The majority of the Anderson shows to feature family units often (although certainly not always) spotlighted the father – be it Jeff Tracy, Commander Zero, Lieutenant Brogan, Harry Rule and many more – exploring the difficulties in juggling his professional life with his personal life. In honour of Fathers Day (and presented in production order) here’s our pick for the best five episodes focussing on fatherhood!
Fireball XL5 – Drama at Space City
The Zero family is one of the few complete family units regularly seen in any Anderson series, and easily one of the most dysfunctional. Wilbur, Eleanor and their son Jonathan are often seen snapping at each other, with Commander Zero often taking the stress of his role as Commander of Space City out on his wife and son. The first half of Drama at Space City drives him to the limit after Eleanor goes to visit her sick mother, leaving him in charge of Space City and Jonathan and Zoonie, who has been left with the Zeros while Venus is on vacation. As a result, despite Jonathan’s best efforts, nobody is having much fun.
Yet when Jonathan sneaks aboard Fireball XL5 and Zoonie inadvertently orders Robert to take off, we get to see a rare side to Wilbur Zero, with the normally cantankerous and short-tempered Commander first uncharacteristically flustered at the thought of what’s happened – and then determined to recover his son no matter what. A rescue mission that would ordinarily have fallen to any other astronaut instead becomes Zero’s personal responsibility, as he and Lieutenant 90 pursue XL5 aboard XL1, and we see for the first time that ultimately his family are Commander Zero’s highest priority – even if it means letting Fireball XL5 burn!
Thunderbirds – Atlantic Inferno
Finally convinced by his family to take a break from his duties on Tracy Island and join Lady Penelope for a holiday at her ranch in Australia, Jeff Tracy finds himself unable to fully relax – particularly when disaster brews near the Seascape drilling rig! With Scott left in charge back on the island, the relationship between the two is strained when Jeff is unable to keep from calling home to criticise his eldest son’s handling of the subsequent rescue operation – but is he doing more harm than good?
Part of the enduring appeal of Thunderbirds is in the fact that the International Rescue organisation was very much a family; Jeff Tracy, his five sons (plus almost an adoptive son in Brains), his mother, plus Kyrano and daughter Tin-Tin. Despite this, Jeff himself rarely received much focus in the show’s stories; he was always present but rarely directly involved in the main action, only even leaving Tracy Island in a handful of episodes. Atlantic Inferno takes the interesting approach of examining what happens when the man who has poured his life into the creation of International Rescue is forced to relinquish the reins temporarily – and to the show’s credit, Jeff’s difficulty in doing so is presented believably and realistically. While it isn’t pleasant to see his negative reaction to Scott’s handling of the first rescue, it is at least understandable – particularly when he later admits to Penelope that it wasn’t Scott he was angry at, just his own feeling of powerlessness. Part of parenthood is in learning when to accept that your children perhaps don’t need you as much as they used (or you might like), and it’s a lesson that’s well explored here.
UFO – A Question of Priorities
One of several UFO episodes focusing on the personal cost Ed Straker had had to pay in order to establish and maintain SHADO, A Question of Priorities is also one of the show’s darkest and most memorable stories. Taking inspiration from Gerry Anderson’s own experiences juggling his responsibilities as a father and a filmmaker, this episode finds Straker in a similar situation after his son is knocked down by a car – just as a potential defector from the Aliens arrives on Earth looking to make contact with SHADO.
Boasting (as ever) a superb central performance from Ed Bishop, A Question of Priorities is certainly not an easy watch; the fear of losing a child is a constant presence in the mind of most parents and this episode doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exploring the very real consequences of what has happened to Straker’s son. Even without his accident, UFO’s first exploration of the frosty relationship between Ed and Mary Straker following their painful separation undoubtedly resonates with many viewers who have children caught in the middle of that split. It may not be the ideal episode to watch if you’re looking for a feel-good Anderson adventure this Fathers Day, but A Question of Priorities is perhaps the most personal for those who made it.
Space:1999 – The Metamorph
The last remaining inhabitants of their dying world Psychon, Maya and her father Mentor initially appear welcoming to the Alphans on Earth’s wandering Moon, but soon Commander Koenig and his landing party discover the extent to which Mentor has been going to keep Psychon from disintegrating – capturing passing alien travellers and using their minds as fuel for his biological computer!
Despite Mentor’s obvious cruelty towards off-worlders – which can arguably be said to be the result of a sincere belief that he really could prevent Psychon’s destruction – his love for his daughter is genuine and unquestionable, with Maya equally devoted to him. In a few short scenes together Catherine Schell and Brian Blessed do much to establish a credible relationship between their two characters, with Maya’s eventual discovery of her father’s crimes being a devastating moment beautifully performed that would resonate throughout the remainder of the character’s time on the show. Maya may never have been able to forgive her father for the terrible things he did, but she also clearly never stopped loving him, and that all stemmed from how strongly their relationship was established in the first episode of Space:1999’s second season.
New Captain Scarlet – Heist
When his daughter Victoria is kidnapped as part of a Mysteron blackmail plot to ensure his removal from Spectrum, Colonel White wastes no time in rushing home to deal with the problem in person. Although the actual work of getting her back falls to Captains Scarlet and Blue, the fact that the viewers had already been introduced to Victoria as she shared an all-too-infrequent dinner with her father near the start of the episode demonstrated the strength of their relationship – despite the fact that his Spectrum duties have largely kept them apart in recent years.
Unlike Straker though, it’s clear that White has been able to remain on good terms with his wife and daughter despite his absence from their lives, making the Mysteron threat against Victoria even more sadistic – particularly when she witnesses a man killed and reconstructed by them. New Captain Scarlet usually handled character development very well and this episode’s focus on White is very welcome. For the first time we get a sense of how much the Colonel has had to sacrifice for his vital role in protecting Earth from the Mysteron threat, and it isn’t hard to believe that the Colonel White of the original Captain Scarlet made similar sacrifices. His declaration to Scarlet and Blue that “each of us fights to save our family and our friends. Without those we love, what sense is there in anything we do?” is easily one of the character’s greatest moments, and perfectly captures the man’s strengths as both a leader and a father.
Did we miss a favourite episode of yours that focuses on fatherhood or parenting in general? Let us know in the comments below!