Sci Fi TV Genre Gems: Forgotten magic and hidden treasures from the worlds of sci fi TV
What Is It? This 1970 British produced television series from Gerry Anderson (best known for his Supermarionation shows like Thunderbirds as well as the cult sci fi series Space: 1999) brought us a covert war between a secret organization known as SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization) and an alien race from a dying planet.
Why It Stands Out: Because the show managed to buck its potentially formulaic premise and deliver some hard-hitting, intelligent science fiction drama with mature themes.
The Skinny: Sure, many may consider this a relic of its time because the look and feel of the show has not dated very well. Prepare yourself for cheesy (though good for their time) special effects, outlandish costumes, laughable 70’s music, corny dialog, and exceptionally wooden acting. If you can get past these, however, you will find that this is a real sci fi sleeper. The premise could have resulted in alien-attack-of-the-week episodes (which it did deliver to some extent), but the scripts extended beyond that and made attempts to explore how this covert war affected the lives of the SHADO officers as well as those unwittingly caught up in its events. As outlandish as the series was, the writers often tried to focus on the realistic consequences of the stories and often the episodes had unexpected, downbeat endings, something eschewed by Prime Time television even today. The series was much more down to earth than Anderson’s later Space: 1999 which all too often grasped at (and fell short of) profundity. Present day viewers watching UFO for the first time may find it a bit inaccessible to start with because it is so dated. But if you stick with it, you will find some good science fiction tales in this rare gem of a show.
Starring: Ed Bishop, Michael Billington, Gabrielle Drake, George Sewell
Cancelled Too Soon? A second season of the show was originally commissioned, though it would have moved most of the action to the moonbase (because the moon-focused episodes tended to be more popular) and the title would have been changed to UFO: 1999. However, ratings declined during the second half of the show’s syndication run and ITV (who produced the series) changed their mind about the second season. Anderson tinkered with the concept, though, and it eventually morphed into the 1975 series Space: 1999 (more on that show at this link).
Revival: In the 1990’s and 2000’s, there were talks about a television revival of the show, but nothing substantial ever came of that. A May 2009 announcement from ITV claimed that a big screen version was in the works with Fringe‘s Joshua Jackson pegged to play Paul Foster and Heroes alum Ali Larter in talks to appear as Colonel Virginia Lake. A website for the movie was set up, but little more has been heard about it since 2012.
Did You Know? The SHADO secret base was set in a movie studio for a reason. It was never addressed in the series, but in one of the novelizations the reason given is that large pieces of unusual looking equipment and/or vehicles could be explained away as movie props.
Did You Play With? Back in the 1970’s, Dinky Toys made die-castversions of the SHADO Interceptor and the Mobile Unit. In the days before video games, the internet, and texting, these provided hours of entertainment to many kids who still knew how to play with toys!