UFO: Destruct Positive!

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

Main Mission

A week and a half ago, I shared the model of the Starship Enterprise’s bridge that I built. It seems I’ve been in the mood to build science fictional command centers lately, because I also recently completed a model of Main Mission from Space: 1999. This was, in part, inspired by my enjoyment of Big Finish Productions’ audio version of the series, which in turn led me to re-watch the first season of the 1970’s television series.

As for the model itself, I discovered it when looking up videos that might help with some points of assembly on the Enterprise bridge model. Some videos that turned up in the suggested play list discussed the Space: 1999 Moonbase Alpha kit, which includes the show’s first season command center, Main Mission. As it turns out, I remember seeing an early version of the Moonbase Alpha kit from when I was a child. I also remember asking my parents to buy it for me. At the time, they turned me down. It was probably for the best. That was during the height of my slap kits together as fast as I could, without really caring about the quality of my work! I discovered MPC had released an update of the Moonbase Alpha kit in the not-too-distant past and they aren’t hard to find for decent prices on eBay, so I bought one.

MPC Moonbase Alpha Model Kit

As of this writing, I haven’t actually built the Moonbase itself. I may share that at a later time, but I have tackled the miniature of main mission. Like the Enterprise bridge, it’s not a perfectly accurate replica. Two problems stand out at first glance. First, there’s a spiral staircase in Main Mission. In the show, it was a simple staircase with landings. Second, Commander Koenig’s office is too short. In the show, he had a lower level with a conference table and several chairs. It was actually a rather spacious workspace. The biggest challenge of this model is that it’s rather small, so painting details and adding decals took some care and patience. Still, I managed it. Here’s a look in from the top.

Main Mission from above.

I rather like the details in the decals they included. The big screen is a very accurate version of what was shown on television. The globe in Commander Koenig’s office was another selling point for me. It was such a memorable prop, I was delighted they included it in the model, even if painting it was a challenge. The continents don’t really match up with anything on a real globe, but they do give the impression of the continents as they looked in the show.

Main Mission from the side

The second view shows a more oblique angle, so you can see the computer banks on the lower level. Again, these were good decals. It also made me realize how similar the main mission and command center sets were in Space: 1999 and the earlier series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, UFO. As with my Enterprise bridge model, one of the most fun elements was painting and placing the people. I tried to imagine something of a story in progress. I have Commander Koenig and Dr. Helena Russell speaking in the commander’s office. Dr. Victor Bergman is running in to tell them something. We have Paul Morrow, Alan Carter, and Sandra Benes sitting at consoles. One challenge was whether to depict the televised Main Mission, or as I imagine it might be in the audio. On television, the computer officer is David Kano. We see a person that could be him standing by the computer. In the audio, David became a woman named Dashka Kano. I have a woman that could be her standing near one of the Main Mission doors.

Main Mission and the Enterprise Bridge

This final image serves two purposes. It shows the Main Mission model with its roof panels in place and it also shows the model compared to the Enterprise bridge model. As you can see, the Main Mission model is a much smaller scale. One of the reasons I decided to get this model is that the Enterprise bridge model was pretty plain on the outside, so sitting on the table, it’s not very attractive unless you look inside. The Main Mission model makes a nice compliment on the shelf.

At some point in the not-too-distant future I hope to build the actual Moonbase part of the kit, but for now, it’s time to get back to writing.

Uncanny Encounters

During my first year of graduate school, I joined a small acting troop that called itself the Socorro Little Theater and we put on a series of related one-act plays known collectively as The God’s Honest: An Evening of Lies by playwright Jules Tasca. The idea is that in each play, one or more characters is lying and through their lies some truth is revealed. The whole thing was done with minimalist sets that could be used in each of segments. Below, is a photo from the segment called “The Twin Mendaccios” where I play Clarence, a poor befuddled soul who isn’t sure which twin, Terry or Thomasina (both played by the same actress), that I’ve been to the movies with, had dinner with, or even slept with!

While performing in the play, the director, Carolyn Abbey, had me hard at work adapting my short story “A Matter for Madness” into a stage play that we hoped to perform. I’m sorry to say, the stage play was never produced, but the story did go on to be one of my first story sales. Also, the play’s protagonist, John Mark Ellis, would go on to be one of the heroes of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series and is featured prominently in the novel Heirs of the New Earth which is on sale for half price at http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#heirs.

It’s from this perspective that I turned my attention to the book Uncanny Encounters—Live! by Paul McComas and Stephen D. Sullivan. The book collects eight short plays with distinctly science fictional or horror elements in the vein of The Twilight Zone. Some of the plays are very short. In fact, the shortest is only one page, but published in 2015, “The Most Terrifying Three Word Dystopian/Dark-Fantasy/Horror Story Ever Written” proves to be the most chillingly predictive piece of science fiction I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil it. You’ll have to read the book or see the play to know what I mean!

As someone who fell in love with stagecraft many years ago, I’d enjoy watching or performing in any or all of the plays in this volume. That said, my two favorite pieces were “Corona Encounters” by Stephen D. Sullivan and “Be Mine” by Paul McComas. These were two of the longer plays in the volume and I suspect they grabbed me as much as they did because there was a little more time to explore the characters and watch them change as they reacted to the events. “Corona Encounters” tells the story of a UFO enthusiast who has calculated the time of the aliens’ return and the skeptical photographer she convinces to go out to the desert with her. It starts out as a lighthearted romp that takes a chilling turn. “Be Mine” is the story of a man who dabbles in Voodoo magic to win the heart of a woman who is in a relationship with another man. The problem is that once our hero wins the woman’s heart, he can’t stop using the magic.

If you’re an actor, director, producer looking for fresh material, I highly recommend taking a look at this volume. For that matter, if you’re a reader looking for a great read, this is worth putting on your list. It’s available at: https://www.amazon.com/Uncanny-Encounters-Sci-Fi-Screams-Horrific/dp/1499706014. Contact information for performance rights is in the book. Like The God’s Honest, these plays are designed to work with minimalist sets. So, even though they’re science fiction and horror, don’t let the potential cost scare you. These should be adaptable to companies working with even modest budgets.

If you want to learn more, you can hear an interview with Stephen and Paul at: https://narrativespecies.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/paul-mccomas-and-steven-sullivan-navigate-uncanny-encounters-rod-serling-used-to-tour-the-nation/