UFO (TV series)
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|Also known as||Gerry Anderson's UFO|
|Genre||Adventure, alien invasion, drama, science fiction, thriller|
|Created by||Gerry and Sylvia Anderson with Reg Hill|
|Written by||Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Tony Barwick, Bob Bell, Terence Feely, Alan Fennell, Donald James, David Lane, Alan Pattillo, Ruric Powell, Dennis Spooner, Ian Scott Stewart, David Tomblin|
|Directed by||Gerry Anderson, Ron Appleton, Cyril Frankel, David Lane, Alan Perry, Jeremy Summers, David Tomblin, Ken Turner|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||26|
|Producer(s)||Gerry Anderson, Reg Hill|
|Cinematography||Brendan J. Stafford|
|Editor(s)||Mike Campbell, Lee Doig, Harry MacDonald|
|Running time||49–51 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Century 21 Television Productions|
|Picture format||Film (35 mm)|
|Original release||16 September 1970(ATV Midlands) – 15 March 1973 (ATV Midlands)|
UFO is a 1970 British science fiction television 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.
A single season of 26 episodes (including the pilot) was filmed over the course of more than a year; a five-month production break was caused by the closure of MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood, where the show was initially made. UFO was first broadcast in the UK and Canada in 1970, and in US syndication over the next two years.
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. An exception to this was the series The Secret Service, in which a combination of both marionettes and live actors was used.
The Andersons' live-action science fiction movie, Doppelgänger (also known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) is considered an immediate precursor to UFO, which was their first live-action TV series. The series featured actors, costumes, props, locations and music that had appeared in the film, and eleven cast members of the film appeared in at least one episode of UFO.
- 1 Storyline
- 2 Cast
- 3 Broadcast
- 4 Production
- 5 Special effects
- 6 Look of the show
- 7 Second series and Space: 1999
- 8 Media
- 9 Revivals
- 10 Predictions
- 11 UFO stories in other media
- 12 Translations
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
The series' premise is that in 1980 (a date indicated in the opening credits), Earth is being visited by aliens from a dying planet, who are abducting humans and harvesting their organs for their own bodies. The alien incursions may also be a prelude to a possible full-scale invasion. The series' main cast of characters are the staff of a secret, high-technology international military 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.
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 Drakel leaving midway through the series during the production break necessitated by the change of studios. 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, owing to the scheduling of the series not reflecting the production order, some episodes featuring departed cast members were not broadcast until late in the series, which can give the impression that no major cast changes occurred. Only Ed Bishop appeared in every episode.
|Actor||Character||Number of episodes|
|Ed Bishop||Col. Edward Straker, Commander-in-chief of SHADO||26|
|Michael Billington||Col. Paul Foster, SHADO operative||21|
|Gabrielle Drake||Lt. Gay Ellis, Moonbase operative||10|
|George Sewell||Col. Alec Freeman, Second-in-command SHADO||17|
|Grant Taylor||Gen. James L. Henderson, President of IAC||9|
|Wanda Ventham||Col. Virginia Lake, SHADO operative||9|
|Peter Gordeno||Capt. Peter Carlin, first commander of Skydiver||6|
|Dolores Mantez||Lt. Nina Barry, moonbase operative||23|
|Gary Myers||Capt. Lew Waterman, second commander of Skydiver||13|
|Keith Alexander||Lt. Keith Ford, communications officer||16|
|Ayshea Brough||Lt. Ayshea Johnson, SHADO headquarters officer||17|
|Vladek Sheybal||Dr. Douglas Jackson, SHADO medical officer||14|
|Antonia Ellis||Lt. Joan Harrington, Moonbase operative||14|
|Norma Ronald||Miss Ealand, Straker's secretary||11|
|Harry Baird||Lt. Mark Bradley, interceptor pilot||6|
- Col. Edward "Ed" Straker, Commander-in-chief of SHADO (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.
- Col. Paul Foster (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 persistent investigation of the incident threatened to expose SHADO's existence so Straker offers him a position with SHADO.
- Lt. Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake), seen as Moonbase commander during the first half of the series. Lt. Ellis 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 Freeman, Second-in-command of SHADO (George Sewell) a former pilot and intelligence officer, is SHADO's first officer (and very first operative recruited into SHADO by Straker) for 17 episodes in the series (Sewell left following the change of studios, being later unavailable when series production resumed at Pinewood Studios). Freeman is Straker's closest friend and right-hand man and, occasionally, his muscle.
- Gen. James Henderson, President of IAC (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.
- Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham) first appears in the opening episode of the series ("Identified"), as a SHADO scientist. A computer specialist, she was a member of the design team for the "Eutronics" tracking device. During the last eight episodes, Lake returned to take over the post of SHADO first officer, replacing Freeman.
- Capt. Peter Carlin (Peter Gordeno), during the first third of the series, Carlin 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 the hope of finding out what happened to his sister, and eventually learned that her organs had been harvested in the pilot episode "Identified".
- Lt. Nina Barry (Dolores Mantez) is one of Straker's first recruits into SHADO. Barry 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").
- Capt. Lew Waterman (Gary Myers) is initially an interceptor pilot on the Moon; he is later promoted to captain, and replaces Peter Carlin as commanding officer of Skydiver and pilot of Sky One.
- Lt. Keith Ford (Keith Alexander) 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 (Ayshea Brough) is a SHADO headquarters officer in 14 episodes, and later becomes SHADO's communications officer following the departure of Lt. Ford.
- Dr. Douglas Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) is the SHADO psychiatrist and science officer. He serves a number of capacities within SHADO, including acting as prosecution officer during the court-martial of Paul Foster. It is implied that "Douglas Jackson" is not the character's birth name, as he speaks with a strong Eastern European accent.
- Lt. Joan Harrington (Antonia Ellis) another Moonbase operative, was one of the organisation's earliest recruits, as seen in "Confetti Check A-O.K.".
- Miss 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 (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 two later episodes.
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.
Lt. Sylvia Howell, a Skydiver technician, was played by the actress Georgina Moon.
Owing to the fragmented nature of the ITV "network" in the United Kingdom at the time, the 26 episodes of UFO were broadcast out of production order, and every broadcaster showed the episodes in a different order. The list below, drawn from Chris Bentley's The Complete Book of Gerry Anderson's UFO, details the running order shown on ATV (in the Midlands) and on Thames Television in London.
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.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original ATV broadcast date||Production code|
|1||"Identified"||Gerry Anderson||Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Tony Barwick||16 September 1970||1|
|SHADO officially goes into operation and encounters its first UFO. An alien pilot is captured and discovered to have transplanted human organs within him.|
|2||"Exposed"||David Lane||Tony Barwick||23 September 1970||5|
|When civilian test pilot Paul Foster inadvertently witnesses a SHADO operation, he is given a choice: join SHADO or die.|
|3||"The Cat with Ten Lives"||David Tomblin||David Tomblin||30 September 1970||19|
|A SHADO interceptor pilot is placed under a hypnotic spell by an alien-influenced cat.|
|4||"Conflict"||Ken Turner||Ruric Powell||7 October 1970||6|
|After Lunar Module 32 is mysteriously destroyed, Straker campaigns to have space junk removed from Earth's orbit.|
|5||"A Question of Priorities"||David Lane||Tony Barwick||14 October 1970||8|
|Straker faces a terrible decision: attend to an alien defector or deliver life-saving medicine to his critically injured son.|
|6||"E.S.P."||Ken Turner||Alan Fennell||21 October 1970||15|
|A man with ESP knowledge of SHADO is co-opted by the aliens.|
|7||"Kill Straker!"||Alan Perry||Donald James||4 November 1970||16|
|Foster and his lunar module co-pilot, Captain Frank Craig, are brainwashed by aliens to kill Straker.|
|8||"Sub-Smash"||David Lane||Alan Fennell||11 November 1970||17|
|Straker must face his claustrophobia when the Skydiver submarine is damaged and unable to surface.|
|9||"Destruction"||Ken Turner||Dennis Spooner||2 December 1970||20|
|The aliens attack a Royal Navy destroyer that is dumping sealed containers of highly toxic nerve gas in the sea.|
|10||"The Square Triangle"||David Lane||Alan Pattillo||9 December 1970||11|
|SHADO and an alien find themselves in the midst of a murderous romantic triangle.|
|11||"Close Up"||Alan Perry||Tony Barwick||16 December 1970||13|
|SHADO obtains what may be the first photos of the alien home world.|
|12||"The Psychobombs"||Jeremy Summers||Tony Barwick||30 December 1970||22|
|The aliens transform three humans into walking bombs.|
|13||"Survival"||Alan Perry||Tony Barwick||6 January 1971||4|
|Foster is stranded on the Moon, where he befriends a similarly stranded alien.|
|14||"Mindbender"||Ken Turner||Tony Barwick||13 January 1971||25|
|An alien crystal causes Lieutenant Andy Conroy, Straker and other SHADO operatives to hallucinate.|
|15||"Flight Path"||Ken Turner||Ian Scott Stewart||20 January 1971||3|
|A blackmailed SHADO operative opens the door for a possible alien attack on Moonbase.|
|16||"The Man Who Came Back"||David Lane||Terence Feely||3 February 1971||21|
|A SHADO pilot believed dead suddenly turns up alive – much to a SHADO operative's suspicion.|
|17||"The Dalotek Affair"||Alan Perry||Ruric Powell||10 February 1971||7|
|Communications problems at Moonbase are traced to a non-SHADO mining operation.|
|18||"Timelash"||Cyril Frankel||Terence Feely||17 February 1971||24|
|Time stands still at the film studio for everyone but Straker, Colonel Lake and a mysterious enemy.|
|19||"Ordeal"||Ken Turner||Tony Barwick||24 April 1971||9|
|The aliens abduct Colonel Foster.|
|20||"Court Martial"||Ron Appleton||Tony Barwick||1 May 1971||12|
|Colonel Foster is tried and sentenced to death after a security leak is traced to him.|
|21||"Computer Affair"||David Lane||Tony Barwick||15 May 1971||2|
|A SHADO investigation reveals that romance may be complicating Moonbase operations.|
|22||"Confetti Check A-O.K."||David Lane||Tony Barwick||10 July 1971||14|
|A flashback episode focusing on SHADO's formation and how it caused the failure of Straker's marriage.|
|23||"The Sound of Silence"||David Lane||David Lane and Bob Bell||17 July 1971||18|
|A show jumper is abducted by the aliens.|
|24||"Reflections in the Water"||David Tomblin||David Tomblin||24 July 1971||23|
|Straker and Foster investigate an undersea alien base.|
|25||"The Responsibility Seat"||Alan Perry||Tony Barwick||8 March 1973||10|
|Straker is attracted to a reporter who poses a possible security leak for SHADO.|
|26||"The Long Sleep"||Cyril Frankel||David Tomblin||15 March 1973||26|
|A woman awakening from a decade-long coma sparks a hunt for an alien bomb.|
On the website shadolibrary.org, Deborah Rorabaugh creates a timeline of events 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.
Episode viewing lists 
- Prod: The studio production order.
- ATV: "Official" ITC sequence. This is the sequence in which the episodes were originally scheduled to be broadcast in the UK by ATV Midlands.
- UFO Series: Recommended order by Marc Martin of http://www.ufoseries.com.
- Fanderson: Recommended by Fanderson and used on British DVDs.
- ITC: Order used for VHS release in the UK.
|Title||Original UK airdate||Prod||ATV||UFOS||Fanderson||ITC|
|"Identified"||16 September 1970||1||1||1||1||1|
|"Computer Affair"||15 May 1971||2||21||2||2||16|
|"Flight Path"||20 January 1971||3||15||3||3||15|
|"Survival"||6 January 1971||4||13||6||5||3|
|"Exposed"||23 September 1970||5||2||4||4||2|
|"Conflict"||7 October 1970||6||4||5||6||4|
|"The Dalotek Affair"||10 February 1971||7||17||7||7||14|
|"A Question of Priorities"||14 October 1970||8||5||8||8||5|
|"Ordeal"||24 April 1971||9||19||9||9||7|
|"The Responsibility Seat"||8 March 1973||10||25||10||10||17|
|"The Square Triangle"||9 December 1970||11||10||11||11||6|
|"Court Martial"||1 May 1971||12||20||12||12||10|
|"Close Up"||16 December 1970||13||11||13||13||9|
|"Confetti Check A-O.K."||10 July 1971||14||22||14||14||11|
|"E.S.P."||21 October 1970||15||6||15||15||8|
|"Kill Straker!"||4 November 1970||16||7||16||16||12|
|"Sub-Smash"||11 November 1970||17||8||17||17||13|
|"The Sound of Silence"||17 July 1971||18||23||18||18||19|
|"The Cat with Ten Lives"||30 September 1970||19||3||19||19||18|
|"Destruction"||2 December 1970||20||9||20||20||20|
|"The Man Who Came Back"||3 February 1971||21||16||21||21||21|
|"The Psychobombs"||30 December 1970||22||12||22||22||22|
|"Reflections In The Water"||24 July 1971||23||24||23||23||24|
|"Timelash"||17 February 1971||24||18||24||24||26|
|"Mindbender"||13 January 1971||25||14||25||25||23|
|"The Long Sleep"||15 March 1973||26||26||26||26||25|
A number of episodes were edited together in the early 1970s to form the feature-length compilation films Kill Straker, a Question of Priorities (1973; formed, in order of appearance, by "Confetti Check A-Ok", "Flight Path" and "A Question of Priorities") and Invasion: UFO (1974; mainly formed by "Identified", "Computer Affair", "Reflections in the Water", with ending from "The Man Who Came Back" and segments from "E.S.P." and "Confetti Check A-Ok" used to bridge continuity gaps).
Kill Straker, a Question of Priorities was also released in Italy, as "UFO - Distruggete Base Luna", the second film of the Italian series, while Invasion: UFO was released in West Germany in 1974, in Italy in 1974, too (as "UFO - Annientate SHADO... Uccidete Straker... Stop", the final film of the Italian film series) and in the United States in 1980.
In Italy, many episodes were united (with slight changes in dubbing and music, which was provided by John Barry and included some tracks from the James Bond films) by ITC (for UFO - Distruggete Base Luna and UFO - Annientate SHADO... Uccidete Straker... Stop!) Italian film company INDIEF (for UFO - Prendeteli vivi and UFO - Contatto Radar... stanno atterranso...!) in a long series of compilation films, seen by many as a cheat. The films, which usually had titles which resembled SHADO communications or orders transmitted by the extraterrestrial chiefs via telegraph (maybe in reference to the theme sequence of the TV series), were:
- "The Cat with Ten Lives", "The Psychobombs" and "Timelash" formed UFO - Allarme rosso... attacco alla Terra! (meaning "UFO - Red alert... attack to Earth!", 1973);
- Kill Straker, a Question of Priorities was dubbed and released as "UFO - Distruggete Base Luna" (meaning "UFO - Destroy Moonbase", 1973);
- "Computer Affair", "Ordeal", "The Sound of Silence", "Destruction" and "Reflections in the Water" formed UFO - Prendeteli vivi ("UFO - Catch them alive", 1974);
- "Exposed", "Survival", "Court Martial" and "Sub-Smash" formed UFO - Contatto Radar... stanno atterrando...! ("UFO - ["Radar" as a proper name] contact... they are landing...!", 1974);
- Invasion: UFO was dubbed and released as "UFO - Annientate SHADO... Uccidete Straker... Stop" ("UFO - Annihilate SHADO... Kill Straker... ["Stop" intended as a telegraphic pause and alluding to the end of the alien incursions]", 1974).
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Following poor ratings for Joe 90 (1968–69) and the cancellation of children's espionage television series The Secret Service (1969) after only one series, Lew Grade approached Gerry Anderson to look into creating his first live-action TV series. Anderson worked with his wife, Sylvia, and producer Reg Hill to create a sci-fi adventure series based around UFOs. Anderson said the core idea for the series was that UFO sightings were a common issue during the late 1960s and that idea of aliens harvesting human organs came from the work of Christian Barnard and his pioneering transplant operations. The creative team initially envisioned an organisation called UFoeDO (Unidentified Foe Defence Organisation), which was to become the secret SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation).
Many of the props and actors that had appeared in the Anderson-produced 1969 movie Doppelgänger were utilised in the series. The creators looked ten years ahead and placed the series in a kitsch 1980 future. Sylvia Anderson also designed the costumes for the show, including the Moonbase uniforms and purple wigs that female staff wore; the wigs were to become a major reference point for the series.
UFO featured key motifs and plot elements that shared a conceptual continuity with nearly all of Anderson's previous TV work. Every series from Supercar onwards focussed on the heroic exploits of a secret but benevolent group or agency (the Supercar team, World Space Patrol, WASP, International Rescue, Spectrum, WIN, BISHOP, SHADO), operating from a remote or hidden base, and equipped with futuristic technology and/or advanced transport vehicles, whose mission is to protect the people of Earth from danger and disaster, and counter the nefarious schemes of a sinister, devious and elusive enemy (Masterspy, the Subterrains, the Aquaphibians, The Hood, The Mysterons, the aliens).
In addition to the shift from using marionettes to real actors, another key point of difference is that while Anderson's previous series were explicitly made for pre-teen audiences, UFO was a deliberate attempt to court young adult and adult viewers, and a number of UFO episodes explored serious adult themes including divorce, drug use, the challenge of maintaining work/family balance, mind control, alien abduction, illegal organ harvesting, and murder.
Principal photography commenced in April 1969 with production based at MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood. Seventeen episodes were filmed at these studios before they closed at the end of 1969. Production resumed at Pinewood Studios when studio space became available in June 1970, leading to an unusual seventeen-month long production before the final nine episodes were completed. The delay in production saw both George Sewell (who played Alec Freeman) and Gabrielle Drake (Lt. Gay Ellis) both drop from the cast as they were no longer available.
Due to the series being shown out of production order, their omission was not overly noticeable. Previously, Harry Baird, who played interceptor pilot Mark Bradley, had left the series after just four episodes, citing contractual problems (although he reappeared in a few later episodes from stock footage). Also, Skydiver Captain Peter Carlin, played by Peter Gordeno, left after eight episodes out of a fear of being typecast.
The different writers and directors, as well as a production break when MGM-British Studios was closed, saw episodes of varying quality.
Cultural impact on episodes
The episode "Confetti Check A-O.K." 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.
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. 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 AP Films 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.
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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, whose "cover" is his role as the studio's chief executive.
Establishing the main character and principal location as the chief executive of a movie studio was a cost-saving move by the producers: the Harlington-Straker 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.
Typical of Anderson's work, the studio-as-cover concept served multiple practical and narrative functions - it was simple and cost-effective for the production, it provided an engaging vehicle for the viewer's suspension of disbelief, it eliminated the need to build an expensive exterior set for the SHADO base, and it 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 people and unusual vehicles, equipment and material would not create undue interest and could easily be explained away as sets, props, or extras.
Another recurring 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 took several forms - Straker's "secret" office doubles as a secret elevator that takes him down to the SHADO control centre located beneath the studio, and the pilots of the Moonbase interceptors and the amphibious Sky One jet interceptor slide down boarding chutes to board their craft. The interceptors then rise from their hangar via elevating platforms to a launch pad disguised as a lunar crater. The device of the personnel boarding chute or conveyor served both narrative and practical functions - like firefighters responding to a fire alarm by sliding down the fireman's pole to board the fire engine, these personnel chutes/conveyors signified to the audience that the characters were embarking on a perilous mission; they were also a carry-over from the previous marionette series and were one of several plot devices (e.g. the Thunderbirds hover-bikes) which Anderson and his team devised to provide a fast-paced, futuristic and visually exciting way to move the action forward, whilst also minimising or eliminating the undesirable comical effect of seeing the marionettes walking, which might otherwise undercut the dramatic tension of the sequence.
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. The series also revisited and improved on the clever and cost-effective aquatic effects originally devised for Stingray. The submerged launch of Sky One was filmed on a special set dressed to look like an underwater location; a thin glass-walled water tank containing small fish and equipped with small air-bubble generators was placed in front of the camera, the set behind the tank was filled with smoke, and set elements were agitated with fans to simulate water movement, creating a surprisingly convincing underwater scene without any of the high cost or technical problems associated with real underwater filming.
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, an unmanned computerised tracking satellite that constantly scans for UFO incursions. The forward line of defence is Moonbase from which the three lunar Interceptor spacecraft, that fire a single explosive warhead, 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 shows of this era) were supervised by Derek Meddings, and the vehicles were designed by Meddings and his assistant Michael Trim. As with all these Anderson series, the look and narrative action of UFO relied heavily on the groundbreaking miniature props and special effects sequences created by Meddings and his team, who devised a range of innovative low-cost, high-quality techniques used to create very convincing miniature sets and locations and miniature action scenes featuring ground transportation, underwater, atmospheric and space travel, and dramatic explosion effects. The large-scale miniature vehicles and craft used for close-up filming were extremely detailed and combine innovative design with a high level of fine workmanship. Most production miniatures typically consisted of a mixture of custom-made elements and detail pieces 'cannibalised' from commercial scale model kits.
Sadly, as with all the Anderson/Century 21 programs of that period, very few original series props and miniatures have survived, and these are now highly valuable collector's items. Miniatures from the series known to still exist include:
- Two of the alien 'flying saucer' UFO miniatures
- A single large-scale miniature of Sky One
- One large-scale and one small-scale miniature of the Moonbase Interceptors (which survived because they were given to Dinky for production of its Interceptor toys)
- The (badly damaged) front section only of the smaller miniature of the Space Intruder Detector (SID)
- The large-scale model of the SID2 orbital shuttle
- One prime mover of Marker Universal Transporter truck (the lorry and trailer used to secretly transport the SHADO Mobile vehicles to their operation sites)
- One large-scale SHADO ambulance
- One large-scale Harlington-Straker Studio transport truck
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.
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—a concept central to Anderson's previous Supermarionation series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. 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. In reality, the dark vertical bands on the sides of the helmets were slits meant to allow the actors to breathe.
Look of the show
30 Seconds of opening theme
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It is never explained why female Moonbase personnel uniformly wore mauve or purple wigs, silver catsuits, and extensive eye make-up 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. After the break in production he began wearing a white hair piece. 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.
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. In early episodes, Michael Billington does not wear a wig which 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.
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. 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, from which Col. Freeman partakes fairly regularly. While Straker himself does not drink, he 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 haze. 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 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.
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.
A remastered Blu-Ray box set was released in 2016, including all 26 episodes of the show and extras. The box set includes a 600-page booklet, explaining how the show was made and includes previously unpublished images.
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.
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.
Several attempts have been made to either revive or remake the series. In the 1990s and early 2000s there were reports of various production companies investigating the possibility of producing a new TV series or film and in 2003 Carlton Communications (current rights holders for the series) announced that an American company was planning to produce a new series, but nothing was developed.
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.
In May 2009, it was announced[who?] 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 November 2009, it was said[who?] that Joshua Jackson would be playing the role of Paul Foster, and that the spring start of the movie would be in summer 2010. However, as of early 2011 no filming dates had been confirmed, and no further production updates had been issued, which suggested that the project either had stalled or was "on ice". 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. Nothing however was completed and the film's web page is no longer available.
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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, in various episodes.
- The ability to do cellular analysis on an organ to determine who it came from (though this is depicted as electronic, rather than DNA, analysis)
UFO stories in other media
Stories set in the Gerry Anderson UFO series have appeared in various media:
- Two novelisations based on 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' 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. The game sees the aliens 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 a nod to the show in some of the dialogue: "Some nut calling himself 'Commander Straker' has been all over the news, ranting about 'SHADO agents'."
- 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).
- 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 (Italy) and Minaccia dallo spazio (canton of Ticino)
- Spanish: OVNI (although the Spanish 2007 DVD release title remains UFO)
- The Indestructible Man, a Doctor Who novel with a scenario derived from various Gerry Anderson story scenarios, including UFO.
- X-Com, a computer game series whose plot and basis were heavily influenced by UFO.
- "Attack Squadron: Roswell", a role-playing game featuring a special unit of the US Air Force defending against an alien invasion in the early 1950s. The author cites UFO as inspiration, among other sources.
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- UFO DVD commentary track, disc 1, episode 1 – A&E/Carlton 2003
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- Episode 1, "Identified"
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- Fleming, Michael. "Vfx guru set to captain 'UFO' film". Variety. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
- Fleming, Michael (22 November 2009). "Joshua Jackson's captain of 'UFO'". Variety. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
- Miska, Brad (24 November 2009). "British TV Invasion Series 'UFO' Being Adapted for Big Screen". bloody-disgusting.com. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
- "UFO Series Home Page – Books". Ufoseries.com. Retrieved 2012-12-02.
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- "Interview with Yoshiyuki Sadamoto". Der Mond. Retrieved 2014-10-04.
- UFO on IMDb
- UFO at TV.com
- UFO at BFI's Screenonline
- UFO episode guide at Fanderson.org.uk
- UFO, Countdown, and TV Action comic strip stories
- Episode reviews at The Anorak Zone