Legendary Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson passed away on Boxing Day 2012, but his ideas live on in Gemini Force One, an ambitious book trilogy to be completed by YA author MG Harris from Anderson’s own notes and outlines. Rather than take it to a publisher, Jamie Anderson – Gerry’s son – opted to take it to Kickstarter and release it as an ebook. With mere hours left to go, he spoke exclusively to SciFiNow about why it had to be done this way, or not at all…
It must be absolutely staggering how much support people have shown straight off the bat…
On the first day, my hope was that we would make a thousand pounds so for it to be six grand on the first day is a bit of a surprise. I have to be honest, you look at the fanbase of say Doctor Who, you’ve got a really strong fanbase full of people who are enthusiastic about the show.
You’ve got three sets, I suppose – the old school, the new, and the guys who love both, and it’s kind of the same length of legacy but because it’s spread across different shows as one person’s work as opposed to a set of films or a series, I was kinda worried that the disjointedness meant that we would fall foul of being complacent because of the legacy we were dealing with. That’s a long-winded way of saying I was shitting myself a bit!
I guess Gerry Anderson fans are like sleeper agents, because its tough to find someone who hasn’t been touched by Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Stingray…
At least with dad’s shows you’ve got three generations of fans who have enjoyed the same shows. Quite often you’ve got grandparents, parents and kids who’ve all seen Thunderbirds the first time round, the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties, whenever, and you probably don’t have three generations of William Hartnell fans for Doctor Who so it’s a different structure of fanbase.
What made you decide to take Gemini Force One to Kickstarter instead of entrusting it to a publisher?
He was the strongest of strong creative protectionists, I guess, and one of the things that seemed to be the downfall of any Anderson property was when other people got involved and steered it away from being the original concept. We can have a look at something like Space 1999 Season 1 versus Season 2 – Season 2 they’re trying to pump it up and make it more exciting for the Americans, and although Season 2’s got loads of cool guest stars, it’s not very well thought of by… anyone.
In the same way you look at the 2004 Thunderbirds movie where dad had no involvement whatsoever, and it’s taken off by other people to reaches where they think it will appeal to more people or commercial success, and it ends up being a massive success.
When we took it to publishers and they’re saying, “We love it, but we probably need to aim this at our six to nine year old audience, in which case the main character can’t really be any older than 10 because kids can’t connect to characters older than themselves” which I disagree with very strongly, I don’t think there’s an ounce of truth in that. If that was really the case people wouldn’t be watching Doctor Who – the Doctor’s 900 years old! That was my reply, which didn’t get further reply from the publishers when I said that.
They wanted to take the idea in a direction that I was not happy with and if I believed in an afterlife I know I would be haunted to the end of my days by dad if I let anyone do that with his stuff. Because this is still his idea, you know, this isn’t my baby – I’m just nurturing it because he already got it going, I suppose.
What state was Gemini Force One in when you picked it up, was it just a set of outlines?
He’d been working on it for years, since 2008 so four years, and I had been party to it a few times – either because he had been asking for my input, which he would then ignore, and a couple of times he would repeat a bit of it back to me and pretend it was an original idea [laughs]. There’s a few little tiny bits in there that have come from me, but along the way he’s gotten ill, I was helping him and seeing it develop, so although his storytelling ability was one of the later things to disappear he started to find it very difficult to type, so he would then end up dictating it, then he found it very difficult to read so he would then dictated and we’d have to read it back to him.
That was about 2011, mid-2011, and by the beginning of 2012 it was pretty apparent that we weren’t gonna get much further with it so in those three years, from 2008 to mid-2010 were the most prolific. You could see it developing along the way and although he wasn’t able to finish writing it there’s plenty of notes and recollections from me and a friend of his, Robert, who’s a literary agent, encouraging him along the way, trying to keep things moving.
Once Robert could see that dad was fading fast he went and sat with him, interviewed him essentially about what ifs, how the story should play out and what the team was gonna be like, so we’ve got a couple of hours of audio recording and although they’re a bit sad to listen to because you can really hear he’s struggling in some way, there’s some real little gems in there about launch sequences and vehicles and storylines and stuff like that, so there’s plenty there. Some of it’s been fleshed out already but it’s assembling the bones and flesh and making sure it all makes sense and flows nicely enough.
Do you already have a pretty solid idea of where the series is going?
The arc that dad’s designed goes across three books, as long as we can make a success of the Kickstarter and show the world that people want more Gerry Anderson stuff, then we’ll just carry on and I hope that a publisher will see how successful the Kickstarter is – if we are successful – and pitch us out for a second or third book so that we can complete at least this arc, the first part of the story.
Obviously there’s been whole generations of people inspired by Anderson shows now working in entertainment, has there been any interest from filmmakers or TV executives?
The Kickstarter campaign itself has caught the eyes of a couple of people who may be able to facilitate the move toward a TV series, that’s all I can say at this stage. It’s such early days, but to have a call from somebody that I know can make this book a much bigger thing after 72 hours of the campaign running is a pretty good sign to me that we’re doing the right thing, this will be picked up and we’ll go far.
The best, in my opinion, the best Anderson shows – the ones that have become the most successful, picked up the strongest fanbase, become the most cult in nature – have been really Thunderbirds and UFO, and both of those have come as a result of real world events and current affairs. Thunderbirds and UFO being a product of putting a man on the moon, venturing into space, and transplant surgery becoming more commonplace, in the same way this was initially sparked off by the Deepwater Horizon oil platform incident with BP.
Dad was obsessed with the news, he was sat watching it and it’s unbelievable that the technology to fix this problem does not exist. Gemini Force was really a result of him watching the news and becoming immersed in a world where environmental stuff is more dominant, and also terrorism has become a greater and greater threat. It’s a rescue force born out of the need of a society to deal with those problems, because it’s of its time again that’s what makes it a more exciting concept than just plucking a random Anderson one out of the filing cabinet of things he left behind. That’s the most exciting one and the one that feels more exciting right now.
It sounds superficially similar to Thunderbirds, what sets it apart?
It’s set in a different world, so we’re not 2065 – we’re not 100 years in a future. I guess it’s a pre-Thunderbirds world, we’re looking at five to 10 years in the future from now. If you brought Thunderbirds forward to now, it couldn’t be 100 years in the future because technology’s moving at such a fast pace, it’s too much of a step forward to keep it connected in a same way.
Although the show’s from the early Sixties and mid-Sixties and is set 100 years in the future, the rate of change of technology is accelerating so rapidly that UFO is only set 11 years in the future and Space: 1999 was only set 24/25 years in the future, so again I think it sits better today as well but I guess it’s certainly in a pre-Thunderbirds universe. I don’t think there’s any crossover, necessarily.
It’s more of a thematic prequel than a literal one, then?
That’s exactly what the lawyer would say!
It sounded like your dad was constantly writing…
There was no stopping him, ever, ever, ever. He was almost always inspired by current events because he was obsessed with the news and as soon as rolling news came along, then that became his channel of choice – Sky News was his focus all the time, so he would just pick up ideas from current events constantly.
When I was going through his hard drive and files and stuff you see, especially later on, there’s big gaps between his productions but there’s no gaps, he’s working on plenty of stuff. It would just be that he would start developing an idea, he would work on it for a couple of years and it felt to him that nobody was interested and nobody was going to take, for the most part he would let go of it after a few years and it would fade into the background, and he would focus on a new one entirely.
He would never have more than one project on the go, he would pick one up, work on it solidly and then maybe give up and move on. There’s a constant stream there, and I don’t think there was any point except maybe the last 12 months of his life when he wasn’t coming up with something new.
I imagine it would be easy to just start throwing concepts out there, was it more important that you take the right one?
They were pretty much all sat there and there’d be a couple of offers from people wanting to take on the projects that he’d already made – Five Star Five which was written in the mid-Seventies and went into production for about 10 days, the man with the money ran away with it and disappeared and the whole thing had the plug pulled on it. But the shooting script is ready to go and there were a couple of offers for that and a couple of people saying, “Oh, we’d love to pick up the basics and develop it ourselves.”
That would really be doing a disservice to dad’s legacy I guess, because again he’d be extremely unhappy to think his ideas were being taken by somebody he didn’t know and maybe turned into something that isn’t a true Gerry Anderson project. But with this one being one of the final things he was working on, the most timely feeling, and certainly as well, you could get something out to existing and new fans fairly quickly while keeping it how dad would have wanted it. It just seemed the most natural fit for the first project.
Did MG Harris just seem like a natural fit to write it?
It was, really. We’d spoken to a couple of authors early in the year and it just didn’t click, it just didn’t feel right. Before I met MG I read the first book in her Joshua Files series called Invisible City. I’m not a big fiction reader by any stretch of the imagination – I’m much more of a non-fiction type, like dad was actually – it kind of felt right very quickly, because as I was reading that first book of MG’s there were just elements of it that felt Anderson-esque, I suppose, just in terms of the pacing, the action, the cliffhangers, just the Joshua Files world – although it was a kind of more science fantasy than science fiction, it still had the right feel.
Then when I met with her and we started talking about the things that motivated dad and the things that were important to him and the things that I thought were the main features of an Anderson show, she and I just clicked. Sometimes I would maybe suggest things that in hindsight were maybe the worst things to suggest and she would pick up on them and say, “Actually, no, I don’t think that would fit.” She hadn’t take it down the route of making it into her style or her project, which is what some the authors were trying to do, she just got how to keep it Gerry Anderson and fill in the gaps and turn Anderson ideas and action into decent prose.
You sometimes things feel right and click straight away, it was just one of those things. I could say it was a gut decision but it was gut backed up by a long of evidence that she was the right person for the job.
All the best Anderson shows have been constantly rediscovered – like each generation making the Blue Peter Tracy Island, for example – do you think Gemini Force One has what it takes to stand the test of time in the same way?
Yeah, I think part of the problem more recently… when Thunderbirds and stuff were made, they were making the best TV in the most exciting way for the broadest audience possible without dumbing down, without watering it down and without reverse engineering it, and those shows became cult television.
There was no cult back then, they became cult without trying to, and I think a lot of time is spent trying to reverse engineer things and to make everyone happy and focus groups, and in doing so you kind of kill the central beauty and the central heart of what you’re putting out. By sticking to the core Anderson kernel that’s been put into this one, I think that it has the potential to go down the same route and be as entertaining and have the longevity that the other cult shows dad produced have.
There’s no saying for sure, but by keeping it true to his ideas I think we’ve got a better chance than most.
Back Gemini Force One on Kickstarter while you still can, and find out more about the project (and others) at GerryAnderson.co.uk.