This blog entry was originally published on my Live Journal on 2/14/2009.
Character and machines information sheet — Thunderbirds
Thunderbirds (ATV, British Independent TV, made for export). Export production co. ITC
Season 1 1964 (eps. 1-26) Color.
Season 2 1966 (eps. 27-32) Color
Arguably, Gerry Anderson’s most popular “Supermarionation” program.
The set up: After the death of his wife (we are given no information whatsoever about this — when she died, how, etc, is not spelled out, viewers don’t even know her name) American millionaire Jeff Tracy is left to raise his five sons alone. Well, with some help from his own mother. Jeff Tracy soon tires of running multi-national Tracy Enterprises and decides to gather his grown sons together. He buys an island, hires an engineer, and begins building the fantastic Thunderbird machines (yep, Anderson stole the name from an American air force base where his brother served). He then gets his boys to leave their careers and join him in founding International Rescue – a group dedicated to rescuing and helping people anywhere in the world who are beyond the abilities of normal rescue services to aid. The series starts with the five Thunderbirds up and running and the five boys experienced at piloting them. All five of Jeff’s boys are named after US astronauts and early space program people.
Characters – The Tracy Family
Jeff Tracy – Patriarch of the Tracy family. Multi-millionaire founder and CEO of Tracy Enterprises, though he leaves day-to-day operations to his trusted advisors. He’s head of International Rescue. Jeff had also been an astronaut in his past and walked on the moon.
Scott Tracy – eldest of the Tracy boys. Pilot of Thunderbird One (see machines). Heads co-ordination and control on most rescues. (Scott is only NOT present on a rescue if there’s a good reason for it, such as in “The Uninvited” when he’s shot down and needs to be rescued himself). Jeff is obviously grooming Scott to replace himself as head of International Rescue (or IR). Scott was a US Air Force test pilot prior to retiring to join IR. Scott is brunette with blue eyes. Scott wears the standard IR uniform with a blue sash.
Virgil Tracy – Second oldest of the Tracy boys. He and Scott are also quite close, closer than perhaps any of the other boys (Though Alan and Gordon have been known to team-up to play practical jokes on their older siblings). Virgil is the pilot of Thunderbird Two. He also has an artistic soul – painting, playing the piano, and pursuing other such interests. Virgil has auburn/golden brown hair and hazel eyes. Virgil wears the standard IR uniform with a yellow sash. Virgil also has skills in practical engineering.
John Tracy – There is some dispute about where he fits in birth order – some sources list him as eldest (older than Scott) but it makes more sense if he’s in the middle. John was an astronaut prior to joining IR, and still has an interest in astronomy. He’s the de-facto space monitor aboard Thunderbird Five, though in the series it is often stated he splits this duty with Alan. John’s blonde, with blue eyes. John’s sash is lilac.
Gordon Tracy – Fourth in birth order. Gordon’s an aquanaut, who served in the World Aquanaut Safety Patrol (from Gerry Anderson’s series Stingray) until his career was cut short by a hydrofoil accident that nearly killed him. This accident was several years before the series, but shook up the entire Tracy family. He did recover from the accident, but suffers occasional serious back pain. Gordon is the pilot of Thunderbird Four. Gordon has reddish-blond hair, and golden brown eyes. Gordon wears an orange sash on his uniform. He also has a pressure suit that he wears when piloting TB 4 in deep water. Gordon’s the practical joker of the family – something he sometimes drags Alan into. Like Scott and Virgil; Alan and Gordon are especially close – in a close-knit family.
Alan Tracy – The youngest of the Tracy brothers, but still a quite competent member of IR. Alan’s passion before joining the family business was racing cars – now he brings his passion to rescuing people. Alan also, like John and Jeff, has a background as an astronaut. He’s the pilot of Thunderbird Three, and does occasional duty onThunderbird Five. Alan’s blond, with blue eyes. His sash is white. He’s also somewhat impetuous – and his older brothers occasionally have to rein him in.
Grandma Tracy – Jeff’s mother, she aids somewhat in looking after the family – cooking, cleaning, etc. (Hey, it was a 60s show, after all.) She knows all about International Rescue.
Characters – the Tracys’ Friends and Enemies
Brains – The engineer Jeff found to design and build the Thunderbird machines. According to the bio on the DVD set, his parents “died in a hurricane in Michigan” (yeah, right, tornado or water spout maybe, but hurricane?) and he was raised in foster care and orphanages – this left him with a stutter and extremely shy. He once used the name Hiram K. Hackenbacker, though he later claims it to be a made-up alias.
Lady Penelope – Think Joanna Lumley as a secret agent, oh wait, that’s The New Avengers. Anyway, the puppet and voice for “Lady P” has always reminded me of Joanna Lumley. Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward is IR’s London Agent. She’s also a love interest for Jeff, though it’s very low key. She’s upper crust British, and can get into places the boys couldn’t to check things out and prevent disasters before they happen. Also, called “Lady PEN-oh-lope” by her butler/driver, Parker. Jeff normally calls her “Penny”.
Parker – Lady Penelope’s butler, he’s as lower cast as she is upper – but they get on like a house on fire. Parker speaks with a thick East End / Cockney accent. He also was a jewel thief, safe-cracker, and black bag man before Lady P rescued him and employed him as her butler and driver. Parker used his unique skills in the aid of Lady Penelope and by extension, IR.
Tin Tin – a girl living on Tracy Island, and daughter of Kyrano, Jeff’s Asian servant. Alan has a major thing for her, which she returns within limits. Tin Tin knows about International Rescue, but is seldom allowed on missions.
Kyrano – Quite possibly the strangest character on the series, he’s Jeff’s Malaysian servant. Jeff for some unknown reason trusts him completely. However, Kyrano has a half-brother, the Hood, who occasional takes mental control of him and tries to force him to sabotage IR. Kyrano knows about IR but has not revealed all the details he knows to the Hood.
The Hood – The enemy of IR — he simply wants their technology to use for nefarious purposes. He’s Asian, bald, and his eyes glow when he’s using his mental powers. He has the ability to control his half-brother Kyrano. He can also hypnotize and control people at close range.
Ned Cook (occasional) – A reporter who originally tries to find out and reveal to the world who the men are who make up International Rescue. However, in “Terror in New York City” (One of my absolutely favorite episodes), IR rescues him, saving his life and the life of his cameraman, after that he reports on IR’s feats but carefully avoids revealing who IR is.
Thunderbird One Grey with blue accents, she’s a super-sonic plane or jet, usually the first into the “danger zone” or rescue scene. TB 1 is a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) craft, meaning that although she lifts off from Tracy Island like a rocket, the retros allow landing and taking off in a vertical position and from tight quarters. She is much smaller than either TB 2 or 3, but probably only slightly smaller than your average passenger jet. Thunderbird One’s great speed and maneuverability are often used on rescues. It also holds “command and control” the computerized center used to run communications during rescues. Scott commands TB 1 as well as being in charge on the scene during rescues.
Thunderbird Two A huge green transport jet, with yellow piping/accents, it’s the workhorse of International Rescue’s operations. TB 2 includes a pod bay with interchangeable pods that carry specialized rescue equipment. During operations TB 2 lands and raises on its hydraulic legs, exposing the pod. Pod 4, which houses Thunderbird Four can be dropped in water. Thunderbird Two is slightly slower than Thunderbird One, but still capable of high speeds.
Thunderbird Three The big red rocket (with white piping/accents) it’s main purpose is to ferry International Rescue staff back and forth to Thunderbird Five. However, it has been used in rescues in and of itself such as in the episodes “Sunprobe” and “Ricochet”.
Thunderbird Four The tiniest Thunderbird — it’s a little mini-sub. And yes, it’s yellow, with red-orange accents/piping. Piloted by Gordon, it fits snugly into Pod 4 of Thunderbird Two, which normally carries it to the rescue area. However, in “Terror in New York City”, it is shown that there is an emergency launch from Tracy Island itself that TB 4 can use.
Thunderbird Five The Tracys’ private geostationary satellite. TB 5 monitors all radio frequencies for calls for help. The space monitor, usually John but sometimes Alan, sorts through the radio traffic (which is also coded by computer) to find the disaster to which International Rescue will respond.
The Firefly An unique craft (which fits into a pod carried by Thunderbird Two) used to fire fires, it includes a bulldozer like blade on the front, a pipe which allows spraying of accelerate for setting backfires, and a cab for the driver and rescuees.
The Mole A gigantic drilling machine.
Fab 1 – Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce – it has six wheels, and has enough gadgets to make James Bond jealous. Among them — total remote control, oil slicks, fog/smoke banks, machine guns, bullet-proof glass and frame, etc.
The Tracys also have all sorts of specialized rescue equipment, besides the Thunderbirds themselves, usually each episode of the series has at least one special piece of equipment.
The Episodes — my personal favorites and key episodes
“Terror in New York City” – Begins with Scott and Virgil finishing up a rescue. Scott’s loading Command and Control back into Thunderbird One, as Virgil takes off in Thunderbird Two. Suddenly, TB1’s camera detector goes off. Scott tracks down the offending cameraman – reporter Ned Cook, looking for a scoop. Scott destroys the film, then leaves the former danger zone for Tracy Island. Meanwhile, a new Navy super air craft carrier on maneuvers detects Thunderbird 2 flying nearby and starts shooting at the Thunderbird. Two of four shots hit home before Scott (who’s caught up to Virgil by then) and Jeff convince the Navy that they are shooting at an IR craft. Scott must then talk Virgil through the flight over open ocean back to Tracy Island. Virgil crashes onto Tracy Island’s runway, but has only minor injuries. TB 2, however, is trashed and will take weeks to fix. Meanwhile, in New York City a plan to move the Empire State Building with hydraulics has gone disastrously wrong, trapping Ned Cook and his cameraman under ground in a cavern filling with water. Normally, TB 2 would take TB 4 to the site to rescue the two men (who can be reached by a network of underground rivers). However, with TB 2 out of commission IR has no way of getting there on time. Jeff then gets the idea to have the Navy help out, since they destroyed the Thunderbird in the first place. TB 4 is carried to the danger zone, and barely reaches Ned and his cameraman in time.
Why I like it: Just the scene of Scott encouraging Virgil and talking him through getting his Thunderbird home makes my h/c -loving heart flutter. (It’s a great scene, trust me). But the rescue itself, with the cavern slowing filling with water, and Gordon and Scott constantly calculating and re-calculating if they will be there on time – is also great.
“Danger at Ocean Deep” – One of the few times we ever really see John on a rescue. Giant ocean tanker transports are suddenly disappearing in the Mediterranean. Lady Penelope investigates what could be causing the disappearances. Meanwhile Scott, John, and Virgil head out to sea in Thunderbirds 1 & 2 to protect one of the tankers and find out what’s going on. Lady Penelope, with help from Brains discovers that the transports are carrying alsterine which reacts with a chemical grown in the sea for making pet food. The combination produces deadly heavy mists, and eventually the ship explodes. Scott, John, and Virgil, have discovered this the hard way, as the mists are taking over the ship they are trying to protect. They manage to get the skeleton crew off the ship and escape before it explodes.
Why I like it: It’s a good rescue, with an unusual plot (Deadly dog food?). Also, it’s really nice to see John on an actual rescue for once, instead of stuck in Thunderbird 5 co-ordinating rescues from thousands of miles away.
“Atlantic Inferno” – Lady Penelope finally convinces Jeff to take a vacation with her. Scott is left in charge of IR base. Alan gets to pilot Thunderbird 1 and take control (with help from Virgil) on site in the danger zone. This arrangement proves to be a bit of a disaster, as Scott makes mistakes (such as refusing help to one reported disaster – then having to go in when things get much worse). Meanwhile, Alan is competent at his job, but Virgil keeps trying to take over. And Jeff, spends more time worrying about his boys and how IR is doing, than relaxing on Penelope’s sheep farm. Scott initially sends out IR (Gordon, Virgil and Alan) to cap a 200 foot gas jet that’s opened on the seabed (after a World Navy missile goes astray) near Seascape – a huge oil drilling rig. Jeff admonishes Scott for it – saying it was an unnecessary rescue. Then another crack opens, with gas jets, closer to Seascape and Scott first ignores it. When it gets worse, IR has to scramble to help.
Why I like it: It’s nice to see Scott (and Virgil) as less than perfect. Alan comes more into his own, but his impetuous nature doesn’t suit command and control. And even Jeff, can’t relax because his mind is on International Rescue and his sons. Plus, it’s an “ocean” episode — something I always like.
“Move – and You’re Dead” – Alan gets an invitation to race at Parola Sands, and accepts, going back to the world of racing for the first time in years. He wins the dangerous and long race, but angers a rival who was counting on winning to settle some debts. This rival follows Alan (and Grandma Tracy who Alan’s picked-up to take back to Tracy Island), and forces them off the road on to an uncompleted suspension bridge. Alan and Grandma Tracy are forced onto the bridge supports, high above a river. If that weren’t enough, a timed bomb is set below the bridge to destroy it, and a motion detector is set near Alan which will explode the bomb if he so much as twitches. And it’s getting hotter by the moment. Alan manages to raise his wrist-comm. and call IR. Scott and Virgil must race to get to their brother – before the bomb explodes, Alan or Grandma move setting off the bomb, or either falls to their death.
Why I like it: More brotherly smoochness. Also, the episode starts with Alan stuck on the bridge and calling IR, then explains how he got in the predicament in the first place as he talks to Scott explaining while Scott races to the scene in TB 1.
“Sunprobe” – Another Alan episode, though all the boys except Gordon are closely involved in the rescue. A rocket called Sunprobe launches a probe to “grab parts of the sun”, which is successful, but after retracting the probe the rocket is locked on a direct course for the sun and unable to fire retro-rockets to change course. After some deliberation, Jeff decides to launch a two pronged rescue attempt. Virgil and Brains take Thunderbird Two to a mountaintop with microwave transmitter to try to contact the rocket and change it’s course. Meanwhile, Alan, Scott and Tin Tin launch in Thunderbird Three to get closer to the rocket to attempt to fire its retros with a “safety beam” (apparently the transmitter on TB 3 is short range). Thunderbird Three makes two failed attempts to save the solar nauts, before Alan has the bright idea to cut the safeties and boast the power. This works, saving the rocket and solarnauts. However, TB 3 has gotten so close to the sun, Scott, Tin Tin and Alan have all collapsed and the ship itself is trapped on a direct course for the sun. The focus shifts to rescuing TB 3 and it’s crew. Virgil and Brains, with the help of Brains mobile computer/robot “Braiman” work out some complicated equations which allow them to fire TB 3’s retros and change it’s course – rescuing Scott, Alan and Tin Tin from certain death.
Why I like it: Although at first a bit slow, it’s a episode where most of IR is involved in the rescue and it works well.
“City of Fire” – A new huge skyscraper / mall is opened, but when a car crashes in the underground parking ramp, the entire building is threatened with fire. Scott and Virgil are dispatched and try to cut through the fire doors to get to a family trapped in the basement/parking lot. However, the doors are thick and they are running out of time, forcing the boys to use an experimental cutting gas that when tested knocked them both unconscious. They rescue the family. Brains then discovers that the heat of the actual fire vaporized the gas as it escaped, preventing the build-up that had knocked out Scott and Virgil during the test.
Why I like it: The idea of a huge skyscraper fire could have been really exciting (The Towering Inferno, anyone?), however, the focus quickly changes from the entire building to a single family (something Thunderbirds does a lot). Still, the interplay between Scott and Virgil is great, especially when Scott convinces Jeff that they have no choice but to try the cutting gas. Also, the scene at the beginning with the test of the cutting gas is well done, and has a high h/c quotient.
“Cry Wolf” – Two boys in the Australian Outback are playing “International Rescue” with real walkie-talkie radios. John picks up their transmissions, and when it sounds like real trouble – sends out a rescue. Scott arrives and discovers the boys are merely playing. He explains the importance of not making prank calls. Later, another call is received from the boys father. Thinking it to be another prank, Jeff at first ignores it. However, soon their father’s boss calls, saying the boys have been really trapped in a mine. Scott is dispatched in TB 1, and Virgil and Alan in TB 2. Virgil and Alan rescue the boys, while Scott rescues their father and discovers the Hood has been behind everything. He gives chase to the Hood who has photos from orbiting spy satellites.
Why I like it: This is one of the few episodes (along with “Atlantic Inferno”) that I clearly remembered watching as a child – maybe because it involves children (and children who Scott gives a personal tour of Tracy Island to, no less). Anyway, the story works better than you might think giving it revolving around children and the old fable of crying wolf. There’s a good rescue as well.
Vocabulary and Language
F.A.B – Doesn’t actually stand for anything, but used to signify agreement. Each letter is pronounced separately, not as a single word.
Thunderbirds Are Go – Jeff’s catch phrase when sending the boys on a mission.
Danger Zone – The area where the disaster has occurred. Often used with the estimated time of arrival or actual arrival, as in “I’m 10 minutes from danger zone”, or “Have arrived danger zone”.
Note – during disasters the boys are likely to speak in a clipped tone, ignoring things like pronouns.