Friday, April 9, 2010

UFO Ep2: Computer Affair

Please don't be confused. This is NOT Thunderbirds, but sometimes it feels like it could be.

It's FAB FRIDAY fellow fanatics and all things wonderful in the world of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson. It's a bit like visiting Sally Lunn's Bun Shop in Bath, England. That is one of the yummiest places in the world and is worth the trip in the same vein as watching an Anderson production.

As we enter the exciting world of UFO, a thought occurred to me about the Moonbase. While clearly a precursor to Moonbase Alpha, it dawned on me it was very much in keeping with Gerry Anderson's calling card. He established the idea of outer space surveillance even earlier than Moonbase through the creation of Thunderbird 5 for Thunderbirds. T5 was the essence of space oversight and his earliest incarnation of a space presence. It has evolved into the established, live-in base here on UFO and more completely into the full-on concept of a roving space station in Space:1999. Prepare for more Andersonic excitement with UFO, Episode 2, Computer Affair.
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An Earth-based craft launches, detaches and rockets to Moonbase. The suave Colonel Alec Freeman has arrived. He greets the purple-wigged triumvirate of Lt. Joan Harrington, Lt. Nina Barry and apparent acting Moonbase head Lt. Gay Ellis. Freeman is at Moonbase for a monthly audit and review of operations handled by liaison Ellis. While at the base, personnel are placed on yellow alert. A UFO is inbound. Interceptors are given a full report by artificially intelligent satellite extraordinaire SID [Space Intruder Detector]. The base moves to red alert status and Interceptors scatter. The Interceptor goofy nose rockets are launched and explosions occur, but the UFO is not destroyed. Gay conveys new course corrections to Interceptors to avoid the incoming UFO. Oddly enough, these pilots are heavily reliant on Moonbase navigation. As a result, Interceptor 1 is destroyed. They may need to acquire greater onboard Interceptor computer intel.
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Later, back on Earth, Commander Ed Straker is looking for an explanation on how this incident happened. Freeman informs Straker it may have been human error. Straker wants the surviving pilots and Gay to report to him A.S.A.P.. Meanwhile, as a result of the incident, the UFO has landed on Earth, whereabouts unknown, but somewhere in the vicinity of Northern Canada. Satellites, Skydiver, Shadair. Every resource is searching for the alien craft. Actor Shane Rimmer is back as Shadair's pilot.
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Ellis and the Moonbase pilots are en route back to Earth. One of the pilots assures her she is not at fault and these consequences are essentially the unfortunate results of an intergalactic war. In Straker's office, Freeman smokes. People loved to smoke back in the '70s. You just don't see that on television today. It's no wonder many of these actors are dead now. Freeman exits. Lt. Gay Ellis, sans pink-purple wig, and the pilots, Lt. Mark Bradley and Lt. Lew Waterman arrive. Gay, played by Gabrielle Drake, looks even more striking in civilian clothes with her natural hair color. Waterman attempts to take responsibility for the mishap. Straker tells him nice try, but he's out of line.
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Would you not be completely crushing on Gay Ellis? I really love the clothes here. The Nehru jackets and Nehru-like vests are a highlight. They still look slick today.
Elsewhere, the UFO has been located. The fishnet-clad posse of Skydiver make their way to the UFO's coordinates. Any fashion faux pas can be attributed to the Century 21 fashions consulting of Sylvia Anderson [although the real credit goes to designer Keith Wilson], but the implemented Nehru jacket look was exceptional. Notable advocates of the Nehru jacket include The Beatles, James Bond's adversaries, Khan Noonien Singh from Star Trek: The Original Series' Space Seed episode and the Master in Doctor Who.
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Later at the Psycho-Analytic Department, Doctor Shroeder meets with the the three visiting members of Moonbase. Dr. Shroeder will first interview Lt. Bradley, but not before trying to push a couple of fags on him, cigarettes for those in the USA.

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The personnel of S.H.A.D.O. are big-time smokers! They probably don't even use filters, but then did filters really help all that much? Also, interesting to note how race is an issue in that clip. You wouldn't see the smoking or racial elements as pronounced today. I must admit it's all a bit odd watching it now. Of course, there's no shortage of race-hustling politicians today who love to inject race into an argument to silence those exercising their First Ammendment rights under the United States Constitution. It's really quite unfortunate. I'm not suggesting race doesn't play apart in our global culture, it does. It's also applied to our detriment as people when it suits a political goal rather than executed for legitimate discrimination cases like Rosa Parks fight for equality in Alabama in 1955.
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Meanwhile, Captain Peter Carlin, not only in charge of the Skydiver submarine, is also the pilot of Skydiver, launches toward the UFO. It's amusing to see the launch sequence of the Skydiver's nose, Sky 1. It's all very Thunderbird 2, but under the ocean. There is much smoke kicked about on launch. It's fascinating to see all that smoke, um, under water. Okay?
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Back at S.H.A.D.O. Headquarters the three members of Moonbase are put through a series of rigorous mental acuity tests to establish on the job fitness. Meanwhile, Sky 1 has located the elusive UFO. I must admit, the spacecraft, UFOs, Interceptors, Shadair and Skydiver included, are less than impressive spacecraft designs and do not reach the heights of craftsmanship and meticulous beauty established in Thunderbirds or Space:1999. It's definitely a minor quibble. The designs should have been better thoughtout the series. They vehicle hardware is simply less than enthralling to the eyes. Sky 1 fires upon the UFO and makes contact. Despite the hit, the UFO remains in flight. Straker is hardcore. He wants the UFO to be taken out and if it doesn't happen, "they'll answer to me." Incentive was much different and firmer in the '70s. There was no messing around. You knew the mission. You knew the job. Results had better follow. Today, incentive would more likely be an ice cream party granted to the victor. If it didn't work out, oh well. Aw heck, we'll have that ice cream party anyway.
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Waterman, Bradley and Ellis joke about Dr. Shroeder, but unbeknownst to them he can hear there every word over a speaker from his office. Jackson is a real bastard. Ellis is next. S.H.A.D.O. receives word the UFO has crashed. Straker wants the aliens alive. Freeman will report to the location. Straker indicates the reports are completed on the Moonbase personnel by Dr. Murray, but it is clearly Dr. Shroeder who performs all of the testing. I'm not sure why Dr. Murray was even introduced as a guest character. Jackson meets with Freeman over the results and the doctor reports he is puzzled by one of Ellis' answers. Word association for "black" is met with a pause and rather than answering "white" she responds with "bird...blackbird." The suggestion is made that Ellis shares an interracial connection with Lt. Bradley. Once again race a little more prominent than I'm used to as the suggestion is clearly that Ellis has a thing for Bradley.

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Mobile Units appear to be fairly defenseless in battle, but damn they look good.
Freeman indicates Ellis is being reassigned to Earth. Skeptical of computer intel [another allusion to the distrust of technology often implied or referenced in the work of Gerry Anderson's Space:1999], Freeman decides to take Ellis and Bradley with him on his site visit of the UFO crash site. The S.H.A.D.O. team arrives in Canada. This is established via some fancy model-sized signage. As noted, my lack of enthusiasm for the model and vehicle design work found in UFO has given way to quite possibly my favorite design of the series, the Mobile Units [SHADO Control, SHADO 1, SHADO 2, SHADO 3]. These units also remind me of my beloved Chariot on Lost In Space [1965-1968]. These are, by far and away, the finest looking designs on the show.

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Gay, inside SHADO Control, reports all three units are in position to Freeman. Freeman orders one be sent in. Gay asks which one. Freeman gives her a tongue-lashing! "The one in the best position. Standard procedure." SHADO 3 moves in within visual contact. The UFO begins firing upon the SHADO unit. SHADO 3 pulls back too late and is destroyed with a direct hit.

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Freeman makes a command decision sending in the next unit, led by Bradley, like lambs to the slaughter. Freeman orders the team proceed forward on foot upon reaching the ridge. Good decision. It's clear the SHADO units aren't built to take direct hits by the UFOs. Given this unfortunate development, I'm not sure what the SHADO units are built to withstand. The men fan out on foot. UFO attempts to build suspense and drama, but doesn't necessarily achieve it with great effect. Thus far, some of the scripting is a bit stilted and certainly less sophisticated than the writing found in Space:1999. Still, this is only the second entry in the series and the effort is impressive.
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A future extra for Devo.
An alien humanoid on foot surprises one of the men, but the S.H.A.D.O. agent turns and fires blowing out the visitor's helmet, glass faceplate. Moments later, the three agents are attacked from behind as they crouch down at the downed humanoid.
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Complete and utter backyard fun as a child.
One thing is certain, the humanoids are not very good shots with their weapons. Perhaps the Star Wars' Storm Troopers took a cue from them. The three men were sitting ducks and should have been eliminated without effort, especially given the element of surprise, yet none of the men are even grazed. It is a bit surprising, but this is a show walking the line between a children's audience and an adult one. Also, the weapons from both the aliens and the humans make the same machine gun-styled sound effects firing what amounts to primitive Earth bullets, at least that is how it sounds. I would have preferred a more creative weapon for both the aliens and the humans to establish a little differentiation between the two sides.
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Bradley circles around behind the sole remaining humanoid. Straker wants one of them alive. His agents don't appear smart enough to stop firing and essentially place Bradley in the line of fire. Bradley is moving into the hot zone. Despite their lack of intelligence, Bradley commandeers the humanoid overtaking him between firings. A few yards away the UFO smokes and then explodes.
Music kicks in that reminisces of British act Portishead and goes to show how contemporary acts always borrow the best from their musical pasts. Back at SHADO Control, Ellis asks Bradley, who has now returned, if he is alright. Ellis shares an intimate, professional moment with Bradley, whom she does care for. It's one of the better moments in Computer Affair.

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With the period music playing I half expect to see Gay take her clothes off and get it on with Bradley like some kind of cheesy adult film. Not that I've seen anything like that since I was young lad. I know it's Gerry Anderson, but the music is suggestive of some hilariously cheesy sex videos. Okay, I'm taking it a little over the top, but Bradley does like the "action" and Gay is just too damn irresistible.
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Dr. Shroeder works on the humanoid that has been brought back to S.H.A.D.O.. Straker wants to perform a little water boarding on the alien. Yes, we need to do such things when the enemy wants to kill us. I sanction action upon the gun-wielding alien. Granted, these aliens typically come in space suits with glass helmets filled with a water-like fluid. It's doubtful water boarding would be effective. In fact, they might even like it. Turn on the Air Supply music. Straker asks when the alien will be ready. Dr. Murray indicates he has no idea. "We're crossing new physiological frontiers, how can I say?" The interrogation goes on for forty-three minutes. Doesn't an interrogation have to include a conscious prisoner? I would suspect the word interrogation would be precluded when the prisoner is unconscious. The alien's eyes pop open and Straker requests chemical's be injected to access information from the alien. This would never fly in today. Straker demands "help" and cooperation. The alien screams in pain and flatlines as eerie music plays over his demise. Another opportunity is lost slipping from S.H.A.D.O.'s grasp.

The whiskey man.
Later, in Straker's office, Freeman hands what appears to be a resignation to Straker. "Accept this." "We've worked together a long time Alec." Alec agrees, "Maybe too long."
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The adorably cute Gabrielle Drake as Gay Ellis.
In the end, Ellis and Bradley share a night out in a classic '70s mustard-yellow decorated restaurant. Elsewhere, Straker wants Alec to reconsider as he uses a cordless phone, which came into the public consciousness around this time. Freeman tears up his resignation. This final moment reflects Straker's assurance to Freeman that he makes human decisions outside of the reliance on computer intelligence.

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That Ed Straker is a complicated man I suspect. Given the cross-section of computer intel and human intervention, Computer Affair is an appropriately and cleverly named entry, but left me a little cold as computers can do. Ironically, the thing that keeps bringing me back to UFO is the strong cast. I am intrigued to see more of Bishop, Sewell and Drake, the human touch.
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Computer Affair: C-
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Writer: Tony Barwick
Director: Dave Lane
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The Cast [Where Are They Now?][Part One: The Men]:
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Ed Bishop [1932-2005]. American born. Commander Ed Straker. Bishop provided the voice of Captain Blue for Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons [1967-1968] for its entire 26 episode run. He was the only cast member to appear in every episode of UFO. He made appearances in the James Bond films You Only Live Twice [1967] and Diamonds Are Forever [1971]. He appeared in four installments of the series The Saint [1962-1969] including The Saint Steps In, The Revolution Racket, The Saint Bids Diamonds and The Man Who Liked Lions. He appeared in Director Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968]. He followed this brief appearance playing the part of David Poulson in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Doppelganger [1969] also called Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun in the USA, opposite George Sewell pre-UFO. He guest starred in Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's The Protectors, Episode 15, The First Circle as Colonel John Hunter. He also contributed voice work to Star Trek: The Animated Series [1973], Episode 9, The Magicks Of Megas-Tu as Megan Prosecutor Asmodeus. He was cast in Oppenheimer [1980] and appeared in Restless Natives [1986] just to name two of many. His voice work took prominence after 1990. Even earlier than that, the geek in me must mention two notable trailers Bishop provided voiceovers. These personal favorites include the voiceover for The People The Time Forgot [1977] and Warlords Of Atlantis [1978]. These two classics starring Actor Doug McClure were in heavy rotation at my local drive-in. My father was a saint for taking me. Some final brief appearances of note include the pilot, The Curse Of The Jackal, for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles [1992], French & Saunders and Season Six, episode 4, Diplomatic Immunity, of Highlander [1997].
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For a detailed account of Ed Bishop's life you may want to read A Tribute To Ed Bishop 1932-2005 in Fanderson fan magazine FAB #53 by Author/ Editor Chris Bentley. Bishop was an interesting man. Despite his rather hawkish character in UFO, Bishop was notably liberal or left-wing as he would describe himself. "I'm very much left politically." He was very gracious to fans and very "humbled" by their adoration for his work in UFO. I found this self-deprecating character assessment interesting from Bentey's article. "I am totally, totally unambitious. As long as I'm making a living that's fine. One of the reasons I got along with Mike Billington very well is that he was very ambitious, and I applaud that, but I've been very lazy in my career. I've never had any kind of plan to it at all. As long as the phone rang and I was making a living, I never worried about anything." Despite my own conservative politics, I always have a lot of respect for people like Bishop and even find myself relating to them on many fronts. For a man with little ambition, he did quite well for himself, but it helps when you have the kind of voice, good looks, charm and talent of a man like Ed Bishop. In a strange turn, Bishop passed away five days after fellow UFO Actor Michael Billington. Bishop died as a result of complications from a chest infection possibly associated with leukemia.

Now this is a bad ass little unit.
Michael Billington [1941-2005]. British born. Colonel Paul Foster. The most notable fact is Billington was often screen-tested for the role of 007 [Live And Let Die (1973), Moonraker (1979) and Octopussy (1983)]. Thanks to the equally wonderful Roger Moore, but unfortunate for Billington, he never landed the role of James Bond. According to Fanderson magazine FAB #53, Billington was Albert R. Broccoli's "first choice" had things not worked out with Roger Moore. However, he did appear in The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] as Russian agent Sergei Barsov. He was fortunate enough to bed my favorite, ultra-hot actress Barbara Bach as Agent XXX. Damn, nobody does it better than Bach indeed. Billington later landed some guest spots in Hart To Hart [1979-1984], The Greatest American Hero [1981-1983], Fantasy Island [1978-1984] and Magnum, p.i. [1980-1988]. Coincidentally, Billington passed away from cancer five days earlier than UFO castmate, Actor Ed Bishop.

An image from Get Carter with Michael Caine and George Sewell.
George Sewell [1924-2007]. British born. Colonel Alec Freeman. His most notable film appearances include: Doppelganger [1969] [titled Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun in the USA] and most notably in Director Mike Hodges' Get Carter [1971] starring Michael Caine. Sewell also appeared in Doctor Who.
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Harry Baird [1931-2005]. Born British Guiana [now Guyana]. Lt. Mark Bradley. He had a role opposite Michael Caine in The Italian Job [1969]. Baird appeared in just six episodes of UFO and left following some frustration with the treatment of some actors over others and creative differences. He also felt some were treated better than others. His candid interview can be found in a Fanderson FAB Yearbook 1. He offers some additional thoughts on the legacy of UFO despite his problems with some folks behind-the-scenes. "I think it was very good. It was well done. The scripts were very good, the special effects were marvellous and I think it was something that the whole family could watch. There was action and drama and I think it was one of the best things from around that time. It's certainly not just because I'm in it, but I think UFO was the best thing the Andersons ever did. It's a terrific programme and I think it was better than Space:1999." Okay, I'm guessing there may be some personal bias in that statement despite some elements of the program being quite unique to the world resulting in Space:1999. It could be a matter of taste. Sadly, Baird dealt with glaucoma in the 1970s and passed away from cancer the same year as fellow UFO castmates Ed Bishop and Michael Billington.
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Peter Gordeno [1939-2008]. Burma born. He was also a singer, choreographer and dancer. Gordeno disappeared from the UFO series following episode 8 to avoid typecasting. He also was not an experienced actor who could go the distance. He passed away following bouts with cancer. More on the cast, next flight.

4 comments:

Word Warrior said...

I love this blog... Good work

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Welcome aboard. Thank you. Happy to have your input. Cheers.

Johnny Y said...

Great blog but I have to disagree with you about the vehicle designs being substandard. The mobiles, interceptor and skydiver are all icons in their own right and take a back seat to nothing in scifi anywhere.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hi Johnny,

Thanks for setting the record straight. : )

In all seriousness, you may find as you read forward I've had a change of heart on this point.

I've always loved the SHADO Mobiles. They are my favorite. They Skydiver has since really won me over.

I'm still not in love with the Interceptors, but still, you're not wrong.

They are all incredibly original and indeed iconic vehicles. So your point is made loud and clear.

I've even since purchased a diecast MOBILE and SKYDIVER since the writing of this blog entry. So I am indeed a convert.

Best,
sff