Waiting in the Sky

Identified — Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Tony Barwick
UFO, book 1

Ufo

1970’s “Identified” was the first episode of the TV series UFO. The series was helmed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, with Reg Hill. The episode was written by the Andersons and Tony Barwick and directed by Gerry Anderson. Unlike previous Anderson efforts, characters were portrayed not by puppets, but by live actors.

Humanity has incontrovertible proof that aliens have discovered Earth and are taking a close interest in humans. This interest outs itself whenever the aliens notice humans noticing them; the luckless humans are killed. One such attack on a highly placed colonel (played by Ed Bishop) moves the top powers of the day (US, USSR, etc.) to adopt a new strategy: secrecy. They’ll form a task force that will covertly investigate the aliens.

Ten years later…

In the groovy far-off future of 1980, the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation (SHADO for short) has bases across Earth, under the sea, in orbit, and on the moon. The headquarters, SHADO HQ, is hidden under the Harlington-Straker film studio. The Straker in Harlington-Straker is none other than Col. Straker (who escaped the assassination attempt that prompted SHADO). He’s posing as a simple movie producer.

The UFOs travel at tremendous speed. SHADO has developed ultronic detectors that should allow SHADO spacecraft to intercept intruders. The first ultronics rig and its inventor Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham) have to be ferried from the US to Harlington-Straker Studios. The plane is piloted by smarmy Lothario Col. Alec E. Freeman (George Sewell).

No sooner does Freeman’s SST take off for the UK than SHADO’s early warning system SID detects a UFO on its way towards Earth. The Lunar-based interceptors fail to destroy the UFO, which is far too fast for them. Once in the atmosphere, however, the alien vessel has to slow down, which gives submarine-based aircraft Sky One a chance to shoot the vessel down. Once in the ocean, the vessel breaks up. Its pilot survives … for a while.

Close examination of the dying pilot reveals much about its species, including the reason for their interest in humans. We are, it seems, a convenient source of spare parts for an ancient and dying race.

 ~oOo~

This was the only episode of UFO I ever saw1. As a kid, I loved the Anderson series Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and Joe 90. (All of those were supermarionation [puppet] shows.) I should have been an avid fan of UFO. But, if I recall correctly, when this show first aired in Canada it was on air just a bit later than I was allowed to stay up. I think I must have seen one episode, a re-run, much later. I remembered bits and pieces when I watched it again, recently.

The settings are … some good and some so-so. When it comes to little plastic models the Andersons have your back. They crafted detailed models of vehicles (aircraft, spacecraft, submarines) and buildings (a moon base). Filmed as from a distance, those work. The interiors are obviously soundstages but they’re at least colourful.

The scripts? Composed of the very best recycled trope and extruded TV product.

The cast is surprisingly diverse for a half-century-old show. There are a fair number of female staffers in SHADO; they get to do stuff that matters. They can be technicians and operatives.

On the other hand, the cameraperson (probably cameraman) has a serious interest in women’s bottoms. Even the title credits were filmed in Male-Gaze-o-Vision..


And on the gripping hand, there’s that creepy pilot, who makes passes at every woman he meets. Not that he is ever successful, unless his goal is to inspire discomfort and disdain in his victims.

Biology: How can it be that aliens and humans are tissue compatible?

Secrecy: It may be that the aliens can detect Freeman’s plane is because (as far as I can tell) SHADO sends all radio messages in the clear. Freeman’s plane is also emblazoned with a SHADO-derived logo. Perhaps secret organizations should avoid slapping their name on stuff?

Now, it may have been a trap for the aliens. If so, it worked quite well.

I can’t speak for the whole series, but based on just a reviewing of this first episode, UFO is definitely better than Space 1999. Which is to damn with faint praise. I don’t think I’ll be tracking down the rest of the episodes. This will doubtless displease UFO anoraks (if there are any) but … too many shows, not enough time.

“Identified” is available on YouTube for some unfathomable reason.

1: I should track down some episodes of Search to see how that venerable SF show has aged. Search, for those of you too young to remember it, was about a hi-tech detective agency using ubiquitous, reliable communications devices.


Comments

  • Roy

    I have fond memories of my Dinky Shado Interceptor (which I dismantled and never quite got back together properly again).

    In a later episode it is suggested that the “aliens” are actually mind-controlled human slaves.

    Having recently binge-watched the series online my biggest takeaway is that Straker is an absolutely appallingly bad leader. His people management skills are at best execrable and at worst abusive and he takes far, far too many risky courses of action.

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  • Steve Taylor

    I grew up on it in the 1970s and can't stop liking it any more than I can stop liking the Doc Smith I read at the same age - no matter how high the evidence piles up that it's rubbish.

    Maybe it's a side effect of the bad writing, but a few episodes manage to be a little eerie - It's very much a plus that the aliens are never explained.

    Roy is dead on about Straker's people skills; impulsive, arbitrary and bullying. Perhaps that was to pump up the drama.

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    • Robert Masters

      One thing that does not come out in the pilot episode is that the aliens are watching and have agents on Earth. And they know about Straker. And have an OK grasp of psychology.

      How do we know this? There are several instances where they actively plan on Straker's (bad) reactions, and one episode is dedicated to them working to break him (which is novel in this era in that they mostly succeed).

      So it looks like the writers were quite aware of how horrible a person Straker was.

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  • sPh

    I was going to report that whilst I possessed a Dinky SHADO Mobile with working missile launcher (the sort of toy that can't be sold today) and one original missile (UK pronunciation) my Interceptor was sadly lacking its nose missile. However an eBay search finds that someone must be manufacturing replacement Interceptor missiles in both original colors. Off to get my credit card...

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  • Lynn

    This was a totally cool scifi series that was way too short.

    And very British.

    I have no idea how many episodes that I saw. Definitely not all of them.

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    • Roy

      It was only one season but it was something like 23 hour-long episodes. They worked hard back in the 70s!

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