I remember when I was quite young, possibly in the first or second grade, I went to say “good night” to my brother while he was watching TV. I remember space ships with large missiles on the front launching from a base on the moon. It looked very cool and my brother told me the show was called UFO. He let me watch for a while. I was captivated by the space ships and the moonbase action, but didn’t understand much of the actual plot. A few days later, I was in the toy department of a local store and saw the space ships from UFO, only the ones on the store shelf were green instead of white. I couldn’t help but wonder why that was the case. I wouldn’t learn until later that the toy company, Dinky, often made bright and colorful interpretations of the space ships from British TV series.
In the years after that, I occasionally stumbled on the show on a local independent channel when looking for something to watch. Unfortunately, I usually caught episodes a little more than halfway through, which makes it hard to follow the story. Finally, a couple of years ago, I finally decided to seek out and watch a few episodes. I was soon hooked and watched the entire one-season series. UFO was the first entirely live-action series by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds and Space: 1999 fame. It told the story of SHADO, a secret organization hidden underneath a movie studio which fought aliens coming to Earth to abduct humans. SHADO had a base on the moon and a small space ship fleet. It also had a set of armored cars called mobiles and a submarine capable of launching a plane called Skydiver 1. American actor Ed Bishop played the commander, Ed Straker. Ably assisting Straker were Colonel Alec Freeman played by George Sewell and Colonel Virginia Lake played by Wanda Ventham. In most episodes Lieutenant Gay Ellis played by Gabrielle Drake commanded the moon base. For some reason, the women assigned to the moon base wore purple wigs while on duty. The show tended to imagine that in 1980 men would wear Nehru jackets while women would wear cat suits.
Wardrobe choices aside, UFO told some rather compelling stories. Ed Straker had been through a divorce which affected him. Many characters were put into positions where they had to make difficult life and death decisions in their fight against the UFOs. What’s more, SHADO didn’t always win the day. Many episodes had something of a downbeat ending. Over the course of the series, we learn the aliens are abducting humans to harvest their organs. In the general, the aliens are silent, menacing and even a little tragic, which made them more effective than more cackling evil villains you might find in other shows of the period.
So, where did this top-secret alien-fighting organization come from? That’s where Big Finish Productions recent release UFO: Destruct Positive! comes in. Set in 1975, we meet Ed Straker, now played by Barnaby Kay, as an American test pilot in Nevada. He’s flying an experimental plane called SD-1 when a UFO strafes him with energy beams and he crashes in the desert. He’s swept into a secret part of the base where he finds himself questioned by Colonel Lake played by Jeany Spark and the target of an assassination attempt by alien agents. He escapes the medical facility and arranges a meeting with Colonel Lake, where he ultimately learns about a worldwide organization fighting the aliens called the Alien Defense Organization or ADO. Lake and her superior, General Henderson, are so impressed with Straker that they offer him a job in ADO’s leadership. One of his first actions is to establish a Supreme Headquarters for the ADO, transforming it into SHADO.
The second part of the story opens with Straker putting SHADO forces through their paces. After the exercises, he’s called to a meeting of all of SHADO’s top brass. There, he learns about plans to build a new headquarters underneath an abandoned movie studio and use the studio itself as cover for the operations. During the meeting, a UFO beaches SHADO’s defenses and abducts a young man. Straker, Freeman, and Lake go out to hunt down the UFO and learn the aliens may have a mission beyond abducting one young man. In the final episode on the disk, Straker inspects Skydiver 1 as it prepares for test runs. He learns the plane SD-1 he piloted at the beginning was the prototype for Skydiver’s plane.
As with all Big Finish productions, I was impressed with the storytelling and acting. Writer Andy Lane eschews the more dated elements of the series and focuses on the human drama. We see Straker fighting to save his marriage as he works to organize his new command. Meanwhile, we also see him building working relationships with the SHADO team. UFO: Destruct Positive! is available at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/ufo-destruct-positive-2635