Thunderbirds Are Go Season Two

6 Mar

After a long delay, Thunderbirds Are Go returns … with the first set of a brand new season of adventures. The Hood – the villainous mastermind – is cooling his heels in jail, allowing the Tracy Brothers to concentrate on what they do best, rescuing people. Right …? Well, no – the Hood’s enigmatic warning that there are worse threats than him out there comes true, as the mysterious Mechanic makes his appearance …

… Not to mention all the other idiots who need rescuing.

Is that a fair comment? The Tracy Brothers – and Kayo – do rescue a lot of people who merely found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they also have repeated encounters with Francois Lemaire (demented thrill-seeker) and Langstrom Fischler (crazy inventor/investor). Fischler, in particular, is someone who should be in jail. After his demented stunt in the first series, he manages to put the entire planet in danger in the second by knocking an asteroid towards Earth. Quite how he manages to stay out of jail long enough to start building an even more demented project is beyond my imagination.

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As always, there are a whole series of new machines and adventures. Quite a number of them are space-based – five in all, counting Up From The Depths II – and the series works hard to toss the team into new locations. The entire solar system is open to them, ranging from Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) to Mars. Brains has a nifty habit of producing something useful right when it’s needed, from more digging machines to weird modifications to the various Thunderbirds. Of particular note is the ‘Rapid All-terrain Descender,’ which is really nothing more than a ball for rolling down mountains.

But it is the Mechanic who steals the show. Unlike the Hood, who comes across as a gloating mastermind most of the time (and yet has an odd moment when he saves Kayo’s life, purely because she’s his niece), the Mechanic is dour and utterly focused on his goal. This actually pays off for him – he inflicts considerable damage on International Rescue and eventually manages to spring the Hood from jail. The Mechanic is legitimately dangerous, which makes his role as minion all the more surprising. He’s a lot better than his (very bad) boss. (And he apparently has a tie to International Rescue, as he talks about Brains as though he knows him personally.)

In some ways, the series is torn between two separate problems. On one hand, it tries hard to appeal to adults as well as children and sometimes falls off the balancing act. On the other hand, it is torn between International Rescue rescuing people and fighting a super-science war against villainous baddies. While Scott and Kayo argued this back in the first series, the second series only makes this problem worse. In some ways, the shorter episodes and the lack of actual fighting – the Tracy Brothers are pacifists, to some extent – ensures that the issue can never be addressed. Kayo – who is a fighter – is pretty much the heroine of another show.

Ghost Ship actually illustrates the first problem quite nicely. On one hand, the episode does manage to be genuinely spooky, a homage to every ‘haunted space hulk’ movie in the world; on the other, when the bad guys are actually revealed, it turns into a joke. They’re not remotely creditable as a threat.

Up from the Depths illustrates the second problem, when the long-lost TV-21 (Jeff Tracy’s prototype aircraft) is discovered at the bottom of the sea and the Mechanic pops up for the third time. It is both a rescue story and a super-science story and the two don’t go together that well. (The show also manages to bring back Ned and Gladys, a pair who really should have been kicked out of the series.)

Character-wise, things have wobbled a little. Scott comes off as over-dramatic more than once, promising a horrific fate for Fischler in one breath and engaging in ham-to-ham combat with the Mechanic in the second … the Mechanic shuts him down fairly neatly. Kayo seems to be more sarcastic in the first set of episodes, indulging a bitter humour that makes her rather less likable. Colonel Casey veers from genuine competence to moments of foolishness that suggest the writers were just trying to find uses for her. And there are moments of petty jokes from everyone that seem a little out of place.

Kayo remains the Sixth Ranger, unsurprisingly. She simply doesn’t fit in very well with the rest of the show and really, she’s starting to look and act more like a parody than a real person. Lady Penelope still gives off vibes of being too young for her role and her relationship with Parker is still a little odd. Making her younger without changing some of the other details was not, I think, a good choice.

Worst of all, perhaps, is the Hood. We’ve seen him be a bad boss before, notably to Colonel Janus. To be fair, Janus failed him pretty badly (through overplaying his hand). But to have the Hood start treating the Mechanic as just another minion was pretty jarring – and to have the Mechanic calmly accept it was even worse. The Hood’s casual decision to try to leave the Mechanic behind for the GDF is appalling. Whatever else can be said, the Mechanic managed one hell of a prison bust – and they weren’t even free and clear when the Hood decided to betray his partner. (Quite how the Mechanic got away is unknown, but he clearly wasn’t arrested.) Let us hope that this breakup marks the end of their relationship (or that they were putting on an act for some reason.)

Overall, it wasn’t a bad series. But I’m not going to re-watch many of them.

Best Episode – Up from the Depths I

Worst Episodes – High Strung/Ghost Ship

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