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“Gee, mom!” Mothers of the Anderson universe

Although the Anderson shows are well known for featuring organisations headed by single fathers working alongside their grown-up children, not all of the mothers were (conveniently) dead! Many of the shows also featured notable female characters who were mothers – and here are a few of our favourites!

Eleanor Zero

Wife of Space City Commander Wilbur Zero (and mother of Jonathan), Eleanor Zero made only a handful of appearances in Fireball XL5 – several of them silent cameos and once as an off-screen voice only. Her marriage to Wilbur is often a frosty one (more due to his inherent grumpiness than anything else) but her relationship with her son Jonathan is more pleasant – indeed, she often seems to be the only one who can control him!

Her largest role in the series comes in the episode Drama at Space City, in which Jonathan accidentally hijacks Fireball XL5. While Commander Zero and Lieutenant 90 race to save him aboard Fireball XL1 Eleanor is left back at Space City quietly fretting as she listens to the latest radio reports come in. It’s not exactly a dynamic role for the character, but nevertheless creates a somewhat emotional image of a distressed character well played by Sylvia Anderson.

Grandma Tracy

A late arrival to the International Rescue team (and a continuity headache depending on what order you view the series in) Grandma nevertheless fits right in to her new life on Tracy Island as if she’s always been there. Often seen in the kitchen preparing everything from coconut crumble to entire Christmas feasts (and not forgetting her famous apple pie!) she’s also frequently seen offering emotional support to those around her – and is quite happy to treat Brains, Kyrano and particularly Tin-Tin as as much a part of her family as her son and five grandsons.

Although she’ll never get involved in rescue action she’s able to offer helpful insights and advice on several occasions, such as in episodes like Vault of Death or End of the Road, that have saved the day on more than one occasion. Grandma is an invaluable member of the Tracy Island family  – and not just for her famous apple pies!

Mary Straker and Laura Rule

Two characters cut from similar cloth (right down to giving their sons the same first name), Mary and Laura represent the life that the central characters of both UFO and The Protectors could have had (and certainly wanted) had their professions not destroyed their marriages. For Mary Straker, the secrecy surrounding her husband’s work setting up SHADO came to a head on the very day her son was born, and although we don’t get to see the immediate aftermath of that breakup we can certainly gauge how brutal it was for both parties by how they talk to each other in later years.

In the case of Laura Rule, her husband Harry’s constant brushes with danger and international criminals soon led her to realise she is essentially painting a target on her son’s back should their marriage continue – and to prioritise his safety by seperating from her husband. Her fears ultimately prove well founded in the episode With a Little Help From My Friends when Johnny is kidnapped and Laura is left with no-one to turn to but Harry in order to get him back. Although Johnny Straker is rescued alive and well from the clutches of Jeremy Brett, Johnny Straker’s life is cut short in a tragic accident in the episode A Question of Priorities – and despite his father’s best attempts, the vital medicine needed to save him arrives just too late to be any use, leaving Mary facing the grief that every mother dreads; the loss of her child.

Anna Bowen

The Day After Tomorrow’s Anna Bowen is something of a turning point for the mother characters seen in the Anderson universe. Although it’s very probable that Mary Straker and Laura Rule both had jobs, as (presumably) did Sue Crawford from the Space:1999 episode Alpha Child, Anna was the first time we saw a working mother among the main characters of the Anderson productions – in this case, serving as the doctor of the Antares crew. Confident and professional Anna is also clearly devoted to her family, with her husband Tom and son David also serving as crew aboard the same ship. It’s also easy to see the ship’s five-person crew as one extended family, thanks to several scenes in which Anna reassures young Jane Masters when her father is danger – they even save the ship together!

As played by Joanna Dunham, Anna Bowen may only have had one episode in which to mark her mark – but she will forever represent a subtle yet important shift in how mother figures were presented in the Anderson shows.

Zelda and Cy-star

Depending on how you view the generally messed up family dynamics of our favourite Martian misfits Terrahawks potentially offers two generations of mother figures within the same family unit, as both Zelda and later Cy-star are joined by their offspring – without a father to be seen anywhere!

It is however hard to point to either character as being shining examples of motherhood, as Zelda rarely shows anything but contempt for her son Yung-star – even when he doesn’t deserve it! Cy-star meanwhile showers her offspring with love and attention, to the extent that she turns a blind eye to almost all his misdeeds – like blowing up Yung-star on several occasions! Much like everything in Terrahawks however the fun of the show comes from its outlandish characters and bizarre interactions – and perhaps nothing in the entire series is as memorably bizarre as the sequence of events that led to the birth of Cy-star’s child It-star, as seen in the episode Two for the Price of One!

Sally Brogan

Despite often being a difficult wife to Patrick, Sally Brogan’s devotion to their two children Matt and Liz is beyond question. Even in later episodes of Space Precinct, when Sally’s role in the stories more often revolved around her work at Demeter Memorial Hospital, her family is still her absolute priority – even to the point of risking her own life to keep them safe.

As part of Space Precinct’s earnest attempt to humanise its central character by giving him a home life that was (initially) as important to the series as his career as a police officer, the Brogan household scenes have often been criticised for everything from slowing the story to a crawl to the then-trendy-but-now-painful future slang used by Brogan’s children. Despite the show’s writing often accidentally undermining Sally’s likeability, actress Nancy Paul always did a fine job with the material she was given – and later episodes like Smelter Skelter and The Forever Beetle that her character’s role as a mother could be a true asset to the series.

With so much focus on the father figures of the Anderson universe it’s easy to forget that the mothers are often just as prominently featured – and this list isn’t even all of them! Do you have any favourite mother characters from the Anderson universe that we’ve not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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