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Series / Thunderbirds

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5... 4... 3... 2... 1! Thunderbirds are go!note 

S-O-S! Mr. Tracy, the western world is falling...
S-O-S! International Rescue, hear us calling...
Kate Kestrel, "SOS", Terrahawks

Created by preeminent British puppet-show producer Gerry Anderson (1929-2012), Thunderbirds is the story of the Tracy family, a wealthy clan who embark on a unique philanthropic venture.

In the year 2065, billionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons (Scott, Virgil, Gordon, John and Alan) form "International Rescue", an organization whose purpose should be self-explanatory. They use technology designed by their resident Techno Wizard, "Brains", which is far beyond anything possessed by any military or civilian agency on the planet, even given the series's far future setting of the late 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 (and the most frequently seen, turning up in all but one of the episodes and both movies).
  • 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 imperilled 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 of puppets.

Punk/new wave band The Rezillos released a song "Thunderbirds Are Go" in 1978, singing the praises of the series: "the TV show that's never been beat." 80s band Fuzzbox released a single called "International Rescue" as an affectionate tribute/parody of the series, which made it to number 11 in the UK charts.

In 1982, ITC took Scientific Rescue Team Techno Voyager, a 24-episode anime inspired by the series, and dubbed it as Thunderbirds 2086.

2004 saw the release of a live-action version directed by Jonathan Frakes; unfortunately, Universal's Executive Meddling and being trapped in Development Hell since the 90s turned what could've been an awesome film into something most fans of the franchise would like to forget.

A revival is currently airing, titled Thunderbirds Are Go, which started on 4 April 2015.

There are also three audio episodes recorded by the original cast and released in the Sixties. In 2015 these were used as the basis for three new episodes filmed in Supermarionation style.

There is a Recap in desperate need of assistance! Thundernerds are go! Tropes applying to the movies can be found there as well.

Thundertropes are go!

  • Absentee Actor: The only human characters to turn up in all 32 episodes are Scott, Virgil and Jeff. As far as the show's stars go, "The Mighty Atom" is the only episode where all five Thunderbirds appear and "The Imposters" is the only episode where Thunderbird 2 doesn't appear (although a fake Thunderbird 2 does).
  • Action Girl: Lady Penelope
  • Adaptation Expansion: This occurred with the audio dramas adapted into tv episodes as part of the Thundebirds 1965 project.
    • "The Abominable Snowman" has Thunderbird 2 sent to the Himalayas in addition to Thunderbird 1, though it does nothing to the plot because as soon as Virgil arrives he has to abort landing because the Hood's base is about to explode.
    • "The Stately Home Robberies" has Mr Charles and Mr Dawkins plant bombs to blow up the houses after they have robbed them. In the original audio drama they only rob them, not blow them up. This leads to the crooks using a gas canister to knock out Lady Penelope and Parker when they attempt to confront them, Gordon arriving in Thunderbird 4 to disable the bomb, Mr Charles and Dawkins escaping, only for their attempt to be thwarted because Penelope and Parker left a tracking device on their helicopter which also turned out to be a bomb (which crashes their helicopter). In the original drama, Penelope and Parker were not knocked out, the crooks never escaped to begin with and International Rescue were completely absent from the original audio drama.
  • 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.
  • The Alleged Computer: In the episode "Sun Probe", engineer "Brains" accidentally takes his experimental robot instead of a computer along on a rescue. When he's forced to ask the robot to make the calculations, it takes the robot a full 20 seconds (accompanied by obligatory clicks and whirrs) to make the calculation when (in spite of the pseudo-scientific nonsense-calculation used) it could have been solved on a pocket calculator as quickly as you could press the keys.
  • 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. Many things about the main character's history, like the Tracy boys' Expansion Pack Past, Jeff's late wife, and the founding of International Rescue, are also never mentioned on the series, and their headquarters was never actually referred to as "Tracy Island." The same goes for specific details surrounding the Thunderbird vehicles and other machines, like their dimensions, speed and other technical data. (One of the few things the 2004 movie did do right was actually having the names of The Hood and Tracy Island spoken in dialogue.)
  • An Aesop: In the appropriately named "Cry Wolf" episode, two boys playing at International Rescue unwittingly summon the real International Rescue. They are rewarded for this with a trip to the IR HQ. Later, in the same episode, they genuinely need help, and at first, they are not believed when then call International Rescue.
    John Tracy: Tony and Bob must have gone home to tea, they've stopped calling.
    Jeff Tracy: I knew they would if we took no notice.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The alligators in Attack of the Alligators were played by crocodiles.
    • Perhaps they were illegally brought in and released into the wild as an invasive species. A problem with snakes in Real Life.
  • Artistic License – Geography: A few locations and directions are a bit off. 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. 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 (i.e., on the other side of London).
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Kyrano and Tin-Tin are just made up names that sound Asian.
  • Astronomic Zoom: In "Trapped in the Sky", the camera looks down at the Earth from space, before suddenly zooming to the Fireflash aircraft, low above the Earth.
  • The Atoner: Parker used to be exclusively a criminal.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Pretty much everything, but the Crablogger and Sidewinder get special mentions.
    • Fireflash is an airliner than can travel 6 times the speed of sound and remain aloft for 6 months. But its reactor shielding needs servicing every four hours or everyone on board will die of radiation exposure.
  • Battle Butler: Parker. Weaponized car and all.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: International Rescue is altruistic and will stop at nothing to rescue those in need. However, those who take pictures of their technology are dealt with harshly, whether it be having their film destroyed remotely, or even find themselves shot off the road by Lady Penelope.
    • Also during 'Move and you're Dead', Scott in Thunderbird 1 shot at the villains who were responsible for putting Alan and Grandma Tracy on a bridge with a bomb on it.
  • Big "SHUT UP!":
    • In "Brink of Disaster", Jeff does this to conman Warren Grafton when Grafton complains that the out-of-control monotrain is going too fast.
    • In "Alias Mr. Hackenbacker", after Thunderbird 2 disables Skythrust's undercart, Mason (a hijacker) does this to Madeline (another hijacker) when she protests Mason's reluctant decision to allow the flight crew to return to London.
  • Blindfolded Trip: In "Cry Wolf", the two boys who visit the International Rescue base are blindfolded while arriving and leaving, so they do not learn the secret location of the base.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: John and Alan are blonds, Scott is a brunette and Gordon is a redhead. Virgil has brown hair.
  • Bowdlerise: In latter-day airings of "Day Of Disaster" (at least on The BBC) when Brains dances for joy following the successful rescue of the rocket the line "You... er... don't suppose he escaped from somewhere, do you?" (said by one supervisor to another) is cut out.
  • Broken Aesop: "Atlantic Inferno". Jeff leaves confident son Scott in charge of International Rescue - cue 'bad decisions', Jeff's ire, and an apparent Aesop of "being in charge is more difficult than it looks". However, Scott makes sensible decisions based on expert advice. Jeff unreasonably censures Scott without listening to the evidence, leaving Scott unable to function. The Aesop sadly becomes "adults are always right, even when they are wrong".
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: The pirate TV satellite KLA in "Ricochet", inspired by Real Life ship-based pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Radio London.
  • Butt-Monkey: Parker
  • Catchphrase
    • "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?"
  • Chained to a Railway: Lady Penelope, in the appropriately titled episode, "The Perils of Penelope."
  • Christmas Episode: "Give or Take A Million". Which doubles as the last episode of the series.
  • 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 explode, 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. These cuts also give the viewers a hint as to how the episodes may have originally played out before the show was extended to an hour. 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.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The vehicles:
  • Colour Coded Characters: The pilots wear pastel-coloured sashes and belts:
    • Scott: light blue
    • Virgil: yellow
    • Alan: off-white
    • Gordon: orange
    • John: lilac
    • Plus Lady Penelope: pink
    • Brains: bronze (in Thunderbird 6)
    • And Jeff: gold — not in an episode or film, but in an ad for the charity Barnardo's.
  • Combining Mecha: In 2086, Thunderbirds 1 and 3 connect to Thunderbird 2 for transport.
  • 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. This include topics such as: How did the boys' mother die?note  What order were the boys born in?note  Up to and including, what year is the show set?note 
  • 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.
  • Control Freak: Although Jeff mostly trusts the boys to do the right thing, in "Atlantic Inferno" he finds it difficult to leave everything to the boys when he goes on holiday, even threatening to return home when Scott makes a decision he does not approve of; but Lady Penelope persuades him to stay. When Jeff returns, Scott rubs it in by refusing him permission to land at the base, because Thunderbird 2 is approaching. And at the very end:
    Jeff: You know, the only way I can relax is to be in charge here. So if you don't mind, Scott, I'll have my desk back.
    Scott: Father, with my money, you can have it. I need a vacation!
  • Cool Car: FAB 1. A pink, six-wheeled, amphibious, weaponized Rolls-Royce complete with Battle Chauffeur and bulletproof bubble canopy.
  • Cool Garage: Tracy Island, with all its retractable and hidden landing and launch bays.
  • Cool Old Lady: In Vault of Death, when everyone is baffled, Grandma comes up with the solution to rescue a man trapped in the Bank of England vault: when the crew realise they cannot tunnel in, she gives them the idea of riding their hover bikes through the disused train tunnels.
    Grandma: When I was a little girl, I remember my grandmother telling me about the old London subway, with trains under the ground. Now it's this new-fangled monorail system.
  • Cool Plane: Fireflash, a futuristic supersonic jetliner just look at it. 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.
    • Also the Mole, used for underground rescues, and a host of souped-up construction gear hauled in TB2's pods.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Alan doesn't quite like it when Tin-Tin shows interest in another man. This is best seen in "End of the Road", when her old friend Eddy Houseman comes to visit her, and "Ricochet", when she turns out to be a great fan of Rick O’Shea. Ironically, in both episodes Alan ends up having to rescue the men he doesn't like.
  • Cut-and-Paste Translation: ITC did this twice in the mid-90s. First came an attempt to cram it into a half-hour slot on Fox Kids- in addition to cutting scenes for both time and censorship, all the voices were redubbed and the original music replaced by generic rock music. After that flopped, ITC took it into syndication and edited it even more, turning it into the horrific Turbocharged Thunderbirds. Now there were a couple of live-action kids called the "hackers", who lived inside Thunderbird 5 (now "Hacker Command") and took orders from Jeff Tracy (who they called "Mr. T"). while The Hood took orders from a floating holographic head named "the Atrocimator"; they redubbed all the dialog again to add "post-modern" jokes, and supposedly took place on "Thunder World". It really says something when the YouTube comments on an episode of Turbocharged say that the 2004 movie was better than this.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Subverted, as the bulk of the Tracy family fortune comes from selling aerospace-related technology through various front companies. The reason they are so adamant about keeping the Thunderbirds secret is that that level of aerospace technology has several direct military applications, none of which the Tracys want to be party to.
  • Cut Phone Lines: In Vault of Death, Parker cuts the phone line (having peeped through the keyhole) when Lord Stilton tries to call the Bank of England. When his wire cutters fall out of his jacket, he mumbles "I've been pruning the roses, Milady".
  • Dissonant Serenity: Lady Penelope is usually totally calm and collected, even in great adversity (with the exception of being caught in mud in The Impostors). In Brink of Disaster, when thieves have made off with Lady Penelope's jewel collection:
    Parker: They happear to 'ave gained access to the Rolls Royce.
    Lady Penelope (calmly): Oh dear, I hope they don't scratch the paintwork. I'm off to Ascot in the morning.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: A plot point in "The Mighty Atom".
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Tracy Island.
  • Epic Launch Sequence: Tracy Island seems to have been completely repurposed specifically to facilitate this trope, as each of the eponymous vehicles gets its own lengthy sequence of being moved into position every time they launch, complete with sections of the landscape moving aside.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Everything is Made of Explodium, including vehicles.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: International Rescue.
  • Excessive Steam Syndrome: The creators made extensive use of steam, smoke, and zero-thrust rocket motors to depict take-offs 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 careers before retiring from them to join IR full time. Scott served in the U.S. Air Force 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 successful race-car 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 one of the first men 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.
  • Fake Aristocrat: One episode has Parker pretend to be an English lord and get everyone in the hotel to play Bingo with him. This was part of a scheme where in the event a fire broke out (thanks to a dish falling off a building and lodging itself on a mountain in a position where it would project the sun's rays at the town where the hotel was) everyone would be awake to fight the fire.
  • 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. Averting this trope is one of the few positive things fans can point to about the 2004 film.
  • 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...
  • 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" — even though it takes longer to say. Fanon sometimes has this as standing for "Fully Advised and Briefed."
    • Using acronyms like FAB, and those seen in other Anderson series, such as P.W.O.R. (Proceeding With Orders Received) from Stingray and S.I.G. (Spectrum Is Green) in Captain Scarlet, was a nod to then-current real life radio practice which required responses to messages to be understandable even if the signal was bad. Oddly enough, the show's use of actual radio practice — giving directions like "Left-left two degrees" got it wrong, as there should only have been one "left" but two "rights" so as to be decipherable even if all that could be heard was one or two unintelligible squawks.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: When the main villain, the Hood, uses his mesmeric powers on any other character, his eyes glow yellow.
  • Glowing Mechanical Eyes: when the Tracy Brothers' portraits in the lounge are used for communication, their eyes flash while the portrait is static, before converting to a Video Phone.
  • Homage: Travel website Orbitz briefly had a series of commercials dubbed Destination: Orbitz, with Anderson-esque puppets helping people with travel- the lead puppet was voiced by Maurice LaMarche and they even had the insert shots!
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: In 30 Minutes After Noon, the main villain is not seen, and communicates with his subordinates by radio. There is also a brief scene where three British agents are discussing infiltrating the mission; we do not see the men, only their hats on the stand.
  • 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). Justified because Jeff is asking him how he got there in full detail to keep him concentrating, so he doesn't fall unconscious from heat exhaustion and fall to his death, if not triggering the bomb's motion sensor.
  • Hover Bike: International Rescue has several of these at its disposal for navigating around a danger zone. note 
  • 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.

    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 and could theoretically fly for weeks without the need to refuel, but could potentially kill its passengers if it is unable to land in time and have it's shielding replenished. 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.)
  • Improvised Lockpick: In "Vault of Doom", a Bank of London employee is inside a new airtight vault when it gets sealed for the day, so the Thunderbirds team race to tunnel through reinforced concrete to rescue him. Happily, Lady Penelope's manservant Aloysius Parker is a former safecracker. He asks Lady P for a hairpin, which defeats the lock and opens the vault door in seconds.
    Bank Manager: We could do worse than going back to the old design; at least that one took him two and a half hours to open.
  • 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. "Thirty Minutes After Noon" 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.
    • Not just Lady Penelope, but Everybody Smokes - the boys were often seen smoking after a mission. In Vault of Death, even Lady Penelope's cook is smoking over the food.
  • Instant Emergency Response: Surprisingly averted most of the time. The Thunderbirds are incredibly fast, but it still takes some time to get to the scene of emergencies, which of course makes their operations once there races against time with only minutes left.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: in "Cry Wolf", while Alan gives the two boys a tour around Tracy Island, he greatly brags about his own role in piloting Thunderbird 3, and describes Scott (who always comes along as co-astronaut) as being merely his subordinate. Unfortunately for him, the intercom on the cart they are in is still on and Scott hears everything Alan says. However, he plays the game along and promptly starts addressing Alan as "sir".
  • Just in Time: Many of the rescues were completed with very little time to spare, before a bomb going off, air running out, etc.
  • 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 dollars 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: Surprisingly averted with Alan most of the time, as he proves to be competent. However he does have the background of being a racecar driver. Every now and then when the plot demands it, he complains about something. Later franchise instalments played it irritatingly straight however.
  • Large Ham: The Duchess of Royston is about as hammy as puppets get.
  • Machine Monotone: The robot Braman constructed by Brains as well as the vocal interface of an elevator. Note that in-series it was very surprising to hear these voices respond with pleasantries like saying 'thank you' and 'you're welcome.'
  • 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.
    • In "The Uninvited", the trailer of the archaeologists' desert jeep becomes uncoupled, and falls down an embankment. Just after one of them has said "all our gasoline and water is in that trailer", it explodes spectacularly. OK, maybe justified with the gasoline, but would it not happen immediately on falling?
  • 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.
  • 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. The Mole was not, to the best of our knowledge, a double agent.
  • 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 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'être of many episodes. It's almost as if Gerry Anderson decided the most dangerous thing about the 2060's was that they were populated by idiots.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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. We 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 organisations 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.
    • The 2004 movie also dropped thisnote , presumably because nowadays, trying to keep their vehicles and tech under wraps would be far more difficult, what with how technology has advanced- you can't exactly just shoot someone's cameraphone or smartphone out of their hands (though an earlier unused script had cameras simply stop working when pointed at the Thunderbirds). On the other hand, the main plot is The Hood attempting to utilize the Thunderbird craft for his own evil ends, justifying the latter concern.
  • Oddly Small Organization: Well, saving the world is a family business.However, it was established that International Rescue has agents all over the world.
  • Older Is Better: The episode "Vault of Death" begins with Parker (a reformed safecracker), acompanied by Lady Penelope, trying to break into the Bank of England vault; after nearly two and a half hours he succeeds. It turns out that this is a security test to demonstrate the need to replace the old-fashioned vault a new ultra-modern high-tech one. Later, when a man is trapped in the new vault, Parker opens it in seconds with a hairpin. Seeing that the new vault can be cracked so easily, the bank decides to go back to the old one, as at least that one took him two and a half hours. Subverted when Parker tells Lady Penelope afterwards that he could have opened the old vault just as easily but he wanted to give his audience a good show (which of course he couldn't in a real emergency).
  • 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. Tie-in material hints that the show may be in the same universe as Stingray and Captain Scarlet, and it's made clear there is a world government.
  • 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.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted. One of Jeff Tracy's rules for International Rescue is that it focus on saving lives and dealing with emergencies, and not catch the criminals or terrorists that might cause them. Averted on a couple of occasions when IR helps law enforcement by preventing criminals from escaping. One episode also had the Hood attack Gordon in Thunderbird 4, only for Gordon to shoot back and destroy his submarine.
  • Pop the Tires: Subverted on an episode: Lady Penelope attempts to shoot out the tyres of a car, only for it to fail because they've been reinforced to protect against such things. In another episode, when some crooks try to escape with her jewels, she gets Parker to shoot the tyres. The crooks try to drive off in Fab 1, but Lady Penelope uses remote control to make it go round in circles.
    Parker: You don't want me to shoot up the Rolls-Royce, do you?
    Lady Penelope: No. For one thing, you wouldn't succeed; and for another, it won't be necessary. (Uses remote control on car) Now I think we can go back to bed.
  • Psychic Powers: The Hood.
  • Rescue: A genre example on the grandest scale.
  • Ray Gun: Used by the Tracy boys a couple of times and on one occasion the baddie.
  • Recycled In Space: A lot of concepts were Ripped from the Headlines sixties tropes given a futuristic spin. For example, pirate radio ships being anchored outside national waters became pirate radio spaceships outside Earth orbit, and Concorde became Fireflash.
  • Restricted Rescue Operation: The show runs on this trope, as the titular craft are designed specifically for rescue. Despite really specific equipment, expect a lot to go wrong, forcing an out-of-the-box solutions. Also, International Rescue must operate under strict secrecy, as they do not wish their technology to fall into the wrong hands.
  • Retro Rocket: Thunderbirds 1 and 3, as well as some other vehicles.
  • Rich Idiot With No Day Job: The Tracys. Penny, too.
  • Sand Necktie: The Hood does this to Brains in the episode "Desperate Intruder". Partly subverted however since he does not do it with the intention of slowly killing Brains, but to torture Brains into revealing information about a treasure he, Tintin and a professor were looking for.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The title sequence proclaimed it to be filmed "In Videcolor" and "Supermarionation." Plain-English translation: "It's in colournote , and it's a (sophisticated) puppet show." The "super" in "Supermarionation" referred to the automated lipsynching. The characters' voice tracks were fed to solenoids in the puppets' heads that moved the lips based on the audio level of the speech.
  • Shoe Phone: Watch phones, powder compact phones and of course teapot 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!" features 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 Filmsnote  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.
  • Speech Impediment: B-B-Brains has a t-tendency to s-stutter.
  • Spinoff: The presence of Zero-X in the first movie seems to make it double up as the pilot of the following series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. However, it isn't really confirmed in-series as the Thunderbirds never showed up in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: This happens only once: in the pilot episode Trapped in the Sky, between Scott and Lady Penelope.
  • Spot of Tea: In Day of Disaster, Lady Penelope interrupts Brains' watching of the Martian probe on television with "in my house, everything stops for tea". In the same episode, Scott uses Lady Penelope's teapot phone.
    Brains: If you're gonna start talking to teapots, there's a guy I think you ought to see.
  • Stairs Are Faster: In 30 Minutes After Noon, Prescott has to wait for a painfully slow elevator, while he (literally) has a ticking timebomb attached to him. Maybe he should have used the stairs.
  • 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. For the same reason, FX director Derek Meddings also insisted on shooting more angles than strictly necessary.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Lady Penelope, even by puppet standards.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: 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.
    • The intro ends with this.
  • Team Dad: Jeff Tracy is a literal example.
  • 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.
  • 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 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. Gordon was recognised as the best marksman on the team, though, and was often utilised when something needed aiming, e.g. firing the cable from Thunderbird 2 into the Zero X in the first movie.
    • Gordon's insignificance is also notable in that we never see him using his portrait in the lounge to talk to Jeff.
    • 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. In City of Fire, there is also a revolving desk in a control room, which does not appear to serve much purpose.
  • Toyless Toyline Character:
    • The show has had various toy lines released over the years, but good luck finding toy figures of Tin Tin, her father Kyrano, and grandma Tracy.
    • As far as one can consider vehicles to be characters, various pod vehicles that appeared in only 1 episode never got a toy; only the more famous ones (the Mole, the Firefly, etc.) did.
    • Downplayed with Thunderbird 5; there are some toys of this Thunderbird, but notably fewer than of any of the other thunderbird vehicles. Several lines of Thunderbird merchandising (like the 1992 toy series) completely omitted the space station, often in favor of Lady Penelope's FAB 1 car (most likely since Thunderbird 5 never participates in any action, limiting it's play value).
  • 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".
  • Up to Eleven: The setting of the 2060s was made by taking The '60s and turning it Up to Eleven.
  • Video Phone: These are used extensively. However, there are only a couple of occasions when the visual aspect is actually used to convey information (other than the callers' faces):
    • "Move - and you're dead": Jeff sends a picture of the bridge of San Miguel to Brains in Thunderbird 2.
    • "The man from MI-5": Lady Penelope uses her powder compact transmitter while "fixing her make up", sending a coded message using her lipstick.
  • Weaponized Car: Lady Penelope's Rolls Royce.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never see Alan's pygmy "alligator" (really a crocodile) again.
  • Whip Pan: In "Attack of the Alligators!", John in the space station says "Giant alligators?!", followed by a whip pan to Scott at the base saying the same phrase.
  • Women Drivers: Justified in "City of Fire" as this was a learning driver and Played unfortunately straight in "Vault of Death" — although perhaps justified in that she's been driven around by other people her whole life. Averted in later episodes, when Penny actually does learn to drive.
    Lord Stilton (as Lady Penelope drives towards a cliff edge): REVERSE!!!!
    Lady Penelope (reversing rapidly): There was no need to shout, Lord Stilton. You see, we're going quite smoothly.
    Parker: Oh we are, madam, but backwards!
  • 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.
    • Perhaps it wasn't flying at full Mach 6; its reactor would probably need a lot of maintenance for it to be pushed to the limit so often. Wouldn't a plane travelling at full Mach 6 top speed be in danger of hitting multiple objects and damaging the plane? Although then again, it should have decent radar too.
  • Zeerust: Kind of inevitable, considering the show was made in the 1960's.
    • 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. All other kinds of high-tech machines have clicky panels, big shiny microphones and chrome-plated-chrome. And not to mention; reel-to-reel tapes, telegrams and manual typewriters are still fully in use in the the futuristic world of the Thunderbirds, while things like the internet, mobile phones, tablets, pocket calculators etc. are not present at all.
    • The International Rescue crew do have watches with little full-colour screens, on which they can see each other; although they don't use them very often. It's also notable that panels of flashing lights (of which there are many) clearly use filament lamps: not an LED to be seen.


Video Example(s):


Thunderbirds Japanese opening

The Japanese opening of Thunderbirds.

How well does it match the trope?

4.4 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / AlternativeForeignThemeSong

Media sources:

Main / AlternativeForeignThemeSong