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I know I am going to get some flack for this but please bear in mind this is only opinion from re-watching the show after very many years (in fact I have never seen all 26 episodes). I am slowly ploughing through the DVD boxset and I have seen only a handful episodes in random order (ie: I am re-watching the episodes I have seen from many years ago first before I move on to those episodes that I have not seen yet).
So the only episodes I have seen so far are IDENTIFIED, ORDEAL, ESP, THE LONG SLEEP, DALOTEK AFFAIR, THE SQUARE TRIANGLE, CLOSE-UP, COMPUTER AFFAIR, FLIGHT PATH, CONFETTI-CHECK A-OK. Please do not discuss any other episodes as it could provide spollers for me and I have not seen them as yet.
Although from the episodes I have seen so far I think UFO is one of the best TV series (and definitely Gerry Anderson's best show). However there are some flaws that I wish they addressed before producing the show which I believe would definitely have improved both its reception & shelf-life
1) THE THEME TUNE.
Someone please shoot the Hammond organist!!!
Although the composition of the UFO theme is excellent & very catchy the arrangement however (ie: the instrumentation used in the theme) is totally a different matter. The UFO theme is very reminiscent of the Mission Impossible theme (it could even be argued that Straker who is prominently shown in the opening titles is modeled on the 'Jim Phelps' character from MI). But whilst I understand the need to somewhat 'mirror' the MI theme in order to draw in the same viewing figures as the popular MI show, the use of Hammond organs however really gives the UFO show a sense of kitsch that really undermines the seriousness of its premise and dates the show terribly. Thanks to the use of Hammond organs it almost feels like there's an awful 'in-joke' being played out in the theme tune ("the aliens are here to steal our organs -- OUR ORGANS -- GEDDIT!!!").
The UFO show is set in the near future with a serious premise of humans fighting a secret war against an alien attack yet somehow the composer Barry Gray thought that the contemporary sound of a Hammond organ would perfectly set the scene of this show?! The theme sounds perfect if you remove the Hammond organ solos & cues and replace it with anything else (electric guitar, more strings, ANYTHING !!). It's a pity Anderson didn't contact Italian synthesizer guru Giorgio Moroder or Walter Carlos (a composer who would later do great work on the 'A Clockwork Orange' film soundtrack) to either compose & arrange the main theme, or at least work with Barry Gray to include synthesizers in the theme (just listen to the ever-futuristic sounding theme of Doctor Who from 1964 which really does atmospheric - even 50+ years later) . Or instead Barry Gray should have used the scary 'end-theme' of the UFO episode (which he actually lifted from a scene on the 'Journey to the far side of the Sun' movie which he had also scored) as the basis for the UFO main theme. I think this theme (slightly speeded-up, and re-worked with extra music added, along with strings & a strong rhythmic percussion etc) would have made a much more atmospheric theme for the UFO series.
Despite the catchy composition of the UFO main theme I think Barry Grey should not have been commissioned by Anderson to score the entire UFO series. He is definitely the wrong composer to work on the show. His overuse of Hammond organ in the opening scenes of some of the episodes I have seen (and nearly every scene establishing the SHADO headquarters set) really kills the serious tone of the show replacing it with something that sounds more akin to a cheezy 70s sex-comedy. I mean his cheesy Hammond organ solos really make SHADO HQ appear like a crematorium in one particular episode :). Just click on the Youtube link I have included below which leads to the UFO OST and listen to it whilst reading one of the UFO episode scripts like I have been doing (you will find that it really doesn't match the serious tone of the material).
It has been said that Anderson wanted to distance the UFO show from his other puppet creations but I do not understand why he would use his long-time composer Barry Grey (who had worked on these Puppet shows) to actually score the UFO series. Especially when some of Grey's music segments really do sound more akin to Thunderbirds & invokes memories of that show). For his first live-action show (and complete departure from his puppet creations) Anderson should have adopted a total fresh approach and used a different composer to score the series. He could still use the Barry Grey's main theme (just re-worked with all the annoying Hammond organ solos removed) but have someone else score the incidental music for each episode.
Here's the link to the UFO Original Soundtrack on YouTube (just listen to it whilst reading a UFO script):
2) THE 'KITCHEN-SINK DRAMA' CONTENT IN SOME OF THE EPISODES.
I have mentioned this in more detail in my review for the 'Confetti Check A-OK' episode. Arguably UFO
is a family viewing show (akin to 'Dr Who' and 'Star Trek' etc) but the use of such storylines in 'Confetti' and 'Square Triangle', and even the dark ending of 'A Question of Priorities' are really far too adult-oriented (to the point that they are dragging the show into a being a 'Coronation Street' wannabe).
This really does not suit what is a sci-fi action/ adventure show. Anderson should have modeled his show more-so on Star Trek rather than 'Coronation Street'). Or 'Emmerdale' for that matter :)
3) THE FASHIONS!!!
Someone please gouge out Sylvia Anderson's eyes!.
While I appreciate Sylvia is a great fashionista but she should have done the costuming for UFO with
a more conservative approach rather than a kitsch-liberal attitude she employs. Sylvia seemed to be of the opinion that Nehru suits (which were made popular by the drive toward Asian culture by music artists like Frank Zappa, the Beatles, and Donovan [not the 'Jason' one] ) would eventually be adopted by both business & political figures alike in the near future and would replace the traditional 'suit, shirt & tie'. She turned out to be completely wrong about this! Sylvia seemed to forget that in most cases fashion is indeed driven by the music scene (however the music scene is constantly changing, and with it so would the fashion trends) and so she should have been more conservative in her approach. She should have tried to make a more a futuristic version of the Nehru suit (removing the big buttons and replacing them with either zips or velcro etc), and maybe try to fuse them with Western tastes (maybe try to include a V-neck within the Nehru suit to in order to incorporate a shirt & tie etc). One thing I don't understand if Sylvia wanted to promote her UFO fashions to the viewing public then why did she design the Nehru in such drab colours such as brown & beige (Alec Freeman nearly always a brown Nehru suit that looks awful whilst Straker mostly wears boring beige). She should have used more exciting colours such as blue, purple, black, red to sell her 'fashionistic vision' of a possible future 80's.
When I look at the party scene in the ORDEAL episode it is quite amusing to see people dancing around to the Beatles 'Get Back' in contemporary sixties-styled fashions (particularly in an era that became Post-Punk, New Wave, and New Romantic in both its music & fashion outlook). But I did notice one of girls dancing in the background wearing silver hotpants with an orange wig & goggle-type glasses which did actually look like something out of the 80s (so kudos to Sylvia there :). It is interesting to note although the fashions in the party scene look anachronistic in the 1980s, had UFO had been scripted as being set in the 1990s then this 'sixties-styled kitsch' would not have been so out-of-place (as there was a nostalgic drive towards 60's fashions in the 1990s with the rave scene, and certain indie bands such as the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, and even Oasis flirting with the 60's look which a lot of their fans had then emulated). It is also interesting to note that for a show that is set in 1980 I have not seen one pair of flares in UFO so far (flares which were popular in the late 60's were also actually still around in very declining numbers at the very start of the 1980s - so kudos to Sylvia for her good taste there). However she then proceeded to have everyone in 'Space 1999' wear ridiculous flares to make up for it (shame on you Sylvia :)
If only she had the wisdom of George Lucas who insisted that there would be no flares, lapels, buttons, zips or any wide-collar shirts in the STAR WARS film (all clothing in STAR WARS were fastened by velcro and big belts etc which resulted in a timeless film that, in a fashion sense at least, never look dated. Unlike 'Space 1999', 'Star Trek' & 'UFO' unfortunately).
4) THE PURPLE WIGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It looks like both Sylvia & Gerry thought they could do one over one Gene Roddenberry (who strove not to make the 23rd century Star Trek male uniforms look '60's-dated' and yet similarly had all the women wear beehives & go-go boots which defeated that very purpose), by having all the female personnel in a military installation wear PURPLE WIGS (WTF!).
Whilst I understand the technical reasons for having purple wigs on UFO as it was a show made in colour for a UK viewing audience that were beginning to purchase these newly available colour TV sets for the first time (and that the colour purple looked really good under the lighting & looked very striking on a TV set, and that it also made the actresses look very attractive), however it really needed a scientific explanation for having them. Otherwise it is a stupid idea to envision the military of the future allowing its women to wear fashion accessories such as wigs (they may as well give them handbags & 'gloves to match' in order to complete the look :).
Gerry Anderson did pride himself on being inclusive by predicting women in the military (however did he have to predict them as go-go dancers on an isolated moonbase filled with sex-starved men. The 'Me-too' movement plus the SHADO HR dept would have had a f*cking field day with that scenario :)
Gerry Anderson should have had some scientific explanation relayed to the viewer why the moonbase women are wearing bozo fright-wigs. The only one I could think of would be to have the costuming dept to make the purple wigs based on the actual hairstyle of each of the actresses so that it looks like their natural hair - only dyed. And then advise the viewers (through suitable expositionary dialogue) that the moonbase men & women were taking drugs to protect them from the 'lunar radiation' at the site where the moonbase is built. And that there was a temporary side-effect with the drug on women where it counteracted with their estrogen levels (making the women's hair turn purple), and that their hair would return to it's normal shade once they stop taking the drug (ie: when they are back on earth etc).
I know its not a great explanation but its at least better than having no explanation at all and have all the moonbase women look like dancers at the 'Whiskey-a-Go-Go' bar.
5) THE STRING-VESTS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I won't delve too much in to how stupid the string-vests also look on the Skydiver personnel. I think that goes without saying (although I do appreciate that it was probably done that way to attract the girls & adult female viewers with the sight of all those barechested hunky men!). However Sylvia should have just decked the crew out in the normal navy jumpsuits that the SHADO security personnel wear. It would have worked just fine without the Skydiver crew looking like they have just been trained & mentored by 'RAB C NESBITT' :)
6) THE CASTING OF GEORGE SEWELL.
I know I am going to get a lot of flack for this but let me state that I do think George Sewell is a great
actor (he was great in 'Journey to the Far side of the Sun' movie) and I do think that the Alec Freeman character is ok. However I do agree with the TV producers when they asked Gerry Anderson to replace him in the last 9 or so episodes. UFO is a TV series where you have a lot of eye-candy with fit beautiful women (such as the Operative 'Ayshea' and Gay Ellis & co) and hunky & attractive men (like Ed Straker, Paul Foster and even Matthew Ford) and then you have Alec Freeman (a doughy middle-aged man in a drab brown-coloured Nehru suit) who really sticks out like your uncle at a wedding. Sadly George Sewell is totally out of place in the UFO series and his presence really does hurt the visual dynamic of the series. The SHADO organisation is supposed to compose of extremely athletic people who represent the best of the human race and the presence of Alec Freeman really shatters that whole illusion. Also the role of Alec Freeman seems somewhat strange in the series. He seems to act like a sort of 'conscience' for Straker, even questioning his decisions & prejudices in certain episodes (a bit like the 'Dr Bones McCoy' character in Star Trek who also acts in the same capacity with Captain Kirk). However in UFO Freeman is not a doctor but rather the acting 'Head of Security' for SHADO (in other words his job involves the arresting, detaining, interrogating, brainwashing & eventually killing of any civilian who threatens to compromise SHADO security - and he's suppose to be the "conscience of Straker"? Talk about double-standards! :)
Freeman seems more like a dumpy policeman in an organisation that compromises of Bond-styled operatives (like Paul Foster who is a brilliant character that is excellently portrayed by Michael Burlington, who is some episodes like the 'Sqaure Triangle' actually acts as Straker's conscience, whereas in others like the 'Dalotek Affair' he can act as autocratic as Straker when he is in charge of Moonbase).
The character of Paul Foster (with his love/hate relationship of Straker which really works well in the series) does make Freeman look redundant as a character in UFO. Freeman should have been replaced with Colonel Virginia Lake near the beginning of the series. Maybe Freeman should have been killed off in 'A Question of Priorities' due to Straker's bad decisions instead of his own son (this would have resulted in the other characters resenting Straker, particularly Paul Foster, which would have added more tension in the series). As for Freeman's later replacement in the series (Virginia Lake) I have not seen any episode with her as yet save for the IDENTIFIED & LONG SLEEP episodes. But I can safely say that she is a great addition to the series so far. Colonel Virginia seems like an excellent character, a sort of soldier-scientist type who is portrayed by the glamorous & beautiful Wanda Ventham. If she replaced Freeman near the beginning of the series she would have made a great foil for the Straker character where she could have also acted as the 'conscience' of Straker. The writers could have also employed an angle of sexual tension between Straker & Lake which could have been explored in later UFO episodes (similar to the sort of sexual tension that existed between the characters of 'John Steed' and 'Diana Rigg' in the 'Avengers' series etc)
The series writers could have even employed a love triangle of sorts between Straker, Lake & Foster in later episodes which would have really added to the dynamic of the series (with the two men at odds each other over Col Lake) that could have greatly increased the viewing figures. Anyway I suppose they probably did employ some sort of sexual-tension angle between the characters of Straker & Lake in the last few remaining episodes of UFO that feature Col Lake (but please don't tell me either ways as I am not even half-way through the series and I do hate Spoliers :(
7) WOMEN ARE SO UNDER-USED IN THE SERIES
I have only seen a few episodes so far but for a show which Gerry Anderson himself has prided on being 'inclusive' in regards to women in the SHADO organisation, these beautiful women are really under-used in UFO show. I know the wonderful Gay Ellis character does a few things in UFO (but TBH you can never have enough of her :) but you have other lovely characters like the 'SHADO Operator' (played by the beautiful Ayshea) who isn't even given a name in the show, who just seems to spend her whole time hovering in the background waiting for something to happen (and whose contributions to the series dialogue can be summarized as "Yes Sir", "No Sir", and "Cough Cough" when choking on a cigar).
For a show that is obviously tailored (largely) to both young boys, and red-blooded teenage & adult males (with all these fit beautiful women running around SHADO) you would think they would make some episodes focusing only on these women. I mean its obvious guys like seeing women on TV (that is why the 'Charlies Angels' TV series was a massive hit in the late 70s) so it would make sense to have episodes in UFO involving them doing anything other than speaking into a microphone ("interceptors immediate launch" seems akin to the Lt Ohura's "Hailing Frequencies" line of Star Trek). There should have been more episodes in UFO where the female characters take charge and deal directly with the alien threat.
It would have been great to have an episode where a SHADO jet containing Col Lake, Lt Ellis & Ayshea is shot down by a UFO and is forced to crash in a jungle. And the three women are being hunted 'predator-style' by the aliens in the jungle where they all have to work together in order to survive. It would have been great to see the three women in their torn-up uniforms (with Ellis stripped down to almost a bikin-type garment, and without that stupid-looking wig :) battling the aliens that are hunting them. There could even have a spot of tension between Ayshea and Col Lake (where Ayshea actually fancies Straker and sees Col Lake as a rival for his affections) which would obviously be cleared up at the end of the episode with the women all working together to defeat the aliens & getting rescued. I'm pretty sure an episode like that (and others) would have definitely helped the viewer ratings for the show.
I am finally at the end of this post ("At last" I hear you cry). Please let me point out that these are only
my opinions about the show and I am not boasting that I am in anyway right (in fact I could be completely wrong about everything I just typed). And I do not mean to offend anyone in my critique so please do not flame me (I am reaching out to all you lovely 'Alec Freeman' fans out there :).
But seriously the last thing I need (and this forum needs) is an endless thread of "You're wrong - NO YOU'RE WRONG" posts going to the moon & back (no pun intended). If you have any comments on what I have written then please do post them. And if you have opinions about the merits & flaws of this great show then please do post them on a separate thread (it helps to inject a bit of live in a forum to have new threads posted, and not have just one looooong thread going on for all eternity).
As I have mentioned before please don't mention spoilers or plot points on any of the episodes that
I have not seen yet (as I do hate spoilers :). I have listed the 10 episodes that I have seen at the top of this really long post (I am not even half-way through the series).
Like I said it is a pity that UFO only lasted one season (it deserved much more as I do think it is one of the best Sci-Fi shows). If Gerry & Sylvia properly addressed the alleged flaws that I listed above then I think it would have definitely made it to a second season at least.
I hope you guys enjoyed the post. Pls let me know what you think?
Hm. Well obviously they did something right, because you say you love the series. Seems to me that the niggles you have are the very things that I find make the series so very enjoyable.
Gorgio Moroder was only 28 and playing in German clubs when UFO was being commissioned. He didn’t really get noticed until 1970, and it was two years later before he really make his mark in the UK with Chicory Tip’s Son of my Father, a MOOG classic. The MOOG sounds really very harsh and I think would have clashed with the full orchestra sound used in recording. Note also the use of Also Sprach Zarathustra in Space Oddity - that was a placeholder used during editing - there was another score written. The Hammond was a synthesiser of sorts, an analogue synthesiser that used magnetic disks and pickups as source signal generators - very similar to how Delia Derbyshire created the sound of the Dr Who theme using looped samples spun at different speeds as signal sources. Barry Gray was a classic composer and although the organ sections are evident in the UFO theme, the vast bulk of it is brass and string. It’s noted that the “over the top" style developed for Anderson was as a result of needing to enhance the narrative and mood of the story because the puppets could only give a limited dramatic performance. Barry Gray was incredibly versatile - if you want to know what an electronically synthesised space theme tune would have sounded like from him, try Dr Who and the Daleks (film). And if you want to know what happens when you take the Barry Gray out of Gerry Anderson… compare and contrast Space:1999 Season 1 (Gray) to Season 2 (Wadsworth)
The fashions… one got the impression that Sylvia Anderson ruled the roost there. Anyway, she took a less prominent role in future productions, handing the baton to Rudi Gernreich, who was by this point known for his liberal views on sexuality having created topless “monokini” swimsuits and insisting that his fashions be worn without bras. The Nehru suit is still very fashionable, by the way, and has made a considerable resurgence lately. The purple wigs… those were noted at one point to be anti-static or anti-radiation, but I think that’s a retcon - none of the male pilots wore them! But they do stick in your mind. And as for visionary… Katy Perry Teenage Dream, Rihanna’s photoshoot for her Savage X Fenty lingerie range… The String vests were practical, and worn by women! The female roles were far advanced of the contemporary TV of the day - female colonels? Female commanders? Computer operators… OK, maybe not that… in 1968 computer operators were predominantly female, albeit as an evolution of keyboard skills from typing pools - it took until 1974 for the role of women in computing to be utterly ruined by male techno-egoism.
You’re entitled to your opinions of course, but I reckon that if they’d had tweaked the bits you find issue with, it’d have left it as flat and uninteresting as so many other shows that vanished into the depths of obscurity. It was a product of that particular mix - when the mix was changed… OK, who here has anything but a passing interest in Terrahawks, Space Precinct and Dick Spanner? OK, Dick Spanner is a work of genius, but the other two? Dishwater compared to the earlier stuff.
UFO came from a particular stable, and it bears all the hallmarks of that, and that era, and that’s why it stands the test of time.
Thanks for your email. Yes you are correct I do love the UFO show, They did do a lot of good things with the show. The flaws I listed are mainly centered around the theme music, incidental music, the fashions, and some of the 'kitchen sink' drama storylines etc. A lot of other shows & films of that era have similar flaws etc (like Star Trek etc) but in UFO they are far more glaring. If you look at the work of the STAR WARS film, that has aged very well (better than any other sci-fi production). That is because Lucas insisted that there would be no use of contemporary fashions, no use of contemporary music (he insisted that John Williams used a fully original score with full classical instrumentation). And the result is something that can never be dismissed as dated or kitsch etc.
I do not know if Anderson knew about Giorgio Morodaer at the time UFO went into production but there
were a lot of other synth-gurus around at that time (Gershon Kingsley, Walter Carlos), or even Louis & Bebe Barron (who scored the first fully electronic score for the brilliant 'Forbidden Planet') that he could have used on UFO.
You mentioned in your post that Barry Gray based a lot of his music in order to mitigate the limitations of puppets in the other Anderson productions. If that is the case then Anderson should definitely have departed from Barry Gray and used a different composer for UFO since he wanted the show to completely break from the other puppet productions.
Although I have not seen any episodes of 'Space 1999' (not since as I was a child anyway) I have heard the theme tune. And I have the same problem with Grey's theme for 'Space 1999' as I do for UFO. I love the composition but I do not like the musical arrangement (I do not think it was a good idea to center the theme around an electric guitar using a wah-wah peddle. It just simply reeks of 70's disco-kitsch). I have heard a fully symphonic cover-version of the 'Space 1999' theme (that was released on some TV theme compilation decades after the show premiered) and it sounded much better & atmospheric than the original. I have also heard the 'Space 1999' season 2 theme, and although its composition is inferior to Gray's original theme tune, its musical arrangement is actually superior (it certainly sounds far less dated than Gray's because it does not use any wah-wah guitar or hammond organs etc)
I understand the Nehru suits are popular in India and the far east but they are still not popular in the west. I don't have any problems with her using them it's just that she should have been more imaginative and created a more futuristic version of the suit in more vibrant colours (instead of the drab brown & beige colours that are mostly used). But they should have come up with a decent scientific explanation for the purple wigs (I think my one which I suggested in my initial post might have sufficed) instead of simply not explaining it to the viewers. And definitely she could have come with something better than string-vests for the Skydiver crew (maybe leather tunics to prevent them from getting soaked by the water like the WW2 U-boat men wore?)
I do like the women characters in UFO and I think it was great that Anderson was more inclusive than other TV producers. I just wish they made more episodes involving them and focusing on them. I think most of the red-blooded male audience back then would have agreed with me.
I still love the UFO show, and I personally don't think any of the suggestions I made would have hurt the show. They could only have improved upon it. But unfortunately we will never really know which is a shame because the UFO series deserved a better reception than the one it got :(
The flight suit for the Sky pilot was very different to the vests, though.
In reply to this post by Shado-cabinet
And definitely she could have come with something better than string-vests for the Skydiver crew (maybe leather tunics to prevent them from getting soaked by the water like the WW2 U-boat men wore?)
The Skydiver crew did wear 'leather' jackets (well, pseudo-leather jackets) when outside the sub. (Sub-Smash) I think the 'string vests' were actually real submarine uniforms?? (and its worth remembering that string vests were commonly worn here in the UK at that time.)
I do like the women characters in UFO and I think it was great that Anderson was more inclusive than other TV producers. I just wish they made more episodes involving them and focusing on them. I think most of the red-blooded male audience back then would have agreed with me.
This is a huge bone of contention on one fb group I manage and I don't really want to go into it too much here. (Even now some fb members still make offensive sexual comments about the SHADO women and are promptly banned from the group) It is important to remember that UFO was not just aimed at men and pre-pubescent boys. The whole reason for getting Michael Billington on the show was to provide some - in Sylvia's words, I believe - 'beefcake' for the female viewers. Personally I found the pilot episode rather off-putting with its over-emphasis on the female form (solely due to Gerry's directing) It was a great relief when that aspect was heavily muted in following episodes with the result that the actual storyline took centre-stage.
As for the costumes? I wrote this article for the SHADO Con 1 booklet. http://lightcudder.com/?p=3315 I am hoping to find the time to add my other articles from SHADO Con 1 and 2 to my website as time permits.
LtCdr: UFO fanfiction and other stuff!
Thanks for the link to your article.
I don't like the string-vests but I do appreciate that Sylvia was looking to titillate the female audience with the string-vest uniforms on the men (partially exposing their barechests etc), and the inspired casting of Micheal Burlington for the role of Paul Foster (Burlington certainly would have made a great James Bond had he got that role).
I personally have no problems with how the men & women are shown on the UFO in order to titillate
the viewers. My only beef there should be more stories focusing on the female characters (e.g. an episode totally focusing on Gay Ellis battling aliens, or Ayshea etc).
But still I do love the UFO show (despite its flaws) and I only wished there was a season-2 or actual sequel series to UFO (ala Netfilix or Sky-Atlantic). Now that people's interest in UFOs have re-emerged again after the US DoD declassifying those UFO videos (as referenced in my 'Sky-1 standoff' post) I think the time would be good for a continuation of the series.
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