”Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” – Stephen King
Thunderbirds is now 55 years old, and still in rude health. For a show which only lasted for 32 episodes over two seasons, it has certainly lasted long in the memory, and this creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson definitely shows no sign of going away anytime soon.
It has managed to rack up two feature films, plus a 2004 live action remake directed by Jonathan Frakes, as well as having an animated reboot as Thunderbirds 2086, along with a CGI do-over as Thunderbirds Are Go! in 2015. The original show even made a comeback of sorts recently, due to three 1960s audio stories with the TV voice cast having been turned into actual Supermarionation tales for the series’ 50th birthday, as Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes.
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Almost six decades on, Thunderbirds is still going as strong as ever, thanks in part to Gerry’s son Jamie, who has carried on his father’s legacy via Anderson Entertainment, giving us new adventures and series set in the ‘Anderverse’. The latest project to reach fruition has been an adaptation for audio of a novel from the 1960s, written by John Theydon, which did the job of giving a glimpse at the adventures of International Rescue which took place away from our TV screens.
Renamed from just Thunderbirds to Thunderbirds: Terror From The Stars, the book has also been reprinted with this brand new title by Anderson Entertainment, to accompany this new audio release. Rather than being a straight drama, this is actually an enhanced audiobook, with portions of the tale being narrated using the original prose, and cast being used to play the characters; there are also sound effects and a musical score used to flesh out the listening experience.
One of the pitfalls for any TV series which began so long ago would be that the majority of the cast would either no longer be with us, or at least be retired by now; thankfully, audio is a very forgiving medium, which covers up a multitude of such issues which would hamper a regular continuation. Although David Graham – who had voiced several of the Thunderbirds characters, such as Parker and Brains – is still around, at the age of 96 he has decided it is time to hand the baton to a new generation.
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Thankfully, the new Thunderbirds cast members are worthy replacements for all those who went before, including Sylvia Anderson’s iconic turn as Lady Penelope. Jon Culshaw gives us the gruff Jeff Tracy, along with the posh Cockney tones of Parker, and Genevieve Gaunt manages to perfectly emulate all of the distinctive vocal mannerisms of Penelope. Almost indistinguishable from Shane Rimmer’s original Scott Tracy is Justin T. Lee, who has recently portrayed Commander Ray Neptune in NEBULA-75; his take on arch-enemy The Hood, and his brother Kyrano, is also quite uncanny.
Wayne Forester has done a significant amount of voice work, including the titular role in the 2005 CGI remake of Captain Scarlet; he was also part of the original cast of a 1990s stage production, Thunderbirds FAB – The Next Generation, so it seems that Gerry Anderson’s work really is in his blood, and he does a commendable job bringing Virgil Tracy and Brains to life. Rounding out the cast are Joe Jameson as Gordon and Alan Tracy, and Anna Leong Brophy playing Tin-Tin, as well as the voice of a mysterious Sphere which just happens to be at the centre of the action…
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Thunderbirds usually tended to deal with threats of a more earthly variety on TV, but here the series goes more into the sort of territory which other shows like Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, UFO, or Terrahawks would veer into, facing threats from outer space. As such, this sets it apart from the usual Thunderbirds stories, as here they have the fate of all humanity in their hands, which gives it a much grander feel. The synopsis describes this as International Rescue’s “most astounding adventure yet“, which is a claim that you would be hard pressed to dispute.
For anyone used to watching Thunderbirds on the box, they are accustomed to plenty of high-octane action unfolding at breakneck speed across the length of a 50-minute episode. With this being an audiobook, however, the story moves at a much more leisurely pace, running to in excess of four hours, which does require some initial adjustment; however, it still manages to keep the listener’s attention for the most part at least, with Andrew Clements’ adaptation making sure that it is not too heavy on the narration, giving the cast plenty to do throughout.
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If there are any minor criticisms to be raised, the version of the main theme used here sadly lacks the brassy bombast of Barry Gray’s original, and sounds more like the sort of thing you would hear on an album of TV theme covers. Also, this is not really the ideal format for Thunderbirds, as it lacks the overall pace of the original television series, as well as other Anderson programmes adapted for audio, like Terrahawks and Space: 1999 from Big Finish, which have adhered more closely to the familiar formats and episode lengths.
Thunderbirds: Terror From The Stars certainly proves to be something of an interesting experiment, and shows there is still plenty of life left in Thunderbirds; hopefully, any more endeavours which are undertaken using this great new cast will see them moving away from hybrid audiobooks to pure audio dramas, or – dare we even hope – maybe a whole new TV series.