Friday, November 12, 2010

UFO Ep4: Exposed

The actual book published in 1967. The book makes an appearance in the latest episode of UFO, the first to blur the lines of fact and fiction, real and unreal or truth and untruth.

I was feeling a little love for FAB FRIDAY! How about you!? Give it up for a long lost FAB FRIDAY and all things delectable in the wild, wonderful world of all things colorfully Gerry & Sylvia Anderson.

We return with UFO, Episode 4, Exposed. Exposed is probably best known for being the official introduction to Commander Ed Straker's partner in crime going forward, Colonel Paul Foster. Foster, played by actor Michael Billington, would be Straker's staunch ally and the two would come to be seen as something of a dynamic duo even though Colonel Alec Freeman would be on board until his final appearance in UFO, Episode 17, Sub Smash. The men combined for a handsome handful of male machismo in the world of Anderson science fiction. The two stud leads, Straker and Foster, would become popular favorites on the series and why not surrounded by beautiful women in pink-purple wigs or spandex [or both].

The opening theme continues to knock me off my feet. I half expect to see Nancy Sinatra strut about leading a charge of sexy, half-naked women [with boots made for walking] to the grooves of the UFO Theme. It's really that retro hot!

The tale begins as SID [Space Intruder Detector] notifies Straker and Moonbase of an impending, incoming UFO. The base goes on red alert. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the models designed for UFO's UFOs and Interceptors are some of the least interesting and inspirational to me. I'm not a fan. I'm particularly disappointed when you consider what Michael Trim and other creators did for Thunderbirds and Space:1999. How did it go wrong for middle child UFO? For one thing, the Interceptors are not practical in the least. They are stocked with a single, front-loaded missile and once that single wad is shot, the Interceptor is out. That's no way to win a battle and no way to stay alive. Admittedly, the S.H.A.D.O. Mobiles are simple, but exquisite. Fortunately, that's not the most important factor in the Andersons' immersion into live action cinematic television. What I am a fan of is the style of the show, the look, the ideas and concepts and most important of all the performances by a wonderful cast headed by the late Ed Bishop.

Two UFOs are destroyed. One remains. Meanwhile, an unknown aircraft enters the target area. Enter Paul Foster. Straker and Freeman are uncertain what the aircraft is. The airship is an experimental jet dubbed XV-104 on a test flight. It has unexpectedly entered Straker and S.H.A.D.O.'s targeted airspace. Concerned, Straker informs the aircraft's company to get that plane out of the area. Sky One, piloted by Captain Peter Carlin, preps for lift off under orders to take out the final UFO.


Production quality and the intro credits appear to be slightly improved here beyond the three initial opening episodes, but only slightly. Colors are relatively crisp and images are sharper in this installment over the earlier three entries.

Foster spots the top secret UFO and Sky One and is stunned by the development. Freeman cautions they should call off the UFO attack by Sky One to avoid collateral fatalities. The hard-as-nails Straker, in a very in-character moment, grits his teeth and tells Freeman the experimental aircraft will have to risk the fallout. National and global security come first for Straker. Sky One takes out the UFO just feet from Foster's aircraft and the explosion rocks the XV-104. Foster and his co-pilot descend, crash and burn hard. During the descent Foster's partner passes out. The co-pilot is played by none other than Matt Zimmerman, the voice of Alan Tracy of Thunderbirds. Foster manages to survive. Hospitalized for six days Foster suffers from temporary loss of sight and learns his partner didn't survive the crash.

Things are certainly sure to get more interesting on UFO with the introduction of the Paul Foster character. If it's not more interesting, at the very least things will heat up and get a little sexier for the female base.

A man visits Foster, now released from the hospital, and tells him to take some time off. They move to shake, but Foster stuffs his cigar into an ashtray and demands to see the reconnaissance film from the test flight. The film is now in military hands. It's all top secret. Foster is adamant about what he saw. For an introduction Billington delivers some real energy and conviction. His suave performance is welcomed.



Freeman visits Straker. Freeman is a smoker. Straker is a a smoker. There were a lot of top science fiction-fighting Marlboro Men-styled heroes during this period. In fact, there's a lot of smoking on UFO. Perhaps a pack of Lucky Strike might help against those UFOs. Straker is in groovy clothes as part of his cover below the film studio he fronts above S.H.A.D.O. [Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organization]. Freeman informs Straker that Foster wants a hearing. Straker clearly knows how to play the game. He points to the death of Foster's co-pilot and the fact Foster's story simply cannot be corroborated. I must admit as much as I'm a ladies' man I like to think I can spot good-looking, and damn, Michael Billington was one handsome fellow. It's easy to see why he was once considered for the role of James Bond. He gives UFO and it's shadowy war against off-world invaders an air of Bond. He really does.

Foster is flown to S.H.A.D.O. escorted by S.H.A.D.O. operative Dr. Doug Jackson. Foster inquires as to the whereabouts of the cinefilm from the test flight. Jackson displays film to Foster and it is becoming increasingly clear that the fix is in. "Things are not always what they seem to be Mr. Foster," admits Jackson delivering a line that would sound suitable for a Bond villain. Actor Vladek Sheybal is very good as the mysterious and odd Dr. Doug Jackson. This is a fine exchange and highlights the important supporting role supplied by Sheybal on UFO.


I do have one very important question. How do the likes of Straker and Freeman function with all of these women running around headquarters in spandex tights complete with tits popping abound? I mean seriously. Can you imagine handing one of these women a briefing? I don't think there would be anything brief about it, except the ones dropping to the ground. Both men discuss Foster. Straker calls him "tough and persistent." In a hotel room, Foster is visited by the sister of his deceased co-pilot or is she? She calls Foster a murderer based on information fed to her to discredit Foster. Foster explains there is another side to the story. Foster assures the woman, the government is covering up the existence of UFOs, which he has sighted several times throughout his career. He knows the cover-up is intended to prevent mass hysteria, terror and a breakdown of authority. Foster swears the truth about what he saw. Foster recalls his partner had a camera. It fires him up and feeds his personal investigation even if others vilify him as a "nutter."

At Ventura Aircraft Corporation, Foster performs a wee bit of breaking and entering under the cover of night. It would seem this pilot's entry comes a little too easily, but this is the global war on intergalactic terror. Could it be by design? Foster's moonlighting leads him to a safe in the office of Kofax, the head of the company. The safe includes a camera, film and an envelope with the name Ed Straker, Harlington-Straker Studios. Foster is onto something. Straker's cover-up isn't going so well or is it? Straker is notified of the break-in.

You'll note one of several real publications to the right of fictional character Paul Foster.
Later, upon reviewing the camera film, Foster learns his co-pilot's film was also doctored as part of the cover-up. While viewing, Foster is visited by two henchman who provide a little classic '70s fisticuffs action set to an appropriate UFO score. The place is trashed to send a message to one Mr. Paul Foster that he's getting too close. Funny enough, the image of Paul laying on the floor is so sharp I was able to make out one book title that lay near his head: Flying Saucers Are Hostile. Sound like a crazy read! Funny thing is, the book is real and written by Brad Steiger and Joan Whritenour in 1967. See the cover above for yourself.

Upon regaining consciousness, Foster glimpses a newspaper article. On the cover is Ed Straker referencing his near fatal accident in the UFO season opener, Identified. Is it a plant to lead Foster to Straker?

Straker aims to find out just how much Foster knows literally. He carries a gun with him en route to his meeting above in the studio complex. "Do you plan to use that?," inquires Freeman before Straker exits.

Foster is re-routed by Miss Ealand to Rupert Square for the rendezvous. Straker comes up behind Foster with the gun to his head. In broad daylight, the idea might seem preposterous, but the creators of UFO keep it clever. Ed Straker meets with Foster on a studio set and, like Foster, we never know whether that gun is real or not. Straker fires three shots into the building, but are they real? Here's a bit of Foster and Straker's first meeting.



Foster proves he's no push over and is far more intelligent than Straker expected. Straker points his gun at Foster and confirms the building they've entered is sound proof just to place Foster on edge. Foster knows much about Straker including the fact he was a Colonel in the air force ten years ago with a degree in astrophysics. This a good bit of character drama- some of the best yet.



One thing is clear, Straker is not above playing hardball. And with that, Straker is prepared to introduce Foster to the clandestine world of S.H.A.D.O.. The studio set masquerades the top secret headquarters and presents the brilliant possibilities of reality and illusion throughout the UFO series. This is the perfect example of the artifice surrounding the wonderful twists in UFO.



And with the voice identification of Straker, Foster is brought into his undergound world. Foster is clearly the fish out of water as many heads turn not knowing who he is. Foster is introduced to some of the key players. Straker plays back Foster's voice and the reasons for secrecy as Foster himself enummerated [listed above] in the hotel room whilst his co-pilot's sister was present. Only, once again, UFO turns the tables and all is not what it seems. The sister was actually an operative for S.H.A.D.O. and Foster was placed under a rigorous test to prove his value. Straker indicates he displayed uncommon "initiative." Straker presents the tried and true scenario of "if we tell you we'll have to kill you." Straker is a hardliner and as the series progresses you'll discover just how severe and dark the character gets in the ironically colorful world of the Andersons. His character is harsh and those vibrant nehru jackets and set pieces only mask the reality of his character on its surface. It's like music by British band Paul Heaton's The Beautiful South. It sounds nice. It sounds pretty, but before long there's a knife severing a critical bodily function. Yes, Straker means business because what he represents is bigger than even one man, selflessly bigger than himself and bigger than Paul Foster and Foster is on his radar.



While Exposed may not be UFO at its very best, it is the first episode to truly exhibit some of the more mature concepts and depth of character in play on UFO. There are a good number of twists abound. From the moment of Foster's medical testing following the death of his comrade, we're left to wonder, was Paul Foster in S.H.A.D.O.'s sites? Almost from the very outset of Exposed, everything experienced by Foster was by design to ensure his qualification yet could be accepted on its face. Go back and watch Exposed again and the irony in much of the dialogue is indeed exposed. When Freeman implies Straker might use a gun on Foster he actually knows the gun is a prop, but we don't. When Foster is physically beatened and threatened it's to ensure his endurance against a relentless enemy. He must be the best. When the envelope with Straker's name is found in the safe it is intended as a clue to lead him to S.H.A.D.O..

Test after test and Foster continues his push for the truth. He compels himself forward out of honor for his partner and the truth. When Freeman asks Straker if Foster gets too close and Straker implies a multi-million dollar company must be protected over one man, the scene suggests Straker may have to remove Foster from the game. One is certainly reminded of the realities of our own corporate world. A fine example might be Michael Mann's The Insider [1999]. Exposed certainly plays ambiguous enough to believe the conclusion to the installment could be one of two paths. There is the belief that Foster must be assimilated or absorbed into S.H.A.D.O. or that he must be eliminated. The former gamble pays off for Straker.

Everything, every scene once presented as Foster's reality, becomes fiction inside of fiction, an elaborate scheme by story's end to determine an outcome as Ed Straker sees fit. Straker is a company man and he plays hardball. All of it is part of Project Foster. Author John Kenneth Muir discusses one of UFO's amazing entries in his stunningly insightful read on Mindbender and UFO's employment of the device dubbed the fourth wall. UFO makes a number of attempts to mix reality and fiction to create illusion as the creators do with Mindbender's all out implementation of the fourth wall. Exposed is similar in its efforts of exacting the same trick on the character of Paul Foster within the episode. Exposed is the first such ambitious effort, an impressive mix of genre excitement and more mature mindbending. Writer Tony Barwick wrote both Exposed and Mindbender and his efforts and strong sense of narrative truly shine in both entries. In fact, writer Tony Barwick was a big reason behind UFO's success.

UFO genuinely pushed the boundaries of science fiction television bridging a connection between young and old. UFO is often overlooked by its more tonally serious offspring Space:1999, but UFO was much more than a colorful kids' program and Exposed offers early evidence this was very much a science fiction program as unique and groundbreaking in its own right. UFO lays down for no one and plays its mythology for keeps gradually building upon each installment. Never once do you feel it panders to a demographic. The Andersons knew they had something special and the creative people involved were onto something. Everyone involved took a big step forward away from the world of Thunderbirds with UFO. For the first time, mixing aspects of reality and deception into the works, things just got really interesting.

As Straker puts it in pretending to reference the studio plans, but actually hinting to Project Foster in Exposed, "yeah, it's gonna work out just fine." In the end, we're never truly certain if Straker marked Foster for assassination, but we know that much more about how far Straker is willing to go. Lucky for Foster we'll be meeting again. All the more interesting is that Foster achieved his goal only to become a willing pawn in the same game he attempted to expose. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," as they say. Foster becomes part of the artificial facade, part of the machine and the secret lie continues.

Exposed: B-
Writer: Tony Barwick
Director: David Lane

Writer Footnote: Tony Barwick [1934-1993]. Barwick penned a whopping fourteen [14] episodes of the 26 episode season of UFO. He wrote two entries for Thunderbirds and Space:1999. He also worked extensively on other Gerry Anderson productions including Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, Joe 90, The Secret Service and The Protectors. Some of his best work remains with UFO.

Director footnote: David Lane: Like Tony Barwick, Lane was a big part of the directorial success behind UFO having directed eight [8] of the 26 episodes. He also directed for Thunderbirds and other Gerry Anderson projects.

9 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

SFF:

Fantastic look back at "Exposed."

And my goodness! -- great eyes finding that paperback book in the text of the show itself, recognizing it as a "real" book, and then noting how it is used. That clearly fits into what you aptly describe as "the artifice" angle of the series (is it real, or is it movie-studio trappings?)

Anyway, that's some amazing detective work, and a sign of your dedicated, thorough approach to these reviews. Very nice.

I'm not a huge fan of this episode, and I agree with your rating of B-. That's right on the money if you ask me. The series really kicks things into high gear with the last batch of episodes, but some of these earlier shows are somehow uneven; filled with great highs and great lows, as they say.

I think your commentary on the design of the Interceptor is hysterical...and dead-on. I've always wondered about this too: one shot, and nothing left? No machine guns, no missiles, nothing? What are you going to do, ram a UFO?

Then again, I have a die-cast metal Interceptor on my desk right now...:)

Thanks for a great return to FAB Friday, my friend!

regards,
John

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Boy John. I really can't tell you how happy I was to hear you enjoyed this one.

I haven't been feeling well and essentially pulled this together while under the weather.

I thought perhaps I didn't really articulate things as well as I should have or maybe didn't give the episode enough attention in the detail.

It was friday and I really wanted to get this one completed and thought I might not have been on top of my game, so my SINCERE thanks.

I know I was totally digging at those UFO designs. ha. Completely subjective on my part. I can see why people would adore them. Trust me, I have a diecast Galileo 7 on my desk. It's like the shape of a rectangle. I think it's the coolest ship in the world, but I'm sure there are a few who would disagree.

I know my friend John and I know he would be right there with me on the Galileo 7 though.

Also, I agree, I think UFO is a series that gets incrementally stronger as it progresses. It's a shame it lasted one year.

Thanks so very much John.
SFF

A little shout out TRAV28 too who is a big fan of the UFO style and I can understand why.

John Kenneth Muir said...

SFF:

Oh, man, I hope you start to feel better soon. It is tough putting something together for the blog when you're sick!

But seriously, there's no sign of fatigue in this article. You did a bang-up job (as always).

Now, lock yourself up with a TV and some Farscape discs and get some rest.

All my best,
John

le0pard13 said...

Never saw this series, but thoroughly enjoyed reading the review, SFF. Also, it was great to see Vladek Sheybal pictured here. Kronsteen (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) himself! He also did support acting in two John Milius films, THE WIND AND THE LION and RED DAWN. In the SHOGUN miniseries, too. Great character actor. Thanks for this, SFF.

p.s., I hope you're feeling better, my friend.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Cheers John and L13.

I appreciate it. Really knocked for a loop this week. It all started Monday and been coping ever since. I'm like 70% right now. Ugh.

Your inpur was interesting to me L13. I did not know all of those details. I really hadn't investigated Sheybal, but he is a fine actor. Cheers for the additional insight.

Thanks again for the support both of you.

Ashley Pomeroy said...

Cor - my uncle used to have a copy of "Flying Saucers are Hostile", that very edition in paperback. I remember the odd-looking UFO on the cover. I have no idea how he got hold of it, and I can't remember a single thing about the contents, but it's odd to stumble upon it whilst randomly following links. Currently selling for $2.15 on Amazon.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

That's hysterical. You know, I saw that book on Amazon. The reviews haven't been particularly good for it, but it does sound SESNATIONAL. : )

Neverhteless, I love that UFO placed that much detail into the filming of that scene. It says alot about that show. Like any classic, The Wizard Of Oz, ST:TOS, UFO, Space:1999, Thunderbirds, there's just loads of meticulous loving detail.

Thanks for comment. Take care, SFF

Courtenay Patrick OConnell said...

I am Joan Whritenour's widower: Synchronicity, perhaps? I am impressed with your review of UFO: Nice to see the paperback book in this episode! Anyway- drop a line if you want: I am on twitter and facebook : ID is azpat0 I now live in Albuquerque NM. God bless... Patrick

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello CP sir. Thank you for writing. It would seem your current residence is
ripe for continued investigation into the phenomenon of UFOs. I see Joan's book is still available out there on Amazon for those interested in reading more about these rare events. I think I may have to pick up that book myself.

I appreciate your visit sir. God bless you. Respectfully, SFF.