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UFO
UFOTVDVDnew.jpg
Region 1 DVD release cover, displaying (left to right) actors Gabrielle Drake, Michael Billington and Ed Bishop
Also known as Gerry Anderson's UFO (Australia)
Genre Adventure
Alien invasion
Drama
Science fiction
Thriller
Format Serial drama
Created by Gerry Anderson
Sylvia Anderson
Reg Hill
Written by Gerry Anderson
Sylvia Anderson
Tony Barwick
Bob Bell
Terence Feely
Alan Fennell
Donald James
Alan Pattillo
Ruric Powell
Dennis Spooner
Ian Scott Stewart
David Tomblin
Directed by Gerry Anderson
Ron Appleton
Cyril Frankel
David Lane
Alan Perry
Jeremy Summers
David Tomblin
Ken Turner
Starring Keith Alexander
Harry Baird
Steven Berkoff
Michael Billington
Ed Bishop
Ayshea Brough
Gabrielle Drake
Antonia Ellis
Peter Gordeno
Anouska Hempel
John Kelley
Dolores Mantez
Georgina Moon
Basil Moss
Gary Myers
Mel Oxley
Norma Ronald
George Sewell
Maxwell Shaw
Vladek Sheybal
Grant Taylor
Wanda Ventham
David Warbeck
Jeremy Wilkin
Composer(s) Barry Gray
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 26
Production
Producer(s) Gerry Anderson
Reg Hill
Editor(s) Mike Campbell
Lee Doig
Harry MacDonald
Cinematography Brendan J. Stafford
Camera setup Single
Running time 50 mins approx. per episode
(excluding advertisements)
Production company(s) Century 21 Television
Distributor ITC Entertainment
Broadcast
Original channel ATV
Picture format Film (35 mm)
Audio format Mono
Original run September 16, 1970 (1970-09-16) – July 24, 1971 (1971-07-24)

UFO is a British television science fiction series created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson with Reg Hill, and produced by the Andersons and Lew Grade's Century 21 Productions for Grade's ITC Entertainment company. The Andersons had previously made a number of very successful marionette-based children's science fiction series including Stingray, Thunderbirds, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. They had also made one live-action science fiction movie, Doppelgänger, also known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, and now felt ready to move into live-action television and aim at a more adult market.

UFO was the Andersons' first totally live-action TV series. Despite the assumption of many TV station executives, the series was not aimed at children, but deliberately sought an older audience; many episodes featured adult themes such as adultery, divorce, and drug use. Most of the cast were newcomers to Century 21 although star Ed Bishop had previously worked with the Andersons as a voice actor on Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.

UFO first aired in the UK and Canada in 1970 and in US syndication over the next two years. In all, 26 episodes, including the pilot, were filmed over the course of more than a year, with a five-month production break caused by the ultimate closure of the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood, where the show was initially made.

An idiosyncrasy of the series is that the term "UFO" is pronounced as a word ("you-foh"), as suggested by the real-world originator of the term Edward J. Ruppelt, and not as the more common "you-eff-oh". This is particularly true of the lead character, Ed Straker. Technically speaking the series title should properly be pronounced "you-foh" as well. However, the "you-foh" pronunciation was not consistently applied and some supporting characters use the now more common form.

Lead actors Ed Bishop and Michael Billington died in June 2005, within five days of each other.

Contents

Plot overview

The show's basic premise is that in the near future – a fictional version of 1980 (a date indicated in the opening credits) – Earth is being visited and attacked by aliens from a dying planet and humans are being covertly harvested for their organs by the aliens. The show's main cast of characters are members of a secret, high-technology-equipped international agency established to defend Earth and humanity against the mysterious aliens and learn more about them.

UFOs

The extraterrestrial spacecraft can readily cross the vast distances between their planet and Earth, but are only large enough for one or two crewmembers. Their time on station is limited; UFOs can only survive for a couple of days in the Earth's atmosphere before they heat up, deteriorate, and finally explode. The alien craft can survive for far longer underwater; one episode, "Reflections in the Water", deals with the discovery of a secret undersea alien base, which shows one UFO flying straight out of an extinct volcano, which Straker describes as "a back door to the Atlantic". A special underwater version of the standard UFO design is seen in "Sub Smash". In flight they are surrounded by horizontally-spinning vanes and emit a distinctive pulsing electronic whine that sounds like a Shoooe-Wheeeh![1] (actually produced by series composer Barry Gray, on an Ondes Martenot). The craft is armed with a laser-type weapon, but can be destroyed by conventional explosive warheads. The personal arms of the aliens resemble shiny assault rifles; these have a lower rate of fire than that used by SHADO. Later episodes such as "The Cat With Ten Lives" show the aliens using other weapons, such as a small device, which seemingly paralyses victims. This is presumably for organ and body harvesting purposes, since pilot Jim Regan's wife Jean is taken for her organs in that episode.

Aliens

A fan-made CGI illustration of two aliens from the series

Notably for science fiction, and uniquely for a television series, the alien race is never given a proper name, either by themselves or by human beings; they are simply referred to as "the aliens". Humanoid in appearance, the autopsy of the first alien captured reveals that they are harvesting organs from the bodies of abducted humans. Their faces are stained by the hue of a green oxygenated liquid, which is believed to cushion their lungs against the extreme acceleration of interstellar flight; this liquid is contained in their helmets. To protect their eyes the aliens wear opaque sclera contact lenses with small pinholes for vision. The show's opening sequence begins by showing the image, remarkable for its time, of one of these contact lenses being removed from an obviously real eye with a pair of forceps — although the scleral lens is never shown in contact with the eye.

No more than two of the aliens are seen at any one time. In the episode Ordeal, when Foster in an alien spacesuit is carried by two aliens, one of those two aliens is always off-screen if Foster is on-screen.

The prop alien spacesuits were made of red Lycra. At the start of production the alien spacesuits were ornamented with silvery chainlinking. Later this was replaced by silvery areas as in the image. In reality the dark vertical bands on the sides of the helmets are slits to let the actors breathe.

SHADO

To defend against the aliens, a secret organisation called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) is established. Operating behind the cover of the Harlington-Straker Studios movie studio in England, SHADO is headed by Commander Ed Straker (played by Ed Bishop), a former United States Air Force Colonel and astronaut who poses as the studio's chief executive.

In reality, this was a clever cost-saving move by the producers – the studio was the actual studio where the series was being filmed, originally the MGM-British Studios, later Pinewood Studios, although the Harlington-Straker studio office block seen throughout the series was actually Neptune House – a building at the former British National Studios, in Borehamwood, that were owned by ATV. Pinewood's studio buildings and streetscapes were used extensively in later episodes, particularly "Timelash" and "Mindbender", the latter featuring scenes that actually showed the behind-the-scenes workings of the UFO sets when Straker briefly finds himself hallucinating that he is an actor on a TV series and all his SHADO colleagues are likewise actors.

Typical of Anderson productions, the studio-as-cover idea was both practical and cost-effective for the production and provided a ready-made vehicle for the viewer's suspension of disbelief. It removed the need to build an expensive exterior set for the SHADO base and combined that all-important "secret" cover (concealment and secrecy are always central themes in Anderson dramas) with the trademark ring of at least nominal plausibility. A studio was a business where unusual events and routines would not be remarkable or even noticed. Comings and goings at odd times, the movement of vehicles, equipment, people and material would not excite undue interest and could easily be explained away as "sets", "props", or "extras".

Another Anderson leitmotif was the concept of the mechanical conveyor, e.g. the automatic boarding tubes of Stingray and the Thunderbird craft. In UFO, this appeared in the guise of Straker's "secret" office, which doubled as a lift (elevator) that takes him down to the SHADO control centre located beneath the studio. The pilots of the space interceptors and the submersible "Sky One" jet interceptor slide down boarding chutes into their craft. The interceptors then rise from their hangar via elevating platforms to a launch pad disguised as a lunar crater.

SHADO equipment

SHADO has a variety of high-tech hardware and vehicles at its disposal to implement a layered defence of Earth. Early warning of alien attack would come from SID (Space Intruder Detector), a computerised tracking satellite that constantly scans for UFO incursions. The forward line of defence is Moonbase from which the three Lunar Interceptor spacecraft, carrying nuclear missiles, are launched. The second line of defence includes SkyDiver, a submarine mated with the submersible, undersea-launched Sky One interceptor aircraft, which attack UFOs in Earth's atmosphere. The last line of defence is ground units including the armed, IFV-like SHADO Mobiles, fitted with caterpillar tracks. Special effects, as in all Anderson's marionette shows, were supervised by Derek Meddings, while the vehicles were designed by Meddings and his assistant, Michael Trim.

The stories

The show's concept was unusually dark for its time; the basic premise was that alien invaders were abducting humans to use as involuntary organ transplant donors. A later episode, "The Cat with Ten Lives", contains a sinister plot point which suggests that the UFO pilots are not humanoid aliens at all, but are in fact human abductees under the control of the alien intelligences, suggesting that (as in Captain Scarlet) the aliens, in the dialog of Dr. Jackson, "may have no physical being at all and therefore need a container, a vehicle, our bodies."

The show also featured realistic, believable relationships between the human characters to a far greater extent than usual in a typical science fiction series, showing the clear influence of American programmes like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek and British action series such as Danger Man. One early episode, "Computer Affair", strongly hinted at an interracial romance between two continuing characters (something that was uncommon on British TV in those days), while others showed the heroes making mistakes with sometimes fatal consequences. Furthermore, relatively few episodes of the series actually had happy or (for the characters) satisfying endings.

The episode "Confetti Check A-OK" is almost entirely devoted to the breakdown of Straker's marriage under the strain of maintaining his secret identity. Another, "A Question of Priorities", takes this exploration further, and hinges on Straker having to make an agonising life-or-death choice to rescue his critically-injured son by diverting an aircraft carrying SHADO mobiles to deliver life-saving medical supplies, or to attempt a last-chance intercept against an incoming UFO. Two key images from "A Question of Priorities" – Straker's son being struck down and his ex-wife declaring she never wants to see him again – are repeated in flashback in two subsequent episodes, "Sub-Smash" and "Mindbender", suggesting that Straker remains haunted by these unresolved emotional issues.

Another episode "The Square Triangle" centres on a woman and her lover who plan to murder her husband. When they accidentally kill an alien from a downed UFO instead, SHADO intervenes and doses the guilty pair with amnesia drugs (decades ahead of a similar story device in Men in Black, and one deployed for similar reasons). Straker realises, however, that the drugs will not affect their basic motivation and the end credits of this episode are run over a scene set in the near future, showing the woman visiting her husband's grave and then walking to meet her lover.

Some critics complained that the emphasis on down-to-earth relationships weakened the show's science fiction premise and were also a means of saving money on special effects. The money-saving argument may have been true to a limited extent, but the Andersons made a virtue of necessity. They had always hoped to direct live action TV drama, and although the marionette shows helped them develop impressive skills in effects and scripting, they had always considered them as essentially being a way of keeping in work and earning money while they tried to break into "real" TV drama. Others countered that the characters were more well rounded than in other science fiction shows and that science fiction concepts and special effects in themselves did not preclude realistic action and interaction and believable, emotionally engaging plots. Ultimately, the mix of dark human drama with traditional science fiction adventure is probably the reason for UFO's enduring cult popularity and what sets it apart from the rest of TV SF series. For example, the time-freeze plot of the episode "Timelash" is similar to the Outer Limits episode "The Premonition". But UFO adds a drama twist: Straker repeatedly injects a drug (X 50 stimulant) to remain awake during the time freeze, which results in Straker being hospitalised in SHADO's medical centre. The ending not only shows him lying in bed recovering from the harmful effects of drug use, but has a subtext that the plot of the episode may, in fact, have been a drug-induced delusion. This SF and dark drama mix is why UFO cuts deeper than most similar series.

UFO confused broadcasters in both Britain and the United States who could not decide if it was a programme for adults, or for children - the series was shown on Saturday mornings by London Weekend (the fact Anderson was primarily associated with children's programming did not help matters). This confusion – coupled with erratic broadcast schedules – are considered contributing factors in its cancellation, although UFO is credited with opening the door to moderately successful runs of later live-action, adult-oriented programming by Anderson such as The Protectors and Space: 1999.

Special effects

The special effects, supervised by Derek Meddings, were of the highest quality and outstanding for their day, given the relatively limited resources at the production's disposal.

In a refinement of the underwater effect developed for Stingray, Meddings' team devised a disconcerting effect – a double-walled visor for the alien space helmets, which could be gradually filled from the bottom up with green-dyed water. When filmed from the appropriate angle it produced a very convincing illusion of the helmet filling up and submerging the wearer's head.

Second series and Space: 1999

Two years after the 26 episodes were completed, the series was syndicated on American television and the ratings were initially promising enough to prompt ITC to commission a second season of UFO. As the Moon-based episodes appeared to have proven more popular than the Earth-based stories, ITC insisted that in the new season, the action would take place entirely on the Moon. Gerry Anderson proposed a format in which SHADO Moonbase had been greatly enlarged to become the organisation's main headquarters, and pre-production on UFO 2 began with extensive research and design for the new Moonbase. These developments were not without precedent in the earlier episodes: a subplot of "Kill Straker!" sees Straker negotiating with SHADO's financial supporters for funding to build more moonbases within 10 years. However, ratings for the syndicated broadcasts in America dropped towards the end of the run, ITC got cold feet and cancelled the second season plans. Unwilling to let the UFO 2 pre-production work go to waste, Anderson instead offered ITC a new series idea, unrelated to UFO, in which the Moon would be blown out of Earth orbit taking the Moonbase survivors with it. This proposal developed into Space: 1999. When Space: 1999 was broadcast there was no trace in its plot of the show which had been its precursor.

Merchandise

As with many Anderson productions, the series generated a range of merchandising toys based on the SHADO vehicles. The classic Dinky die-cast range of vehicles featured robust yet finely finished products and included Straker's futuristic gull-winged gas turbine car, the SHADO mobile and the missile-bearing Lunar Interceptor (though the Interceptor was released in a lurid metallic green finish unlike the original's white). Like the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet related models, the original Dinky toys are now prized collectors items. All the major vehicles, characters, and more have been produced in model form many times over by a large number of licensee companies; the Anderson shows and their merchandise have always had widespread popularity, but they are especially popular in Japan.

DVD release

The complete series was released on DVD in the UK and in North America in 2002 and in Australia in 2007. Bonus features include a commentary by Gerry Anderson on the pilot episode "Identified", and an actor's commentary by Ed Bishop on the episode "Sub-Smash". There are also some deleted scenes and lots of stills and publicity artwork.

Characters

UFO had a large ensemble cast, and many of its members would come and go during the course of the series, with a number of actors — most notably George Sewell and Gabrielle Drake — leaving the series during the production break that occurred when the series had to change studios midway through production. It is established early on that SHADO personnel rotate between positions, so the occasional disappearance of characters — some of whom would later return in other positions — fits in with the concept of the series. Also, due to the scheduling of the series, which did not reflect the production order, some episodes featuring departed cast members were not actually aired until late in the series, giving the impression that no major cast changes occurred. Among the major actors, only Ed Bishop appeared in all episodes. These are the major recurring characters in the series:

Comm. Ed Straker (Ed Bishop)

A former American Air Force pilot and astronaut originally from Boston who organized SHADO following a series of UFO attacks in 1970. Straker masquerades as the head of Harlington-Straker Film Studios, SHADO Headquarters being located directly below the studio.

He was married to Mary Nightingale in 1970, but they soon divorced after the birth of John, their son. Timeframes are never given for events before the series, but it would be reasonable to presume that their marriage had ended by the end of the flashback presented in "Confetti Check A-OK". As if perhaps to show her opinion of Straker and his cold attitude, Mary registered their son as John Rutland, after his new stepfather, played by Philip Madoc. John was later seriously injured when he was hit by a car and Straker, against his own rules, used a SHADO aircraft in order to fly in antibiotic drugs from America. When his second-in-command, Col. Freeman, diverted the plane in order to investigate some curious UFO-related events in Ireland, Straker's sense of duty prevented him from informing and overruling him as to the plane's original mission. The drugs arrived too late at the hospital and John died ("A Question of Priorities"). In other sci-fi series, a character must face a challenge and overcome it, though the problem is invariably solved by hour's end after which all is well. In contrast, the UFO series makes it clear that Ed Straker has had to completely sacrifice his personal life for the organisation, and that although he has learned to live with the fact, he has never forgotten the suffering it has caused to him and people he loved most. Moreover, it is repeatedly demonstrated that there is no realistic prospect of Straker's circumstances ever improving, though if circumstances were different he would undoubtedly embrace change. Straker's underlying tension and unhappiness is the foundation of his wounded character, exemplified most powerfully in the "Confetti Check A-OK" episode. The overall effect of Straker's regularly referenced back story is to transform what could have been a stereotypical sci-fi character into one who is three-dimensional, complex and sympathetic.

One consistent element of Straker's character is that he refuses to drink alcohol even though he has a fully stocked bar in his SHADO office. An early episode refers to him possessing the willpower to avoid alcohol, which suggests that he was once an alcoholic. However, Straker is fond of cigars and can be seen smoking in some episodes. Straker suffers from claustrophobia, a fact known only to the SHADO doctors and Alec Freeman. This was a major sub-plot in the episode "Sub-Smash".

His voice in the television episodes sounds somewhat higher-pitched than Ed Bishop's real voice because the episodes were recorded at 24 frames per second but on television were played at 25 frames per second.

Col. Paul Foster (Michael Billington)

Former test pilot whose plane was critically damaged when SHADO's Sky One intercepted and destroyed a UFO in close proximity to Foster's jet. His subsequent persistent investigation of the incident threatened to expose SHADO's existence and Straker considered having him killed, but instead was impressed enough with Foster to offer him a position with SHADO. Foster appears to be somewhat of a protégé of Straker's, as he is shown in a number of major positions. He is Moonbase Commander for a time (substituting for Lt. Ellis), is assigned to Skydiver for several months, and also receives a position of authority at SHADO HQ. He masquerades as one of Straker's film producers in the studio and enjoyed a brief relationship with Col. Virginia Lake. Foster has the unique distinction of having once befriended one of the aliens, though he could not prevent him from being killed by SHADO personnel; his overall demeanour became noticeably more cynical after this event (chronicled in the episode "Survival").

Lt. Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake)

Most often seen as Moonbase Commander during the first half of the series, Lt. Ellis is occasionally portrayed as lacking self-confidence, and at other times as a take-charge officer. She is briefly reassigned to SHADO HQ when it is suggested that she may be romantically involved with Interceptor pilot Mark Bradley ("Computer Affair"). She also appears to be attracted to Ed Straker, though nothing comes of this.

Col. Alec Freeman (George Sewell)

SHADO's first officer until about the three-quarter point in the series (when Sewell left following the change of studios). A lady's man in his early 40s, Freeman is Straker's right hand man and, occasionally, his muscle. Everybody's pal at SHADO, Freeman takes a sardonic attitude towards some of the things Straker and SHADO must do to survive, and once submitted his resignation in protest over a decision ("Computer Affair"). Straker's closest friend and best man at his wedding, Freeman was the very first operative recruited into SHADO by Straker (as seen in "Confetti Check A-OK").

Gen. James Henderson (Grant Taylor)

Straker's superior officer, Henderson heads the International Astrophysical Commission, which is a front for SHADO and is responsible for obtaining funds and equipment from government in order to keep SHADO operational. Straker and Henderson butt heads frequently over the needs of SHADO and economic realities.

Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham)

Virginia Lake first appears in the opening episode of the series ("Identified"), as a SHADO scientist and prospective romantic conquest for Alec Freeman. During the last quarter of the series, Lake returns to, ironically, take over the post of SHADO first officer, replacing Freeman. A computer specialist, she also served as Moonbase Commander. She was romantically involved with Paul Foster for a time. She initially has a somewhat tense working relationship with Straker, though by the end of the series they appear to have grown close and she is seen comforting him in the final scene of the final episode ("The Long Sleep").

Capt. Peter Carlin (Peter Gordeno)

During the first third of the series, Carlin is the commander of the submarine SkyDiver and pilot of its interceptor aircraft, Sky One. In 1970, Carlin and his sister found a UFO and were attacked; he was shot and wounded and his sister vanished. He joined SHADO in hopes of finding out what happened to his sister, and eventually learned that her organs had been harvested ("Identified").

Lt. Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez)

One of Straker's first recruits into SHADO, Barry works as a Space Tracker at Moonbase and later replaces Lt. Ellis as its commanding officer. She also serves aboard Skydiver at one point ("Sub-Smash"). One of several women attracted to Straker, she is the second most frequently appearing character in the series, appearing in 23 of 26 episodes.

Capt. Lew Waterman (Gary Myers)

Initially an Interceptor pilot on the Moon, Waterman is later promoted to captain and replaces Peter Carlin as commanding officer of Skydiver and pilot of Sky One. He becomes a very close friend of Paul Foster's (as suggested in "Ordeal").

Lt. Keith Ford (Keith Alexander)

Former television interviewer who became a founding member of SHADO and its main communications officer. Actor Keith Alexander left the series after the production break, so the character disappears at the 2/3 mark of the series.

Lt. Ayshea Johnson (Ayshea Brough)

A SHADO headquarters officer in most episodes. Initially seen doing miscellaneous tasks –stationed at a computer console, she's the woman seen turning in her seat to smile and wave at an (offscreen) Col. Alec Freeman in the opening credits– she later becomes SHADO's communications officer following the departure of Lt. Ford. In her final appearance, she is stationed at Moonbase ("Mindbender"). Highly observant, she provides crucial information in the episode "The Cat with Ten Lives." NB: this character's full name is given in episode scripts but only referred to once on screen (in "The Sound of Silence"). In the credits she is identified only as Ayshea (as is the actress).

Dr. Doug Jackson (Vladek Sheybal)

SHADO psychiatrist and science officer. A somewhat sinister-looking figure who sometimes appears to have his own agenda, Jackson serves a number of capacities within SHADO, including acting as prosecution officer during the court martial of Paul Foster. When Foster escapes custody after being found (falsely) guilty, Jackson successfully convinces General Henderson to have his guards use tranquilizer darts in their pursuit, rather than shooting to kill. It is implied that Doug Jackson is not the character's birth name, as he speaks with a strong Eastern European accent. His origins, however, are never explored.

Lt. Joan Harrington (Antonia Ellis)

Another Moonbase Space Tracker, Harrington was one of the organisation earliest recruits (as seen in "Confetti Check A-OK").

Miss Ealand (Norma Ronald)

SHADO operative masquerading as Straker's movie studio secretary. She is the first line of defence against anyone entering SHADO HQ via Straker's office/elevator. The character is not seen in most of the post-studio change episodes, being replaced in two episodes by a Miss Holland (played by Lois Maxwell).

Lt. Mark Bradley (Harry Baird)

Caribbean-born Interceptor pilot based on the Moon. He becomes romantically involved with Lt. Ellis for a time, leading to a temporary assignment at SHADO HQ on Earth, and later briefly assumes the position of Moonbase Commander. Baird left the series after filming four episodes, but appeared in stock footage in several later episodes.

Minor characters

One of the unnamed female Moonbase operatives was played by Shakira Baksh, who later married actor Michael Caine. Producer Gerry Anderson later said that he had lost his temper with her so badly on the set of UFO, that he always feared the idea of running into Michael Caine at some actors' function, and being punched in the nose by him.[2]

Steve Phillips, one of the interceptor pilots, was played by the great British actor Steven Berkoff.

Look of the show

Problems listening to this file? See media help.
  • It never explained why female Moonbase personnel uniformly wore purple wigs and extensive eye make-up (although it has been suggested it was to combat static electricity) and their unusual livery is never alluded to in the series. Gerry Anderson has commented that it made them look more futuristic and that it filmed better under the bright lights, while Sylvia Anderson said she believed wigs would become accepted components of military uniforms by the 1980s. Whenever female Moonbase personnel visited Earth (as Ellis and Barry did from time to time), their lunar uniforms were never worn.
  • Ed Bishop, who had dark hair in real life, initially bleached his hair for Straker's unique white-haired look. He later began wearing a white wig when the bleaching began damaging his hair. Straker's unusual look may have been[citation needed] an attempt to make Bishop look like Captain Blue, the character he voiced in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Bishop, until not long before his death, possessed one of the wigs he wore on the show and took great delight in displaying it at science fiction conventions and on TV programmes. He also kept a Certina watch that was specially made for his character. Straker's look was one of the inspirations behind The Fast Show character 'Jazz Club's' Louis Balfour.[3]
  • Many other male characters in the series also wore wigs, again because the Andersons felt that they would become fashionable for both sexes by the 1980s. Early episodes in which Michael Billington does not wear a wig can be identified by his receding hairline and long sideburns.
  • On both Skydiver and Moonbase, SHADO pilots enter their interceptor craft by sliding down tubes. This is an allusion to the Andersons' earlier series, Thunderbirds, which had the characters accessing their craft in similar fashion.
  • Ed Straker's dramatic gas turbine car, resembling somewhat the 1970 Citroën SM, was, in fact, based on the chassis of a humble Ford Zephyr with a specially built aluminium body shell.
  • The SHADO HQ and Moonbase control consoles, computer units, lighting panels and spacesuits make numerous appearances in later TV shows of the 1970s such as Doctor Who, Timeslip, Doomwatch, The Tomorrow People, The Goodies, The New Avengers, Star Maidens and Blake's 7, as well as feature films such as Diamonds Are Forever, Carry On Loving and Confessions of a Pop Performer. An Alien spacesuit can also be seen in the Children's Film Foundation film Kadoyng.
  • Sylvia Anderson, having had made a pair of very sheer trousers for actor Patrick Allen to wear in the episode "Timelash", later regretted not having had the nerve to ask him to wear a jock strap underneath, and commented on the DVD release of the series that "you should not be able to tell which side anybody's 'packet' is on."
  • The futuristic, gull-winged cars driven by the Ed Straker and Paul Foster characters were originally built for the Anderson movie Doppelgänger (US title: Journey to the Far Side of the Sun). During the shooting of the UFO series, David Lowe and Sydney Carlton raised funds to form a company called "The Explorer Motor Company", dedicated to the mass production of these cars for sale to the public. A plastic mold was made of the Straker car, in preparation for mass production, but the company never got off the ground.[4]
  • Both Ed Bishop and Michael Billington commented that the futuristic cars were "impossible to drive" (partly because the steering wheel was designed for looks, rather than functionality). Also, the gull-wing doors did not open automatically. Every shot in which the car door was seen to open automatically had to be arranged so that a prop man could run up to the car, just outside of the frame, open the door, and hold it open while Ed Bishop stepped out. In certain episodes (most notably "Court Martial") the prop man can be seen.
  • The episode "Survival" shows that the Moon base is in the Mare Imbrium, or in the northeast part of it, according to a map that Foster and an alien studied while they were stranded on the surface. The map is a real one.[5]
  • On the Carlton DVD commentary for the first episode, Gerry Anderson noted that perhaps the programme's most dated aspect was its tobacco and alcohol consumption. Straker has a futuristic home bar in his office, which dispenses whisky, bourbon, vodka, etc., from which Col. Freeman partakes fairly regularly. While he himself does not drink, Straker is regularly seen smoking in SHADO headquarters, his tobacco of choice being either a cigarette or what appears to be a slim panatela cigar complete with holder. And despite the high-tech milieu and enclosed environments, smoking is seen throughout the show, as was par for course in 1970s British television drama. As a consequence some of the sequences in the bunker of SHADO HQ are seen through a slight smoky fog. Similarly many of the medical staff smoke whilst on duty, and smoking is even permitted on board the closed environment of the Skydiver, where Capt. Carlin is shown idly flicking through magazines with a cigarette in hand. Most striking of all, Moonbase personnel also light up frequently.
  • The Trimphone, a British model of telephone designed in the 1960s, was featured prominently in the series.

Predictions

UFO, which was filmed in 1969 and 1970, made a number of predictions about what life in the 1980s would be like, some of which have come true. Among the innovations predicted by the series:

  • Car telephones (a.k.a. cell phones)
  • Gull-wing doors on automobiles (actually these had been pioneered over a decade earlier in real life, in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, but were not widespread in 1969.)
  • Spacecraft launched from an aircraft.
  • Extensive use of computers in day-to-day life, even to the extent of predicting and analyzing human behaviour
  • Electronic fingerprint scanning and identification against a database.
  • Voice print identification systems; also, vocal analysis used to identify individuals in the same way as fingerprints.
  • Spy satellites in the episode Close Up which also highlights the importance of metadata.
  • The episode "Survival" indicates that, in the UFO universe, racial prejudice was wiped out on Earth in the mid-1970s, a prediction which did not come true.
  • That cars would drive on the right-hand side of the road in the UK and be converted to left-hand drive (another prediction which didn't come true).
  • UFO also featured episodes dealing with issues that would become topical in later years, such as space junk and the disposal of toxic waste.
  • Cordless telephone (the three on Straker's office desk had no cord between the handsets and the base)

Episodes

Due to the then highly localised nature of the ITV "network" in the United Kingdom, the 26 episodes of UFO were shown out of production order, and every broadcaster showed the episodes in different order. As the list below (loosely based on information from the book The Complete Gerry Anderson) shows, on several occasions during the first run various broadcasters aired different episodes of the series on the same day. Some UK broadcasters did not air some episodes until 1973; as a result, some episode guides may list these episodes in different order. The North American DVD release of the series usually follows the production order, with a few diversions. The website ufoseries.com offers seven viewing order possibilities. According to The Complete Gerry Anderson, the episode "Exposed" was intended to be aired second, but it was produced fifth and appears as the fifth episode in the American DVD release.

Episode
#
Original air date (UK) Episode title Production order Guest cast Episode summary Episode notes
1-01 16 September 1970 Identified 1 Shane Rimmer, Michael Mundell After 10 years of planning, SHADO officially goes into operation and encounters its first UFO. An alien pilot is captured and discovered to have transplanted human organs. none
1-02 23 September 1970 Exposed 5 Jean Marsh, Robin Bailey, Basil Moss, Arthur Cox, Matt Zimmerman When civilian test pilot Paul Foster inadvertently witnesses a SHADO operation, he's given a choice: join SHADO or die. none
1-03 30 September 1970 Kill Straker! 16 David Sumner, Louise Pajo Foster and his lunar module co-pilot are brainwashed by aliens to kill Straker. none
1-04 30 September 1970 The Cat with Ten Lives 19 Alexis Kanner, Geraldine Moffatt, Steven Berkoff, Windsor Davies, Colin Gordon, Lois Maxwell A SHADO pilot is placed under an hypnotic spell by an alien-influenced Siamese cat. none
1-05 7 October 1970 Conflict 6 Drewe Henley After Lunar Module 32 is mysteriously destroyed, Straker campaigns to have space junk removed from Earth's orbit. none
1-06 7 October 1970 E.S.P. 15 John Stratton, Douglas Wilmer, Deborah Stanford, Stanley McGeagh A man with ESP knowledge of SHADO is co-opted by the aliens. none
1-07 7 October 1970 The Sound of Silence 18 Michael Jayston, Susan Jameson, Richard Vernon, Gito Santana, Basil Moss, Burnell Tucker, Tom Oliver, Malcolm Reynolds A showjumper is abducted by the aliens. none
1-08 14 October 1970 A Question of Priorities 8 Suzanne Neve, Philip Madoc, Mary Merrall Straker faces a terrible decision: attend to an alien defector or deliver life-saving medicine to his critically injured son. none
1-09 11 November 1970 The Square Triangle 11 Adrienne Corri, Patrick Mower, Allan Cuthbertson, Anthony Chinn, Godfrey James SHADO as well as an alien find themselves in the middle of a murderous romantic triangle. none
1-10 11 November 1970 Sub-Smash 17 Anthony Chinn, Paul Maxwell, Alan Haywood, Burnell Tucker Straker must face his claustrophobia when Skydiver is damaged and is unable to surface. Only episode where Sky 1 is launched 10 degrees down and the UFO is shaped different than in all other episodes.
1-11 2 December 1970 Destruction 20 Stephanie Beacham, Philip Madoc, Edwin Richfield, Steven Berkoff, Jimmy Winston The aliens attempt to destroy a naval ship dumping toxic nerve gas into the ocean. The UFO's have direct military battles with the British Royal Navy.
1-12 9 December 1970 Computer Affair 2 Michael Mundell A SHADO investigation reveals that romance may be complicating Moonbase operations. none
1-13 16 December 1970 Close Up 13 Neil Hallett, Peter Burton, John Levene, Alan Tucker SHADO obtains what may be the first photos of the alien homeworld. none
1-14 30 December 1970 The Psychobombs 22 David Collings, Deborah Grant, Mike Pratt, Tom Adams, Alexander Davion, Christopher Timothy, Hans De Vries The aliens transform three humans into walking bombs. Only episode that shows one (1) Skydiver with Sky 3 attached, proving the fleet of submarines.
1-15 6 January 1971 Survival 4 Suzan Farmer, Gito Santana, David Weston, Ray Armstrong Foster is stranded on the Moon, where he befriends a similarly stranded alien. In this episode, Straker says that racial prejudice burned itself out "five years ago", this said on 13 April 1981. In the other Anderson series "Space: 1999", Cmdr. Koenig hints that prejudice was finally ended in a great conflict about 10–12 years prior to 1999.
1-16 13 January 1971 Mindbender 25 Stuart Damon, Charles Tingwell, Anouska Hempel, Philip Madoc, Steven Berkoff, Peter Halliday, Basil Dignam, Stephan Chase, James Marcus, Stanley McGeagh An alien device causes Straker and other SHADO operatives to hallucinate. Ed Straker hallucinates that he is an actor in a television series about UFOs and aliens. He then steps out of the set and onto the real-world sound stage where UFO is filmed, and we can see all the sets that were used to film the series. Also, in Straker's hallucination, all the actors (except Ed Bishop) are called by their real names: Paul Foster is called "Mike" (as in Mike Billington), General Henderson is called "Grant" (as in Grant Taylor), and so on.
1-17 20 January 1971 Flight Path 3 George Cole, Sonia Fox, David Daker A blackmailed SHADO operative opens the door for a possible alien attack on Moonbase. none
1-18 20 January 1971 Ordeal 9 David Healy, Quinn O'Hara The aliens abduct Foster. Includes "Get Back" by The Beatles at the party in this episode, released in 1969—about the same time this episode was filmed originally.
1-19 3 February 1971 The Man Who Came Back 21 Derren Nesbitt, Lois Maxwell, Roland Culver, David Savile A SHADO pilot believed dead suddenly turns up alive—much to Straker's suspicion. none
1-20 10 February 1971 The Dalotek Affair 7 Tracy Reed, Philip Latham, Basil Moss, John Breslin, Clinton Greyn, Dr. Frank E. Stranges, David Weston, Alan Tucker Communications problems at Moonbase are traced to a non-SHADO mining operation. Episode features additional moonbases not affiliated with SHADO and communication between them.
1-21 17 February 1971 Timelash 24 Patrick Allen, Ron Pember, John J. Carney Time stands still at the film studio for everyone but Straker, Col. Lake and a mysterious enemy.
1-22 3 March 1971 The Responsibility Seat 10 Jane Merrow, Patrick Jordan Straker is attracted to a reporter who poses a possible security leak to SHADO. none
1-23 1 April 1971 The Long Sleep 26 Tessa Wyatt, Christian Roberts, John Garrie, Christopher Robbie A woman awakening from a decade-long coma sparks a hunt for an alien bomb. It is often reported that the references to drug use in this episode led to several regional networks dropping it from the original UK run, but this is a fallacy.
1-24 1 May 1971 Court Martial 12 Jack Hedley, Pippa Steel, Louise Pajo, Georgina Cookson, Tutte Lemkow Foster is tried and sentenced to death after a security leak is traced to him. none
1-25 10 July 1971 Confetti Check A-OK 14 Suzanne Neve, Shane Rimmer, Jeffrey Segal, Tom Oliver, Donald Pelmear, Geoffrey Hinsliff, Jack May, Alan Tilvern, Gordon Sterne A flashback episode focusing on SHADO's formation and Straker's failed marriage. Episode continues the creation of SHADO CONTROL (in the episode's past).
1-26 24 July 1971 Reflections in the Water 23 Steven Berkoff, James Cosmo, Richard Caldicot, David Warbeck, Anouska Hempel, Gordon Sterne, Conrad Phillips, Gerald Cross Straker and Foster investigate an undersea alien base. The massive UFO attack battle scene at the end was almost entirely a compilation of special effects shots from previous episodes. Four interceptor missiles are seen to be launched, implying that a spare craft was launched for the emergency. The terrestrial portion of the battle seemed to suggest that Sky 1 took out 25 UFOs unassisted.

A number of episodes were edited together in the late 1970s to form the feature-length Invasion: UFO, which was syndicated to American and European broadcasters. It primarily consists of approximately 30 minutes each from Identified, Computer Affair, and Reflections in the Water, with the ending taken from The Man Who Came Back. Shorter segments from ESP and Confetti Check A-OK are used to bridge continuity gaps.

UFO stories in other media

Stories set in the Gerry Anderson UFO series have appeared in various media:

  • Two novelizations based upon the series were published in the UK and America.[1]
  • In the comics "Countdown" and "TV Action"; episode guide.
  • In 1991 to 1999 Entropy Express in Brighton, South Australia published 7 issues of a periodical called Flightpath, containing 39 text stories set in the UFO scenario. These include a crossover with Bergerac (TV series), and a crossover with Predator (film).
  • There was a hardback annual for the series featuring text stories. There were also hardback annuals for the Countdown and TV Action comics featuring comic strips.
  • Much fan-fiction has been written in this series's scenario.
  • An Italian-language board game of the race game type was published, called Distruggete Base Luna (= "Destroy Moonbase"), with up to 4 players, each representing an alien trying to penetrate Moonbase, and one player representing Straker in charge of Moonbase.

Revivals

Several attempts have been made to either revive or remake the series. The first attempt, as mentioned above, evolved into Space: 1999. In the 1990s and early 2000s there were scattered reports of production companies around the world investigating the possibility of producing a new TV series or film, most recently in 2003 when Carlton International Media (current rights holders for the series) announced that an American company was planning to produce a new series,[citation needed] though as of 2007 nothing has yet come of this. Australian company Bump Map run by Albert Hastings pitched a revival of UFO to one of Australia's major TV production companies in 1995/6. Also in 1996, Ed Bishop briefly corresponded with independent Australian film maker/UFO fan Adrian Sherlock about an unofficial revival called Damon Dark: Shadofall. The project funding fell through but the script has been made into a fan-made audio production and uploaded to YouTube and continues as an independent series.

Film

In May 2009 it was announced that producer Robert Evans and ITV Global would be teaming up to produce a big screen adaptation of the series. Ryan Gaudet and Joseph Kanarek are writing the script which will be set in the year 2020.[6] On 23 July 2009, it was revealed that the UFO movie would see visual effects supervisor Matthew Gratzner make his directorial debut.[7] On 23 November 2009 it was confirmed that Joshua Jackson would be playing the role of Paul Foster[8], and that the spring start of the movie is in summer 2010.[9] Ali Larter has also been linked to the role of Col. Virginia Lake in the movie.

Contrary to initial reports that SHADO HQ would be located underneath a Hollywood studio, director Gratzner has confirmed in an interview that the base will be situated in Britain. The degree to which other elements of the TV show (the design of the UFOs, for example) will be replicated in the film is currently unknown, though Gratzner has stated that the aliens will be humanoid in form.

Translations

  • French: Alerte dans l’espace
  • German: Ufo - Weltraumkommando S.H.A.D.O.
  • Spanish: OVNI (Although the Spanish 2007 DVD release title remains "UFO")

See also

  • Threshold, an American series broadcast in 2005 with noted similarities to UFO.
  • The Indestructible Man, a novel with a scenario derived from various Gerry Anderson story scenarios including UFO.
  • X-Com, a computer game series whose plot and basis were heavily influenced by UFO.

References

External links








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