Worst to Best
Gerry Anderson's
UFO

Prev 3 Next

14 Destruction

Destruction acts as a detective story, with the main SHADO crew piecing together a mystery that involves nerve gas, treachery, the aliens planning to eradicate all life on Earth and Steven Berkoff pulling the unintentionally funniest face you've ever seen. For fans of backstory, then Dennis Spooner's script offers much, not just the developing motivations of the aliens, but the relationship between Straker/General Henderson, and the information that Moonbase is only 5-6 years old. There's also the fact that the episodes in the second production block all make the effort to create new and original model shots, rather than using the same stock footage, which does keep things fresh visually. However, despite all this, somehow the episode feels like one of the least essential instalments in the series.

13 Survival

Survival perhaps sums up the series of UFO like no other episode, in that it manages to be kind of terrible and yet kind of good, all at the same time. It takes 46 minutes to tell the unlikely and improbable tale of Paul Foster becoming friends with an alien, only for it to be killed in front of him, but it's one worth telling... just about. This is contrasted with the aforementioned speeches on racial tolerance from Straker, speeches which are trite but well-meaning. The aliens themselves - actors painted green, basically - are goofy-looking things, but behind their spacesuits they do have a certain kind of presence.
     On the topic of trivia, then apart from the four tacky flashes of a "1980" title card in the atrocious opening title sequence, this is one of the few times the series acknowledges its then future date, with Foster referring to "April 12th, 1981". There's an odd contradiction of such dates in the episode Computer Affair, which has Mark and Gay drinking wine from 1984.

12 Reflections In The Water

The inevitable doppelgänger episode of UFO doesn't have the budget to present us with a single splitscreen, and so we get the two highest-ranked members of SHADO improbably risking their lives without even the chance to confront "themselves" onscreen. Add to this some appalling slowfighting, sophisticated future computers that resemble two massive tape machines and a jazz-funk clips package (which inexplicably gives away the climax) to start off the episode and the poetically-named Reflections In The Water doesn't seem to add up to a great deal.
     Yet David Tomblin's second writer/director effort rewards in displaying the increasing desperation of its lead. Here he's prepared to drug one of his own team to get results, and although SHADO being able to hold off and destroy a mass attack of 25 UFOs does seem to be a stretch, it also shows the increasing desperation of the aliens themselves.

11 E.S.P.

E.S.P. isn't the most memorable episode of UFO, but it does contain some intriguing information about the aliens in the series. While the aliens themselves, particularly their UFOs, can look a little silly, what makes them slightly disturbing is that we're never really clear what they want. The lack of answers compels, but here we get them talking through the voice of a man with ESP, claiming that their planet is dying and that they mean no harm to the people of Earth. Though this is shown to be inconsistent with other episodes where they attack Earth, they do try and control said man into shooting Straker and Freeman, suggesting that they might be lying.
     Guest star John Stratton, playing ESP victim John Croxley, had an extensive career in film and television from 1949-1992 and gives a fine performance here. Yet it's very much a performance in keeping with a lot of television, particularly ITC television, of the time. It's an "acting" performance, drawn from a time when men would call each other "fools" and "old boy", and away from any concepts of method. Like many things about UFO, from the jazzy music to the silly wigs, the smoking to the sexism, it's just one of those things are very much "of its time".

10 The Sound Of Silence

The first seventeen episodes of UFO were filmed at MGM Borehamwood from April-November 1969. After the closure of the studio, the remainder of the series was picked up six months later in Pinewood studios from May-September 1970. These final nine episodes are generally darker, stranger and more adult. While the first recording block had plenty of rewarding instalments, the run-of-the-mill slack that occasionally troubled it is absent in the final stretch.
     Most notable in the second recording block however is the loss of several lead characters. As the actors involved weren't in contract and had offers to appear elsewhere, then many faces disappear without onscreen explanation, most notably Colonel Freeman and Gay Ellis. Freeman, in particular, acted as Straker's confidant and conscience, and his absence further pushes Straker into the odd father/son, vaguely homoerotic relationship he shares with Paul Foster.
     The episode itself was written by a pair of directors, and so is more visual than any other episode, with mood taking precedence over dialogue. Often esoteric, it features such off-kilter characters as a woman who jokingly suggests she skinny dip with her own brother, and a hippy and his dog who end up mutilated. One of the most off-beat episodes of all, but one that shows the rise in production and thematic standards with the switch to Pinewood.

9 The Cat With Ten Lives

UFO's most ludicrous plot is given serious voice at the writing/directing hands of David Tomblin, the preposterous plot made plausible by a sense of conviction and style. As Tomblin had worked extensively on The Prisoner, then he brings across faces from that series, including Alexis Kanner, a man who should have been a bigger star (and doesn't he know it?). Kanner dominates the action as a Moonbase pilot controlled by a telepathic alien in the body of a Siamese cat (no, honestly) and leaves the regulars as extras in their own show. It's ridiculous yet oddly mature, and pre-dated Way of the Dragon by a couple of years in having a fight scene kick started by a cat.
     The episode is also the first to introduce Wanda Ventham as Alec Freeman's successor, Col. Virginia Lake. Ventham is fine, though it's a bit of a nothing character, and she's drafted in without onscreen explanation, or the courtesy of the opening credits being changed to accommodate her and omit the regulars who no longer appear. Although the character had briefly appeared in the opening episode, chatted up by Alec Freeman, would anyone really remember? All this is especially strange as great care is given to mentioning why Norma Ronald isn't around as secretary Miss Ealand, though this is probably motivated by James Bond's Miss Moneypenny being her stand in. Altogether it's a superior instalment of the programme on craft alone, although the abrupt ending does seem to rather dispel the need for the overt padding throughout the episode.

8 Exposed

The second episode recorded with Michael Billington as Colonel Foster, and used to introduce his character, a test pilot who discovers a UFO while on a flight. A plot-driven story manages to keep things engaging, even if an Austin Powers-style jazz freakout can mar the soundtrack at any second. Hearing a jazz flute is cool... but not when it's supposed to be a gritty, action-based series. The story ends with Foster laughing at Straker's offbeat sense of charm, even though Straker has spent most of the episode arranging to have him beaten up. Paul Foster, it seems, is just one of those happy-go-lucky guys who never holds a grudge.