International Rescue’s Earth-orbiting space station Thunderbird 5 is manned by both John and Alan Tracy throughout the course of the Thunderbirds television series. According to dialogue in both City of Fire and The Uninvited their spells of duty as the station’s ‘space monitor’ usually last one month at a time, with John and Alan taking turns manning the station on alternate months. However, fans of the series will also be well aware that one Tracy brother is seen on Thunderbird 5 more than the other!
Alan appeared in twenty-nine episodes of Thunderbirds, and John in twenty-five. However, Alan is actually only ever seen aboard Thunderbird 5 in five episodes; The Uninvited, The Mighty Atom, Operation Crash-Dive, Danger at Ocean Deep, and The Cham-Cham. Of those five, four of them feature Alan either departing from or returning to the satellite, with only Operation Crash-Dive showing him already stationed there. By contrast, John is only seen on Earth in just four episodes; Operation Crash-Dive, Desperate Intruder, City of Fire, and his ‘day in the limelight’ episode Danger at Ocean Deep – in which he claims to have been out on “about a dozen” rescues.
Clearly, John is seen on the space station far more often than Alan, even though in theory it should be a roughly even split between the two brothers. Gerry Anderson’s long rumoured dislike for the appearance of the John Tracy puppet not withstanding, it is possible that John’s ‘banishment’ to Thunderbird 5 was simply for merchandising and brand recognition purposes. With five Tracy brothers, and five Thunderbird machines, it may have made sense to firmly link each brother to a specific craft in the mind of the public – hence poor old John being credited as the space monitor during the show’s opening credits and treated largely as the only one for most of his subsequent appearances, even though he’s just as much the astronaut that Alan is credited as.
John and Alan aren’t the only members of International Rescue who have spent time on Thunderbird 5, of course. Brains and Gordon have also been seen being left behind to work on the satellite from time to time (albeit not as the designated space monitor), while Virgil and Scott have also visited during flights there aboard Thunderbird 3. In The Uninvited, John has a line of dialogue that implies that Scott also has to take turns manning the space station. However, the line in question – “I guess he doesn’t have to do his spell of satellite relief until he’s fit, Father?” – could perhaps refer only to Scott acting as co-pilot to Alan during their flight to relieve John rather than a confirmation of actual duty spells aboard Thunderbird 5. Scott is never seen taking a shift aboard Thunderbird 5 in the television series, and no further mention is made of him being part of the space station’s regular crew in any other episode. The fact that he also claims during Danger at Ocean Deep to have “been out on” every International Rescue mission would suggest that he doesn’t take monthly shifts aboard Thunderbird 5 – or perhaps that nobody has ever needed help whenever he’s been serving as space monitor! For Thunderbirds Day 2019 however, the Century 21 Films team shot new material of Scott and digitally placed him on Thunderbird 5 control room set as part of their recreation of the Trapped in the Sky mini-album – finally making sure he took a spell as space monitor!
Unfortunately for John, and his many loyal fans, the Thunderbirds creative team (or one of them, at least) clearly preferred to leave him confined to the satellite during most of the International Rescue missions we got to see on television – but presumably he participated in many heroic rescues off-screen! Still, it’s difficult not to feel sorry for the poor lad; perhaps Jeff Tracy should have considered hiring someone else to do the rather thankless ‘space monitor’ job?