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

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…..it’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)

UFO watch (Episode 12 – Court Martial)

12 - court martialWritten by Tony Barwick
Directed by Ron Appleton

Court Martial certainly has an arresting opening.  Colonel Foster has been found guilty of espionage and is sentenced to death.  We then travel back to find out exactly what has happened to put him in this predicament.

Coded messages for both Skydiver and Moonbase have been leaked to the press and Foster is the only one who had access.  A Court Martial is convened, with General Henderson presiding.  As we’ve seen, Henderson has no love for SHADO in general and Straker in particular, so there’s some fun and games as the two of them lock horns.

Prosecuting Foster is Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) who seems, in this episode, to be working for Henderson rather than SHADO.  Sheybal’s always an actor that’s worth watching and his cross-examinations are one of the highlights of the episode.

The main problem with Court Martial is that it’s impossible to believe that Foster is guilty.  He’s been a regular too long for it to be that likely that he would sell out SHADO and the evidence, whilst apparently damming, is pretty circumstantial.

The eventual solution (an industrial spy bugged Foster’s apartment for movie scoops and happened on the SHADO stuff by accident) does strain credibility a little.  Surely Foster shouldn’t be taking top secret information home to work on?

Of course, after being sentenced to death he has to break out to try and clear his name.  This gives us the somewhat incongruous sight of Foster being hunted down by several armed SHADO operatives in a quarry.  Given that it’s a top secret organisation, shouldn’t they be a little more discreet?

If you like UFO for the UFO’s then this might be one to skip as there’s not even a whiff of the aliens.  It’s not a bad episode, mainly due to Sheybal’s performance, but it have would have played better with a non-regular as the suspected mole – that way there would have been much more tension generated by wondering if they were innocent or guilty.

As it is, you know that things will work out alright for Foster in the end and he’ll probably be sharing a joke with Straker just before the end credits.

UFO watch (Episode 11 – The Square Triangle)

11 - the square triangle

Written by Alan Pattillo
Directed by David Lane

The Square Triangle starts, as many episodes do, with the Moonbase interceptors scrambled to meet an incoming UFO.  But one interesting difference is that the sequence is played out with no music.  Usually Barry Gray’s unmistakable score underpins such action, but not here.  I assume it was a directorial decision and it certainly does give the scene a different feeling.

When Straker learns that the UFO will land in Southern England he orders the interceptors not to attack and to return to base.  Although it’s unfortunate that the stock footage used shows them all returning without their missiles!

Foster leads the mobile units in the hunt for the UFO.  As ever, there’s some first rate modelwork, particularly the glowing UFO in the forest, which is very effective.

Rather less effective is the subplot concerning Cass Fowler (Patrick Power) and Liz Newton (Adrienne Corri).  Together, they’ve hatched a plot to kill Liz’s husband, but their best laid plans go awry when the alien walks through the door instead.  Liz shoots the alien dead.

As Foster put it: “it’s just lucky for her that an alien came through that door instead of her husband.”

Liz and Cass are taken back to SHADO HQ for questioning and Foster is convinced that they intended to murder Liz’s husband.  Straker doesn’t see what they can do, as there’s no actual evidence and he tells Foster that “we are not in the morality business.”  After the amenisa drug is administered, Liz and Cass are sent on their way.

The ending is nicely ambigious as we see Liz visiting a grave that could be her husband’s.  For once, the downbeat closing music doesn’t play out over a shot of the moon, instead it follows Liz as she leaves the church.  Liz is met by Cass and when he appears the music strikes a particularly sinister note, which was a nice edit.

Patrick Mower has never been an actor that I’ve particularly warmed to, so it’s probably his presence that makes this one of the less effective UFO episodes for me.

There are some good points though, such as the moral dilemma that the SHADO team have to deal with  – can they effectively condone a possible murder?  But short of keeping Cass and Liz constantly under surveillance 24 hours a day there’s not much they could have done.   And once the amnesia drug was administered the two of them would have forgotten about everything that had happened anyway, so how could anything have been proved? it’s another insight into Starker’s single-minded SHADO operation.


UFO watch (Episode 10 – The Responsibility Seat)


Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by Alan Perry

Straker dislikes having to do PR work for his cover job as head of the Harlighton-Straker film studio, but perks up when he realises that journalist Joe Fraser is actually Jo Fraser (Jane Merrow).  But it doesn’t take him long before he decides that she is “intelligent, attractive and a possible security risk”,  Is she an undercover reporter sniffing out clues on SHADO?  Or can she really be in love with him?

This is the main plot of The Responsibility Seat and it gives Straker a chance to get out of the SHADO bunker.  It’s a slightly unexpected turn of events to see him exchanging sweet nothings over a candlelit dinner but it’s nice to see him unwind for once.  Needless to say, she’s a wrong ‘un and it doesn’t end well.

With Straker off in hot pursuit, this leaves Alec Freeman in charge of SHADO HQ.  He’s got a busy time of it, with a possible UFO in the Earths atmosphere as well as a runaway vehicle heading on a collision course direct to Moonbase.

This episode also gives a little more exposure for Lt Keith Ford (Keith Alexander).  Ford has been a familiar presence at SHADO HQ since the first episode and he’s usually been given the odd line or two to confirm that UFO’s have broken through the Moon’s defences.  Here he gets a slightly larger role in proceedings as he raises an eyebrow or two when Freeman begins to find the Responsibility Seat something of a hot potato.

And the third part of the plot enables Paul Foster to share in the action as he climbs aboard the out of control vehicle and manages to stop it before it crashes into Moonbase.  For once, this wasn’t due to alien interference – instead the crew had been suffering from anoxia or lack of oxygen.

A solid episode, although it’s difficult to believe that Straker would be turned by a pretty face quite so easily.  But it gives both Ed Bishop and George Sewell a chance to do something a little different, so for those reasons it’s a good watch.

UFO watch (Episode 09 – Ordeal)

ordeal - ellis

Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by Ken Turner

Going from the previous episode, A Question of Priorities, to this one is truly a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous.

One interesting point, however, is that reportedly it would originally have been Carlin (Peter Gordeno) abducted rather than Foster.  As silly as this episode is, it would have given a bit more screen time to Carlin’s character, who apart from the debut episode has had little to do.

The re-write may have been a factor in Gordeno deciding to leave the series after recording just six episodes, so his appearance in the previous episode was his final work for UFO.

Anyway, onto the episode.  We open at a marvelously groovy party that in no way resembles a party from the early 1980’s, unless of course they were having a late 1960’s retro bash.  And after bopping the night away, Colonel Foster has to check himself into SHADO’s Research Centre for a full physical examination.

After a heavy work-out in the gym, Foster is relaxing in the sauna when he notices the door has been locked.  Aliens have infiltrated the building, killed everybody else and they drag the barely conscious Foster away.  He’s taken aboard their flying saucer and forced to wear one of their space-suits.  As soon as the helmet is put on, it’s flooded with the green fluid that the aliens need to survive in Earth’s atmosphere.

Straker, despite knowing that Foster is aboard the UFO, demands that it be shot down.  Captain Waterman in Sky One (replacing the departed Carlin) can’t bring himself to kill his friend so he doesn’t fire a fatal shot.  But the UFO is already damaged and crashes on the Moon, although Foster survives this impact.

But can Foster be separated from the alien space-suit and the breathing apparatus?  We’ll come to that in a minute.

Good things about the episode?  I love the opening party scenes which are just so 1969.  And there’s yet another example of Straker’s ruthless streak when he orders the UFO with Foster aboard be destroyed.   Colonel Freeman can hardly believe it and says to Straker: “You just better hope I’m never in a position to press the button on you!”

The scenes of Foster’s abduction look very good as do the final scenes with the Moonbase crew desperately trying to save his life.

But this is all negated when it’s revealed at the end that it was just a dream.  Possibly he partook of something at the party that he shouldn’t have?  It’s such a ridiculous ending to the story that it almost beggars belief.

Given this, it seems churlish to pick holes in the plot, such as why the aliens decide to abduct Foster and how they know he would be at the health farm and even that the health farm exists.  Everything we’ve seen so far has told us that the aliens can only survive on Earth for a couple of days, so the amount of forward planning is impressive to say the least.  But as it was all just a dream, there’s no point in arguing any of these points too vigorously.

It seems that Tony Barwick’s original script made it much clearer very early on that everything was unreal, but unfortunately the direction didn’t follow this.  So either the director should have emphasised the dream-like nature of the story or they should have treated it for real and worked out a reasonable explanation of how to extract Foster from the alien’s clutches.   Neither was done, so we’re left with the worst of both worlds.

UFO watch (Episode 08 – A Question of Priorities)

08 - a question of prioritiesWritten by Tony Barwick
Directed by David Lane

A Question of Priorities is a key Straker episode.  Ed Bishop always had a difficult role to play in UFO, since Straker is usually such a single-minded, humourless man.  A Question of Priorities is one of two episodes (Confetti Check A-Ok is the other) which helps to shine a light on his personal life.

After returning his son, Johnny, home to his ex-wife Mary after a day out, the boy is hit by a car.  He’s in a critical condition and requires a special anti-allergenic antibiotic that is still on the experimental list.  Straker orders that a supply of the drug be flown on a SHADO craft from the USA.

However, news of a crashed UFO in Ireland causes Freeman to divert the craft.  Mary is understandably distraught when she learns that something has delayed the arrival of the drugs.  So what is the top priority for Straker?  Capturing the alien or the life of his son?

This is one of the best stories in the whole run and manages to juggle both plot threads – the rush to save Johnny’s life as well as the mystery of the alien – very well.

As mentioned previously, it brings the human side of Straker into sharp relief.  His ex-wife Mary (an excellent performance by Suzanne Neve) clearly has many resentments still lingering (which will be explained in a later episode) and expresses some of this frustration when Straker tells her that something important has delayed the delivery of the antibiotics: “Important!? What can be more important than your own son’s life!?”

The ever-dependable Philip Madoc hasn’t much to do as Mary’s new partner except glower (although he’ll have a better role as a different character in a forthcoming episode).

After visiting his son in the hospital, Straker returns to SHADO HQ. He hasn’t told anyone, not even Freeman, about his son’s accident although Freeman senses that something is amiss.  This is another sign of the rigid compartmentalisation of Straker’s life – when he’s at SHADO then nothing else, not even the fact his son is fighting for his life, is allowed to interfere with the job.

The Ireland sub-plot is interesting, we see the alien set up a transmitter in the house of an elderly blind woman (Mary Merrell).  The alien apparently wanted SHADO to pick up his transmissions as it seems he wished to defect, an interesting story development.

The ending of the story is bleak beyond belief.  The alien is killed by another UFO and Johnny dies as well.  Straker’s juggling of priorities couldn’t have turned out worse, SHADO failed to get any information from the alien and he has also lost his son.

If A Question of Priorites tells us anything, it’s that whilst Straker has ordinary, human feelings, his devotion to duty and to SHADO would appear to be his overriding motivation.  And it cost him his marriage and now the life of his son.

Whilst the modelwork and the bright day-glo nature of the settings have caused many to bracket UFO along with Anderson’s 1960’s Supermarionation series, there are often much more adult themes running through the series than anything he previously produced.  Some of the episodes are fine kids fare, but others, like this one, do certainly pack an emotional punch.

UFO watch (Episode 07 – The Dalotek Affair)


Written by Ruric Powell
Directed by Alan Perry

The opening of The Dalotek Affair is quite interesting. Dr Frank E. Stranges (author of numerous books on UFO’s) plays himself in a brief chat show segment. He cites the widely reported positive views of General MacArthur on UFOs, although it seems that MacArthur was misrepresented, see here.

We then switch to a very groovy restaurant where Foster and Freeman are enjoying a meal. Foster spies a young woman that he knows, Jane Carson (Tracy Reed), but who doesn’t know him. How is this possible? It’s all to do with the Dalotek Affair, some six months back. Cue echoing soundtrack as we travel back to find out what he means.

UFOs are targeting apparently empty sections of the Moon, there’s interference with Moonbase communications and a meteorite has landed near the Dalotek installation (a private research base working on the Moon, much to Straker’s disgust). A more grumpy than usual Straker tells Foster to investigate.

It doesn’t take long for Foster to start making eyes at Carson, although not everyone approves (check out Joan Harrington as Foster and Carson have a little chit-chat, some unrequited love there, possibly?)

Foster gets to the bottom of the mystery eventually but his passion for Jane Carson goes no further as her short-term memory is wiped (as she’s seen SHADO’s operations on Moonbase, something no civilian can do). Another example of SHADO’s frightening amount of power.

A so-so episode, with the Foster/Carson subplot (and the shot of them after the amnesia drug has taken effect has to be seen to be believed) helping to liven up proceedings.