UFOwatch: Timelash

written by Terence Feely
directed by Cyril Frankel

Straker and Lake find themselves the only people who have not been frozen in a moment of time after a UFO attack.

Straker seems to be having a bad day. As everyone goes about their business looking at screens and carrying clipboards, a ragged looking commander starts attacking equipment and fighting security guards. A lengthy chase ensues through the surreal half- finished sets and prop stores of the film studios before he is finally brought to ground declaring “they murdered time.” This remarkable opening sequence is not, as you might imagine, the result of extra strong coffee, but the end of a sequence of events we will subsequently witness. The aliens, you see, are messing with time and that can be a risky business both for the protagonist and also the critical viewer.

"Do you think this is a bit too big to use to get the tuck shop to sell me more cake?"

Terence Feely gets it bang on though. Avoiding the over complicated corners temporal based fiction often paints an author into, he constructs a convincing enough rationale for what we see. As long as you accept the aliens can do it, then you’ll be fine. Feely’s plot suggests that the aliens have frozen a millisecond of time so that anything or anyone that had been in motion at 18.00 is frozen which is why Straker and Virginia Lake are able to move objects and use lifts or vehicles. They had been sitting totally still in a car nearby when the UFO that casts this time stopping device was overhead so find themselves arriving back at a SHADO that is like a picture book. 

The scenes of the two wandering about the studios are very effective with a number of extras managing to keep still and some very cleverly conceived images that even in this CGI age look impressive. The mid-air ones are really well done- a bird in flight, a stool in the middle of being thrown between two stagehands, a nail just being knocked into wood. Then we see cigarette smoke and wood grain that just sit like clouds on screen. Judicious use of sound effects combine with Cyril Frankel’s inventive direction which introduces unusual perspective shots to underscore the strangeness of what is going on.  The result is the most visually interesting episode the series has done. What on paper might read like just a run around is vividly brought to life before our eyes. There have been precious few episodes of the show where enough tension crackles to keep you totally absorbed but `Timelash`has it in spades.

A pitch perfect performance from Ed Bishop is a huge asset. Always assured when in command, it’s the episodes where Straker is taken out of his comfort zone where the actor really shines. He’s never been better than he is here and Wanda Ventham, probably relieved to have something to do for a change, also impresses. Feely seems to remember that Lake is an officer so refreshingly avoids turning her into a damsel in distress cliché. She certainly seems very handy with a machine gun! The arrival of a third party- a SHADO operative called Turner who is being used by aliens- adds a further dimension. Turner’s goading of Straker initially suggests a personal grudge has driven him into betraying SHADO but by the end it may be the aliens themselves are expressing their animosity through Turner. Patrick Allen does well in a role that largely involves maniacal laughing which he does tend to overdo at times but which somehow suits the scenario.

Whenever you imagine the pace will flag, Feely introduces some new angle- there’s a wonderful sequence where the end of a chase is re-played for example. Turner starts to vanish into thin air and his echoey voice reveals he is outside time. Straker shoots him directly but the bullets have no effect. Perhaps the only slightly duff note is when Turner gives away the method by which he can be killed but Feely has already established a boastful persona who belittles Straker so it kind of works. Once Turner is dead, Straker still has to get back to the rather enormous shoulder held missile launcher he keeps in his cupboard. The pace never lets up- at 43 minutes Straker is still in holding the weapon to try and focus on the approaching UFO and though we know he must escape by the end the momentum carries through right up to the credits.

When you think about how creaky some of the earlier episodes were with their drawn out protocol and formulaic plots, UFO makes an impressive improvement in this final stretch and `Timelash` is a standout episode of the whole series.

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