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"Trans-Earth trajectory is green ... check data co-ordinator"
on 13 August 2008
I was only five years' old when I was introduced to UFO and I remember having many of the toys to play with as a kid. As I grew older, I progressed to `Space 1999', but that's another story.
This series was, like me, a child of the sixties: those purple hair-dos, the short skirts, the cigarettes, drinking on duty, the lechery, and all the women sat behind desks dealing with communications whilst the real men went out and did stuff. Oh, and those clipped English accents. How times have changed, thankfully. But the series should at least be commended for showing that women sometimes had brains and also that race should not be a factor in assessing ability.
And yet, the black captain Mark Bradley seems to disappear as the series progresses, and in episodes featuring the courtroom or the meeting of the Finance Committee, the only woman present is the note-taker. And what does Straker say in episode thirteen to Lt Ellis? "You're doing a fine job, Gay, a man's job. You don't have to do it any better because you're a woman. And don't ever forget, you're an attractive girl." Ha ha!
And 1960s attitudes are mirrored in the thirst for technological progress: satellites, moonbases, rockets, sleek cars with gull-wings, lots of flashing lights and colourful buttons to press. Was this really supposed to be what life was like in the 1980s? We sometimes see Straker using a slide-ruler, for sure (ha ha), but the series was at least right to predict carphones and whiteboards, (and purple hair). Ah the 1980s were all supposed to be so easy. And we still have office politics!
But strangely enough, in this future they do not seem to have heard of surface-to-air missiles or even radar in some episodes. And why do the interceptors have only one missile? Duh! And the science is more fiction than fact: I'm quite certain that the launch of skydiver would in fact destroy the rest of the ship. And only four months travel to the alien planet to take some sneaky photographs! And don't they know, for example, that space is a vacuum? But that doesn't make good telly for the scientifically illiterate, who need their explosive bangs and the whoosh of an engine to feel safe.
The acting is often bad, and occasionally abysmal. Indeed, I was going to head my review "Thunderbirds Are Live!" Ed Bishop as Straker is problematical. He overacts so much in his attempt to portray himself as the hard man that the character becomes a parody. Would a man be put in his position that was so demotivating to his staff? But at least, when he tries to seduce a woman, he puts on some Wagner: so he cannot be all bad!
And the scripts are ludicrous in places. For example, in the opening episode, the doctor turns to Straker and announces that, "The general analysis is that he [the alien on the operating table] is humanoid." And Straker replies, "What! Like us?" Or how about Lt Ellis saying to Straker, "We've got a series of three-dimensional direction indicators." Straker replies, "What does that mean?", only for Lt Ellis to elaborate, "It's like some navigation course, only in three dimensions ..."
The list of problems with this show is probably endless, for there are scientific and narrative problems with every episode. Unfortunately, lack of space in this review prevents me from being more specific than I have been. Editing can be funny too: one minute Straker is driving on the left-hand side of the road, the next he's on the right.
Watching becomes a source of entertaining amusement now, but that's not really being fair for all the effort that was put into the series. Once the long list of deficiencies is taken on board, then the series can be remarkably effective. I was, for example, very taken with an episode featuring the death of Straker's son. There are also some good technological ideas, a plane with revolving propulsion, for instance.
The most impressive feature of this series is, without any doubt, the art of the modeller. Here the late Derek Meddings is the name to praise, the man who also did so much for the Bond movie miniatures. And the music to the series cannot be faulted, Barry Gray providing another wonderful main theme, a form of the opening to Beethoven's fifth. The decision to run the end credits with a piece of space-age modernist `music' was brave.
A word about the extras on this four-DVD set. Disc one has a commentary from Gerry Anderson himself. In this commentary we learn about the problems with the gull-wing doors of Straker's car, Alec Freeman's penchant for the ladies - and his wig. But plenty of obvious questions go unanswered, of course. Other extras include behind-the-scenes photos, deleted scenes (photos only) and publicity stills. There are also character sketches and a Shadow Dossier. Wow!
I guess my judgement on this series is a little too harsh. And if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then I should at least point out that I bought the second set of this series, DVDs 5-8.