11 April 2016

TV Review: Thunderbirds - Vault of Death

What a fun episode this is. It puts Lady Penelope and particularly Parker firmly in the spotlight as they attempt to assist the Bank of England in improving their security. I didn't need to check the credits, I knew instantly this was a Dennis Spooner script; if the melodramatic title didn't give it away, Parker's characterisation ought to have. There's a few bits I'm not keen on, but this is easily the funniest script a Thunderbirds episode has had yet, and David Elliot's realisation of it is just perfect, embellishing the comic twists - and even taking them further - whilst keeping in mind which series it is that he's working on.

The story begins with Parker breaking into the Bank of England and successfully opening their main vault. The audience know he can't have turned criminal, especially due to the presence of Lady Penelope, but it's a great opening nonetheless. It's soon revealed that he is proving to the Bank's board, at their request, that the current security measures are inadequate. He's obviously a bit disappointed at having opened the most important vault in England and not being able to retain any of the goods inside it. And across the course of this episode, Parker becomes the character whose background we know most about - against very little competition.

A new security system is installed extremely quickly and unfortunately on its first day of operation traps one of the Bank's employees inside. It's questionable whether all the economists and accountants would actually need to work inside the vault but in this universe they do - and one is shut in when the seal the vault. Lord Silton, the Bank's chair, doesn't expect to have to open it for another two years, and to preserve all the artefacts inside, the air is pumped out. This is bad news for the man trapped inside. It's amusing, and actually much more plausible, that instead of not hearing the calls from his colleagues, Lambert puts the radio in his drawer, keen to get on with his work.

Lord Silton goes back to Lady Penelope's for dinner, along with the single key to the vault. At the same time, Parker hears of his old cell mate Light-Fingered Fred's escape from prison. When the Bank tries to contact Lord Silton about getting Lambert out, Parker does his utmost to block communications, thinking his old pal is working his final job. He takes them in completely the wrong direction when instructed to deliver Lady Penelope and Lord Silton to the Bank of England and so Penelope takes over - with genuinely hilarious consequences. You wouldn't want to meet her on the roads, that's for sure. They definitely overdo the idea of her not being able to drive, with FAB 1 skidding down every road, but it really worked for me.

When they arrive, International Rescue are already on the scene and are partway through affecting a rescue. The situation is quickly explained and in the click of a hairclip (Lord Silton left his key at Penny's) Parker's managed to trip the vault open. Virgil and Alan have just about beaten him to it by blowing in one wall from the abandoned underground train network, but I think he's learned his lesson. The payoff to all this is that once Lambert has been saved and the crews are out of the area, another wall is blown off and Light-Fingered Fred helps himself. As is often the case with International Rescue, their solution is not the most elegant or logical. Why not blast through a closer wall? Still, it's an extremely entertaining episode so I have very little to complain about.

I understand that Parker is supposed to have a slightly unsavoury past but I'm not entirely happy with the idea that he would go to such extreme lengths to protect his old mate, even if it was supposed to be his last big job, without being certain that's what was going on. That's my only reservation with this story though. It is extremely funny but never loses the spirit of the series in general, and the first few scenes really are atmospheric and intriguing. Parker and chef Lils' relationship is delightful and I really hope it makes a return at some point. I've been asking for an episode that devotes more time to Penelope and Parker, and I doubt we'll get one that delivers more than this. I hope they get up to antics like this all the time when they're not involved with International Rescue. I understand there was a comic series starring these two but more television episodes in this vein, written by Dennis Spooner, would be very welcome. I doubt there will be any more though.

It should come as no surprise after reading the above that I enjoyed this episode a lot. It's easily the funniest episode yet, and really I should have expected no less from Dennis Spooner, given his reputation. It also has a sound plot though, helping it to soar into my list of favourite episodes. I don't think we'll get a stronger case for a spin-off series than this. There is very little to fault here - each scene is perfectly placed within the narrative and structured for maximum impact. David Elliot has also done wonders with the script, and it's nice to see the production team getting confident enough to produce this kind of episode. One of the best yet.

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