23 March 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - The Perils of Penelope

This is a joyously imaginative use of the format, and actually, considering both this and the next episode, Terror in New York City, I'm encouraged that it's not just going to be disaster - action - rescue every week. The setup is completely different, with Lady Penelope actively investigating a mystery, rather than International Rescue being summoned to the scene of an horrific accident. I like to imagine her and Parker going off and solving little mysteries all the time, while she's not required for the Thunderbirds missions. Although this is only the third episode, it doesn't feel like she's been as prominent as I remember - though she's definitely appeared more than Alan and Gordon!

It all begins with the launch of a new rocket, Sun Probe, which runs on a water-based fuel. A criminal scientist is determined to get his hands on the formula behind it, so the episode surprisingly takes a turn away from needing to save this rocket, meaning it was designed and constructed just for a few minutes at the top of the story. You can tell that, at the time, this got more money per episode than Doctor Who. A few days later, after a scientific convention in Paris, Penelope meets up with the scientist behind the new miracle fuel, Sir Jeremy Hodge - who also happens to have helped extensively with the creation of the Thunderbirds.

His research partner, Professor Borender, disappeared while on a train, and Sir Jeremy suspects foul play. After Lady Penelope's drink is spiked, with only some sharp shooting from Parker saving her from poisoning, the pair investigate a crest on a matchbox left behind by a fleeing blaggard. After another attempt on their life, foiled once more by Parker, they decide to board the train Borender disappeared from. Inexplicably, they don't recognise a man they have seen before - the villain of the piece, Dr Godber - and are swiftly kidnapped in the same manner; by cutting the train's power next to his hideout in a tunnel. 

It's at this point that International Rescue become more involved. Desperate for the formula, Godber has suspended Lady Penelope in the monorail's path. But still Sir Jeremy and Borender refuse to yield it. In the wrong hands, the knowledge could kill millions owing to the fact that our planet is mostly water. So it's up to Virgil and Gordon to save the day. When they arrive, Gordon enters a shooting match with Godber and his assistant - and it must be said, Gordon is a lousy shot; he barely even gets near either of his targets. But Godber destroys the equipment - the train can't be stopped! Virgil shoots the ropes holding the ladder Lady Penelope is tied to, and it falls to the ground just in time. 

This is probably the most exciting episode yet, though that may just be because I do really like sixties spy thrillers. It feels like a mini-movie rather than just an episode - not that the others didn't, but The Perils of Penelope covers a larger geographical distance (with lots of scenes set in Paris - nice!) and the stakes seem higher. It's not entirely clear what happened to Godber at the end, and there's a few laughable bits like Virgil seemingly going at about two miles an hour down the tunnel in a race against time (and later they apparently cover 17 miles in the same number of minutes) but overall I think this is very solid.

Once again I really can't fault any aspect of the production. The direction is perfect and suits the series down to the ground (I did notice a street that featured prominently was Rue Desmonde). The moving and static sequences are equally well executed. The voice artists are all amazing with Sylvia Anderson - who has tragically passed away since I wrote the last review - getting a real chance to shine as Lady Penelope. This is her episode and I hope there are more which give her this much screen time. Her double act with Parker is far stronger than I remembered, working much better together than as independent characters. Every scene looks absolutely amazing and I can't work out how they did a lot of it. Not that I'm trying to, as it's far more fun to sit back and just enjoy a great fifty minutes of television.

This is my favourite episode yet and as a demonstration of how this series can vary from the norm, it's entirely successful. I don't think there's an awful lot to fault here. It's blissfully enjoyable, easy viewing. And everyone could do with a bit more of that.

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