wRog (wrog) wrote,

fish; barrel; blam

UFO episode #6
(in the DVD order, though I'm not sufficiently anal to know how that relates to the original broadcast/filming order or anything else; who cares, anyway?)

The International Astrophysical Commission is doing their annual "space junk" clearance. We see this ship manned by two really, really bored astronauts. They blow up an old Vostok command module. They go by an abandoned Apollo S1-B stage, and nope, that one's not on the list this year, so they give it a pass. Camera pans around and whattayaknow there's this little wonky alien thing hanging out in the shadows right behind it.

Cut to Straker (SHADO commander) and Henderson (IAC chairman, the next guy up in the food chain) arguing over the budget. Straker wants a full clearance program. "Every last piece of junk," he wants it gone. Henderson is all, "You are out of your mind. Do you have any idea how much this shit costs?" (paraphrased, since "shit" is not actually a 1970 TV word.)

Soon it becomes clear that there's more than money at stake; these guys completely hate each other and they're also both unbelievably petty. The little wonky alien thing causes a returning lunar flight to blow up on re-entry. Col. Foster later comes back with evidence that it wasn't just pilot error, but Henderson, certain that Straker is just capitalizing on the tragedy for his own purposes, continues to be obstructive. In response, Straker takes matters into his own hands, sending out the interceptors to destroy space junk, leaving moonbase completely defenseless defenceless in the process. When Henderson drops by SHADO HQ to find out what the fuck is going on, Straker immediately orders a complete shutdown.

Mind you, this last bit happens while there's an alien attack in progress. "Yes, Henderson, we're all going to die now, but there's the door. You can still leave any time you want."

Serious dick waving.

Thirty years ago, I found the whole idea of devoting an episode to budget battles, egos, and space junk, to be completely brilliant. An absolute classic episode, no question about it.

Gene Roddenbury never, ever gave a crap about politics or economics, and it shows. In the 24th century, everything is magically free; replicators and transporters can do almost anything, you just have to wait for those dilithium crystals or antimatter whatevers to recharge so that you'll have enough power. Oh and we're all finally past that stage of history where everyone is just mean and nasty to each other for its own sake. You'd never see budgets or political fights on Star Trek (at least not before Rick Berman took over).

The Brits always did this stuff right. It was even better when Blakes 7 came along, where the Federation has become this huge, mindless bureaucracy that gobbles planet after planet for its own sake. All the while we get constant glimpses of the low-level functionaries that make it all work, ordinary folks just trying to hold onto their tenuous place in the pecking order, working hard, hoping for meager bonuses/raises come review time. Meanwhile the rebels fly around in their fancy spaceship, constantly bickering because nobody trusts anybody else (and with good reason).

So what's the problem?

This episode is utter, compete, balls-up nonsense from start to finish. Naturally we all knew that already, but I'm bored today, so let's begin.

  1. Let's take a single, large, easily tracked object and turn it into a much, much larger invisible cloud of random shrapnel. Yeah, that will make navigation so much easier and safer.

  2. Just forget about all of the times Foster, Freeman, etc. completely disobey direct orders. If this were a real military org, they'd have been court-martialed or at least cashiered out to desk jobs ages ago.

    But we already knew that SHADO discipline sucks; every episode is like this.

    What's particularly ironic here is how, after we've all just been thoroughly reminded how costly spaceflight is, and Foster himself has been explicitly ordered to stay put, what does he do? He takes out a lunar shuttle by himself on a completely gratuitous flight back to earth to test out some wild theory of his. Henderson's absolutely right; these guys are cowboys who like playing with their toys and have no appreciation for the taxpayer dollars they're sucking down.

  3. The whole re-entry angle thing, I'm going to chalk up to artistic license. Clearly conveying everything one might need to know about being a shuttle pilot is going to be impossible/pointless in a 60 minute show. Foster had the telemetry from the earlier flight, so it's not entirely ridiculous there'd have been something he spotted that might enable him to come up with the "Hmm, something must have been changing the re-entry angle" idea that he needed to test out by flying the exact same flight path a second time.

    By the way, let's just forget that all of this space junk is not actually stationary in space and hence won't be anywhere near the same place the second time around (unless there's some extraordinarily coincidental periodicity in the orbits). Take Physics 101 if you care.

    Here's what I'm getting hung up on.
    The alien thingie was apparently programmed as follows:

    Increase the shuttle's re-entry angle by 5 degrees,
    then detach and go back to hiding out in Apollo 8
    Now, I don't know about you, and maybe this is just me being a software guy, but I'm thinking
    Increase the shuttle's re-entry angle until it is X degrees (for some deadly value of X),
    then detach and go back to hiding out in Apollo 8
    can't be more than another two lines of code.
    You know, just put a little while loop in there and Foster would have been toasted extra crispy.

  4. Note to the special-effects guys:

    I don't believe earth-moon shuttles will have front-facing windows that open.
    Or if they do, I don't think it'll be standard procedure to leave them open during re-entry.

    Actually I'm guessing the Foster-in-the-wind-tunnel shot was supposed to be some kind of high-G effect, in which case bzzzzt, wrong.

  5. So let's see if I have this right:

    Straker's ordering the interceptors away to go after space junk was actually a brilliant gamble. He'd guessed that was what the aliens wanted him to do so that they'd have an opportunity to send down their big-ass UFO to take out SHADO HQ. So he wanted to lure the big-ass UFO in.

    I don't know about you, but if I were the aliens, I think I might just have used the opportunity to take out moonbase. Then I'd have had all the time in the world to send in another big-ass UFO to deal with SHADO HQ. What do you think?

  6. And finally, what the fuck was up with that "Oh no, what will we ever do now that the UFO is descending through the atmosphere over southern England ready to blow the shit out of SHADO HQ?" false tension? Did everybody really forget that Sky One existed? Did the aliens forget? I mean it's only in the opening credits every frigging week.

Still, the final scene with Straker and Henderson, wherein Henderson grudgingly admits that Straker was right and decides to support the full clearance program after all, has its fun moments.

Definite slash possibilities there.

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