Set in the 2060s, the Tracy Family runs a goodwill foundation by the name of International Rescue and, with the aid of their advanced Thunderbird machines, are able to save human lives from the fate of natural disaster. Though their adventures are usually driven by the uncontrollable force of nature, they occasionally find themselves amidst the evil doings of the notorious criminal known only as The Hood.
Spoiler Level: None
Created in the height of the International Space Race, the British television show Thunderbirds beautifully harnesses the societal fascination with rocketry and exploration. The iconography of the Thunderbird—the fastest rockets, the deepest diving submersible, and a full-time space station—has survived over fifty years, appearing across film, commercials, and a long line of merchandise, cementing its place in pop culture history.
The accomplishments of the show range far and wide. Some have credited the soundtrack for its widespread success. Others believe that Peter Dyneley’s unmistakable and supremely quotable title sequence fueled the flame. While these elements were certainly at play, they were only some of the many moving parts in this production that perfectly combined to form an unique new milestone in science fiction television.
Even so, some elements do shine brighter than others. As an example, this show simply would not have found the same audience without its comfortable cast of characters. A family unit, headed by father Jeff Tracy who commands his five sons (all named after five of the Mercury Seven astronauts, in honor of Jeff’s history with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) as they run an international disaster squad. Think Batman, with all of his Robins. Together, the family forms International Rescue, and strives to maintain the integrity of human life.
Without the family dynamic, the show simply isn’t the same. Perhaps a show about six co-workers saving the planet from ruin would be interesting, but it certainly wouldn’t be Thunderbirds. Through their everyday interactions, viewers watch as the characters grow and develop. The brotherly camaraderie adds an additional layer of charm to the plot and makes the show’s themes that much more relatable. Not many people can say that they’ve fought a fire in the world’s tallest tower, but plenty of us can speak to the feeling of a sibling with a talent for jumping into the (metaphorical) flame.
These adventures feel immediate to their audience because they are invested in the characters. On top of that, these plots play out across intricate, scale-model sets that were usually built by hand through a number of painstaking work. Scenes like Tracy Island, or Creighton-Ward Manor, or one of the many disaster sites were built with such detail that it was sometimes impossible to distinguish where real life ended and the sets begin—a trait that continued in the Thunderbirds reboot titled Thunderbirds Are Go!
These sets enabled the success of Thunderbirds’ most notable element: special effects. Be it through new filming techniques, scale manipulation, or just plain ol’ explosives, the creative team set the stage for effects that are still used and expanded upon today. The work done on this project was especially important in regard to how filmmakers depicted flight. Without Thunderbirds, we don’t have Superman in the same capacity that we did. We don’t have 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This show is a perfect storm of storytelling elements. It is a sum greater than its parts—and its parts are pretty fantastic. With a series of truly spectacular children’s toys and a thriving fanbase, it’s no surprise that the show still holds a place in the hearts of many.
Amazing Science Fiction: Thunderbirds
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Acting - 10/1010/10
Music - 8/108/10
Production - 9/109/10
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