‘The Psychobombs’ — “UFO”

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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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