UFOwatch: The Psychobombs

written by Tony Barwick
directed by Jeremy Summers 

Three people are turned into living bombs by the aliens- with three key SHADO targets in their sights.
We’ve become accustomed to the slow canter of most episodes so `The Psychobombs` stands out  as it runs crisply through a packed narrative maintaining its velocity from start to finish. While the concept may seem ridiculous both writer Tony Barwick and director Jeremy Summers sell it convincingly courtesy of some bonkers pretend science and lashings of stylish tension. As with most of these later production block episodes there is a determination not to pander too much to the younger audience with the motifs of the early part of the series slowly being pulled away to uncover something inclined towards older viewers. This week they are so anxious to get on with it they don’t even bother with a title sequence.

"Ere, Dave do you think we look a bit like Abba?" "What the jiggins happened to Frida? Is she up that tree?"

At first we imagine the aliens plot is another one to kill Straker. Actually they have the chance when one of the possessed trio hitches a lift from the commander but rather than finish the job grinning Derren Nesbitt failed to do last week, David Collings (TV’s Steel to be) is instead told to pull him out of the car so hard he bumps his head and, er, that’s it. Summers lends everything an air of mystery that you almost don’t notice the obvious day for night filming as his cameras lingers on Deborah Grant’s skimpy red outfit. Just when you think you’re watching another show altogether she throttles a policeman and we’re off. When the aliens’ next target is Mike Pratt (TV’s Hopkirk) you wonder if their plan is to kidnap TV actors for some programme of their own. Perhaps, they too, have to keep up the pretence of running a film studio?
The depiction of hypnotic control is more effective than previous attempts with a sudden change from normal to robotic behaviour in an instant. There’s plenty of action too as first a research base, then one of the Skydivers (who knew there was more than one?) are blown up following sabotage involving live cables. For the first time we have the aliens communicating a message- through the three- and delivering an ultimatum to Straker to hand over SHADO. By the time we reach Dr Jackson’s hypothesis of what is happening there is a sense of there being almost too much content for the episode length.

What suffers as a result is Paul Foster’s speed romance with Lisa. The idea behind this, as far as I can tell, is that because her condition attracts what Jackson theorises is “the potential of the entire Universe” her feelings overwhelm the two of them meaning that Foster really does fall for her. However it is so rushed that it just looks like his usual opportunistic chat lines have scored in record time.

The scenario inspires some of the show’s most dramatic sequences including a stomach churning removal of one character’s finger prints. The threat is given a palpable force by Summers with liberal use of sparks and smoke while the repetitive cuts to the throbbing green light atop the UFO occurs whenever the three are put to work.  Model work mixes with live action and some excellent sound effects to underscore the huge explosions.

When possessed Lisa is inside SHADO HQ and reaching for those cables you really do wonder if this will be curtains. It is a pity that odd editing lets this climactic moment down slightly; Barwick’s script suggests that it is Lisa’s real self who hesitates long enough for the UFO to be destroyed but the sequence of events does not come over coherently on screen. By then it is too late to spoil of our enjoyment of a top class episode.

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