It’s been a while since I’ve put up some classic Sci-Fi TV reviews up, but there has been a lot of new TV in recent months to get on with… That being said, let’s start a run through of UFO, the first live action Gerry Anderson TV show. I’ve been wanting to watch it (and its spiritual successor Space:1999) for a while now, the Blu-rays of all three series just waiting for me on my shelf, but I didn’t want to rush it (or watch four episodes in August and then another four in December, which would have made this review rather tricky.) I’ve enjoyed it so far, though the series isn’t without faults, both due to age and otherwise. Let’s have a look!
Earth is being visited by aliens who are abducting humans and harvesting their organs for their own bodies. The alien incursions may also be a prelude to a possible full-scale invasion, leading to the formation of high-technology international military agency SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) established to defend Earth and humanity against the mysterious aliens and learn more about them, while at the same time keeping the threat of an alien invasion hidden from the public…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
“My God, this alien has human organs!” “My God… I think that’s the wrong body.” “My God! … that makes more sense.”
Col. Edward Straker (Ed Bishop) – Straker is the Commander-in-Chief of SHADO, and the man who helped in its creation after he survived a UFO attack in the 1970s while serving as an Air Force Colonel. He’s cold-hearted and logical when behind his desk, always putting Earth and its safety ahead of his own life.
Col. Alec Freeman (George Sewell) – Second in command of SHADO, Col. Freeman is a bit more impulsive in his commanding, often having to be reeled back in by Col. Straker.
Col. Paul Foster (Michael Billington) – Paul Foster is a test pilot for new prototype jets, a job not without its risks, though normally those risks are only involving Earthly dangers…
Lt. Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake) – Lt. Ellis is in charge of the Moonbase, and as such is often the one giving the orders to take out the UFOs before they get a chance to even get to Earth. It also means she has to wear a purple wig, like all women on the moon, apparently…
Capt. Peter Carlin (Peter Gordeno) – Captain Carlin is in charge of the Skydiver submarine, as well as the pilot of its break-away aircraft “Sky One”. He joined SHADO because he believes UFOs are the reason for his sister’s disappearance years ago…
The Alien Threat (Various) – Aliens from a dying world, forced to harvest human organs to replace their own in order to survive. In order to fully migrate to Earth however, they must learn more, and overcome their defences…
A good example of the classic Gerry Anderson model work!
As a starter I enjoy the general concept of the show, even if a lot of the characters are pretty uninteresting by themselves. Luckily Straker, our central character, is one of the better ones, especially in Episode 8 (see two paragraphs down!) where he shows how dedicated to his job he really is. I mean, uncompromising leader is still a pretty simple character, but at least Ed Bishop pulls it off well. The only other character that really stands out in any way is Paul Foster, who has that arrogant party boy streak running through him, though is still a serious soldier when needed.
The special effects are good for a 1970 TV budget, especially the model effects (which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the show’s creator!) though the same shots of the Interceptors or Sky One taking off being used every episode is getting really old already… Oh, and the fact that background music is made up entirely of variations of the opening theme song makes me laugh, there’s a version for everything, from slow and tense, to light-hearted and funny, but it’s all the same few notes.
SHADO is split in three, well… four, sort of. It has a main base on Earth, underneath a movie studio where Straker pretends to be their head before his office turns into a lift to take him down to SHADO HQ, it has a submarine where the front half can split off and become a jet plane, it has a moonbase complete with several lunar craft and space interceptors, and finally there’s a satellite controlled by an A.I. named SID that can detect distant craft coming in. It’s all very… Gerry Anderson, full of the aforementioned great model shots. Why all the women on the moonbase have matching purple wigs I can’t tell you, but there you go…
Individual episodes then, as like other 70s shows all of them are self-contained, there is no arc to comment on or anything like that. The best episode of this bunch is definitely Episode 8, “A Question of Priorities”, where we see that Straker has an ex-wife and a son who he only sees once a month. When his ex and her new man tell him to leave, his son runs after his departing father and ends up getting hit by a car. Straker does everything to get a special drug imported from the US (as his son is allergic to most antibiotics) but he returns to SHADO HQ and continues running operations while his ex is at the hospital, becoming more and more angry at his lack of care for their son. Here’s the kicker though, the plane with the medicine is redirected to deal with an alien defector who could tell them all sorts of information about their enemy, and by the time the incident is over (the alien defector is killed by another UFO before it can give any info) Straker returns to the hospital to see his ex in tears, telling him she hates him and only shaking her head when he asks if his son made it. The episode ends with a slow fade to black of Straker just standing in the hospital waiting room… I mean, damn, that’s dark as hell. Great drama, especially as I never thought for a second the 7-year-old would be actually killed off like that, but yeah… bleak.
Purple wigs are all the rage on the moon in 1980… is a very weird sentence to type.
The opening episode, “Identified”, is a good introduction. We see the first alien captured, and autopsied (which made the connection this show has to the X-Com games all the more apparent!) and it turns out they have been snatching humans for some time and using their organs to keep themselves alive. Submarine captain Peter Carlin, who shot down the UFO, finds out that his lost sister’s organs were within the autopsied alien, which was an unpleasant revelation for him, I’m sure.
Episode 4, “Exposed”, features the debut of Col. Foster, an ace Test Pilot who get involved with SHADO when his plane is caught in an exploding UFO. They try to brainwash him / trick him into thinking he imagined everything, but he’s shrewd enough to figure it all out, which impressed Straker enough to offer him a job.
Episode 3, “Flight Path”, was a good tale as well, where Moonbase operative Paul Roper’s wife is threatened, leading to false information being sent to SID that leaves the lunar base open to attack. Eventually Roper’s wife is killed by a mind-controlled soldier, and Paul, not having anything else to lose / wanting revenge, takes a rocket launcher out onto the surface and destroys the in-coming UFO, at the cost of his life.
Episode 5, “Survival”, was also good, featuring an alien attack on moonbase killing a bunch of people, leading to the new crew member Col. Foster to take part in taking out the UFO responsible, landing both himself and an alien isolated on the lunar surface. The two end up saving each other and forming an unspoken bond, which becomes tragic when his fellow SHADO soldiers gun the alien down in front of Foster’s eyes, his radio broken meaning he couldn’t communicate to them that he was on their side…
I quite like the Interceptor design, but if I see that same piece of footage of them lifting off again I’m going to…. well, continuing watching, but be slightly annoyed…?
As mentioned above, Straker and Foster get away with having a bit of personality, but everyone else is just generic as hell, completely devoid of personality. Col. Freeman, despite being second in command, has an English accent, and that’s about all that stands out about him. Everyone else I had to look up their names because they stood out so little!
Episode 6, “Conflict”, and 7, “The Dalotek Affair”, are both fine though share a very similar concept, one dealing with a hidden UFO module disrupting spacecraft and causing them to crash, and the other dealing with another base on the moon potentially disrupting Moonbase equipment, until it turns out it was a hidden UFO device (the episode is also needless told via a flashback framing device…) They’re not bad, per say, but not very exciting.
Episode 2, “Computer Affair”, I didn’t really care for. It’s basically two people on moonbase developing feelings for each other and so are deemed to be not eligible to work together due to their attachment. They end up in conflict and show no bias towards putting the other in danger, proving they can work together… it just wasn’t very good, especially for Episode 2!
Oh and I also have to mention in the opening episode “1980” repeatedly flashing on screen was annoying as hell, thankfully it’s changed to just appearing in the opening from then on…
It’s funny how a show so insistent it’s set in 1980 can look so 1970…
UFO is off to a good start, one great episode and a few really good ones outweigh the two average ones and the poor one. The cast is good, if not very generic, and the production values are good (especially for the time, and especially the blu-ray transfer). I’m looking forward to seeing what else UFO can offer in the next two batches!
Episode 8 “A Question of Priorities”:
Episodes 1, and 3-5:
Episodes 6 and 7:
Episode 2 “Computer Affair”: