The Hood may be International Rescue’s infamous arch enemy, but he was by no means the only villain they had to contend with over the thirty-two episodes of Thunderbirds! A variety of crooked businessmen, mad scientists, imposters, saboteurs and scoundrels all made single-episode appearances – but which of these was the greatest? Let’s find out!
#5 – Warren Grafton – Brink of Disaster
Many Thunderbirds villains were out to make a quick buck but none of them hatched their plans on quite so elaborate a scale as Warren Grafton, a shady businessman who hoped Lady Penelope and later Jeff Tracy would help finance his dream of a fully automated monorail system – track and train alike! And if you’re at all familiar with Thunderbirds, you’ll know exactly how much of a curse the words ‘fully automated’ can be…
When Jeff, Brains and Tin-Tin join him for a trip on the mono-train Grafton almost takes pride in revealing how little value he places on human life, comparing people to cattle and delighting in how much money he’s going to save by not hiring any staff. However, when disaster strikes and the train is heading out of control for a damaged section of the track, Grafton goes to pieces almost immediately…
Grafton represents almost the exact opposite of Jeff Tracy; while Jeff has used his vast fortune to help other people, Grafton sees people as nothing more than a means to make more even money. Even when standing in the ruins of the monorail car following the disaster he still refuses to admit any wrongdoing, and soon he is making a speech opening another line in his monorail – albeit to the rest of his gang, behind bars!
#4 – Culp – Attack of the Alligators!
This surly boatman earns his living running passengers up and down the Ambro river on his boat Maria, until one day a trip to Doctor Orchard’s laboratory piques his curiosity – and unleashes one of the most bizarre threats International Rescue ever faced, in the form of three giant alligators! Culp is presumed dead when his boat is ambushed by the reptiles, but later it emerges he survived intact and slipped into the house via the secret entrance – and he isn’t afraid to leave Orchard and his team to the alligators if it means he can escape with their discovery!
Culp earns a place on this list partly for being responsible for one of the very best episodes of Thunderbirds, but also for spending much of the episode being quietly sinister – yet when he becomes a threat, you can believe he really means business. Culp is another fantastic David Graham character, and his shrieks of terror on first sight of the alligators adds another dimension of horror to their appearance. He meets a sticky end when he once again encounters a giant alligator, and disappears beneath the surface of the water – but if he survived such an ordeal once, why not twice?
#3 – The Zombites – The Uninvited
An ancient tribe living beneath the Lost Pyramid of Khamandides in the Sahara Desert may not sound like much of a threat, but Scott finds out they are the hard way when three of their fighter jets shoot him down! The Zombites stand out from the usual Thunderbirds villains for how fabulously outlandish they are; a secret base, cool fighter planes, their own personal monotrain and even an unintelligible secret language are certainly a far cry from the usual “come and get us, wise guy!” gun-toting renta-goons seen throughout the rest of the series.
Unfortunately we don’t get to find out anything about their history or origins although it’s implied that some sort of natural gas is being refined to power the underground city and fuel their jets, which of course leads them wide open for that most popular of Gerry Anderson plot resolutions; a massive explosion. As mentioned previously International Rescue’s inadvertent contribution to the extinction of the Zombites rather flies in the face of their main goals of saving lives and helping people, but on the other hand they shot down Thunderbird 1 and that’s never okay.
#2 – Doctor Godber – The Perils of Penelope
Doctor Godber’s attempts to discover the secrets of Sir Jeremy Hodge and Professor Borender’s process to convert sea water into rocket fuel threaten global disaster if they backfire – but that still won’t stop him from trying! Despite his efforts being inadvertently aided by Penelope and Sir Jeremy, both of whom fail to recognise him in unconvincing non-disguises not once but twice, Godber is an exceptionally ruthless Thunderbirds villain, as not only does he kick train attendant Alfred from the Anderbad Express (with his survival being left unclear), he soon captures Lady Penelope and Sir Jeremy and takes them to join the already-kidnapped Borender back at his secret lair, because of course he has one of those too.
Strapping Penelope to a ladder extended across the path of an oncoming train he then considers just pushing Professor Borender in front of said train too when Virgil and Gordon arrive to rescue them, and even ends up shooting his own assistant Roache when the man considers switching sides. Usually for a villain with so much blood on his hands, Doctor Godber survives the episode intact – and is later seen in the audience of The Ned Cook Show in Terror in New York City!
#1 – ‘Captain Foster’ – Thunderbird 6
The Thunderbird 6 feature film is often a deeply frustrating viewing experience, with a wildly inconsistent tone and a baffling approach to the characterisation of the International Rescue regulars. One element that it gets absolutely right however is the main villain, the man who replaced the original Captain of the Skyship One airship, Captain Foster. Voiced by John Carson, in his one and only Gerry Anderson role, the imposter Captain Foster (we never learn his real name and nobody in his gang seems to know it either) is a debonair smooth-talker to his International Rescue passengers until the ruse is dropped – and then his ruthless true colours are revealed. We the audience know from the first moment he appears that he’s a villain as he mercilessly guns down the original crew which only makes seeing him ingratiate himself to the unsuspecting Penelope and co all the more delightful, and when Skyship One appears doomed Foster is more than happy to leave friend and foe alike to die in the disaster. Although he is dispatched fairly easily (just shot dead by Alan a whole fifteen minutes before the end of the film), we’re grateful that the longer running time of Thunderbird 6 meant we got to spend more time than usual with one of the most interesting Thunderbirds villains!
So those are our choices for the top five Thunderbirds guest villains – but how does your countdown compare? Are you fuming at our foolish failure to feature Light-Fingered Fred, or are you a secret Straker and Scobie supporter? Let us know in the comments below!
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