UFO watch (Episode 07 – The Dalotek Affair)

224478

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)

res

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)