The Earth is being attacked by aliens, and only SHADO stands in its way…
UFO is an oddity in the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson canon; aimed at an older audience, it was broadcast at teatime in some regions and late night in others. It’s got the darkness of Captain Scarlet – by no means everyone comes out alive, and there are plenty of discussions of moral grey areas. Central character Ed Straker is very much an anti-hero: he might be played by Captain Blue actor Ed Bishop, but he’s a lightyear away from that character’s innate heroism. Straker is a pragmatist, and puts the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the one… even when that is someone close to him.
The full 26 episodes of the series are heading our way later this year on fully restored Blu-ray, but as a teaser, quite unexpectedly, Network has released Invasion: UFO. This was a made-for-TV movie, created 10 years after the show was made, taking long excerpts from three episodes (and small bits from three others) and sewing them together in a moderately coherent way. The joins are pretty obvious – Paul Foster’s introduction most notably – and there are various continuity issues thrown up by the change of personnel on Skydiver etc. Key parts of the episodes are missing, which leads to some real oddities, and there’s some extra music tacked onto Barry Gray’s score that grates.
But if you’ve never seen UFO before, this gives you a flavour of the show – the relationship between Alec (not Alex, per the end titles!) Freeman and Straker; the tech porn of SID (the politest space defence system on record), Moonbase, the Interceptors, Skydiver and the SHADO mobiles; the hints about the aliens’ purpose (which is then made explicit in the final clip); the great space fights and the considerably less great physical fights (which frankly would have been done better by puppets!). There’s something of the moral quandaries shown in the scene where Straker has to decide how far to go when interrogating one of the aliens.
The restoration is stunning; the original VHS release is also on the disc, and the differences really are chalk and cheese. But, and this is a huge but, it’s been modified to a widescreen version, which means that tops of heads are cut off, and close-ups of machines that filled the 4:3 screen now look as if they’ve gone in too close. I really hope that this doesn’t mean that the full series will be presented in this way.
Verdict: A decent showcase for the restoration of UFO. 7/10