Thunderbirds: puppets against the evil empire. More cathodic nostalgia by the hand of Rafa Cervera

VALÈNCIA.- Decade of the sixties of the XXI century. An island at an undetermined point in the Pacific. And in it, a luxurious mansion behind which a secret organization called International Rescue is hidden. It is about a scientific group that appears on the scene every time evil intervenes. Something like a kind of paramilitary command created to abort violent actions outside governments and armies. They are a peaceful unit that does not use violence except in those cases in which there is no other option but to do so. All of its components are male and they are all named Tracy, beginning with the patriarch of the fraternal team, who acts as director. And most importantly, all these characters are not embodied by actors but by puppets.

The series, premiered on English television in 1965, arrived in Spain with relative punctuality. It was called thunderbirds, like the different ships that the Scotts piloted to carry out their missions; here they added the subtitle that came included with the Puerto Rican translation: guardians of space. It aired on Saturday mornings, which was prime time for other unforgettable children’s shows, like Saturnine Duck. The series, which lasted only one year on the screen, was for all audiences, although it was not exclusively aimed at children. Their plots were adult and spoke of plots, bombs and sabotage, almost always hatched by the same villain. The difference was that its protagonists were adorable dolls that moved by the traditional method of strings —many times visible— and some electronic help that allowed the lips of the dolls to be synchronized with the pre-recorded dialogues. This technique was baptized by those responsible as supermarionation.

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The British Gerry Y Sylvia Anderson they already had experience in similar creations. His were previous series of puppets such as stingray —another cult title with puppets for the Spanish children who glued themselves to the television on Saturday mornings and hallucinated with Captain Troy Tempest and the silent mermaid Marina, who had her own song and everything— or Captain Mars and the XL5. Perhaps his most remembered television work was Space: 1999a variant of star trek performed by beings of flesh and blood —martin landau it was one of its ‘protas’— with fewer aliens, more philosophy, and which was released in the 1970s. But no one can deny the charm of those delicious uniformed puppets that moved in small jumps, moving around the luxurious IR headquarters mansion or clinging to the controls of the dazzling ships with which they fought evil.

Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John were the pilots. His father, Jeff Tracy, was the commanding officer. Brains, who in the Spanish version was called Genio, was the engineer who had designed all that incredible network with underground launch platforms, rockets, submarine ships and space stations. Next to the family was Kyrano, a butler in the line of Alfred from Batman, a faithful and discreet guy who both makes you dinner and helps you choose the weapons for the next fight. The Tracys had a great ally in Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, the IR agent in London. The aristocratic Penélope, with her air of Mayrén Beneyto ahead of the letter and a chain smoker, she worked as an infallible logistical support. Climbing up in a glitzy Rolls Royce with a see-through top She gave the villains what they deserved without combing her hair, assisted by Parker, her effective chauffeur.

As for the villain, he always paid the price himself. More than anything because he asked for it. Already present from the beginning of the first chapter, the perfidious Hood is obsessed with knowing the secrets and plans of IR. He is a kind of completely bald wizard with bushy eyebrows, something like the negative and unshaven version of Professor Xavier from the X Men. The Hood has one advantage over the Tracys: he is the brother of the long-suffering Kyrano, and gets to control his mind to gain access to the goings-on of the pilot family. It is to the series what Spectra is to James Bond, only here, all the evil is planned and executed by himself, like Juan Palomo. Of course, he never gets away with it, but his actions serve to make thunderbirdswho enjoyed exquisite designs, enter the scene.

Seen half a century later, thunderbirds continues to maintain its artisan charm. The models of the buildings, the interiors and exteriors are wonderful. The ships (which were marketed as toys, like Lady Penelope’s car) are museum-worthy. The similarity in the narrative structure of the 32 chapters that made up the series worked almost like a pattern. Each one of them began with the imminence of a conflict or threat and about halfway through, the Tracys went into action, always following the same ritual, which incidentally served to amortize scenes of preparation and takeoff of the ships that were repeated over and over again. again. The impossibility of selling the series to the United States after a couple of attempts accelerated its demise. At the time, thunderbirds was something unusual, a television exercise in English Pop art, bathed in the modernity of swinging london. Seen today, his defects play more in favor of his virtues than anything else.

* This article was originally published in issue 43 of the magazine Square

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Thunderbirds: puppets against the evil empire. More cathodic nostalgia by the hand of Rafa Cervera

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