Friday, July 22, 2011

Thunderbirds S1 Ep7: Vault Of Death

5-4-3-2-1!!!!! Thunderbirds Are Go!

This is the long promised return to Thunderbirds [1965]. It's been over 45 years since Thunderbirds graced the small screen with its vivid, explosive color and rescue action and the series remains as popular as ever. Evidence of that popularity is found in the Most Popular Posts column noted here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. Many of these Thunderbirds installments are frequently revisited. One dear anonymous reader clamored for more. I owed them that return. As Marvel's Stan Lee would say, "because you demanded it!" Stand by for action!


Welcome, once again, to the wonderful world of all things Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

It's time for another lovely children's adventure in the tame, inviting title of Thunderbirds, Episode 7, Vault Of Death! Sweet dreams kids.

The episode genuinely highlights one of the hottest science fiction super babes in the known universe, wooden or not - London Agent Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward!

The story opens with some terrific shots of London's foggy streets, Anderson-style, as the camera closes in on the Bank Of England. The sexy, live-action legs of Lady Penelope lead us to the constable outside of the bank. Could they have been the legs of the one and only Sylvia Anderson? Since Sylvia provided the voice one might think so. We even get a shot of a live action eye. Sylvia Anderson was a beauty too and clearly a bit of a wild child. She reminds me of an untamed stallion. Truth be told, this episode features the only live action shot of a face. We've seen hands, but never the face. These shots are the work of puppet operator Judith Shutt. In answer to our question, the live-action shots were not the work of Sylvia Anderson. I'm less certain about those legs, but they are stunning, and honestly does it really matter. The legs are gorgeous. Queue ZZ Top's "Legs." Do you remember that music video? It was one of the classics.

While Penelope converses with the constable Parker sneaks up behind him and places a chloroform cloth over his face knocking him unconscious. Parker and Penelope prep their equipment to break into the Bank Of England, but why? Aren't these the good guys? Well, in a clever bit of puppet drama, albeit probably unnecessary, Penelope is invited to attempt a break into the Bank Of England to put its security to the test. Considering London Agent Penelope and driver extraordinaire Aloysius 'Nosey' Parker pull off their heist access proves out that security simply ain't that good.

As the bank job continues we get some nifty close-ups of Penelope's live-action gloved hands finger-snapping. Some terrific character exchanges occur between Parker and Penelope that lend some insight into the kind of man Parker is, a traditionalist. We even get some nifty, live-action Parker glove shots as he safecracks. Somehow the word nifty applies well to Thunderbirds. Eye, leg, hand and even a live-action owl shot suggest the Anderson team were looking ahead to the world of UFO very early on and the possibility of life without Supermarionation.

After two and half hours, Penelope proves the Bank Of England is mighty vulnerable to the Lordship suggesting he upgrade its security system. They are greeted by a throng of cheers. Was the unconscious constable in on the whole thing? It turns out the poor fellow was not and Parker looks to the Lordship to take care of any lingering issues resulting. It's certainly not the brightest or most logical plan but this is Thunderbirds.

H M Prison Parkmoor Scrubs. An escape is underway. Apparently, an old cell mate of Parker named Light-fingered Fred is on the move.

Meanwhile, Lord Silton indicates one vault is heavily fortified within the bank fitted with entry by an exclusive electronic key that only he possesses. The Lord will attend a dinner at Creighton-Ward mansion. Upon exiting, Silton closes the vault with hard-working employee Lambert left behind inside the vault [... of death!]. The air is literally pumped out to create a vacuum and protect documents henceforth for two years. It's curtains for Lambert by suffocation unless the Thunderbirds can save the day.

Following the departure of Lord Silton, loyal bank employee, the fabulous Mr. Lovegrove [Dead Can Dance recorded a terrific song called The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove ... hmmm] believes Lambert may be inside the vault since he has yet to turn up. Unfortunately, Lovegrove is uncertain where Silton is dining. "Oh dear, oh dear."

Here's a great character bit highlighting the real Parker when he's not chauffeuring around Penelope. It's a rare glimpse of the buttoned-up butler with his hair down, along with Lil, voiced by Sylvia Anderson.

While enjoying his stew, Parker reads the paper and is shocked to discover Light-Fingered Fred has escaped from prison. Silton is summoned with an emergency signal. He contacts the bank via video phone, but is cut off. Parker is sabotaging Silton's every move suspecting Fred is behind the bank alert, but why?

Penelope promises to get the Lord to London in a jiffy via her super car, FAB 1, which travels at great speeds, but Parker has other plans. Penelope suspects Parker is up to something and orders him to step it up.

Back at the vault [... of death!] the Air In Vault gauge is slipping away to ramp up tension in the viewership. Yes folks enough already! It's time for Thunderbirds!

The incredible miniature work of Derek Meddings. International Rescue is informed via T5. This is a job for T1 and T2 complete with Pod 5. The modelling and effects work down to the detail for all of the launch sequences never ceases to amaze complete with folding palm trees and sliding pool.

Jeff Tracy and Tin Tin send Scott, Virgil and Alan Tracy to the London Heliport.

It's funny, but admittedly, some of these hefty 50-minute installments are rife with slow pacing. Pros and cons certainly result in some more than others. But, there are entries that could have benefited from editing and shorter run times.

As the story continues, we learn The Mole is not an option to reach the vault [... of death!] through the Underground. Inside the bank, a near cocky Scott informs Lovegrove that International Rescue should be able to burn through the door with their equipment in no time. "But will it be fast enough?" wonders Scott as an unknowing Lambert still works diligently inside the vault [... of death!]. Where's Lord Silton when you need him with that damn key!?

Sliding to T2 is always easier than walking if you're a puppet. Meanwhile, Parker has driven the Lordship and Lady Penelope to Lovers' Leap with a hillside overlook. We even get that live-action owl shot as the night rolls in. Penelope asks Parker to step outside the car for a word. Parker reveals secretly to Penelope of his prison experience with Light-Fingered Fred. Do these London agents do background checks? There's no way in hell Parker would be working for Penelope. Fred promised he would one day break into the Bank Of England and then retire. It was going to be a kind of last job a la Sexy Beast [2000]. Oddly, despite Fred's criminal ways, Parker feels some warped sense of loyalty to him and fears ruining his life should he be the reason for the emergency at the vault [... cough!]. Yes, this mafia-like loyalty would have automatically excluded his employment with the London Agent. She's very forgiving and did I mention beautiful? If it's Fred, Parker fears destroying his life. That is some strange puppet logic, but the logic of a once criminal mind. How long Parker spent in the pen we aren't clear. Fred did time for ten years. Advice to Parker: it's time to move on.

Penelope offers to drive so Parker can remain free of guilt. Okay, I'm beginning to wonder about Penelope. She sure has heart. Anyway, we quickly discover why Parker is her personal driver, because Penelope can't drive worth a hill of beans. She's awful. She's dangerous. She's a true menace to society. She's an agent with weaponry! Penelope's efforts to reach the bank in a man's dying hour of need are silly and a little bizarre especially for a London Agent. Shouldn't driving be a prerequisite? After all, a man's life is at stake. Isn't that her business normally? You need to drive honey!

Meanwhile, oblivious inside the vault [... ehem!], Lambert is still working hard despite his lack of oxygen. He has no idea of his potential fate. He's a hard worker, but not the brightest bulb. I mean, that's dedication.

With little success Scott reaches out to his father and grandma Tracy for intel. She refers to the old Underground. She must be in her 80s or 90s and she remembers her mother telling her about the Underground once when she was a little girl suggesting the London Underground is no longer, but rather a relic of time, a footnote of history. Thunderbirds is indeed science ficiton.

Before long Virgil and Alan are inside the Underground on the Pod 5 Hoverbikes underneath the Piccadilly Circus stop.

Time is of the essence with just ten minutes of oxygen remaining in the vault [... oh you get the point].

It's any one's guess who will reach Lambert first. Alan and Virgil? Or the reckless Lady Penelope?

Virgil and Alan drill through a weak point in the tunnel to reach the vault. Penelope arrives with Lord Silton with one minute of air left. Well, as it turns out Lord Silton has forgotten his electronic key at Lady Penelope's home. Parker, the master thief, springs into action with a Penelope hair clip.

Could you get a little closer next time? The wall explodes and Virgil and Alan breakthrough nearly killing Lambert, who sits next to the rocky debris. Subject to either a heart attack or exploding stone walls somehow Lambert survives.

Just a few feet away Parker has managed to open the impenetrable vault with a hair pin. Good grief. "Outrageous" decries Lovegrove. Do ya think? Lord Silton likes the old safe better because it took 2.5 hours to break into it rather than 60 seconds. Good point Lord Silton - you're clearly good for something.

Later, after all have departed Light-Fingered Fred breaks into the vault with his very own explosives. There you have it. The Vault of Death was not so deadly after thanks to the hard work and dedication of International Rescue, the fine Penelope and the one and only Nosey Parker.

Vault Of Death: B-*

Writer: Dennis Spooner. Director: David Elliot

* grading is incredibly subjective with any series, but with Thunderbirds, a children's classic, it is difficult to assess with an adult perspective when it is easily magic viewed through a child's eyes.

Notable Thunderbirds: T5/ T1/ T2 / Pod 5/ Hoverbikes/ FAB 1.

About those vehicles: Vault Of Death sees the appearance of a number of cool designs including FAB 1, the pink Rolls-Royce, Thunderbird 5, Thunderbird 2, Thunderbird 1 and even some other nifty craft in the form of the Hoverbikes. We all had our favorites, but the folks behind Thunderbirds, including Gerry Anderson had their own thoughts on their designs as noted in Simon Archer and Marcus Hearn's, now out of print, What Made Thunderbirds Go!: The Authorized Biography Of Gerry Anderson [2002].

Gerry Anderson offered his own retrospective and comprehensive take. It's not for the squeamish Thunderbirds fanboy. "Thunderbird 2 has long been the most popular craft with viewers," offered authors Archer and Hearn. They aren't wrong. I fall squarely in this camp despite affections for Thunderbird 4, Thunderbird 3 and Thunderbird 1, not to mention The Mole or The Firefly. They continued calling T2 "the far superior" of the rescue craft having "stood the test of time." Anderson believes, "This was the only craft that did anything for me. Thunderbird 1 was not detailed enough and time has shown that it's just not a believable vehicle. Thunderbird 3 was OK at the time but today I think it's a joke! Thunderbird 4 I was frankly disappointed with. And 5? Well, the less said about that, the better. Which is not to say I didn't think they were all good at the time." Ouch Gerry! A collective gasp was heard across the globe with that one. But it's perfectly understandable and tastes do change.

The late, great modelling genius Derek Meddings [1931-1995] [a look at Meddings can be found here] also felt Thunderbird 2 was the most successful in achievement. Chief among its most wonderful characteristics was the pair of wings that sloped forwards toward the nose of the craft. "At the time all aircraft had swept-back wings. I only did it to be different. If I had to design them again now, Thunderbird 2 would have more air intakes. It would be a chunkier vehicle." Could it be chunkier? "I still think the original design is a good shape." Dare The Sci-Fi Fanatic say it's perfect? It is! "We could shoot Thunderbird 2 from any angle and it would look great, although it was awful to fly. You needed a very strong arm and you had to have a feel for it too. You couldn't just lift it off the launch ramp; you had to pretend you were flying it and make the noises too, like a kid pushing a new toy along the floor." We could do that. Actually, we have done that. Yes, I love Thunderbird 2 and I've had a number of different die-cast versions of the vehicle. I recall a rare blue one from Dinky. Meanwhile, Michael Trim handled many of the small craft designs as a major assistant to Derek Meddings. Trim handled designs with Meddings on UFO too.

Now about Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward's pink Rolls Royce, the FAB 1. According to the authors her "dangerous lifestyle demanded a suitably dangerous vehicle." Gerry consulted with Meddings again for the creation of the iconic vehicle. But Rolls-Royce had its own specific requests. "The Rolls-Royce motor company gave their approval to the design drawings, stipulating only that a modified version of the Silver Lady be located on the radiator grille and that the Rolls-Royce title be used in full whenever the car was referred to in the stories; phrases like 'the Rolls' or 'the Roller' were out." The terrific Reg Hill [a look at Hill can be found here] commissioned a large, full-sized mock-up of the front grille "for close-up live action shots in which a cannon fired from between the grille's plates." In 1966, Anderson agreed to make a full-sized version of the vehicle he dubbed "hideous." Rolls-Royce couldn't have liked the care taken with their car by Lady Penelope in the Vault Of Death. Perish the thought.


le0pard13 said...

Oh, man! I remember this as a kid. If I think hard about it, I can recall my unabashed enjoyment of it all. And you've given your usual fine touch to this piece, SFF. Still, I have to be honest. TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE has ruined me when I look now at puppets! Curse you Trey Parker. Between sore ribs from laughing so hard, in between my aghast at those "No, he didn't!" moments, my childhood innocence toward puppeteering was forever changed thereafter. I don't know if I'll ever get it back, but at least your post offered me a start. Great look at this, SFF. Thanks.

PDXWiz said...

Oh, another groovy classic series I only know through photos in magazines! It was only briefly run here, once, before I had a VCR, and I had to work during that time. I saw....maybe 5 minutes, the last five, of an episode with some bad guys and a pyramid. It looked AWESOME!

Thanks for the great review and the yummy pix of Lady P and the ships, she rocks and so do they!

Gordon Long

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

L13 & Gordon

Thanks for your thoughts on this classic series.

L13- I have not seen Team America, but I have seen bits and it looks outrageously funny. I'll have to make note of it.


The episode you are referring to is called The Uninvited. It's Series One, Episode 5 and I've covered here at the site. Feel free to check it out to relive the memories. : )

Yeah, Lady P is "yummy." We could only be all too fortunate if she could come to life like say, maybe, Jessica Rabbit. Hmmm, maybe Megan Fox is Jessica Rabbit.

All the best guys.