Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Farscape S1 Ep9: DNA Mad Scientist

The stunning creation of Namtar. Namtar is just one of the many astounding aspects of the extraordinarily vibrant world of Farscape.

If DNA is the root of life, the code or building block of creation, then greed is undeniably the root of all evil on a sociological scale. Greed is the root of the problem here as it finds its way into the hearts of our dear, would be team of space adventurers in Farscape. The functioning dysfunctional family of reluctant travellers steps back from the progress of their personal connections to date for one another in an exciting if disturbing turn. Be prepared for this Farscape favorite. Here comes Farscape, Season One, Episode 9, DNA Mad Scientist, where desire and want affects us all in ways that are less than becoming.

This brief introduction to Ratman, better known as Namtar, sets the tone for a vivid exercise in Farscapism.

Namtar summons the assistance of his disfigured, mutant female helper, Coronada. Namtar secretes DNA from the all too accessible crew of Moya. They willingly submit themselves in the hopes Namtar may reveal the exact location of their homeworlds through the extraction of their genetic information. The crew desperately clings to the hope astronomical mapping of their homeworlds can be determined for their respective returns. The information alludes Moya's data banks. Of course, nothing is free. Everything comes at a price. Namtar's reputation as a DNA scientist somehow precedes him, and as the old saying goes, 'if it's too good to be true it probably is' exists for a reason. Namtar selects "beautiful" Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan first. A holographic display presents an interpretation of planetary locations across the Farscape galaxy. Namtar's database holds the genetic markings of over 11 million lifeforms. The genetic sample allows him to pinpoint the genetic location of its origin. The moment, the music is quite cinematic for television. It's beautiful. Farscape continues to demonstrate why it is a grade A production.

The price: One of Pilot's arms. Yes, Namtar requires a sizable genetic sampling of the species. Is the price too high? Is the desire to obtain this information so great the crew of Moya would compromise one of their own? Could they - would they turn their backs? This is the moral dilemma. Despite Pilot's value and pivotal role to the crew of Moya's very survival, how do they see Pilot? Is Pilot a thinking, living, emotional being that is part of this makeshift family of castaways, or but a mere creature of higher intellect with something of value they deem expendable? This is the question. And if Pilot is expendable who isn't?

Earth is nowhere on the radar. John Crichton queries, "Am I in the neighborhood here?" He simply can't believe Earth doesn't register.

Aeryn Sun refuses access to her eye by Namtar to take the DNA sample. [Sorry, there's no way I could allow a needle into my eye!] For Sun, her reasons are more out of an imperative to avoid Peacekeeper detection. Sun can't go back, "ever." Crichton, being human, knows that unless Pilot volunteers an arm they'll all be leaving the planet shortly. Being a human, of sound mind, he is not inclined to allow such an atrocity to occur to Pilot. Sun isn't so sure the others will allow Pilot the option, but rather taking one of his arms by force. You see, the thought never crosses the mind of American Crichton, because it defies all that he believes. It would defy anything an all American boy raised in the Carolinas would believe acceptable. It's quite simply a hideous act.

Meanwhile, back on Moya, Pilot is literally being assaulted, wrestled and forcefully removed of an arm by Zhaan, Ka D'Argo and Dominar Rygel XVI. It is an ugly display of alien nature as blood from Pilot's arm sprays upon his face. It is a truly disturbing moment and as much as Zhaan would rather not do it, she does and this position by these three crew members is something that truly stuns us as viewers. Rygel, maybe, D'Argo perhaps, but Zhaan is shocking.

On the whole, we are horrified by their actions. If science fiction offers us a window to the soul or a look at human nature in unique ways, this is a perfect example saved only by the fact Crichton is not among the violators. Crichton is our center, our human identification, our moral compass, but all represent the mistakes we make and the gamut of emotions we feel. It is a maneuver that will remain with us for some time and speaks to their characters. Desperation. Need. How far are willing to go when pressed? This is a glimpse at our flaws and the atrocities we commit. We are taken to dark places - all of us. Where will the crew of Farscape go from here?

Sun, who appears to share a connection with Pilot, would not return to Moya. We are all faced with difficult decisions in life. Think Sophie's Choice [1982]. Despite her objections, Sun essentially removes herself from the proceeding and does nothing to prevent it. Perhaps, her opposition would not matter. This is undetermined. But does not her silence make her just as guilty. Crichton too. We are forced to ask that of ourselves.

D'Argo and Zhaan return to the planet upholding their end of the bargain. Namtar indicates it will take some time to load the cartographs of their homeworlds into the crystal. The crew of Moya is less than trusting of Namtar. It turns out he's a rather disturbed or "mad" scientist. In a dark room within his quarters, he retreats with Coronada and we find a mutant creature chained to the wall, a victim of Namtar's experiments, like Coronada complete with her massive, freakish hand. His hope is that the Pilot DNA will further his sick, demented genetic cocktails.

On board Moya, Crichton is troubled to find Pilot is now one arm short of four. He arrives to speak with Pilot as one of the DRD's finishes soldering repairs on Pilot's arm joint and wound. This is an insightful moment regarding Pilot's species and its regenerative capabilities and the creature's mission.

Naturally we have such empathy for Pilot. This is clearly a forgiving species. How can one harm a creature so seemingly giving and kind? I mean those Pilot eyes will melt the coldest of hearts. Much of the information found in this episode will be cause for greater reflection in an even more horrifying entry found in Season Two when it comes to the question of behavior and motivation. Sun asks the moral question we should all ask.

Crichton is disturbed by the display of violence against what he considers, like Sun, one of their own. He calls their status, "the odd men out." Sun worries all will be going home. She fears, internally, Crichton will find home. She's always been one among many as a Peacekeeper and she's never been alone, but she feels alone. Crichton tells her he would take her home to Earth. Sun appears caught between her role as lost soldier and her new existence. Her Peacekeeper life was clearly a stern, almost grim existence. She is a severe character and humor and joy do not come easily to her.

Elsewhere, D'Argo discovers Rygel has been packratting food supplies needed by the crew. The more you see of Rygel the less reason he gives you to like his character, if he has any. Having said that, just when I've given up on the despicable alien cretin he turns it around for me and gives me pause so that I don't completely give up on him.

Shortly thereafter, Zhaan and D'Argo discuss the price to pay for information concerning one's homeworld. She is surprised by Crichton's less than enthusiastic support for the others. There is clearly a difference of ethics and morality in play. D'Argo believes Crichton would have sacrificed his memocks [a penis?] for Earth's location. This is where, I believe, D'Argo does not genuinely understand the human condition or at least, more specifically, Crichton's sense of camaraderie beyond genetic or the specie-specific boundaries of Farscape. D'Argo will no doubt learn. But, God knows the human condition has its fair share of participants who would resort to the reprehensible.

Zhaan suspects she would sacrifice if it was required. Would she? Then, D'Argo asks the most prescient, telling question, given his knowledge- why does Namtar work under cloak of darkness in the Uncharted Territories? The question comes too late. D'Argo can't understand it. Namtar's knowledge could bring wealth, fame even power. Zhaan reckons it would change the basis for astral-navigation. D'Argo believes it could affect how war is waged. D'Argo touches his eye. Clearly, Crichton, D'Argo and the others are all feeling the effects of Namtar's experiment. The question is what did Namtar do to them? One thing is certain, desire may indeed bring out the worst in us.

On the planet below, Namtar's frustration illuminates the truth of his own existence as a genetically endowed creature with psi-powers. Coronada cringes in fear of his powerful psychological rage. He turns to find Aeryn Sun has arrived for the eye fluid extraction. Don't we all want to belong? Sun requires a home she can "fit in" of a Sebacean heritage. Unlike the others, the sensation burns. She inquires when she will discover the results. "It won't be long at all." The Namtar creation is one Henson's creepy best! It is a sensational work from the Creature Shop.

Back on Moya, the crystal has arrived with the results. Rygel wishes to return home first given it was he who made arrangements with Namtar. How Namtar retains a notable reputation based on the disfigurement of his assistant is any one's guess. Only a desperate man would trust Namtar of which our fleeing crew appears to be. Zhaan believes all should return to their homes based upon the logic of proximity. Rygel calls Zhaan a "blue-assed bitch!" Crikey! What a line! Pilot chimes in to inform the crew that Moya is not drawing data from the crystal. A decidedly guilty or remorseful Zhaan inquires as to Pilot's well being. Zhaan is not thrilled with her actions, but her kindness feels unwanted despite her sincerity. Pilot notifies the group that the crystal is useless and, incensed, that they did not trade anything of "REAL value" for it. Zhaan believes they can access one of the three maps, but two will have to be destroyed to retrieve the data. Thus choices must be made again. Rygel suggests returning to Namtar for three separate crystals. Pilot begs the question of Rygel, "if he should ask for it, what body part are you willing to offer your eminence?" Rygel grabs the crystal and runs.

Meanwhile, Sun is clearly feeling out of sorts. Blurred vision and a ringing head speak to the fact Sun is not responding well to Namtar's genetic extraction. Crichton happens upon her and lets her know that "Larry, Curly and Moe" are having trouble with the crystal.

In the meantime, D'Argo is in Rygel's quarters searching for the crystal. Rygel tells him he won't find it. Once again, D'Argo is willing to make major conscessions for what he needs. D'Argo tells Rygel if he sides with him against Zhaan and returns him home first, he will gather a Luxan army to strike against his Hynerian cousin upon Rygel's return. Rygel calls D'Argo a fugitive offending the warrior Luxan.

Sun returns to the planet with the knowledge something is happening to her as the result of Namtar's work. Sun goes on the attack and comes up behind Namtar twisting his arm. She demands to know what he did to her. He has turned his nerve centers from pain to pleasure and is unharmed by her strongarm tactics. It's almost kinky, erotic and Sadomasochistic in tone when Namtar tells Sun to "push harder." He enjoys it and his outfit screams the kind of sexual undertones that permeate the world of Farscape. He gives Sun the bad news. She is in phase one of transformation.

Back on Moya, Zhaan and D'Argo join forces against Rygel. The joining of forces illustrates how quickly greed turns allies to enemies and enemies to allies. There are power plays at work and greed is rotting them to their core. All sense of reason and good will achieved is being thrown away.

Elsewhere, Sun, back on Moya, visits Pilot to determine his health. Sun herself can sense aspects of the ship as never before. She is attuned to the ship like never before. She can feel the power generators and hydraulics of Moya and the DRDs. Sun has clearly been injected with Pilot's DNA. This is confirmed when she shows exhibit A to Pilot - her disfigured hand. She is changing with physical alterations and attributes denoting the skin tone and color of Pilot. Crichton arrives and Sun informs him of her changes. She is frightened. For the first time that I can recall, Sun is feeling more alone and more vulnerable than we've seen her to date, save for maybe her near death brush in Episode 3, Exodus From Genesis.

Zhaan pays a little visit to Rygel hoping to strike up a bit of bargain with Rygel by offering, well, sex. Rygel is intrigued by the proposition. Zhaan continues to surprise. This particular installment does not exhibit the best features of the Delvian priestess. Power grabs are not working between the threesome aboard Moya.

Sex is indeed an operating factor in the wild world of Farscape. One day I look forward to reading Farscape Forever! Sex, Drugs And Killer Muppets! by Glenn Yeffeth. I'm intrigued by the handling of the topics.

On the planet below, Crichton takes Sun to obtain help and expects Namtar to make things right. Crichton first approaches Coronada who screams. The psychic scream captures Namtar's attention as he arrives upon the cantina-like bar scene.

Crichton angrily confronts Namtar that what he did to Sun wasn't part of their deal. Namtar arrogantly informs him that a deal connotes equality and equality is something the two do not have in common. Namtar is a genetic freak and believes himself to be a superior being as well as a genuine rat bastard. Namtar suspects Sun is nearing the end of phase two. Crichton charges Namtar, but is struck down with a powerful psi-burst indicated by the sweep of Namtar's hand. Namtar summons Sun forth and observes her as the mad doctor he is. She pleads that he stop her mutation. He refuses. He sees her moving toward sentient perfection. Her physical affectations are nothing compared to her psychic acuity and multi-tasking powers [Pilot's powers]. She pulls a weapon on Namtar and fires. Unfortunately his powers are so great he immediately heals the grisly, gaping hole shot through his side.

Is this an old school oversight a la Lost In Space? I'm still not sure how, but Namtar is able to repair the clothing that bonds his freakish body together too. Go figure. Still, it's such a damn fine episode you're willing to forgive the imperfection. Namtar moves Sun into his testing facility after knocking Crichton unconscious.

Zhaan and D'Argo pay a visit to Rygel who has been locked inside his quarters by D'Argo. Turnabout is fairplay as Zhaan and D'Argo enter, Rygel exits through an alternate route and locks the door behind them.

On the planet, Coronada tells Crichton he should leave. Coronada reveals the lab was once hers. She was once the project leader there. The cantina-like creatures in the bar area were facility employees. She was working on quantum genetics isolating the "essentials of thought itself." Namtar was a test subject, a "laboratory creature", a rat. He increased his size and traits from a variety of lifeforms and the more intelligent he grew. Elsewhere, Sun is changing and Namtar is excited by her intellectual potential. Namtar is a vile, grotesque creature and well voiced by Julian Garner. A Pilot-like claw reaches out from behind a curtain as the transformation end grows closer.

On Moya, Rygel looks at the crystal. As Zhaan and D'Argo plot their escape they both realize they have been manipulative and dishonest in their respective deals. Is it ever too late to learn?

Crichton brings Coronada on board Moya to meet Pilot. She is astonished by the creature that is Pilot calling him "magnificent." Crichton asks for Pilot's help, not demanding it, to save Sun and he obliges "without hesitation."

A new piece of information surfaces as Pilot indicates Rygel is close to obtaining the cartogrpahic information from the crystal. There's more bad news. Coronada informs Crichton and Pilot that Namtar created a crystal that will erase all of the data from Moya's databanks if uploaded so that the crew will be hopelessly stranded. Essentially, the crystal would "erase Moya's memory." The value of life is underscored when the show brings the living ship into its story. It's a fascinating aspect of the series and how it weaves into the lives of the other crew members.

Crichton slaps the crystal from Rygel's hand. It shatters as D'Argo and Zhaan enter following their escape. The crystal releases a deceptively pretty map into the room, but the viral release would have been Moya and the crew's entire downfall. Following Coronada's work aboard Moya with genetic cocktails she returns to Namtar.

On the planet, Namtar informs Coronada that the final stage serum is close to completion. He needs her help. Crichton wants to see Aeryn, but Namtar informs him that she is gone. He will enjoy meeting the creature that has replaced her. "Rise" [reminisces of the Vader sequence in Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith]. Namtar draws back the curtain to reveal a mutant version of Sun crossbred with Pilot.

This is a great scene that asks us to consider the morality of experimentation and how far we are willing to go. The line between good and evil, gods and monsters is thin as noted by Crichton. This is a terrific scene that illustrates Darwinism in its purest form. Further, Sun's metamorphosis speaks to the concept of body horror that is often eloquently expressed and illustrated in science fiction. It's also worth noting the wonderful set design by the Henson group.

At the right moment, Crichton secures Namtar's arm. Coronada quickly injects him with a serum of her making. Namtar writhes in pain and agony as he is reduced to his original state, an alien lab rat. Coronada and Crichton inject a serum into Sun's eye to reverse the process and return her to genetic normality. Clearly, it's a major leap to think Sun's severe mutation, and that of Namtar's physique, could ever be altered to begin with or to be returned to original form. This is indeed the precondition to riding this science fiction wave. Farscape pushes those boundaries, but has a whole lot of fun doing it. It takes ideas like genetics and through far out execution begs the questions humanity must ask of itself.

Back aboard Moya, the crew is reunited. How they respond going forward to such an ugly episode in their young relations will be interesting. Sun appears to be changed to some degree by these events. Her connection to Pilot is one of interest and will continue to be a source of fascination. This physical link was an intriguing exploration. Sun tells Crichton she is changed by the experience. The "real me" was affected inside beyond the life and death struggle of her Peacekeeper identity. This is a simple moment, but one that illustrates how Crichton and Sun are growing closer.

D'Argo reaches out to Pilot asking if his arm is healing. D'Argo indicates he would do it again. Pilot understands, but also understands Luxans "are not given to apologies," of which D'Argo clearly is offering in his own way. The scene is telling. It is a wonderful illustration of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness. This is a touching closing moment for Farscape. Perhaps, with all of the questions of Darwin and behavior abound, our dear comrades are indeed learning. The truth is it's never too late.

Apologies do not come easy and neither does trust. This was an interesting crossroads. This coherent, complete, nightmarish tale certainly leaves one reflecting on the possibilities before us in the great unknown. When it comes to the question of evolution DNA Mad Scientist poses a great many questions from Josef Rudolf Mengele's human experiments to the untapped possibilities and horrors linked to the age of stem cell research or biological research. This installment, the second for director Andrew Prowse [Premiere], speaks to the wonders of the sci-fi genre when it's done right. One of Farscape's finest Season One moments to date is like nearing science fiction nirvana.

DNA Mad Scientist: B+

Writer: Tom Blomquist. Director: Andrew Prowse.

Pop Culture Reference: The Three Stooges.

Additional thought and commentary:

First and foremost is the ongoing chemistry between this wonderful, family-like alliance. There was that huge shocking moment, as noted earlier, when Zhaan, D'Argo and Rygel all team together and lop off one of Pilot's arms. Most of us reeled, repulsed by such alien thinking. It was so remote and antithetical to our own sense of self-preservation. At this point, Pilot was like a trusted friend more than a beloved family pet. How could this happen? It highlights "the dysfunctionality of the group," according to Farscape The Illustrated Companion. Actress Virginia Hey was "horrified" by the amputation of Pilot's arm, a friend as she saw him. She notes her character, Zhaan, didn't even apologize for the drastic action even by episode's end. These complex dynamics combined with staggering decisions have consequences that continue to inform the development of the group as a family.

Secondly, the visual effects continue to be of noteworthy inspiration. Farscape The Illustrated Companion revisits the phenomenal creature effects applied to Namtar, calling him "part medical manual, part fetish magazine." As the product of self-genetic experimentation, Namtar was the culmination of excessive experimentation, like a woman with too much cosmetic surgery. Terry Ryan explained in the book, "We wanted his whole body to be held together by something from the outside. That's why we did the metal callipers and spine, and the hinges and bolts that came out and held his joints and body together... hence the callipers on his legs."

The heavy reliance on prosthetic make-up and genuine creature effects a la the Brian Henson Creature Shop continue to astonish. So many films today would have created a film like this and relied solely or largely on CGI. This is just one big reason to love and thank the creators of Farscape. The CGI that is employed is a complement to the tangible realities of the character work. It is stunning work. Namtar is the kind of revelation that is ultimately rare in film, nevermind television. Farscape is a treat and one that can be relished for its four seasons of magic.

As Creator Rockne S. O'Bannon put it in Starlog #261 regarding animatronics and prosthetics this is off the charts. "The level of prosthetic work we're doing is leaps and bounds beyond what you would normally see on television." Boy - Amen.

Special Effects guru Dave Elsey [of the Australian branch of the Jim Henson Creature Shop] offered additional input in Starlog #261 on why Namtar offers viewers such a treat. The amount of work that goes into these productions is often sadly overlooked. "We're very fond of Namtar... That was a pretty full-on monster for a TV show, with leg extensions and a crazy mechanical head and contact lenses." Adrian Getley deserves credit for being inside that costume. The Jim Henson Creature Shop proved time and again why each episode is a veritable treat to behold beyond the strong writing and great characterization. Despite all of that, it is often a visual feast for the senses and DNA Mad Scientist is the perfect example.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Farscape: Instructions For Use

I've been indulging in Farscape of late. Perhaps it stems from the knowledge it will be arriving on Blu-Ray this coming November. Merry Christmas and Happy Thanksgiving to me! Let me count the days. And so we wait.

Until then, Farscape, on regular ordinary DVD, has been receiving heavy rotation. Each episode of Farscape is like an event. The series has steadily become one of the most impressive and exciting science fiction journeys I've ever seen and I'm not sure how I missed it along the way. My hope is to bring you a dissection of each classic, special episode in due time.

Executive Producer David Kemper really caught my attention in Farscape: The Official Magazine. I pulled the first issue of the twelve issue run in the hopes of finding some fascinating new insights into Season One.

The final segment in the magazine is dubbed The Producer's Cut and features Kemper waxing poetic on Farscape. Most importantly were five fun bullet points instructing viewers on how to properly assimilate or absorb Farscape. These are probably not required for the intelligent fan, but it's always fun to have a fall back when things get a little crazy.

They are as follow:
5. DO NOT WATCH FARSCAPE AND DO OTHER THINGS [check]. Kemper expects you'll miss something if you are distracted so pay attention to the creators "dense and fast-moving" concoctions.

4. REVEL IN THE DETAILS, THEN STEP BACK [check-sort of]. This is a terrific point about smart television in general, but Farscape in particular here. I think DNA Mad Scientist is a great example of this point. Kemper emphasizes the big picture and stresses avoiding over analyzing. Sometimes, I have a hard time stepping back and avoiding the review of minutia, but when I do it's like a revelation.

3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE CREDITS [check]. I love credits to film and television and it's important to note who the players are in any production. Costume designers, set designers, make-up artists, music, creature designs, directors, writers, actors, guest actors, etc.. How can you not enjoy a good credit roll?

2. EMBRACE THE WORD "REALITY." FARSCAPE IS "REAL" [check] The characters of this show are placed in real situations and make "tough choices" and provide "honest responses" inside of a science fiction framework. Alien or not, these are not single-celled organisms and emotions are real on Farscape. It's one of the things we love about the series and this honesty is what connects us to it.

1. THE WRITING: FARSCAPE IS A NOVEL [check]. The novel has four sections. Each episode is a chapter. Minutes within episodes are "quick-turning, fun-and-danger-filled pages." It is indeed an eclectic thrill ride from entry to entry.

So, my oath [as recommended]:
I will enjoy the hours as they pass. I won't look at the last page. I'll make every effort not to be frustrated as the series wears on and goes in unexpected, unconventional new directions [this will be hard]. I will be patient and I will relish the experience. At least that's the plan. The Cylons on Battlestar Galactica had a plan too - so we were told.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Farscape: The Official Magazine #1

Farscape The Official Magazine's short run lasted just 12 fantastic issues. It was published by Titan Magazines beginning in 2001 and, in my opinion, remains one of their best publications to this day because it remained focused and true to providing great information.

The magazines are getting harder to find like most out of print publications, but are worth looking into if you're a fan of one of science fiction's greatest sagas.

The premiere issue, #1, features interviews with Ben Browder and Rockne S. O'Bannon. O'Bannon focuses on the first two years of the series.

A Farscape short story is included called Many A Mile To Freedom written by Keith R. A. DeCandido, author of the novel House Of Cards.

A guide to the characters of Farscape kicks things off leading you to some of the magazine's best feature articles.

Finding Farscape discusses the journey of Farscape from its original concepts and its original title, Space Chase, to its inevitable sale and the journey to see it through to production.

You get a full write-up on Farscape's Premiere episode and how the pilot adventure came together.

The final feature takes a look at the Jim Henson Creature Shop located in London, England.

Final bits included assorted news items on Season Three, a silly Q & A with Claudia Black, a look at Farscape with puppeteer Mat McCoy, Letters, a Farscape Poster, Farscape merchandise and The Producer's Cut with David Kemper.

Honestly, like the amazing series, the magazine is out of this world.

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.