UFOwatch: Exposed

written by Tony Barwick / directed by Dave Lane

After civilian test pilot Paul Foster is caught up in a SHADO attack he finds nobody believes his story so sets out to prove he did see a UFO.
With a few alterations, this episode could easily serve as an introduction to the series and in fact was shown second on original transmission. It portrays SHADO as you would expect it to be seen by any outsider encountering the organisation; oblique, difficult, threatening and impenetrable. Paul Foster struggles to find a way in or so we are led to believe. There is an excellent twist at the end which unfortunately means that you can only ever watch this episode once to get the full mischievous impact of what is really happening.

"I'm not listening, I hate you, tra, la, la, la, la"

Opening with a standard attack from three UFOs, one of which manages to avoid the Interceptors (it might be an idea if they had more than one missile each), the episode gradually becomes more intriguing as Foster and his unfortunate co pilot witness a UFO which they take photos of on the sort of film camera that makes us feel nostalgic in 2013. When he wakes up 6 days later, the film is missing and nobody believes him when he starts talking about UFOs. With a touch of James Bond, he sets out to retrieve the missing film. Unbelievably when he finds it and turns it into slides the UFO has been erased from each photo. Whilst this is easy to do in the digital age, was it ever possible to delete part of an image from a photo? Perhaps somebody can tell us but surely if SHADO wanted to totally put him off they would destroy the film? That they don’t is the first clue all is not as it seems.

It doesn’t say much for SHADO’s recruitment procedure that they go to such extraordinary lengths to vet people they feel are potential employees. It is finally revealed to Foster that the whole thing has been a test to see whether he is suitable to join, though nobody considers whether he actually wants to. What if he’d said `No`. Would Straker suddenly produce a real gun and shoot him? The premise means that we are tricked all the way and perhaps explains why some of the things we see are not too convincing, notably the ram sacking of the flat were Foster is staying. Two comedy henchmen, one
wearing shades in an attempt to look more menacing throw some books on the floor and twirl a book cupboard round.

More successful is a scene where Straker appears to threaten Foster with a real gun when he finally consents to meet him at the studio. Here, the line between reality and fiction blurs as Straker maintains his public disguise as a film company executive on an impressive looking back lot. But is the gun real? It’s the best scene in the episode and shows that Straker is not without imagination. Why he subsequently turns on a noisy wind machine in the middle of a conversation is slightly more puzzling.

It’s a good episode for Ed Bishop though; away from his desk or standing over the harassed communications bloke, he makes Straker a less two dimensional character. You can see the way he relishes pretending to be a film executive as he shows off his new clothes. As he slowly unpeels the layers that hide SHADO from the public there is a twinkle in his eye and you realise Straker really enjoys this stuff.

Michael Billington manages to put some emotion into his performance, despite the director’s preference for staring into the middle distance shots.  Foster is a little too accepting of the scenario at the end though, grinning away despite just being told he’s been put through hell deliberately. Or maybe Straker has more than drinks in his machine…


1 comment:

  1. The first episode of Torchwood was not dissimilar, in the way Gwen tried to find out more about them only to find they'd been watching her all the time. Vladek Sheybal steals the episode with his few scenes with Foster aboard the plane.