Continued from Part 3…
Having failed to find a consistent timeslot for the series during 2001, could the BBC keep Stingray in one place long enough to show the rest of the episodes?
Nope! Stingray was moved to a late Sunday morning slot for A Nut for Marineville on January 6th, before disappearing again for over a month. Returning with a double bill of Star of the East and Trapped in the Depths on February 17th, the series stayed in the Sunday morning slot for its final five episodes, ending (unusually) with Eastern Eclipse on March 10th. The same broadcasting sensitivities to world events of the time that had affected Captain Scarlet may also account for why Star of the East and Eastern Eclipse (both featuring the character El Hudat) were held back to air near the end of this repeat run.
As for Captain Scarlet, he had apparently had a very good Christmas as the series did not return until The Trap on February 25th, running through until The Inquisition on July 29th.
Unlike the early 1990s revivals, the BBC would not follow their broadcasts of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet by purchasing the rights to show Joe 90, UFO and Space:1999 again; perhaps a blessing in disguise, given how badly those shows had been treated last time. However, they would continue to repeat the three Anderson shows they had already purchased, and had something of a Supermarionation summer during 2003. Thunderbirds returned to BBC 2 in an early afternoon slot on Saturdays beginning on April 19th, but was then relocated to weekday mornings after only half a dozen episodes (with occasional Saturday lunchtime broadcasts). This run lasted until August 14th, by which time Captain Scarlet had also returned for a series of lunchtime and mid-morning repeats from July 28th 2003 (this time following the original broadcast order). At first this run would air daily, but following a week off in mid-August the repeats became more irregular even with occasional double-bills, and would conclude on October 31st. Also returning to BBC 2 in mid-October 2003 was Stingray, for a similarly fragmented mid-morning run up to Titan Goes Pop on December 17th. Although there was now a sense of the Supermarionation shows being used as schedule filler that could be easily dropped for more exciting politics and lifestyle programmes, during the summer of 2003 it was potentially possible for Anderson fans to catch episodes of two different shows airing back to back.
The Stingray repeats continued into 2004 and all remaining episodes of the series were shown, resuming with Deep Heat on January 5th and concluding with The Lighthouse Dwellers on January 21st.
Thunderbirds returned for another BBC 2 run on August 1st 2005, airing single (and later double) episodes most weekday mornings until September 9th.
Another weekday morning summer run for Thunderbirds, commencing on Thursday July 27th and becoming increasing staggered over the next few months, finally ending on Thursday October 26th. This would be the final time any Gerry Anderson series would be broadcast in its entirety on British terrestrial television.
On January 2nd 2008, digital channel BBC 4 dedicated an evening of programmes to the works of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. These included the documentary All About Thunderbirds, an edition of Mastermind featuring a contestant answering questions on Thunderbirds, and the specially-compiled Stingray clip show The Reunion Party. The night opened with three original television episodes; the Thunderbirds stories The Perils of Penelope and Sun Probe followed by the first episode of Captain Scarlet.
Later in the year, following a BBC 2 broadcast of All About Thunderbirds, Attack of the Alligators! was repeated on December 28th 2008 as a representative example of the series.
A mid-morning repeat of Attack of the Alligators! at 10.30am on January 1st 2009 brought to an end nearly two decades of Supermarionation repeats on British terrestrial television.
The Day After Tomorrow (aka Into Infinity) was shown again on Sunday November 9th at 10.50pm, as part of an evening of space science-related programming on BBC 4. At 9pm the same night, the episode’s star Brian Blessed joined Professor Brian Cox to discuss the special as part of a programme on space science on television (fact and fiction). This one-off special had premiered on NBC in the USA in December 1975, and had previously been shown on BBC 1 in December 1976 and 1977.
The decline in interest and eventual disappearance of the Anderson shows from BBC 2 towards the end of the 2000s reflected the changing broadcast landscape of the period; the launch of multi-channel digital television during the mid-2000s granted viewers a greater choice of programming than ever before, while also essentially ensuring that the huge viewing figures achieved by the repeats of the 1990s and early 2000s could never again be matched. By the time of Thunderbirds’ final appearance on BBC 2 the channel’s much-loved 6pm cult slot was a thing of the past, replaced with a mix of quiz and lifestyle programmes. The slot’s gradual decline had been due to several other factors, including the fact that terrestrial broadcasts of The Simpsons, the American cartoon sitcom that had kicked off BBC 2’s 6pm schedule most weeknights since March 1997, had now become too expensive for the public-funded broadcaster to continue purchasing. When The Simpsons switched to Channel 4 from November 2004 it essentially deprived the BBC 2 cult slot of the hugely popular anchor around which the rest of its programming was based, with nothing else even coming close to attracting similar viewing figures. The BBC also lost interest in importing new American science fiction programmes to fill the void left by other shows, and even repeats of the perennially popular Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation were either abandoned or eventually found themselves relegated to midnight screenings on weekends. Star Trek too would also leave the BBC for good in December 2008. When all that is taken into account, the summer holiday weekday morning slots following children’s shows for Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet begin to make more sense (a logical place to attract the core child audience they might not pick up in any other timeslot), and even there they occasionally still managed to perform better in the ratings than the various lifestyle programmes that were showing in the same timeslots over on BBC 1.
It’s also worth noting for anyone frustrated by continual skipped, postponed and edited episodes that the Anderson shows were not alone in suffering such indignities; almost every series shown in the BBC 2 cult slot, from the latest American sci-fi imports to The Simpsons and even the decades-old adventures of Captain Kirk, were all subject to the same broadcast irregularities – even mid-run disappearances of a year or more. While that didn’t make it any less irritating to keep track of where in the BBC schedules Stingray or Joe 90 might randomly pop up next, it was just how genre shows were often treated during this era; as niche programming that attracted a loyal (and sometimes large) audience, but which could be easily moved or dropped to make way for the dreaded sport!
However, the 1991 BBC 2 repeats of Thunderbirds did introduce an entire generation of young viewers to the exploits of International Rescue for the very first time, and incredibly the early 2000s repeats managed the same feat almost as successfully. The subsequent repeats of other Anderson shows following those successful runs were also a hit, and helped ensure that many of those young viewers would become lifelong fans of his work. While today we can enjoy almost any episode of any Anderson production on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services whenever we feel like it, home media was a very different (and much more expensive!) animal back in the early 1990s, which made the terrestrial broadcasts all the more special. 6pm on Fridays – or Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Saturday mornings or Saturday afternoons or Sunday lunchtimes – now became the highlight of the week for children gripped by Thunderbirds fever, and as the BBC 2 announcer introduced another instalment of our favourite show (over one of the many classic BBC 2 continuity bumpers of the period) it was hard not to feel impossibly excited at the thought of what we were about to see. No doubt many of the adult fans tuning in at the same time, who had been children when the series first aired back in the 1960s, were feeling just as excited to revisit long forgotten memories from their own childhoods – and to discover that Thunderbirds and co were just as good decades later!