Created by pre-eminent British producer Gerry Anderson (1929-2012), Thunderbirds was the story of the Tracy family, a wealthy clan who embarked on a unique philanthropic venture.In the year 2065, billionaire ex-astronaut 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 2's "pod". Amongst other things, a drilling vehicle (Mole) or an underwater rover (Thunderbird 4) could be loaded into 2. In fact, the other wiki has a list of the many bizarre vehicles deployed.There were five Thunderbirds, one for each brother:
Thunderbird 1: Was the most used. Looks like a missile, moves like a jet fighter. Takes off from base vertically using rockets then switches to horizontal jet propulsion and lands horizontally.
Thunderbird 2: A ginormous plane that incorporates equipment pods into its fuselage. A selection of pods is available, each pre-loaded with specialist rescue equipment. The heavy lifter of the fleet.
Thunderbird 3: An actual rocketship. Mostly used to get to Thunderbird 5, but also used on a number of space rescue missions.
Thunderbird 4: A small submarine/underwater rover, usually carried by Thunderbird 2 in pod #4.
Thunderbird 5: A Space Station, capable of receiving transmissions from all over the globe and automatically detecting and translating distress calls.
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 (and heavily-armed) 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 was a process using souped-up marionettes with moving lips electronically synchronized with pre-recorded dialogue.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.An unsuccessful trip made by Lew Grade to try and sell the show to American networks ensured the second season would be the series' last; further, amid corporate fears that the bubble had burst, Gerry Anderson was instructed that said 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. But by then Anderson was already at work on new Supermarionation projects with a new generation on puppets.A live action/CGI action movie directed by Jonathan Frakes, and starring Ben Kingsley, Bill Paxton and a young Vanessa Hudgens, was released in 2004. It also flopped, in part due to the film missing much of what made the TV series so popular.There is a Recap in desperate need of assistance! Thundernerds are go!
Adventure Friendly World: Despite the tendency of large-scale science and technology projects in the Thunderbirds 'verse to catastrophically and explosively fail, nobody ever stops building them.
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. Also a lot of background information on the Tracy family members is only found in publicity materials.
Artistic License - Geography: A few locations and directions are a bit off - for example, in "Terror in New York", it is stated that Thunderbird 2 is heading due east and is on a path towards New York, even though it is flying over the sea and hence physically impossible to be heading towards New York (if over the Pacific, she will be heading towards the Californian coast first; if over the Atlantic, she will be heading towards Europe).
Tracy Island is in the Pacific (the annuals state this explicitly). To get to New York from the Pacific you go east. You just happen to go 'feet dry' over California.
It is mostly averted with "Trapped in the Sky" with the bland name "London Airport" actually being a case of Unintentional Period Piece, since this was actually the name of Heathrow Airport back in the day, although the dispatcher stating that the villain (the Hood) was now driving up the M1 towards Birmingham is a slight error - though that motorway does head towards that city, you have to turn off onto the M6 before people would suspect you'd be heading that way for sure.
And he's also said to be heading in Lady Penelope's direction, although other behind the scenes literature claims that her stately home is in Kent (ie on the other side of London).
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.
Buccaneer Broadcaster: The pirate TV satellite KLA in "Ricochet", inspired by Real Life ship-based pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Radio London.
Catch Phrase: "Thunderbirds are GO!", "F.A.B.", and to a lesser extent, Parker's "Yus, M'Lady".
Brains' "Of course! Why didn't I think of it before?"
Chronic Hero Syndrome: International Rescue will never turn down a call for help, even if they put themselves at risk of being unmasked like in "The Imposters" and "End of the Road".
Lady Penelope suffers from this in "Path of Destruction". She has to find the one person who knows the complex shut down procedure of the crablogger, an atomic-powered logging machine that has gone out of control and now threatens to destroy a dam and blow up, putting thousands of lifes at risks, before it's too late. But despite this, she still can't help but stop along the way to help the victim of a car crash.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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!
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 Fridge Logic as to how on Earth nobody has found Tracy Island yet, and possibly Fridge Horror if you consider the fact that if you have the resources and knowledge to put a satellite in orbit, it's not a lot harder to shoot one down.
Excessive Steam Syndrome: It made extensive use of steam, smoke, and zero-thrust rocket motors to depict takeoffs and landings in miniature. Rockets in flight were filmed inverted, so the smoke would rise away from the rocket instead of climbing after it.
Expansion Pack Past: nearly all of the Tracy Brothers (who range in age from late to early 20's) had quite interesting carreers before retiring from them to join IR full time. Scott served in the U.S. Airforce where he got decorated for bravery, John published four textbooks on astronomy and is known as the discoverer of the Tracy quasar system, Gordon used to be a Olympic champion at the butterfly stroke and served at the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (from Stingray), and Alan was a succesful racecar driver. (His career was briefly revived in the episode "Move and You're Dead".) Jeff also counts; he was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, astronaut for the Space Agency and the first man on the moon, and finally started his own company.
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). Confusingly, though, some episodes are dated in the 2020s.
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.
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.
Fun with Acronyms: "F.A.B.", the Tracy boys' catchphrase, essentially meaning "understood." Anderson himself has said that it wasn't really intended to stand for anything other than "fab"; Fanon sometimes has this as standing for "Fully Advised and Briefed."
How We Got Here: the episode "Move - And You're Dead" begins with Alan and grandma stranded on a bridge with a bomb. While Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are on their way to save them, Alan recalls how they got into this situation in the first place (which takes up most of the episodes time).
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.
Fireflash in the pilot is something of a Deconstruction of the then-current tropes in use which presented nuclear power in an unambiguously positive light: it allows the plane to fly many times the speed of sound, but could potentially kill its passengers if it unable to land in time. Of course to modern viewers used to more negative portrayals of nuclear power, Fireflash probably looks like an optimistic portrayal of it. (One can't help wondering, though, how a plane with such a narrow safety margin could ever have been certified airworthy in the first place.)
Ink Suit Actor: Lady Penelope was designed to resemble her voice actress, Sylvia Anderson.
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.
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.
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.
A particularly bad example occurs in "Brink of Disaster", in which a monotrain is stuck on a disintegrating bridge. Of course, it's not enough for the bridge to just fall apart, its joints and bars actively and regularly 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.
Meaningful Name: The sons of Jeff Tracy are all named after famous astronauts of the 1960s, specifically, the Mercury Seven: Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, and Scott Carpenter.
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.
The Movie: Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6, neither of which were very successful.
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 Antagonist: There's the Hood and some one-shot villains, but there are also many episodes where the accident is down to pure bad luck or innocent mistakes.
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, a complicated process that took upwards of five minutes. I guess a red "emergency stop" button was too simple, then anyone could have stopped it should it have been about to smash through a village or destroy a dam.
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.
Although it's also stated that IR's technology could be used for destruction if it fell into the wrong hands.
One World Order: Possibly. The government is never really explored, but there is seemingly a "World Navy", though whether it represents the entire world is unclear, as it seems to enjoy testing nuclear weapons for no apparent reason.
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.
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.
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 AP Films*
the "P" stood for Gerry Anderson's former business partner Arthur Provis, who left the company two years after it was established. No prizes for guessing the "A"
did, it actually worked fairly well. (At least, according to one story, once the stagehands figured out that the alligators needed to be goaded with 60-volt prods and not just 12.) Have a look.
Only parts of the stock launch footage are usually used per episode in order to provide some variety to the launches. For the same reason, FX director Derek Meddings also insisted on shooting more angles than strictly necessary.
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.
Team Dad: Jeff Tracy is both this and the Tracy boys' dad.
Technology Marches On: A given in the Gerry Anderson shows. You have space stations, hypersonic rocket planes, and a mobile computer the size of a grand piano!
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.
Theme Tune Cameo: Virgil plays the theme song on a piano at the end of the pilot episode.
This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Poor Gordon, and his favored 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.
Gordon was recognised as the best marksman on the team, though, and was often utilised when something needed aiming, eg. firing the cable from Thunderbird 2 into the Zero X in the first movie.
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.
Trailers Always Spoil: Every episode begins with a brief preview montage, essentially summarising the episode you are about to watch.
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".
Unintentional Period Piece: Given this was made in the 60s, this was going to be inevitable. Modern British viewers may be a little miffed at the main airport being called "London Airport", unaware that back in the day, this was actually the name for Heathrow Airport before Stansted and Gatwick acquired "London" status.
There are also several references to Cape Kennedy.
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, tablets etc. are not present at all in the futuristic world of the Thunderbirds.
Thunderbirds Are Go! provides examples of:
Dream Sequence: Alan has a lengthy dream in which Penelope takes him to a nightclub in space, complete with groovy musical number.
Break Out The Museum Piece: When all their usual vehicles are unable to reach the stranded Skyship One, an old fashioned biplane (that Alan used earlier to travel to England) is used instead. One of the people stranded on Skyship One lampshades this trope by stating they (International Rescue) must have gotten it straight out of a museum.
Broken Aesop: 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 6.
In fact, it's not clear why Jeff thinks they need a Thunderbird 6...
Circle of Shame: 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.
Cool Ship: Thunderbird 6 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.
The Hood: Clever Alan. (Henchman looks at him, confused). It's the children. They have it. Henchman: No way. They're dead. No one could survive something like that. The Hood: I did.
He also doesn't try to storm the International Rescue facilities with the team at home, instead exploiting Chronic Hero Syndrome by setting up an emergency for them to tackle. This leaves their home base completely open for him to walk in and take.
The Hood: It would be almost impossible to force the Thunderbirds to leave their facilities; on the other hand, it requires no effort at all to simply let them go.
An Insert: The live-action movie, as an in-joke on the series' use of human hands in close-ups, cuts to a puppet hand pressing a button at one point.
The Hood's powers are given a massive beef-up, from simply reading Kyrano's mind in the show to actual telekinesis and PG-rated Mind Rape.
Tin-Tin also has psychic powers.
Speech Impediment: B-B-Brains' t-tendency to s-stutter is t-t-t-t-taken t-to r-r-ridiculous e-e-extremes.
Stealth Pun: Penelope's FAB1 was changed from a Rolls-Royce to a Ford Thunderbird.
Traveling at the Speed of Plot: 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'.