UFO watch (Episode 24 – Timelash)

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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!

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Captain Scarlet, Stingray and Joe 90 titles in HD

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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)

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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)

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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!

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

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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.

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UFO watch (Episode 20 – Destruction)

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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.

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Edwin Richfield and Philip Madoc

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

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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.