29 March 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - 30 Minutes After Noon

Thunderbirds is surprising me so far, in that it's far more spy fi than sci fi, not that I expected it to fully to commit to either. 30 Minutes After Noon goes out of its way to back up this notion, giving us our first appearance of military intelligence secret services. It's very much an episode of two halves though, and is unfortunately probably weaker for it. 

It begins in Spoke City, with a well-heeled crim forcing a man into blowing up the office he works in, which is a government building filled with data and records. It all starts quite casually and is the most Thunderbirds-esque hijack imaginable. The man is given a bracelet that can only be unlocked with the key in a filing cabinet in his office - and it's also a bomb primed to detonate. The man manages to avoid the main blast but is trapped at the bottom of the lift shaft. International Rescue are soon on the scene and swiftly extract him thanks to a nifty lift. 

This is all achieved without great incident and I wonder if this is the greatest casualty of the fifty-minute running time imposition. This almost seems like a full episode in itself, albeit with much of the padding cut out - it's very in, do the job, out. It's not very exciting to be honest. The latter half of the episode, which consumes the lion's share of the running time, is much more interesting, if still a little stilted and flat. It's definitely nice to see the creative team not resting on their laurels and trying out different scenarios though.

It's revealed that the agent distributing the bracelets at the start of the episode is part of an international gang, and they plan to strike again. Whereas the first rescue kind of makes sense in that context, with them wanting to destroy intelligence gathered about them (although you'd hope nowadays there would be backups or digital copies as well) but the second segment sees the gang aiming to destroy on the UK's major power supplying stations - seemingly with no good reason other than chaos for its own sake.

The plot is almost a repeat of the first, only this time with higher stakes. Three men - one of them a government agent - have been given bracelets and the keys are at the heart of some kind of nuclear power station. One thing I really like about Thunderbirds is that Gerry Anderson always imagines, or hopes to inspire viewers, that fossil fuels will not be in use one hundred years in the future. It gets the sustainable message out there, but very subtly, in nearly every episode.

One question that did spring to mind was why the villain needed these three (or indeed the first man in Spoke City) to detonate the explosives if he can clearly get into these locations to place the keys already. But as that undermines both rescues and makes the gang (who really are pretty inept) seem a bit useless, I'll put that to one side.

Predictably, the agent turns on the others just as they collect the keys but as things transpire, he gets stuck and the villains leave him to his fate as they go to collect their gold. I wonder where the leader found these halfwits. Anyway, they meet him at his helijet just in time for Parker to gun them down. It seems a bit harsher than normal, and perhaps the message that should have been advertised was for them to be arrested and face up to their crimes - but that would disobey Anderson's Rule, which states that if something does not need to appear in another episode, it must explode at some point.

This is quite a witty episode in places, and the two moments where this is most true both involve Parker. After he romps through a gate in FAB 1, knocking it clean off its hinges, there is a close-up of the adjacent sign: "Please close the gate." Another little moment that made me laugh was when the leader of the gang - who, incidentally, sounds exactly like the Hood - was about to take off and remarked "Now all we have to do is escape. Nothing could be simpler!" seconds before his helijet explodes.

This isn't exactly a spy thriller, and I don't understand how this shuts down that particular criminal network, but it's a nice tangent from the usual genre of storytelling. I can see what Alan Fennell was trying to do with the title, but to me it sounds more like a World War II film from the fifties or sixties, rather than a spy movie. David Elliot's direction of the second half is notably different to normal, and certainly worthy of praise. The first half looks pretty ordinary (in the nicest sense - that's still commendable) but that may be down to the story needing to be expanded after it had been shot.

All in all, this is a neat little addition, but doesn't stand up to scrutiny as well as previous episodes. It's still perfectly enjoyable and I'm really loving revisiting a more innocent time. Parallels could be drawn between this and the terrorism present in the world today, but that takes the fun away from it. With some really terrible robots, some unusual visuals and a double rescue, this is another inventive episode.

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