Gerry Anderson’s UFO (ITC 1969-1970). Series Introduction

Gerry Anderson’s first foray into television live action drama was this fondly remembered series, created by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and Reg Hill.

UFO is set some ten years in the future and depicts a world coming under increasing attack from a mysterious race of aliens.  In the opening episode we learn that they are harvesting organs from their human victims although their ultimate aims remain nebulous.

In order to combat this threat, a secret global organisation called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) is established.  SHADO has various bases but the key one is located underneath the Harlington-Straker film studios in the UK.

SHADO’s commander is Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) who juggles a public job as chief executive of the film studio whilst in private he leads SHADO’s continuing battle against the alien menace.

His second-in-command is Colonel Alec Freeman (George Sewell) whilst Colonel Paul Foster (Michael Billington) is a new recruit introduced in the fourth episode Exposed.

L-R Ed Straker (Ed Bishop), Paul Foster (Michael Billington) and Alec Freeman (George Sewell)
L-R Ed Straker (Ed Bishop), Paul Foster (Michael Billington) and Alec Freeman (George Sewell)

Incoming UFO’s are initially tracked by supercomputer SID (Space Intruder Detector).  The forward line of defence is launched from Moonbase, which has three Interceptor spacecraft fitted with nuclear warheads.  The Moonbase operations are co-ordinated by Lt Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake), Lt Joan Harrington (Antonia Ellis) and Lt Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez) amongst others.

L-R Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez), Joan Harrington (Antonia Ellis) and Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake)

If the UFOs manage to evade the Interceptors and penetrate the Earths atmosphere then SHADO calls upon various other forms of defence, including the submarine Skydiver which can launch the interceptor aircraft Sky One, whilst Mobile land vehicles can also be called upon if the UFO has made a successful landing.

Sky One
Sky One

Although Gerry Anderson had, until this time, been responsible for a series of successful children’s Supermarionation series (Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet) UFO was very much a move into a more adult form of storytelling, despite the fact that visually it had much in common with his Supermarionation series.

As with those series, special effects were supervised by Derek Meddings whilst the various vehicles were designed by Meddings along with his assistant Michael Trim.  The model-work and effects were the clearest links to the previous Anderson shows, but the story content was much darker (although elements of Captain Scarlet had probably begun this process).

The concept of human beings being forcibly used as organ donors is a fairly horrifying concept whilst later episodes such as The Long Sleep and Timelash are notable examples of stories that delve a little deeper than many sci-fi series of the same period.  Timelash, for example, sees Straker inject himself with a drug (X 50 stimulant) in order to stay awake during the mysterious time freeze with the result that it’s not clear what part of the story actually happened and what may be a result of his drug-induced dreams.

A UFO in the woods
A UFO in the woods

Elsewhere in the series there was more emphasis placed on human relationships than was often seen in science fiction programmes of the time.  Although it may seem somewhat stilted and naive today, the interracial relationship in The Computer Affair was noteworthy at the time of its original broadcast whilst several episodes (Confetti Check A-OK and A Question of Priorities) show exactly how Straker is unable to juggle the demands of his secret job and his family life.

Whilst these, and other examples are laudable, it’s undeniable that UFO’s sexual politics were fairly underdeveloped as very often women are simply used as eye-candy, which can be either amusing (particularly Alec Freeman’s various toe-curling chat up lines) or irritating, depending on your point of view.

Totally gratuitous eye-candy.  Sorry.
Totally gratuitous eye-candy. Sorry.

But while parts of the series have badly dated (and the mystery of the purple wigs was never explained) there is much to enjoy across the 26 episodes of UFO.  So as I begin a rewatch of the series, I’ll blog a short review of every story which will hopefully capture some of the key points of each episode.

UFO watch (Episode 01 – Identified)

01 - identified

Written by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson with Tony Barwick
Directed by Gerry Anderson

The first notable thing about this episode is that it opens with a graphic murder – as we see a woman’s bullet-ridden body slump to the ground. The next is that, like all ITC shows, they would never shell out the extra money for night-time shooting, so we have the usual unconvincing day-for-night filter.  It will happen again throughout the series so be prepared. The third is that when Peter Carlin and his sister are being pursued through the undergrowth, Barry Gray’s score certainly favours the drums.  I don’t know who the drummer was, but he gave his all!

Our first shot of Alec Freeman (George Sewell) shows him attempting to use all of his masculine charm on Straker’s secretary, Miss Ealand (Norma Ronald), but with a notable lack of success. Never mind, as soon as he ventures into SHADO’s underground base there’s plenty of other women he can charm.  And In case you missed Freeman’s subtle approach, Barry Gray drops some slinky saxophone onto the soundtrack to hammer the point home.

The episode has a lot of ground to cover in order to introduce all the key players, so after our first look at SHADO control it’s off to Moonbase.  Gabrielle Drake’s performance in UFO continues to attract a certain amount of attention, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

A trip to Skydiver lets us know that Carlin (seen at the start of the episode ten years earlier, fleeing with his sister from the UFO attack) is now the pilot of Sky 1 although he remains unaware of his sister’s fate, Straker gets to berate one of his team, which handily allows a large info-dump about how SHADO works, and Freeman tangles with the cool Colonel Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham)

After a tense tussle between Sky 1 and a UFO, SHADO are able to capture the alien occupant. They are unable to save the alien’s life, but an autopsy provides the chilling proof that they are harvesting human organs for their own ends. This strikes close to home when it’s discovered that the alien had the heart of Carlin’s sister, who vanished following the UFO attack seen at the start of the episode.  A bleak ending to the episode then, which makes it clear that there’s a long battle ahead.

Identified had to do a lot within 49 minutes – introduce SHADO and the reason for the alien attacks – but it managed it successfully and produced a well-paced episode that never flagged. An impressive opening.

UFO watch (Episode 02 – Computer Affair)

02 - computer affair

Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by David Lane

After Interceptor 1 is destroyed in a collision with a UFO, Straker calls the relevant personnel back to Earth.  Computer analysis decides that Lt Ellis diverted Interceptor 3 first because of her emotional attachment to its pilot Mark Bradley (Harry Baird) and both are reassigned to new duties.

Computer Affair juggles two plot threads – the investigation into the destruction of Interceptor 1 and the hunt for the UFO – quite deftly.  In the quieter moments of the episode you can play count the cigarette, as it’s amazing how many scenes feature the characters either smoking or handling a cigarette.  Nowadays of course they’d all have to go up to the surface and stand outside the building.

The relationship between Ellis and Bradley never really developed due to Baird leaving the series after filming just four episodes, although he does appear in a few other episodes courtesy of stock shots.  The use of stock footage also occurs in this episode as a few brief shots of Shane Rimmer (who appeared in Identified) crop up.

Straker assigns Freeman to hunt down the UFO and bring the occupants back alive and he in turn includes Ellis and Bradley in the retrieval team.  The scenes of the mobile units hunting the UFO through the Canadian forest, and indeed the whole episode, feature some stunning miniature work.  This was always a feature of Gerry Anderson’s productions, and there’s plenty of fine examples here.

One of the aliens is brought back to SHADO HQ and Straker is desperate to get some answers from it.  In order to do this he injects the alien with drugs to force a response but this only speeds the creature’s demise.  This is an early sign of Straker’s ruthless streak and there will be many more to come.

The amended computer report that confirms Lt Ellis acted correctly in reassigning the Interceptors (had she followed standard procedure then all three would have been destroyed).  This message of the story would therefore seem to be that for all their usefulness, computers are no match for human instinct.

A slower paced story than the opening episode, but not without interest.

UFO watch (Episode 03 – Flight Path)

03 - flightpath

Written by Ian Scott Stewart
Directed by Ken Turner

Oh dear.  This isn’t very good at all.  Let’s look at some of the problem areas in a bit more detail.

Our old friend the day-for-night filter makes an appearance at the start of the episode.  As mentioned in Identified this is rarely a convincing effect and the bright sunshine here makes it look even more false.

More problematic is that apart from one brief scene with Lt Ellis, the first ten minutes are devoted to guest star George Cole as Roper. Cole’s performance is curiously flat and although it becomes clear early on that he is being blackmailed it’s very difficult to care or feel any empathy for him. His silly haircut doesn’t help either.

The story would have probably worked better a little later in the run, where Roper’s part could have been taken by one of the numerous walk-ons that we see crop up in each episode. At least then there would be a little frisson to them betraying SHADO, as we would have seen them interacting with the likes of Straker and Freeman over several episodes. We’ve never seen Roper before so why should we care about his problems?

Why did the UFO target Roper’s car? Straker seems to believe it was because the information Roper passed on was inaccurate but how did the UFO know that the car was Roper’s? Nice modelwork though, although it does beggar belief that Roper could walk away from the crash with barely a scratch.

And how did the UFO that attacked Roper manage to land on Earth undetected? So far it’s seemed to be impossible for a UFO to land without SHADO picking it up.  The idea that the aliens are recruiting human spies is interesting, but how does it work in practice?  What can the aliens offer in payment?

The rather convoluted plan for the UFO to bypass Moonbase’s defences (thanks to Roper’s information) has been unraveled and Straker’s response is to put Roper on the Lunar surface with a rocket launcher to stop it. Why not put ten, or twenty people, on the surface, so that it wouldn’t be the suicide mission it turns out to be?

And since there’s only a single UFO approaching it’s hard to to understand exactly why there should be so much panic. Everybody does their best to ratchet up the tension, but it all falls somewhat flat. The final shot is quite nice though as it’s another example of how ruthless Straker can be.

With a more charismatic actor playing Roper this might have been a bit better but as it stands it’s something of a damp squib.

UFO watch (Episode 04 – Exposed)

04 - exposed

Written by Tony Barwick
Directed by David Lane

Exposed is the introductory story for Paul Foster (Michael Billington).  Foster is a test pilot who gets tangled up in a battle between Sky 1 and a UFO.  Foster remains adamant that he saw a UFO but nobody will believe him.  He keeps on digging though and eventually the trail leads to Ed Straker.

This episode allows us to see SHADO from an outsiders point of view.  Billington is good value as he tangles with various different characters on the way to his meeting with Straker.  But what he doesn’t realise is that everything has been coordinated by the SHADO boss in order to test Foster’s reactions and see if he’s a possible recruit.

If he responds in the right way then a job in SHADO will be his but it’s interesting to wonder what would happen otherwise.  There must have been other people over the years who stumbled onto the truth about UFOs and it’s hard to imagine that they’d all have been SHADO material.  Everything that we’ve seen so far seems to indicate that Straker would have no problem in silencing them for good, but luckily for Foster he makes the grade.

Also debuting is Vladek Sheybal as Dr Doug Jackson.  Jackson pops up regularly during the series and is particularly prominent in the forthcoming episode Court Martial.  There’s always something slightly unsettling about Sheybal’s performance and he contrasts well with the more straightforward members of SHADO.  With Jackson, you never quite know if he’s following a different agenda from everybody else.

Exposed gives us a chance to see the backlot at MGM Borehamwood, where the first production block was shot. The studio is the place where Straker and Foster meet for the first time and Straker has a unique way of determining whether Foster is the man for the job.  This seems to consist of pointing a wind machine at him and then pretending to shoot him at point blank range!

It’s hardly a surprise that he does get offered a post with SHADO, particularly since he’s been on the credits since the first episode, but overall this is still a decent episode.  Not outstanding, but it’s a good chance for Michael Billington to make a strong first impression.

UFO watch (Episode 05 – Survival)

05 - survivalWritten by Tony Barwick
Directed by Alan Perry

A UFO lands on the moon and the alien shoots out a window on Moonbase, killing a SHADO worker.  As so often, the aliens’ motives remain unclear – why travel all that way for such a minor attack?

As the UFO is still on the Moon, Straker is keen to capture it.  New Moonbase commander Paul Foster is more interested in killing the alien in order to avenge the murder of one of his men, but things don’t quite go as expected.

As ever with UFO, there’s some gorgeous modelwork – the lunar surface is particuarly impressive. The full size lunar landscape looks very good too, although some of the rocks do have a tendency to wobble when somebody is thrown against them!

The main plotline develops in an interesting way, Foster leads a party to capture the UFO but it’s destroyed by the interceptors after the Moonbase party is attacked.  Foster is reported as missing, believed dead.  The alien is still alive though, saves Foster’s life and together the two of them begin the long trek back to Moonbase.

It’s surprising that everybody gives Foster up for dead so quickly.  Even if they were convinced that he couldn’t have survived you would have thought that they would have gone back to retrieve his body.  But his apparent death leaves a vacancy which Straker proposes to fill with Mark Bradley.

Bradley is reluctant for several reasons, not least his colour.  Straker is unconvinced by this, telling him that racial prejudice burned itself out five years ago.  This, of course, must stand as UFO’s least convincing predication of the future!  After winning him round with such winning words as “I don’t care if you’re polka dot with red stripes, do you want the job?”, Bradley agrees.

The lunar scenes with Foster and the alien are quite slow paced, understandable in a way because they have to simulate the lack of gravity and also since the alien and Foster can’t communicate.  But they could have done with a bit of trimming, as this section does drag a little.

But it’s a key story as it’s the first to portray the aliens in, for want of a better word, a more human light and not as implacable killers.  But as the series always had a fairly pessimistic viewpoint it’s probably no surprise that Foster’s new-found friendship is very short lived.

UFO watch (Episode 06 – Conflict)


06 - conflictWritten by Ruric Powell
Directed by Ken Turner

Conflict is a good episode for both Ed Bishop and Michael Billington.  Straker gets to lock horns with James Henderson (Grant Taylor), who as President of the International Astrophysical Commission is responsible for approving the funding level for SHADO.  And in the interests of good drama, Straker is always pushing for more whilst Henderson is always trying to cut back.

This conflict is at the heart of the episode.  Straker believes that the various items of space junk orbiting the Earth are a hazard to SHADO spacecraft and wants them removed.  Henderson doesn’t agree and won’t release the funds.

This is one of several key episodes that examines the conflict between Straker and Henderson and both Ed Bishop and Grant Taylor are excellent at portraying two totally single-minded individuals who both believe they are always right.

Shortly after their meeting, a SHADO lunar module is destroyed on reentry.  Straker is rightly convinced that the aliens were responsible – they have infiltrated the space junk with limpet mines.  But their ultimate aim strikes somewhat more closer to home.

Michael Billington gets another solid episode as Foster disobeys the ban on lunar flights to test a hunch.  It nearly gets him killed, but he proves to his satisfaction that there is alien involvement.  But Henderson isn’t convinced and after he thinks that Straker has left SHADO HQ undefended and in imminent danger of a UFO attack he attempts to remove him from command.

I’ve said it before, but the modelwork (particularly the lunar shots) are absolutely breathtaking.  Derek Meddings would later design the miniatures for the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker and some of the shots here wouldn’t have looked out of place in that film.

This isn’t an action-packed episode but the spat between Straker and Henderson is strong enough to drive the episode and makes it one of the stronger entries in the early part of the series.

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.

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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.