The Psychobombs’ — “UFO

Capsule Description: A secret organization, dedicated to protecting Earth against an alien foe, is targeted by the aliens by transforming ordinary people into “psycho-bombs”.

History: UFO was the creation of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, known primarily for their SF series using their Marionation and Super-Marionation (marionettes) systems. This was their first production using live actors.

UFO is about SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization), an above top secret organization combatting an alien assault on the Earth. Existance of SHADO and the alien threat was kept secret from the public to prevent a panic that the Aliens could take advantage of: maintaining this secrecy was a common story element. SHADO’s primary cover is the Harrington-Straker movie studio, specializing in big-budget SF movies, which allows them to move high-tech equipment as part of a movie without being noticed. SHADO main headquarters is underneath the main studio complex in England. Other SHADO bases were spread out across the world and even on the Moon. SHADO organization vehicles includes lunar interceptors, land-based Mobiles, sea-based Skydivers (submarine platforms launching aerial interceptors), and, most importantly, SID, or Space Intruder Detector, the long range alien detection and tracking satellite.

The Aliens abduct humans and sabotage efforts to stop them; it is discovered that they dissect (or vivisect) their captives for body parts, and when an Alien is actually captured, they are often found to be using a variety of transplanted human organs. Alien spacecraft have a fundamental incompatibility with the Earth’s atmosphere that causes them to self-destruct if they stay for more than a few days. The Aliens show a sophisticated knowledge not only of human technology but also of its organizations, including SHADO. The Aliens also understand human psychology, both for “conventional” contests and for mind control, and use the latter in several episodes.

Description: A UFO manages to land, the only survivor of a group of three. When it lands, it radiates a blue-green light from a projector on the top of the craft to take control of three people, compelling them to come to the UFO’s landing site. The selection seems random: two local rural inhabitants and a young woman, Linda Simmons, who was just driving through. Only her induction is shown; as she drives, her eyes close peacefully, while intercut scenes of the landed UFO show the pulsating light. She opens her eyes, now expressionless, turns the car around, and drives off. At the same time, two men (Daniel Clark and Carl Mason) are also entranced, and begin walking away from their homes in a trance. The three meet near the UFO, staring blankly at the pulsating light.

When Linda returns to her car, apparently awake, she is approached by a motorcycle patrolman. When he asks her to submit to a test for alcohol, she drives off. The patrolman calls in the report and follows. When he manages to pull her over, she becomes wide-eyed, and breaks the cop’s neck.

The next day, Straker helps a stranded motorist, only it is Clark, who attacks Straker, and then leaves him with an written ultimatum: unless SHADO is disbanded, first a tracking station, then a Skydiver submarine, and finally Straker and SHADO headquarters will be destroyed. Straker is also amazed at the incredible (and inhuman) physical strength that Clark demonstrated.

The first attack is carried out that night even through intense physical security. Clark is apprehended without a struggle when he approaches the tracking station. He is searched, but no destructive device is found. As he is being led away to a holding cell, he spots a junction box on the wall. The UFO’s light begins to radiate, Clark breaks free from his guards and grabs the electrical cables: the resulting explosion more than levels the tracking station.

Evidence that was transmitted from the tracking station before the blast proves inconclusive, so Straker details Captain Lauritzen, an explosive expert, to go to Skydiver 3, but he is intercepted and killed by Simmons and Mason. Mason takes the expert’s fingerprints and goes to the Skydiver base himself. He passes a fingerprint scan, but the guards notice he doesn’t match his ID photograph, and when he is passed through the security area, he is held in a secure room pending a voiceprint identification. Security also warns Straker, who orders the launching of Skydiver 3. The UFO radiates enough power for Mason to partially open a three-inch thick steel door, and he manages to get on the Skydiver’s conning tower before it launches. Taking no chances, Straker orders the submarine to submerge, and at the last second, Mason discovers an electrical access panel that he tears open. The Skydiver explodes in a ball of fire.

The Aliens appear to put their subjects into a fugue state when using them, in which the subjects are extremely strong and resistant to pain. The SHADO doctor/chief scientist, commenting on other acts by the human subjects, terms them “Psychobombs” and notes that under certain hypnotic influence, people can draw on the “power of the universe”. {It looks more like the UFO is using these people as conduits for its own destructive energy, with the electrical power being the trigger for the energy’s release.}

Straker orders a full search of anything unusual the night of the UFO landing, and the motorcycle patrolman’s report and the report of his death are discovered. Linda is investigated, and the SHADO investigators find her murdered boss. He had become to inquisitive about her mysterious disappearances and lapses of memory over the past few days, and had to be silenced. Another investigator finds her as she returns from work, neither knowing that she has murdered her boss. She begins romancing her investigator, her particular role in the overall Alien scheme to attack SHADO; it is unclear if the man’s deep attraction to her is due to some new pheromone she has been altered to emit.

Temporarily in SHADO custody on suspicion, Linda is confused and crying, which is quite in order for her own personality; however, the UFO, now taking off from Earth as SHADO searchers close in, begins pulsing the light, and she enters her zombie-like “Psychobomb” persona with tear tracks still on her face. She slowly approaches a guard, who fires several times point-blank at her.

The next scene shows her in the SHADO control room, hurling guards and consoles out of the way and ripping two electrical cables from the wall; grasping both will destroy the installation and kill her. At the same time, an intensive search for the UFO has flushed it out of hiding, and it is trying to flee before it is shot down by SHADO interceptors. Speaking through her, the Aliens demand that SHADO surrender; in the pause, her SHADO boyfriend tries to get through to the real Linda, who is somehow trying to resist. Striker tries to convince her that the UFO has been destroyed, and she doesn’t have to kill herself. The Aliens control her too thoroughly, though, and she turns to carry out the last command. At that moment the UFO is shot down and the hypnotic device no longer controls her; she collapses, presumably from the multiple gunshot wounds she suffered before killing the guard or the electrical charge that she can no longer control.

Commentary: Hypnosis as an alien technology, and with its complete suppression of will and personality more like brainwashing in this case. Plausibility is strained by Linda’s ability not only to live but to trash a roomful of security personnel after being shot, but that may be on the extreme end of what an altered state might enable someone to do (particularly if they were not meant to survive afterward, and could literally use all their resources.) The “power of the universe” commentary is much less plausible, sounding like unwarranted straight-line projection from the known concept of hysterical strength.

UFO lasted only one season, in part probably because of poor syndication in 1970 (I could only watch it on cold winter nights when the reception was enhanced enough to catch the signal from a distant television station.) There was also trouble between Gerry and Sylvia over the direction of the show, between action-oriented scripts and scripts with more personal development.

Addenda: After seeing the episode, I have identified it (as I had suspected) as being the one that was shown in “The Big Sleep”, the British programme on hypnosis that appeared on the Discovery cable channel.

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