UFOwatch: Court Martial

Court Martial
written by Tony Barwick / directed by Ron Appleton

Col Foster is put on trial after details of SHADO activities are leaked to the press.

“This whole thing is ridiculous” declares Col Foster and it’s hard to disagree. Most series try this episode type wherein previously loyal friends suddenly believe one of their number is capable of something heinous only to discover the accused has been set up. Then they apologise and have a laugh. Trouble is, the writer needs to be rigorous enough to make us believe that the evidence is so overwhelming that associates would turn on their fellow worker or friend accusingly. UFO being a Gerry Anderson series, this largely consists of process and technology. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to ask why Foster would suddenly turn traitor or for that matter who he might be working for.

Straker's choice of a new swirly screen pattern took some time

On the basis of two transmissions and some money appearing in his bank account- which nobody in this international organisation bothers to trace back to the donor because they are in Switzerland- he is sentenced to death! We shouldn’t be too shocked though; after all they’ve nearly killed him with their health checks before now. The trial is unintentionally amusing as circumstantial evidence and how a message machine works determine Foster’s fate. You’d imagine an apparently sophisticated organisation would have at least two approvals before a key message goes out. As for that machine, it delights in being ancient and modern at once. You hand write a message which you then feed into the machine and it transmits. What if your hand writing is bad though? Imagine what unfortunate message could get through. Foster’s defence should be his bad writing was mis-read by the machine.

Mind you, he doesn’t stand much chance with his defence counsel who won’t question anyone- Foster should have sacked him straight away and hired someone able to parry the over zealous Vladek Shaybel. Eyes rolling, mad grinning ahoy, the prosecutor looks to be the only person having fun apart from shouty General Taylor. Shaybel is acting in another dimension; the only thing missing is a panto hat. 

Of course being Foster, his response to all this- and even to his sentence- might best be described as mild annoyance. Straker being Straker, he believes in Foster’s guilt immediately; he’s so angry in fact he halts production of a film to shout at him in front of a series of moving backdrops. Until halfway through that is when he suddenly changes his mind and goes all out to save his mate. Straker’s most bizarre behaviour though is reserved for the real culprit, a very tall woman who looks as if she has been forced to appear in the show under duress. Straker actually threatens her.

The episode actually contains no sci-fi at all- you can hardly even call the transmission machine science- and not a single UFO which at least adds variation. Ron Appleton makes the best of the scenario as Tony Barwick’s script has the characters interacting between SHADO base and film studio far more than usual. The suggestion is that everyone in SHADO actually does a real job in the studio as well as defending the world and carrying a clipboard. Perhaps the aliens only attack in the afternoons?

The denouement involves Foster leaping through that swirling pattern  that’s been sitting behind Straker all this time and going on the run as his boss- unaware of the damage to his beloved giant screensaver- tracks down the real culprits who were after secrets from the film studio all the time. Whatever misgivings you might have about the way the trial is set up, Barwick’s story does not follow a predictable route and effectively highlights the paranoia and secrecy surrounding the SHADO set up.

As for Foster, what with this, that near death experience at a health check and the bizarre way he was recruited, if I were him I’d be handing in my resignation pronto and writing a book about it. Now that really would make General Taylor hopping mad!

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