Friday, 16 January 2015

Info round-up on the new THUNDERBIRDS TV series

A new Thunderbirds TV series is set to debut in the next couple of months, so I thought it'd be interesting to round up all the info we have on the new series.

The new show is called Thunderbirds Are Go! and is the third television series in the franchise, following on from the original Thunderbirds that aired in 1965-65 and the animated Japanese homage series Thunderbirds 2086, which aired in 1986.

All versions of the franchise feature International Rescue, an independent organisation working from a remote Pacific island which maintains and operates several large vehicles which are used in helping out in dangerous situations, such as disaster relief or rescue missions. In the original series and the new reboot, International Rescue is run by the Tracy family, led by patriarch Jeff Tracy. His sons Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John pilot Thunderbirds 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively. Thunderbird 1 is a superfast rocket plane, capable of reaching any danger zone on Earth in a matter of hours and assessing the situation. Thunderbird 2 is a heavy lifter craft which can transport a variety of smaller, automated vehicles tailored to deal with almost any situation. Thunderbird 3 is a spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel. Thunderbird 4 is a deepwater submarine. Thunderbird 5 is a space station in geostationary orbit, constantly scanning for disasters and mayday signals so the team can respond as quickly as possible. Additional characters include Brains, the creator of the Thunderbird vehicles, and the Hood, a mysterious villain who wants to capture the Thunderbird vehicles and use them to develop weapons technology he can sell to the highest bidder. Also important are Lady Penelope and her chauffeur/bodyguard Parker, who are (sometimes surprisingly ruthless) secret agents working in an intelligence-gathering role for International Rescue.

The new show seems to retain all of this backdrop, along with adding new recurring characters such as Kayo and Colonel Casey. The new series has been described as a reboot, so it's assumed it replaces the original show in continuity rather than working as a sequel to it. The precise date of the reboot, or how it will accommodate new technological innovations like the internet, are currently not known.

What is known is that the show will drop the puppets of the original (too expensive, apparently) and will use CGI characters. Before you throw things at the computer, they are using real miniatures, sets and models (although I suspect they will be using both physical ships and CGI versions and switching between them as needed) and integrating the CG characters with them. How successful this will be remains to be seen.

The new cast includes some known names. The biggest coup is Rosamund Pike, recently festooned with awards and nominations for her role in Gone Girl. She will be playing Lady Penelope, with original 1960s Parker David Graham reprising his role. British comedian Kayan Novak, known for his TV series Fonejacker and Facejacker and his role in the comedy film Four Lions, is playing Brains, whilst Thomas Brodie-Sangster (recently seen as Jojen Reed on Game of Thrones) is playing both Gordon and John Tracy. Angel Coulby (Merlin) is playing new character Kayo, whilst Sandra Dickinson (Trillian in the BBC TV version of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is playing Grandma Tracy. Weta Digital, who worked on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, as well as Avatar, are providing the effects work.

The new show will debut on ITV in the spring. Its success will hinge on how well the CG characters go across (the initial design reveal above is not hugely encouraging, although the new vehicle designs are pretty solid) and what age it's pitched at. The original was successful partly because it was kid-friendly without necessarily talking down to them, the result of the show being expanded from 25 to 50 minute episodes necessitating the introduction of more character-building scenes, comic relief and dialogue. The new show will consist of half-hour episodes, likely to be focused more on action. If they can still put together good stories with that constraint, this should be a watchable show.

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