UFO – Space 1999 – tape 2090

First on this tape, from Bravo before it became a bit porny, UFO and the episode The Man Who Came Back. The Shado early warning satellite SID is attacked by a UFO.

SID attacked

An astronaut is presumed dead on re-entry, but returns alive after eight weeks in the jungle. He had a bit of a relationship with Colonel Virginia Lake, played by Wanda Ventham – who is also Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum.

Wanda Ventham

He’s a bit of an arsehole when he comes back, and she (rightly) calls him out for looking on her as his property. There’s a bit of a ‘triangle’ going on between her, the returning astronaut, and Colonel Foster.

But suspicions are raised, especially when Collins puts Foster out of commission for the repair job on SID, and Ed Straker is the only other person qualified to do the job with him.

Then, there’s an episode of Space 1999. In The Last Sunset the moon is approaching a potentially habitable planet, but when Eagles go to investigate, a strange machine attaches itself to the hull.

Eagle Transporters

When it’s brought in, it appears inert, but suddenly starts venting a gas violently. More of the devices land on the surface of the moon and start doing the same thing. Victor Bergman tells Commander Koenig excitedly “It’s air. It’s giving us air.” And all of a sudden, the moon has an atmosphere.

Moon Atmosphere

It’s not all good news, as when it starts raining, there’s a danger that Moonbase Alpha would end up submerged at the bottom of a crater lake. And when an Eagle goes on a mission, flying through the new atmosphere, it’s hit by the lightning and crashes, stranding Alan Carter, Dr Russell, Sandra Benes and Paul Morrow.

They’re running short of supplies, and things get a bit fraught when Paul starts turning into a bit of a religious nut, after eating a mushroom-like food that has started growing on the surface.

Paul Morrow

But when they start passing by the planet, and the moon doesn’t enter orbit, the atmospheric effects start wearing off. It was all a distraction to prevent the Alphans from visiting the planet, because Humans are such wretched creatures. Ho hum.

Next, back to 1970 – sorry, 1980, and UFO. Commander Straker suffers from code rage, and starts destroying the computers, and beating up anyone who tries to stop him.

Straker goes Postal

The exterior of Harlington Straker Studios is actually shot at Pinewood Studios. The entrance he’s leaving is now the entrance to the two big TV studios where lots of panel shows and sitcoms are shot. I’ve seen them shooting The IT Crowd there.

Harlington Straker Studios

This episode is called Timelash which is not a good sign, as that’s the title of a very bad Doctor Who story.

Nobody seems to know why Straker has suddenly turn violent. They chase him down, past a man in a toy car with bullet holes in his chest, and up onto a roof where he finds Col Lake (Wanda Ventham) lying unconscious.

His assistant is confused – he emerged from the underground base, but the last time she saw him he was leaving the studio, and wasn’t in the base. Nobody has any record of him returning. Col Lake can’t remember what happened, having suffered a severe head blow.

Shado has the most frightening doctor ever, played by Vladek Sheybal. Absolutely everything he does makes him look like a serial killer or a Bond villain. But he is apparently on the side of the good guys.

Vladek Sheybal

He manages to get Straker to remember what happened when returning from the airport with Col Lake. They were attacked by a UFO that had somehow got through the Earth’s defences undetected.

Straker attacked

They evade the UFO, then return to the studio, but when they arrive, at night, they drive through the entrance to find that it’s suddenly daytime. They discover that everyone at the studio is frozen in time.

Frozen in Time

They even find casting agent Ron Pember, caught in the act of staring down the cleavage of an actress. I love Ventham’s expression here, and the fact that the filmmakers seem to be making a progressive point, in a show made in 1970. That definitely looks like disapproval.

Caught in the Act

Everyone is frozen except one man, a radar operator called Turner who seems to have some kind of inferiority complex, as he keeps referring to Straker as ‘Big Man’ as he taunts him over the radio. He’s played by Patrick Allen, clearly cast for his voice.

As they chase him, Wanda Ventham gets to do some gun toting.

Wanda Ventham in Action

There’s even a chase using toy cars, which also explains why, earlier in the show, there was a dead man in one of these cars.

Toy Cars

At one point Patrick Allen says “I can play time like a trumpet now.”

This shows all the hallmarks of being a cheaper episode. Few optical or model effects, and most of the action takes place on existing sets, or around the studio, out of which they get a huge amount of value. Even when the cat and mouse chase to catch Allen starts to get a bit protracted, they manage to keep it entertaining. And I’m a sucker for time travel stories, so I really liked this one.

After this, recording continues with the start of an episode of Robin Hood, the old Richard Greene version.

Then, we get more Space 1999 with Voyager’s Return. The Alphans encounter Voyager One, an old Earth probe. But it’s not a happy reunion as the probe is powered by a Queller drive, which “spews out fast neutrons” and is therefore incredibly dangerous to get anywhere near.

Luckily, Ernst Queller, designer of the drive, is one of the inhabitants of Moonbase, hiding under an assumed name.

The show becomes a moral quandary. Queller is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, when the Queller drive on Voyager 2 cut in too soon and destroyed a whole community. And, wouldn’t you know it, Paul Morrow lost his father in the tragedy, and Queller’s assistant lost his whole family. It’s a small world.

Ernst Queller

Queller manages to shut down the drive before it destroys Alpha, but unfortunately the probe is being followed by ships from a civilisation which lost two whole planets to the Queller drive, and they want revenge.

On the whole, this is quite unsatisfying, and has its morals all over the place. All the guilt for the damage done by the Queller drive is placed at Queller’s feet, but the decision to use it must have been made by people much further up the chain of command, and none of them could have been in any doubt as to the danger of the drive. I can appreciate the attempt to have a story mirroring the use of Nazi scientists in the US space programme – Queller is played with an accent – but I think it rather fudges its conclusions.

After this, there’s the start of The Prisoner, actually the very first episode, which explains the slightly longer than normal opening. The tape ends soon after the Prisoner starts.

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3 comments

  1. I’ve never liked most Gerry Anderson live-action shows (sorry to say the only one I can put up with is the one that he had the least do with, “The Protectors”). Touch of blasphemy coming up, so cover your ears – the effects shots a lot of the time look as they like they were still done with puppets in mind and look really human scale. If that makes sense….

    I do miss Bravo.

    1. Well they are miniatures, and given the techniques available at the time (not very long after Thunderbirds) it’s not surprising they’d look similar. I always liked the miniature aesthetic for its own sake, so it never really mattered if they were actually convincing. It was all about the design, and Martin Bower and Bill Pearson’s modelwork.

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