Surprisingly for a body of work of more than five hundred television episodes, a substantial chunk of which dealt with science fiction concepts, there were very few occasions where a Gerry Anderson series explored time travel and associated concepts – but whenever they did, it was usually pretty good! Here are five Gerry Anderson time travel episodes that are well worth a look – if you have the time!
#5 – Fireball XL5 – 1875
Revolutionary scientific discoveries seemed remarkably easy in the world of Fireball XL5, perhaps no more so than the time Professor Matic cobbled together a time machine in his shed! Zoonie interferes (because of course) and accidentally sends Steve Zodiac, Commander Zero and Venus back to the days of the Wild West, with the added problem of the trio mentally slipping into the role of inhabitants of that time (Steve as the Sheriff, with Zero and ‘Frenchie Lil’ as a pair of outlaws). While it’s fun to see our heroes behaving out of character (not to mention seeing Robert terrifying the deputy sheriff during an early test of the machine) and the Wild West setting satisfies our Four Feather Falls nostalgia the ending is a little suspect, with two inhabitants of 1875 being brought back to the present with Steve and co and being stranded there when the time machine breaks. Hope they didn’t have any important descendants…
#4 – Terrahawks – Time Warp
Terrahawks was able to dabble with time travel ideas thanks to one of Zelda’s monstrous cohorts, Lord Tempo the Time Lord. Yes, really. Tempo appeared in three episodes of the television series and perhaps the most memorable of these was his last, as he places a time warp into the Terrahawks computer system via Sergeant Major Zero that renders the team unable to defend against an attack from Zelda. It’s always fun when Anderson characters are faced with how truly reliant they are on their technology, and have to find a way to resolve the threat of the week without it, but Doctor Ninestein’s simple solution works remarkably well! The episode scores bonus points in how well the potential threat is established thanks to an opening dream sequence showing the destruction of Hawknest and the deaths of most of the show’s major characters – for once it seems like Zelda and her crew could genuinely win!
#3 – Space:1999 – Journey to Where
One of the few episodes of Space:1999’s second season that seemingly everyone likes, Journey to Where earns points right out of the gate by putting the runaway Moon back in contact with Earth as part of a project to finally return the Alphans home – which accidentally ends up stranding Koenig, Helena and Alan in Scotland in 1339! Until this point in the series there had been no firm indication that the Earth had even survived the Breakaway, so this alone is something of a landmark. However, it also inadvertently leads to the story’s time travel element being overshadowed to the point where it almost feels like an afterthought, since nothing much is really done with the idea; it almost feels like Koenig and co could have been stranded on any planet in the universe and things might have played out the same. Despite this, the episode is helped enormously by some nice location shooting and great character moments, and is a good example of the kind of quality storytelling Space:1999’s second season could have used more of. We’d also like to give an honourable mention here to the first season’s Another Time Another Place, which is more of a parallel universe story than a time travel one but is still one of the best Space:1999 episodes ever made!
#2 – Space Precinct – Time to Kill
One of Space Precinct’s most memorable episodes even among non-fans, the action-packed Time to Kill sees the Precinct 88 team up against a seemingly unstoppable Cyborg hell-bent on destroying them – and unlike most of the villains they face, he actually succeeds! By the time the second main character dies we have a fair idea how this all might ultimately be resolved (it’s in the title of the episode, after all), but the journey to get there is a particularly exciting one and offers a tantalising glimpse into the harder-edged series Space Precinct could potentially have been. In particular, the scenes of Brogan’s descent from good cop to a man with almost nothing left to lose once again highlight what a great asset Ted Shackelford was to the series, and the reveal of the Cyborg’s true identity comes with an unexpectedly tragic twist. Space Precinct’s earliest episodes were often a frustrating viewing experience, but Time to Kill was one of the greatest achievements of the entire series.
#1 – UFO – Timelash
Straker and Lake return to SHADO HQ to find it frozen in a moment of time, in one of the most popular episodes of UFO. The resulting sequence of events unfolds in a very dreamlike way, as the pair combat traitorous SHADO operative Turner who has been gifted the ability to “play time like a trumpet” by the Aliens in exchange for his help guiding a UFO to the base in order to destroy it. Imagination and creativity win out over logic and sense quite a bit in this story (feeling yourself being frozen in time? Just take lots of dangerous drugs!) but the results are extremely impressive, from the opening sequence of Foster and co confronted by a deranged Straker on a seemingly drug-fuelled rampage to how Straker ultimately deals with Turner. It’s also nice to see Wanda Ventham’s Colonel Lake getting more focus in this story, which also gives us several more revealing insights into Commander Straker’s psyche. Although Timelash episode adds yet another unnecessary power to these supposedly dying Aliens (and the one UFO they send to destroy SHADO HQ is ultimately scared away with remarkable ease) the sheer number of memorably unsettling images and moments more than make up for any nit-picks we might have – well, almost.
So those are five of our favourite Gerry Anderson time travel tales – but did we miss off any of yours? Also, which series that never attempted a time travel episode do you feel might possibly have been able to produce one to rival those listed here? Let us know in the comments below!