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INTERVIEW: Ben Page & Chris Dale on adapting Thunderbirds versus the Hood

Thunderbirds versus the Hood is a brand new full-cast audio drama release coming soon on CD and download, featuring adaptations of two classic Thunderbirds comic stories; the Lady Penelope adventure The Vanishing Ray (from issues 44 to 51 of TV Century 21) and the Thunderbirds epic Brains is Dead (from issues 162 to 169 of TV21). The same creative cast and crew that have brought to life the classic Thunderbirds novels on audio also worked to bring these strip stories to audio, and we asked writers Ben Page and Chris Dale to share their thoughts on adapting these strip stories to the audio medium…

Who are you/how did you come to be involved with this project, and what’s the basic plot of the comic strip story you’ve adapted for Thunderbirds versus the Hood?

Ben Page

BEN: I’m Ben Page and I’m a writer/director/producer of puppetry related content. I’ve been a part of Anderson Entertainment for just a few years, but a lifelong fan of Thunderbirds, so I was honored to be asked to tackle a Thunderbirds story.

The Vanishing Ray is about a mysterious parcel that turns up in Lady Penelope’s post. The contents draw the attention of both the Hood and the British Secret Service, forcing Penelope and Parker to investigate the origins of this strange device.

CHRIS: I’m Chris Dale, writer/voice artist/video editor on various projects for Anderson Entertainment since the Terrahawks audio range began in 2014 – and a fan of the works of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (not forgetting all those who sailed with them) since first seeing Thunderbirds in 1991!

Brains is Dead opens with the shocking murder of International Rescue’s technical genius, and from that grim opening descends even further into the darkness as an all-out attack is launched against Tracy Island – headed by their oldest enemy, and aided by a familiar bespectacled face…

How familiar were you with the Thunderbirds comic strips, and particularly this story, before coming to adapt it for this release?

BEN: Growing up in the US, there weren’t a lot of Thunderbirds comics around so I hadn’t encountered this particular story before. I gave it a look and immediately realized there are a lot of continuity problems with other Thunderbirds media. It turned out to be a wonderful opportunity because it enabled me to write some new material for my favorite characters. The core concept of the original comic is delightful and the art is stunning.

CHRIS: As I said, growing up a Thunderbirds fan in the early 1990s meant I was the prime audience for the Thunderbirds comic published by Fleetway, which reprinted many of the classic TV21 comic strips of the 1960s – including The Vanishing Ray and Brains is Dead! As a child without regular access to Thunderbirds beyond the repeats (which sadly I wasn’t able to tape many of) the comics became something of a substitute for the series itself at certain points, and Brains is Dead stood out as one of the most dramatic Thunderbirds epics the comic ever presented! Being asked to adapt it to audio was certainly a challenge, but one I wouldn’t have missed for the world!

What are the main challenges in adapting a comic strip story to audio?

Parker and Penelope tangle with the Hood and the authorities in The Vanishing Ray!

BEN: I think it is less challenging than adapting a novel (I adapted two Stingray books before this) because comics from this era rely a lot on dialogue. There are visual moments that have to be translated into sounds and the real challenge is to try and do this while making it sound natural and not forced.

CHRIS: The visual language of comics allows for certain narrative shortcuts that the reader accepts without question, that perhaps take longer to explain on audio via dialogue – and yet generally you can’t avoid explaining them! In a comic, how did Scott Tracy suddenly appear out of nowhere between panels? He just did, don’t question it! Audio is a different world entirely, and although it’s often said that ‘the pictures are better on audio’ since they’re provided by your imagination you still have to convey to the listener where they are in a particular scene – something the comic artwork can manage instantly! You’re going from an entirely visual world to a world with no visuals at all, and it’s important the story doesn’t suffer as a result.

Were there any moments in the story you decided to significantly alter or amend when adapting?

BEN: Spoilers ahead! In the comic, the ray was sent to Penny by Jeff as a test to see if she was worthy to be a member of International Rescue. In addition to the continuity problems (there is another story about how Penelope joins the organisation) this seemed out of character for Jeff. My solution was that Brains was in London to give the device to the British when he was ambushed by the Hood and forced to dispose of the item by dropping it in the post. Not a perfect resolution, but I think it made for some nice moments. I would definitely have done it differently if I knew that this would be presented alongside Brains is Dead! Poor Brains really has a hard time in Thunderbirds Versus The Hood!

Boom! TB3 destroyed in Brains is Dead!

CHRIS: Anyone familiar with Brains is Dead will remember several moments that don’t quite fit with the world of Thunderbirds as it was on television – particularly the sight of Kyrano taking up arms to defend Tracy Island against attack! “Napalm team on the patio – nail them!” is not a line you’d expect to hear from Jeff Tracy’s faithful manservant, so it made sense to replace his role in the story with a character who’d be better suited to handling herself in a combat situation! After giving serious consideration to letting Grandma give those naughty fellas a darn good piece of her mind, it naturally fell to Lady Penelope to inherit Kyrano’s role for those scenes.

In the original Brains is Dead story several other characters fell out of the plot completely during the attack on Tracy Island; Grandma and Tin-Tin are not mentioned at all, while poor old Alan is caught in an explosion – and then never mentioned again either! Establishing where all the characters who would normally be on the island at this point are during the attack therefore felt quite important; it’s a family, and it only made sense to account for everybody even if they’re not playing an active role in proceedings.

There was also a moment where the Hood decides to kill one of the Tracy brothers in an over-elaborate and easily escapable trap that – shock! – said brother easily escapes from. Since it served almost no narrative function, replacing that sequence with something that gave just a little more method to the Hood’s madness seemed to come naturally. I’d say that’s crucial when considering making any changes to the stories; keep the essential story beats intact, but maybe using slightly different plot threads to get there!

Any moments that you added or created that you’re quite proud of?

BEN: There’s a few cheeky lines I wrote for Parker and Penny that I enjoy. They’re fun to write for. When Genevieve Gaunt posted a video of herself and Jon Culshaw in the studio reading some of them, my heart jumped into my throat. It was pure magic to hear Penelope and Parker speaking those words. Just as exciting as watching Thunderbirds for the first time so many years ago!

CHRIS: It was tempting to go mad creating lots of new material for these iconic characters simply for the novelty of being in the position to do so, but wanting to keep as close to the original as possible I limited myself to only a couple of additions, including a rather poignant discussion of what Brains meant to two Thunderbirds characters who didn’t appear in the original strip story. Swapping out Kyrano as Jeff’s sidekick during the attack on the island for Lady Penelope and Parker also meant a lot of new material for them – but it seems to work well enough!

L-R: Joe Jameson, Wayne Forester, Genevieve Gaunt, Chris Dale, Jon Culshaw

What was it like to be involved in the recording process?

BEN: I wasn’t able to attend the sessions but Sam Clemens was kind enough to include a few small cameos for me. Sam is a very patient director and I appreciate his coaching!

CHRIS: I was lucky enough to attend the studio recording of Brains is Dead in person! Although I participated remotely in the recording of the Thunderbirds novel I adapted (Peril in Peru) I hadn’t been involved with the recordings of any of the other novels since then, and the majority of those who have been have been participating remotely. Thunderbirds versus the Hood was the first time the majority of the cast were in the same studio together, so it great to be there to see them performing these characters together in real time. It gives the stories a freshness and energy that is perhaps harder to achieve during remote recording. It was also my first time meeting Joe Jameson in person, and I’d only recently met Jon Culshaw, Wayne Forester and Sam Clemens, so it was great to get to know everybody a bit more. Justin T. Lee I’d first met on the set of the Thunderbirds anniversary episodes, and I’d acted alongside Genevieve in a Big Finish Doctor Who audio back in 2017 which was a delight. We got to do that again here as I also had a few minor voice roles in both stories, which were great fun to do – it’s quite something to say that I’ve now been beaten up by Jeff Tracy and Lady Penelope!

If you had the chance to adapt another comic story (from any Anderson series) to audio, which one would it be?

BEN: Any of the Anderson series would be a great deal of fun! I tend to gravitate towards the more underappreciated series like Supercar and The Secret Service. But there’s a lot more Thunderbirds material and it’s great to get it out there for people who enjoy the action-packed audio adventures!

CHRIS: There’s so many more great stories out there to adapt! From Thunderbirds, Tracy Island Exposed or The Zoo Ship would be high on my dibs list. If Stingray or Captain Scarlet were considered, then The Flying Fish Mystery, The Monster Weed, Martian Menace or Blue Mysteronised would be great to do. Perhaps even one of the epics that included elements from multiple series, such as the Astran assassination arc or We Will Destroy Unity City.

There’s a wealth of wonderful stories across the Anderson comics worthy of audio adaptation, but how many more we get to hear really does depend on how well Thunderbirds versus the Hood sells – I can only hope we’ll be doing these for a very long time!

Thunderbirds versus the Hood will be released on September 30th, and can be pre-ordered now on CD from the Official Gerry Anderson Store, or via digital download from Big Finish!

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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