Directed by Alan Pattillo and Desmond Saunders
Teleplay by Alan Pattillo
First Broadcast – 14th October 1965
If there was ever a case for Lady Penelope being the real star of Thunderbirds, this episode would be exhibit A. The Tracys take a backseat as Penelope and her bit of crumpet, Sir Jeremy Hodge, get caught up in an adventure full of sleuthing and danger! I have to say I’ve never had a particularly high opinion of this episode, but as a matter of fact I found it to be very enjoyable and very, very good this time around, so let’s dive in!
Sun Probe is back? Intersting. And aside from the appearance of Thunderbird 2, you’d barely think the Tracys were in this episode at all based on this opening teaser.
The episode opens with Sun Probe standing ready for blast off. No on-screen title card appears for reasons which are genuinely unknown. It could have been a production error, it could be that the episode was supposed to have a title other than The Perils of Penelope but it never made it to the screen. The title, The Perils of Penelope, is a steal from the popular 1914 serial The Perils of Pauline which is well-known for its legendary (some say mythical) portrayal of the damsel in distress getting tied to a railroad track, which is of course replicated in this Thunderbirds episode. But the setup is very clear, this is an episode about one of Penelope’s exploits. She isn’t snuck in as a subplot or anything to try and give her more screen time, this is her episode.
Anyway, let’s tackle this whole Sun Probe thing. Some say that this is intentionally exactly the same rocket seen in the Sun Probe episode and for that reason the events of The Perils of Penelope take place in the week leading up to the rocket’s arrival at the Sun as seen in Sun Probe. Others may say that because a completely different launch building is seen here to the one used in Sun Probe that this is supposed to be interpreted as being a completely different rocket and they just happened to use the stock footage from Sun Probe to save them having to shoot anything new. The truth is, we don’t really know what the thinking was behind this whole bit. The Perils of Penelope started out life as a half-hour script which was probably extended, in part, with the writing of this sequence. Is this just another angle on the same Sun Probe launch seen in Sun Probe? Maybe, although the fact that the launch building suddenly has a totally different exterior suggests that might not be the case. Or it could be that this is the launch building that originally appeared in the half-hour version of Sun Probe and was replaced with new footage when additional material was shot to extend the sequence in that episode. It’s a complete minefield of ‘what if’ scenarios. My gut feeling, which you’re free to argue with, is that this sequence was written into the script of The Perils of Penelope to deliberately re-use footage of the Sun Probe launch sequence from Sun Probe to save some time and money, but we’re not supposed to think that the episodes are somehow linked because of that. So they’re not the same rocket, but you get the general idea that this is a rocket, called Sun Probe, which can go to the Sun. But basically, you decide!
An NTBS reporter is on the scene looking very snazzy in his red bow tie to provide us with exposition. He says we’re in “block-house 42″… even though the sign outside said “Block D9″… again, you decide! The big camera seen here was last used on the film set in Martian Invasion. The NTBS label is an addition which comes in to play moreso with the next episode, Terror In New York City.
In the launch control building itself, a few more people are seen working than what we saw in Sun Probe. The puppets used include the husband of the woman driver, and the control tower assistant, from City of Fire, as well as the back of a puppet’s head that could be Ralph from Pit of Peril. It doesn’t tell us a whole lot. This tracking shot could have been filmed for the original version of Sun Probe and cut out, or it could have been shot for additional scenes in Sun Probe and also cut out, or it could have been shot especially for this episode. I recommend comparing the two sequences to help figure out that sort of thing. Here’s a link to my review of Sun Probe which also covers the launch sequence in detail. What I have noticed is that Colonel Benson’s control desk is the same one used in the London Airport Control Tower in Operation Crash-Dive.
We’re shown the ‘Thrust Ignition’ button which we didn’t see in Sun Probe.
We’re also shown a ‘Thrust Indicator’ which we didn’t see in Sun Probe. It could also be quite deliberate that the shot of the fuel tanks from Sun Probe isn’t seen here, either because it hadn’t been shot yet and was added later, or because the Sun Probe rocket seen in this episode is powered by a different fuel to the one seen in Sun Probe.
Watching the launch anxiously are Sir Jeremy Hodge and Professor Borender. Sir Jeremy comes straight to the point and announces, “Rocket fuel from water. It hardly seems possible.” Well these are the guys that made it possible as a matter of fact and that’s what the rocket is being launched with right now.
Peter Dyneley is absolutely delightful as Sir Jeremy in this episode. A wonderfully warm performance which makes him a very likeable character. Professor Borender is given David Graham’s best stereotypical European scientist voice.
The TV reporter announces that Sun Probe is “so named because its enormous power would enable it to fly into the sun on full power.” Not only is that tempting fate considering what ends up happening to it in Sun Probe, but that piece of dialogue is what makes me think that this is not supposed to be the same rocket. He doesn’t say outright that the ship is actually going to the Sun to do any of the things it does in Sun Probe, it just happens to have enough power to go there so that’s why they named it Sun Probe, as if the fact it can fly into the Sun is just a bonus. I mean who would be stupid enough to fly a manned rocket to the Sun anyway…
Pretty soon the rocket is successfully launched. Apparently the take-off was the most risky part of the whole project according to the TV reporter… again suggesting that this particular rocket called Sun Probe isn’t actually going on a perilous mission to the Sun because surely that would be the riskiest part… Anyway, the success of this launch matters because of “the all important International Conference at Paris.” Not in Paris, at Paris… and we never really learn what this International Conference is actually all about.
Penelope and Parker are driving down a road 20 kilometres from Paris. Anybody else think Penny’s black floppy hat looks very silly? She’s meeting Sir Jeremy at the Café Atalante at midnight, which apparently isn’t well past their bedtimes. We learn that Sir Jeremy helped Brains with the secret manufacturing of certain components of the Thunderbird machines. Very intriguing. During the series itself we’re given very little concrete information about how International Rescue was actually set up, so this is probably the juciest bit of information we’re ever given about it. Parker remarks that “‘e is one of h’us.” Penelope agrees but quite rightly corrects the sloppy enunciation accordingly.
A stunning piece of model work to represent a street in Paris – very well done indeed and beautifully lit.
The Atalante is an equally beautiful piece of set, which has been lavishly decorated. This is the first major appearance of those heart-shaped chairs that pop up in the series, although I think a few can be spotted in the background of Grafton’s office in a scene added later to Brink of Disaster. Rather bizarrely, a few french fries in a glass are used as centre-pieces for the tables. Lady Penelope says that she “always obeys the call of friendship” – clarifying that they are just friends and that there’s definitely nothing more than that going on in case you were wondering…
Sir Jeremy orders their drinks. The waiter can also be seen as a barman in Move – And You’re Dead and The Man From MI.5 as well as working for Gray & Houseman in End of the Road and enjoying the open road in The Impostors.
Sitting at the next table is this chap who miraculously manages to turn his chair in between shots and get a different table behind him so we can get a better look at him.
The studio lights reflected in his dark blue shades make him look all the more menacing than the music has already indicated. The main headline on the newspaper roughly translates to ‘Two new errors of blood group revealed’… whatever that means… the internet translated it for me…
Sir Jeremy cuts to the chase with a great air of secrecy. Professor Borender was on a train to Anderbad but never got off it. Not surprising really, Anderbad’s not a real place…
Before anything more can be said, the waiter brings over the drinks. Penelope’s pernod turns from translucent green in a tall glass to opaque green in a short glass. She declares “down the hatch” rather loudly as if this is going to be the first of many drinks for Lady P and Sir Jez on their boozy weekend in Paris.
With absolute pinpoint accuracy, Parker suddenly opens fire on Penelope’s drink without accidentally blowing her arm off.
Sir Jeremy, not being a great man of action, just raises his arms in the hope that whatever attack is raining down upon them will just sort of stop.
It wobbles about all over the place, but at least Parker had some crosshairs to help him make that shot. He reveals that the drink was drugged.
Cue some very dramatic strikes on the violin to cover up the fact that two puppets attempt to run in quick succession and don’t do terribly well at it. Notice that the table the dodgy character leaves from has a blue trim around its bottle.
Believe it or not, the waiter is not singing opera. He is in fact explaining that the gentleman in green must have slipped something in Penelope’s drink while getting a light from the waiter who was “blinded by the flame.” Blinded by the flame? I mean… actually blinded by it? Are you sure you weren’t lighting his cigarette with a stick of dynamite? The bottle on the table now has a yellow trim.
Sir Jeremy and Parker, who’s brought his handy-dandy gun with him, announce that they failed to catch the ne’er-do-well. Considering all of the people involved in that particular chase were probably at least in their fifties and haven’t been in training, I can’t imagine anyone was running all that fast. The trim on the bottle is back to blue.
Lady Penelope uses all of her secret agent skills to spot a matchbook on the table. We’re back again to the yellow bottle.
It has a crest on it, but also no matches in it. At least the request for a light was legitimate. I don’t know what’s going on with that bottle.
Because it matters for some reason, Penelope and Sir Jeremy study the crest and neither of them recognise it. Sir Jeremy suggests going to the heraldic archives to look it up… am I missing something here? Surely it’s just a matchbook, why does it matter what’s printed on the front of it? What could that possibly tell them? The family of the company that made the matches? What a discovery that would be…
FAB 1 is back on the road out of Paris – more beautiful model sets.
Penelope starts a tape recorder for reasons that are never explained later.
Some splendid business is done with Sir Jeremy lighting Penelope’s cigarette while they talk – a lovely little detail which makes them seem more real. Sir Jeremy explains that he and Professor Borender have been developing a technique to convert seawater into fuel which is probably why Borender was kidnapped from the train. Without the right equipment however, the conversion could contaminate the oceans of the world… because apparently the process is achieved while the seawater is still in the ocean…
If you compare these shots you’ll notice that the lighting and camera positions change when Sir Jeremy says, “You remember the launch of the new Sun Probe rocket?” It suggests that this brief exchange of dialogue might have been added later or possible re-shot. Whatever the case, it indicates that even though episodes were not being shot as half-hours and then extended by this point, certain scenes still needed to be re-shot. Perhaps then the Sun Probe launch at the beginning of the episode was indeed a late addition. It shows you how close to the wire and chaotic things must have been at the studio around this time.
Over on Tracy Island, Jeff and the team are informed of the plan that Penelope and Sir Jeremy will be taking the night train to Anderbad. They’ll be playing it pretty cool. Alan gets a bit sassy at the sheer prospect. He must still reckon there’s something going on between Penny and Jez.
Jeff promises to send Thunderbird 2 and the equipment that he apparently thinks Penelope might need… even though she hasn’t said anything to suggest heavy equipment might actually be of any use to find/rescue Professor Borender at all. I don’t think Jeff quite understands Penelope’s softly-softly approach to cracking this case…
Parker comes to the door to inform Penelope she has an adjoining room with Sir Jeremy on the overnight train… okay maybe there is something going on…
Virgil starts to make his way to Thunderbird 2. It’s an odd moment because none of Barry Gray’s bombastic music comes along with it. He just silently slides away.
Jeff announces that another rescue operation is underway… even though the Tracys have absolutely no part in it yet… he just sort of sent them away for the sake of it. Anyway, Tin-Tin’s busy trying to make a dead twig look fancy. She also seems to have some Christmas decorations in her hair.
We’re shown another angle on Thunderbird 2 in the hangar. Rather bizarrely, Pod 3 has already gone past and Pod 4 is no-where to be seen.
Alan and Gordon arrive on the mysterious passenger elevator already wearing their uniforms. That’s a bit unusual.
As Thunderbird 2 rolls out along the runway, they’ve already gotten rid of their silly hats and have started consulting a very large piece of paper. They’ve still got to fly all the way to France so there’s no need for them to start finding a parking spot on the map quite so quickly.
Meanwhile, Parker is waiting with FAB 1 outside of the Heraldic Archives… the happiest place on Earth. It’s situated on ‘Rue Desmonde’, presumably named after Desmond Saunders, one of the episode’s directors.
Here’s a close-up on that matchbook from earlier, no doubt hand-drawn by somebody in the art department.
Lady Penelope and Sir Jeremy are being completely deceived by this incredible master of disguise! For some reason he thought that putting on a beard would be enough, despite the fact he’s wearing the same clothes and the same sunglasses that he was wearing last night! But because Lady P and Sir Jez are blind apparently they have no idea. So they make their way down to the basement where all their questions will be answered…
I mean it doesn’t even look like a real beard for goodness sake.
Penelope comes to the doorway, at which point we cut to her POV as she comes down the stairs before cutting back. All this to cover up the fact that puppets can’t walk under doorways.
For a ‘heraldic archive’ they’ve certainly got a lot of Shakespeare for some reason.
So rather than being a ‘heraldic archive’ this looks more like some sort of dodgy library that happens to have a book about heraldry.
A figure starts making their way to the door as Penelope and Sir Jeremy start to dig for clues about… something…
They make a match. Sort of. The thing in the centre of the matchbook crest doesn’t look much like a dog.
They turn the page to discover that something’s been torn out! Not to mention that at least two of the other pages are blank…
The door is suddenly slammed and the sound of gas can be heard pumping into the room. It’s a trap! Yes, that’s right, the whole crest thing was a ruse to lure Lady Penelope and Sir Jeremy into this creepy basement and kill them off! Why the bad guy went to the length of finding the crest in a book and tearing out a page is never explained.
Sir Jeremy starts banging on the door and shouting the odds. Of course he knew all along that the librarian was a phoney… which he probably should have mentioned earlier. Penelope immediatley leaps to the conclusion that it was the same guy that drugged her drink. Were neither of them paying attention? She reckons he left the matchbook behind by accident, although I got the impression he left it as a back-up plan, knowing that they might investigate and prepared the setup of the ‘archive’ accordingly. Why else would he have taken over a library and rigged it to fill up with poisonous gas?
Penelope’s already getting off her face on the fumes.
“I say, open this door at once! We’re British!” I hadn’t noticed…
Penelope contacts Parker who manages to spot the blaggard leaving the building minus his cunning disguise. Wouldn’t you keep your disguise on while you were fleeing the crime scene so that nobody ever found you? I guess not.
With some more incredibly accuracy, Parker reverses FAB 1 up to the building, fires some harpoons into the door and wrenches it off its hinges. The shot of the harpoons making contact with the door was most likely reversed footage of them being pulled away from the door. Wonderful quick-thinking from Mr Parker!
Parker apologises for the delay. But there’s no time for that! Penny and Jez have a naughty weekend on a train to get to…
With a green light, a monotrain bearing the title ‘Transcontinental Rocket’ sets off from the station. I love the two little bicycles parked by the side of the station. The monotrain is the same model seen in Brink of Disaster although in an unusual move not a single piece of footage of it is lifted from that episode. I’m impressed.
The track goes straight past these houses. I’d move if I lived there. The track itself and the supports holding it up are a different design to those seen in Brink of Disaster.
Sir Jeremy and Lady Penelope are already questioning the attendant. Matt Zimmerman provides a ludicrously over the top French accent. The puppet playing Alfred is also seen as Solarnaut Harris in Sun Probe. The guy denies everything but couldn’t look more shifty as he leaves abrupty.
Rather than acting upon it immediately, Penelope suggests they start drinking. Penny and Jez’s boozy weekend continues.
The Transcontiental Rocket thunders through the Alps. As Anderbad is completely fictional we don’t know exactly how far the journey is from Paris to get there or which countries they presumably pass through along the way.
Alfred is confronted by our villain who still hasn’t thought to change his clothes even though he’s attempted to commit murder twice while wearing them. We learn that he still has a master plan to defeat the meddlesome Lady Penelope. If you stopped trying to kill her you’d probably do a much better job of not arousing her suspicion… Oh and a glass of those fries from the restaurant has found its way into the bar if you look closely.
Meanwhile, on board Thunderbird 2, Alan is absolutely furious with the map he’s studying.
Jeff’s pulled an arcade machine out of the attic which can also display maps of Europe. He informs Virgil to land on hill GF/0… I made this point in my Move – And You’re Dead review, but who is bothering to go around and give all these hills and slopes a serial number?
Because Jeff is basically magic he points to the Anderbad Tunnel on the map and it lights up. Alan has cheered up a bit. Virgil indicates that Lady P is probably just sitting back and enjoying the trip… Not that her and Sir Jeremy are having any sort of fun together you understand… I can’t stress that enough…
They’re sitting down for coffee together. Solarnaut Asher from Sun Probe is serving as a waiter. That makes two out of the three solarnauts cropping up on the train when they should supposedly (though not in my opinion) be hurtling towards the Sun… Keep your eyes peeled for the third one. Also in the coach is the waiter from the Café Atalante that we saw earlier, and Blanche Carter from City of Fire.
Lady P picks up her coffee to reveal something underneath…
Through the power of just looking at the paper she manages to unfold it. Either the note is from Alfred trying to warn them, or it’s our mysterious villain legitimately telling the pair of them to keep their noses out.
Night has fallen and the monotrain crosses a lovely girder bridge – a much more attractive and functional-looking monorail bridge than the one from Brink of Disaster.
Alfred is playing Solitaire because he has no friends… although our villain’s flashlight wants to make friends with the back of his skull. Oddly, the face of his watch is completely blank.
His day’s about to get a heck of a lot worse.
Very convincingly, Alfred gets thrown off the train. Not just dropped – thrown. Possibly even fired out of a cannon.
Ouch! That looks like it hurts! Different puppets were sometimes used for stunts like this but it’s hard to say whether this is the real Alfred or not. It could be the pilot of Fireflash 4 from Operation Crash-Dive but that’s pure speculation.
Despite completely twisting his neck and looking absolutely battered, he’s still alive.
Meanwhile, Parker is doing a horrendous job of keeping in one lane on the winding mountain road. He’s in France so should be driving on the right. He spends a lot of time on the left of the road but also drifts into the centre fairly often.
Parker is driving to Anderbad all alone because for some reason he wasn’t allowed on the train during Penny and Jez’s naughty weekend… I mean investigation. But because he’s a dear, he’s packed Penelope a flask full of her favourite cocoa. What a cutie.
Alfred just about manages to get on his feet. As the Solarnaut Harris puppet is used to portray Alfred, full advantage is taken of his blinker head.
In this bizarrely long sequence, Alfred stumbles along towards the road which Parker happens to be driving down. We keep cutting between Alfred and lots of shots of FAB 1 driving. It’s all very dramatic and genuinely tense. Alfred’s stumbling is very well puppeteered and the live action shots of his feet are well matched.
The poor guy trips over a rock and hits the deck right next to the gate.
Unfortunately Parker drives straight past. When Alfred was stumbling towards the gate it was hinged on the right, but now it’s hinged on the left. The music gets a bit sad as it becomes clear that Alfred is certainly unconscious, but possibly dead. And if he isn’t dead, he probably won’t be found for a long time so will most likely die. That’s pretty grim for a Thunderbirds episode. Even more disturbing is the fact that the music transitions from sad to jaunty remarkably quickly as the next scene begins back at Tracy Island.
With the usual spectacular shots of the Tracy Villa and a great bit of music, Thunderbird 1 is shown returning to base. This is the first time we’ve seen this in the series. Yeah, where has Scott been during all this?
He’s been on vacation… in Thunderbird 1… very incognito… at least he’s out of his uniform. But yeah, seriously, Scott took a crucial piece of International Rescue equipment with him just to have a jolly weekend away. Was it parked outside the hotel the whole time?
Jeff actually apologises for not having a reception committee ready for him. They barely even acknowledge poor John when he’s home from Thunderbird 5! Scott says he hopes to be able to help with the rescue operation… spoiler alert: he doesn’t, not in the slightest.
With some gravity-defying precision, Thunderbird 1 shifts from horizontal flight back to vertical and descends into the pool.
Trying his best to remind everyone that he’s the coolest Tracy brother, Scott poses with one foot on his chair. Scott is pretty amazed by how well things are going without his interference… I mean input. Jeff claims that Gordon needed a change from underwater rescues… as in the two underwater rescues we’ve actually seen him do so far in the series. This is, of course, the only episode that doesn’t show Scott involved in a rescue. Controversially, Scott claims to have been on every rescue in the later episode Danger At Ocean Deep. If it makes you feel better you can claim that Danger At Ocean Deep was set before this episode, but it’s far easier to just accept that the writer of Danger At Ocean Deep just didn’t have The Perils of Penelope on his mind when he wrote that line of dialogue.
Virgil reports in, probably loving being in charge of things for once. Everything is going according to plan. That’s nice.
There may not be many spectacular explosions or anything in this episode, but the special effects are still very stunning. This is a gorgeous shot. I especially like the indication of a little village sitting in the valley all lit up.
Penelope is snoozing in her cabin with some balls of fluff on the floor. She spots some feet moving around at her door – they sort of shuffle from side to side like they belong to somebody who really needs to use the lavatory. Notice that Penelope appears to be wearing orange.
Quick as a flash, Penelope’s up and wearing a lovely blue nightgown. She picks up her purse, revealing the title of her late night reading material. Finish the title: “Men On The…”
Penelope approaches the door with her special pistol – fearing the worst from a pair of feet doing a toilet-dance. It turns out those balls of fluff on the floor were her slippers.
Upon opening up the door, a grey-haired gentleman legs it down the corridor, not looking suspicious in the slightest. What exactly he was planning to do by just standing outside Penelope’s door and shuffling his feet around, we’ll never know.
Sir Jeremy isn’t as sprightly as he once was as a floor puppeteer helps to fling his legs out of bed! Penelope has come knocking at his door. It’s the call to action he’s been waiting for. He’s go his best pyjamas on for the ocassion. Penelope reckons that someone was listening at her door. Not sure what they were expecting to hear while she was sleeping…
Sir Jeremy and Lady P are on the case! Get it… case… cases… luggage compartment… never mind. Who on earth dragged a whacking great chest onto the train?!
It’s this guy again in yet another brilliant disguise of… a white jacket… He doesn’t even attempt to change his voice or anything.
Penelope and Sir Jeremy spot his shoes. The puppets’ shoes tend not to get a lot of focus but I bet they were pretty tricky to make. Considering we don’t see them all that often in the series they’re very well done.
Our villain spots Lady Penelope’s luggage. It’s not conveyed terribly well on screen but presumably the whole point of this bit is because he needed to dispose of the luggage to make it look like Penelope was never on the train when she gets kidnapped.
The villain gets confronted, and like a Shakespearean comedy, no-one sees through his rubbish disguise straight away even though that’s exactly what any person with two working eyes should be able to do at this moment. Penelope doesn’t do a very good job of hiding her gun which any normal attendant would probably worry about a bit.
Thankfully Penelope isn’t completely blind and manages to spot a resemblance to the guy who tried to kill them at the Paris archives. But for some reason she needs to confirm it with Parker who’s probably just thankful for the entertainment on the very long overnight drive. With sheer cunning, Sir Jeremy engages the “attendant” in conversation about his breakfast order while Penelope transmits from her compact. The highlight of Sir Jeremy’s order has to be “some cereal with plenty of sugar,” which he says with such conviction you honestly believe he will just throw a bowl of cereal without sugar on back at the waiter while yelling extreme profanity.
Because Parker is the only person with a working pair of eyes he can confirm that this is the same man that he spotted leaving the archives in Paris… because of course it is.
Thunderbird 2 touches down, taking up a large car park in the process. You’ll notice that after the thrusters are switched off, one of them appears to still be on fire.
Alan’s all excited about being able to watch the trains. We’re given an extreme close-up of the tunnel’s exit… just in case you needed a good look at that for some reason.
Gordon announces the arrival of Parker. Here’s that big Thunderbird 2 cockpit model on display more prominently than ever before. Yes, it’s a very big ‘2’ which doesn’t match any other Thunderbird 2 models. I don’t know where they got that idea from either.
As the train approaches Anderbad, our villain reveals his gun casserole…
The train gets swallowed up into the Anderbad tunnel, the interior of which is wonderfully dark and claustrophobic as the camera remains tight on this relatively small piece of set.
Parker has managed to turn the car around without actually moving it and makes his way down to the station. Who knows why he didn’t just go there in the first place and saved himself a long drive up the hill.
You can tell Parker’s been driving all night because his positioning on the road really is attrocious by this point. He enters shot on the right hand side of the road, but takes the bend on the left hand side of the road. This sort of sloppy steering continues as he heads down the mountain.
Suddenly the train starts to make a very strange noise indeed. It’s supposed to be the brakes coming on but it sounds more like Thunderbird 2 coming in to land. As the train slowly makes its way around the bend, it wobbles from side to side in time with the music. Everything inside the train plunges into darkness. The voice of our delightful villain strikes up and announces that there has been a power failure as he shines a light on Lady Penelope. He asks her to come with him. Hauntingly, there’s no ‘dun dun dun’ type moment with the music and everything remains eerily quiet. We cut back to Thunderbird 2 and all that can be heard is the sound of birdsong.
Presumably using one of those telecall booths seen in The Mighty Atom and Move – And You’re Dead, Parker contacts Thunderbird 2 to inform them that the train is delayed. Gordon isn’t happy – he doesn’t get to use his angry face all that often so enjoy it while you can.
Back at base, Scott has the audacity to sit on Jeff’s desk. There’s a perfectly good chair next to it… Virgil reports in and Jeff suggests standing by with the Monobrake… that sounds exciting. Being a smarty-pants, Scott points out to Tin-Tin that Lady Penelope couldn’t have called in because she’s stuck in a huge tunnel. Thank you for your contribution Scott.
The monotrain suddenly emerges from the tunnel, a passage of time is indicated by a fade transition, and Virgil announces that Lady Penelope was not on the train when it arrived. Jeff is ruddy furious – his eyebrows are on fire. Action is required. Finally it sort of makes sense why Thunderbird 2 was deployed in the first place.
My oh my, things are a bit back to front here aren’t they? Is this a production error? Is this a feature of the Thunderbird 2 pods that is only seen in this episode? Who knows. I like the idea of at least some of the pods having a door at the back. It could be useful for something.
In close-up, the ‘6’ numeral looks quite a bit different. A yellow stripe can clearly be seen above the pod, even though there’s only a yellow stripe at the front of Thunderbird 2, rather than the back. I like this low-angle shot of the pod door opening though – it gives a great sense of size.
From out of the pod comes the Monobrake as driven by Virgil and Gordon. Virgil’s head bobs up and down violently as the vehicles makes its way down the ramp. Despite its appearance in this episode, nobody is 100% sure what this vehicle actually does. It just drives up the tunnel from what we see here. The Haynes International Rescue Technical Manual suggests that the machine can grab on to monorail tracks and uses a jet engine to blast itself along to the danger zone. Others suggest that it can raise its arm up to the monorail track and use it to cut the power and stop any trains that have gone out of control – hence ‘mono’ and ‘brake’. Who knows what the full potential of this curious little vehicle might be, but in this episode at least it’s just a low-slung tractor for getting from A to B.
In a grimey little control room in the depths of the Anderbad Tunnel, our villain reveals that he is the one responsible for stopping the train and for kidnapping Professor Borender… in case you hadn’t worked that one out already. He also has a companion called Roache. We don’t know the exact nature of their relationship. He’s a pretty ugly guy though.
Roache opens up the Air Conditioning Plant door which has cropped up in several episodes so far to reveal poor Professor Borender lying face down on the table.
We finally learn what’s really going on. Our villain is called Dr. Godber and he wants Borender and Sir Jeremy’s conversion formula to make rocket fuel from seawater so he can become mega rich. So far Borender has resisted interrogation, but Godber is planning to use Lady Penelope to make them talk. Nasty fellow. Also noticed that he’s changed back into that same green jacket again and given up on his disguises. Well I guess that marks the end of his tenure as a rubbish version of The Hood.
The Monobrake enters the tunnel, passing a car built from the AMT Silhouette kit which also appears prominently as a police car in Terror in New York City. Virgil powers up the headlamps to light up the 17 miles of tunnel ahead of them. He points out that an Express train is due. For the second time in this episode, Gordon utters his new catchphrase, “Relax will ya!” That’s so Gordon. But seriously, there’s a train coming the other way.
Godber and Roache have somehow managed to get them all tied up without any resistance at all. Another one of those suspiciously doorbell-like button’s is used on a winch control that lowers a ladder across the path of the monorail. Lady Penelope is tied to it. Oh dear. The music is wonderfully foreboding.
The Anderbad Express is on its way… although this particular shot is of the Transcontinental Rocket. As you’ll see in a bit, the Anderbad Express looks slightly different.
Virgil and Gordon pass a ventilation shaft which appears to go on forever thanks to a very clever bit of painting at the back of it. They decide not to search these shafts even though I’m sure it is perfectly possible for people to hide in them. Virgil just has a sixth sense about these things.
Despite being told how ruddy stupid it would be for him to use the formula, Godber carries on with his plan. Roache starts to have crippling doubts. One can only imagine Godber pays well. The tunnel control panel is famously revamped from one half of the central console from Stingray‘s Marineville Control Tower.
Alan has the fun job of hanging out with Parker and staring at the tunnel. He desperately wants to do that Alan thing of getting on his hoverbike to do something. He gets his way in Attack of the Alligators! although it doesn’t go well for him.
Tin-Tin’s in tears for no particular reason, even though she actually looks quite happy about things. Scott’s still smiling away too. He suggests taking Thunderbird 1 out there as if that will somehow help. Jeff shoots down his request without even looking at him – quite right too, it was a stupid idea. Scott hasn’t managed to grasp yet that a rescue can function without him, and they generally do most of the time anyway as he tends not to do very much when he is on them.
We now get a proper look at the real Anderbad Express as it thunders towards the tunnel. Roache points out the train on his control panel which has a little light blip just like Stingray in its launch tunnel.
Poor Penelope looks like she might get splattered across the front of the shiny Anderbad Express…
The tension of this great sequence continues to build as we cut back to Gordon and Virgil who silence their engine to listen to the sound of the approaching monotrain. They’ve driven 16 out of 17 miles into the tunnel. Shame they didn’t start from the other end really.
Penelope spots Gordon and Virgil as they come trotting along with their guns drawn.
Despite the fact Sir Jeremy offers to explain to Godber how the whole formula works, and would probably even agree to give him some money for his trouble, the mad plan continues as the train gets close and closer. The tension really is brilliantly ramped up now.
Gordon is very much taking charge of this operation. He’s basically International Rescue’s go-to guy for successfully taking out bad guys. This episode and Operation Crash-Dive have proven that. Scott’s approach to the task is somewhat more ham-fisted and has included failing to shoot at The Hood from more than a few feet in the air in Martian Invasion, successfully causing the death of two criminals in Move – And You’re Dead and also destroying Alan’s racing car in the process, and slaughtering a pyramid full of people by complete accident in The Uninvited. Basically what I’m saying is that Gordon’s slightly more skilled at taking out bad guys with a reasonable amount of force rather than failing or completely over doing it. Anyway, Godber declares that his plan has failed but he’s still slightly curious to see what Penelope splattered all over the front of a train would look like, so he decides to leave her there.
Gordon leaps into action as the train fast approaches. The music strikes up to let us all know that things are getting close to breaking point. You can just about see a floor puppeteer is holding Gordon’s left leg. Everyone is using those light-up guns for this shootout. What they actually fire is something of an unknown.
Everything happens brilliantly fast as Godber and Gordon just fire randomly at each other. This is one of those classic Thunderbirds sequences that is hard to fault because the entire story has culminated to this point and now the audience is getting the great action that they’ve been waiting for. Once again the production team have done everything they can to wrap you up in the seriousness of the situation and we’re at a point once again that you start caring for these characters as people rather than just puppets.
Sir Jeremy convinces Roache to stop the train, but, just inches away from doing so, Godber shoots him in the back. Another character assumed dead in this rather dark episode. He then fires at the control panel so nobody can stop the train, leaving Penelope doomed. Anyone still think this is just a children’s programme?
Upon request, Borender somehow manages to get up. Godber makes his last desperate attempt to regain control of the situation. He threatens to push the professor in front of the express if Gordon doesn’t stop firing. If you’re trying to get his scientific formula that wouldn’t really help all that much would it ? He’s clearly gone completely mad which we all like to see in our villains. This guy is scary like The Hood is supposed to be and indeed he was during Trapped in the Sky.
Poor Sir Jeremy hasn’t really gotten anywhere fast.
Virgil doesn’t have time for wrenching the ladder down or trying to untie Penelope, so he just shoots at the winch instead. I’m sure Penelope is thrilled.
Somehow Sir Jeremy breaks free of his bonds which distracts Godber and enables Gordon to be amazingly cool and shoot the gun out of his hand. “Here she comes!” Thank you Sir Jeremy, I think we’d all worked that one out.
Virgil successfully manages to shoot down Penelope’s ladder, probably seriously damaging her spine in the process as she drops several feet to the floor. Virgil then immediately throws himself towards her.
As the train roars overhead, the camera operator actually has to duck under part of the set in order to not get hit.
Good old Virgil, throwing his hat into the ‘which Tracy brother does Penelope fancy the most’ ring for us all as they share this moment together.
The train goes by, leaving the tunnel empty and silent. One imagines they’re all standing around wondering what on earth to do with Roache’s body while Godber admits that things got a bit out of hand there…
After an anxious moment and 20 minutes after the Anderbad Express has passed through, the Monobrake finally emerges from the tunnel with smiles all around. Presumably time had to be taken to drag Roache’s body on to the vehicle and tie up Dr Godber. I wonder what kind of small talk Alan and Parker made during the wait…
To fully immerse us in the city of Paris we’re shown some random stock footage of a street full of people. I suppose it does the job but generally speaking seeing live action footage of real people in a Supermarionation show doesn’t assist with the illusion all that well.
Back at the Atalante everyone is enjoying an evening drink. Our favourite waiter has returned and it turns out he’s a violinist. He’s playing especially for Alan.
He’s clearly thrilled and feels like mocking the French accent a bit because he just loves their culture so much. Professor Holden from The Mighty Atom can be seen at a table in the background.
Also at the café is Solarnaut Camp, the third and final crew member of Sun Probe to appear in this episode. He’s joined by Wade from The Mighty Atom and the accident-prone driver from City of Fire. Apparently Alan was too young to “push off to the follies” with Virgil and Gordon. Considering France’s very liberal approach to drink ages I find that a bit surprising. In the series itself, none of the boys’ ages are actually revealed, but supposedly Alan is 21, making him legal to drink almost everywhere, unless the world of the future has taken a different approach.
Alan is not happy at all about the prospect of dancing with Parker at a nightclub. I don’t think I’m alone in really wanting to see Parker’s very interesting rhumba.
With Parker’s arrival and a very loud, and high-pitched noise from Alan, Tin-Tin makes her surprise arrival looking fabulous.
Alan’s certainly cheered up now. I hope Scott wasn’t sent over to Paris as well – that won’t cheer anyone up.
Penelope goes to take sip of her pernod and there’s a loud bang! More action and drama still to come?!
Fireworks! Oh how lovely! It’s great to listen to the puppets reacting to stock footage that they can’t see. The music strikes up for a very bombastic ending. It’s all very nicely done. A lovely ending to a great episode.
The Perils of Penelope perhaps doesn’t have the most sophisticated story as the plot twists and turns due to additions to the script which were presumably made fairly hastily to keep production going. But it has many great elements of the classic spy adventure which makes it play out like one of the ITC action-adventure shows with a Thunderbirds spin on it. Lady Penelope leads the show superbly and Sir Jeremy makes a great sidekick, sort of like The Avengers in reverse. It’s a shame Parker didn’t have a bit more to do but his turn will come. The Tracy family’s role in the episode may be secondary to Penelope’s but they still have plenty to do and handle the mission with great efficiency.
This may not be an episode full of hyper-advanced machinery or big bangs, but the special effects work is still very beautiful and well done. The puppetry team also do some great work here. The episode has two directors and the two styles go together seamlessly. Continuity errors perhaps suggest moments when the directors switched, but overall its pretty tricky to notice who did what.
Next week we’ll be tackling the classic Terror In New York City as International Rescue face on of their largest scale disasters yet but also come close to suffering a big loss of their own!
6 thoughts on “Thunderbirds – 12. The Perils of Penelope”
Just watched this again, 35 years after the first time. The standard is so high, in shots like Penelope seen through the mirror on the train or seeing playing cards fall to the ground before the conductor does.
Loving these reviews. Great stuff!
Watched this again for first time in many years after reading through your reviews. Noticed a large stain at the top of the revamped Stingray console in the tunnel control room. Looks like Roache spilled his coffee?
The heraldic matchbook is indeed a puzzler. Usually it’s a matchbook with the name and logo of a bar the baddie has been to recently, so they can go there and ask whether anyone’s seen the guy. Bars would order custom matchbooks with their logo and address printed on them in bulk and give them away to patrons for free as a form of dirt cheap advertising, but I don’t know why anyone would order matchbooks with their family crest on it. A cigarette case, maybe, but that’s a luxury accessory. Matchbooks are disposable packaging with an uber-short lifespan.
is an other from my favourite episodes
Dr Godber really needs to take lessons on disguises from The Hood.
The episode’s title makes me think of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. The Hooded Claw’s page on Villains Wiki even compares him with Godber because they are both interested in kidnapping a blonde female named Penelope.
Hydrogen and oxygen, the two main gases in rocket fuel, can be made from water by running an electrical charge through it.