Monday, April 4, 2011

The Shado Knows

Back in the early 70s, I was hopelessly enamored with the 1969 Century 21 series, UFO (a.k.a. SHADO), produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Captain Scarlett, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, Space: 1999). After having seen nothing of it for over three decades, a few years back, I received the entire 26-episode series on DVD from a late and very good friend, and recently, the hankering to jump back into the show has hit me fast and hard. Just a week or so ago, I finished watching the entire run of the original The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan, so I think it's safe to say it whetted my appetite for quirky British TV serials. UFO certainly qualifies on that count. Alternately groovy and grim, the show is about an alien race from deep space that periodically sends its spacecraft to Earth, for reasons unknown—at least at first. Shado (an acronym for Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization) is the entity charged with defending Earth from the alien attacks. Shado boasts an impressive arsenal of weaponry and resources, including a submarine outfitted with a supersonic submersible aircraft (Skydiver), a moon base with a complement of heavily armed interceptors, a satellite equipped for tracking objects from deep space (SID, or Space Intruder Dectector), a variety of armored all-terrain vehicles, and a host of beautiful women wearing miniskirts, purple wigs, and glittering tights. Shado's terrestrial headquarters is located beneath a movie studio ostensibly run by American film producer Ed Straker (Ed Bishop, arguably best known for his minuscule but memorable role as Klaus Hergerscheimer in Diamonds Are Forever); in reality, however, Straker is Shado's CO, and he's a platinum blonde, rather willowy, no-guff kind of tough guy, with a chip on his shoulder. His sidekick, Col. Alec Freeman (George Sewell), is a middle-aged playboy, who enjoys his whiskey and frequently asks beautiful young female scientists out to dinner before asking their names.

For their day, all of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's movies and serials feature sophisticated special effects, courtesy of Derek Meddings, and the effects work in UFO—along with the scantily clad, very attractive castelevate the series from an exercise in pure cheese to an often impressive spectacle. Make no mistake, while the acting is usually wooden and the plots minimal, most episodes feature some startlingly realistic model effects and, plotwise, a handful of surreal, adult-themed twists and turns that keep the drama engaging. Longtime Anderson-series music composer Barry Gray turns in one of his most memorable scores, providing a unique and atmospheric musical identity for the show. The music and visuals for the show's end credits remain to this day absolutely haunting, and for your edification, I'm including a video of the ending sequence below.

If you are a nut for quirky, surreal, visually spectacular science-fiction and you've never checked out UFO, by gummy, you really oughta. Go on and do it.

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