UFO – Space 1999 – tape 2074

My usual thing with UFO is to bang on about how transgressive the opening titles are – Century 21 logo, silence, cutting to a lens being removed from an eye, in a shot which I’m sure was partly inspired by Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, then launching into a superbly poppy Barry Gray theme tune full of explosions and spaceships. It’s so incongruous, but really captures the strain between the family-friendly SF stylings and the programme’s desperate urge to be bleak and existential.

This episode opens with UFOs on the moon, being tracked by the purple wigged staff of moonbase. The UFO explodes, but no interceptor got near it.

A UFO

And here’s your regular reminder that UFO co-starred Benedict Cumberbatch’s mum, Wanda Ventham.

Wanda Ventham

This episode is called Mindbender and it doesn’t take long for minds to be bent, starting with the (I presume) Mexican pilot of Mobile One who went to investigate the crash site. This is what he sees in the control room.

Mexican control room

He immediately starts a fight. I’m not sure I’d want that to be a command pilot’s first instinct in any situation, but here it’s even worse, because he’s obviously hallucinating, and it’s the command crew he’s fighting. Luckily, you mostly only see him punching large Mexican men, as the one shot which tells us he’s actually fighting the women on the control room is quite disturbing.

It gets even worse when he returns to the crew quarters to find his co pilot replaced by another Mexican cowboy, so he shoots him.

When Straker and Foster find him, he’s gone full Westworld, and has a proper shoot-out with a set and everything.

Wild West Straker

Naturally, Straker gets mindbent by the same thing as the others, but his psychosis manifests as seeing Shado as a film production. There’s a beautiful bit of fourth-wall breaking, as he’s having a heated argument with a superior, when someone yells CUT and the camera pulls back to reveal Straker’s office is a set and they’re shooting a film. It’s a minor piece of genius in the writing. The simplest, cheapest thing to do, but in the fiction of the show it totally works. I love it.

Breaking UFO's fourth wall

You’d think hallucinating that your life is actually a movie isn’t much threat, but the show still wrings a surprising amount of trauma out of it, when Straker is told he has to watch the dailies of his show, and they turn out to depict the death of his young son in a car accident. This show doesn’t want its characters to be happy.

After this episode, there’s the start of an episode of Robin Hood with Richard Greene.

Then, we’re back on Moonbase, but for Space: 1999. There’s a weird glowy eye thing, which can only mean one thing. Someone’s going to get possessed.

Weird Glowy Eye Thing

I love the unlabelled keyboard they littered the Moonbase set with. You had to have a lot of training with these before you were let loose on it.

Anonymous Keyboard

This episode is Ring Around the Moon. The moon has been captured by the planet Triton. But enough about the plot, I love the Comlocks. I used to make my own out of lego, with cardboard buttons and logos.

Comlok

While the show had great production value, sometimes it didn’t quite work – the ridiculous slow motion running of the cast here is hilarious.

Slow Motion Dancing

Dr Russell is zapped by the Orange Space Eye and has a complete change of wardrobe. The show loved floaty dresses, didn’t it?

Dr Russell in a floaty dress

More weird keyboards. But at least Qwerty is no longer the dominant keyboard layout.

More unlabelled keyboards

I love how Kano gets all his feedback from the computer from a ZX Printer by the looks of it. They have screens all over the place, but nobody thought it worth getting them hooked up to the computer. They probably lost the only DisplayPort to VGA adaptor on the moon in the pilot episode.

Computer Printout

Dr Russell is returned to Moonbase, and pretty soon she’s also being remote controlled by the orange glow. She types on the unlabelled keypad like Kramer does on his computer on that Murphy Brown episode.

Professor Bergman and Commander Koenig have worked out that the planet Triton no longer exists, and all that’s left is the orange glowy thing. Probably their iCloud backup has achieved sentience and it’s trying to download U2 onto the Moonbase computer.

Next, another UFO guest starring George Cole. It’s called Flight Path.

George Cole

Cole is sending information to an unknown third party who have threatened his wife. He doesn’t know who they are, when questioned, but the information is some kind oif flight path. Straker deploys the most sophisticated calculating device known to man – the slide rule.

Slide Rule

Oddly, this episode ends with almost the same events as the start of the previous one – a UFO coming over the lunar landscape at sunrise. Re-using the same effects shots?

And it’s another grim ending, as George Cole dies taking out the UFO, not knowing that his wife had been killed earlier by a UFO agent.

Next, more Space: 1999 and the moon is affected by another mysterious, unknown force, that appears to create two moons.

Judy Geeson guest stars as Regina (with a hard G for some reason). After moonbase has recovered from the anomaly, she’s confused about who’s alive and who’s dead, so she can probably sense the second moon.

Judy Geeson

The moon encounters a new planet – it’s The Earth. Everyone’s happy except Regina, who’s having nightmares, and is convinced she’s married to Eagle pilot Alan Carter.

Dr Russell takes a nifty colour X-Ray and finds the answer. “Two brains.”

Two Brains

Another surprise awaits when they reach Earth orbit – there’s another moon there. Koenig and Carter visit, find Moonbase completely evacuated, and see a crashed Eagle. With another Carter and Koenig in the pilot seats. Gorgeous miniatures.

Crashed Eagle

Travelling on to Earth, where the other Moonbase population landed, Koenig, Carter and Russell meet the other command crew. Professor Bergman is clearly relishing his new role as presenter of Gardener’s Question Time.

Gardener's Question Time

This earth may not be the one they left. or maybe it is. Bergman witters on about Atlantis. I really hate the anti-scientific nonsense this show relies on in lieu of actual science.

Russell meets her counterpart, who promptly drops dead. Paul Morrow tells the visiting Alphans that they cannot land, or everyone already there will die. He’s grown a big hipster beard, so that makes him in charge.

Hipster Paul Morrow

That leaves the Alphans with a problem, because the other moon is moving faster in its orbit than their moon, so the moons will collide in 48 hours. I haven’t done the maths, but I bet that’s nonsense too, and a faster orbiting moon would be a different distance from Earth.

The crew return to their moon, and hope that other-Bergman is right when he tells them that the moons will not collide, they’ll merge back, restoring the timelines (if they really are timelines).

Two Moons

Another great story, there, where effectively nobody does anything, and it all turns out fine in the end.

After this, there’s the start of an episode of The Critic. I never really watched this, and a couple of minutes of this episode haven’t made me want to change my mind.

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3 comments

  1. I always liked “The Critic” – Groening may have disowned the episode of “The Simpsons” that crossed over with it, but there are many far FAR worse episodes that he was happy to keep his name on – coughLisaTheSimpsoncough.

  2. The “your life is actually a film/TV show” plot was lifted from an old Twilight Zone, but I prefer it in this UFO episode. Mindbender is considered one of the best stories, and it’s always fun when a show like this plays with its format.

    The Critic was a lot more niche than The Simpsons (a LOT more niche), but it had some very funny bits in it. His review of Merchant Ivory’s The Tea Cosy: “I give it my highest rating – 7/10!”

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