UFOwatch: Sub Smash

written by Alan Fennell

directed by David Lane

Straker and Foster are trapped when the Skydiver is stranded deep underwater.

A change of pace and location for an aquatic flavoured episode that focuses on a small number of people trapped with both air and rescue options running out.  There is at first a fairly generic feel to proceedings that are hardly new even for 1969 but as the situation develops both writer Alan Fennell and director David Lane add enough variation to make this one of the more serious episodes of a series that it is sometime difficult to take very seriously. By the time the final two are gasping for air at the last minute you are gripped by it all. And, let’s face, it, there has been little evidence of that happening in this show before.

Straker was starting to regret having rissoles for tea

It’s another showcase episode for Ed Bishop who is excellent as Straker struggles initially with his dislike of enclosed spaces. He looks nervous and edgy as he boards the Skydiver and, later, sat in the modest captain’s cabin wears the expression of someone who’s been imprisoned.  Perhaps that’s why his office is so large? Yet Straker rises to the occasion as the craft sinks acting as  a leader should yet all the time Bishop shows us that Straker’s fear is still buried somewhere inside. It is a masterful performance that underscores how different this episode is from the usual clinically smooth operation that SHADO is seen to undertake.

The normally reliable systems and tech don’t always work frustrating escape attempts while rescue is so long coming that time is running out. So, we see the Skydiver half wrecked, parts not working and most importantly one of the crew doesn’t make it. While SHADO operatives have quite often bitten the dust there has seemed little sympathy or even interest in their demise from the writers. They are usually as disposable as the famed red shirted Star Trek crewmembers. Here though, we share a little time with Chinn so his fate is involving and powerful. Lying injured for half the episode before going crazy and electrocuting himself this is the series as it should be with some real danger and unpredictability.

All the way through there is a real sense of powerlessness from the trapped crew. The set may seem rather smaller on the inside than the exterior suggests but it plays into the scenario especially when we see Nina from the Moonbase (minus her usual purple hair) stuck in an escape tube. This is claustrophobic in the extreme and after what happens with Chinn you wonder if she will get out. When she does, leaving just her and Straker as the air gauge falls to zero, there is a frisson of something between them. It is interesting though that Straker does not allow his guard to drop completely even at such an extreme moment though we do see flashbacks to previous episodes involving his son.
There is a sense that UFO is now realising its potential; this is the third episode in a row (appreciating they might not have been made in this order) that has impressed.

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