22 March 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - Pit of Peril

Pit of Peril is one of the episodes I remember most vividly from when I watched Thunderbirds when I was younger, mostly for the arresting opening scene, with its extremely memorable soundtrack. But it's also a strong continuation of the format established in Trapped in the Sky; there's nothing particularly revolutionary here but everything is perfectly decent, and the production values are of course very high. 

The US Army are testing out their new Sidewinder - a machine that can seemingly traverse any terrain, clearing the way for heavy equipment - when it runs into difficulty and collapses into a pit in the desert covered by a particularly weak surface. Its three crew members are trapped inside, 300 feet down, and the temperature is rising as they sit atop a growing inferno. 

I do wonder how much of an agenda the creative team had with Thunderbirds because here, and I'm sure it's also true of later episodes, the US military are shown to be spectacularly inadequate and ill-equipped. It's not a major point, but all the little ideas like this that make the series tick along are quite amusing.

The series' second episode very much follows the template of the first: incident, failed attempt to save the people in peril, International Rescue intervene and save the day. Obviously there are limited plots to be explored in this series but having two that are almost identical perhaps wasn't the wisest move. That said, there's bags of imagination on display here, from the setting and conceit to each innovation of the military a hundred years in the future. And The Mole is one of the most recognisable of the Thunderbirds' inventions. I'd forgotten how good it was - it's a genius idea and looks absolutely fantastic. 

On that note, it still staggers me how good this series looks. All the sets are intricately detailed and constructed (I love the massive comedy air filtration lever) and all the puppets are so clever. Yeah so they're not perfect but they are completely ingenious. Everything is so perfectly executed too, giving the whole thing a level of quality that transcends nostalgia. This is of course true of all the Anderson series, but since it's been quite a while since I saw any of them, it's really struck me how well done it all is. It's remarkable that it still stands up to scrutiny over half a century later, viewed on screens far superior to even that imagined by the Andersons.

A big hand should also go to the voice artists, their range especially deserving of praise given there's only about three of them. The tones are instantly recognisable but each fits their role so well, whether that's an anxious official, his lacky or the leader of International Rescue. 

Despite being a little formulaic, the writing of Pit of Peril is still sound, if not quite as admirable as the direction or cinematography. These are perfect little nuggets of escapism and it's wonderful to visit a more innocent world where you can sit back and let the adventure wash over you. Another great little episode, if less essential than the last. 

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