Review: Thunderbirds night

All About Thunderbirds

In the UK: Wednesday 2nd January, BBC4

BBC4 likes themes. It likes seasons. It like evenings. It likes repeats a lot. Sometimes, they’re good, such as the now-traditional yearly Ghost Stories seasons.

Sometimes, though, you have to ask yourself, “What’s the point?” Sure, somebody, somewhere liked Dance Britannia and is grateful that finally someone has seen the sense to put on a sort of social history thing about dancing. But even fans of Gerry Anderson – you know, the guy behind all those 60s puppets series like Joe 90 – must be wondering who exactly was supposed to have gained anything from BBC4’s ‘Thunderbirds night’.

The evening was pretty much dedicated to repeats. A repeat of the first episode of Thunderbirds; a repeat of the first episode of Captain Scarlet; a repeat of an old Mastermind episode where some bloke reckoned he knew a few things about puppets. Even the “new” episode of Stingray was basically a clips episode composed from bits of old episodes and a couple of milliseconds of extra footage found sitting in a can somewhere on a Slough trading estate.

The only new stuff were the trailers – clips from episodes of Captain Scarlet et al redubbed by the original actors à la The Flashing Blade – and All About Thunderbirds, a documentary that was (ooh, surprising) all about Thunderbirds… and other Gerry Anderson series.

Compared to Cult TV, for example (itself a little sketchy), this was a quick “highlights of” show, rather than an in-depth examination of the rise and fall of Gerry Anderson’s career during the 60s and 70s. Skipping nimbly over Four Feather Falls, tediously ironic narrator Jack Davenport took us on a brief excursion into Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray territory- apparently, they featured puppets or something – before heading on to the main focus: Thunderbirds itself.

If you never knew anything about Thunderbirds‘ production, you’d have learnt a little bit by the end of this segment. Not a lot, but a bit. Same old stories as always, so if you already knew a bit, that’s how much you knew by the end of it. But if you knew nothing, you’d maybe be slightly enlightened about the show – and the fact the nice Nick Park as well as general plebs and Torchwood and Doctor Who writers liked it when they were growing up. It very much fits the remit of the standard BBC4 documentary: educate a bit but not a lot; entertain a bit but not a lot. To be a little fair to the programme makers, that’s because most of the people involved were dead. But there’s always archive footage. And Andrew Pixley.

Post-Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet got a few minutes of hefty criticism, Joe 90 got mentioned as a show that was on once and The Secret Service got revisited enough for us to learn it mixed live action and puppets (no mention of what it was about, the use of Stanley Unwin and his made-up language, or indeed anything useful at all really). Then we shot through UFO and Space: 1999 in about three minutes flat, two and a half of those minutes being dedicated to Joan Collins’ legs.

The end. Sorry, Terrahawks lovers; sorry New Captain Scarlet appreciators – the story of Gerry Anderson ends in the 70s, unless you count a Vitally Important discussion of Thunderbirds’ revived popularity in the 80s and 90s thanks to BBC repeats and Blue Peter. God Bless the BBC and never mention the fact Thunderbirds was repeated by ITV on Saturday mornings during the 80s.

If maybe they’d concentrated on just Thunderbirds for the whole show (or indeed evening), maybe they could have made it more satisfying. If they’d written Jack Davenport something a little less “too cool for school” (Earth to Jack Davenport: you aren’t), maybe it would have been less irritating. As it is, we had a lazy themed night which only die hard fans probably watched but which would undoubtedly have left the majority dissatisfied.

Nice idea, BBC4, bad execution. Better luck with “brass rubbings from Azerbaijan” night or whatever it is you have planned next. Oh wait. Tonight’s “Irwin Allen night”. More on that when I’ve finished watching it.

UPDATE: Bastard the PVR forgot to record Irwin Allen night. What a bastard


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

    View all posts