Anybody else rewatching UFO?

ufo3I have very fond memories from my childhood of late Sunday nights, when my Dad would come up to check if I was asleep, and if I owned up that I wasn’t (what kid ever slept easy on a school night?), he’d let me downstairs to catch an episode of Gerry Anderson’s remarkable series.  As I remember it being on Sunday nights they must have been repeats late in the evening, probably around 11 pm, because my Dad would have been out for a few hours and gotten back in about then, and popped upstairs to check on my brother and I. It would have been around 1972 or 1973, something like that so I’d have been about six or seven. Dad knew I loved space stuff so knew it would be a great treat: just like with Dr Who of that era, I’d be scared witless at the same time as being excited by all the futuristic hardware. UFO wasn’t really a kids show, at least not like the 1960s puppetry shows that Anderson produced previously- as I’ve gotten older and returned to UFO over the years on DVD and now Blu-ray, I’m endlessly surprised that while its officially a family show its really pretty dark and bleak. I mean, aliens abducting humans to steal organs and body parts? Yikes. I can’t imagine there’s any kids out there who didn’t get freaked out by the scary end-title sequence with Barry Gray’s creepy ambient music.

UFO is one of those shows that seems way ahead of its time while also inevitably dated as times have moved on (remember it was filmed in 1969/1970). Its decidedly non-PC, with sexist jokes and scantily-dressed women, clearly an indication of the times it was made in. Early in the pilot episode sequences of a character clearly ogling a female Shadow operative, while played for laughs, feels rather uncomfortable viewing now. And of course scenes feature characters endlessly smoking and drinking. There is something quite refreshing though regards UFOs non-PC credentials, a strange source of charm I suppose, but the show was ahead of its time, too, with black actors in fairly prominent roles of authority, with consideration of race relations and a mixed-race relationship featured in an early episode that feels very positive and forward-thinking. 

sherrytrekMarch seems to be a month for looking back; the lure of nostalgia seems irresistible while stuck in lockdown for so long now… maybe lockdown and Covid have nothing to do with it and its just the endless siren-call of old favourites. Maybe settling down to the first five episodes of UFO is a reaction to seeing a few episodes of Starsky and Hutch on the past few Saturday nights. Speaking of the latter, I was surprised to see a fairly young M. Emmet Walsh appear in an episode last weekend, and Sherry Jackson in an episode the week prior (Sherry having a particularly memorable role in a Star Trek episode that I’m sure left its mark on many a young fan).

But I digress. I started this post writing about UFO. It just occurred to me, watching it… all the smoking and drinking, it began to dawn on me that its possibly just a matter of simple direction back then. For instance, there are many scenes with Alec Freeman (George Sewell) and Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) in Straker’s office in Shadow HQ, mostly dialogue-based scenes which are expositional and moving the plot forwards. Its just two guys talking, so it seems likely that the smoking and drinking was just a crux for the actors, something for them to do physically while talking. So they are just using props to make the scenes interesting, visually- moving to the drinks dispenser, pouring a whiskey, drinking it, or taking a cigarette, lighting and smoking it, or thumbing through a document file etc. The drinking and smoking feels incongruous now, of course, as its obviously unhealthy and looked at differently now than back then, but my initial thoughts that it was a reflection of the time or a way of ‘selling’ tobacco or booze to viewers were eventually dispelled as I considered what the director might have felt necessary when spacing out a scene in rehearsals to try keep mostly dialogue-scenes interesting for viewers. Maybe I’m wrong. But they even feature characters smoking while relaxing on Moonbase (can you imagine that, NASA letting astronauts smoke after what happened with Apollo 1?) which looks wrong, even though when I think about it, characters smoked on the Nostromo in Alien. I’m reminded of references to the great Peter Cushing, who was considered a master at using props when on-set (something I often have a keen eye on when I watch him performing in films). 

ufo5Network’s Blu-ray of UFO looks pretty stellar- the series looks so much better now than it did back when I was a kid on my folk’s black and white television. I last watched the series on DVD several years back, and difference in the HD upgrade is really noticeable, its a great restoration, akin to that served The Prisoner and Space:1999 Blu-ray releases. Indeed its really quite extraordinary and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Its also something of a testament to the quality of the film-making I guess, and I do wonder what Gerry Anderson might have thought about the restoration. I bought my set when it first came out, so its accompanied by a 600-page book that serves as a great reference when watching the episodes. I expect later sets that were minus the book were better served by the disc-holders though- this set has a digipack featuring some of the most horrible clasps holding the discs that I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, truly horrendous packaging which is the sets weakest point. Such a shame the episodes had such TLC and the packaging (obviously well-intentioned) came so short. The box is gorgeous and the book is heavenly but the digipack is the work of aliens: still, its the show itself that counts (once you can pry a disc out of the bloody evil digipack). 

 

Timeslip (1955)

timesFilm titles can be something of a trap. Take Timeslip, for instance, a British b-movie whose title suggests one thing but actually turns out to be referencing something else. The film opens at night, with a man being chased until he is shot and falls into the Thames. Subsequently the man is pulled out of the water by police, barely alive. A news reporter Mike Delaney (Gene Nelson), recognises the man from another news story- its Dr. Stephen Rayner (Peter Arne), an Atomic scientist from a research lab nearby. However, Delaney’s claims are discounted by police who later check and find Dr Rayner busy working in the lab- which raises the obvious question, who is that man recovering in hospital, who is too dazed and incoherent to properly communicate?

Well its certainly an intriguing premise and suggests an interesting mystery. My immediate theory, encouraged by the films title, was that perhaps the wounded man was indeed Dr Rayner, but somehow from the future, attempting to warn of some danger about the experiments in the Atomic lab but thwarted by his assailant. Its all very Twelve Monkeys really, when you think about it. Alas, I was way off the mark, even though the solution to the mystery was possibly even dafter than my own (and considering mine featured time travel, that may indicate how wild this films plot proves to be, involving plastic surgery, a maniac South American industrialist, and a near-death experience knocking someone’s brain out of whack). 

The film was retitled The Atomic Man (for US markets, presumably) which in hindsight is probably a better and more fitting title (at last it would have saved me from wasted speculations about time travel). Its really a pretty preposterous, badly executed effort that just gets dafter as it goes along- there’s some dated sexual attitudes which gets cringeworthy and gains a few unintended titters, endless smoking etc. The most notable thing about the film was Donald Gray in the cast, whose voice is instantly recognisable from Gerry Anderson’s 1960s Captain Scarlett and the Mysterons, in which he voiced Colonel White. Other than that, an instantly forgettable effort which further proves that there’s often a reason why some films are so obscure.

Nightflyers Season One (2018)

nite1.jpgI’m scared, really quite terrified. The possibility that someone, somewhere, might do the unthinkable and actually unleash a second season of this batshit crazy abomination has me shaking. Usually I’d be content that common sense will prevail, and that in a world in which Firefly and so many others got canceled, there is no way something as diabolical as this rubbish might get renewed for a second season: Nightflyers (‘from the mind of George R.R. Martin’ we are told, as if that’s different from his pen or typewriter)  is a truly terrible, awful show.

In episode six, I think I’m watching a season one episode of Space:1999 and that all the years since 1975 never happened, and it is one of the most confusing and disorientating viewing experiences- I swear it could be an actual unfilmed ‘lost’ episode from that old Gerry Anderson show repurposed for Nightflyers. Its also the most miserable attempt at what the tv execs call ‘a bottle episode’ I have had the misfortune to see in years. Imagine for a moment going back to all the hoary old cliches of that dated old show, and how daft tv sci-fi was back then, the nonsensical ‘science’, the twists and revelations that you could see a mile off, the hammy acting… dressing it up in 2018 clothing and CGI and… It could be the worst 40+ minutes I have endured for years this side of the new Dr Who. 

The whole miserable season of ten episodes felt like that, to be honest, and if I had the time to write all the things wrong with it I would be here all night and it would be a terrible slog of a post. Oh ok, I have the time I guess. Lets get on with all the horror (remember, I watched this so you don’t have to):

The show starts with a scene of dramatic chaos. That’s dramatic as in lots of flashing lights and moving shafts of light from unfathomable sources (because, hey, this is THE FUTURE and this is still 1982?).  A blonde woman (Gretchen Mol, so utterly wasted) is chased down spaceship corridors by a bearded guy with an axe doing a maniacal impression of Jack Nicholson’s worst The Shining excess. There’s a struggle, she flushes a warning message out the wastedump and she kills herself.

nite2.jpgSo we then go back in time, and we won’t see this scene proper until episode 9, I think. But it was so gripping of course we’re going to stick at it for the next 8 episodes to see how we get there and why the hell all the bad shit happened to the good ship Nightflyer. Except, when we do get there it still doesn’t make any sense or explain why it happened. That bearded guy goes crazy and tries to kill two people (arguably succeeds) and in the following episode all is forgiven. I mean, wtf? This show does that shit ALL THE TIME.

In the last episode, the ship is about to blow up, the flashing lights are REALLY flashing like crazy, there’s steam and explosions and people dying and wounded being carried around in circles, and at the same time in the cabin where the woman killed herself, cleaners are mopping up the blood and tidying the room. I mean, wtf? There’s a gigantic alien motherfucking spaceship out the window and the ship is going to explode and someone’s on clean-up duty? Nothing. Makes. Sense.

Wait. Breath. Relax. This is a dream. Its not real. Nightflyers cannot be real. I’m in an episode of Black Mirror, surely?

Here’s a list of some of the daftest cliches in NIGHTFLYER-

1. He’s a goddamn robot. I won’t tell you who, but I could have forgiven them casting Yaphet Kotto in this if it meant him reprising his line from Alien, it’s all it was missing. Although of course the audience likely figured it out before the stupid characters.

2. He’s a goddamn Hologram.

3. The ship is possessed by its dead owner. She’s dead, she’s black, and she’s pissed. And she lives in a virtual Irish mansion. She’s a virtual/AI/ghost haunting the ship from a virtual ghostly castle, of course she is, carry on.

4. Oh, and her bully dad is prowling the castle because she’s been a naughty girl. No, seriously this is a virtual/AI/ghost with daddy issues on a spaceship racing into the void.

5. Turns out the bald guy on the bridge had a thing for the dead bitch who’s haunting the ship. I smell trouble in the name of love.

6. Shafts of light, piercing almost every scene, blinking/flashing lights on walls everywhere else. Because yes this is The Future and there is steam. Of course there is steam. Every spaceship has steam filling corridors, especially when things are tense.

7. There’s cameras all over the ship. The captain is watching everyone. Lets have sex. Let’s leave the light on. Lets ignore that red lens gawping at us. Lets get upset about feeling betrayed when I remember the captain is watching everyone. Wait. Is that a camera in the shower cubicle?

8. She’s not a girl. She’s a goddamn bio-engineered spacewoman who cries on demand and falls for the captain only -gosh he’s a hologram, no he’s a robot no he’s her goddamn brother! Actually, no, he was a hologram, he was a robot, and yes, he is her brother! Oh no! The ghost haunting the ship is her mom! I. Kid. You. Not.

nite4.jpg9. He’s a goddamn telepath. These guys are sulky and dangerous, but he’s brought his gorgeous therapist along for the ride. He has the hots for her.

10. Oh the irony about how big space is but how it’s such a small world- the chief scientist knows the therapist. There were lovers, years ago. Of all the spaceships in all the world we have to meet on this one, I know one telepath in a crazy spaceship doesn’t mean a hill of beans but this is my spaceship, and this is my telepath, and this is my hill of beans blah blah (I think I may have Space Madness myself at this point). You just know these two cute ex’s  have the hots for each other and will be in bed before episode 7.  It can only end one way. The therapist is a secret telepath. Gazooks!

Wait a minute. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, and I’m not talking about Event Horizon, although of course it is sitting over there in the corner. The central premise is that our chief scientist has detected an object outside our solar system and he has deduced it might be alien spaceship because it moves in a very off and peculiar alien kind of way. He joins the crew of the Nightflyer and brings a telepath with him because he has deduced only a telepath can communicate with the aliens who he has named the Volcryn. He has also deduced that the Volcryn can solve all humanity’s problems because they are alien and smart. All the way through this bloody show I was trying to figure out why the aliens were called the Volcryn and why everyone thought they could save humanity and why a telepath had to be aboard and why the scientist…. He’s a mad scientist, of course, because they all are in these things aren’t they. And he wants to go home to his dead daughter. Who he sees all the time. She’s wearing a red coat and Don’t Look Now but…

11. Have I mentioned the bee-lady in the dome? There’s this blonde hippy scientist in the dome (there’s more than one dome, yes there are forests, no this isn’t Silent Running, because damn they forgot the droids) who is friends/talks with the bees because obviously the bees are the most intelligent creatures on the ship at this point, well bee-lady she gets cosy with the bearded botanist and she gets pregnant and that doesn’t end well, really, space pregnancies seldom do and apparently there’s only one doctor/nurse available and she’s got herself a lung full of alien spore (well, whatya gonna do, shit happens) so with alien spores threatening the ship and no medical professionals to save the day, which is odd, you’d think they would have a medical team on a big spaceship to treat people attacked by bearded botanists with axes…

nite3.jpg12. That bearded botanist with the axe. A security team eventually (I mean eventually, he’s like gone all The Shining for half-hour butchering the crew and dismembering the robot before anybody with a gun turns up) catch him and they confine him to his cabin. To his bloody cabin! Where anyone -including mad scientists- can just open the door and recruit him for First Contact because only a murderous botanist can figure out alien telepathy shit.

13. Now, funnily enough, on a ship big enough to have a crew of hundreds (although we only see roughly seven at any one time?) there is only one escape pod and it’s only big enough for one person. Its like they never learned anything from the Titanic. Or Event Horizon, which was bloody brilliant compared to this rubbish. So with the Volcryn now outside wondering what the frack is going on with this Earth ship that’s turned up and is now about to self-destruct, everyone with any sense, including the Evil Ghost Bitch who has at this point possessed the I.T. expert (no, seriously, its true, if you survive bearded botanists with axes and alien spores you’re just likely to suffer a case of possession instead), yeah she is racing to the escape pod…

and then… well, no, I can’t spoil it for you.

Let’s go back a bit. Death by fire no wait he survives that has a bath and is fine.

nite5So anyway, since I’m feeling brave and my medication is now settling in for the night,  let’s go back to episode six,  which I like to call the Space:1999 episode because it pretends all the growing up that sci-fi did between 1975 and 2018 never happened. Our heroes stumble upon a derelict ship that happens to be drifting on the same course the Nightflyer is taking. So our hapless heroes from the Ghost Ship Nightflyer go over to the mysterious derelict last seen near Jupiter (was this in Event Horizon? Or was it Sunshine? So many homages, it’s hard to keep track) to try salvage its computer brain (one size fits all spaceships) and after fourteen years there are still survivors on board – but all the survivors are old ladies with Space Madness who are on a women-only crusade to live in peace on another planet and drain men of their, er, vital essences in order to grow clones for meat, as they sure as hell are not vegans, no sir not on this spaceship. Calling Captain Kirk- sorry wrong franchise…

Remember. I watched this so you don’t have to. Netflix really should be ashamed.

 

Scarlet Vol.4

scarlt4

Well, it seems such a long time since the first volume came out, but Network have finally released the fourth and final volume of their HD Captain Scarlet releases. And what do you know, they saved the best till last- for what I believe is a limited time, this volume is available in a deluxe version with a box for all four volumes, with some art cards and a comic (oh well) but most importantly there’s a bonus disc full of extras; some documentaries, 1960s commercials, and the first episode of Joe 90 remastered in HD for its own release in a few months time. Up to now each volume has been devoid of any extras and although the remastering for HD has been fantastic its been weird having no special features of any kind to put the series in context. Anyway, at last that issue has been resolved. Its a handsome package to celebrate the show’s fiftieth (I’m old!) anniversary and the set of four volumes look great together as a box set. Just have to make time to watch the darn things- my third volume is still wrapped in its shrink-wrap, horrors!

Scarlet’s gone Blu

scarlett1Just thought I’d mention this recent arrival (I really need to do a ‘2017 Selection’ update) as it doesn’t seem to be available outside of the online shop of Network; it’s the first volume of a four-volume set of Gerry Anderson’s original Captain Scarlet series. The show has been lovingly remastered and is being released in seperate volumes presumably to finance the restoration/remastering work prior to an eventual box-set release. At just £10 it’d be foolish to wait for that box-set though. The disc is a bare-bones affair with eight episodes sans commentaries or anything, but the packaging is gorgeous, the amaray case is bright red and looks lovely, and above all else the episodes in pristine HD in 4.3 format look better than I have ever seen them. The colours really pop. This series was my personal favourite Anderson show, all grown-up and violent, it was really quite dark for a kids show (but then again, Anderson never really made ‘kids shows’, they were always aimed at a wider audience).  Anyway, it’s out now via the Network website, and I just hope it won’t be long before the second volume is announced.