I suppose that the first thing you’re expecting me to say is, I miss the strings.
Far from it. It’s fifty years now since the imagination of Gerry Anderson (who never wanted to work with puppets in the first place) and the vision of Lew Grade (who looked at the pilot episode and upped the series to an hour long slot, allowing so much more to happen) combined to bring us one of the greatest kid’s action/adventure series of all time. Now, a serious, concerted effort has been made to bring back the series in all its glory, using modern technology, and there are more important things to be concerned with than whether or not you can see strings.
This new Thunderbirds are Go effort is directly based upon the original series. It’s full of changes. A decision has been made to dispense with Jeff Tracy, missing, perhaps dead at the hands of the Hood (who now speaks with the ‘foreign’ accent of a member of the British Upper Class). John Tracy, whom Anderson condemned to a life on the Space Station, Thunderbird 5, because he decided he was boring, has a much more active role, stepping into his father’s role as more of a co-ordinator.
The uniforms have been re-designed, updated, made more sleek. It’s reasonably effective, though the same can’t be said of the Tracy brothers themselves. Everybody’s been de-aged by a good decade at least, and I’m not the first to suggest that Alan and Gordon’s hairstyles are more suited to boyband members than serious human bings.
To some extent, the Thunderbirds themselves have been updated, though only Thunderbird 5 has been radically rethought. The others at least adhere to the basic design of the originals, although both Thunderbirds 2 and 3 have been made much less sleek, more chunky in appearance – horrendously so in the case of Thunderbird 3, which was always my favourite.
By removing the puppets, in favour of a combination of models and CGI, the makers have been able to both speed things up immeasurably, and give themselves angles for shots that simply weren’t possible for Anderson. It fits the series to its new era, but the knock on effect is that there isn’t the same sense of extended tension. The slowness of the puppets enforced a deliberate pace, a ratchetting tension that would us kids up delightedly: these Tracy boys speed through things in a way that undercuts the danger.
And the show itself was eager to throw everything at you as quickly as possible: by the first ads we’d seen everybody and everything in action, a hectic and not all that impressive approach, but then I don’t suppose you make any friends in kids TV by expecting the little bleeders to be patient.
There were some things I was seriously doubtful about, the biggest of which being the decision to make Brains Indian. His skin’s not that much darker, his accent is only faint, but the former Hiram Hickenbacker is no longer an American boy. The splendid David Graham, at 89, has been brought back to reincarnate Parker, but has not been let loose on Brains, whose voice is supplied by Kayvan Noval of Fonejacker, a programme I do not watch.
I’m also not sure about the decision to have International Rescue’s identities known to the World Government, and I’m dubious over the one out-and-out mistake, which was to set this series in 2060. Not only is that too close in time to our current world, the original Thunderbirds was set 100 years in our future, namely 2065. This new version is surely not a prequel?
I’m also a bit concerned that what we saw tonight was apparently a double episode. If the rest of the series is only going to run 25 minutes an episode, we are not going to be having anything remotely in-depth to match up to the show’s wonderful record.
There are undoubted good points about the series. Peter Dyneley’s voice has been resurrected, 38 years on from his death, to provide the iconic ” 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! Thunderbirds are Go” countdown over the intro, though I’m less enamoured of using it over the actual launch-sequences in the show. But I heartily approve of Rosamund Pike as a rather younger and actually quite dishy Lady Penelope, who has instantly made the character hers.
I don’t think I’m going to get up at 8.00am on Saturday mornings to watch further episodes, but the important thing to me is that, on this showing at least, the people behind the remakes have got both their hearts and their heads in the right place. If they can keep this level up, Thunderbirds are Go will not shame its legacy.
Though I can’t leave this topic without two complaints. The first is that ITV’s live watch online is utter shite! This is prime time from a National TV station and the sodding thing crashed no less than six times in the course of an hour, and it sure as hell isn’t the fastest to pick up a signal in the first place. I can get better service livestreaming overseas football channels.
And it is so long since I last watched a live TV programme with adverts in it that I had totally forgotten what a pain in the arse they are. Gah!