Worst to Best
Gerry Anderson's
UFO

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7 Flight Path

An intriguing episode in that, unusually, it's left to a guest star to carry it. George Cole, forever to be known as Arthur Daley, here takes such a lion's share of the action that it's over twelve minutes before a regular character even appears.
     Sometimes the leaps of logic involved in the plot don't hold up to close scrutiny, but what really rewards is that it's the first episode that's truly downbeat. The sight of Cole dying alone on the moon and giving his love to his wife - unaware she's been killed, the information clinically withheld from him by Straker - is a chilling, perverse one. While there are better episodes of UFO, this is what it specialised in more than the camp and the toy models... human tragedy and offbeat resolutions.

6 Confetti Check A-O.K.

A brilliantly atypical episode of UFO that shows the origins of SHADO and the breakdown of Straker's marriage. Set over at least a year, there's no tonka toys or purple wigs, it's another character story of the show's troubled lead. The music is syruppy, but everything else is just right, from the foreshadowing of future events, down to amusing dramatic ironies like Straker and Henderson once being great friends. It's also the most smoking-orientated episode of the lot, an aspect of the series that does make it seem surprising when watched today; the entire plot and flashback sequence is actually based around the smoking of a cigar.

5 The Long Sleep

The final episode to be produced, The Long Sleep acts as a perfect end to the series as a whole, with Commander Straker mentally broken and defeated by the choices he has to make. There are plenty of musical jazz freakout moments to detract from the downbeat tone of this one, but the dark side of the story manages to keep breaking through. It's a downbeat story where two young lovers try LSD, only for one to die and be dragged away for alien experimentation while the other is almost raped. Her story is found out ten years later after she emerges from a coma, with the only person she trusts authorising drugs that may kill her just so she'll remember all the details.
     There are some plot holes in this story about the girl from Robin's Nest dating the alpha male from To Sir, With Love, though it'd perhaps be churlish to think too strongly about them. You do have to wonder, if the aliens were capable of building a bomb that could destroy the whole of England in 1974, why they hadn't tried to build another one by the time of this episode's stated 1984? The declaration of dates is also an intriguing one, because it not only puts the series in a wider timeframe - the programme has taken place over a four-year period - but it also reflects the series' pitch-black, pessimistic leanings when Straker speaks of an Earthquake in Turkey, 1974, that killed 80,000 people. Thankfully such an event never took place, but it's a fitting inclusion for a show that was always at its best when refusing to look up.

4 The Square Triangle

The Square Triangle contains arguably the biggest goof of the entire series when an attack by three Interceptors is called off... but the models are shown with no missles attached when they disengage. But away from such trivia, it's a fine example of a relatively mundane episode being lifted into something far greater by a classic ending. Alan Pattillo was usually behind the camera for Gerry Anderson productions, and this was the only episode of UFO he'd penned. A shame, as he provides the series with a devastating conceit: when an adulterous wife and her new lover plot to kill her husband, they shoot an alien instead. Managing to piece everything together, the central trio of Straker, Foster and Freeman are left with a dilemma: return the amnesia-drugged couple back into society and they'll doubtless try to kill the husband again. Yet the only alternative is to reveal to wider authorities the existence of UFOs, not to mention the problem that this is only (correct) speculation on the part of the SHADO operatives, and that technically the couple haven't broken any law.
     Those expecting some amazing get out clearly aren't aware of what kind of series UFO really is. What makes the climax so disturbing is the casual resignation of the nominal "heroes", contrasted with a final, haunting shot of the wife standing over her husband's gravestone, the end credits and theme playing over her. Chilling.

3 Mindbender

When a programme is based under a studio set and has its lead pretending to be a film and TV producer as a cover for being the commander of a UFO investigation unit, then it's clearly a series already acquainted with a sense of postmodernism. Mindbender takes this to its ultimate extreme, as a hallucinogenic alien rock causes Straker to imagine that he's the star of UFO, the TV series. Sadly Ed Bishop was already playing a character with his own name, and so "Howard" is substituted for Ed Straker-as-actor, but Foster gets to appear as "Mike" and Grant Taylor also appears as "himself".
     The very cynical might mock the idea of the cast playing themselves as actors, or chuckle at "Mike" insisting he's familiar with the method, and, indeed, like A Question of Priorities (heavily featured in the episode) it does test the limits of Ed Bishops' range. UFO wasn't a series populated by the most accomplished of actors, though they're by no means, in the main, awful. For studies of thespic ability then this isn't one to watch, but to see a lead character once more tortured, as the most painful memories of his life are played before his eyes as "rushes", then this is very special indeed.

2 A Question Of Priorities

Very few series have so enjoyed torturing their lead character as much as UFO. It's possible to feel sympathy for Straker, given that his son only had an accident due to both his ex-wife Mary's insistence that he should leave without saying goodbye to him, and her failure to stop their son running out into the middle of a road. Yet a series of events lead to Straker being the only one able to save the boy's life after he's hit by a car, and the demands of his job prevent this from happening.
     While Ed Bishop is fine at the cold, clinical stuff, the emoting he's called on to do at the climax is notably just outside of his range. Yet this is possibly the point, as Straker is a man who shows his young son a movie about a strangler and not realise that it's inappropriate. Philip Madoc (credited with an extra L in his name) is left standing around awkwardly as the new man in Mary's life, called upon to repeatedly step out of frame so as not to spoil the blocking of shots. As with all UFO, there's plenty of corny and misjudged sequences. Yet the tangible pain at the climax and the concept of the series becoming this dark is a punch to the gut that's impossible to forget.

1 Timelash

One of the big debates about UFO is always what order it should be watched in. The series was brought up by regional networks in the UK and shown in different orders throughout, meaning a clear episode order is difficult for anyone to fully agree on. As the series didn't feature major continuity, for the most part, then the producers behind it weren't unduly concerned about which episodes came where. The production order itself is a nice way to watch it, aside from the matter of Paul Foster appearing in an episode before he was introduced. Yet one problem with the production order is that it does pitch two of its wittiest and most innovative episodes back-to-back: this one and Mindbender.
     Nearly every science fiction series going has had its time travel episode, but very few have done it with the invention and panache of UFO. Timelash sees an alien craft slow down time so that SHADO finds itself existing inside a millionth of a second. The only way Straker and Lake can combat the threat is by injecting a form of speed, so that their reactions stay ahead of the slowing down of time. More overtly action-orientated than any other episode, it's full of neat tricks, such as the entire thing being told within a flashback, but without ever losing any of its compelling drive.