It’s that time of year again! Christmas is upon us once more, and along with all the food and drink and pressies there’s also the age-old argument to be had among fans – which is the best Gerry Anderson Christmas episode? Since there are only five its relatively easy to compile a top five list – but will you agree with our ranking?
#5 – Thunderbirds – Give or Take a Million
Thunderbirds goes festive for its final episode, with fairly disappointing results, as the bulk of the story revolves around a flashback relating the story of a rocket full of Christmas gifts being sent from a toy shop to a children’s hospital. Rather than something going wrong with the rocket that requires International Rescue’s assistance, perhaps with it crashing into the hospital (I’m not for a moment advocating putting children in danger at Christmas, although Supermarionation children are a different matter) we instead follow two robbers sneaking into the toy shop in order to plunder the bank next door. The story proceeds at a leisurely (bordering on comatose) pace, and the episode’s idea of dramatic tension is an interminable sequence featuring the two robbers drilling through a wall that seems to go on just short of forever. In fact, let’s check back in on them to see how they’re doing.
It’s certainly nice to see the Tracy family preparing for Christmas, with Brains’ end-of-episode surprise being a genuinely touching moment, but ultimately the story would have unfolded in exactly the same way whether our heroes were in it or not – and that’s never a good thing for an episode of any show. For a Thunderbirds Christmas episode, Give or Take a Million feels rather like a missed opportunity.
#4 – Joe 90 – The Unorthodox Shepherd
Joe 90 offers up a Christmas special that actually takes place in the week leading up to December 25th, with only the last scene taking place on the big day itself. Once again our heroes are up against a pair of greedy crooks, this time producing counterfeit dollar bills in a crypt beneath the church of the Reverend Joseph Shepherd, and have to uncover the reason that the vicar is in league with them. The story is one of the more gentle and low-key episodes of Joe 90 but it’s not without a certain degree of charm, with the Reverend Shepherd being one of the show’s more memorable guest characters – so much so that this episode is essentially a trial run for the next Supermarionation series, The Secret Service!
The Unorthodox Shepherd is also the only Gerry Anderson Christmas episode to feature any religious theming, with the image of Joe as an angel being one of the most iconic (if somewhat surreal) moments of the entire series, and the final shot of the snow-covered church hosting the Christmas carol service is almost magical in its elegant simplicity. Well, all except for one thing…
#3 – New Captain Scarlet – Enigma
Sometimes the best Christmas episodes are those that are light on festive flavor but strong on all the elements that make that the regular episodes of that show such a success, and that’s Enigma all over. While not technically a Christmas episode in its own right, Enigma earns a spot on this list thanks in part to a scene that homages Captain Picard’s Nexus Christmas fantasy in Star Trek Generations, as Captain Scarlet finds himself in the family home of Captain Black and Destiny Angel in a potential alternate reality that sees them happily married with children – although some of Black’s parenting skills could do with some work.
This is however only a small part of the episode, which opens with a fast-paced sequence involving the Angels taking on a Mysteron spacecraft that then lands in the Australian outback. Upon entering the ship Captains Scarlet Blue Ochre and Grey find themselves in a Mysteron maze that seems to offer an end to the war of nerves between the Earth and Mars – or does it? From the breakneck opening battle scene to the Spectrum team’s investigation of the Mysteron spacecraft that raises more questions than it answers, Enigma is one of the finest episodes of a brutally underrated series.
Want to try the show? Pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray here.
#2 – Stingray – A Christmas to Remember
Unlike Thunderbirds, Stingray manages to get the balance of seasonal sentimentality and its regular action fare just right here. There’s plenty of festive flair but also a good deal of action and even a mystery to be solved, all of which is weaved together to create a story that’s exactly what fans would hope to see from a Stingray Christmas episode. For once even the inclusion of a Supermarionation child character isn’t as annoying as it might otherwise be, thanks to his somewhat tragic backstory and the fact that he doesn’t take over the story. He’s just invited along for the ride and is cheerfully oblivious to the potential dangers, as Troy and Phones investigate a seemingly abandoned submarine that attacked them a few days before the story begins, and which may not be as empty as it appears…
As exciting as the action stuff is, seeing the W.A.S.P. team enjoying Christmas is by far the highlight of this episode; Marina and Atlanta building snowmen, Phones as Santa, and in particularly the ice-skating sequence which still stands as one of the finest Supermarionation scenes of all time. In fact, this episode is so almost perfect that it very nearly stole the number one slot on this list!
#1 – Terrahawks – A Christmas Miracle
What’s this? A list with Thunderbirds at the bottom and Terrahawks at the top? A Terrahawks dream episode, no less? No, we’ve not started on the Christmas refreshments early; this one takes the top spot not only for managing the same balance of festive fun and Anderson action, but also for being based around a real life event. Taking as its inspiration the Christmas truce of 1914, when British, French and German forces laid down their arms and enjoyed the festive season, A Christmas Miracle sees the Terrahawks and Martians locked in battle on the lunar surface on Christmas Day. Both sides are weary of the fighting, which only seems to be carrying on at the stubborn insistence of Ninestein and Zelda, until the Terrahawks choose to cease fire and invite Yung-Star and Cy-Star back to Spacehawk for a Christmas party. That it’s actually Mary who elects to bring peace at Christmas is just one element of the story that would probably have gone over the heads of young viewers in the 1980s, but is very obvious to adult eyes.
As spectacular as the battle sequences are the real highlights of this episode come after the ceasefire, as the Terrahawks party with their Martian guests in a way that feels 100% in keeping with how these characters would behave in such a scenario – with even Ninestein and Zelda eventually getting in on the fun!
Although it was all only a dream, the Terrahawks Christmas episode is one of the most entertaining in the show’s run, and isn’t afraid to be silly while also speaking a very basic truth; that ultimately, Christmas should be a day when feuds are laid to rest and we realize that there is more that unites us than divides us.
Or perhaps not! Does this list tally with your own opinion on the best Gerry Anderson Christmas episodes, or can you not get enough drilling and bank robbery over the festive season? Let us know in the comments below – and have a very merry Christmas!