Doctor Who Invades the Multiverse: Thunderbirds

Continuing our posts where Doctor Who has managed to sneak its way into other fictional properties, either as a TV show in those worlds, or with concepts from the show existing as real things in those realities, we come to something that I have heard of but never really watched, but is significant as apparently the first ever licensed appearance by the Daleks outside of Doctor Who: an early episode of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Supermarionation series, Thunderbirds.

(Daily Doctor Who #343)

Thunderbirds was a popular series which aired on ITV from 1965-1966 about the adventures International Rescue, a high-tech operation designed to save lives in disasters, whether created by accident, negligence or sabotage.

Headed by American magnate Jeff Tracy, it involved a secret base in the Pacific Ocean which housed the “Thunderbird machines”–advanced vehicles designed to brave the sea, land and air in order to deal with the different disasters they targeted. Each of the main vehicles was controlled by one of Jeff Tracy’s adult sons.

The episode we are concerned with today is from the first season, and is called The Man from MI5. The episode began with a criminal, called only “Carl”, who breaks onto yacht carrying important plans for a nuclear device. Carl murders the yacht captain and steals the plans before they can be turned over to the government.

In the sequence where Carl is searching for the plans, amongst the reports he flips through is one that features the Daleks. As best as I can determine, the actual images are from the then-current Dalek comic being published by TV Century 21, which also did comics and stories about Thunderbirds other Anderson productions, and which had brought elements from all of these productions into a sort of merged continuity about the future of the universe.

I stumbled upon this “crossover” in my regular browsing about Doctor Who, specifically on the Doctor Who fandom wiki (see here) and then discovered that the relevant episode of Thunderbirds was actually available on Youtube. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but I did check out the scene that I had read about. I understood that the scene was brief, but I was surprised to discover that it was literally just a couple of frames long!

Well, perhaps one can see the pages of the TV Century 21 comic for a little longer than that, but an image of a Dalek is maybe visible for about 2-3 frames, at least as far as I could see.

This, I guess, is the power of the Wiki…everyone can contribute their obscure and esoteric information to one place and the result can be a obsessively detailed report of everything relevant to a topic.

Much speculation can be made about how to make sense of this “appearance” narratively–the internal dating of Thunderbirds is inconsistent but usually placed in the mid-21st century so awareness of the Daleks is not out of the question. Taken strictly literally, the Daleks exist in the Thunderbirds universe, and presumably International Rescue exists in Doctor Who continuity.

Either way, it’s said that one can see the Emperor Dalek in these images, quite a while before the character made his TV debut in The Evil of the Daleks (in 1967).

Thus, it could be said that the Emperor Dalek’s TV debut was not actually on Doctor Who at all, but on Thunderbirds.

Although I’d be hard-pressed to call that an “appearance,” if I’m honest. I’m not even sure where in the imagery the Emperor is meant to be appearing.

A final note to make is that Carl was actually voiced by David Graham (who did a variety of Thunderbirds voices). David Graham appeared on Doctor Who a couple of times, but was best known as one of the original Dalek voices, who appeared in all of the First Doctor serials which featured the Daleks as enemies.

David Graham in City of Death

So there you go!

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