Thunderbirds – 20. The Man From MI.5

Directed by David Lane

Teleplay by Alan Fennell

First Broadcast – 20th January 1966

The Man From MI.5 attempts to break the usual Thunderbirds mold by providing us with a story of spies and subterfuge rather than flat out rescuing. Comparing this episode to a James Bond movie is nothing new, but while there are obvious links in the form of the Bondson character, he’s very much pushed off to the side and Penelope is at the centre of the story. This week, she’s the bold, cool, and slightly eccentric version of the character that we all prefer to remember rather than the whiny and a bit useless Penelope we saw last week. So is this her greatest adventure yet?

Penelope looks like she’s practically flying solo on this one!


The episode opens with a gorgeous view of the French Riviera and some very distinctive music from Barry Gray to replicate the 007 style. One of the great successes of this episode is the well rendered setting which makes it stand out as being quite special for Thunderbirds. The painting of the coast in the background was created by Mike Trim and reappears in The Duchess Assignment as well as the Captain Scarlet episode Model Spy, and the Joe 90 episode The Race.


A bloke in a surprisingly menacing wet suit comes to the surface and begins to board a yacht.

Sitting in his little office is Captain Blacker who later goes on to appear as Jensen in Danger At Ocean Deep and Captain Savidge in The Cham-Cham. Rather unfortunately for him he’s shot in the back by the visitor. The shot is achieved with a human hand holding the gun in the foreground, an effect previously seen in 30 Minutes After Noon.


The visitor starts tearing through drawers looking for something. Blink and you’ll miss it, but among the items are issues 32 and 33 of the TV Century 21 comic.


Captain Blacker also has an absurd amount of cutlery and tablecloths.


Checking through the top drawer of the desk, the visitor not only find the plan of Thompson Tower’s corridors from City of Fire but also a flashlight with an incredibly fake looking battery in it.


Sure enough, the battery contains some hidden documents which the visitor swiftly stashes in his wet suit.

He then hops off the side of the boat with a big splash and leaves a little present on the hull of the ship…


As the thief swims away, you have to admire AP Films’ continued persistence with using live fish in the water tank in front of the camera.

Along comes another boat. On board we have Bondson and his associate, Tidman. Needless to say, Bondson is supposed to be the Thunderbirds version of James Bond. He holds a passing resemblance to Sean Connery, although Ray Barrett has chosen to go with almost the same voice he used for Southern from 30 Minutes After Noon. It’s a pity that the link isn’t a little stronger, but I’m sure referencing 007 any closer would have come at an enormous cost. The character also guests in the Lady Penelope comic strip, issue 44. Tidman is later seen as Collins in Danger At Ocean Deep, Percy’s friend in The Duchess Assignment, in the background of The Cham-Cham, and additional material for Move – And You’re Dead. The helm of the boat is attached to the same unit which held the control wheels in the Fireflash cockpit.

Just before they rendezvous with the yacht, it explodes rather spectacularly, probably on account of that device the visitor, Carl, clipped to the hull.


Tidman reckons it was because the boat was petrol driven… which granted would have helped the fire along a bit, but probably didn’t cause the initial bang. Bondson announces that he needs to retrieve the plans. We don’t know which plans he means, but they’re probably something to do with the small pieces of paper that Carl borrowed earlier.


Other than in this title caption it is never mentioned which British Secret Service Bondson works for… but seeing as he’s operating outside of the UK, MI.5 isn’t likely to be the one he’d be a part of owing to the fact they have no jurisdiction outside of the country. The chances are that the production team would have very much liked to call the episode ‘The Man From MI.6’ but the connotations of James Bond would have been too great. The title is, however, also a reference to the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It’s also an odd title generally as Bondson doesn’t really do much for the majority of the episode. ‘The Lady From I.R.’ would have been more appropriate.


Wearing an almost identical wet suit to Carl’s, Bondson gets ready to explore the sunken ship wreck.

As Bondson puts it there’s “quite a hole in the hull.” First of all that’s a bit of an understatement, and secondly try saying that really fast ten times. Blacker is found dead and squashed by his own filing cabinet. Bondson’s not too concerned though and just desperately wants to find the papers which have indeed gone. The gaps between the floorboards are clearly just lines of black paint.


Meanwhile, The Hood has been miniaturised and is currently keeping an eye on the International Rescue team from their pool, using his submarine last seen prominently in Desperate Intruder.


Just kidding. For some bizarre reason, Brains’ latest project is a submarine model controlled via a sonic beam which just happens to look like The Hood’s submarine…


But Alan is preparing to enter the pool for a swim. His upper torso has had be specially sculpted as the normal puppet bodies were unpainted and obviously hinged at the shoulders.


Puppets aren’t terribly good at diving so all we get is a towel being thrown on the ground and a big splash of water.


Hope the puppets are waterproof! It looks like Brains’ submarine isn’t…


But never mind that, there’s a flashing red light which can only mean one thing…

Our old pal John is hard at work on Thunderbird 5. He’s had a call from Bondson who claims that without International Rescue’s help, “the entire world could be destroyed.” Blimey. It certainly is odd for a member of the British Secret Service to turn to International Rescue when this is essentially still police work and there’s no need for the heavy rescue equipment which is what they’re usually needed for. The story just doesn’t quite fit the regular Thunderbirds format, and while it does give Lady Penelope an increased role, one wishes the disaster could have involved the Thunderbird machines a little more directly.

And so, Lady Penelope is taking a Fireflash flight for the second episode in a row to Nice. The barman was seen in The Impostors as the speech merchant, and sat behind Penelope appears to be Eddie Kerr and Langfield from The Impostors, and Lambert and Lord Silton from Vault of Death. Penelope herself is wearing the same outfit she wore last week while interviewing Eddie Kerr with the addition of the orange, wide-brimmed hat she sports in the opening titles.


Believe it or not, this is the first shot in the series of Fireflash coming into land safely and without incident.

Some lovely shots of FAB 1 driving by the water. We don’t quite know how Parker and FAB 1 got to France. It would appear that Parker has been busy bringing Penelope’s yacht to the Spanish coast from goodness knows where. That means he’s driven all the way from Spain to Nice to pick Penelope up, and they’ll have to drive all the way back to the Spanish coast at some point to board the yacht which is at least 400 miles away. Then they’ve got to do the whole journey again in the yacht. The theory is of course that the yacht can be controlled remotely, but it’s still remarkably silly.

In his hotel room, Bondson receives a tele-call. Sylvia Anderson puts on that generic European accent that she does so well to disguise Penelope’s voice. She makes a plan to rendezvous in the Forest of Digne at midnight… not to be confused with the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire…

A live action owl hoots as Bondson arrives. For anyone who’s interested, it is not the same owl seen in Vault of Death. Bondson’s car is the same car last seen driven by the speed merchant in The Impostors.


Just before impatiently swanning off, Bondson gets a gun poked in the back of his head courtesy of Penelope who is once again putting on her French(ish) accent. They chew the fat. So there’s a scientist who’s made some plans for a nuclear device… which immediately means bad things. A British agent, whom we assume must have been Blacker, managed to swipe the plans. Bondson was due to pick up them up from Blacker but then… well you know the rest. Penelope is skeptical about taking up the case but then Bondson gets a bit over excited and tries to turn around. Lady P gets darn close to blowing his brains out and with that, she’s somehow convinced it’s a job for International Rescue even though it isn’t really, Bondson just can’t be bothered to see the case through. He leaves the whole thing up to Penelope from this point onward.

Penelope disappears. Bondson looks behind him to watch her go but is promptly fired upon by Parker. He is then blinded by the headlights of FAB 1 which are in front of him… wait how does that work? Penny must have walked in a big loop (quite quickly) to get back to the car.


Lady P and Parker are off to the yacht now… which is probably at least 350 miles away… Parker realises that the Spanish coast may not have been the most convenient parking spot for it…


FAB 2 pulls up in the bay, travelling from the east… even though the Spanish coast would have been to the west… It’s a beautiful model and certainly looks like a luxurious yacht. Although this is FAB 2’s only outing in the series, the model is seen again as a random pleasure yacht in Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday. Aside from FAB 1, this is the only other vehicle from Lady Penelope’s fleet that we see in the series. In TV Century 21, Lady Penelope has at least one or two yachts called ‘Seabird’. Depending on which spin-off material you prefer, FAB 3 is either a helijet stationed at the Bonga Bonga ranch in Australia (as drawn by Graham Bleathman) or a prize winning race horse (as seen in issue 58 of the Thunderbirds comic by Redan).


The deck of FAB 2 and Lady Penelope’s suite are made up of pieces of set from El Hudat’s gunboat, WADI, from the Stingray episode Star of the East, heavily re-dressed of course. Parker is bringing tea to Penelope who seems to have gone a bit potty and dressed up as a sailor for the day. What’s more, she reckons she’s a fashion model called Gayle Williams… someone call the nurse. Apparently “Gayle Williams” is going to expose the saboteurs who “destroyed that vessel yesterday”… that’s right… everything you’ve seen so far took place in about 24 hours… including Penelope flying to Nice, Parker taking FAB 1 and FAB 2 to the Spanish coast, driving to pick up Penelope, meeting Bondson in Digne at midnight, driving all the way back to the Spanish coast to pick up FAB 2, and then sailing all the way back to Nice… in the wrong direction…

In a dock somewhere, Carl is catching up on the news of the day. He is reading the same copy of the France-Soir read by Dr Godber in The Perils of Penelope with a new headline stuck over it. The newspaper is dated Sunday 10th and Monday 11th January 1965 which conforms to the fact that production for The Perils of Penelope and all subsequent one hour episodes of the series began after the 1964 Christmas break. Basically the headline states that a model is going after the murderers because the police are a bit useless. Carl isn’t terribly convinced by the whole thing.


Anybody who has taken a look at the behind the scenes footage put onto every copy of every Thunderbirds DVD ever will know that this model of FAB 2’s bow is just a facade and does not extend any further to the right of this shot.

Carl takes his boat along the coast a little way and heads for a boathouse. I love the little wake generated by the model boat to add to the realism.

Carl does a funny little hop off of his boat and swims down to the bed of the bay where a bright red submarine lurks… it isn’t exactly well camouflaged. The model of the submarine was previously painted a much more subdued colour in the Stingray episode The Man From The Navy.


Living inside are two of Carl’s associates, Ritter and an unnamed third man, although they seem quite happy to let Carl do all of the work. The third man was seen as Hale in The Impostors, while Ritter fires a machine gun at Lady Penelope in additional material for Brink of Disaster, and eventually plays Sanchos in Path of Destruction. Much of the set was seen in The Hood’s submarine in Desperate Intruder.


Carl tells his associates about “Gayle Williams” who appears to know quite a bit about the murder of Blacker. He starts making a plan to sort her out… by which I mean kill her.

Night has fallen on FAB 2 and Penelope is getting ready for her evening of criminal catching. She instructs Parker to make himself scarce…


Via her compact, Penelope contacts Jeff to inform him that the trap has been set and she’s ready to take on some bad guys… even though this is definitely something Bondson should be doing and still has very little to do with International Rescue…


Parker happily strolls along the deck singing to himself as only Parker knows how. He’s very excited about heading to Monte Carlo and its casinos.


But of course Penelope suspects that not all is as it should be. Parker has armed himself with a selection of tools, including a brick, in order to help himself to some winnings at wherever he fancies…


Penelope just smiles in a way that one might smile at a mischievous child.


Parker grumbles a bit about ‘er ladyship trying to keep him on the straight and narrow. The puppet set of the boat is the same as the one driven by Eddie and Tin-Tin in End of the Road, although the back projection footage is different as well as the model seen in long shot.


Soon enough, Carl comes to visit. He’s attempting to be stealthy but does an utterly terrible job of it by standing in plain sight of the mirror. Penelope plays it real cool… either that or she’s just lost her marbles.


Carl opens fire on the mirror. Lady P is far from bothered by it, essentially doing everything she can to wind Carl up.


This must be the weirdest date Penelope’s ever been on. They head down FAB 2’s gangway to Carl’s boat.


Carl is taking Penelope somewhere special… and as far as we know Bondson isn’t even around to provide backup. I’m not sure what Penelope’s plan was from this point on. Did she mean to get captured at gunpoint? And what about getting tied up next to a bomb, was that all part of the scheme too?

Penelope remarks on the remoteness of the area as they come to the boathouse with the exact same shots as before but this time taken in night-time conditions with a change of lighting and a change of backdrop.


Continuing to play the fool, Penny is able to get Carl to reveal the whole plan. He’s going to plant a bomb on the boat which they will detonate remotely from the sub bang on 10pm. This will create a diversion for the bay’s police patrol boat, allowing the submarine to get away without being detected. It’s a bit of a mad plan, mainly because surely a police boat would come to investigate an explosion at any time, not just when they happen to be passing? I love the detail of seeing the boathouse out of the windows bobbing up and down.

Apparently Penelope doesn’t mind getting tied up, but she wants to do her makeup first. Carl attempts to stand as casually as one possibly can while wearing a tight wet suit.


Jeff spectates a thrilling game of checkers between Scott and Gordon where nobody is making any moves at all. Virgil is completely obsessed with the guitar he’s holding which was previously played by Duke Dexter in the Stingray episode, Titan Goes Pop.


But it turns out Penelope is contacting the island via an emergency code which happens to make her necklace light up rather than her eyes. Pretty neat.


It turns out Penelope doing her makeup is able to work as a code… something which probably made more sense when it was written in the script compared to what the puppets are actually capable of doing. It just about works as a concept but it does look a bit like Jeff has some telepathic powers.

She just about manages to communicate the basics of the situation before Carl flings the compact across the room, leaving the Tracys with a view of a control panel. In an amazing feat of puppetry, Penelope is able to stand up from one seat and then sit down in another… which is pretty impressive for a puppet. The Tracy gang are very confused by the whole thing and attempt to listen in on what’s going on but can’t make anything out. If only there was a British Secret Service operative out in France already who’d be prepared to lend a hand…

Penelope is beginning to get tied up. Carl avoids making small talk.


For the sake of Penelope’s safety, the family figure out that it would probably be best to send a coded message back to her using a special device kept in Jeff’s desk.

Jeff taps out a message ridiculously quickly so thank goodness Penelope is listening carefully. Penelope just about manages to get Jeff to shut up when Carl twigs that something is wrong. She passes it off as rats and manages to steer the conversation around to the bomb, letting the gang on Tracy Island know the situation.


With that, Scott is off to board Thunderbird 1, speaking as he spins around. This is actually the first new piece of footage of Scott boarding Thunderbird 1 since Trapped In The Sky.

Carl drags Penelope across the room for no particular reason except that it will make it more difficult for her to reach her compact in a minute. The bomb is activated and it’s the exact same type planted on the side of Blacker’s boat, although this prop is in puppet scale whereas the previous one was in scale with human hands. Carl gets ready to leave, and even then the cool banter continues from Penelope.

Thunderbird 1 and 2 blast off. On the Shout Factory blu-rays and the UK widescreen blu-rays the Thunderbird 2 launch is shown in daylight, but on the DVDs the stock footage has been artificially darkened to simulate a night launching. Anybody know what would have been in the episode originally?


Tin-Tin brings coffee because that’s what Tin-Tin does whenever there’s a crisis.

Penelope attempts to yell across the room at her compact… although she doesn’t yell in a ‘I’m sat next to a bomb’ sort of a way but more in a ‘could you take the cake out of the oven’ sort of a way… Because Jeff has cloth ears he can’t understand a word of it.

And so begins the saga of Penelope scraping her way across the room and Jeff being incredibly thick and not having a clue what’s going on…


Brains comes along to reassure us all that the transistors in Penelope’s compact are tough enough to stand up to the ‘punishment’ of bouncing lightly up and down on the floor a couple of times… I should ruddy well hope so Brains.


Carl returns to his useless mates who still haven’t finished their game of cards from this morning and announces that they have 40 minutes before their speedy getaway.

Scott calls in from Thunderbird 1 for an update, but Jeff is still a bit deaf and can’t work out why on earth Penny would possibly be scraping a chair across the room. He’s being incredibly thick this week.


The paint work on Thunderbird 1 has changed between shots once again because of different stock footage being used.

Jeff insists that Penny gets nearer to the compact. So in pretty much the most tense moment in the whole episode, she starts tipping her chair from side to side before falling in front of the compact with a tremendous thud.


Jeff is so surprised that he stands up, weirdly turning the rest of his body from the neck down without moving his head…


Penny’s finally able to fill them in on the whole story. She says they have to stop the submarine before 10pm when the patrol boat arrives… now would probably be a good time for Jeff to notify the local police that the people who blew up that boat yesterday are still around in a submarine… or at least tell Bondson perhaps?

After the commerical break, Thunderbird 1 arrives on the scene and gets another rare opportunity to show off one of her gadgets. It’s a rocket thing with some balls attached to some other balls which apparently makes it some sort of scanning device for surveying the sea bed in an attempt to find the submarine. No need to get Penelope out of the exploding boat or anything just yet, there’s still plenty of time…


This shot of Thunderbird 2 flying at night isn’t nearly as pretty as the one from 30 Minutes After Noon, probably because it’s a tad over lit. Virgil and Gordon are still 20 minutes away.


The mighty Thunderbird 1 starts patrolling the area in search of the submarine. Is nobody on the shore, including the police, wondering what International Rescue might be doing there? Maybe they should send a patrol boat out ahead of schedule to take a look… no? Never mind…

This bit is very odd. We’re looking at the bomb and the camera suddenly pans down very fast. There’s an obvious cut to Penelope lying in front of her compact facing the opposite direction. She’s weirdly motionless while speaking. As pointed out previously, the gaps in the floorboards are clearly painted on.


With some clunky exposition we go over the villains’ plan again, but the third man is worried about the patrol boat not investigating the explosion… at this rate I wouldn’t put it past them to completely ignore the situation.

Scott’s equipment manages to locate the submarine. He passes on the position reading to Virgil and Gordon.


With that, Gordon slips off to go and launch Thunderbird 4.


Unusually, Thunderbird 2 comes along and rests Pod 4 on the top of the water rather than dropping it from a dizzying height which never really made much sense to be honest.


This is also the first time in the series that we get to see the inside of Pod 4. It’s the same piece of set seen as the Pod 5 interior in Pit of Peril with the addition of the Thunderbird 4 launch rail which tips up and extends into the water.


Our favourite little submarine takes to the water once more.

Gordon continues scanning the area to pinpoint the exact location. A line becomes a dot which leads him straight to where he needs to go. But never mind that, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are just sort of hanging around now. Maybe one of them could go and pick up Penelope? Time’s getting on and all that…


The patrol boat is finally making an appearance and isn’t the least bit interested in the fact International Rescue are flying around the place… The boat is the same model seen as the Air-Sea Rescue ship in Operation Crash-Dive and The Impostors. I love the model buildings on the coastline.


If I were Penelope I’d be pretty cross by now that nobody had come along to get me…

Three minutes to go. Rather oddly, the patrol boat passes exactly the same section of coast again…

With no time to lose, Gordon fires an unusual device called a ‘paralyser’ from the front of Thunderbird 4. With Bondson’s precious plans on board he couldn’t just use a missile… which would probably be Scott’s approach…

The device starts drilling into the suspiciously wooden looking hull of the submarine. Carl is very confused.


PC Plod gets closer to the area…


25 seconds to go and Gordon’s getting worried.

The device punctures the hull and by means of a sound effect and all the villains clutching their faces we learn that Gordon is pumping in a colourless gas to knock them all out. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Gordon doesn’t get to use this device very often because it is pretty strange…

Just in time, Carl, Ritter, and the other bloke all pass out with three big musical thuds from Barry Gray.


The patrol boat sails on past the boathouse. Nothing to see here.


Really?! Nobody’s bothered to go and get Penelope yet?! When those final seconds were ticking away, did Scott and Virgil not think it might be time to at least try and get her out before the bomb went off?


Oh wait, now the building isn’t going to explode Scott decides he needs to rush in and get her…


Meanwhile, Gordon’s going over to the submarine to remind us all what the plot was about in the first place.


Well this got intimate quickly… apparently Penelope reckoned the uncertainty of the whole incident makes life interesting… if you say so Penny…

Gordon arrives. Presumably the room is still filled with tranquilizer gas and his breathing apparatus is combating that. Carl’s face is having some quality time with a radiator…


Gordon successfully recovers the plans for Bondson who, let’s be honest, hasn’t done nearly enough work today to have the title of the episode dedicated to him…

Back in the Digne forest, Bondson is waiting by his car having a cheeky smoke. Penelope is hiding in the bushes with a microphone last used by Hale on Space Observatory 3 in The Impostors. She is wearing the same outfit we saw in the opening sequence of Vault of Death.

Bondson recovers the plans from a tree branch and hops back into his car, thanking Lady Penelope for basically doing his work for him…


Penelope warns him not trace her or International Rescue before ducking down into the bushes to live with the tree dwellers for the rest of her life…


Just kidding, her and Parker disappear quickly in FAB 1.

There’s just one more thing left to tie up. Did Parker win big at the casino? Not exactly. He lost… big time. In a moment of insanity he did in fact gamble away FAB 2, which is probably how it turns up again as a party boat in Lord Parker’s ‘Oliday. Penelope is not angry… just disappointed… and so the episode comes to an end.

As you can probably tell there’s some gaping holes in the plot of The Man From MI.5. David Lane, Barry Gray, and the rest of the production team have attempted to make up for this by giving the episode a unique visual and musical style. It has the James Bond big motion picture look in the sets, costumes, special effects, and music but the story just doesn’t match Bond very much at all. Our 007 impersonator Mr Bondson does absolutely nothing for most of the episode. When Penelope steps into his shoes she is left incapacitated when tied to a chair. So International Rescue step in to save the day with a reasonably tense rescue which is what manages to keep this feeling like a regular Thunderbirds episode.

Frankly though, the story would have really benefited from being one thing or the other rather than a blend of a few 007 tropes and a dash of Thunderbirds heroism. If Penelope really was going to be the centre of her own spy story working alongside the British Secret Service, then that’s what it should have been entirely and it would have been great. If it was going to be a story about Penelope getting kidnapped and locked in a room with a bomb so International Rescue would come out to save her, then that would have worked with the usual Thunderbirds format well too. Ultimately, for me, The Man From MI.5 is a simple case of style over substance, but it must be celebrated still for having excellent style.

Next week, International Rescue receive a false alarm from a couple of kids acting out their own rescue missions, leading to The Hood using the situation to his advantage… stay tuned for Cry Wolf.

4 thoughts on “Thunderbirds – 20. The Man From MI.5

  1. What makes this episode memorable is the funky MI.5 theme heard throughout. Unfortunately, there are a few dull moments that prevent it from being a classic. 7/10
    P.S. Could be Bondson be Southern’s replacement I wonder?


  2. For me, this was the least interesting episode both as an adult and a child. No wonder I couldn’t remember a single minute of this one from my childhood.
    This is one episode involving foul play where the storyline goes way over a child’s head, the need for IR involving themselves proactively in espionage silly and the rescue the shortest and least interesting.


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