UFOwatch: Close Up

Close Up
written by Tony Barwick
directed by Alan Perry

Straker’s ambitious plan to launch a satellite that will track a UFO to the aliens’ home planet overlooks one key thing.

More academic exercise than space adventure, `Close Up` sees UFO at its most fussily technical. There are blueprints, satellites, planning meetings, schedules, spacewalks and ultimately a denouement that relies solely on an overlooked piece of equipment. Every time there is a hint of character activity, it is snuffed out by another round of techno jargon or business speak. Devoid of much of an attempt to spice up the material the end result is like watching a documentary about a top secret organisation. If it were any drier it would be the desert; kids in 1970 would surely have lost interest.

Straker's easter egg was ridiculously complicated


Not that the episode is devoid of potential. There’s Kelly for a start, a man clearly frustrated that these high falutin’ projects nab all the money relegating his pet idea- something that turns out to be crucial- to the back of the funding queue. If this were any other show, he would become deranged and start to sabotage things or he’d take Straker hostage till he forced his paymasters to cough up the money. At the very least he’d have a row with his boss who simply patronises him. Instead, he looks as if someone has used some of his milk. Even when he is later proved right and it turns out it is the very lack of his idea that renders photos of the alien planet useless, he doesn’t even look smug about it. On the other hand, how come he didn’t mention this weakness earlier as he was involved in the project.

There’s also a very curious scene between Straker and Lt Ellis that seems to have come from another plot altogether. She’s a bit annoyed too (though annoyed might be over stating it) because she has put a lot of work into a timetable (yes, a timetable) and Straker just doesn’t seem to appreciate it. The aforementioned scene though suggests he does appreciate other aspects of the purple haired woman. Do they have a snog though before Col Foster enters the room? Of course not.

You might imagine that the bellicose General Taylor would carpet Straker for wasting millions of tax payer’s money – or at least his annual bonus- on a project that ends up next to useless. Nope, after all his bluster the other week about a far more trivial matter he seems content to write it off. In this manner we sail through the episode waiting in vain for something resembling tension, conflict, love, opinion and end up with a scientific paper of a script. The most excited anyone gets is when the satellite takes some test photos of the Earth; mind you they are only monochrome ones. “Fantastic” they coo, clearly easily pleased.

Visually the episode does score. Some impressive effects work sees a vista of the Earth through the window of the satellite while a whole set is constructed to show a mission control supervising the rocket launch. An odd sequence where Kelly explains to Straker the difficulties in identifying photographic information without magnification details (stay awake!) is perhaps a reward for those who’ve been struggling to watch thus far. 

Elsewhere the increasingly multi tasking Lt Ford gets to operate the photo machine; just what do all those other clipboard carrying people do all day?! Tony Barwick’s point appears to be that in order to make something important work you need to make sure every link in the chain is solid and look after the smaller details. A shame the writer does not head his own message.

1 comment:

  1. Proof if it were ever needed that the Andersons didn't understand character. Everything is plot based, the characters motivate nothing throughout - it's a tough watch for a non-fan. No jeopardy or conflict and the scene with Straker and Lt Ellis looks like part of it is missing. Interestingly the director and 1st AD on the episode 'Ordeal' got a serious dressing down for altering what they saw as a poor script, yet those behind this episode continued unfettered. Apart from the music, the only minor positive is that the episode, in its own way, continues the series' overarching theme of perception/seeing things as they really are - by featuring Kelly's electron telescope. For hardcore fans only.