04 April 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - Sun Probe

I can only remember two episodes of Thunderbirds being set largely in space, which is hardly surprising given Gerry Anderson's personal dislike of them, but judging from Sun Probe, he doesn't have a lot to worry about. The story isn't amazing or blazingly inventive, and I can see how there are a limited number of plots that could be used, but this passes the time amiably enough.

It all begins when Earth's premier braniacs decide they want to snag a sample of magma from the surface of the sun, before it cools and solidifies in space. This sounds to me like an extremely stupid idea, as one rogue Coronal Mass Ejection could easily take out the entire rocket, let alone all the risks associated with getting close to the Sun - which is a crazy idea in itself. And what are they going to do with this sample anyway? Putting all this aside, because the boffins appear to have, the mission is still going ahead.

Unsurprisingly, it goes wrong and Space Control don't appear to have thought of building a transmitter strong enough to actually reach the rocket - also called Sun Probe - when it's close to the Sun. For some reason firing a radio signal at it, causing it to fire retro rockets, makes it turn around and head for home all of its own accord, which is quite handy, but also has the potential to go wrong. Anyway, something's gone wrong, and basically its three pilots are going to be toast soon. International Rescue launch two plans of attack - Thunderbird 2 parks itself at the top of the Himalayas with a ruddy massive dish and Alan, Scott and Tintin pursue in Thunderbird 3. It's nice Tintin's being given more to do, but she really isn't necessary here. Scott could quite easily have done her job, and to be honest, probably would have prevented the events leading to the second half of the episode. Instead, he sits around not doing much and giving orders - as usual.

Alan eventually saves Sun Probe but by that point their ship is falling apart. Tintin's passed out and they can't fire their retros if the safety beam she was sending to Sun Probe isn't turned off or something. Basically, they're in the same position as the rocket they just saved. Cue Virgil and Brains in the Himalayas. They can't help the first ship, but after a few readjustments courtesy of Brains' new robot Braman, are able to get TB3 heading back towards Earth. It must be a pretty speedy rocket to catch up with Sun Probe, which had been in space a week, in just a couple of days. The whole subplot with Braman was quite nice, because it gives Brains a bit more colour as a supporting character but I did think he'd taken the robot along deliberately when a mobile computer was referred to. You can't get much more mobile than him. And it takes him quite some time to realise that he could use Braman to do the calculations - there's letting the audience work it out first and then there's this.

The direction of this episode is very good, particularly the space sequences. Two very different environments are ably handled by David Lane, and actually I think this pretty much ticks every box now. We've had disasters on the ground, in the air, in the city, in the country, in the mountains, on a train, on the sea, at the bottom of the sea, across rivers, in the desert, in the snow and in space. I can't think of many other environments for episodes to be set in, but that's not a bad thing as this team have already shown how inventive and creative they can be. Space seems spooky to start with, but then when we see craft zipping through it, it does look incredible. One disappointing thing is that we do hear sounds like they were just in the sky on Earth, but I suppose silence may have looked like an error - or perhaps this kind of thing wasn't public knowledge in the sixties.

This isn't a hugely gripping episode but I still enjoyed it. It's a while since we had a story that really grabbed me, but I appreciate them trying to mix things up with stories like Sun Probe. The interior of Thunderbird 3 looks great (love that their top equipment is kept in the 'lounge') but why is the main console never lined up the way it ought to be? This is really enjoyable as a nostalgia hit but, whichever way you look at it, isn't as good as previous episodes. 

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