Old TV programmes that had really weird title sequences
Be still my beating heart. Ali Larter could be on her way to London next year to film a $150 million remake of Gerry Anderson series UFO, in which she’d play the part of Virginia Lake (more on her in a minute). I obviously don’t have pictures of that (yet), so here’s a picture and a vid from the first annual Los Angeles Gala, which was raising money for Friends Without Borders.
Significantly, though, this means we can have the first Random Acts of Ali Larter/Weird Old Title Sequences tie-in here on the blog. Because UFO had some weird old titles.
UFO was Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson’s first attempt at a fully live-action show. He’d had a sort of stab at it with Secret Service, in which Stanley Unwin voiced a puppet version of himself, but whenever they did a long shot, they’d just use live action footage of him instead. It was about as convincing as it sounds.
But UFO got Gerry Anderson into live-action proper. The plot to UFO was similar to that of other shows he’d done before, particularly Captain Scarlet: The Earth is under attack from an alien race. What for, we don’t know at first, but it soon becomes apparent they need us for our body parts.
Yep, they’re kidnapping us, stealing our organs, and transplanting them into their bodies. A later episode, The Cat With Ten Lives adds a little wrinkle to that, but all the same, it’s pretty sick and a great concept.
Naturally, when we humans find out about this, it being Gerry Anderson world, we come up with a top secret defence strategy and matching organisation: SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organization). With submarines underwater that can launch planes, satellites called SID (Space Intruder Detector) in orbit for monitoring, a Moonbase that can monitor space for approaching UFOs and send out spaceships to intercept, and a whole load of ground-based attack vehicles, all it needs to be complete is a top-secret underground headquarters. Which it did – under Harlington-Straker Studios (really Pinewood) as a cover, of course, and not to save on production costs for the show.
Naturally, of course, because of all the powerful magnetic fields that the Moonbase equipment puts out, all the women running it up there have to wear purple wigs.
Still, everyone wore string vests down on the submarine.
The show itself was an interesting tussle between Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. On the one hand, Gerry wanted to do business as usual, and everything was going to be much as in Thunderbirds et al – that is, missions of the week.
Sylvia, on the other hand, wanted to do characters. She wanted to do stories that could be considered as drama. So the episodes of UFO vary between the same old plots you’d see already (Gerry’s stuff) and interesting ones, such as Confetti Check A-OK, which looked at SHADO boss Commander Straker’s guilt over the married he’d ruined (Sylvia’s stuff).
He’s a haunted man is Straker, channelling all his energies into his job, because he’s screwed up his personal life. In A Question of Priorities, he even sacrifices his own son so that the aliens can be stopped.
There’s also a slight disconnect because the show was shot in two filming blocks due to a change of studios. During the second block, which also saw a change in the writing department, George Sewell, who had played Straker’s second in command Alec Freeman during the first block, was unavailable. In his place came Wanda Ventham as the more memorable Virginia Lake. Because initially she essentially had a man’s lines – just like Cathy Gale before her on The Avengers – Lake was strong, tough and took no nonsense from Straker or anyone else. Because she’s a character who was co-opted at the last moment, she’s also notable for having been a research scientist in the pilot episode, a computer specialist and headed up Moonbase at one point.
From UFO to Space: 1999
The show didn’t do too badly, but it didn’t do as well as everyone hoped. By the time the second season was ready to go, it became clear it wasn’t going to pan out, even though the show’s creators had hoped a shift of focus to life on the Moonbase might have helped out.
So instead, Gerry and Sylvia decided to come up with an entirely new show set on the moon: Space: 1999, which I believe I’ve already covered.
On the whole, it wasn’t a great show, it has to be admitted. It definitely had its moments and in terms of plot, although not in terms of charm, it’s head and shoulders above Anderson’s previous shows as well as Space: 1999, although the latter trounces it significantly for production values. There are a few classic episodes, but no more than a handful, so I wouldn’t be buying too many from Amazon, if I were you.
Anyway, brace yourself for the weird old title sequence of UFO. In case I forgot to mention it, UFO was set in the then far off future of 1980, where all the fashions were strange and futuristic and the cars were just mental, too. But all of that gets explained in…
If they are going to remake an episode for the movies – for there are three planned – I’d recommend Mindbender, which involved everyone hallucinating because of a strange moon rock. Standout moments, apart from the fact Stuart Damon of The Champions is in it, is when Commander Straker gets affected and begins to hallucinate that his entire life is fictional and is being filmed as part of a TV series, masterminded by a woman called Sylvia. The clue, as they say, was in the episode title. You can watch the whole thing below. Aren’t I nice?
Have you seen Ali Larter acting randomly? If so, let us know and we’ll tell everyone about it in “Random Acts of Ali Larter“