UFOwatch: Ordeal

written by Tony Barwick/ directed by KenTurner

While attending a SHADO health facility, Paul Foster is kidnapped by aliens- or is he?
As Commander Foster walks into a party that is - despite this being 1980- full of 1960s fashions and music the word `Ordeal` appears on screen. As it turns out, this party is not the ordeal though the viewer may disagree as we are obliged to watch people gyrating unconvincingly to the Beatles while sporting beads and kaftans. In 1980!? Still, it is quite impressive that the series acquired the notoriously difficult to obtain rights to the fab four’s music. The party lasts till after 4am meaning Foster gets only a few hours’ sleep before driving to the research centre for a health check. Presumably the country roads are as deserted as usual because he would surely fail a breathalyser test and therefore be spared his ordeal.

Paul Foster was impressed with Cmdr Straker's new look

We’ve glimpsed SHADO’s painful health regime before in the episode `Flight Path` where poor old George Cole literally sweated buckets trying to fit words together. That looks like kindergarten stuff compared to this week’s punishing gym work out. As for the “sonar bath” we might guess this is one of those capers where it’s all revealed to be something other than what we think it is; indeed having been through his bizarre initiation, Foster should have guessed too. However he is too hungover to notice so suddenly finds himself apparently captured by aliens, his head stuffed into a helmet into which green liquid is pumped. The viewer merely thinks; “Gosh, these SHADO doctors are a bit extreme aren’t they?”

Cleverly, the scenario goes on long enough to convince us it is real and not some illusion especially as Foster manages to dream scenes in which he doesn’t appear! It also explains the slightly bland way other characters appear to act. At least I think that explains it; perhaps they were all at the party too? A clue that this is Foster’s version of events comes when we find the Skydiver crew all love him after a mere two months working with him. The commander of the vessel deliberately misses the UFO he’s supposed to destroy because Foster is on it and has that wistful look of infatuation in his eyes. Meanwhile the only woman on the bridge just can’t take it in; “How can something like this happen?” she says presumably referring to Foster and not her rather over coiffured hair which threatens to crowd everyone else out of the picture.

Ken Turner add bizarre camera tricks to the mix and  some enigmatic shots inside the UFO. As with several episodes so far, there isn’t enough content to stretch to 45 minutes while the aliens’ inability to talk remains a script weakness because we never know what they are up to. Maybe that is the idea?

Given generous screen time, Michael Billington proves his earlier less than convincing performances may have been due to his shock at realising what sort of series he was in. Allowing him to sing at the end though may be a step too far even if it does justify the episode title.


1 comment:

  1. The director and assistant director apparently didn't think much of the original script so attempted to rewrite it. The asst director admitted in retrospect he felt they made it worse!