the episodes were lengthened to an hour.
  • Phony Newscast: The 2004 movie somehow manages to shoehorn a reporter (the same reporter at that) into every scene in which the Thunderbirds appear in the outside world.
  • Pink Elephants: Invoked.
  • Rescue: A genre example on the grandest scale
  • Rich Idiot With No Day Job: The Tracys. Penny, too.
  • The Same but More: The appearance, technology and culture of the 2060s was built by taking that of the contemporary 1960s and turning it Up to Eleven.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The title sequence proclaimed it to be filmed "In Videcolor" and "Supermarionation". Plain-English translation: "It's in colour, and it's a (sophisticated) puppet show".
    • The "super" in "Supermarionation" referred to the automated lipsynching. The character's voice track was fed to a solenoid in the puppet's head that moved the lips based on the audio level of the speech.
  • Shoe Phone: Watch phones, powder compact phones and of course tea pot phones.
  • Shout-Out: In "Brink of Disaster," the gadgets that Lady Penelope deploys from the Rolls Royce are reminiscent of the Aston Martin in Goldfinger.
  • Sibling Team
  • Slurpasaur: The episode "Attack Of The Alligators!" featured an accident with some kind of Super Serum getting into the water table near a laboratory somewhere in Louisiana. Live baby alligators were employed on model sets alongside miniatures of the characters, but since working around the limitations of models and miniatures was what Gerry Anderson Productions did, it actually worked fairly well. Have a look.
  • Speech Impediment: B-B-Brains has a t-tendency to s-stutter.
  • Spin-Off: the first movie doubled up as the pilot of the next series, Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.
  • Stealth Pun: Penelope's FAB1 in the 2004 movie was changed from a Rolls-Royce to a Ford Thunderbird.
  • Stock Footage: By the pound.
    • Only parts of the stock launch footage are usually used per episode in order to provide some variety to the launches.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Lady Penelope, even by puppet standards.
  • Stuff Blowing Up
    • Incendiary Exponent almost. The special effects crew were really, really good at explosions and flames, with the result that almost every episode had a spectacular explosion of some kind at some point.
  • Talking to Himself: David Graham voices Gordon, Brains, Parker and Kyrano.
    • Quite apart from that, The Hood talks to himself a lot.
  • Team Dad: Jeff Tracy is both this and the Tracy boys' dad.
  • Technology Porn: All the time, but especially the launch sequences.
  • Techno Wizard: Brains
  • Theme Naming: All the Tracy sons were named for American astronauts. The Mercury Astronauts in particular: Scott Carpenter, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper and John Glenn.
    • Jeff being a former astronaut himself, it's probable that this is an in-universe example.
  • This Looks Like a Job For Aquaman: Poor Gordon, and his favoured ride, Thunderbird 4. His skills as a diver and submersible pilot were not useful as often as he might have liked. Most of the times he was called out on a rescue he was riding shotgun with Scott or Virgil as generic backup, and despite being a Tracy brother he was less important to the plot than Tin-Tin, Brains, or Penny almost all the time. TB 4, despite being a main-line vehicle, was the size of a van next to a fleet of giants, and was overshadowed in importance by many barely-seen robotic pod vehicles, like the Mole. On the few occasions when there was danger at sea, he really did shine.
    • And he did have more to do than John Tracy, who was stuck on Thunderbird 5 just about all the time (in part because Gerry Anderson didn't like how the puppet looked - to the extent that "Operation Crash Dive," the only episode in which Thunderbird 5 actually does something other than relay the mission of the week, coincides with Alan being on duty relieving John!).
  • To the Batpole: The famous "rotating furniture" that took the Tracys from the house to the hangars.
  • Traveling At the Speed of Plot: Thunderbirds 1, 2, and 3 are all ridiculously fast, moving anywhere around the globe (or Earth orbit) inside of a few hours. For example, Thunderbird 1 once flew from Tracy Island (somewhere in the Pacific Ocean) to London, England at a quoted speed of at least 7500 mph, which is just shy of mach 10.
    • Tie-in media establishes TB1's top speed as 15,000 mph, and TB2's as 5,000 mph.
    • TB1's speed was given in the original script for the pilot episode ("Trapped in the Sky"); TB2's is quoted on-screen in "Terror in New York City".
    • This was parodied, like every other aspect of the show, on Team America: World Police - the Team's helicopter, jetplane, and rocket are shown flying alongside each other.
    • The 2004 film is ridiculous with this. In the climax, Thunderbird 2 manages to get to London from Tracy Island (in the freaking South Pacific) in the amount of time it takes Parker to pick a lock, a lock which is even implied to be straightforward for him to pick. Thunderbird 1 proceeds to make the same journey in the amount of time it takes the Mole to drill under the Thames into the 'Bank of London'.
  • The Unfavorite: John Tracy was disliked by Gerry Anderson. In theory John and Alan swapped off every month between monitor duty on TB 5 and acting as pilot for TB 3, but only once was John ever along on an actual rescue. Sylvia Anderson liked him, though, so he was still a bit player in every episode. Unlike poor Gordon.
    • It was actually equal parts "disliked" and "writing for six central characters is hard as hell".
  • Up to Eleven: The setting of the 2060s was arguably made by taking The Sixties and turning it Up to Eleven.
  • Weaponized Car: Lady Penelope's Rolls Royce.
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: In the movie, "Who will rescue the rescuers?"
  • Women Drivers: Played unfortunately straight in "City of Fire" and "Vault of Death." Averted in later episodes, when Penny actually does learn to drive.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: The Fireflash's stated top speed is Mach 6, yet it still takes several hours to get anywhere. Rule of Drama, perhaps, but Mach 6 is approximately 4,000 mph.
  • Zeerust: The Thunderbirds themselves, particularly 1 and 2, were based on aircraft and prototypes that were state-of-the-art at the time; TB 1 on the MiG 19 and 21, along with a series of X-planes, and 2 on experimental lifting-body aircraft. And of course everything high-tech has clicky panels, big shiny microphones and chrome-plated-chrome.
    • And reel-to-reel tape drives, of course.
    • Not to mention that things like internet, mobile phones, Ipads etc. are not present at all in the futuristic world of the Thunderbirds.