Sunday, January 8, 2012

S.H.A.D.O. Versus The UFOes!

Just finished watching the one and only season of UFO, the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson live-action sci-fi television show from 1970. It was very absorbing watching the forces of S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization) led by Commander Ed Straker fend off vile green-hued aliens (the green is a side effect of a liquid they use to breathe) who are bent of scavenging human beings for organs and other such stuff as can be found on our fertile Earth.

The show takes itself seriously from the get-go, making it easier to swallow the mildly outrageous premise that Earth is in a secret war with Aliens from outer space in the then future of 1980. Once you get that chunk down, the rest of it goes smoothly, and actually quite logically. Faced with this threat, the governments of the world organized S.H.A.D.O. to specifically design capability to face this threat and over the intervening ten years that organization has grown and is doing the work. To that end the satellite detector named S.I.D. is put in place and a base on the Moon is established and maintained to station forward attack ships. These along with a sub fleet armed with its own flying capabilities and an array of ground Mobiles allow the forces of S.H.A.D.O. to respond to a myriad of alien threats as the occur.

The forces of S.H.A.D.O. are very much creatures of the 70's though the show is set in the future, at least in terms of dress and fashion. The secret base, hidden beneath a film studio, is loaded with beautiful dames in tight-fitting outfits who get coffee and wander around looking sexy and carrying papers to and fro. There are rugged heroes like Major Paul Foster, who is a test pilot who finds out about UFOs and then gets recruited. He's a dashing ladies man capable of taking the fight to the aliens, especially when they threaten beautiful girls. Colonel Alec Freeman is Straker's right hand man, and the voice of the people when Straker's implacable reason seems cruel. Colonel Virginia Lake is a gorgeous blonde who replaces Freeman later in the series and stands around a lot but can shoot a mean automatic rifle when the time comes. There is an array of mostly handsome folks who battle the aliens and look cool doing it.

Since this is an Anderson show the special effects are darn good, with models doing much of the heavy lifting for the science fiction aspects. The same techniques which served on Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet serve here, though they are melded with live action sequences. Lots of equipment is needed to battle the aliens.

One thing I noticed is the calm tone the show has, no one getting overly upset about anything really. The atmosphere is one of restraint and calm and that gives the show a neat tension. The aliens are hardly seen and their motives are only vaguely hinted at, but there is much speculation. We really never learn what they want, and that makes them oddly effective as villains.

People die in this war, good people and bad people alike, and that makes the affair have more gravity.

One of the odder aspects of the show is the way fashion dominates the proceedings. Major Foster for instance becomes increasingly androgynous during the run of the show, becoming more and more effeminate, less the rugged leading man and more the somewhat overripe hipster. The girls who work on Moonbase wear silver uniforms (which peel into mini-skirts) and the strangest magenta wigs ever seen on screen. The show does a good job of trying to make everyone look mostly alike. Whether this is part of the subtext of the theme, or merely a side effect of Sylvia Anderson's interest in fashion is hard to tell.

There's a significant James Bond vibe to this show, intentional I'm sure. The later episodes were filmed at Pinewood, and Michael Billington who played Foster was considered by many to be a natural heir to the Bond role at some point, though that never developed. Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) even shows up for a few shows to fill in for Straker's regular reliable gal Friday secretary Miss Ealand. The show also gets a more bizarre feel in later episodes, almost akin to what was done in The Prisoner.

This turns out to be a dandy little show, very entertaining, and as I found out like great popcorn hard to stop partaking of after you start.

For much more on UFO see this link and this one too.

Rip Off


  1. Billington (Paul Foster) did appear in a James Bond film, The Spy who Loved Me as Sergi Barsov, the lover of Agent XXX (Barbara Bach).
    He's killed when his team of skiing Soviet spies try to liquidate Bond in the pre-credits sequence.
    Bond shoots him with a ski-pole gun.

    Ed Bishop (Commander Straker) appeared in two Bond films, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever as different characters!

  2. Yeah, but alas he never got to play Bond. Isn't that the one where Roger Moore then plummets off the cliff only to open a striking British flag detailed parachute. It's a great scene and one I remember from the theater.

    I didn't realize Bishop was in two. Thanks.

    Rip Off

  3. A great little review. I've just finished reading Sylvia's autobiography (or 'namedropping' depending on your PoV). She was definitely the driver for the fashion stuff in the shows, as you say.
    The other thing to say is that in the UK at that time we only just got Star Trek which, as usual, wa superior to anything we had in production terms, and UFO 'upped the ante' as the yanks like to say! And those ladies....!

  4. I remember the scene with Bond's Union Jack parachute well; some wag in the cinema in 1978 shouted "He's gonnae land on his arse!"

    One of the interesting things about UFO, for me, is that the themes are often quite adult but it was screened in West Central Scotland in the kids' Saturday afternoon timeslot (opposite Pertwee's Dr. Who in '72)

    Amusingly, Sylvia obviously thought Carnaby Street would still be setting trends in 1980 (although there was a brief Mod revival).

    The surreal episodes are actually a bit irritating. The one where Furry Foster has a hangover relies on the hackneyed "it was only a dream" get-out: a staple of Anderson's puppet series.


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