Continue to explore the depths of my collection of Gerry Anderson bits and bobs in the latest episode of Security Hazard Unwrapped! In today’s video: Dinky Toys, Captain Scarlet figures, the limited edition Thunderbirds replica ray gun, and much much more!
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Exciting changes are happening here at Security Hazard HQ! Some exciting new regular features are going into action and you can enjoy the humble beginnings of these projects right now:
Security Hazard Unwrapped
A new video series which sees me diving into the uncharted depths of my collection of Gerry Anderson memorabilia. After a recent move across the Atlantic Ocean, my assortment of models, games, toys, books, and much more currently reside in boxes wrapped up in newspaper. It seemed only fitting that I would open up these surprise goodies on camera for your enjoyment. Take a trip back in time, or feast your eyes on pieces of merchandise from the worlds of Gerry Anderson that you may have never seen.
Join Gerry Anderson blogger Andrew Clements and myself on an exciting adventure into the unknown. The Security Hazard Podcast sees two Thunder-Nerds talk about all things Anderson. Need something to listen to at work or on your commute? Give this a go!
Last Thursday, September 29th, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons celebrated the 49th anniversary of the first episode being broadcast back in 1967. That means we’re exactly one year away from the 50th anniversary of the show.
Similarly, Thunderbirds just celebrated its 51st anniversary – almost marking the end of the 50th anniversary celebrations. All sorts of things, good and not so good, have come out this landmark event.
With this in mind, I have had a bit of a think about what I would and wouldn’t like to see from the 50th anniversary celebrations of Captain Scarlet.
New episodes – Captain Scarlet 1967?
The Thunderbirds 1965 project produced three new episodes of Thunderbirds using Supermarionation techniques and the soundtracks of mini-albums recorded in the 60s. You can read my in-depth reviews of all three episodes here. While I think it’s fair to say new episodes of any Supermarionation show would be considered a treat, there are a number of reasons why a similar “Captain Scarlet 1967” project would not enjoy nearly the same level of success.
Part of the thrill of recapturing the charm of 1960s Thunderbirds was because it had some charm worth recapturing. Captain Scarlet with its more realistic puppets and somewhat slicker production values just wouldn’t be quite as fun to create all over again. And though I admit the Thunderbirds mini-albums weren’t the greatest source material to work from, the Captain Scarlet ones aren’t exactly top notch entertainment – they’re not bad but they have their oddities which would be harder to subdue than the oddities of the Thunderbirds recordings.
Aside from this, the Thunderbirds 1965 project relied on Kickstarter to raise funding having received approval from ITV. New Supermarionation episodes of Captain Scarlet would most likely rely on the same crowdfunding method – except the chances are more money would be required to make the episodes possible, and the audience from which the money would be raised would be smaller and probably less generous.
I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but it would be much harder, less enjoyable to make, and probably not as satisfying as the triumphant Thunderbirds 1965 episodes were.
Captain Scarlet on Blu-ray
Yes, it would be wonderful to see the full series of Captain Scarlet released on blu-ray. With Thunderbirds, Space: 1999, Terrahawks, and soon UFO, seeing UK releases on blu-ray and looking much better for it, Captain Scarlet would certainly benefit from the same treatment. But let’s look at the recent releases of Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds to work out what’s most likely to happen here.
For the 50th anniversary of Thunderbirds, the series was re-released on DVD along with Stingray and Captain Scarlet with some fairly impressive new box art. Everyone was pretty excited until it was discovered that the discs themselves were clones of earlier releases, using the copies of the shows remastered way back in 1999. As much as these digitally remastered episodes looked amazing back in the early 2000s, they’re looking more than a bit tired now. This is particularly the case with Thunderbirds which has enjoyed a super slick blu-ray release in Japan, the USA, and Germany. UK fans, however, are stuck with a blu-ray release from 2008 which has been cropped to widescreen, and looks rather grainy. I cannot fathom why the nice, shiny episodes cleaned up for releases in other countries haven’t been made available on a UK release yet – it’s what we were all hoping for from the 2015 DVD releases. A chance was completely missed for the 50th Anniversary to release Thunderbirds to UK viewers looking better than ever before on blu-ray with the excellent 4:3, almost flawless copies that had originally been made for the Japanese release – they could have charged a fortune for it and no-one probably would have minded. Click here to see a video comparing the new HD transfers to the DVDs.
So where does that leave the possibility of Captain Scarlet making it to blu-ray? Well seeing as Thunderbirds still hasn’t had a decent release on the format in the UK, I doubt it will happen for Scarlet any time soon. But if it did, we’d want it to match, or improve upon, the calibre of the episodes seen on Network’s Supermarionation boxset. This boxset included The Mysterons, Winged Assassin, Treble Cross and Noose of Ice along with new HD versions of episodes from Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Joe 90, and The Secret Service, as well as episodes from the aforementioned 4:3 HD Thunderbirds release, and Network’s previous HD release of the Four Feather Falls episode Gunfight on Main Street. So we do currently have 4 episodes of Scarlet available in HD – I’ll come to those later.
Ultimately, the cost of making new, shiny prints of Captain Scarlet would be big, and I’ll wager its a lot more than ITV would be willing to pay when they could just re-release the same standard definition prints again at a much lower cost. That was probably the thinking behind the last release of Thunderbirds in the UK and I have to say it stinks.
Captain Scarlet Screening Event?
One thing that might be a nice treat for fans, and would require no additional episodes to be given the HD treatment, is a screening event at somewhere like the BFI of the 4 episodes that were released on the Supermarionation Boxset. Yes it would be nice to see some different episodes in high definition, but realistically this might be a good compromise. It would celebrate the show and allow some fans to see it in a new way on the big screen. One could hold a Q&A with some of the surviving cast and crew from the series just to give it more appeal. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but at least it would be something a bit special.
So here’s the thing, the merchandise produced for the 50th anniversary of Thunderbirds was quite a mixed bag. There are some standout items such as the Modiphius board game which was a superb item made with love and care by people who know the show and know what they’re doing. It had to be crowdfunded to make it happen. The Thunderbirds 1965 project also produced some superb limited edition items as rewards for backers. This also had to be crowdfunded. There was also merchandise produced exclusively for the Gerry Anderson shop which was of a great quality – including some nicely designed t-shirts, posters and that type of thing. There have been some other decent items here and there from other manufacturers, many of which I was fortunate enough to review for the official Gerry Anderson shop. They weren’t perfect, but they had at least had some kind of good work put into them.
Then we get down to some of the other stuff which essentially stuck the same generic Thunderbirds images onto random items on the cheap by people who appear to know next to nothing about the series. Or there were some truly bizarre items that were so far off appealing to the target audience it was a bit laughable.
The pinnacle of low quality for me came in the form of the Corgi toys. New classic Thunderbirds toys should have been a huge hit. And Corgi are supposedly renowned for making high quality replicas of vehicles. So they re-released the same disproportionate FAB 1 that they made for the 40th anniversary, the same Thunderbirds 2 and 4 which lack detail, and then made a new Thunderbird 1 and 3 which look awful and poorly detailed. All this came several months later than scheduled – retailers that had been promised the items in January were left high and dry for a very long time.
The chances are Captain Scarlet would not fare any better from all this. Modiphius are contemplating making another board game based on Scarlet and I urge them to go ahead with it. You can fill out a survey about it on their website by clicking here. People will be desperately seeking some high quality merchandise to commemorate the anniversary, and there’s a good chance their board game would be at the top of people’s shopping lists based on the fantastic work they’ve done with Thunderbirds. I also strongly suggest that people support items that are exclusive to the Gerry Anderson shop. These products are made with care and love by people who know the show inside out. They work hard to bring out nicely designed items that people actually want. Like every other manufacturer they have to get a license from ITV to make their products, but unlike other manufacturers they really understand the target audience and know what they want.
So many items from the recent range of Thunderbirds merchandise have just been a complete misfire because they don’t seem to be aimed at the right people. Captain Scarlet lacks a lot of the pop culture appeal that Thunderbirds has, so one would hope that any merchandise that is produced will be aimed solely at fans who desire more specific, high quality items.
Or the opposite will happen, and in a desperate attempt to cash in on what remains of Captain Scarlet‘s pop culture status, even more tat will be produced to try to appeal to the general public, but without enough confidence or money behind it to actually make it any good. Even worse would be more of the bizarre products that don’t have any appeal to fans or the general public.
Of course, one reason that could be cited for the relatively low key wave of classic Thunderbirds merchandise is that anything more prevalent would have been in direct competition with merchandise for the new Thunderbirds Are Go series. Captain Scarlet won’t have this same competition, with its other closest competitors simply being the other Supermarionation show. This could mean more mainstream items will be available and marketed prominently. Or it might not – its a bit of an unknown.
But speaking of remakes, what about…
Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet?
The 2005 CGI remake of Captain Scarlet is now 11 years old. Fans desperately want the poorly promoted series to be re-released or even repeated to coincide with Thunderbirds Are Go. Recently something pretty exciting happened. The series was finally given a region 4 DVD release in Australia. This may not mean much to UK fans, but its the first time the series has made it out of the UK in a major way. With Anderson Entertainment at the helm, this could mean more is coming for New Captain Scarlet in the future.
The series itself still looks incredible. The CGI may not compete with big budget movies, but for a television series it stands out as very high quality. Would ITV bring it back next to Thunderbirds Are Go? That’s a bit complicated. For one thing New Captain Scarlet is aimed at a considerably more mature audience than Thunderbirds Are Go. The demographic of Thunderbirds Are Go is a little more set in stone than New Captain Scarlet, so the series would suffer a similar dilemma to the one it faced back in 2005. It’s a show with adult themes but lots of cool toys and gadgets flying around. Then there’s the question of comparing the look of the two shows. New Captain Scarlet aims for realism, Thunderbirds Are Go has developed its own visual style that has been tailored to appeal to children, while not completely alienating adult fans too by looking too cartoony. Either the CGI of New Captain Scarlet would be considered too dated to sit comfortably alongside Thunderbirds Are Go, or too good and could potentially make Thunderbirds Are Go look cheap. Despite both series using to CGI to remake two very popular Gerry Anderson series, they are extremely different products – but the comparison between them could either work in both their favour, or vastly against one or the other, or both, depending on who you are.
Overall then, what am I looking for from the 50th anniversary of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons?
Against all odds I would love to see the series released in high defintion on a spectacular blu-ray boxset full of special features. I think that goes without seeing. Whether it will happen is another matter. If it did happen I hope people wouldn’t complain about the high price tag that comes with it.
I would love there to be some kind of event for fans and the general public to celebrate the series, be that a screening or even a convention that’s open to all – I can’t emphasise enough how important that last part is to growing the show’s popularity rather than letting it stagnate.
High quality merchandise. I don’t mind limited edition releases or a high price tag as long as the products are of a good quality and deliver something new that we haven’t seen before. Yes, Corgi could re-release their previous Captain Scarlet vehicles, charge a lot of money for it and probably do just fine – but what would excite much more is if they released some new vehicles that perhaps have never been made into toys or models before. It would cost them more money, but they could charge more for them as a result, and the fans who are actually prepared to part with the cash for this sort of stuff would go for it much quicker than a re-release. If they could avoid releasing them 6 months late as well, that would be a bonus…
Finally I would love to see New Captain Scarlet continuing to regain momentum in the way that it has been. It would be a real tribute to the late Gerry Anderson if his final television series could conquer the world in the way that it should have done originally. There’s no reason why the show couldn’t be a hit in the US and enjoy new success in the UK too.
Let me know your thoughts on this. What were your favourite and least favourite parts of the Thunderbirds 50th Anniversary that stand out for you, be they releases of the show, merchandise or events? What do you want to see for the 50th anniversary of Captain Scarlet? Post a comment below!
The Tracy Island playset is famous for being at the top of everyone’s Christmas list, not only in 1992 when the series was given it’s first major re-run on BBC2, but again in 2000. My own mother was on high alert to get my brother the 1990’s Matchbox Tracy Island and I was beyond excited to unwrap my own Vivid Imaginations Tracy Island in 2000. That’s right, we were a two Tracy Island family – in fact we still are, as I kept both of them, and although they were incredibly well played with, they were also incredibly well looked after and my Vivid playset even retained all of its palm trees (the same could not be said for my brother’s Matchbox version!)
These are of course the two most well-known renditions of Tracy Island in playset form, with the new 2015 Thunderbirds Are Go set now in the mix also, but there are a couple of alternatives that I’ve been fortunate enough to collect over the years. In this article I’ll be taking a look at some of them. Unfortunately my collection is packed up ready to be shipped to my new home, so all my observations are being made from memory and photos from other online sources. Let me know if you have any thoughts on these sets from your experience.
1992, Matchbox Tracy Island Playset
This is by no means the earliest version of Tracy Island that viewers could have in their own home, but it’s reputation proceeds it as being one of the greatest Christmas toys of all time.
It’s hard to critique something that was such an integral part of my childhood. The playset manages to capture the iimportant details of the original Tracy Island, simplify them, and cram them all together into a big lump of plastic that was lightweight, but also extremely robust.
The amount of assembly required was kept to an absolute minimum. The only decals that need to be applied are on the Thunderbird 2 launch ramp and Cliff House, and only a few pieces need to be clicked and slotted in place before Thunderbirds Are Go!
The vehicles were not originally included but once you have them this set is an absolute playground for a child’s imagination. The details of the Thunderbird machines launch sequences are simplified down to the absolute coolest parts. The cliff door swings open for Thunderbird 2 to roll out as the palm trees simultaneously lean back. Once TB2 is in place, the ramp can then be raised. The diecast metal Matchbox TB2 is a tad weighty so one had to have pretty nimble fingers to flick the launch ramp up in one go. TB1 can be kept in position underneath the pool and a quick twiddle of the diving board moves the pool back and reveals the mighty rocket. Thunderbird 3 simply sits in a hole beneath the round house ready for lift off.
In terms of electronics, this set is nice and basic with four sounds triggered by individual buttons inside Thunderbird 2’s hangar. The sound effects certainly add to the excitement and play value, but the fact the set isn’t bogged down in complex electronics and programming leaves it open for the playset owner to apply their imagination with full force.
In the grand scheme of things, we don’t actually see that much of Tracy Island’s exterior in the series. Everything we do see is pretty much included in this set somehow, and a few extra treats have been added by the toy designers. I love the little pathway and steps down the cliff on the Round House side of the island. You can imagine Jeff strolling down there to meet visiting boats. I also really like the small cave that’s been cut out of the side towards the back. Nothing like it featured in the TV series, but as a child I used to store all my pod vehicle toys back there, although you could equally use it as an emergency launch area for Thunderbird 4.
Overall this is a great set which laid the foundations for some of the fantastic toys that came later.
2000, Vivid Imaginations Soundtech Tracy Island
When Thunderbirds was digitally remastered by Carlton and repeated on BBC2 in the early 2000’s, a huge wave of merchandise was launched once again to coincide. Captaining the team was this new Tracy Island playset.
Now you would be right in assuming that this set is pretty similar to the Matchbox one. The basic layout is the same. Thunderbird 2’s hangar has been angled more towards the front, and more decals are provided with a bit of extra detail on. The set is compatible with the Vivid Imaginations plastic vehicles which were sold seperately. Certain functions of the Matchbox set were refined for this release. The TB2 hangar has a button in the base which can quickly open the spring-loaded hangar door and lower the palm trees. Said trees are made of a slightly more flexible plastic which enables them to withstand a little more wear and tear before snapping off (did I mention that the ones on mine never did?). The colours of this set are a little more vibrant on this set than those of the Matchbox island, although I think I personally prefer the more subdued tones of the Matchbox version anyway. Thunderbird 1 and 3 launch in exactly the same way. When this set was re-released for the 40th Anniversary, platforms allowed TB1 and 3 to move up and down.
So what was the big selling point of this set which is almost identical to it’s Matchbox predecessor? Did you notice that incredibly cool very early 2000’s sounding word, “Soundtech”? That’s right – this set has the technology of sound. It may not sound like much now, but when I was a kid I knew I was living in the future because my Thunderbirds toys were “Soundtech”. Carved out of the back of the island was an attempt to replicate the Tracy Lounge and it’s TV portraits. Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon, (not John because he wasn’t cool enough for Soundtech apparently), Brains and Lady Penelope all had portraits which would light up at the touch of a button and say two phrases each. Somebody feel free to correct me on this but I think Shane Rimmer, Matt Zimmerman and David Graham returned to give their voices to this playset, while the voices of Virgil and Lady Penelope are impersonated. You can tell.
And that’s pretty much it for the “Soundtech” Tracy Island. I have to say the similarity between this set and the Matchbox one never occurred to me quite so much as a child. But on reflection I have to say that I will always have a soft spot for this one because it was all mine as a young boy and did so much to grow my enthusiasm for the show. This was my Tracy Island and I think it is fair to say it was my most beloved toy as a child… which is why I insisted that my wife let me keep it potentially forever… and most of my other Tracy Islands as well actually.
2003, Vivid Imaginations Powertech Tracy Island
Oh boy, if “Soundtech” wasn’t exciting enough for you, just wait until you see this.
I saved all my pocket money for the best part of a year to get this thing, it looked so unbelievably awesome. This smaller Tracy Island set released towards the end of the early 2000’s revival took the basic functions of the original playset from Vivid and stepped it up to ridiculous levels of playability. It’s a “transforming playset” which looks like a bizarrely proportioned rendition of the island from the outside, but at the touch of a button, the set expands and opens up with all sorts of sirens and noises to reveal a simplified version of the Tracy Island interior.
I love the little vehicles included in this set which slot into place and do their thing. Thunderbird 1 has a little launch pad which you can move along and get into launch position. Thunderbird 2 sits above a small conveyor belt containing only the odd-numbered pods. These can roll along underneath and instead of TB2 descending onto them, the pod can be lifted up into the main fuselage at the push of a button (I used to have a lot of fun just firing pods off at random from their incredibly springy platform). TB2 can then be moved out along the little runway, with the palm trees folding back via a small switch, and the ramp lifting up with another. Thunderbird 3 is clipped into place and when it lifts off all sorts of rocket sounds ensue. Thunderbird 4 even has its own little launch area – we don’t see this in the series but it’s a nice little addition nonetheless. Other features include a whole section for Brains’ laboratory and a pod vehicle bay expressed through the medium of stickers. There’s also two little buttons that deliver more sound effects and phrases in case you hadn’t had enough of those.
The Powertech Tracy Island never gained the reputation of its predecessors which is a shame really because it had a lot of cool features. It came along just a little too late into the revival really. Most parents probably weren’t feeling too inclined to buy another Tracy Island when they’d just forked out for one a few years earlier. As I said, I had to pay for this one out of my own pocket money which took a heck of a lot of work for 8 year old me.
2004 Deluxe Thunderbirds Movie Tracy Island
Now regardless of what you might think of the live action 2004 Thunderbirds movie, as a 9 year old when the movie came out I was slap bang in the target audience. And at the time I enjoyed it enough to want a slice of the action and got a few of the toys that were available. This included the Tracy Island playset which was very different to anything that had come before.
As you can see, the surface of the island is split into four quarters, each dedicated to a different Thunderbird machine. You could just buy these four quarters. Or you could buy them with the main central section which had all the fun electronic bits and pieces. I could only settle for the best so got the full deluxe set.
The design of the island faithfully captures the aesthetic of Tracy Island as it was seen in the movie. Vivid Imaginations bravely decided to make this a fairly different set to the tried and tested formula of the Matchbox version. Thunderbird 1 is hidden underneath the pool which moves back and pulls TB1 up when the control centre is pushed down (hope you got all that). Thunderbird 2 sits on its launch ramp which raises up when a button is pushed and the tiny little trees budge back a millimetre or so – not very exciting. Thunderbird 3 had a little platform which could be raised and split apart the round house as it did in the movie. Meanwhile, Thunderbird 4 and The Mole had their own section of the island which contained a little cave with a door and a runway which could descend into the ground and send The Mole sliding out of some concealed doors.
The central section which all these quarters sit on top of contains quite a few fun features. The most exciting part has to be the Thunderbird 2 maintenance bay which can lift the vehicle up and down on a platform while the user wiggles some tools around. There are lights and sounds to go with all of this. There’s a large runway which folds out to allow TB2 and other aircraft to access this area, as well as a few shelves for stacking the little FAB 1 that also comes with the set. On the left hand side is a blue lid which locks away many of the set’s secrets using a (not-so) sophisticated combination. Once you crack it, some pretty buttons and levers are revealed which make a lot of noise, most of which you can’t really understand. The little microphone was pretty cool I seem to remember.
In the end though, this is the only part of my Tracy Island collection that I have chosen to part with. One of them had to go during my move, and this one was the obvious choice really. It was never really played with that much because despite its many features, this set didn’t have quite the same appeal as the other larger sets.
Yujin Tracy Island
I acquired this item relatively recently and although it’s not a playset as such, I felt I just had to mention it here.
This beautiful little miniature has so much detail and excitement going on that I just had to have it. The island comes in several sections which allows it to have a little bit of interior detail. The vehicles are beautifully attached to the island via great billows of smoke and flame. When put together, the shape of the set resembles the classic International Rescue logo. It also comes with an even smaller miniature of the island which inverts the scale of the vehicles.
It’s a tad pricey, but if you can pick up this little set I heartily recommend it. It’s a nice model but does require some very fiddly assembly. It’s worth it in the end though.
That’s the end of my collection. There are two notable sets that I have left out of this list owing to the fact I don’t own them. First is the IMAI Tracy Island kit. I’m not too fond of kits usually but would be intrigued to hear from people that own this one to find out how easily it can be put together.
Secondly is the 2015 Thunderbirds Are Go Tracy Island from Vivid Imaginations. I haven’t dived into collecting much merchandise from the new series because of the high price tags and my lack of space. But when the prices fall a little further and I have somewhere to store the enormous Tracy Island playset I would quite like to own one. If you have one, let me know how the assembly of the set was. I’ve heard it can be a bit of a pain…