Captain ScarletSpace: 1999StingrayThunderbirdsUFO

Gerry Anderson on the BBC (part 3) – 1998 to 2001

Continued from part 2


On July 27th, the UFO episode The Cat With Ten Lives was among the programmes broadcast at very short notice in place of rained-off cricket coverage; specifically, the NatWestTrophy quarter-final match between Leicestershire and Warwickshire. UFO aired at 6.25pm, following the similarly unscheduled The Simpsons episode Bart’s Friend Falls in Love.

Back in 1996, the BBC had purchased the rights to broadcast all forty-eight episodes of Space:1999 but did not begin broadcasting the series until 1998, in a Monday evening slot previously occupied by Space Precinct and UFO and most recently vacated by Galactica 1980. Breakaway aired at 6.25pm on May 11th, and immediately prompted complaints from fans for the BBC’s removal of the ‘this episode’ sequence from the opening titles in order to reduce the show’s runtime. This process was abandoned after the first three episodes (with the BBC airing Earthbound as the show’s second episode in order to generously explain the disappearance of Commissioner Simmonds).

However, the editing scissors would be back out again following viewer complaints regarding the gory ending of Death’s Other Dominion. Baxter’s attack on Koenig in End of Eternity on October 5th was shortened by around twenty seconds, although the rest of the first season would air relatively intact. Space:1999 would continue airing through 1998 until mid-December, before taking a break for Christmas after Mission of the Darians on December 14th.


As the actual year of 1999 dawned, Space:1999 returned to BBC 2 on January 2nd with Dragon’s Domain, but had now been moved (unpublicised) to seemingly random times on Saturday afternoons. From late February the series also occasionally returned to its previous Monday evening timeslot, meaning that two episodes were sometimes airing in the same week – perhaps to balance out the weeks where none were airing at all due to sport.

The end of the run saw two Saturday afternoon double bills (including a compilation version of The Bringers of Wonder on May 29th put together by the BBC themselves) eventually followed on June 19th by series finale The Dorcons – which had been bumped from the schedule two weekends in a row. Although it was nice for fans to be able to enjoy multiple episodes in the same week, it was also hard not to get the feeling that the BBC by this time were simply looking to get them all broadcast as quickly as possible so they could be done with the series. The channel’s dismissive attitude to the series was rather summed up by the continuity lady’s introduction to The AB Chrysalis on April 17th; “they don’t make them like this anymore…thankfully!” Fan response to the channel’s overall treatment of the show was equally cold.

However, the Saturday afternoon repeat slot must have deemed a success by someone at the BBC as for the next few years various other cult television shows would make their way there, including Star Trek and Blakes 7. Having remembered they were sitting on as-yet-unbroadcast UFO episodes the previous year, the remaining ten episodes of the show would air through the summer of 1999 on Saturday afternoons. Initially scheduled to resume on July 3rd 1999 (just two weeks after BBC 2’s broadcast of The Dorcons) with a double bill of Kill Straker! and The Sound of Silence, UFO’s return was delayed another week and Sub-Smash was broadcast instead on July 10th. Kill Straker! eventually appeared fourth in this run, following the broadcasts of The Sound of Silence and Destruction.

Having already been shown in 1998, The Cat With Ten Lives was not repeated as part of this run despite it being a crucial episode of the series that relatively few viewers would know had ever been transmitted by the BBC. From here UFO ran weekly and uninterrupted (soon moving to a midday timeslot) until the end of August, when the run finally concluded with a pair of double bills – almost three years after it had first started. As with Space Precinct and Space:1999, episodes considered unsuitable for a lunchtime viewing were trimmed to remove instances of bloodletting, gore, and sexual violence.


One of four Radio Times covers produced to promote the 2000 return of Thunderbirds.

A digitally restored Thunderbirds returned to BBC 2 on Sunday evenings from September 3rd, to kick off another highly publicized relaunch of the series. At first the ratings were surprisingly low, and after a double bill of The Uninvited and The Mighty Atom on October 1st the show was moved to 6pm on Tuesdays, starting with Vault of Death on October 10th. This move to what was now known as BBC 2’s popular ‘cult slot’ of sci-fi and comedy shows helped ratings improve dramatically, with each episode now also picking up a repeat the following Saturday lunchtime.

Following the Hatfield rail crash on October 17th, two train-related episodes of the series were temporarily shelved; Brink of Disaster was replaced by Attack of the Alligators on November 7th, and The Perils of Penelope by Path of Destruction on November 14th.

The Christmas episode Give or Take a Million was once again brought forward in the run to air on December 19th (between Edge of Impact and Desperate Intruder), but did not receive an accompanying Saturday lunchtime repeat.


Thunderbirds resumed on January 2nd and continued in its Tuesday and Saturday timeslots, with the postponed Brink of Disaster and The Perils of Penelope being shown as the final two episodes. One week later, following the successful pattern of the early 1990s repeats, BBC 2 followed up Thunderbirds with double bills of Stingray commencing on Tuesday April 17th 2001 at 6pm. After five weeks of double bills however the series was moved to Monday evenings, where single episodes played until The Disappearing Ships on July 30th. After a month’s break Stingray returned again on September 1st with The Man from the Navy, but the show had now been moved to Saturday lunchtimes.

Brains starring in a trailer promoting the BBC 2 6pm ‘cult slot’.

The digitally restored Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons would also return to BBC 2 on Monday September 10th 2001. The world-changing events of the following day threw the schedules of the BBC and many other broadcasters into total disarray for the next few weeks, and all BBC programmes would be heavily scrutinised before broadcast to ensure they did not contain any material that could be deemed insensitive in light of recent events. Despite being a decades-old series ostensibly aimed at children, Captain Scarlet was also full to the brim with terrorist attacks, threats against major population centres, plane crashes and suicide bombers – and therefore could not return to the schedules without some adjustment to the episode order. After a few weeks off the run picked up again on October 1st with Manhunt; Big Ben Strikes Again (traditionally shown as episode three) aired eighth in this run, while Winged Assassin (episode two) aired thirteenth. After Point 783 on December 17th, the series then took a Christmas break.

Stingray‘s run continued to the end of the year, with A Christmas to Remember being brought forward a few weeks in broadcast order to fit the festive season on Saturday December 22nd.


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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