Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I had to be in my late teens before I could look at the moon and not associate it with hot women in silver jumpsuit and purple wigs. The reason is an English 70’s TV show called UFO. It only lasted twenty-six episodes but this show by Gerry Anderson (the creator of Thunder Birds) had a strong influence on me, as a child. I remember playing with my friends, an Avalon Hill board game called UFO, which though not a licensed product of the show, it followed the plot of the TV series closely. Secret government rocket ships and satellites attempting to create a barrier around the Earth to prevent marauding UFO’s from laming here.
The show created in 1970 was set in the then future year 1980. In case you missed when it is supposed to take place, there is a 1980 title card flashed four times during the opening sequence (Despite the final episode taking place a decade after 1974). It revolves around the men and women of a covert agency called SHADO. (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization) who fight organ harvesting aliens in their secret invasion of our world. To hide its covert alien busting operations SHADO was based under a movie studio. The decision to place it under a movie studio was because it saved the producers money, but in world it’s brilliant. “You saw some strange high tech vehicle fighting a UFO, well we are just making a movie.”
The invading aliens are never called anything but ‘The Aliens’ and all though there is speculation, we never really learn much about their nature or culture. The aliens who may be mutated captured human that may or may not be controlled by a disembodied mind, are converted in to beings that are able to survive in a liquid environment, which absorbs the stress of traveling faster than light. The liquid changes their skin to a blue/green color. They wear bright red spacesuits when on earth. There is never more than two aliens on the screen at a time because the studio only bothered to make two costumes.
SHADO has an arsenal of high tech weapons to fight the aliens, a submarine whose nose is submersible jetfighter, called Skydiver, and a moon base with space fighters that each carry one nuclear weapon in its nose, an AI satellite called SID. And of course a top secret moon base run by hotties in purple wigs.
The show was a true ensemble cast piece. With only Ed Bishop as Commander Edward Starker appearing in every episode. The show does spend time in character development for as many characters as possible. In the end the characters are not the same people they were at the beginning, but this make since with the plot lines. The show even includes a hint of an early interracial romance which seemed risqué in the seventies.
For normal people not obsessed with mauve wigs the key point of the show were the high tech vehicles. Though the models looked cool the stop motion filming was somewhere between the jets and tanks that fought Godzilla and a kid filming his Tonka truck. But for the 70’s English TV it was cutting edge special effects.
The series lasted twenty-six episodes. One of the problems was that the networks both in England and the US didn’t know how to market it. They assumed that since it was a Gerry Anderson show it should be aimed at children. This is defiantly not a kid’s show. Dark and suspenseful the show often didn’t have what we would call a happy ending. It dealt with subjects like security versus freedom, sacrificing family members for the greater good, adultery, drug use and attempted rape. Still the networks would often show them before or after Saturdays morning cartoons, (That’s how I discovered it.)
At first the ratings were good so ITC gave Anderson the approval for a second program, but by the airing of the 26th episode in the US, viewership had dwindled and they pulled the rug out from any more episodes. Since fans seemed to really like the moon base episodes (because, I mentioned hotties in silver miniskirts and purple wigs right?) the new program was going to focus on the moon base. When the show was canned Anderson had already spent a metric ton of money on the expanded moon base Sets, so he used them to make another 70’s sci fi classic Space: 1999.
UFO has more in common with the Roger More era James bond than it does with the X-Files. Sexy scientist who speak in double entendre innuendo, swinging jazz background music and gadgety vehicles. The look of what future would be like is comical now, with prolific indoor smoking, wired telephones, gull-winged door cars, teletypes and Nehru jackets. But the show doesn’t dissolve into a joke with hindsight because of the dark edgy, and compelling storylines.
The reason that UFO isn’t better know is because it only had a twenty six episode run. And there has been some talk about re-invigorating the franchise, but nothing has happened so far. I think that is only a matter of time Hollywood has really been taping the classics of my childhood, especially if the Man from Uncle movie does well this year, I think that UFO may have a chance at the big screen. after all who doesn’t love w woman in a purple wig.