Worst to Best
Gerry Anderson's
UFO

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21 The Dalotek Affair

Supremely watchable garbage, The Dalotek Affair is the series at its most tacky and inane, with Paul Foster cast adrift in a world of sub-James Bond/Carry On innuendo. When a scientific base is set up on the moon, Foster investigates, stringing out the concepts of being "experienced" and "satisfied" to make them a fifth-form delight. The entire story is told in excruciating flashback, with the episode introducing the concept of amnesia drugs so that the scientists can forget all they've learned about UFOs. In an inexplicably amoral piece of characterisation, Foster uses this as a kind of reverse rohypnol, using his knowledge of the scientists to chat up the female operative when he sees her in a restaurant some months later.
     As the episode underran, there's some filler with "Frank E Stranges", a real-life UFO expert, and some padding with Straker. Straker's involvement doesn't really change a single thing in this episode, though it's telling he's able to piece together all the clues and make sense of the plot when he watches back a video clip and hears the word "balls".

20 The Psychobombs

One of the siller, more pulp-like episodes of the series, where three humans are given the power to bend solid steel with their bare hands and generate explosions. Genre fans may enjoy seeing David Collings sharing screentime with Mike Pratt, but aside from such matters it's a very shallow episode. A point of trivia is that for such a relatively sexual series, Collings' character is shown to live with his wife in two single beds. Despite being made in 1970, this was still a very different time for television...

19 The Man Who Came Back

Along with The Psychobombs, this is the weakest of the Pinewood episodes, a tale that's nearly always watchable, but fraught with logical issues. The chief problem would be that it's an episode that centres around two characters who we've never seen before, so having them dominate the screentime tests our ability to care. And although one of these two new characters (supposedly high ranking officers in SHADO) is brought to life with the charisma of Derren Nesbitt, the other has the unusual voice and manner of Gary Raymond. When Nesbitt isn't verbally jousting with Raymond, he's engaging in some bizarre homoerotic cockfighting with Paul Foster... and Michael Billington's wig never looked worse than it does here.
     Then there's Virginia Lake. Before and after this episode the only thing she's shown to be interested in is using up the world's supply of hairspray. Yet suddenly we're to believe that not only has she dated Nesbitt's character but she's also been seeing Paul Foster as well. Although UFO isn't a series with a major reliance on continuity, expecting the audience to take in all these reams of backstory that appear out of nowhere (and, in the case of Foster-Lake, never get mentioned again) is straining credulity too much. We're required to invest in friendships and relationships that are grafted in artificially, the entire denouement hanging on Straker convincing his "old friend" that he's been taken over by aliens. When he tells Nesbitt that the aliens may have his mind but that "they can never get your soul" it's a Shatnerism too far, and a poor ending to an episode that doesn't make a lot of sense when viewed as part of the wider series.

18 Conflict

Arguably the series' most forgettable episode despite the fact that, on paper at least, it should be a very good instalment. It's the first episode to bring back Straker's superior from the first episode, General Henderson, and their relationship is fractious, to say the least. It also features a fairly intricate plot about UFOs invading under the cover of space debris, and Straker's educated guesswork to stop the whole thing, while appearing to risk everything.
     Sadly, however, the title is misleading, as, despite all best efforts, there's no real sense of dramatic conflict, the entire thing feeling forced and drawn out while stretched over the 47 minute duration. All concerned give some of their weaker performances, and it undermines the clinical side of Straker to see him physically bullied by Henderson, played by Grant Taylor. Though in his fifties at this stage, Taylor was a former professional boxer, and sadly died of cancer the year after he filmed his last episode of the programme.

17 Identified

Plenty of TV series have lacklustre opening episodes, and UFO is no exception. Whether intentionally, unintentionally, or just a product of its time, UFO could be a pretty sexist series on a number of occasions. This is never more evident than with an out-of-character Colonel Freeman trying his best to act as romantic charmer to all the women he meets (he's not, unsurprisingly, successful) and many of the female cast members appear in states of undress.
     Ultimately UFO is a series that, at its best, is a dark programme with genuinely innovative plots, and at its worst is a glorified toy commercial with cheesy, innocuous lounge jazz music and melodramatic dialogue being said in monotones. Identified leans more towards the latter, though can reward repeat viewings if you're familiar with the programme. But as an introduction to get you hooked on the series, there are probably better places to start.

16 Court Martial

The idea of a court trial in SF is a pretty bog standard one - indeed, for all UFO's relative originality, Star Trek had done an episode with the exact same title just over two-and-a-half years before this was filmed. (And four years before it was aired). The big problem with such a concept - a central character is placed on trial, usually with the sentence being death - is that it requires you to believe that such an outcome might happen. And although the guilty verdict is revealed right away and UFO is a perversely dark series, it's just too much of a stretch to believe that Foster really will be executed as an industrial spy come the end titles.
     However, it's to the credit of the story that it keeps such standard tropes relatively interesting, with the main trial plot over two thirds into the episode. Not only that, but for a series that is competently acted but far from stellar, then we get the return of one of the few striking performers - the Polish actor Vladek Sheybal as semi-regular Dr. Jackson. Sheybal is clearly having a ball in the episode, stopping just short of acting everyone else off the screen, and adding some much-needed zest to a fairly flat outing for the programme.

15 Sub-Smash

On a personal note, the name Gerry Anderson actually put me off watching UFO for a long, long time. That's not to say that Anderson isn't a fine artist in his field, far from it, just that it's not my thing. The man was the production force behind just under 20 TV series, and although some of those included more left-field choices such as The Protectors and Dick Spanner, P.I., he always struck this particular Anorak as a man who favoured technical choices over three-dimensional characterisation. That's not an express criticism, more an acknowledgement that we all have different tastes.
     UFO was Anderson's first live action TV series, and Sub-Smash is the episode how you'd always imagine it: model shots over characterisation, rescue services and people standing in front of green screens, pretending to be at sea. Sub-Smash is far from the worst episode of UFO, but there's an argument to be made that it's the most tedious. Thankfully, things pick up in the final ten minutes, where a suffocating Straker begins to see his life flash before his eyes, and tearfully rues the past, including the death of his son and the breakdown of his marriage. While this is essentially a "will they all get out of a crashed submarine alive?" story (the answer's obvious) it does, in the end, have reward with moments of genuine profundity, such as Straker's final reflection that "That's what life's all about, I guess... the things we never say."