Friday, February 17, 2012

UFO Ep7: The Dalotek Affair

It's FAB FRIDAY people!

A proper analysis of all things wonderful in the world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson has been long overdue.

Watching that credit sequence again, and the montage of images, it is amusing to see how very much UFO feels like a cross between Thunderbirds and Space:1999. I'm stating the obvious I know. It stands to reason since UFO falls chronologically between the two productions, but the fantastical, colorful elements of UFO combined with live actors definitively walks the line and captures a unique feel of its own. An image of the Skydiver launching from the ocean to the sky recalls the launching of the similarly designed Thunderbird 4 ironically launching from the surface to the sea. The Moonbase is clearly a precursor to bigger and better things to come with Space:1999's Moonbase Alpha. In fact, the camerawork and the modelling on the series, while very good, certainly lacks the precision of detail and ultra professionalism found in the modelling and production perfections of those efforts established on the muted, cinematic Space:1999. Space:1999 was really that good. UFO is good, but Space:1999 benefited from a bigger budgeted production, scale and a darker tone. Still, UFO does skirt the purple wigs for some darker toned moments throughout the series shining a light on those aspects of the single season series that would be mined to greater effect for Space:1999.

This is UFO, Episode 7, The Dalotek Affair. The latest UFO excursion tries its hand at some new ideas or visual techniques. In the opening, there are some freeze frames that cut from color to black and white still images. The entry also opens with a substantive news styled interview with a man, Dr. Robert Stranges, President of the National Investigation Committee on U.F.O.'s, who defines the unidentified object as "any object whose behavior violates every known law of aerodynamics." Stranges also cites real political figures in his speech in Gerald Ford, Robert Kennedy and Douglas McArthur and paraphrases McArthur who warns of a "war between planets." This certainly gives UFO a certain weight, or gravity, elevating well above the accessible children's fare of Thunderbirds.

The episode also approaches The Dalotek Affair in flashback as Colonel Paul Foster and Colonel Alec Freeman recall the event.

As I mentioned, there are a series of still, black and white freeze-frames intended to denote something of importance to the audience that should be remembered. How did I feel about this approach?

On the one hand it does speak to a less sophisticated era in television that clearly intended to notify its audience of information that it could easily discover on its own. These were simpler, safer times and in some ways the concept feels a bit condescending to suggest the audience might not be smart enough to put the pieces of the puzzle together at episode's end.

This place could give Hooters a run. On the other hand, I must admit, by contrast today, I actually enjoyed these moments from a stylistic aesthetic. It works and works rather well without giving anything away. It's a fairly clever touch that offers UFO a little more depth as a series. Still, the information is noted and suddenly the audience is asked to file away the data. It might have been interesting to experience The Dalotek Affair without the visual cue. How would our minds have processed the information without the hints. Of course, we'll never know because we can't give our discovery back. If the cuts were made, information provided in the series would have had us intrigued enough to back up and revisit the opening. It's just an interesting scenario that speaks to the power of editing and film and how information is assembled and revealed to generate a specific emotional response. Knowledge is certainly power and with today's programming the less we know the more curious we seem to be.

Three UFOs are approaching on Moonbase. The single-missile configured Interceptors are launched. I know I've commented before, and this will be my last remark about them, but those Interceptors are simply the goofiest looking ships. I expect a little more from the folks behind Thunderbirds and Space:1999 I'm afraid. The Interceptor quite honestly looks a bit like the poor man's version of Battlestar Galactica's Viper. The legs never fold into the craft and they are equipped with one missile. This is the future? How did we make it this far? It needs a little more firepower along the lines of the Viper or the X-Wing if we expect to survive. Though it is worth noting the craft cockpit is awfully similar to both of those aforementioned classics vehicle designs and, of course, Mike Trim's Interceptor pre-dates those by at least seven years. Still, he's worth the tribute. Trim has designed superior work for Thunderbirds and other Anderson productions as well as the SHADO Mobile and the Skydiver, while not Thunderbird 4, is still impressive. I'm just a little hard on the Interceptor as my first line of defense.

Returning to the story, the UFOs inexplicably exit the Moonbase airspace. Why?

This particular scene was noteworthy starring Ed Bishop as the always no-nonsense Commander Ed Straker. His professional approach to leadership is the antithesis of today's warmer, kinder and gentler leaders. I'm not suggesting Straker doesn't possess those qualities, but when he's all business he's all in and he hasn't exhibited a genuinely soft side to date. This guy is the real deal as leaders go and he lets Foster have it with his assessment. He doesn't sugarcoat. He'd be a tough boss. Kudos to Foster who takes both barrels admirably and respects Straker's position never feeling threatened but answering honestly and respectfully.

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With much of the action occurring on Moonbase, Lt. Joan Harrington and Lt. Nina Barry, played delightfully by the beautiful Antonia Ellis and Dolores Mantez, respectively, receive some much deserved air time in The Dalotek Affair. They were important to the babe aesthetic of UFO outside of the gorgeous principals of Wanda Ventham as Colonel Virginia Lake and Gabrielle Drake as Lt. Gay Ellis as Gabrielle Drake [notably absent since Episode 3, Flight Path, but returning in Episode 8, A Question Of Priorities].

Harrington believes they are tracking a meteorite. Foster and Straker communicate noting the object appears to be nearing the moon-based Dalotek installation. Straker urges they be warned and if anyone from the company must return to Moonbase they should implement the "amnesia procedure." UFO never shies away from delicious top secret government code and keep things popping for the ardent conspiracy theorist. It's all very Men In Black.

The Dalotek moon substations is radioed, but personnel are on a surface expedition when bombs strike the surface near the Dalotek location. Dalotek is a corporate-owned installation with private initiatives. Straker is less than thrilled by their presence near Moonbase. Obviously we glean a number of things. First, the moon is travelled to frequently by S.H.A.D.O. and also corporate-sponsored initiatives. Second, the stealth S.H.A.D.O. organization is clearly still keeping up false appearances even on the moon. Thus, if required, the "amnesia procedure" must be applied to retain the covert operation.

Once again illustrating Straker's prickly handling of all manner of people, he is videoconferenced by the president of Dalotek, Blake, whom he assures he did all he could to object to the Dalotek presence on the moon. Straker doesn't play politics well. He tells it like it is and refuses to mince words. It is both an admirable quality as well as a detriment. Though he does assure he will assist Dalotek in the event of an emergency. His no bullshit agenda won't be mistaken for warmth. Straker is clearly at odds or loggerheads with politicians and corporations who interfere with his mission directive - war with the aliens and protecting the personnel of Moonbase as well as Moonbase itself.

Three civilians man the Dalotek station and demonstrate there is indeed an antagonistic relationship between the military and industry missions of the future UFOverse. It makes you wonder does Straker approve of a cozy little thing called the military industrial complex? Each side here appears to generally operate with some degree of disdain or disrespect for the other. The corporate folks, stationed for ten days, have their agenda and Straker has his.

Suddenly, Straker loses his video link to Foster and the image is scrambled. Foster suspects interference by Dalotek and pays a visit to the group who are busy smoking. Yes, there was no shortage of smokers on UFO. Kids were certainly exposed to a significantly different standard culturally with shows like UFO and The Courtship Of Eddie's Father. I know I was exposed [to use a UFO title] to a good degree of second-hand smoke myself. It's one vice I don't miss seeing in abundance. Anyway, watching the classics does take you by surprise today as far as what was normally considered acceptable. Norms have indeed changed on many fronts.

What's not surprising is the latest appearance of a hot female in a science fiction serial. The uber-hot female guest babe for The Dalotek Affair is Jane Carson, played by Tracy Reed [Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb]. She is very much in keeping with the beautiful women that populated science fiction television in the 1960s and 1970s [sounds like a post]. Star Trek: The Original Series and Battlestar Galactica are to examples whereby there was no shortage of gorgeous women. Good work Gerry! Glen! Gene! Thank you G-men.

Foster takes a Moon Mobile [though Moon Hopper seems more appropriate] over to the cozy little Dalotek station to analyze the frequency settings. Foster discovers there's another landscape worth investigating there in the form of Ms. Carson. The inclusion of Michael Billington and the hot babe of the week certainly gives UFO a very nice James Bond subtext. There's a touch of innuendo as the suggestion is made that Carson is "very experienced," which leaves Foster with the only logical reply, "I can only imagine." Ah, a little harmless flirtation in full moon isolation. There's no question Foster wants to head into full 007 territory with Ms. Carson and get her out of that tin foil space outfit. You can't blame him. Can you picture Roger Moore handling this one? Carson would have been the perfect Kirk conquest for Star Trek: The Original Series too.

Foster establishes a direct land line between Moonbase and the Dalotek station. How convenient. Nothing like keeping it professional. I should think Harrington has a few thoughts on this one.

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In space, no one can hear you... make a date unless your colleague is Harrington.

A lunar module arrives and Moonbase loses the module with another "radio blackout." Both men are killed in their attempted landing. This wasn't for the kiddies and there were no A-Team comic book-styled crashes. These men were dead and pictures of their loved ones and family were discovered among the wreckage. This was the 1970 and the UFO version of the Red Shirt would not be coming home.

Foster and two other S.H.A.D.O. agents head to Dalotek to terminate the operation and shut down all circuits. Foster makes a command decision much to the chagrin of Dalotek corporate.

Later, the triad of Dalotek civilians takes to the moon's surface for some last minute efforts. An alien device is discovered half-buried in the lunar dirt. Photos are taken, but the Dalotek people believe it belongs to the military. They are later informed by Foster it does not.

A UFO is incoming and three Interceptors are launched. Communications blackout occurs again between Earth and Moonbase. Foster is certain both installations are in danger.

On Earth, Straker gives Blake the bad news. Straker orders Lt. Keith Ford, who once interviewed Dr. Stranges, to replay the archived session. Straker thinks there's something important in it that must have been missed – a word or a phrase. Straker puts it all together and determines meteorites that have impacted the Moon, Crater 236, may be an issue. That's quite a leap and I'm not exactly sure how Straker arrives or deduces his theory. Straker's train of thought is difficult to follow, but he has singlehandledly deduced the aliens have planted a device concealed within the meteorite impacts. Straker is just that good.

On the Moon, Foster has made yet another command decision to execute a detonation of Crater 236. He warns the nearby Dalotek station to brace for impact decompression. The situation was grave enough that S.H.A.D.O. had to act with no time to spare for evacuation.

The device is destroyed and the Dalotek station decompresses. While the civilians there struggle to survive, all communications are restored. The incoming UFO is also terminated. Three Interceptor chances and the third missile takes it. Like I said, not the most effective or flexible weapon in the arsenal of the future. The Interceptor needs a serious upgrade quickly. If number four was required Moonbase would be toast. I do wonder why the aliens didn't just arrive with a fleet of UFOs and simply wipe out the base.

So much for his girlfriend in Episode 5, Survival. Queue Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better. Foster has a chance to unwind with Carson for a smoke [of course], a kiss and a little bit of the sexy weird including a psychedelic make-out, and perhaps another smoke to follow. Later, amnesia injections are applied and all is forgotten including their little foray into inner space.

Back on Earth, the episode ends where it began with Foster joining Freeman at a restaurant recounting the Dalotek affair and Foster introducing himself to a now unknowing Carson at the restaurant for what appears to her their first meeting. It looks like Foster should be able to take care of business later all over again. Yes, information is a powerful thing and with a preliminary lay of the land think of the upper hand Foster has over Carson. This secret agent thing does have its advantages.

While The Dalotek Affair may not be entirely successful, it does establish some nice ideas and twists for a vintage era program. UFO suffers mostly from pacing, because the performances are strong, the costumes are superb, colors are vibrant and its appeal to nostalgia is both good and bad. Where Gerry Anderson's The Protectors feels entirely too short and choppy, UFO goes just a bit too long for its own good. A little editing would have worked wonders, but the series has far greater benefits as a result of the time it was allotted.

Unfortunately, today's short attention spans are almost detrimental when it comes to the space-suit padded story plotting and charms of a classic like UFO. Still, for some of us, it remains a pleasure to see a visually comprehensive episode of science fiction without a single computer effect. Now that's an affair to remember. The Dalotek Affair: C+. Writer: Ruric Powell. Director: Alan Perry.

4 comments:

Trav28 said...

Reed looks utterly stunning in this episode - one of my all time faves! :)

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I concur. She's a breathtaking beauty Trav. A real stunner. It was a pleasure to watch. She just commanded that camera.

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

I loved your tongue-in-cheek captions and commentary on this UFO episode. Marvelous stuff, sir! I laughed out loud more than once reading this retrospective.

I love the vibe of UFO, this idea that the swinging-60s just never ends, and goes right through to the 1980s.

Maybe we would have been better off skipping the 1970s and disco? (But then we also wouldn't have Space:1999).

I always found this episode visually diverting (as the photos you selected nicelysuggest...) but kind of dull in terms of story.

For me, UFO really kicks into high gear with episodes like Kill Straker, Mindbender, The Long Sleep and Timelash. I love those shows, and feel they take us right up to the (dark) brink of Space:1999.

Great retrospective, as is par for the course for the SFF!! I had a blast reading this.

best,
John

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you John for the kind remarks. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

I suppose my humor is a result of the "dull" material as you mention. I agree. The material is a little substadard for the mind in the early going though I do like certain elements and certain dynamics. You can see some neat ideas developing.

Still, I look forward to those later episodes filmed at Pinewood.
I'm also excited about a few from the Borehamwood outings as you mentioned including that next one, A Question of Priorities.

There's definitely a vibe to UFO, perhaps groovy, that I would have enjoyed as a separate entity to Space:1999. Having both would have been terrific. But I could see where UFO had real potential for another season at least.

Oh and I definitely would not have wanted to miss the Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, Land Of The LOst, and so on. Gosh, those 70s were vital days eh?

all the best to you.
sff