Friday, May 28, 2010

UFO Ep3: Flight Path

Moonbase Alpha? Not exactly, but conceptually this design would gain greater traction for the more sophisticated outer space cinema of Space:1999 post-UFO. This is the scrappy little, low maintenance Moonbase.

It's bloody well FAB FRIDAY! It's time for a taste of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson goodness.

We can all agree kids are insightfully funny with their keen abilities to see things for what they are. They break muddled things down and deliver some of the sharpest, simplest, most concise truths. They deliver us facts that sit right before our very adult eyes, yet fly right over our heads. Case in point, the Boy Wonder says during the opening credits of UFO, "Wow! They have all that high tech stuff, yet they're still using typewriters." I just laughed. Can you believe that? I hadn't paid that any mind at all. Yet it was right there before my very eyes at the start of every episode. Kids are so very clever and so very funny. Still, leave it to the typewriter to lend an air or element of TOP SECRET sophistication. There is indeed a general sense of intergalactic danger and excitement and somehow the typewriter serves the purpose of delivering that atmosphere in UFO's glorious title sequence. The opening credit sequence ranks right up there next to Space:1999 and Thunderbirds' openings. Composer Barry Gray's opening themes also speaks volumes about the mood of each series. There's something a little lighter, more colorful about the UFO sequence, which speaks to the vibrance and semi-transitional nature of UFO to Space:1999 from Thunderbirds. Space:1999's opener is darker, more mature with a fit of energy that speaks to the exhilaration of the mystery and adventure in each of that series' episodes. All themes are classic.

In the forest a man stumbles. A UFO radiates green within the woods. The man makes his way to a vehicle. The man's name is Dawson, a Medical Technician for S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters. He reports in, but something is seriously awry as he sweats profusely and exits the forest dwelling. We're about to find out more as UFO, Episode 3, Flight Path hits the tarmac ready for launch.

On Moonbase, a man named Paul Roper prepares for his return to Earth. Back on Earth Roper is contacted via car phone and he indicates to the unidentified caller that he won't play the game. Roper is clearly involved in something potentially nefarious. He refuses to cooperate until his wife, Carol, is threatened within the conversation.

Back at his home, his wife, a complete British babe [played by the appropriately named Sonia Fox] far hotter than Paul deserves, lives in fear as her home is violated by an intruder. A short time later, Roper arrives at his home, but is fired upon by a rifle as he is a perceived intruder. The assailant is his wife who is frightened beyond words following events that transpired minutes earlier. Double-agent Roper makes contact with the unknown entity and agrees to help following the threat upon his wife's life. Roper lives in a beautiful countryside home complete with the classic thatched roof. I love those thatched roofs! What an art form. Roper's wife is cute as a button. Does she come with the country house too? Sing it Blur!

Roper heads back to S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters to meet with Dr. Doug Jackson in medical. The camera pans to another medical technician who appears to be the enemy infiltrator. Roper is hooked up to some of Jackson's testing equipment. The series of tests generates "positive" and "negative" responses. Roper sweats profusely. What they determine is not made clear. This is a quality exchange between Roper and Freeman thanks to two genuinely fine actors.

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Boy, I was wondering the same thing earlier. Freeman clearly suspects Roper is on edge for a reason. Commander Ed Straker meets with Colonel Alec Freeman to discuss the results of Roper's test. He is considered a "risk." "The man's a mess," declares Straker. Freeman is surprised to hear this about Roper whom he's known for years.

After an evening out, the Ropers return home in their future car. His wife swears she spotted someone in the bushes. Roper escorts Carol into the house. Whilst parking his super cool car, though it really should be a different color for an Anderson show. I mean brown? Still, I liked brown. He is contacted by car phone whereby Paul recites a series of coordinates. In a splendid little twist, the conversation is picked up by the stranger in the woods. The stranger turns out to be none other than Alec Freeman.

Roper is returned to S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters where he undergoes questioning by Straker. Straker is always played brilliantly by Ed Bishop who is hard-nosed, determined, gutsy yet sympathetic when required. This is a terrific moment capturing Straker in action.

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It is clear Straker will stop at nothing in his quest against the UFOs and, in his mind, utilizing Carol, the apple of Paul Roper's eye, as a pawn may be necessary. Straker determines the information delivered to the enemy by Roper was information even Roper didn't fully comprehend. Roper had simply memorized the data and delivered it. Straker checks in with the lovely Lt. Gay Ellis to determine if SID [Space Intruder Detector] has come up with any information regarding the data provided by Roper. Why was SID never just blown clean out of the sky by the UFOs? Gay [I love the name Gay] indicates the information provided is some kind of navigation course, a trajectory of sorts, for something to plot and steer. Straker wonders if it's a flight path for UFOs, "but to where?"

Straker wonders about Roper's contact. "Who was on the other end of that phone?" He suspects the mole is inside the base. Straker alerts all personnel that Roper will be freed in one hour. Straker's intention is to draw out the infiltrator. The Commander presses Gay to keep working on the figures [because hers is just fine]. Freeman escorts Roper to the exit. Roper offers his surprise and an acute observation regarding Straker. "He's not exactly the forgiving type."

Peter Gordeno: I'm not an actor, but I play one on TV. Straker learns Freeman released Roper prematurely. He's either really pissed or a really good actor. Straker alerts all defense systems and alerts Skydiver and its crew of fish-netted [yes, they wear fish nets] soldiers. Interceptors are launched. Mobile Units including SHADO Control are enemy-ready. I'm still uncertain how tough these units are considering a single laser can blow them to smithereens based upon the results of UFO, Episode 2, Computer Affair. Captain Peter Carlin is contacted and Sky 1 is launched. Sky 1 takes to the sky. The Boy Wonder calls it "awesome." It's like a slightly modified and updated, olive-green version of Thunderbird 4. It's growing on me. Unfortunately, apart from the Mobile Units, I'm just not terribly jazzed by the craft designs in UFO. The contrast of the drab, militaristic colors in the vehicles is stark to the sometimes bright orange and pinks that populate the series. It's an interesting mix that I'm warming up to. A UFO lifts off from the Earth surface.

This is a truly timeless, very impressive stunning effects shot and mindblowing to this day. Roper is located, but before Carlin can reach him the UFO destroys his vehicle and Roper along with it or so it would appear. Straker is once again disappointed.

Elsewhere, Roper is just badly hurt, not killed as first suspected. How on Earth did he survive? Meanwhile, Carlin destroys the UFO while piloting Sky 1. Roper is recovered, but in a bad way. Freeman checks on him. Despite their deep friendship, it's clear Straker and Freeman are often at odds on how to fight their enemy. These two are a pleasure to watch when they share screen time.

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Not only could it cost Roper his life, but also his wife. I enjoy the juxtaposition of the two war-time philosophies in play between Freeman and Straker. It's indeed a war of attrition, and like political differences, it offers proof that men and women can disagree, but still find common ground through friendship and goals.

Men are sent to check on Carol Roper. She sits in fear in the quiet of her home. This time she's not defenseless. She grabs her trusty rifle. She's now a frightened, rifle-packin' hottie. Without even determining who was entering she fires and hits a man square in the face. That's surely a bit of a gamble. She could have been firing upon her beloved Paul, but the strange man is not to be her ill-fated lover. The man struggles and reaches for his space weapon. The weapon appears to be not of this world. We see a close-up of Carol's hand and the sound of gun fire. Has Carol met her maker?

Straker continues his analysis with assistance from SID and the ladies of Moonbase regarding the coordinate data. Freeman reports to Straker that Dawson has died. Freeman indicates a tiny, electronic probe was found on medic Dawson. The probe was inserted into his temple. "I think the picture is almost complete" ponders Straker. Straker suspects the attackers will follow Roper's flight plan coupled with heavy sun spot activity at just the right juncture - sunrise on Moonbase. Once again Straker lays down the gauntlet that he's in charge and if need be a command decision will be made.

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Some of the elements from the scene described sound awfully familiar. In fact, they sound a whole lot like Space:1999, Episode 10, Alpha Child and a sequence described exactly as such. Upon further reflection, Roper offers to make up for his seditious ways. It would appear Carol is indeed dead, but Straker withholds the information from Paul Roper for strategic purposes. This says alot about Straker's mission and willingness to go to the wall and see the big picture through.

On Moonbase, Roper requests if Gay would establish a phone link to his wife Carol. Gay insists it will all be sorted out upon his return. Roper heads out onto the Moon's surface complete with rocket launcher. Again, very reminscent of a similar sequence later used for Alpha Child.

Last of the Marlboro Men: It wouldn't be UFO if there wasn't time to share a fag. Roper heads out into the cold isolation of dark space on the Moon's surface in preparation to take out an incoming UFO. Why Paul? While this unfolds, guess what time it is? It's fag time! Yes, it's time for a pack of smokes! Straker and Freeman light up. The UFO is right on schedule. Roper loads his launcher. It's unclear why a few well-placed Interceptors couldn't be ready to strike if Straker knew where to plant Roper. Perhaps the UFO would have picked up the Interceptors. I'm also not exactly sure why Roper is qualified to handle the rocket launcher. How is that? He's much more a computer geek than a military man or weapons handler, but we're never entirely clear on his role. These are a few minor flaws found within a fairly entertaining, dramatic Flight Path. The UFO itself is like a toy top you might spin on your kitchen floor. All in all, the set and costume design is outstanding on UFO. I love the efforts that went into the production work by Sylvia Anderson and others involved with the show. The design work is pure, original, unforgettable, eye-catching invention for a television series of this era.

The otherworldly-sounding UFO target comes into view and Roper fires. He misses. He reloads. Roper tries once again and it's a direct hit. Unexpectedly Roper reports he's losing air. A slight tear in his space suit has placed his life in jeopardy. A Moon Hopper is sent out to save him. Roper tries to seal the hole in his uniform, but the resulting UFO explosion has created a life-threatening slit. Roper begins to fade. He requests that Straker be informed that he has evened things up. His final words utter Carol's name. With a symbolic, visual pop of the space glue sealing his uniform, Roper's fate is instead sealed and Roper fades away in the quiet of space. Paul and Carol are together again. The credits roll.

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This is a splendidly mature ending for a series out of the gate and in the shadows of Thunderbirds, which, of course, did some amazing moments like this with puppets. It's a powerful finale that adds to the strength of Flight Path. Its conclusion is remarkably bleak and eerily prophetic of the vibe of Space:1999 to come. It also stands to reason why Straker made the difficult decision of not informing Paul Roper of his wife's demise. It is both, strategic and sympathetic. Straker had little interest in breaking his heart unnecessarily until the mission was completed if he even managed to survive it. Straker knew the odds and also needed Roper focused. It was a smart, command decision even if we're uncertain why Roper would be the selected candidate for the mission. Ed Bishop straddles the line of hardened, tough commander and sympathetic leader like no other. His performance offers a complex and fascinating character study. Straker is a man of conviction who knows this is a war with casualties and people will die. This decision was very much in keeping with his character to date. Roper, to a degree, gave his life unexpectedly but ironically reunites with his wife.

FAB Issue 72 took a long, hard look at Flight Path in its popular retrospective segment Timelash. Certainly many noted the strong, tortured, personal performance by guest George Cole, as Paul Roper, as the real highlight, but most also noted the poor pacing of the series early on. Andrew Garratt said it seemed the creators still had not “decided yet exactly what kind of series UFO is going to be.” Simon Birkbeck had some interesting observations on Cole offering “somehow he looks uncomfortable on screen” complaining of the “Beatle fringe” style. Could that look of discomfort simply be Cole’s style? Birkbeck also saw Sonia Fox as “unbalanced” in her performance as Carol Roper.

Regarding the sheer power and emotion of that ending, which of course does boast a strong one if one is willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the moment, a few writers would beg to differ and with good reason. Paul Craddock wrote, “I’m… not convinced by the logic behind the episode’s climax, powerful though it is. Sunspots or not, is the only possible defence of Moonbase really one man with a bazooka? If that truly is the case, why pick a nervous wreck who isn’t a weapons specialist and is recovering from injuries sustained in a very nasty car crash?” Tough when logic gets in the way. David Rawnsley pointed, “Why on Earth does Roper volunteer for a suicide mission…? If he doesn’t know his wife is dead he has every reason to live and Straker can send someone who’s a better shot! Of course, if this had been one of the later episodes old Ed would have gone out there himself and shot the sucker down!

On the other hand, Nigel Handwell enjoyed this earlier installment that seemed true to the “hard-assed boss” character motivation that was Straker who handled business from his office. Handwell wisely indicated the producers must have realized Bishop was “absolutely magnetic as Straker” as if finally recognizing “what a leading man they had in Ed.” Moving him out of the office “shooting aliens and chatting up girls” was essential. He also called Roper’s interrogation “weirdly effective in a Big Brother/1984 way.” Other comments noted the weapon used as “the original BFG” and the unfortunate status of this early “deskbound” Straker. How about Flight Path as “very British sci-fi, very bleak”? One likened the episode to “a poor man’s The Cat With Ten Lives.” One person wrote that they believed the ending should have included Ed Straker yelling at Henderson, “You have millions of pounds of equipment up there and you defend it with one man who is a known traitor!” He does have a point even if Cole’s character was under duress at the beginning of the episode. That, in and of itself, should discount his candidacy for the mission.

On the whole, many felt Cole was the real highlight of this vintage UFO entry offering a stellar guest performance whilst supplanting the then under-established regular cast. Despite the strength of Cole’s performance as Paul Roper, the casting does seem slightly mis-matched with his sex kitten wife Carol Roper. The reviews were clearly mixed then and remain so today and thus UFO is clearly still making efforts and strides to get the balance right at this point in the game. Speaking of the Ropers and their marital relationship, A Question Of Priorities would take equally mature subject matter entirely to the next level and do so in spades.

Flight Path closes with an unexpectedly atmospheric and mature closing. Based upon this evidence, UFO appears to be headed on the right flight path going forward, but as I said, still making its way. Perhaps Ed Bishop said it best in Fanderson fan magazine FAB 53, "I think that if I were to make any criticism of UFO, I would say that they didn't do a lot of pre-planning and there was a lot of making it up as we went along." Certainly UFO weathered some of those changes as a result of some fine performances carrying the day when material may have been weak. Strong performances by Bishop, Sewell and this entry's guest, George Cole, keep me believing that the off-beat world of UFO could really deliver some solid entries once it got off the ground.

Flight Path: C+. Writer: Ian Scott Stewart. Director: Ken Turner.

This image is taken from FAB 48 and presents Antonia Ellis and George Cole in a scene that never made the final cut of Flight Path. Special Guest: George Cole [1925-present]. British born. Cole turns in a terrific performance for Flight Path. You'd never know it, but Cole is actually better known for a British comedy drama called Minder [spanning 1979-1994] as a crooked used car salesman.

The Cast: [Where Are They Now?] [Part Two: The Babes].

Gabrielle Drake [1944-present]. British India born. Lt. Gay Ellis. UFO, Episode 16, Kill Straker!, would be her final appearance on UFO. She is absent from six of the first sixteen episodes. She appeared in There's A Girl In My Soup [1970] and Au Pair Girls [1972]. I love au pair girls! I knew many whenn I was younger and they were all little sex kittens - Austrian, German, English. It's easy to see why Drake would make a perfect one. Drake is ultimately, hands down, the show's full on sex kitten with a brain! Here's a brief commentary about Gabrielle Drake's contribution from Gerry Anderson himself extracted from the Fanderson-produced UFO Documentary.

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This image is from the pilot episode, Identified. It would be Wanda Ventham's only appearance until her return in Episode 19 when she ironnically replaced George Sewell with whom she shares this scene. Wanda Ventham [1939-present]. British born. Colonel Virginia Lake. She makes her first appearance in Episode 1, Identified. She surprisingly disappears from the series and doesn't reappear until Episode 19, The Cat With Ten Lives [written and directed by David Tomblin], for the final eight episodes replacing Actor George Sewell. Ventham is arguably the hottest chick on the series next to the stunning, petite Gabrielle Drake.

Dolores Mantez [1938-present]. Lt. Nina Barry. The exotic, sexy Mantez appeared in twenty-three of the twenty-four episodes of UFO. She also appeared in Doctor Who.

Ayshea Brough [1948-present]. British born. Lt. Ayshea Johnson. She was a singer, model and actress. She had her own program called Lift Off With Ayshea followed by an unsuccessful recording and singles career.

Antonia Ellis [?-present]. British born. Lt. Joan Harrington. Ellis apeared in Casino Royale [1967] and a couple of sex comedies. Its easy to see why. Speaking of ultra-hot chicks like Drake, Mantez and Ventham, Antonia Ellis was interviewed in FAB 48 where she hit the nail on the head as far as how the women were presented in UFO. They clearly drove the boys crazy and they damn well knew it. This is also in line with what I found to be slightly heavier facial make-up in this entry. "We had long purple false eyelashes to match the purple wig and we had rhinestones attached to our temples." She added, "Us three girls all looked rather good I have to say. We were all young and great-looking and the uniforms were really rather stunning. We actually had good bodies to show and those costumes actually did show them but it was great." GULP! Yes Atonia! They were great! You looked great! Lt. Gay Ellis grabbed a piece of the real Antonia Ellis for her TV name. Antonia really is quite a heavenly body herself on UFO.

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