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UFO (TV series)

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7.8/10 TV

Country of origin  United Kingdom
Final episode date  24 July 1971
Number of episodes  26
8/10 IMDb

Composer(s)  Barry Gray
First episode date  16 September 1970
Network  Associated Television
UFO (TV series) UFO TV Series Gerry Anderson 1970 TubiTV FTW Again
Also known as  'Gerry Anderson's UFO (Australia)
Genre  Adventure Alien invasion Drama Science Fiction Thriller
Created by  Gerry Anderson Sylvia Anderson Reg Hill
Starring  Keith Alexander Harry Baird Steven Berkoff Michael Billington Ed Bishop Ayshea Brough Gabrielle Drake Antonia Ellis Peter Gordeno Anouska Hempel John Kelley Dolores Mantez Georgina Moon Basil Moss Gary Myers Mel Oxley Norma Ronald George Sewell Maxwell Shaw Vladek Sheybal Grant Taylor Wanda Ventham David Warbeck Jeremy Wilkin
Program creators  Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Reg Hill
Cast  Gabrielle Drake, Ed Bishop, Wanda Ventham, Michael Billington, George Sewell
Similar  Space: 1999, Captain Scarlet and the Myste, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Joe 90

UFO is a 1970 British television science fiction series about an alien invasion of Earth. It was created by Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson with Reg Hill, and produced by the Andersons and Lew Grade's Century 21 Productions for Grade's ITC Entertainment company.

Contents

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UFO was first broadcast in the UK and Canada in 1970, and in US syndication over the next two years. In all, 26 episodes (including the pilot) were filmed over the course of more than a year; a five-month production break was caused by the closure of the MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood, where the show was initially made.

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The Andersons had previously made several successful children's science fiction programmes using marionettes, including Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90. They had also made one live-action science fiction movie, Doppelgänger—also known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun—and now felt ready to move into live-action television and aim at a more adult market.

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UFO was the Andersons' first totally live-action TV series. Despite the assumption of many TV station executives, the series was not aimed at children but was intended for an older audience; many episodes featured adult themes such as adultery, divorce, and drug use. Most of the cast were newcomers to Century 21, although star Ed Bishop had previously worked with the Andersons as a voice actor on Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons.

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Plot overview

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The show's basic premise is that in 1980 (a date indicated in the opening credits), Earth is being visited and attacked by aliens from a dying planet and humans are being covertly harvested for their organs by the aliens. The show's main cast of characters are members of a secret, high-technology international agency called SHADO (an acronym for Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) established to defend Earth and humanity against the mysterious aliens and learn more about them, while at the same time keeping the threat of an alien invasion hidden from the public.

SHADO

To defend against the aliens, a secret organisation called SHADO, the Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation, is established. Operating under the cover (as well as literally beneath the premises) of the Harlington-Straker Studios movie studio in England, SHADO is headed by Commander Edward Straker (Ed Bishop), a former United States Air Force colonel and astronaut, who poses as the studio's chief executive.

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Establishing the main character as a studio executive was a cost-saving move by the producers: the studio was the actual studio where the series was being filmed, originally the MGM-British Studios and later Pinewood Studios—although the Harlington-Straker studio office block seen throughout the series was actually Neptune House, a building at the former British National Studios in Borehamwood that was owned by ATV. Pinewood's studio buildings and streetscapes were used extensively in later episodes, particularly "Timelash" and "Mindbender"—the latter featuring scenes that show the behind-the-scenes workings of the UFO sets, when Straker briefly finds himself hallucinating that he is an actor in a TV series and all his SHADO colleagues are likewise actors. In "The Man Who Came Back", the main set for The Devils, then in production at Pinewood, can be seen in the background of several scenes.

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Typical of Anderson productions, the studio-as-cover idea was both practical and cost-effective for the production and provided a ready-made vehicle for the viewer's suspension of disbelief. It removed the need to build an expensive exterior set for the SHADO base and combined the all-important "secret" cover (concealment and secrecy are always central themes in Anderson dramas) with at least nominal plausibility. A studio was a business where unusual events and routines would not be remarkable or even noticed. Comings and goings at odd times, the movement of vehicles, equipment, people and material would not create undue interest and could easily be explained away as sets, props, or extras.

Another Anderson leitmotif was the concept of the mechanical conveyor, e.g. the automatic boarding tubes of the Stingray and the Thunderbird craft. In UFO this takes the form of Straker's "secret" office, which doubles as a lift (i.e. elevator) that takes him down to the SHADO control centre located beneath the studio. The pilots of the space interceptors and the submersible Sky One jet interceptor slide down boarding chutes into their craft. The interceptors then rise from their hangar via elevating platforms to a launch pad disguised as a lunar crater. This was a carry-over from the earlier marionette series, where it was used as a simpler alternative to getting puppets to walk and thereby enter the cockpits.

SHADO equipment

SHADO has a variety of high-tech hardware and vehicles at its disposal to implement a layered defence of Earth. Early warnings of alien attack would come from SID, the Space Intruder Detector, a computerised tracking satellite that constantly scans for UFO incursions. The forward line of defence is Moonbase from which the three lunar Interceptor spacecraft, carrying nuclear missiles, are launched. The second line of defence includes Skydiver, a submarine mated with the submersible, undersea-launched Sky One interceptor aircraft, which attacks UFOs in Earth's atmosphere. The last line of defence are ground units including the armed, IFV-like SHADO Mobiles, fitted with caterpillar tracks.

On Earth, SHADO also uses two SHADAIR aircraft, a Seagull X-ray supersonic jet (e.g. in the episode "Identified") and a transport plane (e.g. in the episode "A Question of Priorities"); a transatlantic Lunar Carrier with a separating Lunar module (e.g. in "Computer Affair"); a Helicopter (actually, a small VTOL aeroplane with large rotating propellers, e.g. in the episode "Ordeal"); and a Radio-controlled (Space) Dumper (e.g. in "The Long Sleep"). Also, the Moonbase has hovercraft-like Moon Hoppers/Moonmobiles that can be deployed for transportation or reconnaissance.

The special effects, as in all Anderson's marionette shows, were supervised by Derek Meddings, while the vehicles were designed by Meddings and his assistant Michael Trim.

UFOs

The extraterrestrial spacecraft can readily cross the vast distances between their planet and Earth at many times the speed of light (abbreviated and pronounced as "SOL"; e.g., "SOL one decimal seven" is 1.7 times the speed of light), but are too small to carry more than a few crew members. Their time on station is limited: UFOs can only survive for a couple of days in Earth's atmosphere before they deteriorate and finally explode. The UFOs can survive for far longer underwater; one episode, "Reflections in the Water", deals with the discovery of a secret undersea alien base and shows one UFO flying straight out of an extinct volcano, which Straker describes as "a back door to the Atlantic". A special underwater version of the standard UFO design is seen in "Sub-Smash". In flight they are surrounded by horizontally spinning vanes, and emit a distinctive pulsing electronic whine that sounds like a Shoooe-Wheeeh! (produced by series composer Barry Gray on an Ondes Martenot). The craft is armed with a laser-type weapon, and conventional explosive warheads can destroy it. The personal arms of the aliens resemble shiny metal submachine guns; these have a lower rate of fire than those used by SHADO. Later episodes such as "The Cat with Ten Lives" show the aliens using other weapons, such as a small device that paralyses victims.

Aliens

Notably for science fiction, the alien race is never given a proper name, either by themselves or by human beings; they are simply referred to as "the aliens". They are humanoid in appearance, and the autopsy of the first alien captured reveals that they are harvesting organs from the bodies of abducted humans to prolong their lifespans. However, the later episode "The Cat with Ten Lives" suggests that these "humanoids" are actually beings subject to alien mind control, and one "alien" body recovered was suspected of being completely homo sapiens, "possessed" by one of the alien minds. Their faces are stained green by the hue of a green oxygenated liquid, which is believed to cushion their lungs against the extreme acceleration of interstellar flight; this liquid is contained in their helmets. To protect their eyes the aliens wear opaque sclera contact lenses with small pinholes for vision. The show's opening sequence begins by showing the image of one of these contact lenses being removed from an obviously real eye with a small suction cup, even though the lens is not shown in contact with the eye. The entire lens-removal sequence is shown in the pilot episode.

Only two of the alien suits were made, so at no point in the series are more than two of the aliens seen on screen at any one time. In the episode "Ordeal", Paul Foster is carried by two aliens while he is wearing an alien space suit, but one of those two aliens is always off-screen when Foster is on-screen.

The alien spacesuit costumes were made of red spandex. At the start of production the alien spacesuits were ornamented with brass chain mesh, as seen in the episode "Survival". Later this was replaced by silvery panels as in the image. In reality, the dark vertical bands on the sides of the helmets were slits meant to allow the actors to breathe.

Stories

The show's concept was unusually dark for its time: the basic premise was that Earth had not simply been visited by extraterrestrial visitors, but indeed was under brutal alien attack, and that alien invaders were abducting humans to use as involuntary organ transplant donors. One of the later episodes, "The Cat With Ten Lives", contains a sinister plot point which suggests that the UFO pilots are not humanoid aliens at all, but are in fact human abductees under the control of the alien intelligences, suggesting that, as in Captain Scarlet, the aliens, in the words of the character Dr Jackson, "may have no physical being at all and therefore need a container, a vehicle – our bodies".

The show also featured more realistic relationships between the human characters than some other science fiction series. One early episode, "Computer Affair", suggested an interracial romance between two continuing characters—something that was uncommon in British TV of the period—while others showed the heroes making mistakes with sometimes fatal consequences. Furthermore, relatively few episodes of the series actually had happy or (for the characters) satisfying endings.

The episode "Confetti Check A-OK" is almost entirely devoted to the breakdown of Straker's marriage under the strain of maintaining secrecy, owing to the classified nature of his duties. "A Question of Priorities" takes this exploration further, and hinges on Straker having to make the life-or-death choice of whether to divert a SHADO aircraft to deliver life-saving medical supplies to his critically injured son, or allow the aircraft to continue on its mission to attempt a last-chance intercept against an incoming UFO. Two key images from "A Question of Priorities" – Straker's son being struck down and his ex-wife declaring she never wants to see him again –are repeated in flashback in two subsequent episodes, "Sub-Smash" and "Mindbender", suggesting that Straker remains haunted by these unresolved emotional issues.

Another episode, "The Square Triangle", centres on a woman and her lover who plan to murder her husband. When they accidentally kill an alien from a downed UFO instead, SHADO intervenes and doses the guilty pair with amnesia drugs. (This was decades ahead of a similar story device in Men in Black, and it was one that was deployed for similar reasons.) Straker realises, however, that the drugs will not affect their basic motivation and, worse, he cannot reveal the truth to local legal authorities. The end credits of this episode run over a scene set in the near future, showing the woman visiting her husband's grave and then walking away to meet her lover.

Some critics complained that the emphasis on down-to-earth relationships weakened the show's science fiction premise and were also a means of saving money on special effects. Others countered that the characters were more well-rounded than in other science fiction shows, and that science fiction concepts and special effects in themselves did not preclude realistic action and interaction and believable, emotionally engaging plots.

UFO confused broadcasters in both Britain and the United States, who could not decide if it was a programme for adults or for children. In the UK, the first episodes were originally shown in the 5.15pm 'tea-time' slot on Saturdays, and then on Saturday mornings during an early repeat, by both Southern Television—which began broadcasting UFO almost two months before the London area—and London Weekend Television. The fact that the companies associated with the Andersons, such as APFilms and Century 21, were primarily associated with children's programming did not help matters. This confusion and erratic broadcast schedules are considered contributing factors in its cancellation, although UFO is credited with opening the door to moderately successful runs of later live-action, adult-oriented programming by Anderson such as The Protectors and Space: 1999.

Special effects

The special effects, supervised by Derek Meddings, were produced with limited resources. In a refinement of the underwater effect developed for Stingray, Meddings' team devised a disconcerting effect – a double-walled visor for the alien space helmets, which could be gradually filled from the bottom up with green-dyed water. When filmed from the appropriate angle it produced an illusion of the helmet filling up and submerging the wearer's head.

Second series and Space: 1999

Two years after the 26 episodes were completed, the series was syndicated on American television and the ratings were initially promising enough to prompt ITC to commission a second season of UFO. As the Moon-based episodes appeared to have proven more popular than the Earth-based stories, ITC insisted that in the new season, the action would take place entirely on the Moon. Gerry Anderson proposed a format in which SHADO Moonbase had been greatly enlarged to become the organisation's main headquarters, and pre-production on UFO 2 began with extensive research and design for the new Moonbase. These developments were not without precedent in the earlier episodes: a subplot of "Kill Straker!" sees Straker negotiating with SHADO's financial supporters for funding to build more moonbases within 10 years. However, when ratings for the syndicated broadcasts in America dropped towards the end of the run, ITC cancelled the second season plans. Unwilling to let the UFO 2 pre-production work go to waste, Anderson instead offered ITC a new series idea, unrelated to UFO, in which the Moon would be blown out of Earth orbit taking the Moonbase survivors with it. This proposal developed into Space: 1999.

Merchandise

As with many Anderson productions, the series generated a range of merchandising toys based on the SHADO vehicles. The classic Dinky die-cast range of vehicles featured robust yet finely finished products, and included Straker's futuristic gull-winged gas turbine car, the SHADO mobile and the missile-bearing Lunar Interceptor, though Dinky's version of the interceptor was released in a lurid metallic green finish unlike the original's stark white. Like the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet models, the original Dinky toys are now prized collectors' items. All the major vehicles, characters, and more have been produced in model form many times over by a large number of licensee companies; the Anderson shows and their merchandise have always had widespread popularity, but they are especially popular in Japan.

DVD release

The complete series was released on DVD in the UK and in North America in 2002 and in Australia in 2007. Bonus features include a commentary by Gerry Anderson on the pilot episode "Identified", and an actor's commentary by Ed Bishop on the episode "Sub-Smash". There are also some deleted scenes and lots of stills and publicity artwork.

Characters

UFO had a large ensemble cast, and many of its members would come and go during the course of the series, with a number of actors – most notably George Sewell and Gabrielle Drake – leaving the series during the production break that occurred when the series had to change studios midway through production. It is established early on that SHADO personnel rotate between positions, so the occasional disappearance of characters – some of whom would later return in other positions – fits in with the concept of the series. Also, due to the scheduling of the series, which did not reflect the production order, some episodes featuring departed cast members were not actually aired until late in the series, giving the impression that no major cast changes occurred. Among the major actors, only Ed Bishop appeared in all episodes. These are the major recurring characters in the series:

Commander Edward Straker

Commander-in-chief Colonel Edward "Ed" Straker, portrayed by Ed Bishop, is a former American Air Force Colonel, pilot and astronaut originally from Boston, Massachusetts, who organised SHADO following a series of UFO attacks in 1970. Straker masquerades as the head of Harlington-Straker Film Studios, SHADO Headquarters being located directly below the studio. He might or might not have been involved with the United States Air Force's Bluebook Project; this is never made clear in any of the instalments.

He was married to Mary Nightingale in 1970, but they soon divorced after the birth of John, their son. Timeframes are never given for events before the series, but it would be reasonable to presume that their marriage had ended by the end of the flashback presented in "Confetti Check A-OK". As if perhaps to show her opinion of Straker and his cold attitude, Mary registered their son as John Rutland, after his new stepfather, played by Philip Madoc.

In "A Question of Priorities", John was later seriously injured when he was hit by a car and Straker, against his own rules, used a SHADO aircraft in order to fly in antibiotic drugs from America. But when his second-in-command, Col. Freeman, was forced to divert the plane in order to investigate some curious UFO-related events in Ireland, Straker's sense of duty prevented him from informing and over-ruling him as to the plane's original mission. The drugs arrived too late at the hospital, and John died. His ex-wife blamed him for their son's death, and in the waiting room spat angrily at him, "I never want to see you again!"

In other sci-fi series, a character must face a challenge and overcome it; usually the problem is solved within the hour and then all is well. In contrast, UFO makes it clear that Ed Straker has had to completely sacrifice his personal life for the organisation, and that although he has learned to live with the fact, he has never forgotten the suffering it has caused to him and people he loved most. Moreover, it is repeatedly demonstrated that there is no realistic prospect of Straker's circumstances ever improving, though if circumstances were different he would undoubtedly embrace change. His underlying tension and unhappiness is the foundation of his wounded character, exemplified most powerfully in the episode "Confetti Check A-OK". The overall effect of Straker's regularly referenced back story is to transform what could have been a stereotypical sci-fi character into one who is three-dimensional, complex and sympathetic.

One relatively consistent element of Straker's character is that he refuses to drink alcohol even though he has a fully stocked bar in his SHADO office. The very first episode, "Identified", refers to him possessing the willpower to avoid alcohol, yet in "Confetti Check A-OK" he drinks champagne at his own wedding, and later to commemorate his wife's pregnancy. Some fans have suggested he might be a recovering alcoholic. Interestingly, his friend Alec Freeman remarks during "Identified" that "Sometimes I think drinking requires more self-control." However, Straker is fond of cigars, and he can be seen smoking in some episodes. Straker suffers from claustrophobia, a fact known only to the SHADO doctors and Alec Freeman. This was a major sub-plot in the episode "Sub-Smash".

Col. Paul J. Foster

Colonel Paul Foster (portrayed by Michael Billington) is introduced in the second episode, "Exposed". A former test pilot, his plane was critically damaged when SHADO's Sky One intercepted and destroyed a UFO in close proximity to Foster's jet. His subsequent persistent investigation of the incident threatened to expose SHADO's existence; Straker considered having him killed, but instead was impressed enough with Foster to offer him a position with SHADO. Foster appears to be something of a protégé of Straker's, as he is shown in a number of major positions. He is Moonbase commander for a time (substituting for Lt. Ellis), is assigned to Skydiver for several months, and also receives a position of authority at SHADO HQ. He masquerades as one of Straker's film producers in the studio and enjoyed a brief relationship with Col. Virginia Lake. Foster has the unique distinction of having once befriended one of the aliens, though he could not prevent the alien from being killed by SHADO personnel; his overall demeanour became noticeably more cynical after this event, which the episode "Survival" chronicled.

Lt. Gay Ellis

Most often seen as Moonbase commander during the first half of the series, Lt. Ellis (Gabrielle Drake) is occasionally portrayed as lacking self-confidence, and at other times as a take-charge officer. She is briefly reassigned to SHADO HQ when it is suggested that she may be romantically involved with Interceptor pilot Mark Bradley ("Computer Affair"). She also appears to be attracted to Ed Straker, though nothing comes of this.

Col. Alec E. Freeman

Alec Freeman is SHADO's first officer until about the three-quarter point in the series (when actor George Sewell left following the change of studios, being later unavailable when series production resumed at Pinewood studios). In the French-dubbed version, Freeman is Canadian – Straker sometimes calls him amicably "The Canadian." However, his nationality was never mentioned in the English-language show and his original British accent makes a Canadian origin doubtful. Initially depicted in the pilot episode, "Identified", as being a cheerful ladies' man in his early 40s, Freeman is thereafter a much more strait-laced, more-serious character who is Straker's right-hand man and, occasionally, his muscle. Everybody's pal at SHADO, Freeman takes a sardonic attitude towards some of the things Straker and SHADO must do to survive, and yet he once submitted his resignation in protest over a decision ("Computer Affair"). Straker's closest friend and best man at his wedding, Freeman was the very first operative recruited into SHADO by Straker, as seen in "Confetti Check A-OK". His pre-SHADO background includes a history as a combat pilot as well as in air force Intelligence (for which country was unspecified). Freeman finds standing in for Straker difficult in "The Responsibility Seat", but in other episodes, such as "Close Up", he has become confident at handling control in Straker's absence. He appears to have overseen the training of Paul Foster following his recruitment to SHADO in the episode "Exposed" and formed a friendship with the new officer, as they are seen out at dinner in "The Dalotek Affair". Freeman is a key figure for scenes with Straker in the MGM-Borehamwood episodes, but outside of the episodes "Identified", "Computer Affair", "Flight Path", "E.S.P.", "Confetti Check A-OK" and "Court-Martial", he is largely a SHADO control-based senior figure, unlike Foster and, later, Straker himself, having no further background-character development.

Gen. James L. Henderson

Henderson (Grant Taylor), Straker's superior officer, serves as the president of the International Astrophysical Commission, which is a front for SHADO and is responsible for obtaining funds and equipment from various governments to keep SHADO operational. Straker and Henderson clash frequently over the needs of SHADO and economic realities.

It can be inferred that Straker and Henderson became somewhat estranged after Henderson is injured in the car crash caused by a UFO attack in the pilot episode, "Identified". Also, Henderson is 'passed over' as first choice for SHADO commander due to his age. Straker also impressed the United Nations delegation committee (especially the French representative, Duvalle) with his presentation as Henderson's deputy by urging the necessity for SHADO to be set up. Straker is then chosen as the first commander, though Henderson offers him the opportunity to decline, as depicted in "Confetti Check A-OK", and we are led to believe Henderson effectively rammed the post of SHADO commander down Straker's throat in "Confetti Check A-OK". This presumably has the effect of straining their relationship and causing friction between the two men.

Over time Henderson appears more and more resentful of Straker. Episodes such as "Conflict", "Court-Martial" and "Mindbender" particularly highlight their personality clashes. However, later episodes such as "Destruction", where they share a working breakfast in Straker's office, and "Timelash", where Henderson refers to Straker as "SHADO's most important piece of manpower..." suggests a remaining bond of friendship.

Col. Virginia Lake

Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham) first appears in the opening episode of the series ("Identified"), as a SHADO scientist and a target of Alec Freeman's romantic attention. A computer specialist, she was a member of the "Eutronics" tracking device design team. Lake, like Paul Foster, is a comparatively-recent addition to SHADO: both Col. John Grey (Gary Raymond) & Col. Craig Collins (guest star Derren Nesbitt) are shown as being of longer experience and senior within SHADO to both Lake and Foster. She was romantically involved with Foster for a time, and later served as Moonbase Commander. During the last quarter of the series, Lake returns to take over the post of SHADO first officer, replacing Freeman. She initially has a somewhat tense working relationship with Straker, though by the end of the series they appear to have grown close and she is seen comforting him in the final scene of the final episode, "The Long Sleep".

Capt. Peter Carlin

During the first third of the series, Carlin (Peter Gordeno) is the commander of the submarine Skydiver and pilot of its interceptor aircraft, Sky One. In 1970, Carlin and his sister found a UFO and were attacked; he was shot and wounded and his sister vanished. He joined SHADO in hopes of finding out what happened to his sister, and eventually learned that her organs had been harvested ("Identified"). Originally intended as a major regular character, Carlin appears only in "Identified", "Computer Affair", "Flight Path", "A Question of Priorities", "Exposed" and "Conflict". It is rumoured Peter Gordeno's agent decided to pull the actor out of the series; a few scripts such as "Ordeal" were apparently originally written for Carlin but then re-drafted to feature Paul Foster instead. The main role of Skydiver commander and Sky One pilot was thereafter passed on to Capt. Lew Waterman.

Lt. Nina Barry

One of Straker's first recruits into SHADO (and in the unenviable position of being mistaken for the "other woman" whom Mary Nightingale blamed for Straker's estrangement from her), Barry (Dolores Mantez) works as a space tracker at Moonbase and later replaces Lt. Ellis as its commanding officer. She also serves aboard Skydiver at one point ("Sub-Smash"). One of several women attracted to Straker, she is the second-most frequently appearing character in the series, appearing in 23 of the 26 episodes. Bishop and Mantez had a relationship in real life.

Capt. Lew Waterman

Initially an Interceptor pilot on the Moon, Waterman (Gary Myers) is later promoted to captain and replaces Peter Carlin as commanding officer of Skydiver and pilot of Sky One. He becomes a close friend of Paul Foster, as suggested in "Ordeal". Given Gerry Anderson's business dealings in the 1960s with MCA-owned Universal, his name could well derive from that of veteran agent and studio head Lew Wasserman. Despite being described as a 'main character,' he is involved in very few episodes.

Lt. Keith Ford

Ford is a former television interviewer who became a founding member of SHADO and its main communications officer. Actor Keith Alexander left the series after the production break, so the character disappears at the two-thirds mark of the series.

Lt. Ayshea Johnson

A SHADO headquarters officer in most episodes. Initially seen doing miscellaneous tasks stationed at a computer console, Johnson (Ayshea Brough) is the woman seen turning in her seat to smile and wave at an (offscreen) Col. Alec Freeman in the opening credits, which consisted of stock footage from "Identified"; she later becomes SHADO's communications officer following the departure of Lt. Ford. In her final appearance, she is stationed at Moonbase ("Mindbender"). Highly observant, she provides crucial information in the episode "The Cat with Ten Lives". NB: this character's full name is given in episode scripts but only referred to once on screen, in "The Sound Of Silence". In the credits she is identified only as Ayshea (as is the actress).

Dr. Douglas Jackson

Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) is the SHADO psychiatrist and science officer. A somewhat sinister-looking figure who sometimes appears to have his own agenda, he serves a number of capacities within SHADO, including acting as prosecution officer during the court-martial of Paul Foster. When Foster escapes custody after falsely being found guilty, Jackson successfully convinces General Henderson to have his guards use tranquiliser darts in their pursuit, rather than shooting to kill. It is implied that "Douglas Jackson" is not the character's birth name, as he speaks with a strong Eastern European accent. His origins are, however, never explored. In a DVD commentary, Ed Bishop said that Sheybal had a much better acting pedigree than anyone else on camera and that he must have wondered what his agent had got him into.

Lt. Joan Harrington

Another Moonbase Space Tracker, Harrington (Antonia Ellis) was one of the organisation's earliest recruits, as seen in "Confetti Check A-OK".

Miss Ealand

Ealand (Norma Ronald) is a SHADO operative who masquerades as Straker's movie studio secretary. She is the first line of defence against anyone entering SHADO HQ via Straker's office/elevator. The character is not seen in most of the post-studio change episodes, being replaced in two episodes by a Miss Holland, played by Lois Maxwell.

Lt. Mark Bradley

Bradley (Harry Baird) is a Caribbean-born Interceptor pilot based on the Moon. He becomes romantically involved with Lt. Ellis for a time, leading to a temporary assignment at SHADO HQ on Earth, and later briefly assumes the position of Moonbase commander. Baird left the series after filming four episodes, but appeared in stock footage in several later episodes.

Minor characters

One of the female Moonbase operatives, Joanna, was played by Shakira Baksh, who later married actor Michael Caine. Producer Gerry Anderson later said that he had lost his temper with her so badly on the set of UFO that he always feared the idea of running into Michael Caine at some actors' function, and being punched on the nose by him.

Steve Minto, one of the interceptor pilots, was played by the actor Steven Berkoff.

Look of the show

  • It is never explained why female Moonbase personnel uniformly wore mauve or purple wigs, silver catsuits, and extensive eye make-up (although it has been suggested in the novelisation of the show that it was to combat static electricity) and their unusual apparel is never discussed in the series. Gerry Anderson has commented that it made them look more futuristic and that it filmed better under the bright lights, while Sylvia Anderson said she believed wigs would become accepted components of military uniforms by the 1980s. But whenever female Moonbase personnel visited Earth (as Ellis and Barry did from time to time), their lunar uniforms and wigs were never worn.
  • Ed Bishop, who had dark hair in real life, initially bleached his hair for Straker's unique white-haired look. He later began wearing a white wig when the bleaching began damaging his hair. Straker's unusual look may have been an attempt to make Bishop look like Captain Blue, the character he voiced in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Bishop, until not long before his death, possessed one of the wigs he wore on the show and took great delight in displaying it at science fiction conventions and on TV programmes. In the episode "Mindbender", Stuart Damon is seen wearing the same white wig, although deliberately ill-fitting, in a dream sequence segment. Bishop also kept a Certina watch that was specially made for his character. Straker's look was one of the inspirations behind The Fast Show character 'Jazz Club's' Louis Balfour.
  • Many other male characters in the series also wore wigs, again because the Andersons felt that they would become fashionable for both sexes by the 1980s. Early episodes in which Michael Billington does not wear a wig can be identified by his receding hairline and long sideburns.
  • On both Skydiver and Moonbase, SHADO pilots enter their interceptor craft by sliding down tubes. This is an allusion to the Andersons' earlier series, Thunderbirds, which had the characters reaching their craft in similar fashion. This was owing to the difficulty of getting a puppet into a cockpit easily and in a natural way.
  • Ed Straker's dramatic gas turbine car, resembling somewhat the 1970 Citroën SM, was, in fact, based on the chassis of a humble Ford Zephyr with a specially built aluminium body shell. There appear to have been only two cars made for the series, a prominently featured brown/gold car and a purple car with a larger hood opening. It appears that at some point in production the brown car was damaged, because in some shots it can be seen that one of the headlight openings has been covered in tape, one of the wheels has been replaced by a mismatched wheel, and the lead characters start using the purple car more frequently.
  • The SHADO HQ and Moonbase control consoles, computer units, lighting panels and spacesuits make numerous appearances in later TV shows of the 1970s such as Doctor Who, Timeslip, Doomwatch, The Tomorrow People, The Goodies, The New Avengers, Star Maidens and Blake's 7, as well as feature films such as Diamonds Are Forever, Carry On Loving and Confessions of a Pop Performer. An alien spacesuit can also be seen in the Children's Film Foundation production Kadoyng.
  • Sylvia Anderson, having had made a pair of very sheer trousers for actor Patrick Allen to wear in the episode "Timelash", later regretted not having had the nerve to ask him to wear a jockstrap underneath, and commented on the DVD release of the series that "you should not be able to tell which side anybody's 'packet' is on".
  • The futuristic, gull-winged cars driven by Straker and Foster were originally built for the Anderson movie Doppelgänger (US title: Journey to the Far Side of the Sun). During the shooting of UFO, David Lowe and Sydney Carlton raised funds to form a company called The Explorer Motor Company, dedicated to the mass production of these cars for sale to the public. A plastic mould was made of the Straker car, in preparation for mass production, but the company never got off the ground.
  • Both Ed Bishop and Michael Billington commented that the futuristic cars were "impossible to drive", partly because the steering wheel was designed for looks rather than functionality. Also, the gull-wing doors did not open automatically. Every shot in which the car door was seen to open automatically had to be arranged so that a prop man could run up to the car, just outside the frame, open the door, and hold it open while Ed Bishop stepped out. In certain episodes (most notably "Court Martial") the prop man can be seen.
  • The show also made limited use of American models, which were unfamiliar to British viewers. These supposedly futuristic vehicles included a 1965 Ford Galaxie station wagon and an Oldsmobile Toronado. American viewers found these appearances rather amusing.
  • The episode "Survival" shows that SHADO's Moonbase is in the Mare Imbrium, or in the northeast part of it, according to a map that Foster and an alien studied while they were stranded on the surface. The map is a real one.
  • On the Carlton DVD commentary for the first episode, Gerry Anderson noted that perhaps the programme's most dated aspect was its tobacco and alcohol consumption, although in the 1980 of real-life England and America there was still plenty of smoking indoors and many executives had bars in their offices. Straker has a futuristic home bar in his office, which dispenses whisky, bourbon, vodka, etc., from which Col. Freeman partakes fairly regularly. While he himself does not drink, Straker is regularly seen smoking in SHADO headquarters, his tobacco of choice being either a cigarette or what appears to be a slim panatela cigar, complete with holder. And despite the high-tech milieu and enclosed environments, smoking is seen throughout the show, as it often was in 1970s British television drama. As a consequence, some of the sequences in the bunker of SHADO HQ are seen through a slight smoky fog. Similarly many of the medical staff smoke whilst on duty, and smoking is even permitted on board the closed environment of the Skydiver, where Capt. Carlin is shown idly flicking through magazines with a cigarette in hand. Most striking of all, Moonbase personnel also light up frequently.
  • The Trimphone, a British model of telephone designed in the 1960s, was featured prominently in the series.
  • The machine typing out information in the intro is, or is based on, an IBM Selectric electric typewriter (likely a Mag Card or Mag Tape model) in action, using an Orator element. The first Selectric was released in 1961, eight years before the series was produced.
  • Predictions

    UFO, which was filmed in 1969 and 1970, made a number of predictions about what life in the 1980s would be like, some of which have come true. Among the innovations predicted by the series are:

  • Spacecraft launched from an aircraft, as in the episode "Computer Affair".
  • Extensive use of computers in day-to-day life, even to the extent of predicting and analysing human behaviour.
  • Electronic fingerprint scanning and identification against a database.
  • Voice print identification systems, also, vocal analysis used to identify individuals in the same way as fingerprints.
  • Metadata and a space observatory (called an "electron telescope"), as in the episode "Close Up".
  • The episode "Survival" indicates that racial prejudice will have "burned itself out" on Earth in the mid-1970s, a prediction that did not come true.
  • That cars would drive on the right-hand side of the road in the UK and be converted to left-hand drive, another prediction that did not come true.
  • Cordless telephones. (The three telephones on Straker's office desk had no cords between the handsets and the base.)
  • Miniature music players,in "Court Martial", Straker's secretary has one playing on her desk.
  • Winglets - an aircraft with winglets on the nose appears in "A Question of Priorities".
  • Vertical-landing spacecraft, as in various episodes.
  • UFO also featured episodes dealing with issues that would become topical in later years, such as space junk and the disposal of toxic waste.

    Episodes

    Owing to the fragmented nature of the ITV "network" in the United Kingdom at the time, the 26 episodes of UFO were shown out of production order, and every broadcaster showed the episodes in a different order. As the list below (loosely based on information from the book The Complete Gerry Anderson) shows, on several occasions during the first run, various broadcasters aired different episodes of the series on the same day. Some UK broadcasters did not air some episodes until 1973; as a result, some episode guides may list these episodes in a different order.

    The North American DVD release of the series usually follows the production order, with a few diversions; a website ufoseries.com for the show offers seven possibilities of viewing sequence. According to The Complete Gerry Anderson, the episode "Exposed" was intended to be aired second, but it was produced fifth and appears as the fifth episode in the American DVD release. It was only when the entire series was repeated by BBC Two in 1996–1997 that the series was shown in chronological production order in the UK for the first time.

    On the website shadolibrary.org, Deborah Rorabaugh puts each episode in order chronologically using a few known dates and facts. For example, Exposed should come before all other episodes featuring Paul Foster, and there are a few definitive dates given (two newspaper dates, a death and script date) so with other clues, it is possible to form a good correlation UFO Episode Timing.

    A number of episodes were edited together in the early 1970s to form the feature-length Invasion: UFO, which was syndicated to American and European broadcasters. It primarily consists of approximately 30 minutes each from Identified, Computer Affair and Reflections in the Water, with the ending taken from The Man Who Came Back. Shorter segments from E.S.P. and Confetti Check A-OK are used to bridge continuity gaps. Invasion: UFO was released in West Germany in 1974 and in the USA in 1980.

    UFO stories in other media

    Stories set in the Gerry Anderson UFO series have appeared in various media:

  • Two novelisations based upon the series, written by John Burke under the pseudonym "Robert Miall", were published in the UK and America.
  • UFO comic strips were published in the comics Countdown and TV Action.
  • Between 1991 and 1999, Entropy Express in Brighton, South Australia published seven issues of a periodical called Flightpath, containing 39 text stories set in the UFO universe. These include a crossover with Bergerac and another with Predator.
  • There was a hardback annual for the series that featured text stories.
  • Much fan-fiction has been written in this series's scenario.
  • An Italian-language board game of the race game type was published, called Distruggete Base Luna (= "Destroy Moonbase"), with up to four players, each representing an alien trying to penetrate Moonbase, and one player representing Straker in charge of Moonbase.
  • The video game UFO: Enemy Unknown, known as X-COM: UFO Defense in North America, is heavily inspired by this series. Aliens have attacked planet earth aiming to bio-harvest our organs. Players play as the top secret extraterrestrial combat unit, shooting down UFOs after sightings using Interceptors and transporting your men using the Skyranger, rather than Skydiver, to investigate crash sites. The main poster race of the series, the Mutons, are bio-engineered humanoids controlled telepathically from the alien homeworld by an unseen race. Later in the game it becomes clear that the aliens can use telepathy to control the soldiers, as in "The Cat With Ten Lives". In the sequel X-COM: Terror from the Deep aliens have built liveable environments in the sea forcing you to go on "scuba-diving" missions to find and destroy their main control centre as seen in the finale of Reflections in the Water. Also, Aliens not killed during a crash landing or battle but captured go under autopsy to further the understanding of the aliens' motives, as in "Computer Affair". A remake of UFO: Enemy Unknown entitled XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released in 2012; it had connections to the original show and featured some of easter egg dialogue: "Some nut calling himself "Commander Straker" has been all over the news".
  • Character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto has admitted inspiration from UFO for the character designs for Gendo Ikari and Kozo Fuyutsuki in Neon Genesis Evangelion (from Straker and Freeman respectively).
  • Revivals

    Several attempts have been made to either revive or remake the series. The first attempt evolved into Space: 1999. In the 1990s and early 2000s there were scattered reports of production companies around the world investigating the possibility of producing a new TV series or film, most recently in 2003 when Carlton International Media (current rights holders for the series) announced that an American company was planning to produce a new series, but nothing has yet come of this. Australian company Bump Map, run by Albert Hastings, pitched a revival of UFO to one of Australia's major TV production companies in 1995/6. Also in 1996, Ed Bishop briefly corresponded with independent Australian film maker/UFO fan Adrian Sherlock about an unofficial revival called Damon Dark: Shadofall. Funding for the project fell through, but the script has been made into a fan-made audio production and uploaded to YouTube, and it continues as an independent series.

    Film

    In May 2009 it was announced that producer Robert Evans and ITV Global would be teaming up to produce a big-screen adaptation of the series. Ryan Gaudet and Joseph Kanarek were writing the script, which would be set in 2020. On 23 July 2009 it was claimed that the UFO movie would see visual effects supervisor Matthew Gratzner making his directorial debut. On 23 November 2009 it was said that Joshua Jackson would be playing the role of Paul Foster, and that the spring start of the movie would be in summer 2010. Ali Larter was also linked to the role of Col. Virginia Lake in the film.

    Producers Avi Haas and Matthew Gratzner posted on the official UFO film website that the film was under development and planned for a summer 2013 release. The UK website Fanderson had a post dated 10 July 2011 repeating the producers' statement, indicating that in summer 2011 the production was in the planning stages.

    Contrary to initial reports that SHADO HQ would be hidden under a Hollywood studio, director Gratzner claimed in an interview that the base would remain in the UK. The extent to which other elements of the TV show (the design of the UFOs, for example) would be replicated in the film was unknown as of early March 2011, though Gratzner did state that the aliens would be humanoid in form.

    No film was made and the official movie website is for sale.

    Translations

  • French: UFO - Alerte dans l’espace
  • German: Ufo – Weltraumkommando S.H.A.D.O.
  • Japanese: Nazo no Enban Yū-Efu-Ō (謎の円盤UFO, UFO: The Mysterious Saucers)
  • Italian: UFO and UFO compilation film series (UFO - Allarme rosso... attacco alla Terra!, 1973; UFO - Distruggete Base Luna, 1973; UFO - Prendeteli vivi, 1974; UFO - Contatto radar... stanno atterrando...!, 1974 and UFO - Annientate SHADO... Uccidete Straker... Stop, 1974)
  • Spanish: OVNI (although the Spanish 2007 DVD release title remains UFO)
  • References

    UFO (TV series) Wikipedia


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