Clip show; two words that are almost guaranteed to make a viewer roll their eyes. Building a framing device around recycled material from previous stories is a cheap, easy and largely infamous way to cobble a new episode together (usually near the end of a season when the money is running out) and the various Gerry Anderson series included clip show episodes from the 1960s right up until the late 1990s – by which time the format was definitely showing its age! However, back when most of the shows on this list were first airing in the pre-home video era many young fans welcomed the chance to see some favourite moments from previous episodes again, and to this day some clip show episodes still hold a place in the hearts of fans – while others not so much! Here are our picks for the top five ‘best’ Gerry Anderson clip show episodes!
#5 – Joe 90 – The Birthday
Despite being a series where the central character is a child, Joe 90 could often be rather more mature than most of its Supermarionation predecessors – but the framing device for The Birthday is pure stock kids show material, as Joe suspects everyone has forgotten his birthday. Have they really? No, of course not.
Over a birthday tea (which includes an absolute brick of a cake, plus some sandwiches, a pineapple, and some leftover Christmas crackers) Joe and his government handlers (but oddly none of his school chums) relive some of his greatest missions in the form of Hi-Jacked and Colonel McClaine, plus The Most Special Agent. The latter is another particularly odd inclusion since Joe’s theft of the MIG 242 was only part of a hypothetical scenario related by Shane Weston, and thus never really happened!
It’s certainly nice to see Joe get the appreciation he deserves for a change, although some of the more violent sections of the flashback scenes (such as the accidental death of Sergeant Sarge or Joe’s very deliberate murder of Mario Coletti) strike an odd tone against the backdrop of a child’s tenth birthday that is however thoroughly in keeping with the unintentional dark streak that runs throughout much of Joe 90.
#4 – Terrahawks – Ma’s Monsters
Much like Lavender Castle later would in Birds of a Feather Terrahawks takes the interesting approach of spending its clip show with its villains, as Zelda and her family revisit some of their many many defeats at the hands of the Terrahawks (via her magic crystal) in an attempt to learn from past mistakes.
The three episodes featured in Ma’s Monsters are all well chosen, with each spotlighting one of Terrahawks’ most famous guest aliens. Since it was very rare to see more than one of Zelda’s monsters in the same episode young fans must have welcomed the chance to see three of them in action in one story here; Sram in Thunder Path, Yuri the Space Bear in Operation S.A.S., and the Sporilla from The Sporilla. The inclusion of the latter episode was particularly interesting, as The Sporilla actually had yet to air in the U.K. when Ma’s Monsters was first shown – making this a clip show where one of the clips segments was all-new material!
As well as looking to the past Ma’s Monsters also pointed to the future with its cliffhanger ending, as Zelda reveals her brand new cryogenic store full of even more terrifying monsters – which is never mentioned again in future episodes. One thing that would be returned to in future episodes though is Cy-star’s shock announcement – she’s pregnant! We have to wonder whether writer Tony Barwick already knew that the series would be returning for a second production block when he wrote that, or if he just decided to end the series on a hugely melodramatic soap opera-style note that he thought he’d never actually have to resolve.
#3 – Stingray – Aquanaut of the Year
Stingray’s flashback episode (the one that actually made it to air back in 1965, at least!) is another mix of a genuinely entertaining framing sequence set to a bizarre choice of episodes to pull clips from. After being declared Aquanaut of the Year Troy Tempest is thrown an epic party by his friends at Marineville – so the last thing he needs the following morning is to find a television interviewer at the door ready to start a live broadcast of This is Your Life!
It’s a memorable setup for a clip show, but where the episode falls down is in its choice of episodes to pull those clips from. Emergency Marineville, one of the show’s finest, is certainly a good pick – but Raptures of the Deep? A dream episode? Presumably the moment Troy started talking about one of his many many odd dreams was the same moment the producer started yelling into the interviewer’s earpiece to wrap the whole thing up as quickly as possible – and then to end with the relatively unremarkable Subterranean Sea? Why not, for instance…the really awesome battle with the Terror Fish from Plant of Doom? Or indeed anything Titan-related?
The framing sequence keeps up your interest throughout as more and more of Troy’s friends and colleagues arrive, and we even get a tease of some big announcement relating to the long-simmering Troy and Atlanta romance – only for it to be instantly forgotten as the flurry of activity as Marineville goes to battlestations! Unfortunately, this promise of exciting action that we’re not going to get to see ends the episode on a rather odd note.
And speaking of…
#2 – Captain Scarlet – The Inquisition
Captain Scarlet’s attempt at a clip show starts off well, possibly stronger than any other Anderson clip show, with Captain Blue finding himself on a seemingly empty Cloudbase being interrogated by a man who claims to be a Spectrum Intelligence agent but is curiously insistent that Blue tell him classified Spectrum codes in order to prove his own identity. Instead, Blue provides examples of previous Spectrum missions he was involved with in the form of clips from Big Ben Strikes Again, Crater 101, and The Trap. This framing device holds the viewer’s interest more than most clip shows by providing a series of mysteries; is this man really a Spectrum agent – or a Mysteron? What exactly are the Spectrum codes that he’s so interested in? Is Captain Blue a traitor? And where are Colonel White and the rest of the Cloudbase crew?
Unfortunately, the episode then falls apart rather spectacularly in the last few minutes. Finally realising that his interrogator is not who he claims to be Blue decides to take his secrets to the grave by hurling himself from the window of the observation tube, which at least gives us a chance to see someone other than Scarlet being brave for a change. However, this is the moment where the wheels completely fall off as a real human hand unceremoniously shoves the Captain Blue puppet through the glass – but instead of plunging to his death Blue lands on a sky backdrop in a warehouse, looking up at the replica Cloudbase he’s just escaped from. The sudden reveal that Blue has been held in a mock-up of Cloudbase’s control room would perhaps be much less jarring in a live action series than it is here. It would be still be a shock, much like in UFO’s Mindbender, but in Supermarionation form it rather gives the unintended impression that Captain Blue has just discovered that he’s really just a puppet in a lacklustre final episode of an otherwise fantastic show.
The fact that he just lays there silently, unblinking, not moving a muscle, makes it seem like the character is having a sudden existential crisis; has Captain Blue just realised that his entire world is a lie? The sequence drags on in awkward silence for just slightly too long that it almost feels for a moment or two like the show has permanently broken the fourth wall. Thankfully this extremely uncomfortable moment is ended by the arrival of Captain Scarlet, who somehow uncovered this plan offscreen, and the warehouse and its contents are blown to pieces with a minimum of fuss, The End.
In addition to the surprisingly poorly-executed resolution to the framing device, The Inquisition also isn’t helped by the fact that two of the three episodes revisited here feel unsuited to the clip show format; Crater 101 requires a flashback within the flashback to make sense of it, while Captain Blue starts telling the story of Big Ben Strikes Again then just sort of stops after the exciting opening. Cos, y’know, we didn’t need to know how that ended. One thing we would like to know though – how did the Mysterons get Captain Blue out of the restaurant in the ten seconds that Scarlet’s back was turned?
#1 – Thunderbirds – Security Hazard
The final episode of the first season of Thunderbirds serves up a double whammy of potential pain on top of being a clip show – it’s also got a little kid as the primary guest star! Thankfully the flashback sequences mean we don’t have to spend too long in the company of little Chip, after he stows away aboard Thunderbird 2 and returns with it to Tracy Island following a rescue. At a loss as to how to return him home undetected, Jeff is insistent that his sons tell Chip absolutely nothing about the island or the Thunderbirds machines…which lasts for about five minutes as each of the Tracys (ultimately including Jeff himself) spill the beans.
Thankfully, all the flashback clips featured here (Trapped in the Sky, End of the Road, Sun Probe and Day of Disaster) are well chosen, offering another look at many classic Thunderbirds moments, and the fifty minute running time makes them feel less rushed – even if Virgil and Alan choose to omit the ‘and then it all went wrong’ endings from their stories!
Security Hazard plays out rather like how a young fan would hope a visit to International Rescue’s secret headquarters might go. While we’re certainly glad this wasn’t the end of Thunderbirds the charming framing device coupled with the classic selection of clips mean it certainly wouldn’t have been a bad note to go out on.
Do you agree that Security Hazard was the best of the Gerry Anderson clip show episodes, or do you feel this list itself could do with being chopped up into smaller bits? Let us know in the comments below!