27 March 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - Day of Disaster

As I have said before, Day of Disaster (probably coincidentally) seems to take a lot of pointers from the last couple of episodes. It sees a storm weaken a suspension bridge which collapses when a huge rocket is transported across it, trapping its two astronauts at the bottom of a river with the countdown clock edging ever closer to zero. It's original in some ways but a bit incredible in others, which is perhaps to be expected from Dennis Spooner.

Brains gets a larger share of the action than normal here, due to the fact he's visiting Lady Penelope when the bridge gives. He runs the rescue operation from what we'd now recognise as his smartwatch, in the bridge control centre (since when did they have them anyway?). It's not entirely clear why he stays here apart from the fact that it gives the bridge staff something to react to. With him leading things, it makes even less sense than normal for Scott to come along, but he of course still does because he thinks he's the boss. That's reminded me - there's an episode coming up where Jeff goes on holiday and Scott takes over I think, so I'm sure I'll enjoy that.

The whole thing's a bit ridiculous though. Why does a bridge need staff constantly manning it? Why is their office right at the top (again!)? Why are the astronauts even inside the rocket? Why is there no way of aborting the countdown? What happened to the drivers and policemen? Why's Virgil taking so bloody long to do everything today? There are many more questions that this episode raised but I think these give an idea of what I'm trying to say.

It's nice Gordon gets another run out (his second in three episodes) but the solution is as unintelligent as the problem. He fires missiles at the rocket to clear debris and then rams the nose cone to free it. In a series where everything explodes it seems like a potentially hazardous course of action and it's a shame Brains' plan isn't of the calibre of previous stories like Pit of Peril. And Penelope and Parker may as well not be in it for all they do, but it was good to see Spooner thinking of how the situation might play out in reality; nowadays everyone would be there capturing it on their phones (in portrait obviously) so it's not that implausible that they would need distracting but still it's basically to give them something to do and adds nothing to the main operation.

The production engine on this programme appears to be so slick and efficient now that Brains himself could have designed it. Everything looks so good, which is why it's such a shame when the script is a bit disappointing. The only weak link is that the film of the Thunderbirds taking off is now getting extremely worn, with loads of marks and discolouring creeping in. I doubt I noticed when I used to watch it on VHSs that I taped off the telly since they were pretty well-worn themselves - and I doubt audiences noticed half a century ago when this episode went out - but watching on an HD TV in 2016, it's growing increasingly obvious with each episode.

I don't know how much it could have been planned but it's unfortunate that three very similar episodes were broadcast consecutively because it probably subconsciously lowers my opinion of this episode even if similarities were accidental. What's worse is it uses similar elements to the last two stories but not as well as either of them did. I think the main problem is that it feels like Dennis Spooner is trying to write for a kids' programme more than anyone else up to this point. If you compare Day of Disaster (a classic Spooner title) to Trapped in the Sky, there's a markedly different tone. This isn't a disaster, just a bit disappointing. Though it still looks great of course.

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