The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson – Forthcoming from Network


Due for release at the end of March is The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson, a grab-bag containing several pilots which never went to a full series, plus Space Police (an early incarnation of Space Precinct).  Also included are some interesting-sounding special features, details in the blurb below.

An alien being chooses two children to assist him in improving the Earth…

A spaceship on a scientific mission is flung into the far reaches of outer space…

A police lieutenant fights organised crime on a distant planet…

…these are The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson!

Creator of the legendary Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson scored incredible successes throughout the 1960s and ’70s with Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space: 1999 and other series which appealed to both children and adults alike. Not all his ideas, however, went to a full series and this set contains the 1970s pilots for both The Investigator and The Day After Tomorrow, as well as the 1986 pilot for Space Police, which was eventually reworked as Space Precinct nearly a decade later. Alongside these rare and much sought after programmes, this collector’s set also includes:

Here Comes Kandy and You’ve Never Seen This – Gerry’s earliest work, from 1955

Image galleries for all three pilots

New transfer of remaining film elements for Space Police, alongside the 1992 “Reloaded” edit and test footage

Dick Spanner, PI – an unscreened episode with accompanying image gallery

Blue Skies Ahead and an accompanying Blue Cars advert, made by Gerry in partnership with Nicholas Parsons

Archive Television Musings YouTube channel – Derek Meddings talks about Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet

I’ve just created a YouTube channel, where I’ll post, from time to time, some interesting clips and programmes from my archive of VHS recordings from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

First up is a nice little piece on Derek Meddings from 1995, where he discusses his work on Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.

Gerry Anderson’s Into Infinity (The Day After Tomorrow) to be broadcast on BBC4 – 9/11/14

into infinity

Gerry Anderson’s Into Infinity (also known as The Day After Tomorrow) is to receive a rare television screening.  BBC4 will broadcast it on Sunday, 9th November at 10:50 pm.

Since the DVD has only been made available to Fanderson members, this terrestrial outing is very welcome.

Into Infinity was written by Johnny Byrne, directed by Charles Crichton and was originally broadcast on BBC1 in 1976.  Planned as the pilot of a possible series, it featured some familiar names from previous Anderson ventures, such as Nick Tate and, as narrator, Ed Bishop.  Brian Blessed, a guest star from Space 1999, also features.

Post Space 1999. Anderson was to find funding for his projects hard to come by, so Into Infinity never got beyond the pilot stage.  But it’s certainly an interesting curio that’s worth a look.

EDIT – it will shortly receive a wider DVD release, see here for details.

Filmed in Supermarionation (Network Blu Ray/DVD Review)


Filmed in Supermarionation is a glorious two-hour documentary from director/producer Stephen La Rivière which tells the story of how a small company based in Slough were able produce some of the most iconic children’s television series of all time.

Central to the story, of course, is the late Gerry Anderson.  Happily he’s well represented throughout the documenatry via an extensive interview.  Also present is Gerry’s ex-wife, Sylvia, who was a key figure in the sucess of AP Films/Century 21, not least for voicing Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds.  Sadly, the divorce of Gerry and Sylvia was very bitter, which meant that during Gerry’s lifetime she was persona non grata – so it’s good to have her contribution appreciated here.

Apart from Gerry and Sylvia, there were a whole host of unsung heroes who brought these shows to life and celebrating their work was one of the main reasons why Stephen La Rivière wanted to make this documentary.  Many of the surviving creative team have been interviewed (others who have passed on, like Barry Gray and Derek Meddings, are represented by archive footage) and there’s some lovely moments – such as when a group of puppeteers return to the location of the studio in Slough to be confronted with a immaculate recreation of a studio set, complete with puppets.  Also very touching is the moment towards the end, when David Graham (the voice of Parker) takes a moment to thank his wooden friend for making such an important contribution to his career.

Amazingly, Parker and Lady Penelope hardly look a day older than when we first met them in 1964.
Amazingly, Parker and Lady Penelope hardly look a day older than when we first met them in 1964.

Filmed in Supermarionation is presented by Lady Penelope and Parker (voiced, as in the original series, by Sylvia Anderson and David Graham). This allows a few affectionate jokes to be made, as well as giving us the chance to see Parker turn up in some odd places (on the set of Captain Scarlet, for example).

The documentary proceeds in strict chronolgocal order, so the first hour or so is devoted to the early series, such as the two made with Roberta Leigh (The Adventures of Twizzle, Torchy the Battery Boy) before moving onto Anderson’s early solo efforts, such as Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5.  For those waiting to get to the likes of Thunderbirds, this may feel slightly drawn out, but personally I enjoyed the detail on these earlier, and to me, less familiar series.

Both Stingray and Thunderbirds are well covered, with the largest section of the documentary concentrated on Thunderbirds.   This isn’t surprising, since it was clearly the peak of Supermarionation and the pride felt by those who worked on it comes over very well.  Captain Scarlet is dealt with quite quickly (although there’s some more material contained in the deleted scenes package) and after a brief look at Joe 90 (with its slightly sinister theme of brainwashing a nine-year old child each week) and the frankly bonkers The Secret Service (a lovely anecdote from Gerry who describes how aghast Lew Grade was at the gibberish-speaking Stanley Unwin!) the story comes to a sad end as the company is sold off and the sets and puppets are broken up and chucked into skips.

But while the company came to an abrupt end, the programmes they made still endure today and this is down to the group of men and women who constantly sought to innovate and experiment.  The effects in an average episode of Thunderbirds wouldn’t look out of place in a feature-film and that was always a hallmark of AP Films/Century 21.  Filmed in Supermarionation, with its interviews, archive footage and re-creations is able to explain how they made it all happen.

Also on the disc is twenty minutes of deleted scenes, two short featurettes (three to four minutes each) which look at the modelwork created for the documentary, home movie footage featuring Gerry and Sylvia in America, archive behind-the-scenes material from Tomorrows’ World, Something for the Children and Parade as well as a brtief clip of the Lord Mayor visiting a fairly life-size Thunderbird 3.

Thunderbirds titles in HD

Network continue to count down to Filmed in Supermarionation, due later this month, by releasing HD versions of the titles of various Anderson shows on their YouTube page.  More details can be found here. Below are HD titles for Thunderbirds.

Below are some previews of Filmed in Supermarionation.

In other Thunderbirds news, the Guardian has a very positive review of the new ITV remake. It’s due for broadcast in 2015 and features, amongst others, David Graham reprising his role as Parker and Rosamund Pike as the voice of Lady Penelope. It can be read here.

UFO watch (Episode 26 – The Long Sleep)

long sleep

Written by David Tomblin
Directed by Jeremy Summers

The Long Sleep is an oddity amongst UFO stories – as it’s able to be dated quite specifically.  We’re told that ten years have elapsed since Straker accidentally knocked down Catherine (Tessa Wyatt) and that it happened in 1974.  So the present day events occur in 1984.

After Catherine was hit by Straker’s car, she’s remained in a coma, until now.  Just before she lost consciousness she mentioned flying saucers, so her case-file is reactivated now that she’s woken up.  Straker feels a sense of responsibility, even though there was no way he could have avoided the collision, so he visits her in hospital to hear her story.

Ten years ago, Catherine had run away from home and met up with Tim (Christian Roberts).  The two of them then hitched a lift into the country and found a place to sleep – a deserted farmhouse.  Tim offered Catherine a couple of pills, promising her that they weren’t addictive.  But what occurred was a trip that was certainly bad for both of them.

One of the most striking things about the flashback scenes is that up until they take the drugs, all of the action set in 1974 is sepia toned.  Once they’re under the influence, there’s a sudden explosion of colour and everything slows down slightly – which effectively indicates the effects of the trip.  Things take a turn for the worse when they discover two aliens in the farmhouse’s basement, doing something with a strange object.  In their altered state, Catherine and Tim don’t realise the danger they’re in and they take part of the alien’s device.  Still under the influence of the drugs, Tim jumps off the roof and is apparently dead, whilst the aliens attack Catherine.

When she wakes up, the picture has turned back to sepia, indicating that the trip is over.  Dazed and confused, she sees the aliens drag Tim away and she staggers out of the farmhouse.  After an encounter with a truck driver who clearly had unhonourable intentions, she runs away from him and is mown down by Straker’s car.

Her story of the alien’s device is enough to convince Straker that it was a bomb.  This is a little bit of a leap, it has to be said.  Another unanswered question is why they haven’t come back to prime the bomb or replace it with another one.  What convinces Straker that it is a bomb is the time-frame – several days before Catherine’s accident there was an Earthquake in Turkey which killed 80,000 people.  Straker’s convinced that the Earthquake was caused by an alien bomb, and that there’s a similar device in England, waiting to do the same.  Again, this requires something of a leap of faith and also poses the question as to why the aliens wish to destroy large parts of the Earth, something they’ve previously never done (with the exception of Destruction).

Catherine is more than a little surprised to be visited in hospital by Tim, who, like her, doesn’t look a day older.  Quickly, it becomes obvious that he’s under the control of the aliens and he injects her with drugs in order to discover where she hid the bomb’s priming device.  This then leads to a final example of Straker’s ruthless side, when he elects to inject her with the same drug so that they can discover the hiding place and attempt to get there before Tim.  Dr Jackson warns of the dangers to Catherine, but as so often before, Straker has to weigh one life against possibly losing thousands.

Tim is caught, the bomb is dealt with, but there’s no happy ending for Catherine.  It’s perhaps fitting that the last recorded episode of UFO ends with a shot of an anguished Ed Straker.  Once again he’s protected countless people, but in order to achieve this, sacrifices have had to be made.

And that’s it – the 26th and final episode.  If you’ve never seen it, UFO is a series that has plenty to recommend it.  There’s the odd episode that doesn’t work and some do have gaping plot holes, but the main cast are excellent and the model-work (supervised by Derek Meddings) is never less than first rate.  Let’s sign off with the Power Themes 90 remix of Barry Gray’s UFO theme.

UFO watch (Episode 25 – Mindbender)


Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by Ken Turner

Mindbender might be my favourite UFO episode.  It’s certainly the most daring, as it comprehensively breaks the fourth wall.

A UFO crashes on the Moon and astronaut Andy Conroy (Al Mancini) retrieves a strange rock from the wreckage.  Once back at Moonbase, he starts to lose his grip on reality.  He’s an avid fan of Westerns, which may explain why he sees all of his colleagues turn into Mexican bandits.

Initially, he sees the bandits roaming Moonbase, which is odd enough but as he descends further into madness, to him Moonbase has become a dangerous Mexican town full of outlaws who he has to fight to the death.  During the scenes both Ken Turner’s direction and Barry Gray’s music offer numerous nods to the Spaghetti Westerns so beloved by Conroy.

UFO is the last place you’d expect to see a Western (except on the back-lot) and it’s this juxtaposition which is so startling.  Conroy is killed, but the mystery behind his madness remains unsolved.  The rock ends up back at SHADO HQ where it infects Beaver James (Charles Tingwell) who becomes convinced that SHADO has been infiltrated by the aliens.

It then finds its way into Straker’s office, and this is where the heart of the episode lies.  Straker and Henderson are having one of their usual arguments.  “Let’s get back to realities” says Henderson and immediately afterwards, somebody says “Cut and print”.

The camera pulls back to reveal that SHADO HQ is nothing more than a film set and Straker is actually Howard Byrne, the leading actor.  A dazed Straker exits onto the studio grounds and makes his way over to Theatre 7, where the rough-cut of his “show” is being screened.

There then follows a series of clips from Identified and A Question of Priorities.  This could be seen as a way of saving some money by recycling footage, but it’s a key part of the episode.  Straker is forced to watch the death of his son, whilst his co-star Mike (Michael Billington) leans over and tells him how it’ll make a great episode.

One recurring theme of UFO is how emotionally damaged Straker is, from both the break-up of his marriage and the death of his son, so it’s heartbreaking to see him have to relive those moments again.  Ed Bishop is wonderful here – he says very little, but you’re left in no doubt as to the impact these shots have.

But even when he’s driven to the point of madness, the steel-trap of Straker’s mind still functions and he works out a way to get back to reality.  He goes back into the office and repeats his argument with Henderson.  As he begins to take control over the situation, things start to return to normal and, in effect, the fourth wall (which was shattered) now reforms, ensuring that he’s back where he belongs.

It takes a certain amount of nerve to do a story like Mindbender, but it certainly pays off.  There’s a danger inherent in showing us “behind the scenes” as the camera reveals to us just how flimsy and small the sets are – Skydiver, Moonbase control, etc.  Of course, it’s also lovely to have this peek behind the scenes and understand a little about how the series was made.

Possibly there might have been a feeling that UFO probably wouldn’t be renewed, so they might as well go for broke story-wise.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad they did, as Mindbender not only works as a character piece for Straker, it also offers an ironic comment on the artifice of programme making.  Wonderful stuff.

UFO watch (Episode 24 – Timelash)


Written by Terence Feely
Directed by Cyril Frankel

It’s tempting to draw parallels between the final episodes of UFO and the final episodes of The Prisoner.  Although hopes were high at the time that another series of UFO would be made (eventually the concept of UFO series 2 mutated into Space 1999) there must have been some inkling that the series’ days were numbered.

Is this the reason why we had episodes like Timelash and Mindbender, which both pushed the series format in ways we’d never seen before?  This also happened on The Prisoner, where the final few episodes (The Girl Who Was Death, Fall Out) were very strange indeed.

Whatever the reason, Timelash has one of the most arresting openings of any the UFO story.  It seems to be a normal, humdrum day at SHADO HQ, but out of nowhere a disheveled Straker appears and starts smashing the equipment.  He then beats up a dozen or so SHADO personnel (it’s amusing that Foster seems to be cowering the corner, unwilling to take a pasting!) before running onto the studio backlot.  Foster and company eventually corner him, just as he discovers the unconscious form of Colonel Lake.

Taken back to SHADO HQ, Straker is injected with a drug which starts to bring him back to normality and since we’ve now seen the conclusion, we rewind back to the start of the story.  Straker and Lake had been returning to headquarters when they noticed a UFO on their tail.  Attempts to raise the alarm with SHADO get no response.  The reason why becomes obvious when they enter the grounds of the Harlington-Straker film studios.  Somehow, the aliens have managed to time freeze the whole area.

Every person is completely immobile and unresponsive (some lovely camera tricks here – a chair suspended in the air, smoke from a cigarette, etc) with Straker and Lake seemingly the only people not affected.  Watching the two of them in action, had UFO gone to another series they could have formed a very impressive partnership.  Ed Bishop and Wanda Ventham worked very well together and it’s a pity we didn’t get to see more stories with them paired up.

As they explore, Lake notices that one person has moved.  Turner (Patrick Allen) is a traitor who has sold out to the aliens.  Straker and Lake tool up with some impressive hardware and hunt him down through the studio backlot.  This is where the story takes on even more of a surreal edge, as Turner has the ability to move in time and therefore is able to stay a couple of steps ahead of them.

He also has a nice line in mocking taunts as he attempts to pay Straker back for every slight, either real or imagined, he’s suffered over the years as one of SHADO’s foot-soldiers.  And when Turner and Straker chase each other around the lot in children’s sports-cars you definitely know this isn’t a typical episode!

Eventually Straker works out a way to stop Turner and also manages destroy the UFO (although this is where there’s a little lack of logic – if the aliens are so powerful that they can freeze time, why send only one UFO?  In Reflections in the Water, also written by Terence Feely, they had a fleet of 25!).

This niggle apart, everything ties up by the end of the episode as we understand exactly why Straker was smashing up the equipment at the start of the story.  A complex, imaginative and ultimately satisfying tale, Timelash is a cracking episode.

And Wanda Ventham looks absolutely gorgeous, which is the icing on the cake!

wanda 1

wanda 2

wanda 3

wanda 4

Captain Scarlet, Stingray and Joe 90 titles in HD


As a teaser for the forthcoming Filmed in Supermarionation releases, Network have released HD versions of the titles of various Gerry Anderson series on their YouTube account.

Filmed in Supermarionation is a new two hour documentary from Stephen La Riviere and looks to be a must watch for all Anderson fans. There are various different purchasing options, more details can be found here.

The YouTube compression means that obviously some quality is lost, so we won’t be able to see the full HD quality of the selected episodes until later this month. Time will tell whether complete HD series releases will follow in the future.

UFO watch (Episode 23 – Reflections in the Water)


Written and Directed by David Tomblin

It seems an unwritten law that every science fiction/fantasy series has to have a doppelganger episode – and Reflections in the Water is UFO’s contribution to this genre.  But though it’s a decent run-around, there are some whacking plot holes which are difficult to ignore.

When a freighter in the Mid-Atlantic is destroyed by an underwater UFO, Straker sends Skydiver to investigate.  They discover the aliens have established a substantial underwater base (although why it’s underwater is a bit of a mystery).  Straker and Foster fly out to investigate personally (which is something else that’s difficult to find entirely credible.  Straker’s the head of SHADO, why does he need to endanger himself on a reconnaissance mission?).

Anyway, Straker and Foster pop on some diving suits and go for a swim.  While they can’t find a way into the dome on their first attempt, they are able to see inside and observe Lt Anderson (James Cosmo).  The pair head back to SHADO HQ to interrogate Anderson, which gives us yet another example of how ruthless Straker is.  He has no qualms in authorising Anderson to be injected with drugs in order to establish the truth and interestingly Anderson doesn’t argue about this too much.

Even after the truth drug, Anderson continues to protest his innocence so Straker and Foster go back and manage to infiltrate the dome.  Once inside, Straker and Foster split up and shortly afterwards Straker is attacked by Foster.  But it’s not Foster, it’s a double!

One of the main attractions of a doppelganger story is when the two identical parties meet, but we never see it here.  After Straker defeats the faux-Foster, the real Foster appears and is shown his duplicate.  We linger a little too long on a shot of Foster looking at someone that clearly isn’t him, which makes you wonder why they didn’t use a little split screen filming to have the two of them on screen at the same time.

We now come to the part of the episode which stretches credulity to breaking point. The aliens have recreated SHADO HQ (how?) and recruited look-alikes for all the main SHADO personnel (plastic surgery apparently).  Although the aliens have clearly spent a packet on getting the likenesses spot on, they obviously couldn’t afford a voice coach, so we see the doubles practicing by miming to the real voices of the SHADO staff which have been recorded on tape.

The aliens’ plan is to try and fool Moonbase into thinking this is the real SHADO HQ and then order them not to destroy the massed UFOs which are poised to attack.  It’s clever that the aliens have somehow been able to sample the voices and produce exactly the words they need to say, but what would happen if Moonbase asked a question that wasn’t recorded?  They’d be a little stuck.

A whopping explosion destorys the dome, so there’s just the 25 or so UFOs to worry about.  And via a load of stock footage (Interceptors, Moonbase rocket-launchers, Sky One) they are all dealt with.  This is the last thing that’s difficult to swallow.  We’ve seen SHADO struggle to stop one or two UFOs getting through in plenty of episodes so far, so could they really have shot down all 25?

Although the story makes little sense, it’s still as watchable as most episodes in the series.  It’s just that you have to disengage your critical facilities somewhat before starting.

UFO watch (Episode 22 – The Psychobombs)


Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by Jeremy Summers

I’ve previously mentioned how a number of UFO stories have the same basic premise – the aliens take over a human being and force them to do their biding.  It seemed to be a particularly popular story device during production block two, as we’ve seen it occur in The Man Who Came Back, Destruction and The Cat With Ten Lives.

Is The Psychobombs any different from these and other stories?  Well, one innovation is that there are three human agents, rather than the more normal one, so this allows several different threats to be carried out at once.  And all three of the controlled humans are played by decent actors, so this is a plus point.

A UFO lands in a deserted woodland and sends out a hypnotic signal.  Three people answer the call – Linda Simmonds (Deborah Grant), Clem Mason (Mike Pratt) and Daniel Clark (David Collings).

Clark is straight into the action and flags down Straker’s car.  Given that the aliens have attempted to kill Straker before they miss a golden opportunity here.  Instead, Clark knocks Straker unconscious and puts a note into his pocket.  The note is an ultimatum – all SHADO operations must cease, otherwise Fairfield Tracker Station, Skydiver 3 and finally SHADO Control will be destroyed.

Clark manages to destroy the tracker station and Mason deals with Skydiver 3.  That leaves Linda Simmonds and SHADO HQ.  Whilst SHADO attempts to track Linda down, Dr Jackson shares a theory with Straker –

Dr. Jackson: I have a theory. But I must warn you, it’s pretty wild. A human body – muscles, brain – operates in a series of minute electrical charges, flowing around a complex of low voltage electrical circuits – the nervous system. Sometimes the electrical balance is disturbed. Imagine the situation where, for some reason, the balance swings violently off centre. The body becomes supercharged. Like a thunder cloud before a storm. If such a charged being could exist, it may be able to draw on all the primitive forces of the universe, attract them to itself. Space, time, light… electric potential, energy… they are all related. The result …

Straker: A human bomb.

Foster locates the girl and Straker orders that she be brought to SHADO HQ.  A rather rash act, you might think – and it seems to have backfired after she escapes from custody and is poised to blow up the building.  However, Sky 4 manages to destroy the UFO controlling Linda, though given the way previous stories have gone, I’ll leave you to decide if there’s a happy ending.

As I’ve said, there’s nothing particularly original here, but the number of threats posed by different people is an intriguing twist.  There’s also interest in spotting some faces that would become familiar television faces years later (Peter Blythe, Christopher Timothy and Oscar James, for example).

Trivia fans may notice that the rather nice red dress worn by Deborah Grant is also worn by Susan Jameson in The Sound of Silence.  It makes another appearance in the upcoming Timelash, so they certainly got their money’s worth from it!

deb 1deb 2


UFO watch (Episode 21 – The Man Who Came Back)

man 1

Written by Terence Feely
Directed by David Lane

Craig Collins (Derren Nesbit) is one of SHADO’s top astronauts and a close friend of Ed Straker (they trained together as astronauts).  After his ship is targeted during a UFO attack, which also damages SID, Collins is posted as missing, believed dead.

However, by a miracle he’s somehow survived and several weeks later is rescued from a distant island.  Amongst Collins’ various skills is an intimate knowledge of SID, so Straker assigns him to repair the computer.  But as soon as he returns to Moonbase, others notice a change in his behavior – notably Colonel Grey, Paul Foster and Virginia Lake.  Collins and Lake had been intimate, but Lake brings their relationship to an end.

All three are sure there is a problem, but Straker isn’t convinced.  Collins persuades Straker to join him on the SID repair mission, but once out in space he realises the others were right – Collins is under alien control and has orders to kill him!

The Man Who Came Back is another cracking episode which is dominated by Derren Nesbit, who’s great value as the unstable Collins.  Nesbit made a career out of playing somewhat manic characters in the various ITC series of the time, so his appeance is almost enough on its own for the viewer to guess how the story will pan out.

True, if you examine the plot a little too closely then it doesn’t make much sense.  Was Straker really the only person equipped to repair SID?  And it was very convenient that Collins was able to nobble the only two people (Grey and Jackson) who knew for sure that something was wrong.  Wouldn’t either of them have raised their concerns with Straker?

But if we ignore these flaws, then there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly the tense finale.  The confrontation between Collins and Straker takes place when both are floating in space, close to SID, and director David Lane is able to ramp up the tension, even when the two of them are moving very slowly.  As might be expected, this is another downbeat ending.  Straker has no choice but to kill one of his oldest friends, which no doubt helps to crush a little more humanity from his soul.

On a more frivolous note, Colonel Lake looks very fetching in the Moonbase garb.  And the sight of the injured SID, spinning around in space, is another memorable moment.  We’ve seen a few episodes previously with characters being controlled by the aliens, but there’s enough in The Man Who Came Back to make it stand up in its own right, and not feel too much like a retread.


lake 2

UFO watch (Episode 20 – Destruction)


Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Ken Turner

Straker is intrigued when a UFO targets a Naval vessel in the Atlantic.  But when he presses for further details from the Admiralty he gets stonewalled, so he has to find out what he needs to know another way.

Although he has the latest cutting-edge technology at his disposal, he decides to obtain the information in the old-fashioned way – with a mole.  He asks Paul Foster to seduce the Admiral’s secretary and find out everything that he can.  And even more eye-opening than this, Straker asks Foster to do it after he’s taken him out for a round of golf.  I never pictured Straker as a golfer, I have to say.

The Admiral’s secretary, Sarah Bosanquet (Stephanie Beacham), is rather gorgeous so this isn’t Foster’s most demanding mission.  But things get more complicated when he realises Sarah is passing information to the aliens.  And eventually the full story comes out – the Navy are dumping barrels of highly toxic nerve gas, which for some reason the aliens have decided to destroy.  If they succeed, then the gas is capable of wiping out all life on the planet!

Dennis Spooner was a new writer to UFO, and it’s possible that he hadn’t studied the programme format too closely, as it’s totally out of character for the aliens to want to destroy all life on Earth.  Up until know, all the evidence has pointed to the fact that they need to harvest humans for body parts in order to survive, so why the drastic change?

As so often, there’s no answer given, but notwithstanding this, Destruction is a very decent episode with a strong guest cast.  Apart from Stephanie Beacham, there’s also Edwin Richfield as Admiral Sheringham and Philip Madoc as Captain Steven.  There’s possibly a little too much stock footage of naval vessels, but that’s only a minor niggle.

This story is also notable for being the second in this production block to feature Wanda Ventham as Colonel Virginia Lake.  She had appeared in the first story, Identified, and after George Sewell was unavailable for the second recording block it seems his lines were ported directly over to Colonel Lake.

No mention is made of Freeman’s absence or Lake’s sudden appearance, because these episodes were dropped into the whole run of 26 at various points. This must have been somewhat confusing for viewers at the time, as characters would appear and disappear at regular intervals.

The somewhat haphazard transmission order has meant that over the years many fans have debated the best order to watch the series in. I’ve followed the order on the Carlton DVDs, which was suggested by Fanderson and is generally held to be as good as any other. For anyone who wants to look into this thorny issue further, then this is a good place to start.

dest 2
Edwin Richfield and Philip Madoc

UFO watch (Episode 19 – The Cat With Ten Lives)


Written and Directed by David Tomblin

In my post on The Sound of Silence I mentioned how the second production block of UFO saw stories that sent the series in new directions, and this is certainly the case with The Cat With Ten Lives.

Writer/Director David Tomblin had previously worked on The Prisoner and he brought something of the style of that series (along with guest star Alexis Kanner) to The Cat With Ten Lives.  It’s very much Kanner’s episode (possibly not surprising since he and Tomblin had a lengthy working relationship – stretching back to the film Reach For Glory in 1962, where Tomblin was the assistant director).

Jim Reegan (Kanner) is an Interceptor pilot back on Earth for 48 hours leave.  Along with his wife Jean (Geraldine Moffatt) he’s driving home after a dinner party (which involved a rather strange sequence with a oujia board) when they spot a cat in the middle of the road.  Jean takes a fancy to it and asks to adopt it, but before Reegan can answer they both spot a UFO close by.  They are overpowered and taken to the UFO (Tomblin has some nice shots here from their point of view as they are carried to the alien’s ship).  Reegan awakes to find himself back in his car, along with the cat, but there’s no sign of Jean.

Straker is interested in his story but tells Reegan to report to Moonbase for duty the next day.  He doesn’t seem in any fit state, but Straker is adamant.  Reegan has taken the cat to SHADO HQ and this is where things start to get really odd.  Somehow, the cat is being controlled by the aliens and in turn the cat is controlling Reegan.  And by having free range of SHADO HQ, the cat is able to observe everything that takes place.

Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) has another theory about the aliens – he believes that they may not have any physical form at all, as a recently recovered alien body turned out to be completely human.  He surmises they may be able to “re-program” human brains, thereby providing them with physical vessels to pilot the UFO’s to Earth.  Like all the information that’s drip-fed abuot the aliens it never really goes anywhere, but whilst this could be seen as a weakness it’s also one of the series’ strengths.  UFO poses many questions about the aliens and their intentions but never provides any answers.  Maybe a second series would have come closer to providing some solid facts, but there’s something more frightening about an adversary who is unknowable and intangible,

Reegan is unable to destroy the UFO carrying Jean (thanks to the cat telling him not to!) and Straker recalls him to Earth for a medical assessment.  It has to be said that it’s impressive that the cat was able to control him when Reegan was orbiting the Moon and the cat was on Earth, but distance seems to be no objective.  When he’s back on Earth, the cat has the same amount of control over hm and under its influence Reegan attacks Foster and returns to Moonbase.

By a somewhat tenuous bit of theorising, Straker and Foster decide that Reegan’s being controlled by the cat.  Yes, really.  Straker is able to deal with the moggy and this breaks the control it has over Reegan.  Although this isn’t necessarily good news for him.

The Cat With Ten Lives is, as I’ve said, an odd one.  You can either sit back and enjoy the ride or decide it’s too silly for words.  I favour the former and there’s plenty of other incidental pleasures along with way.  Kanner was always a strange, idiosyncratic actor and this is very much in evidence here.  He’s always compelling though and it’s difficult not to feel sorry for Reegan.  It’s a pity that he wasn’t in more episodes, as the opening section of the story is quite interesting as we see the exhausted Interceptor pilots relaxing in-between engagements.  A few more scenes like this, which have a similar vibe to WW2 pilots resting between missions, would have been welcome.

A purrfect episode, you might say.

UFO watch (Episode 18 – The Sound of Silence)


Written by David Lane and Bob Bell
Directed by David Lane

The Sound of Silence has some good moments, but it’s never been a favourite of mine. The main problem is that since Russell Stone (Michael Jayston) is such an unlikable character, when he’s captured by the alien it’s difficult to be particularly bothered about whether he’s going to be returned safely to his family or taken away to be sliced and diced.

His sister (Susan Jameson) and father (Richard Vernon) are more personable though, so it is possible to feel a little empathy for them as they search for answers but Russell Stone is presented, right from his opening scene, as a cold, officious character. He chases Culley (Nigel Gregory) off their land at the start of the episode (and poor Culley seemed to be doing nothing worse than living rough in the woods).

The unfortunate Culley and his dog are later found dead, murdered by the alien. It seems that both were mutilated, but whatever the alien was looking for he didn’t seem to find it in them. However, Russell Stone is captured intact and placed inside a cylinder, presumably to be flown back to the alien’s planet.

After the UFO is destroyed (another fabulous example of the series’ model-work) the cylinder is recovered and the question faced by SHADO is whether they will be able extract Stone from the cylinder alive and well.

The Sound of Silence is notable since it’s the first episode from the second production block.  The first seventeen episodes were recorded at MGM Borehamwood between April – November 1969.  After the studio was closed, production was put on hiatus until the middle of the next year when a further nine episodes were recorded at Pinewood between May – September 1970.

These nine episodes do feel somewhat different for a number of reasons.  New writers, such as Dennis Spooner and David Tomblin, were brought in and a number of regulars are conspicuous by their absence.  George Sewell (Alec Freeman), Gabrielle Drake (Gay Ellis), Keith Alexander (Keith Ford), Gary Myers (Lew Waterman) and Antonia Ellis (Joan Harrington) are all absent from the second production block due to work commitments elsewhere.

But although some familiar faces are gone, overall the second production block is of a very high standard and sees the programme take some risks as it ventures into previously uncharted territories.  There’s certainly some interesting episodes ahead.

UFO watch (Episode 17 – Sub-Smash)

17 - sub-smash

Written by Alan Fennell
Directed by David Lane

A ship is sunk in the South Atlantic and Straker believes that a UFO, operating undersea, was responsible.  He decides that capture of the UFO is a top priority and elects to lead a hand-picked crew onboard Skydiver to locate the alien craft.

It’s possible to guess the way that the episode will go pretty early on, after Straker admits that he suffers from claustrophobia.  So going aboard Skydiver probably isn’t the wisest move and it does somewhat stretch credibility that he would decide to take command himself after just one ship was attacked.  Surely the normal Skydiver crew would be just as good, if not better?

In story terms, of course, it allows Straker to be put under extreme pressure as well as allowing one of the series’ regulars (Dolores Mantez as Lt Nina Barry) a chance for a decent piece of the action for once.  Mantez had tended to play second or third fiddle on Moonbase, although she does feature more in the later stories, as Gabrielle Drake wasn’t available for the final batch of episodes.

Skydiver is attacked and is unable to surface, so Sub-Smash quickly turns into a classic submarine movie.  Five people are aboard – Straker, Foster, Barry, Chin (Anthony Chinn) and Lewis (Paul Maxwell).  As Skydiver is badly damaged, it will take time for everybody to escape.  Straker elects that Lewis, Chin and Foster will use the available escape hatch one by one, whilst Barry will exit via the crash-dive tube.

Lewis makes it out, but Chin isn’t so lucky – he goes berserk and dies before making an escape attempt.  Foster is reluctant to leave Straker, but does eventually.  This leaves Straker, like the captain of the ship, alone as he awaits the rescue craft.

Barry has already left, via the crash-dive tube, but she can’t get out because it’s jammed.  This provides Mantez with some very tense scenes and she certainly makes full use of the chance to flex her acting muscles, showing fear and desperation as escape seems hopeless.  Barry makes her way back to Skydiver’s main control area and together with Straker they both wait for rescue.  We’ve already seen, in Confetti Check A-O-K, that Barry was one of SHADO’s earliest recruits, and as the two of them desperately hang on (with the oxygen rapidly decreasing) there certainly seems to be something of a spark. She says: “If it had to be anyone…. I’m glad you’re here. I mean, I’m glad…’s you.”

Straker barely registers her words though, as the lack of oxygen and claustrophobia really begins to hit him hard.  He starts to hallucinate and replays the death of his son, which we saw in A Question of Priorities. Like the rest of the episode, it’s a wonderfully directed sequence and leads into an interesting jump-cut as we transfer straight to Barry’s hospital bed.

Rather than show Straker and Barry being rescued, they cut directly to the wrap-up scene where everybody (except the unfortunate Chin) can swop stories about what a close run thing it was.  This is initially somewhat jarring, but in retrospect it works very well.

Sub-Smash is very much Ed Bishop’s and Dolores Mantez’s episode and they both rise to the occasion.  Easily one of the best UFO episodes.

UFO watch (Episode 16 – Kill Straker!)

16 - kill straker!

Written by Donald James
Directed by Alan Perry

A lunar module, piloted by Captain Craig and Colonel Foster, is about to land back on the Moon when a UFO is spotted close by.  Straker orders an emergency re-entry, but it’s too late – unknown to SHADO the UFO has intercepted the craft.  But the module is not destroyed, instead the aliens (sounding rather like the Mysterons) subject Craig and Foster to a psychedelic light show and a subliminal message – “Kill Straker!”.

Straker and Freeman arrive at Moonbase to debrief Foster and this is where the fun starts.  When you consider the plans of Craig and Foster, it has to be said that they go about things in very different ways.  Craig favours the direct route, dropping into Straker’s bedroom at night with an empty hypodermic syringe (Craig planned to inject him with air).

Foster plays the longer game.  At first he doesn’t seem to be affected too badly, he’s annoyed about Straker’s override of the lunar module, which put both Foster and Craig’s lives in danger, that would be a natural reaction though.  But he gradually grows more argumentative and begins to question all of Straker’s orders – which raises an interesting issue.  The aliens instruction was “Kill Straker!” not “Kill Straker!  But first criticise his management skills”.

You have to admit that some of Foster’s points do make make sense.  Straker is pushing for a huge investment – he wants another four Moonbases set up over the next ten years as he forecasts increased UFO activity.  Foster asks what evidence he has to back this up, and Straker doesn’t have any – it’s just a feeling.  The question of finance was covered in the episode Conflict, where Straker and Henderson butted heads over the subject.  Straker could be right and there could be more UFO’s heading to Earth, but equally there might not be. Foster accuses Straker of empire building and this is an area that maybe could have been explored a little further in another story.

Freeman returns to Earth and is called to see Henderson. Foster has advised Henderson that Straker is unstable and needs to be removed from duty immediately. Straker, who is still on Moonbase, confronts Foster and the two face off before Foster is eventually overpowered and returned to SHADO HQ.

Foster’s brainwashing is revealed, but how to snap him out of it? As ever, Straker favours the direct mode, goading him beyond breaking point, as he tells Foster:

“I think you said it pretty well yourself. You told me you were going to push for a change of command. A change of command. Ten years. I’ve given ten years of sweat and sacrifice to get SHADO running the way I want it. I won’t let some young punk like you mess things up. You’re a threat Foster, a trouble maker, Now, I can’t fire you and I can’t shelve you, so……”

As Straker later admits, if Foster was going to kill, then it would have been then, under such heavy provocation.  Foster comes close, and the two come to blows, but Foster can’t kill him.  Once Straker has established this, then he’s happy to have him back on the team and tells him that he’ll listen to any reasonable arguments about the Moonbases, provided they do things his way!

Kill Straker! is a very decent episode with some good Moonbase action, the chance to see Straker in pyjamas and a stand up fight between Straker and Foster that looked very real, probably with good reason.  At 44:20 into the episode, Straker hits Foster several times and really drew blood.  Billington instinctively wiped it away, and a mark on Bishop’s white jacket can be seen shortly afterwards.

UFO watch (Episode 15 – E.S.P.)


 Written by Alan Fennell
Directed by Ken Turner

John Croxley (John Stratton) has a problem. He’s able to read minds, but this E.S.P. isn’t something he can control and it’s driving both him and his wife to despair.

He comes into SHADO’s orbit when a UFO crashes into his house, killing his wife. Being in the presence of SHADO operatives, particularly Straker, means that he instantly knows everything about SHADO and how it operates. Straker and Freeman track the increasingly unstable Croxley down to the ruins of his house. Can they reason with him? Difficult, when he knows everything they’re thinking.

John Stratton is rather good as the twitchy, sweaty Croxley but E.S.P. is an episode that doesn’t really satisfy. There’s the customary wonderful modelwork (the UFO crashing into the house, for example) but it does fall a little flat.  However, there’s a nice spooky feel to the story and Straker, Freeman and Foster all get a share of the action so it’s not totally a damp squib.

Croxley’s proximity to the UFO meant that he was able to read the aliens’ thoughts, so through him we learn something of their intentions. It’s pretty vague stuff, but it helps to make them slightly more tangible as characters.

UFO watch (Episode 14 – Confetti Check A-O-K)

14 - confetti check a-o-k

Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by David Lane

This is one of two key episodes (A Question of Priorities is the other) which examine Straker’s personal life in detail and reveal how it impacts on his other, more secret, life.

When a SHADO operative’s wife gives birth, the cigars are broken out.  Straker is given one and it causes him remember back ten years to when his own son was born.  This framing device enable us to see a much younger Straker, his marriage to Mary (Suzanne Neve) and the early days of SHADO.

This is only one of two episodes (the other is The Pyschobombs) that doesn’t open with the traditional credits sequence.  It’s an early indication that this is going to be quite a different episode as there are no aliens to fight – all the drama here comes from human interactions.

The flashback starts with the marriage of Straker and Mary.  Whilst we know that their marriage broke up and they are now irrecoverably estranged (Mary blames Straker for the death of their child as seen in A Question of Priorities) we get to discover here exactly how their relationship foundered.

When they marry, Straker is still working for the Air Force, but urgent business causes him to cancel their honeymoon.  You know that this is going to the first of many times that he puts duty first.  He’s been called to a meeting with General Henderson (at this time Straker’s immediate boss) who is unable to attend an important conference at the United Nations.  It’s been called to discuss the formation of SHADO and although Henderson had planned to be there, he’s still recovering from the injuries which he sustained from the UFO attack seen in the opening episode Identified.

Straker makes a very favourable impression at the meeting and although he expects Henderson to be made SHADO commander, instead the job is offered to him.  After some soul-searching he agrees, but he can’t tell Mary about it, so he can’t explain to her why he’s never at home.  Even her announcement that she’s pregnant doesn’t seem to make any difference.  He, of course, is torn – he loves his wife but he also has a duty and in the end it’s the duty that wins, meaning that he ultimately loses both his wife and child.

His refusal to explain his constant absences means that his relationship with Mary quickly deteriorates.  Her mother hires a private detective who photographs Straker with a beautiful young woman (Nina Barry).  Straker was with her on SHADO business, of course, but when Mary confronts him, he can’t tell her the truth and this is the final straw – she packs her bags and leaves.  The marriage is over.

Undoubtedly this is Ed Bishop’s episode.  Something of an underrated actor, he was never better than he was here, showing us (at the start of the episode) the younger, happier Straker and what happens to change him into the man we know today.  Confetti Check A-O-K is a very solid character piece that clearly highlights the loneliness of command.  The cost in human lives from the alien’s attacks over the years has been high but this episode shows that personal lives have also been lost.

UFO watch (Episode 13 – Close Up)

13 - close up

Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by Alan Perry

Straker has a idea about how to be proactive in the fight against the aliens.  He plans to place a highly advanced new camera in a probe which will follow a UFO back to its home planet.  They will therefore be able to see, for the first time, pictures of the mysterious home-world of their deadly enemies.

Straker needs a billion dollars for this project, but seems totally confident that he’ll get it.  As he tells Kelly (Neil Hallett) “It’s a space project”.  This helps to anchor UFO very firmly in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (when the series was made) rather than the early 1980’s (the date the programme was meant to be set).  At the time of the first Moon landings, space was seen as the future but as the 1970’s wore on, interest declined and the real-life possibility of a Moonbase, for example, seems remote today.

If the basic story premise of a space camera doesn’t sound particularly interesting, you wouldn’t be far wrong as Close Up is quite a slow moving and uninvolving story.  There’s the odd flash of excitement and, as always, some gorgeous modelwork but overall it’s a damp squib.

It does have a few plus points though.  Although it doesn’t seem to connect to the main story in any way, we spend the first five or so minutes with Skydiver.  We get to see the Skydiver submerge and there’s plenty of time to take a good look at the craft.  Another indication that the episode was underunning, maybe?

The other chief item of interest is the conflict between Straker and Lt Ellis.  Straker has gone to Moonbase in order to keep an eye on the probe and clashes with Ellis.  This is a little odd, since there’s never been any hint of conflict before and to be honest, Straker doesn’t come off well here particularly when he tries to win her around with such compliments as “don’t ever forget, you’re a very attractive girl”.  However this does mean that Gabrielle Drake gets some decent screen time, which even in an undistinguished episode like this, is welcome.

Eventually the pictures come back, but they’re worthless.  An onboard fault has prevented transmission of the range and magnification so there’s no way of judging the size of anything captured.

This then leads us into the closing scene, another odd one, in which Kelly demonstrates to Straker the problem with the pictures by showing him a shot of Lt Ellis, posing very nicely for him in the next room, magnified a thousand times.  Straker seems convinced, especially when he tries it for himself, by zooming into Ellis’ crotch area!

Tony Barwick wrote some of UFO’s best episodes, but he was also responsible for some pretty indifferent stories such as this one.  But much better from him was just around the corner.

L-R - Straker (Ed Bishop), Ellis (Gabrielle Drake) and Kelly (Neil Hallett)
L-R – Straker (Ed Bishop), Ellis (Gabrielle Drake) and Kelly (Neil Hallett)