Friday, March 26, 2010

UFO Ep1: Identified

Purple-pink wigs, hot chicks, spaceships and secret agents! What more do you need to know? With a picture like this, do I need to even go on? Thank God for girls and thank God for Gerry Anderson!

It's FAB FRIDAY! [with all things good in this world, including the girl in the photo, from the minds of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson.]

Many of you may already know that UFO [1970-1971] achieved just a single season of television. There's a great deal of history woven between both UFO and Space:1999. Many threads entwined between the two series before resulting in their final, definitely unique looks and mythologies. Space:1999 was born of the ashes of UFO. UFO had done well enough there were plans to produce a second season of the series, but as one thing led to another. The plug was pulled. UFO folded and Space:1999 was born.

I love this killer female opening with the episode's title in the foreground. THAT'S HOT!
In keeping with the ultra-F.A.B. world of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and FAB Fridays, I thought I'd take flight and give UFO a whirl. UFO, as acronyms go, stands for Unidentified Flying Object. It stands to reason that this science fiction adventure series from the Andersons would have some element of flying concepts in its story. The first episode is a fairly dead giveaway. We take a look, beginning with some historical perspective, at Gerry Anderson's first live action adventure series, the precursor to Space:1999, a prequel of sorts, UFO, Episode 1, Identified. So much for unidentified objects.

Moonbase Alpha? I think not, but it is the earliest incarnation of what would become Moonbase Alpha on Space:1999.
Gerry Anderson's UFO followed the end of Star Trek: The Original Series run [1966-1969] and, like Space:1999, was and still is radically different from Gene Roddenberry's science fiction vision. Impressively, the production values for both Gerry Anderson series nearly matched Star Trek visually and certainly carried the torch from Thunderbirds [1965-1966]. UFO was the precursor to Space:1999. UFO sported one base location on the Moon. This would evolve into Moonbase Alpha when a decision was made to change things up from the existing UFO platform. UFO also showcased special fighters dubbed Interceptors to protect the Moonbase and Earth. The Interceptors were a precursor to the idea of the Eagles, but resemble more closely the Battlestar Galactica Vipers. The Moonbase location shots offer an atmosphere reminiscent of Space:1999, but on the whole, the sexy women, psychedelic colors and the frequent returns to Earth take the viewer out of the potential mood and sense of isolation so well developed on Space:1999.

"You're hair looks great today." "Yours too Gay."
There is no doubt ideas flowered from UFO and set the tone for Space:1999. Those more mature concepts propelled Space:1999 to score two solid seasons, while UFO had to settle for just one season of 26 episodes. Lord Lew Grade produced the series with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson for Century 21 Productions and ITC Entertainment, like Thunderbirds. This was to be their first real attempt at marketing science fiction, minus Supermarionation, to an adult market. It was fairly serious in tone for its day, but was more like a bridge between the kid-friendly Thunderbirds and the more complex world of Space:1999. UFO was reasonably successful and garnered enough enthusiasm to slate a second season, but Grade, in a bizarre move, scrapped the UFO saga in favor of a new space adventure to take place somewhere other than Earth. Enter Space:1999 a few years later. In the interim, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's The Protectors [1972-1974] would fill the gap featuring Tony Anholt who would later play Tony Verdeschi on Space:1999 Year Two. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Rule 1: Sex appeal over saving lives. Disregard the UFO on that monitor.
According to Author John Kenneth Muir's book, Exploring Space:1999, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson initially planned to revamp UFO, in much the same way they would later revamp the Space:1999 series for its own Year Two. UFO was morphing into UFO 2 or UFO 1999. Even cast members from UFO were slated to return. Muir points to writers George Bellak and Christopher Penfold [important Space:1999 contributors] as points of divergence. As the scripts progressed the connection and ideas meant to associate with the UFO mythology began to differ so markedly the decision to venture into new territory altogether gradually occurred. Space:1999 was inevitably born out of UFO.

Muir points to Space:1999 as the "only serious space adventure of the early '70s." One could certainly argue or make a case for UFO as leading the charge to some degree, but it's likely the purple wigs take it out of consideration. There are three possibilities for Muir's omission. 1. It was an oversight on Muir's part. 2. It was too closely tied to Space:1999 to be counted. 3. The purple wigs and sex kittens took away any shot Muir would seriously go there. Despite the omission, UFO is an imperfect, but welcomed entry into the world of science fiction if not entirely serious on a substantive level to match the likes of Space:1999. It's easy to understand the omission.

Gabrielle Drake would eventually exit UFO prematurely. A fan favorite for obvious reasons.
Additionally, UFO has the least visibility and recognition of any of the three stateside entries covered here on Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic next to Thunderbirds and Space:1999. It is one of the Andersons' most overlooked works. For more on the intriguing connections between the two series feel free to check out your source material like Muir's book and to some extent the work of Chris Bentley. Autobiographies are always of interest as well such as What Made Thunderbirds Go! The Authorized Biography Of Gerry Anderson and My Fab Years by Sylvia Anderson. Again, one cannot help but feel UFO remains a kind of candy-coated adult treat between the kidtabulous Thunderbirds and the more deadly serious Space:1999. So while interesting, UFO doesn't quite reach Space:1999 proportions as far as live action science fiction goes. The divide between the two is significant, but Space:1999 might not have been without it. For all of the fateful decisions made resulting in UFO's cancellation one can be thankful for the eventual evolution into Space:1999. Of course, that depends on which series you place your greatest loyalty.

Set production is close to Space:1999 quality.
The story of UFO centers on a cadre of brave men and women inside a unit dubbed S.H.A.D.O. [Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organization]. Their mission is furtive [a Gerry Anderson trademark of course especially in Thunderbirds] and their sole purpose: to protect humanity from a powerful extra-terrestrial enemy with an unquenchable quest to harvest humans. Not unlike the mysteries of Space:1999, UFO's alien threat remain a mystery. Humanoid in appearance they are simply referred to as "aliens." Special Effects supervisor Derek Meddings was also on the job to elevate the level of quality here. In fact, a number of players, who would later work on Space:1999, appear here on UFO like Director David Tomblin, Composer Barry Gray [Thunderbirds and Space:1999] and Producer Reg Hill [Thunderbirds] among others. Click here to learn more about the amazing Reg Hill. If anything, like Thunderbirds or Space:1999, UFO offers yet another colorful and fascinating Gerry & Sylvia Anderson universe worthy of your exploration. Of course, naked chicks with purple wigs is great incentive for the testosterone-enslaved.

The first thing that hits me is the almost psychedelic, retro score of Barry Gray. Well, retro in that I'm hearing it now and not when it was scored to be fair. It's very late sixties and I must admit that I love it. Based on those opening credits the purple wigs are sure to match the vibe of this early era space adventure. Further, based on the images in the opening sequence, there are a number of Moon-based and Earth-based assault craft to battle the enemy. It's sure to be a wild ride. To kick things off, three Brits are plugged by a futuristic, shiny, metallic, machine gun weapon. Two appear to be shot and killed.

Pretty nifty little action sequence. Very James Bond.
Colonel Ed Straker arrives in England. He has an attache case attached to his arm via a metal chain. He is whisked off a plane and taken directly to a covert British location. The late Ed Bishop, who plays lead character Ed Straker, bleached his hair to complement the other aesthetics of the series like the uniquely designed sets and the purple-wigged wonder ladies of S.H.A.D.O.. Straker presents to his fellow British officials film from his top secret case indicating the appearance of UFOs. Without warning, the British vehicle carrying Straker aboard and the accompanying escort bikes come under explosive fire. A UFO scanning them from above takes out the bikes and sends the car tumbling down a hill. Straker is thrown from the vehicle. His briefcase breaks opens with photos strewn about with evidence of the craft that has just forced this event. The pictures are on fire. How would the UFO know who was in the vehicle and why would they care?

The charismatic Ed Bishop as Commander Ed Straker.

UFO is set in the year is 1980. Based upon my love of Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and the lot, UFO isn't that far off in its fashion predictions for the decade. At a location called Harlington-Straker Film Studios, we find S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters is masked to the public underneath a perfect film studio front. The futuristic cars look terrific. Costume and set design look to establish yet another spectacular Gerry Anderson winner.

We are introduced to secretary Ealand. Miss Ealand would be UFO's answer to Miss Moneypenny from the 007 films. Alec Freeman arrives and enters his office to descend into the basement location of the secret S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters eighty feet below the film studio facade. Freeman is greeted by a classic hottie in tights down below. She's not my type, but is a fairly impressive Earth specimen. He is taken to meet with Ed Straker. Straker runs the top secret S.H.A.D.O. operation below the studio coming and going as Harlington-Straker's Chief Executive Officer.

The name is Freeman, Alec Freeman.
Straker informs Freeman of a variety of UFO [pronounced you-fo] attacks and sightings. Freeman is charged with the Utronics project. Shane Rimmer, a.k.a. Scott Virgil of Thunderbirds, guests on UFO as a pilot flying Freemen to Los Angeles on SHADAIR. Anderson does create the illusion of an expansive universe in UFO. Straker contact Moonbase. It's impressive, but small when compared to the more imposing and spectacular Moonbase Alpha.

Gabrielle Drake [left] as Lt. Gay Ellis.
All the lassies on S.H.A.D.O.'s Moonbase wear purple wigs. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson fancied themselves as trendsetters and projected military operations might be utilizing wigs as part of their attire in years to come. Purple-pink wigs might have been a stretch in that calculation. Their predictions regarding technology weren't that far off when looking at some of the voice-recognition software found on UFO or the CommLock communication devices of Space:1999. It's all happening today.

Gay swaps her tights for a mini-skirt on break. I really need to get a new job.
Straker reaches out to Lt. Gay Ellis and places Moonbase on yellow alert. SHADAIR is to be monitored closely. Okay, so I don't think I'm going out on a limb here when I say, British chicks are hot! I love British chicks! Okay, I love American chicks too, but British chicks are way too damn sexy for their shirts or skirts. Lt. Ellis, played by Gabrielle Drake, is a purple-wigged smokin' hottie. She appears to be the one to watch here. If the show goes nowhere, at least we have Lt. Ellis. The sets are amazing for a show of its era. Though, thankfully, reel to reel tape storage has become a thing of the past. Reel to reel always looks cool in science fiction though. ATTENTION: Semi-naked babe alerts! They even dress down. British boys must have been out of their trees back then. This is too much! YUM-A-RAMA! Captain Lew Waterman apparently gets to stick around for the debriefings. Those are my kind of debriefings. We don't have debriefings like that. The music and visuals are irresistable. HOLY SMACKEREL! Some of these little moments are making the episode extremely worthwhile. See for yourself.

It's fitting Gay should be reading Design magazine. I'm thinking science books aren't her thing.
I'll bet you could do with a bit of action there big fella. Moonbase must get lonely unless you have distractions like Lt. Gay Ellis around. Gay could keep things interesting on Moonbase. Although she is incredibly sexy, Lt. Ellis does appear to be one of the intel heads of the operation. Thank God for small favors. Intelligent and ultra hot lieutenants. Thank you! Apart from the sex appeal of the ladies, some of the men wear icky mesh tops. "You can see their nipples" says the Boy Wonder. Not the ladies I'm afraid just the men friends.

Artificially intelligent SID [Space Intruder Detector]
Meanwhile, as Identified continues to tableset the series, we discover an underwater sub unit dubbed Skydiver is handling all underseas operations. S.H.A.D.O. is everywhere. Is the Captain of Skydiver the same man who was shot running from the UFO at the beginning of the installment? Sci-Fi Fanatic is puzzled for the moment, but believes it may be the same man. Straker reams one of his subordinates a new butthole for slacking on security. "Don't ever tell me security's difficult." The scene certainly highlights what is notably a wise decision, employing Ed Bishop as effective leader Ed Straker. He's solid in the role out of the gate. We lack much of this discipline in today's world. It's all much more touchy-feely. I bet the folks on Moonbase wished it was touchy-feely back then. Actually, in that way, it was probably more touchy-feely back in the day.

Did I mention Lt. Gay Ellis?

On Moonbase, Lt. Ellis contacts SID [Space Intruder Detector], an artificially intelligent satellite. All eyes are on SHADAIR currently in flight. On SHADAIR, Freeman is very Bond-like and a bit of a flirt. There's plenty of inherent, Bond-light, 007 sexism in the show. Nice stuff and all in good fun. He flirts with a beautiful woman aboard SHADAIR.

Back at Moonbase, the purple-haired ladies are Red Alerted to incoming UFOs by SID. The women of Moonbase are clearly on the job. The ladies alert the Interceptors to launch. In an allusion to Thunderbirds, the pilots jump into sliding launch tubes. Gerry Anderson loves sliding launch tubes!Condition Red. The Interceptors are very much an early, preliminary design to Battlesta Galactica's Vipers. One thing UFO doesn't lack that Space:1999 remedies is its heavy reliance on techno-jargon. There's plenty of Star Trek-like nonsense talk abound here.

The Interceptor: An influence on the Battlestar Galactica Viper?
The Interceptors fire missiles. Moonbase confirms the UFOs are still en route. Straker warns Skydiver and SHADAIR. On SHADAIR, Freemen tells all passengers to fasten their seatbelts. He reassures the sole beautiful woman not to worry. "We have a dinner date. I wouldn't let anything interfere with that." He's a cocky, confident bastard! He is a character.

Scott Virgil's Shane Rimmer, puppet-free.

A UFO enters Earth atmosphere. Straker indicates the UFOs are susceptible to vulnerabilities inside the Earth's atmosphere. It's their greatest protection strength against them.
Skydiver launches its own Interceptor. There's a hint of Thunderbirds to the launch proceedings reminiscent of Thunderbird 2. Freeman's not too crazy about the lack of cloud cover. There's "about as much cover as a G-string on a belly dancer." He's one to watch. Look out Gay! You could be next.

The UFO and Skydiver Interceptor have at it. YOU FO going down! The Skydiver reports the UFO shot down and in the drink. A body is spotted. Based on Straker's reaction, they've never actually recovered or "identified" their enemy this intimately.

Back at S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters, Straker and Freeman discuss the find of a decade. Straker indicates they have been looking for a break like this, a humanoid lifeform, for ten years. The first sighting of a UFO took place ten years ago. Speculation went on about the UFOs roughly ten years prior to the first sighting. Freeman toasts Straker for the job he's done running S.H.A.D.O. thus far. There appears to be a mutual respect between the two men. "What are they? Where do they come from? What do they want?" questions Straker.

Cheesy, but good.
The humanoid creature is carted down the hall. Green-painted skin and plastic lenses covering the eyes create a particularly odd-looking humanoid. It is learned the aliens travel utilizing space uniforms and liquid-breathing apparatus. Earth has been experimenting with such a possibility [remember The Abyss?], but these creatures appear to be advanced. A gruesome discovery is uncovered.

Yes, humans are being harvested for alien survival and with Earth the farm and harvest is the limit. Before long, following prolonged exposure to Earth's oxygen, the alien ages rapidly and dies. Straker concludes everything in the post-mortem report points to a technologically advanced, but "dying race," hence the needs for human organs. The deceased humanoid indicates there were five organ and gland transplants from Earth humans. These creatures must know the risks of entering Earth's atmosphere and must need to take that risk for survival, "the greatest force in the universe," declares Straker to a riveted S.H.A.D.O. team.

In the end, Straker informs Captain Peter Carlin of the circumstances surrounding the death of his once missing sister before he heads back to Skydiver. The twist, Lela Carlin was the victim of a transplant. Her heart was found in the humanoid body. The earlier prelude to Identified clearly saw Lela Carlin and Captain Carlin on the run from the UFO attackers. Lela died and Peter Carlin survived. No one knew of Lela Carlin's fate ten years ago until now. Peter Carlin now works for S.H.A.D.O.. The earlier incident involved the Carlins and took place ten years ago before S.H.A.D.O. was ready. The series clearly shoots for the dramatic, achieving melodramatic at times, but generally doesn't quite hit the right notes in Identified due to the fairly unchallenging script. Still, this is a good start and getting a good start is half the battle with any show.

An impressive camera shot of Straker at episode's end.

So the irony of UFO's Identified is that while the aliens aren't exactly unidentified, they are not specifically identified either, but at least they no their intentions and that's a start. Can you imagine seeing this on TV today, even SyFy [I hate that logo]? UFO is not only a bridge in style and substance between the series Thunderbirds and Space:1999, but it is also a bridge to more thoughtful writing and more challenging scripts. The writing here is clearly far less complex or ambitious as Space:1999, but it is only the first episode. It's an intriguing, if mildy satisfying start to a colorful series with potential.
Identified: C+
Writer: Gerry & Sylvia Anderson and Tony Barwick.
Director: Gerry Anderson.
The Cast:
Commander Ed Straker [Ed Bishop]
Colonel Paul Foster [Michael Billington]
Lt. Gay Ellis [Gabrielle Drake]
Colonel Alec Freeman [George Sewell]
General James Henderson [Grant Taylor]
Colonel Virginia Lake [Wanda Ventham]
Captain Peter Carlin [Peter Gordeno]
Lt. Nina Barry [Dolores Mantez]
Captain Lew Waterman [Gary Myers]
Lt. Keith Ford [Keith Alexander]
Lt Ayshea Johnson [Ayshea Brough]
Dr. Doug Jackson [Vladek Sheybal]
Lt. Joan Harrington [Antonia Ellis]
Miss Ealand [Norma Ronald]
Lt. Mark Bradley [Harry Baird]
Space Intruder Detector [Mel Oxley]
A Gerry Anderson Button Pusher and he's a whisky man.
DVD Extras: My biggest gripe is the video quality. Close-ups are fine, but get a wide shot that doesn't frame up close and the image is slightly askew and blurred. That's not pleasant to the viewing experience. When I get a DVD Box Set indicating Remastered, I would kind of like it that way. I think that's fair and not a lot to ask. Other box sets have similar problems with such claims like Babylon 5. Nifty extras are historical in some respects and offer a real treasure for fans of the series and actors. Commentaries are provided by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson, Director Alan Perry, Actress Wanda Ventham, the late Actor Mike Billington and the late Ed Bishop. Outtakes are always worth a look.


Traveller28 said...

Wonderful post! Can't beat a scifi Friday :D

Anonymous said...

Looks AWSOME,can't beleive I have never seen it,that will have to change,THANKS :)

SFF said...

Thank you both. Trav- glad you are diggin' Sci-Fi fridays. I appreciate it. All the best 2 u both.