Friday, June 17, 2011

UFO Ep5: Survival

The out of this world space adventure of Gerry Anderson's UFO!

For those that worried about the direction of the series back in the day, Director Alan Perry granted Fanderson magazine FAB an interview that addressed some of the concerns newcomers had. "I really enjoyed doing Survival - I really got into it and learned alot. The scripts weren't very good at the beginning, but the series got better later on. My favorite was Kill Straker! That I really enjoyed. It's my kind of story." Perry's UFO directorial debut began here with Episode 5, Survival, but would conclude with his fifth outing on the series Episode 16, Kill Straker! Stay tuned as things heat up. Welcome to FAB FRIDAY and all things beautiful from the mind of Gerry Anderson.

The latest adventure begins when a UFO, undetected, arrives near Moonbase. It's UFO pilot ventures out on foot and takes a sniper-like aim with its weapon at the Leisure Sphere. Michael Billington as Paul Foster and colleague Bill Grant rest as Grant prepares for his departure back to Earth. Grant takes aim with darts at balloons bearing a face of Straker mocked up by marker. You clearly get the impression Straker is hardly beloved with this clear evidence he is the boss. Foster and Grant share a '70s favorite- the fag or cigarette, and say their goodbyes over cards and coffee. UFO was clearly populated with a sign of the times. The idea of the non-smoker in television or film was a fairly endangered animal in the day. Unbeknownst to the men the alien sniper has shot a small hole into the Leisure Sphere window. The glass slowly begins to crack, oxygen begins to leak and the room begins to depressurize. The window shatters and Paul's partner cannot fight the vacuum of the depressurized room complete with icy temperatures. Foster, fortunate to grab the frame of the exit door simply cannot hold back the door and Grant is left to die.

Later, the window is repaired and the room repressurized. Why did the alien choose just one room? How did it arrive cloaked without Moonbase detection? Could it be the aliens understand that Moonbase is the first line of defense obstructing their harvesting of Earth? Answers are no doubt forthcoming.

Foster is saddened by the loss of his friend and demands to know what happened requesting a complete search of the moon. Billington may not have been a seasoned actor, but he was a natural. There was a smooth, charismatic presence about him. It's easy to see why he was one of the most often screen-tested men to play the role of James Bond. He would have made a fine 007.

Services are held for Foster's fallen comrade. His remains are jettisoned into space via rocket suggesting the development of new options depicting burial and ritual.

The men reconstruct the shattered window from the Leisure Sphere to determine the answer to why there was a loss of cabin pressure. It was clear a weapon was fired upon it. Further, the projectile was also found. It's a miracle they recovered that glass.

Later, back at Earth S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters [doubling as Harlinton-Straker Film Studios] Straker is informed of the incident. Foster indicates a meteor shower may have interfered with their UFO sensor equipment, which allowed the spacecraft to land on the moon's surface undetected. Straker suggests the ship has since departed. Foster explains the UFO is still somewhere on the moon. Foster is searching for the craft via Interceptors. He has issued a destroy order on the vessel.

After a brief consideration, Straker informs Foster to countermand those orders. The UFO must be found and observed. Straker is the right man in charge, because he remains detached, unemotional and able to see the bigger picture. Foster is clearly responding emotionally here, but Straker brings reason to the plan. The hope is to recover a UFO intact. Straker tells Foster to relax for 24 hours until they depart back to Moonbase. He has 24 hours to unwind, enjoy hot sex and a little freedom. Straker believes he knows where Foster will go.

Enter Foster's lady friend straight out of a shower into a cozy blue robe and ready for action. Pucker up! Paul lays a generous one on the excited girl. The girl is Tina Duval and it is goodbye for now.

Straker and Foster make their way toward their flight to Moonbase. It's clear to see Foster is very chill after his little foray in the loving arms of a beautiful English girl. It's safe to say Foster made good use of his 24 hours and a bouquet or roses never hurts getting things off on the right foot. "Be home in time for supper," chats Straker.

Straker and Foster arrive at Moonbase and we get a little more screen time with the ladies of the purple-pink wig, Harrington and Barry.

Straker asks Harrington to make him a cup of coffee while Barry retrieves aeriel photos. "Cream and sugar please." Straker is my kind of guy. I like the sweet stuff too brother. Harrington definitely appears a little put out by the request. She seems mildly annoyed. Does Straker annoy employees in line with the traditional tough boss persona? It would appear so.

Straker and Foster agree that two Mobiles will be sent to the crater site of the alleged UFO. Straker lights up the tobacco confident in the plan.

Foster and Lt. Mark Bradley head to the site with two others. Straker orders that they evacuate if there is any sign of trouble. Interceptors will be sent in to assist. Foster's eyes express the focus of a man on a mission and he assures Straker there will be no problems. Famous last words especially in an episode titled Survival.

Foster, Bradley and company land the Mobiles and scout on foot. The target is spotted by Foster. There are no signs of life. Foster reports. No signs of radiation. Straker suspects it could be abandoned. Foster gives the marching order to move in. "Remember they're expendable. We want the UFO." Foster tells him he wants the U-F-O [not the Yoo-foh]!

Straker, Barry and Harrington monitor the situation from the secure confines of Moonbase. There are no life signs with regard to gorgeous, chic chick Lt. Gay Ellis. Ellis remains missing until the wonderful Episode 8, A Question Of Priorities.

As Foster and Bradley approach the downed spacecraft it begins to radiate and glow. Suddenly laser fire rains down upon them as they have activated some kind of alert system or self-defense grid surrounding the UFO.

Bradley reports to Straker they are taking fire by the Yoo-foh, not the U-F-O as Foster referred to it.

Straker launches Interceptors to attack. I've said it before, but those silly looking Interceptors just don't cut the mustard. Meanwhile, the laser blasts continue as Foster and company are grounded and pinned down. Foster heads off to get a moon Mobile, but somehow trips and injures his leg. It's not a very convincing moment, but it serves to move the story. Granted, his friend Grant who died earlier in the Leisure Sphere was still breathing ever so slightly after his death. The Boy Wonder was not impressed by the acting. I do believe people have learned to die more convincingly as actors today. I can see way too many of these actors inhaling and exhaling after death.

Foster tries to raise Bradley, but is unable. Foster's radio was damaged in his fall. He is cut off. It's radio silence for an immobile Foster. A short distance away, the Interceptors have attacked the UFO, now in flight, and it spins out of control and crashes straight into one of the moon Mobile units exploding on contact. Nice shooting guys. Not! Of course Moonbase fears the worst with the fate of the Mobile unit. It is believed Paul Foster is dead.

Foster fidgets about in his space suit struggling for ... survival. The space suits are certainly a mix of practical and realistic with colorful touches, but they certainly don't capture the more sophisticated appeal of those wonderful orange Space:1999 space suits or the ones used by the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek's The Naked Time. The UFO space suits are adorned with little orange and yellow boxes with buttons and such. Some boxes include supplies like oxygen cartridges and Foster must change one out in a nice touch of detail from the series.

Despite his struggles, Foster notices a set of tracks, presumably belonging to the visiting alien. With a renewed vigor for revenge, with weapon in hand, Foster is on the hunt. Unexpectedly the tables are quickly turned and the hunter becomes the hunted as the crashed alien pilot puts a gun to Foster's back surprising Foster. These aliens really aren't terribly appealing visually, yet I still find UFO, as a whole, a terrific series with all of its color, vivid costumes, bold ideas and wonderful casting.

In a nice twist, Straker alerts Alec Freeman, now on Earth, of Foster's passing and that Foster had a friend- a girlfriend. Yes, we like Tina Duval. Freeman will notify Tina of Foster's untimely death. This is a detailed thorough move by a compassionate commander even if the decision is entirely premature and without proper investigation. Tina Duval is played by the titillating Suzan Farmer [The Saint; married to Ian McShane 1965-1968], a gorgeous specimen of the female variety.

Foster is literally walked tired by the intruding alien. Why didn't this guy leave? Were bigger plans in play? Were his plans thwarted by the unexpected attack by Moonbase? Foster grabs the alien's rifle in a surprise move. Again, not entirely convincing, but as Foster holds the weapon to the alien's head, the alien displays the firing cartridge to the unloaded weapon in his hand. Oh well, nice try Paul. Good to see these tricks are universal in intergalactic space warfare. Damn smart, space aliens even if they wear gaudy spandex and S&M or bondage chains.

Bradley is back in the newly repaired Leisure Sphere. Doing what you might ask? Why, he's smoking. These people could smoke back in the 1970s couldn't they? I'm sensing a real missed opportunity commercially here for those tobacco companies. Straker pays him a visit. He told Freeman he was looking to hand over the reins of Moonbase to someone. Straker asks if Bradley will accept. Bradley says no and Straker expresses his disappointment. Bradley is essentially the next in command after Foster. Straker asks why and what comes next seems entirely forced, but understandable as a significant issue of the period. See for yourself. It's a bit odd, especially when you consider Straker is offering him a command position.

This feels so bizarre, because we have come so far. Yet, surprisingly, in so many ways we are still terribly crippled by racial politics. Politicians on the left are constantly using the race card to bait their detractors and those who would debate them often must yield to it so as not to appear racially insensitive. The race card is such a crutch. It is such a crock and it merely damages all of the authentic, legitimate progress that has been made through the years. Like the boy that cried wolf, when it comes to the illegitimate and improper use of the racial card, one begins to roll their eyes. Those who hide behind it only damage relationships that have become color blind. Fortunately, I feel most people are smarter than the politicians that attempt to employ its use and exacerbate the problem. Straker names Bradley a commander in the wake of their loss.

Meanwhile, UFO's version of Enemy Mine [1985] continues pre-dating that film by fifteen years. The alien notices a failing Foster and works to save him. This is a wonderful idea to turn convention on its face so early in the series regarding the perceived enemy, again, even if not entirely convincing in execution. The pilot of the UFO isn't fighting Foster, but rather saving him. Why? Could there be something more nefarious in play? After all, parts are harvested for the aliens' survival. Ah. Keeping him alive would sustain his life. Much hand gesturing occurs between the two. Of course, Galactica 1980 took this to new heights.

Commander Bradley looks sharp in silver as he reports to the control room. Bradley sends out a scout of the crater area.

As Foster crosses a large crevice, the rope breaks and the alien saves his life again. Paul Foster is coming to see this alien in a very different light from his earlier intended plan. Foster slips in and out of consciousness. The sound of the approaching moon Mobile perks the fading Foster as he screams for HELP.

Foster alerts his alien friend they have been spotted. "We're saved. They've seen us. We're okay." Foster tells the alien to sit tight as he rushes to find them on foot. The alien menace appears far less menacing as a result of Foster's meeting. Foster hollers at his two suited colleagues that he was saved by an alien, but they cannot hear thanks to the helmets complete muffle of sound. His colleague listens closely but all he hears is "something about an alien." Guns are readied and the alien will sadly die, as the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Isn't that always the way? In a big twist of events, the would be hand of vengeance, Paul Foster, has turned a page. He grew a little from his experience. He was different as a result. He was changed. When it was over his perspective was different from his initial steely resolve.

Later, Foster visits Tina. With Paul alive she is very upset she was informed of his death. Foster insists he cannot share the secrets of his work with her. It is goodbye and in some ways necessary for her survival. Our story ends with... not a cigarette, but the offer of a drink. You have to love UFO! It wouldn't be the same without a good supply of drinks and fags.

The marooned theme is always a good one even when it's not original. Unfortunately, UFO has employed the idea here in Survival. A variation on the familiar theme was touched upon, albeit differently, in Episode 3, Flight Path through the Paul Roper character. Survival offers a different outcome, but it lacks the fresh concepts that were welcomed on Exposed. In some ways I enjoyed the handling of the marooned concept in Flight Path that much more after seeing Survival, though the overarching story of the slow-paced Survival is ultimately different. Okay, time for a drink.

Survival: C+ Writer: Tony Barwick. Director: Alan Perry.

Actor Footnote: Michael Billington [1941-2005]. Michael Billington, before his passing, offered a dual assessment of UFO for Fanderson's FAB #10: "I'm not surprised that people are interested in the works of Gerry and Sylvia. The characters in the earlier puppet shows were wonderful and the special effects were really like the forerunners of 2001 and Star Wars... Some of the people from Gerry's effects crew went on to 2001 and, of course, Derek Meddings went on to do spectacular work on Superman and Batman and some of the Bond movies. I really feel that Gerry, Sylvia and Derek proved what really could be done with models."

"But my feelings at the time were that UFO was a failure. I didn't feel that the transfer from puppets to people had really worked. I felt that we were restricted by being in a series which really, a few years earlier, could well have been a puppet show. We were aware of UFO being not unlike Captain Scarlet with real actors, and many of the technicians who had worked on the puppet shows would joke and say things like, 'Don't worry Mike, we can't see the strings!' But this was maybe counter-productive because it made me give up a little bit."

This was precisely the kind of thinking that really upset late fellow actor Ed Bishop, but Billington gave his honest assessment of the show.

Billington added, "I don't know, maybe it's nostalgia and it is obviously a cult show... if I had known what it would become, I would have worked a little harder on it. I don't think I really did justice to the Andersons and I just got by, and probably if I had been fired I would have understood why." Let that be a lesson boys and girls. Always work hard at whatever it is you do, for you never know what your work might become. Billington really had the wrong attitude during the series. It will be interesting to see what he brings going forward.

Billington offered, "To put it in a nutshell, Lew Grade apparently always wanted more aliens. Of course, we all wanted more character plots, but maybe sometimes we got a little bogged-down with characters. They tried to paint people in UFO with shades of grey as opposed to all white heroes and black-hearted villains - like in Survival when Foster is saved by the alien, which was a good episode for me. Really, I honestly believe that all the credit must go to Gerry, Sylvia, Tony Barwick, Derek Meddings and his technicians and the true actors of the show like George and Ed. I was just there."

Billington was clearly humbled in his later years, because he dubbed himself "inept" in retrospect. I think Billington judges himself and UFO far too harshly. He concluded, "I got by because I had good people around me who were very patient, like George and Ed - in fact, the whole cast. I was very hot-headed and I thought I knew it all, which I didn't." The late Mr. Billington added much needed spice to the proceedings. It's fair to say he did his part despite his severe self-criticism.

Writer Footnote: Tony Barwick [1934-1993]. On a more positive note, in the book What Made Thunderbirds Go!: The Authorized Biography Of Gerry Anderson, Anderson himself had some kind words about longtime collaborative writer Tony Barwick, a mainstay on the Anderson productions. Barwick would pen twelve of the 26 UFO episodes. "I think it's fair to say that Tony was the best writer I ever had." Anderson is a thoughtful man and his words are thoughtfully submitted. "He was a great ideas man, and he had a talent for writing American dialogue. There were plenty of people who thought they could write American dialogue...." Anderson also reflected on the late Barwick as a person. "Tony wrote many many shows for me over the years, and he was a delightful man." Anderson indicates Barwick would just disappear for days during shoots or before shoots and referred to the man as "notoriously unreliable." Anderson indicated he would work himself into a lather trying to find Barwick and was prepared for a knock down fight upon his return. Apparently Barwick had a natural talent for defusing the situation. He would share stories about how he met people over a drink. Anderson confessed, "I couldn't possibly get annoyed with him. I'd explain what we were in terrible trouble, at which point he'd get his head down and usually come up with a solution. Everybody loved Tony. He was a wonderful person."

Until next FAB FRIDAY....


John Kenneth Muir said...


Excellent review of "Survival," another one of those "My Enemy/My Ally" stories (like Enemy Mine, as your critique points out) that sci-fi TV does so often (Planet of the Apes: "The Trap," ST: TNG: "The Enemy," etc.)

It was fascinating to read Mr. Billington's comments on this series, and on his own involvement as well. I have always enjoyed his performances on UFO very much, and agree with you wholeheartedly that the gentleman had charisma to spare. He would have made a terrific 007, indeed.

Vis-a-vis the playing of the race card, I would only note that, in my opinion, it's often done as a response to the overt racism of some shady characters on the right. In a world where so many right-wing politicians publicly compare our African-American president and his family (his FAMILY, for decency's sake...) to gorillas or other apes, there's bound to be a response that is less than measured. Plenty of blame to go around both sides of the political spectrum, I think.

As usual, a great pleasure to read another F.A.B. Friday about a great Gerry Anderson series.

All my best,
John Kenneth Muir

SFF said...

Hello John.

Good to hear all is well and you have been busy.

I really think Billington grew as a human being based on the interviews I read and he's tremdously hard on himself based on the evidence of his work found in UFO.

FAB Magazine is a treasure trove of great information. These were highlights for me, but I urge any fan of Gerry Anderson's work to check the magazine out.

The Race issue. I certainly understand why the issue was so prominent back in the day. It makes perfect historical sense.

I appreciate your thoughts on the tough issue. There's no place for comments toward the President or, quite frankly anyone [Bush was often portrayed as a monkey- I remember one montage morphed him into a monkey], being protrayed as a monkey. There are certainly racial implications when such comparisons are made toward someone who is black. That's a shame and it shouldn't happen.

But to underscore your fine point, using the issue as a political football is a sad reality between both political spectrums.

I haven't seen those ape comparisons, but it is wrong to do so.

There are good people on both sides that do not view race or hate through this kind of prism.

I agree with you, smart, decent people simply do not take that tact, but for every right wing nut there's an Al Sharpton looking at them in the mirror and that's really too bad.

Thanks and as always a great pleasure to read your thoughts here!

Best to you JKM

John Kenneth Muir said...


Well said, sir. I absolutely agree with you. There are people looking to take advantage on both sides of the issue, either transmitting "code" to the racists to garner their votes, or playing the victim card to also play to a particular demographic. Neither impulse is noble or very healthy, and some day, I hope, everyone will outgrow it.

I have a dear friend who met Mr. Billington shortly before he died, and who confirmed he was a class act. He needn't have been so hard on himself: his UFO appearances are pretty terrific, I think, even today.

All my best,

SFF said...


Perfectly put! I'm with you. I hope people continue to see through it.

I appreciated your points about Billington, because, as you can see, I took away a very positive opinion of his input on the series.

He is unduly harsh on himself. Pop culture history speaks for itself about his fine contributions. He definitely comes across as a class act. Glad to hear that. This is why he would have been a smooth operator as Bond.

In fact, Roger Moore, whom I do love, went a touch too long. I would have loved to see Billington take over following For Your Eyes Only or Octopussy. The franchise would have been fine in his care.

Thank you John.

F a t i m a said...

Having just seen the episode for the first time in decades (on Forces TV), the ending is just as heart-rending as I remember. The older wiser me now thinks that the Alien got his just deserts having murdered Foster's mate in the first act. For reasons which were never explained. The 1970 men never thought along thee lines.

SFF said...

Thanks Fatima. Great comment! I've only recently picked up the Blu-ray set for UFO and I'm looking forward to a re-watch!