When legendary TV producer Gerry Anderson passed away in 2012, he left behind a wealth of unused and unfinished concepts – ideas for series that never materialised to join the ranks of such classic series as Thunderbirds, UFO and Space: 1999. His son Jamie Anderson, now head of Anderson Entertainment, has since overseen the further development of many of these projects, with book series Gemini Force One being completed by author MG Harris from 2013 onwards and a new puppet series based on another Gerry concept, Firestorm, having premiered a pilot episode on YouTube in 2018 (accruing over 350 thousand views to date) with a full series now in the works.
The latest Anderson Entertainment offering, though, is something different. “There’s only so much mining of old stuff you can do… and there so many good ideas that were never brought together into a single show,” Jamie tells RadioTimes.com. Emerging from “bits of things that were never finished – ideas, notes, themes” as well as from conversations between Jamie and his friend and frequent collaborator Nicholas Briggs (Doctor Who) is First Action Bureau, an original scripted drama podcast that nonetheless is aiming to channel the spirit of classic Gerry Anderson shows.
“It’s new, really, but it’s got loads of the hallmarks of Anderson stuff,” Jamie says. “[It’s a] future setting, sci-fi, secret organisations… but it’s newly drawn together. It’s the first entirely new thing we’ve brought together but that still sits in the worlds of Anderson.”
“It’s inevitably going to have an Anderson feel to it, because of Jamie and all his familiarity with it, but also the fact that I’m just a massive fan of all the Anderson stuff,” says Briggs. “It was a huge part of my upbringing. It’s as much part of my DNA as Doctor Who is, which is obviously what I’m more known for.”
As for the title being a sly nod to Thunderbirds (F.A.B. – geddit?), Jamie reveals that this too has its origins in a different unfinished project, with the acronym being suggested by author and illustrator Spike Greening, who’d once been set to work with Gerry on a series of children’s books.
“It’s a great name, right?” Jamie says. “And it happens to fit perfectly.”
Set in a “near-utopian” future Earth of 2067, the series – featuring Sacha Dhawan (Doctor Who), Nicola Walker (Unforgotten), Paterson Joseph (Noughts + Crosses) and Genevieve Gaunt (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) among its cast – will follow the titular bureau as it uses artificial intelligence to predict criminal activity before it occurs.
A “pilot season” will launch on the 1st October with the release of the first three episodes, with seven more then following on a weekly basis. The conversations about what would become First Action Bureau only began in earnest towards the end of 2019, but lockdown putting a temporary hold on other projects actually helped speed up its development, particularly once a series of Big Finish recordings involving both Jamie and his collaborator Briggs proved remote recording to be a viable prospect.
“I particularly remember a breakfast conversation,” says Briggs. “We went to a local greasy spoon and [Jamie was] talking about fake realities and things…”
“Deep fakes and AI and all that sort of stuff,” Jamie adds. “All the sort of stuff that is in the news very much, or comes up on social media – even out of context editing, that kind of stuff, and how that might evolve in a future world.”
These notions chimed with Briggs’ own desire to “do a special agent story”, something with “a sort of spy-fi feel about it.”
Having hit on a concept, the pair then decided to put the series out for free as a “podcast serial”, a decision they say also helped accelerate its release as well as ensuring there’s “no barrier to entry” for audiences. “Developing any bit of IP [intellectual property] is very lengthy and expensive, because you’re mostly developing scripts, and picture decks, and bibles and all that sort of stuff in order to show them to a broadcaster or a streamer or a distributor,” Jamie explains.
“That can be potentially years of work and nobody ever sees it outside of little business relationships, and even then it takes another one to three years, or more, to get it through the commissioning/financing/production process. So you’ve probably got a lag of five years from the time you’re like ‘Let’s do a thing!’ to that thing actually being out there, and that lag could be 10 years.”
“I’m very impatient generally,” jokes Briggs. “I couldn’t wait 10 years to develop something!”
“This is the antidote actually to all the other – slower – stuff we’re developing,” Jamie says. “The more traditional approach.”
Having seen its evolution expedited by the current global situation, the First Action Bureau podcast has also been specifically designed to suit an audience’s adapted daily routine, with bite-size episodes running to between eight and 10 minutes. “During lockdown, what I think people saw across podcasting is that actually there was a decline in audience because that commuting time was gone,” Jamie explains. “People haven’t got that dead time where they have 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour to look at a screen or listen to something, so these had to be really short, we thought, in order to fit in with people’s lives.”
The announcement of the series earlier this month also came with an intriguing addendum for Gerry Anderson fans – First Action Bureau will serve not just as a standalone story but as part of a wider shared universe, dubbed the “AnderVerse”, which it will share with the aforementioned Firestorm (below) and a planned animated reboot of the classic series Anderson Terrahawks.
Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a clear influence, but the idea of links between series again has its roots in classic Anderson material, with the TV21 children’s comic of the 1960s containing stories which incorporated elements from a number of different shows including Thunderbirds, Stingray and Fireball XL5.
“In their TV formats, they don’t sit in the same universe but it’s something that they were experimenting with in TV21,” Jamie points out. “The AnderVerse thing is something that has been talked about for a couple of years on and off… what I found was we were developing these properties separately, they were all being treated as little separate pots of content.
“Then while we were working on the Terrahawks reboot with the team, a question came up about how a particular character might end up crossing into the Terrahawks universe and beyond, and that just suddenly opened us up from thinking about these projects as completely silo-ed to then thinking how and why these things might be connected.
“So then suddenly the Firestorm universe opened up and got a lot more exciting – we’ve been doing some new scripts during lockdown for that, and it all just started to work.
“So all these things are in a shared universe but on a linear timeline – these are not things that are happening in parallel, although there is some crossover and characters that reappear… that’s probably about as much as I can say, but it really works!”
First Action Bureau will launch with its first three episodes on Thursday, 1st October – find something to watch now with our TV Guide