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  The Duchess Assignment

Penelope tries to help her friend the Duchess of Royston regain the fortune she lost at a casino by renting a painting of the duchess' to a New York businessman. On her way to deliver it, however, the duchess is kidnapped and left in a burning house...

Lady Penelope and Parker are present at a casino in France. Parker is losing so Penelope takes over his game. At another table, Deborah, the elderly duchess of Royston is having more serious troubles. She is gambling against two men, Chandler and Brophy, unaware that the table has been fixed. Penelope recognizes her and goes to join her. The duchess reveals that she has hit hard times and only has a painting left, a comment that interests Chandler. Penelope discovers the truth behind the table.

The casino owner attempts to make a hasty getaway with all of the money but Parker catches him in his office and a gunfight ensues. He tries to bribe Parker but it is a cover as he escapes from the room. The croupier drives him away from the casino closely followed by FAB 1. The casino owner fires a machine gun at FAB 1 but Parker returns fire trying to hit the tyres. The crooks manage to shake FAB 1 off at a fork in the road and hide in a barn.

Penelope attempts to track down the duchess but finds that she has checked out of the Grand Hotel and returned to Royston Castle in England. Arriving there, she discovers that the castle is already for sale. At Tracy Island, Jeff prepares for a visit to the London air show with Penelope.

At the show, Jeff and Penelope watch a demonstration of the new carrier aircraft as another plane successfully lands on top of it. The two craft manage to land successfully. Later the friends visit an art gallery and Penelope explains the situation the duchess faces. Her painting, Portrait Of A Gazelle is on display here having been loaned to keep the duchess afloat. On seeing it, Jeff has an idea.

The next morning Jeff arrives in New York and visits Gazelle Automations Inc. A talking elevator takes him to the office of his old friend Wilbur Dandridge III. Dandridge, who is obsessed with Gazelles, is working in automations and demonstrates his automated facilities. Knowing of Dandridge's extreme fondness for gazelles, Jeff shows him a reproduction of the painting. Dandridge is instantly determined to buy it and make it the symbol of his company.

Dandridge travels to England and meets Penelope and the duchess in the Creighton-Ward Mansion where the painting is being kept. He offers the duchess £475,000 and then £600,000 to buy it but she refuses both times on the grounds that it is a family heirloom. Penelope suggests that the duchess could rent it Dandridge temporarily and they both agree.

Soon afterwards, the duchess at London Airport is preparing to board a Fireflash flight to New York to make the final exchange of the painting. As Parker ensures that it is loaded on board, Penelope gives the duchess a St. Christopher, which she takes onto the plane along with a mysteriously important umbrella. Concealed in the St. Christopher is a homing device. The Fireflash takes off.

Dandridge sends Hendricks, his chauffeur, to pick up the duchess but just as he is about to leave he is knocked out by none other than Chandler and Brophy. Chandler meets the duchess at New York Central Airport in Hendricks's uniform. He drives her away from the city, claiming that Dandridge wants to see her in his country house, but Penelope and Parker who are monitoring their progress are suspicious as the arrangement was to meet in his New York office. Chandler and the duchess arrive at an old house.

Penelope contacts Dandridge who knows nothing about the duchess' whereabouts but before she can say anything more the line is cut. She notifies Jeff who sends Scott and Virgil off in Thunderbirds 1 and 2 (the latter with Pod 3). In Thunderbird 5, John obtains an exact fix on the duchess' homing device and sends it to his brothers. At the house, Chandler ties the duchess up in the basement. Revealing that he slipped the painting to Brophy at the airport he leaves her with gas leaking into the room. The duchess struggles to get free but only succeeds in knocking a ladder, which smashes a fuse box. Thunderbird 1 arrives in time for Scott to see the house burst into flames.

Brophy arrives at the Gazelle Building under the guise of the duchess' representative but before he enters Dandridge's office, a skeptical Dandridge calls the police. Brophy asks for the final installment of the payment in cash. Dandridge tries to pull a gun on him but Brophy uses the painting to defend himself and the bullet destroys it.

The fire is still raging at the house as Thunderbird 2 arrives. As Scott has traced the duchess below ground, Virgil drives the Mole out of the pod. The Mole begins drilling while Scott fetches the Domo (Restraining Unit). Only one wall of the house is left standing and if it collapses, the cellar will cave in, and so Scott attaches the Domo's magnetic grabs to the wall to hold it up.

After overcoming an obstruction of solid rock, the Mole finally breaks into the cellar. Virgil gets the duchess into the Mole quickly as the Domo is losing its grip. Suddenly the Domo's grabs fail and the wall collapses destroying the rest of the house. Scott cannot contact Virgil and fears the worst until the Mole breaks the surface.

Some time later, Penelope visits the duchess in hospital who reveals that she has bought back her home with the money Dandridge was going to give her. In addition the authorities have captured Chandler, Brophy and the casino crooks and all her lost money is now back. Dandridge arrives and confesses the destruction of Portrait Of A Gazelle but the duchess explains that it was only a copy he had and the real one was rolled up in her umbrella the whole time. Parker brings a message that a glossy magazine wants to buy the duchess' life story. Convinced that her luck is changing, the duchess heads back to the casino to gamble again.

Verdict: A more complex than usual plot leading up to a rather short and simplistic rescue at the end. As a result this a more interesting, if perhaps not thrilling, episode. The two main guest stars of the episode, the duchess and Dandridge, are both well-thought out and quite humorous.
4/6
Broadcast information: Broadcast on BBC 2 on Tuesday 13th February 2001 at 6:00 pm.

DVD availability: On Volume 6 and the Complete Box Set.

VHS availability: On the Pod 2 Box Set and the Complete Box Set.