HOME |  JOIN |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
Newest Reviews
Lonely Lady, The
Big T.N.T. Show, The
Iceman Cometh, The
Replacement Killers, The
On Any Sunday
Mourning Forest, The
Orloff Against the Invisible Man
Power Rangers
Loving
Squid and the Whale, The
Hangar 18
Flashback
Goose Steps Out, The
Ghost in the Shell
Anatahan
Elle
Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, The
No Holds Barred
Laughing Dead, The
Other Side of Hope, The
J'accuse!
Handmaiden, The
P'tit Quinquin
Sense of an Ending, The
Rift, The
Frantz
Nocturnal Animals
Get Out
My Life as a Dog
Mooch Goes to Hollywood
   
 
Newest Articles
Computer Love: WarGames vs Electric Dreams
Dream Big: Elm Street vs Dreamscape
Whicker's Slicker: Whicker's World Vols 3&4 on DVD
Ladies First: Girls on Film 2 on DVD
Rock Back: 3 Cult Millennium Music Movies
Possession Obsession: Exorcist vs Amityville
The Italian Jobs: Eurocrime! on DVD
And Then? 6 Hollywood Films That Should Have Had Sequels But Didn't
Approaching Menace: The Frighteners on DVD
Oz Factor: Strange Australia on the Cusp of the 80s
   
 

The SHADO Knows: UFO The Complete Series on Blu-ray

  By 1969, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were beginning to tire of their signature puppet television shows, and the man putting up the money, Sir Lew Grade, identified a need for a live action series, both to give the couple something new to do and to deliver a science fiction series to match the burgeoning amount of the material for ostensibly grown-up audiences, and he knew they could conjure something up. Their previous series, the little-seen The Secret Service, had combined puppetry and live action, but UFO was to fulfil their dream of directing actors away from what they were increasingly beginning to view as a children's television ghetto. The results were a show that could be enjoyed by adults, but true to form the Andersons fashioned a programme that was the talk of playgrounds across the land, nay, the globe, anyway. That was perhaps ironic, but also demonstrated how they managed to appeal to the imagination in a way that youngsters particularly responded to, even if that was not their intention.

Gerry Anderson directed the first episode that was broadcast on British television in September 1970, scripted with his wife and co-producer Sylvia, who designed those, um, distinctive costumes (purple bobs on the women on the moon, for instance). Identified was very much a scene setter, with the series lead Ed Bishop playing the exposition-spouting Commander Ed Straker and the action flitting around between the various land, sea, air and space regions of his organisation's patrol. Which was? Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation, or SHADO for short, which was Earth's last line of defence against the raids of space invaders who not only covet our planet's resources, but wish to use out body parts in transplants against our will. That last detail indicated the Andersons were adding a nastier edge to their plotlines as befitting their later timeslot in the schedules, and another was the manner in which the sexual angle was played up, not just because the actresses were wearing tight or revealing costumes, but also because of the clunky, sexualised dialogue the performers delivered, operative George Sewell telling scientist Wanda Ventham that he was well aware of her equipment or whatever. Thankfully that angle was mostly ditched after this.

Nobody needed innuendo central, basically, so second episode Computer Affair dialled that straight back for a more self-serious tone as it took on the subject of SHADO's bureaucracy and box ticking. If this didn't sound like a terrifically riveting tale, you would be correct in that assumption as moon pilot Harry Baird and moon controller Gabrielle Drake were put in a difficult position when one of their fighter ships was destroyed and the pilot killed by a darned flying saucer. This led to them essentially undergoing an assessment, with psychological tests, to discern if they were still up to the job, though given that they were two of the main stars it would seem unlikely they would be dropped this early in the run (not that every episode order included this second). Therefore it was better to appreciate the hardware that was such an important part of Anderson shows, with the love of watching futuristic machines in action depicted with the sort of care and attention that Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and their ilk did, rendered by Derek Meddings' peerless miniatures.

Flight Path was the third episode produced, and the first one with a special guest star, here George Cole who had been a popular fixture of movies and television for decades, though his greatest success as Arfur Daley in TV's Minder was to come. He was playing a SHADO operative who is blackmailed by the aliens into giving them top secret data from his work, or else they will kill his beloved (and younger) wife, Sonia Fox, who when we meet her is in a state of panic that an intruder has been hanging around outside, trying to get in the house. She actually takes a shotgun and nearly accidentally blows George away, mistaking him for the bad guy, but there is worse to come for the couple as the series' ruthlessness with regard to its characters made itself plain. Straker and his second-in-command Colonel Alec Freeman (Sewell, more rough-hewn character actor than hunky leading man) argue over the ethics of using Cole to take down the aliens' plans, which creates a spot of dramatic tension and culminates in the bizarre sight of Cole in a space suit standing on the moon with a rocket launcher, all the better to blow up the enemy saucer.

In Exposed, the question of what SHADO would do if they were rumbled arose - not by the aliens, but by a member of the public. It was guest star time again, as Michael Billington took the role of the test pilot who happens to be in the skies when our heroes are chasing down a saucer, but this was different as the actor had joined the main cast by the end of the episode. In many places this was the second instalment shown in the run, which made more sense since Billington would be identified with the programme ever after thanks to his fairly high profile in the subsequent stories. As a plot, it did reflect oddly on the organisation as the tactics they used against his Paul Foster character were closer to the actions of a totalitarian secret police than they were a benevolent task force, testing Foster's mettle as he conducted his own investigation into what had killed his co-pilot that fateful night. This included sending the heavy mob round to beat him up when it looks like he's getting too close to the truth, presumably what was wanted. Ours is not to reason why... Also appearing were Jean Marsh and Vladek Sheybal.

Survival certainly had one of the more arresting beginnings to a UFO episode as one of the spinning craft crashlands on the moon and manages to take a shot at one of the SHADO base's windows, breaking it and causing an oxygen leak that kills one pilot who was about to head home to Earth. Foster witnesses all this and is troubled that he could not save the man, so agrees to Straker's suggestion that they should scour the surface outside for the errant saucer. So far, so average, but they had a trick up their sleeve in that this was a loose remake of the then-recent World War II movie Hell in the Pacific where an American and Japanese soldier were stranded on the same island; if you've seen Enemy Mine, then the screenwriter of that seemed to be very familiar with this entry in the series. Foster is the one stranded here, and in what can best be described as a volte face the alien, who previously was trying to kill Earthlings, has a change of heart and starts helping him survive. You can imagine the heavily ironic ending this leads to, but it was possibly the best storyline the series had delivered up to that point (depending on the order you saw it). Hammer actress Suzan Farmer played Foster's understandably confused girlfriend.

Though the series was set in 1980, it is not the 1980 that history remembers, as was the case with Anderson's science fiction, and indeed most sci-fi that attempts to predict the future, but one thing they might have got right with Conflict was the problem of orbiting space junk, and its effect on space travel. We start off this with a craft destroying items of said junk all the better to clean up the area above the atmosphere of Earth so we can fly about up there without worrying about bumping into anything, but there's another danger, posed by the aliens in that they can hide amongst such wreckage to sabotage SHADO's vehicles, as well as anyone else who may be up there at the time. Straker finds himself butting heads with a chief (Grant Taylor) who appears to want the entire anti-alien organisation closed down because it's a waste of money, a point that is present to conjure some conflict in the story, but seeing as how we were early in the series it was difficult to believe the chief would get his way, and indeed he does not. Nevertheless, some nice tension in the action sequences as the probe steers spaceships onto a deadly trajectory.

The Dalotek Affair begins with a genuine interview with Dr Frank E. Stranges, who was an interesting chap, a ufologist who believed that aliens were proof of the existence of Jesus Christ and that he had dealings with one who was an adviser to The White House. Whether this was true or not, he certainly believed it, and therefore made an eccentric yet apt choice as interviewee here, discussing how the next wars will be fought between planets. Presumably he meant Earth and the ominous planet which appeared in the final three seconds of the UFO end credits, regarding us with typically envious eyes, but this introduction was a mere sideshow to the rest of the narrative, which laid out the ongoing saga of Foster's love life with a flashback spurred by him catching sight of a woman (Tracy Reed) in a restaurant. As we are shown, he had a thing for her when he met her on the moon, as she worked in a private base there which was suspected of jamming SHADO's signals, albeit unintentionally. The truth was rather different, but romance was a tricky proposition on an Anderson show, and this one did not really convince.

There was a rare look at Straker's private life in A Question of Priorities, which afforded Bishop a chance to do something else other than bark orders and look stern and in control, simply because for this episode he was not in control at all. The reason for that occurs right at the start, after Straker has been spending the day with the son he has with his ex-wife (Suzanne Neve) and trying to connect with the boy who is effectively becoming estranged from him. Then, tragedy strikes as they child is run over by a car when he was chasing after his father to show him the model boat he had constructed, and lands in hospital in a coma. Not that this story was entirely domestic, as meanwhile the moonbase is watching a saucer that has moved so fast into Earth's atmosphere that they cannot stop it - and it cannot stop itself, crashing into the sea. Here comes the dilemma: does Straker stop the occupant from wreaking havoc, or does he use his SHADO technology to attain the necessary antibiotics to save his son? The answer is genuinely surprising, and spoke to a lack of compromise in the scriptwriting that might seem arbitrary, but was effective here. On a lighter note, how come the blind old lady doesn't get to wear one of Sylvia's fashion creations and instead is in a floral print dress?

Colonel Foster was once again the focus of Ordeal, which gave us the now-slightly hilarious sight of Billington grooving at a wild party with Quinn O'Hara as the Beatles' Get Back booms on the soundtrack, all looking about as unbelievably 1970 as you could get, and all the better for it. Some may complain about objectification of women in vintage science fiction of this era, but if anyone was being objectified in UFO it was Billington, who in his instalment is made to strip down to a skimpy pair of blue trunks, all the better to invite the audience to admire his hairy chest. The actor was for some time a runner-up to be the next James Bond, he did not get selected, but you can watch him here and try to imagine what he would have been like, though in this particular story it is Foster who is undergoing the ordeal: he is assigned to a health spa to get into shape (not that he looks like he needs it) for a couple of weeks, but the place is infiltrated by the aliens who knock him out in the sauna and try to turn him into one of their own, whisking him away in their craft. So does Straker order Foster rescued or shot down? And if the latter, do his staff follow those orders? This does settle into a drawn out recovery, but it's not bad and proves the series' continuing ingenuity.

Straker was afforded a small ray of hope that his private life might work out in The Responsibility Seat, an episode that barely featured the alien threat at all. This time the menace was twofold: on Earth, a nosy reporter (Jane Merrow) - cue "Gasp! She’s a woman!" introduction - tries to find out what is actually going on behind the façade of the film studio where SHADO centres its operations, and as Straker endeavours to stop her from blowing the whole secret, Freeman is left in charge (which is what the odd title refers to), whereupon a rogue Russian vehicle threatens to bump into the moonbase and destroy it in the process. This latter is entirely accidental as the two-man crew have become intoxicated with a faulty oxygen supplier, but the former is more of a suspicion of the feminine wiles that Merrow possesses, even as Straker takes her back to his pad and wines and dines her. Will he be won over? Will she see the error of her ways? The answer to that demonstrated the series' theme that it was lonely at the top, especially when the Earth will never know what an admirable job Straker, and indeed his team, are doing.

The Square Triangle saw UFO turning into Brian Clemens' Thriller TV anthology for one episode, as we follow an adulterous couple (Adrienne Corri and Patrick Mower) who are planning to murder the woman's husband (Alan Cuthbertson) at their country house. Not that we find this out straight away, as there was a lot of watching characters driving about to get through in the first third, which included the SHADO interest when the organisation is instructed by Straker to allow one saucer to get through their defences and land in Southern England: in handy reach of their headquarters. These two plot strands are united eventually, but only after the search for the landed craft sees a security guard murdered while his Alsatian manages to injure the alien, though there is worse to come for the intruder. This concludes in a very interesting and righteously charged dilemma which appealed to the viewer's sense of injustice, not the obvious one either, and to reflect that there was a specially shot credits sequence to underline the grim results of SHADO's policies and their amnesia drug, which anticipated Men in Black by decades.

By nature a militaristic show, it was only a matter of time before UFO served up an episode bogged down in such matters, and Court Martial was that episode. As the title suggests, someone is on trial, here for giving (or selling) secrets that have been leaked in the newspapers, though Straker discovers this when he finds a bug in his (fancy) car, which has been put there by Taylor's Henderson since he believes Straker may be the spy. But a pre-credits sequence has revealed Colonel Foster is the culprit, or should we say apparent culprit, and not only that but his trial has rendered him subject to the death penalty, alarmingly. He protests his innocence, which we can only agree with since Billington had fast become the third-billed star of the show and you were not going to get rid of him that easily, yet we probably needed such a controversial (but not really) plotline since this entry was plainly one of the cost-cutting ones, with barely a special effect in it and certainly none of the aliens. Trouble was, you didn't get any of Meddings miniatures either, which were half the reason for tuning in, leaving a rather dry, talky experience until Foster makes a break for it and the location changes to an anonymous stretch of countryside for him to run across (such locations were a speciality of the series when they were not using sets). It did pick up, but this was basically UFO without any UFOs (or yew-foes, as the actors pronounce it).

Close-Up was another hardware heavy episode, one that finally tackled the issue of that great big green planet looming in the end credits, which had gone unremarked up to that point - had SHADO noticed this was where the aliens were hailing from or not. It seemed they had, as the plot detailed the endeavour to send an "electron telescope" up into space to capture high definition images of the planet, all the better to keep track of what the enemy were up to. In practice, this saw a lot of shots of Derek Meddings' miniatures and models, so if you liked watching those you were in for a treat, from the usual business with the SHADO hardware, one of the flying saucers that the probe has to follow to reach its destination, and a couple of other bits and bobs like a NASA rocket to carry the kit. As the secondary plot, Drake's Ellis is having doubts about her place on the moonbase, which develops into Straker giving her a pep talk that reassures her about while she may be doing a man's job as the leader but she’s still an attractive woman (!), so it's nice that he has his priorities straight. She also got to appear in the big reveal at the end of the story, which was something of a damp squib and made what had gone before it seem pointless.

For a complete change of pace, we were then offered the cryptically-titled Confetti Check A-OK (it's a line of dialogue) which was in effect one fifty minute long flashback. Straker arrives at SHADO headquarters to see the cigars being handed out (regular operative Ayshea Brough even has a puff on one, but it doesn't agree with her) because one of the staff has just become a father. This was interesting thanks to there being no credits sequence to be seen at the beginning, it just launched straight into the action where Straker reminisces about his brief marriage to Mary (Neve returned as an earlier version) who he was about to go on honeymoon with when duty called, a strong hint of the marital turmoil to come. He was then appointed head of SHADO, with an indication of why there was bad blood between him and Henderson lasting back ten years (Bishop had his hair styled differently to make that passage of time clear), and the whole narrative was an insight into what made him the straight-backed, no-nonsense Commander we knew. However, what it did not feature were any UFOs whatsoever, and you can imagine the kids of the day getting very restless while this one unfolded: some of the adults too.

The saucers were well and truly back for E.S.P., though they may not pose the biggest threat. This introduced a dangerous man by the name of Croxley, played by John Stratton, a prolific television actor best known to Doctor Who fans as the villainous Shockeye in the "Patrick Troughton returns" story The Two Doctors. Here he was the man cursed with the titular second sight, as it sends him into a nervous breakdown not helped by his psychiatrist (Douglas Wilmer) wishing to experiment on his mind and his wife (Deborah Stanford) nagging at him, though in a somewhat superficially explored motive this has given him a grudge against SHADO. Or perhaps it was the way that one of the alien craft smashed through his house, diverted by Croxley's powerful thoughts into a mishap (said domicile being out of the way in the countryside as we hardly ever saw a city in this show)? Anyway, he has typed out everything he knows about the organisation into a film script that lands on a suspicious Straker's desk, and soon they are onto him, which culminates in the Commander and Freeman having a standoff with the disturbed individual in the wreckage of his house. Again, this was a different take on the usual format, although more in the spirit of the science fiction it was rather than a domestic drama as the previous instalment had attempted, and perhaps was the better for it.

The premise of Kill Straker! was all there in the name, as things kicked off with a psychedelic intro as Foster and another astronaut are waylaid by the aliens while on a flight from the moon to Earth. Cue the staff urgently giving orders back at headquarters while Foster is visibly discombobulated by the far out light display, a state of mind underlined by the way he begins to claw at his face and yell, you guessed it, "KILL STRAKER!" They do make it back, but there's something off about them, especially Foster who makes moves to get his boss replaced because he believes he has a Napoleon complex - except he doesn't believe that, it's the alien influence trying to get him to undermine Straker. Taking a more espionage approach to the usual proceedings, with Foster as an unwitting agent for the other side, his companion in brainwashing tries to inject the chief with a hard to detect air bubble, thereby murdering him, but our man wakes up in time to prevent this, though he doesn't prevent the would-be assassin from causing an explosion, because what would an Anderson production be without regular detonations? Although it didn't look to be leading up to one, there was a twist at the end which may make you reassess Foster's relationship with Straker, but then again it wasn't referred to later, so maybe not.

One of Bishop's personal favourites was Sub-Smash, indicating he was a fan of all those war at sea movies where a submarine is hit by a torpedo or some other mishap and the crew must contemplate either finding a way out of an impossible situation or expiring. Why? Because that's precisely what happened here, falling back on an old reliable of a plot that saw the SHADO seafaring vessel Skydiver suffer a setback in its endeavours to prevent an alien underwater craft from blowing up more ships, which it has begun to do with alarming regularity. Straker decides he must join the string vest-sporting crew of their submarine (which has a fighter plane on its nose, because why not?) with a top team including himself, Foster and moonbase operative Nina Barry. It's unclear why he thought she should join them, but you imagine actress Dolores Mantez was delighted at having something more substantial to do than essentially answer the phones on the moon, and she rose to the occasion, not only in her performance (Nina is landed in a perilous state of claustrophobia) but because she was a woman of colour in a prominent role, thereby demonstrating the Andersons' keenness to depict a diverse cast. Also worth mentioning: the Captain of the Skydiver was Gary Myers, the Australian model who portrayed the Milk Tray man in the long-running series of adverts; his character name here? Lew Waterman (!).

Nothing to do with Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence was the first episode to be produced in 1970, as everything previous to this had been created in 1969 - it was also significant as the first not to feature Sewell as well, who had been ditched. Not that you would notice in the original broadcast, as the selection was a mix of those made at different times, but it was a little odd to see Straker without his right hand man, even if Colonel Foster was present and correct to take care of a menace that had gotten through the SHADO defences to land, where else, but the English countryside which seemed to attract the invaders like flies (or maybe it was because the miniatures had been rustled up on rural sets and they were determined to use them no matter what). We meet a wealthy showjumper (Michael Jayston) and his sister (Susan Jameson) who live on an estate with their father (Richard Vernon, you know, Slartibartfast) training the horses. Naturally, those mighty steeds are equally mightily perturbed when the alien starts skulking around, with good reason when we see what it does to the local tramp (Nigel Gregory) and his dog (whose barks sounds suspiciously like a human going "Woof, woof, woof!" Soon SHADO are on the case, albeit after a lot of searching, they don't look too adept in this story though it does have a happy ending promising more of Foster's ongoing love life saga.

Next up was one of the strangest stories, The Cat with Ten Lives, which was apparently devised by someone with a liking for dogs but a real grudge against cats. Said moggy was found in the middle of a country road (yup, out in the rustic locations once again) by SHADO pilot Alexis Kanner (probably best known for his appearance in three episodes of The Prisoner, a show even more cult than this one) who had been meeting relatives with his wife (Geraldine Moffat) when during a séance he passed out. Brace yourself for the premise here: the cat is an alien, and possesses the pilot's mind so that he sabotages the moonbase when he returns there, so to foil the extraterrestrial plans that darn cat must be destroyed. This was no precursor to Disney's The Cat from Outer Space (the puss didn't speak with Roddy McDowall's voice, for a start), so instead we had a bunch of mystical scenes with the possession interspersed with action-oriented sequences as Foster gets to combat the unwilling agent of mayhem. If you could get past this oddity, then the guest cast were particularly strong this time around: Ventham (best known now as Benedict Cumberbatch's mum) was back, as was semi-regular Sheybal, and also there were Windsor Davies (of sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Steven Berkoff (eighties baddie extraordinaire). Some find this one too bizarre to get on with, but it has its own whacked out appeal.

Following that, the bluntly-titled Destruction, which started with Philip Madoc (another actor, like Ventham, familiar to Doctor Who fans) as a Navy Captain who spots a suspicious craft in the sky following his ship and orders it shot down, which it is. We had last seen him as the new husband of Straker's ex-wife, so presumably this was a different character or this would have been quite the coincidence, though he never meets the SHADO boss this time. That said, he does cause him a headache as there is a photograph taken of the downed saucer (which sinks beneath the waves) that is reprinted in the world's press as a novelty, which was one way this series anticipated the mainstreaming of the actual UFO phenomenon occurring as the seventies drew on, probably thanks to pop culture's interest in the subject as much as it was actual aliens hanging about on Earth. Meanwhile, back at the plot, Stephanie Beacham was the guest star, a naval secretary with an interest in astronomy who happens to give pilot Berkoff the fright of his life when she gives him a funny turn on focusing her telescope in his general direction. How's that? Because she's under the control of the aliens and is disrupting the space programme of SHADO, though it's not clear if she is a willing insurgent or not, and the thought that there may be double agents abroad in the land is one that Straker muses upon darkly in the closing moments. Also, more foiled love life for Foster, who had taken a liking to Steph, and watch for The Beyond star David Warbeck taking over the Skydiver Captain duties.

The Man Who Came Back was Derren Nesbitt, playing an astronaut who at the beginning is caught up with an attack in space which sees his capsule filled with smoke and the craft apparently destroyed. Not only that, but SID, the Space Intruder Detector (as the opening credits almost always inform us), has been damaged as well, which does make you wonder why the enemy doesn't spend more time trying to disable that highly useful bit of kit when without it SHADO are at a severe disadvantage. Not that it would help in diagnosing Nesbitt as one of them, for he has not died after all but is found stranded in a jungle and soon brought back to his usual post in the organisation. However, this was Derren Nesbitt we were talking about, a dodgy geezer par excellence, and true to form his colleagues begin to get uneasy around him as he has grown noticeably more aggressive; as before, a character has been possessed by the antagonists and again, Straker is the target, with the astronaut in a position to get him since they are old buddies. Only Colonel Grey (respected stage thespian Gary Raymond) suspects, but interestingly he was played in a chilly, unfriendly manner while Nesbitt was chummy to a fault, making for an intriguing dynamic and one of the strongest episodes in the series thanks to this canny casting. Elsewhere, Ventham as Colonel Lake had by now taken over from Sewell and Mantez had replaced Drake in their places in the cast.

With a cold opening, The Psychobombs dispensed with the title sequence and theme tune to make the most of the fifty minutes available as the alien threat turned out to be implementing one of their most effective schemes yet. A strong element of this show was the creeping feeling that the bad guys were growing to be one step ahead of the good guys, and that SHADO were playing catch up for a lot of the time, which was certainly the case here as three Earthling civilians happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time one evening. Deborah Grant (known as Mrs Bergerac in the long-running eighties crime series) is the first to be claimed as she drives through, you guessed it, the countryside, David Collings (a stalwart of cult TV, including as Silver on Sapphire and Steel) is in bed and Mike Pratt (Randall in Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, as ever looking far older than his years) is out walking his dog. This trio are possessed (seeing a link between these later episodes?) and becoming "living bombs" which are despatched to high security sites and by grabbing a handy power line work up enough energy to explode! And what a lot of damage they do, including to Foster's heartstrings as yet again he tries romancing a lovely lady (Grant in this case) only to come a cropper, though in this instance he was under the influence of the aliens too. Just suspenseful enough to be worthwhile, and less predictable than you might anticipate.

Reflections in the Water saw Skydiver put back into play after its recent mishap, none the worse for wear, as we were offered another undersea episode, as the series alternated between plot based on land, ocean and space all the better to show off the models that respectively took advantage of those environments. This was probably the best of the watery yarns, and we open with what was an Anderson trait, the "coming up in the next hour" (or half hour) montage that would be a staple of their starting credits from Thunderbirds to Space: 1999, among others, though not something they opted to include with UFO, this aside. It did tend to give away what was about to happen, especially as it showed one of those Meddings explosions that capped off the proceedings, but this held its surprises nevertheless (or surprise singular, to be more exact). A freighter has been blown up by a saucer in the Atlantic, and SHADO investigate, taking Skydiver to the region (a diver has also been killed in the vicinity) where they find a huge dome under the waves. And what is inside? Why, it's popular Scottish actor James Cosmo, or rather it’s his Lieutenant Anderson, a one time only character who is suspected of being a double agent. Really this was that sci-fi TV staple, the evil doubles episode, pretty much every such series has them, but there was a neat twist here even if the aliens were going to far too much trouble to mess with SHADO broadcasts.

Then Mindbender which lived up to its name by at least bending the mind of Straker. It kicked off with an exploding saucer on the moon, something he finds very suspicious since it was not shot down by the base there. A rover is sent out to investigate, and the astronaut (Al Mancini) retrieves what looks like a large, uncut diamond he takes for a moon rock and brings back to the base, not realising he may have made a boo-boo, even when after holding it with his bare hands he starts to see Mexican bandits straight out of a Spaghetti Western lurking in the corridors. He attacks the ones in the control room, then commences a killing spree that is nipped in the bud when he is shot dead himself, whereupon the truth comes out: he had been hallucinating. It's an alien plot, and a continuation of the psychological matters these latter efforts were wrapped up in that sees Australian national treasure Charles 'Bud' Tingwell go nuts at headquarters (while limping, oddly) and the reason this was recalled as one of the finest of the series, Straker sees UFO for what it is: a television show. In what may have been a costcutting exercise but nevertheless turns out pretty well (and pretty trippy) Bishop stalked the studios at Pinewood as he realised he is part of a TV episode, with Billington ("Mike") trying to get him to accept that he is an actor as Straker/Bishop freaks out. Whatever the motive, this was undeniably captivating as an innovative twist to a programme that could easily have played it safe.

Mind you, if you thought Straker was freaking out in that instalment, that's nothing compared to how he behaves in Timelash, generally considered as the greatest episode UFO produced. That in spite of their being no space action in it as this was solely confined to Earth, solely confined to the Harlington-Straker film studio and the underlying SHADO base, for that matter. When it kicks off, it is indeed all kicking off as Straker has gone insane, smashing up equipment in the control room and beating up any of the staff who try to stop him or calm him down; once he's done that, he rushes out, takes his elevator office to the surface and chased by Foster and security he eventually winds up on the roof where Colonel Lake is lying unconscious where he is finally subdued. Once in the hospital bed, it all becomes clear, but very gradually as the story doesn't give everything away immediately, or indeed at all, as the precise mechanism of what Straker and Lake experienced is something of a mystery. What we do know is that they were threatened by Britain's finest voiceover man Patrick Allen, who appropriately provides gloating voiceovers only they can hear to wind them up, though he also appears on screen. He is Turner, a disgruntled employee who has fallen in with the aliens and enabled them to use their time freezing technology on the region, resulting in a pleasingly hysterical tone as Straker is driven increasingly to distraction. It's a pity this was the penultimate episode, as on this evidence UFO was really hitting its stride.

This left the final episode to be produced, The Long Sleep, which as UFO had planned to continue into a second series left the show on a rather downbeat note. That second series proposal, which would have been set largely on the moonbase, became Space: 1999 after a few tweaks and rewrites, but what of our last visit to SHADO? For this, they portrayed Straker as a serial runner-over, as he is reminded that he knocked down a young lady (Tessa Wyatt, soon to gain sitcom fame in Robin's Nest) ten years ago and she has been in a coma ever since - couldn't they think up another connection he could have had to her without making it seem as if he should be retaking his driving test a lot more often? Anyway, she has woken up and has important information about a ginormous bomb the aliens have placed in a derelict farmhouse, if only she could remember all the details, cueing another flashback in tasteful sepia to when she ran away from home and met a hippy (Christian Roberts) who introduced her to the wonders of psychedelic drugs out at that farmhouse (prompting a riot of colour). Just their luck that it was being used by the aliens at the time, and just the aliens' luck that they ran off with the vital component of the device that would destroy Britain in an earthquake. So now it's an extremely belated race against time to retrieve the gadget before the other side gets it. It's a pity UFO didn't end on the previous episode, as this one was a little bit of a letdown - not hugely, but you'd prefer a triumph to finish with a flourish as opposed to Straker and Lake morosely wandering off.

Network have released the complete 26 episode run of UFO on Blu-ray, lovingly restored so it has never looked and sounded better. Those special features in full:

From Earth to the Moon: brand new feature-length documentary with interviews, archive video, audio and stills - many of which have never been seen or heard before.
The Women of UFO: new documentary discussing the improving sexual equality depicted in the series and the role of science fiction in striving for that change
Identified: SHADO New Recruits Briefing: a newly created SHADO briefing film narrated by Matt Zimmerman
Exclusive 600 page book on the making of the series by archive television historian Andrew Pixley
Film material, including textless episode title backgrounds, textless end titles, stock footage, TV spots, extra footage for Identified and Exposed, unused footage from Timelash and The Long Sleep, Italian trailers
Audio commentaries: Identified with Gerry Anderson and Sub-Smash with Ed Bishop
S.I.D. Computer Voice Session and audio outtakes for these sessions and Kill Straker!
Archive Ed Bishop audio interview from 1986
Tomorrow Today: Future Fashions with Sylvia Anderson
Extensive image galleries including previously unseen images

Fans of the series could not have asked for a better set, and it's the ideal introduction for newcomers as well.

Author: Graeme Clark

 

< Back to Article list

Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Who's the best?
Bernard Cribbins
Tom Cruise
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
Enoch Sneed
  Vikki Sanderson
Darren Jones
Tom Le Surf-hall
Mark Le Surf-hall
  Michael Joy
Andrew Pragasam
   

 

Last Updated: 18 March, 2006