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Top 6 Gerry Anderson two-parter stories

Despite producing more than five hundred television episodes over a fifty year period there were remarkably few true two-part stories in any of the Gerry Anderson series. The Supermarionation shows occasionally referenced past events and even occasionally brought back guest characters from previous episodes but aside from Captain Scarlet‘s ‘Lunarville trilogy’ (a loose collection of linked episodes rather than a genuine three-part story) it wasn’t until the 1970s that we started to see proper multi-part stories, with cliffhangers and ‘to be continued’ and everything else that you’d expect from such episodes. Here are our top 6 Gerry Anderson two-part stories!

#6 – Expect the Unexpected

Even the keenest of Terrahawks fans would have to agree that the show’s earliest episodes were not its strongest, and the opening story is a particularly unimpressive start. While Zelda’s initial attack on the NASA Marbase is certainly spectacular the story of her first encounter with the Terrahawks doesn’t manage to keep that high standard going, and peters out long before the first episode ends. The second half seems largely a repeat of the first, which makes the Terrahawks look pretty silly to fall for Zelda’s tricks again so soon!

“I have a theory that Zelda believes we’re too smart to fall for this obvious trap – well, that’s where she’s wrong!”

While the series got much better as it went along Expect the Unexpected shows few signs of the madcap craziness and lovable characters that would come to define Terrahawks. While Zelda and the Zeroids make an instant strong impression the human characters seem oddly incomplete, almost as if they haven’t even met each other before – and worst of all, Yungstar is nowhere to be seen!

“Surely that’s a bonus, you sniveling simpleton!”

#5 – Instrument of Destruction

As with Terrahawks, New Captain Scarlet’s opening two-parter suffers on repeat viewings when you know the heights the show would later reach. While certainly more is going on here than in Expect the Unexpected, Instrument of Destruction also feels like a story that’s over before the end of the first half and part 2 feels like an unrelated story entirely. Also, the process by which the Mysteron Captain Scarlet returns to the side of good is nowhere near as exciting as it was in the Supermarionation series – he just falls through an energy conduit and that’s it. Cor. The show’s early CGI ranges from impressive (the Mysteron city) to terrible (the startled farmer in part 1 and the identical bald Angels in part 2) and we’re also treated to several prolonged scenes of Destiny trying to decide whether or not she should stay with Spectrum which are impossible to care about because she’s impossible to care about.

“Stop the plot cold so you can have a pointless tantrum that goes nowhere? Is this going to be a regular thing with you?”

While it builds to a reasonably exciting conclusion Instrument of Destruction takes more than a few seemingly unrelated detours to get there, although it definitely shows promising signs of the quality that was to come.

Be honest – you don’t remember why Scarlet has to get aboard this truck any more than we do.

#4 – WAM

Here we go. The Protectors experiments with the two-part format and produces a story that shows that the series really could have supported a one hour running time quite successfully. The clever plot, involving the one-man terrorist hijacking of a mountain resort, doesn’t suffer from the show’s frequent problem of rushing frantically to establish everything just in time for the end credits to roll. The extra run time allows for the narrative to pace itself and develop naturally as a result, and it makes you wonder what other stories might have benefited from the two-part format.

“With a big drill, some werewolves and a parallel universe we could easily stretch this out to a seven-parter!”

Throw in a particularly funky score, some beautiful scenery, and Space:1999’s Prentis Hancock pretending to be a hippy and you have one of the show’s finest outings.

Paul Morrow – The Hippy Years.

#3 – Deathwatch

Space Precinct gets around the problem of generating enough story material for a two-part story by revisiting a previous episode that was left open-ended and picking up the pieces! Although not produced as a two-parter (in production order there’s a three episode gap between each part) it’s amazing how well the final product holds together, presenting an engaging and at times unsettling mystery in the first half before building to a potentially apocalyptic series finale in the second. It does such a good job of continuing the story that it’s amazing to think the original plan was just to leave part 1 unresolved – if that had happened would the episode be regarded today as an interesting experiment or just a disappointing waste of time?

Cos I’d hate to think they threw that innocent old lady off a skyscraper for nothing.

Regardless of what might have been, Deathwatch certainly sent Space Precinct out on a high and is possibly the only final episode of any Anderson show that genuinely feels like a true series finale.

“Would it help if I told you I love you?” Aww.

#2 – The Bringers of Wonder

Space:1999 experimented with the two-part format in its troubled second season, and the result was one of the better outings of that year. While not perfect there is a sense that this is something special and that a lot of money has been saved up to spend on this – perhaps to the detriment of certain subsequent episodes! (“That whirligig thing” from The Lambda Factor, we’re looking at you.) The arrival of a rescue mission from Earth gives an opportunity for the show to focus more on its characters, and to explore their relationships with each other and these long lost friends and family. This also provides some effective horror moments as only Koenig can see the visitors for what they really are, even if this does evaporate quickly in the second half in favour of much running around.

Although maybe it just feel slower because part 1 has four spectacular fight scenes *and* an Eagle crash!

Part 2 manages to keep up the pace and excitement of the first however, and the scenes of controlled Alphans living their lives “back on Earth” are certainly effective. There are also several welcome thematic homages to the first season such as the vast set of the nuclear waste store that were so typical of Year One’s design, and the revelation that the aliens are acting in the name of self-preservation rather just trying to blow up the Alphans for the fun of it as was so prevalent in Year Two.

In fact the lead alien just shrugs when he realises he’s been defeated. It’s like “Eh, we tried. Let’s go, Phil.”

#1 – The Fire Within

While Deathwatch was a great Space Precinct two-parter by accident The Fire Within was one by design, and thankfully has more than enough material to fill its running time. The fictional yet believable Pyrist faith allows the show to take a remarkably mature look at the fine line between religion and cult, and how believers might be exploited in a futuristic setting. Speaking of setting, the Pyrist Temple is a beautiful set and the reveal of what it really is unexpectedly ingenious, leading to a exciting yet totally bonkers finale that somehow doesn’t feel at odds with what had gone before. Jack Hedley and Lisa Orgolini deliver fine performances as the Icar Vedra and Nevik Brok, while David Quilter and Alexa Rosewood also do great work as Brother Kalamandro and Samina Podly respectively.

BTW, aside from Jane, how many obviously evil ladies has Haldane fallen for by this point?

Despite being a character we’ve never seen before Samina feels like she’s always been a part of the show, and her disappearance allows for some great acting moments in part 2 as the Precinct 88 team struggle to come to terms with the idea that one of their own could have turned against them. Jerome Willis in particular has to be singled out for praise, as the scene where Brogan finds him crying in his office is perhaps the most emotional moment of any Anderson series and is exhibit A to show anyone who claims the animatronic alien heads were limiting the performances of the actors who wore them.

Heart. Breaking.

For myself and many others The Fire Within is perhaps Space Precinct’s finest two hours, with every aspect of the production rising to the occasion to produce something truly special. We also have to mention the end of part 1 in which Haldane really seems to have turned to the dark side, providing the greatest cliffhanger (literally) in any of these two-parters!

So there we have it, some clunkers and some classics among the two-part stories – but which are your faves? Let us know in the comments below, as well as sharing any episodes you think could have been extended into two-parters!

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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