You know what? That was pretty good. Not great, but it’s definitely got potential to grow into a good series. The CGI Tracy brothers are much less creepy and dead-eyed than they appeared in the publicity images and even the updated and bulkier Thunderbird 2 (all right thinking people’s favourite ship) looks good. Thunderbird 3 has even had a makeover to make sense of its quirkier design features.
This opening episode does a pretty good job of setting up the series without labouring the points which are familiar, even iconic, from the original. Jeff Tracy is missing, presumed dead and there are a few minor changes to the personnel on the island. Gone are Kyrano and Tin-Tin, merged into new character Tanusha ‘Kayo’ Kyrano, International Rescue’s head of security who retains the familial connection to the Tracy family’s arch nemesis. Comic relief looks like it will be provided by the awkwardly unnecessary character of Granny Tracy (Sandra Dickinson), who inexplicably survives the modernization. There’s also a little more detail around International Rescue’s relationship with world governments and reappearance by The Hood who still covets the Thunderbirds for himself.
Amongst the generally subtle updates, there are some lovely call outs to other Gerry Anderson productions, from a clip of “Stingray” to the design of the undersea exploratory vehicle being evocative of a Moonbase Alpha Eagle from “Space: 1999”. The mixture of CGI and model work is a nice nod of respect to the series’ roots and quite successful but it’s too often clear that the CGI characters aren’t in the environment they’re placed. The illusion is broken because they don’t impact their surroundings, for example when Kayo performs a HALO jump and lands in the desert, her sprint across the sand leaves no footprints. A little detail; but a vital one and so unnecessary given the technology available. And while the devotion to using model work is admirable, water is one of the things the original Supermarionation could never do convincingly so why not replace it with CGI seas this time round?
The starry voice cast is generally pretty good although Rasmus Hardiker’ whiny Alan Tracy instantly grates. The rest of the Tracy brothers are better, but it’s Lady Penelope who disappoints the most. Despite being voiced by Rosamund Pike, she simply doesn’t sound posh enough. Pike needs to channel more of her haughty Bond girl Miranda Frost instead of the bland It-Girl voice she’s chosen here. Perhaps in this age of austerity and envy politics the focus groups felt that people wouldn’t cheer on such an unrepentant member of the aristocracy. Still, at least it’s okay for Parker to retain his salt of the earth working class background. Progress, eh? It’s a clever touch to update Brain’s ethnicity to bring a little more diversity to the show. Kayvan Novak does a good job in making him distinct without being a caricature but it’s a shame the character design doesn’t really reflect the decision, and surely they could have ditched the stutter?
Still, occasional missteps aside, ITV could have a real winner on their hands but aren’t apparently interested in conquering Saturday teatime TV the way the BBC have had such success with their modern revival of another 1960’s telly classic.Future episodes are scheduled to go out in an (irregular) early morning ‘kiddie’ timeslot, presumably to make room for yet more tedious light entertainment shows featuring their incestuous stable of ‘talent’ spawned by ITV2 reality soaps and Simon Cowell freak shows. Rather than be a genuine family entertainment channel, ITV seems Hell-bent on becoming the TV version of “OK!” magazine, which means that genre shows are always going to be poorly served by the network, squeezed out by its myopic focus on celebrities and lowest common denominator programming.
(for the episode, 2/10 for ITV’s decision to not make it a Saturday teatime staple.)