If you’ve just joined us, we watched Thunderbirds out of order via the old A&E collector sets, and so our final episode of the show came tonight after we already saw the rest of season two. It’s another Lady Penelope spy episode, with a ridiculous number of sets, no expense spared, set in three countries, culminating with a hijacking because some baddies want a miracle fabric that one of Penelope’s fashion world buddies has introduced. And he’s done it onboard an aircraft with a miracle safety feature that Brains, using the alias Hiram Hackenbacker, has developed.
Even for Thunderbirds, this is convoluted, but it’s really fun, and the incidents kept us guessing what would happen next and where this plot was going. It’s always entertaining to see the team tell stories with lots of characters in lots of places. It’s very light on the mayhem, but full of great camera tricks, incredibly detailed and intricate sets, and about a dozen costume changes for Penelope. It’s a nice one to bow out on.
From here, we’ll pick up with the final eight episodes of Captain Scarlet, and we look forward to receiving the three brand new episodes of Thunderbirds that Stephen La Rivière and his team have made. We hope to tell you all about those in a few months!
Watching this episode, I started to wonder whether they crafted episodes like this, where literally fifteen minutes are spent with the civilians in South America who are about to be part of the crisis, to shoot chunks of it on one stage while the main character puppets are busy on another. The only entertaining thing that happened in those fifteen minutes was realizing that Matt Zimmerman, who did the voice of Alan Tracy, dubbed one of these one-off puppets and didn’t disguise his voice at all.
The other big thing that happens in these first fifteen minutes is that we meet Sancho and his wife, who are deeply offensive caricatures, even accepting that they’re from an era where “si, señor” yokels were common, and who run a nasty, filthy restaurant with a hideously unclean kitchen infested with rats. Their food poisons the crew of the Crablogger, and they pass out after the big machine sets off on its preprogrammed course, so nobody can stop it or shut down its reactor or clear out all the fuel that will destroy a dam in its path, and so on.
It’s hideously overcomplicated and completely lacking in internal logic, and Lady Penelope has to spend forever finding the guy outside of London who programmed the Crablogger’s reactor and get him to dictate the shutdown sequence into a recorder while keeping her face hidden because nobody in South America has a telephone and can ask the guy for help, and he didn’t design the machine with an “emergency stop” button.
This one is so stupid that Marie and I just gave up and turned to Facebook for entertainment, which has never happened before. Daniel was completely thrilled, though, and just about self-combusted with excitement when the Crablogger threatened to topple over a narrow ridge, because that was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, and that’s what’s important. We mock and roll our eyes because we’re boring old grown-ups, but he got to watch the Crablogger smash its way through a village, toppling walls and buildings, and had a much better time than we did.
Daniel ran hot and cold with this one. We enjoyed the whole thing because it had terrific balance between the fun Tracy Island stuff and the mayhem at sea. Lady Penelope insists that Jeff take a vacation and join her at her sheep ranch in Australia for a few days, but Jeff can’t relax with anybody else in charge. Daniel got restless and waited for something to happen.
When things did happen – underwater explosions, fire jets, collapsing oil rigs, crew trapped in a diving sphere – it got so intense that he had to hide behind the sofa. Absolutely perfect, really.
Here is one of many, many examples in children’s television of a production run ending with a clip show because there’s no money left. At least they were able to go back into production after a break of a couple of months and make six more episodes after this.
Clip shows in a half-hour episode feel long. This one feels agonizing. During the four very long clips, we get quite a few desperate people shouting some variation of “We’re not going to make it!” at least three times.
Daniel didn’t mind. The format meant that he got to see all the machines in action and hear lots of thrilling music. He didn’t object at all to seeing them again. He’s rewatched many of the episodes several times already. One more won’t hurt. Neither will ten or eleven, probably.
Back again to Thunderbirds for the last five of the episodes that we obtained. This one’s another of the Lady Penelope spy-centered episodes, and it’s terrific fun. The plot does not make a lick of sense, and the evil baddies who are shooting down US Air Force transport planes could not have come up with a more complicated scheme if they tried, but man, it’s fun.
Honestly, it requires the most popular group in the world performing their new hit single, “Dangerous Game,” live from the Swiss hotel where they’re performing a residency via a worldwide broadcast on Radio Maxwell every night with a slightly different arrangement that contains a secret code that the baddies can translate to find the location of the USAF plane DURING the broadcast. But the plot doesn’t matter; the show is just too entertaining and fun for that.
One of the things that impressed me the most is how well paced it is. Naturally, the spy episodes are light on the mayhem that four year-old boys love the most, but darned if this one doesn’t have a perfectly-placed moment of huge slapstick levity at exactly the right moment. You could set your watch by it. At the very second that our son Daniel started to get restless and squirm because nothing had happened for too long, Parker topples a would-be assassin out of a car atop a snowy hill, and, Hanna-Barbera-style, the two go barreling down the mountain into a giant snowball. Daniel howled. I’m sure that had I seen this as a too-serious teenager, I would have cringed, loudly, but that’s gold for a kid his age. It completely brought him back into it.
The grown-ups in the room weren’t squirming. From a production standpoint, this episode is just amazing. There are several “how’d they do that?!” shots in the scenes of Tintin and Lady Penelope skiing, and there’s an amazing bit where some butterflies are dancing around her garden, completely unnecessary to the scene, just there for brilliant color. Lady Penelope even dances as she sings with the band, and it looks great. They did a truly fantastic job making this episode.
Many years ago, I read a book about The Muppet Show which had some fascinating behind-the-scenes shots. I had never realized how much forced perspective was required to make puppets interact with humans. “30 Minutes After Noon” has lots of really neat, really clever shots and camera tricks. None of it’s strictly necessary; it’s just the director wondering whether he can make the episode more interesting to watch. It works. Apart from the use of a human hand in place of a puppet’s, pictured above, there’s a really cool tracking shot through a couple of doors before the action on the puppet stage.
This is one of the fastest-paced Thunderbirds episodes, because it’s broken into two halves, two separate emergencies several days apart thanks to the action of a criminal gang. It means there’s nowhere near the padding that other episodes have, with lots of excitement. It’s a very good, very entertaining episode, although Daniel surprised us by saying his favorite part was Lady Penelope and Parker arriving in the nick of time and blasting the bad guys’ helicopter out of the sky. After all the neat stuff on display, that was it? Well, he giggled and wowed and loved it to pieces, which was the important thing.
We still have five episodes of Thunderbirds to watch, but we’re going to take a break and come back to those in a few weeks. And then, I hear, we’ll have three brand new episodes as well. Stay tuned!
WOW. This episode is AMAZING. The Hood is back, but he’s not the comedy wonk-wonk-wonk barely competent Hood that we sometimes see. This time, he ambushes and hypnotizes Brains and Tintin, beats their professor friend unconscious (offscreen, of course), and buries Brains in the desert sand up to his neck, demanding to know where the underwater treasure they’re seeking can be found. He is pure angry evil, not played for laughs at all, and he scared the absolute bejesus out of Daniel.
Daniel spent more than a couple of minutes either behind the sofa or in the library, and we weren’t surprised. This is an uncommonly intense episode, and, as we often see with his reactions watching Batman when Robin is endangered, he reacts badly when characters who are less able to defend themselves get in trouble.
In a really neat development, Scott, Virgil, and Gordon all choose to stay overnight with their craft to protect the others while waiting for the professor to be evacuated in a medical copter. Brains, rescued but feeling terrible for being a burden, goes out to find the treasure, dives back underwater and the Hood ambushes him AGAIN. Daniel ran for the hills.
The attention to detail in this episode is wild. Sure, there are problems with the plot as there always are, but the intensity of the situation covers up most of them, and the really neat production covers the rest. Brains spends most of the episode with chapped and inflamed lips after his morning trapped in the sun, and Scott and Virgil didn’t have time to shave before rescuing him the second time and the puppets have morning stubble!
Hooray, the Hood is back! Amusingly, the villain’s never actually named in the show, and so it wasn’t until we watched the 2004 film that we learned his name. And by “we,” I mean Daniel, because I know that’s his name. But this gave me the first opportunity to tell Daniel, “Oh, no! It’s the Hood again!”
And this time he has strings. Lots of strings. You know, normally, I can just ignore all the strings in these shows, but somebody was asleep at the wheel this week. Even the experimental Red Arrow fighter jet has a whacking great unavoidable hole cut in the top of the cockpit for strings about as big around a cowboy’s lasso to waggle the pilot’s head around. Quit interfering with my suspension of disbelief, strings!
Well, if you can ignore the strings, this is a fun one, especially if you enjoy family life on Tracy Island, because this has lots of good moments. It’s a good rescue, too, with two technicians stuck atop a TV transmission tower after the jet has crashed into it. Daniel had his usual blast watching it, and he seemed to like the Hood driving over a dismantled bridge and dropping into a river best.