25 March 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - Terror in New York City

You have to admire Thunderbirds' ambition and inventiveness. This episode is all about a failed attempt to move the Empire State Building, which is a ridiculous idea but within the context of this episode you can almost believe that, a hundred years in the future, it could happen. This is a bit more average than some of the preceding episodes but the way it's structured makes it more interesting.

On the way back from another successful rescue mission, both Scott and Virgil encounter some resistance. First of all, a TV crew (well, the presenter, I don't want to wrongly blame the camera operator) films Thunderbird 1 against Scott's express instructions. He asks them to wipe the film but they refuse, so he does so remotely, much to their displeasure. As trivial and irrelevant as this sequence may seem, it's crucial for demonstrating that they are prepared to go to any lengths for a scoop, removing a lot of doubts about later events and possibly adding a more human element.

Before they can return to Tracy Island, Thunderbird 2 is attacked by a new US Navy vessel who believe it to be hostile. The craft is damaged and Virgil badly injured but he just about manages to make it back to base in one piece. This is one of those series where you almost feel like the heroes are infallible, and this is about as far as they can take it, so it's a refreshing reminder at this stage of the game. This means that both Thunderbird 2 and Virgil are out of action until further notice though, which is quite a major problem if a disaster were to occur.

And sure enough, within five minutes, International Rescue's services are required. As previously mentioned, the Americans are attempting to move the Empire State Building, in order that a borough of Manhattan may be redeveloped. What is it with the US and moving things over weak ground? First the Sidewinder, and now this. Yes, after it's moved less than fifty feet, the Earth crumbles under the weight of the building. The only people affected by it are a familiar-looking newscaster and his cameraman, who are swept underground. It's not lucky for them, but it's fortunate that it's only two people. With reports of water seeping into the cavern they've landed in, it's decided Thunderbird 4 will be required.

However, with TB2 out of action, Jeff faces the problem of how to get it there. The solution is that the Navy vessel that shot Virgil down can transport it there, being capable of two hundred, which is crazily nippy. Given that it's thought to take about a day to get there, allowing for bad weather and delays that means Tracy Island is just over 5000 miles from New York, putting it just off the south west of Africa by my reckoning, which would explain the permanent sunshine but is hardly a strategic location for quick response. Anyway, Gordon finally gets there (after three episodes of doing nothing) and guides the two men to swim to safety and collects them. A job well done.

One thing that did puzzle me was why the authorities didn't just make the pilot hole they dropped the (already pretty wide) diving equipment through just a little bigger and lift the two guys out. I know why they didn't though - because it doesn't make as good a story. Likewise, I appreciated the addition of the race-against-time element of a building collapsing just as Gordon shows up. It keeps things fresh.

The production values on this episode are once again sky-high. To build a replica of the Empire State Building just to destroy it is quite something, and I was really impressed with how good all the underwater stuff looked. I don't know if they use some kind of diffuser lens or Vaseline or whatever, but the soft focus really works - and I was impressed to see actual fish swimming around in the foreground. Thunderbird 4 was always my favourite as a kid, just because being underwater was a bit more scary (plus I watched Stingray at the same time so liked to think Gordon might run into some of the foes they faced) and I got a little thrill from seeing it in action again here.

This a good episode, with strong plotting and some (pretty much) believable jeopardy. It's not my favourite so far but it's still very enjoyable. It's nice to see the format being played with a bit, before an exact formula is established. I was worried that watching so many of these in such quick succession would become repetitive but so far it doesn't look likely. It's a credit to the team that they pulled off such an ambitious episode with such aplomb, though Scott's still a little too self-important for my liking.

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