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It’s a Mindbender – why so many Gerry Anderson episode orders?

One question we see crop up frequently in relation to the various Anderson series (although not quite as often as what does F.A.B. mean?) is why are there so many different broadcast and home video Gerry Anderson episode orders out there for each show? Most of the Anderson shows were produced in an era where it was common practice for episodic television drama series (i.e. those without any continuing storyline) to be shown in seemingly random order, where it often didn’t matter what order the episodes appeared in so long as the introductory episode aired first. This seemingly random approach to broadcasting wasn’t just common practice in the U.K. (with both home-grown and imported shows), but in television markets all around the world for decades. There are several reasons for this, although as you will see below they don’t always make much sense!

Quality control

Throughout the 1960s and 70s the order the episodes were shown in often varied between countries and regions, but the main alternative to the original production order is the ‘ITC Recommended Order’, a document sent out to broadcasters by ITC presenting an episode order that often varied quite drastically from that in which the episodes were made. The reason for the creation of this order is unclear, although one commonly held belief is that these orders were devised on the basis that the quality of the shows improved over the course of production, and thus it made sense to bring some later ‘better’ episodes to the front of the run in order to hook viewers while burying earlier ‘weaker’ episodes near the end.

Generally this would not impact too heavily on the limited continuity of most Anderson shows (with the notable exception of Stingray’s Plant of Doom being listed as episode thirty-four!) but it is particularly noticeable in the case of UFO where many of the later-produced Pinewood Studios episodes were brought forward to air before some of those shot at MGM Borehamwood – resulting in hairstyles, costumes and even main characters varying from week to week!

Beyond the ITC era a similar rule may have been applied to other Anderson shows, with several of Terrahawks’ early episodes appearing near the end of the initial broadcast run – including The Sporilla airing after it had already been featured in the clip show episode Ma’s Monsters – oops!

Show continuity

Just occasionally episodes were produced in an order that would make a mess of the show’s continuity if they were to be broadcast that way. For instance Dangerous Rendezvous, the third installment of Captain Scarlet’s loosely-themed ‘Lunarville trilogy’, was actually recorded before the second, Crater 101, and so for obvious reasons Dangerous Rendezvous always appears after Crater 101 on repeats and home video releases despite being made first. Similarly the UFO episode that first introduces the character of Paul Foster (Exposed) was actually the second that actor Michael Billington worked on. His first was Survival, but it was felt his sudden addition to the show needed to be explained and thus Exposed was written to be his introduction. Since Foster became such an important character on the show Exposed has traditionally been shown as the second episode in most repeat runs to enable the rest of the series to be shown in whichever order the broadcaster chooses. In 1998 the BBC also aired Earthbound as the second episode of Space:1999, acknowledging the departure of Commissioner Simmonds who had previously appeared in Breakaway.

Production orders have still occasionally caused problems on broadcast when channels haven’t paid attention to what they’re actually airing, most notably when New Captain Scarlet abandoned production on House of Dolls, originally intended as the 25th and penultimate episode of the show. Episode 26 (Dominion, the series finale) entered production instead while a replacement episode 25 (Grey Skulls) was being written, yet when ITV first aired the series in the U.K. and later released it on DVD they stuck strictly to production order, thus Grey Skulls erroneously followed Dominion. The reason? As with all things New Captain Scarlet, ITV just didn’t care!

Controversial content

Occasionally episodes would be delayed if their content was deemed unsuitable for transmission. Two episodes of UFO, The Responsibility Seat and The Long Sleep, were held back in all but one region on their U.K. original run and were only finally premiered in late night slots at the end of subsequent repeat runs.

Similarly when Space Precinct appeared on BBC2 in 1995 the channel made extensive cuts to multiple episodes to make them suitable for the show’s 6 p.m. transmission slot, and even demanded a scene from the eleventh episode, Illegal, be reshot entirely – which might explain why Illegal finally appeared on the BBC as episode twenty-two!

Real life events

Any program can be pulled from transmission if its broadcast is deemed to be insensitive in light of current world events. Brink of Disaster and The Perils of Penelope were delayed to the very end of BBC2’s 2000-2001 repeat run of Thunderbirds following the Hatfield train crash on October 17th 2000, replaced by Attack of the Alligators! and Path of Destruction respectively. Following the New York terror attacks of September 11th 2001 Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (which had begun a BBC2 repeat run the previous day) was one of many shows delayed for several weeks and the run resumed a fortnight later with Manhunt, with Big Ben Strikes Again airing eighth and Winged Assassin thirteenth in this particular run.

In a similar but happier example of real life affecting broadcast order, Christmas episodes of various shows have often been moved around in the running order to be shown nearer the big day itself!

Go with what you’ve got

Even into the 1980s episode orders varied wildly from region to region in repeat runs across the U.K., and it is likely the same occurred in other countries too. As fans we hold the shows in high regard and know exactly which episode order ‘makes sense’ (with most preferring the original production order), but to many broadcasters these shows were just filler and may sometimes have been aired or released in seemingly random order simply because that’s what happened to be available. (“Sport’s been rained off, got anything we can put on instead? Yeah, that sci-fi thing’ll do.”) In a pre-digital era it may even have been that certain stations aired shows in whatever order the massive pile of tapes or film cans had arrived in, and so long as episode one went out first it really didn’t matter what order the rest appeared in. Sometimes even finding episode one might be a problem, hence Breakaway airing as episode fourteen during a 1977 LWT repeat run of Space:1999

When it came to home video releases things could be similarly haphazard, but the continuation of volume-by-volume VHS releases was often subject to how well the last tape sold and so it only made sense to release the ‘best’ episodes from a series first in order to ensure future installments. In the U.K. and several other territories the episodes used to create the Super Space Theater compilation films of the early 1980s were then made unavailable in their original uncut format for many years, so the films (which often used the pilot episode of a particular show) would be released on the initial volumes and then be followed by the remaining episodes. Occasionally some puzzling exceptions still cropped up, such as when ITC Home Video released the first season of Space:1999 in almost reverse production order – were they just working backwards through their pile of tapes?

With the advent of the DVD and blu-ray era most repeats and home media releases now generally adhere to either the original production order or the ITC recommended order – although as we have seen these too can still change on occasion. Forces TV’s initial run of UFO in 2017 came in yet another totally random order before falling into a more familiar sequence for later repeats, proving that even today there’s nothing to stop a channel from airing these shows however they want. Luckily for us almost every Gerry Anderson production currently in existence is available for us to buy to enjoy in whatever order we want, which makes it rather fun to look back on previous broadcast orders – even if only to wonder “what were they thinking?”

Did this post answer your questions about Gerry Anderson episode orders? Let us know in the comments below!

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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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