This year sees no less than five British science fiction/fantasy television shows celebrate their initial appearance on our screens. I thought I'd mention them because in 2003, as "Doctor Who" celebrated its fortieth anniversary, "Quatermass", ten years its senior, seemed to get overlooked. The recent DVD release and revival on BBC4 this year have gone some way to make amends for not celebrating its fiftieth anniversary two years ago! Incidentally, new "Doctor Who" David Tennant appeared as Doctor Briscoe in the latest adaptation of "Quatermass" and, having co-starred alongside "Star Cops" actor David Calder in the recent Radio Four adaptation of "Dixon of Dock Green", seems to be making a habit of appearing in revivals of old shows!!
The youngest show to celebrate its birthday this year is "Bugs". Co-starring Jesse Birdsall, and my personal favourite series of the Nineties, it ran for four seasons and a total of forty episodes. Full of action and adventure, explosions and plenty of gadgets, it celebrated its tenth anniversary on April 1st. Co-created by Brian Clemens, better known for his work on "The Avengers" and "The Professionals", and Stephen Gallagher, who'd written "Warriors' Gate" and "Terminus" for "Doctor Who" as well as overseeing ITV adaptations of his novels "Oktober" and "Chimera", "Bugs" wasn't treated particularly well by the BBC. By the time it reached its fourth season it was removed from the schedules midrun and the final three episodes weren't shown until almost a year later!
Three Gerry Anderson shows also have cause for celebration this year. Supermarionation series "Thunderbirds", concerning the exploits of secret organisation International Rescue, has been enjoying repeat runs for forty years! First seen on our screens in 1965, it ran for 32 episodes, 26 of them filmed in 1964 with the remaining six made two years later as well as spawning two feature film spinoffs along the way. A minor gripe of mine is that BBC2 doesn't see fit to repeat "Fireball XL5" for a change, the excuse being that it was made in black and white which doesn't seem to prevent reruns of "Bilko" or "The Munsters"! "Fireball XL5" hasn’t been shown on terrestrial television since ITV repeated it, weekday mornings, twenty years ago in 1985. ITV reran "Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons" at the same time on Sunday mornings and, even though I prefer the indestructible hero, I remember thinking how much more humourous, and therefore probably more entertaining to the general public, was "Fireball XL5"!!
The other Gerry Anderson shows to celebrate their birthdays are two of the live action series he co-created. Having tested the water with a third feature film, the terrific but vastly underrated live action "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" (1969), recently given a rare though very welcome screening on ITV1, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson went into production with "UFO", first seen on television in 1970. Now 35 years old, 26 episodes were made, an initial 17 being followed with a further nine. It starred the late Ed Bishop as SHADO Commander Ed Straker with George Sewell co-starring as Colonel Alec Freeman in the initial batch of episodes. A second series was proposed but gave way to the other Anderson production celebrating its anniversary, "Space: 1999". Now 30, having first appeared in 1975, this series ran for two very different seasons chalking up a total of 48 episodes between them. It starred husband and wife team Martin Landau, as Moonbase Alpha Commander John Koenig, and Barbara Bain, as Doctor Helena Russell, fighting for their survival after the Moon is blown from its orbit following a nuclear explosion on its dark side.
Last, but certainly not least, and also celebrating 30 years since its first appearance, is "Survivors". This series ran for three seasons and a total of 38 episodes altogether. It was devised by Dalek creator Terry Nation immediately preceding his other great success "Blake's 7". After a flu pandemic is accidentally unleashed on the population of the world, those few left behind face the enormous uphill struggle of building a new life whether battling nature or people with alternative views on how to proceed. The initial run of 13 episodes starred Carolyn Seymour as Abby Grant with James Bond creator Ian Fleming's niece Lucy Fleming as Jenny Richards and Ian McCulloch as Greg Preston. I love all the shows celebrating differing degrees of longevity but, of the five, "Survivors" is my favourite.