This particular post is dedicated to the shows developed by Gerry Anderson and his team. My earliest recollection of these is watching Captain Scarlet in black and white, followed a few years later by Thunderbirds, Stingray and Joe 90. I have no recollection of ever watching Supercar, The Secret Service, or Fireball XL5, but I do wish I hadn’t watched Terrahawks. Most of these are made with “Supermarionation” that used puppets to tell action/adventure stories.
The live action show UFO remains one of my favourite television shows of all time, and Space 1999 occupies a similar spot – though mostly I read novels connected to that, rather than watching the TV show. This post (8.1) concerns the puppet-based shows.
Captain Scarlet (1967-68)
Captain Scarlet was awesome. The indestructible Captain Scarlet against his equally indestructible nemesis, Captain Black. The whole scenario caused by humans panicking in the first contact situation with the Mysterons on Mars. The angels (the female fighter pilots), Cloudbase, Spectrum and all the different coloured codenames for its agents. A catchy theme tune and more technology than most shows. And explosions, every week explosions! (More explosions than Michael Bay!) A classic.
In 2005, Anderson and co rebooted Captain Scarlet using CGI technology as Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet.
This is pretty hard to find on DVD in New Zealand, though the show did play on TV in New Zealand. As far as I know there are no ‘legal’ streaming options to watch it here – though you can with a VPN.
Anderson posted the first episode on YouTube.
Spectrum is green!
There were 32 episodes made of Thunderbirds (64 half-episodes) in the mid-1960s. These have left an indelible print on the cultural psyche of anyone growing up in the English-speaking Commonwealth. The series dealt with story lines that pitched to both adults and children, and the show was popular and critically well-received. The stories were ultimately about the human characters, rather than the technology. The latter was amazing but it was the human spirit the ultimately won the day, as well as providing the more lighthearted moments in the show. It was a show about a family as much as the rescue missions.
The show has tremendous longevity – I played with Thunderbirds toys when a child, and my kids played with new Thunderbirds toys that could have been mine from yesteryear. The show was repeated endlessly on television, released on VHS, and then DVD. You can still by Thunderbird merchandise today – though that’s mostly connected to the rebooted CGI series Thunderbirds are Go! (2015-current). The music (Thunderbirds March), the machines, and even some of the catch phrases (“FAB”, “Thunderbirds are go!”) still carry cultural cachet today.
Here are some of the toys from my childhood – from a range of Gerry Anderson shows.
The title sequence – which followed a pattern of a montage of scenes from the episode and then the sequence of characters and their machines. Note the explosions!
There was a remarkably good live action film, Thunderbirds (2004) aimed at the family audience. It managed to keep the humanity of the characters, had a good mix of tension and humour, and carried the plot well (with everyone hamming it up along the way).
There was even a music video by Busted
The 2015 TV show reboot looks like this:
More clips of the new show at the Thunderbirds are Go YouTube channel
Joe 90 (1968-69)
The plot is fairly simple. World Intelligence Network recruits a 9-year old boy whose scientist father has developed a process for capturing skills and knowledge remotely from people and then imprinting them on his son. The son then performs secret missions with those skills etc. Entertaining viewing as a child; disturbing viewing as a parent. But one show where the superhero/secret agent is the same age as the viewers (similar to the contemporary K.C. Undercover)
Stingray continues the theory that nothing good ever happens in boats in science fiction. In this case, typically your submarine is being chased and shot at by giant fish submarines belonging to a belligerent underwater lizard/fish people.
Captain Troy Tempest and his sidekick, Phones, are there to protect the world as part of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (once again Anderson has a transnational agency to frame the story). There is, of course, the messy love triangle between Tempest, Marina (the silent mermaid-like woman he rescued), and Atlanta (WASP officer and daughter of Tempest’s commanding officer), but that is obscured by the constant explosions and attacks of the Terror Fish.
There was even a crooning love song about Marina.
The Top 20 Supermarionation moments (from the Gerry Anderson YouTube channel)