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"The Earth is faced with a powerful threat from an extra-terrestrial source. We've moved into an age where science fiction has become fact. We need to defend ourselves."
—Commander Ed Straker, "Identified"
"Our planet is dying. Our natural resources are exhausted. We must come to Earth. We must come to Earth to survive!"
—Alien-possessed human, "E.S.P"
In the futuristic world of 1980 Earth is under attack by UFO's from a Dying Race (no name for the aliens is ever given) seeking to harvest people for their organs. A top-secret multinational organisation called SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation, pronounced "Shadow"), led by the dedicated Commander Straker, is set up with impressive (though not limitless) resources, including the high-tech hardware expected from the creators of Thunderbirds. Its goal is to suppress public knowledge of the aliens while at the same time finding ways to combat them.
The series is remembered for its colourful decor, glamorous girls in Stripperiffic outfits, and dark (for its time) concept. Few of the episodes had 'happy' endings; at most SHADO would prevent some outrageous act of sabotage or destruction, innocent people were often sacrificed, and attempts to discover more about the aliens frequently came to naught. The stories included such adult themes as drug use, adultery, inter-racial relationships, and the breakdown of Straker's marriage under the strain of his job.
Unfortunately this attempt to make a Darker and Edgier version of Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons backfired, as most TV broadcasters where expecting the Andersons' usual childrens fare. This and erratic broadcasting schedules prevented UFO from gaining an audience — a second season (set on a more advanced Moonbase in the 1990's) was scrapped, and the pre-production design and model work used for the more successful Space: 1999.
A feature film based on the series has allegedly been in the works since at least the early 2000s. The release date has been repeatedly pushed back, though, from 2012 to 2013 to 2014. SyFy's website reported a film adaptation was imminent in 2015, but nothing has been heard since then. The official web site for the movie is unfortunately of little help, as it went moribund on December 26, 2012, the date of Gerry Anderson's death, and by 2017 has disappeared entirely. One can only presume that the film has returned to the Development Hell in which it has languished for years.
No relation to Project UFO.
If you were looking for a page on the stereotypical alien spacecraft, see Flying Saucer.
- Alien Abduction
- Aliens Speaking English — Inverted in that the aliens are never heard to speak.
- Applied Phlebotinum — Usually drugs such as GL-7 and X-50. Also the neutronic detection equipment.
- Bridge Bunnies — Used in both SHADO headquarters and Moonbase, though the latter subverts the trope by having the women run things.
- Big Brother Is Employing You — If two SHADO employees are having an affair, computer-psych tests are run to see if it will affect their performance. Straker wants to tell his wife the truth about his job, but it would put her life at risk from SHADO's own Security department.
- Body Snatcher — After discovering a completely human 'alien', it's theorised that the aliens are Energy Beings who just use the bodies as hosts.
- Brainwashed — A favourite tactic of the aliens, especially Manchurian Agent ("The Psychobombs", "Kill Straker!", "E.S.P", "The Cat With Ten Lives", "Mindbender" and "The Man Who Came Back"). "Timelash" is a notable exception, in that a voluntary traitor is used.
- Celibate Hero — Straker.
- Colonel Badass — Straker.
- Compilation Movie — Several episodes were edited together in the late 1970's to make Invasion: UFO".
- Computer Equals Tapedrive (along with Beeping Computers, Billions of Buttons, and Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future) — A montage of flashing lights, spinning tape drives, large font letters on coloured monitors, swaying female buttocks, and rows of large luminous buttons accompany every Red Alert. SID (the computer-controlled radar satellite) is given a more 'advanced' look, being a talking computer and all.
- Continuous Decompression — "Survival", "Kill Straker!", "The Man Who Came Back."
- Cool Car, Cool Boat, Cool Starship, Elaborate Underground Base — What do you expect from the people who made Thunderbirds?
- Da Chief — General Henderson of the International Astrophysical Committee, who's always going red in the face and shouting at Commander Straker, usually over SHADO's budget allocation. Ironically Henderson and Straker are quite friendly in the 'contemporary' scenes that take place before SHADO is operational.
- Defictionalization — Funds were raised for "The Explorer Motor Company" to produce a real-life version of the futuristic gull-winged car driven by Straker. A plastic mold of the vehicle was made (to be called 'Quest'), but the company never got off the ground.
- Doppelganger — "Reflections in the Water"
- Eternal Prohibition — Straker has an automatic booze dispenser in his office, though he never partakes of it himself. And the characters regularly smoke in computer rooms, medical areas, SHADO's underground headquarters, the Skydiver submarines and even on Moonbase!
- Emotions vs. Stoicism — Straker's iron self-control and willingness to Shoot the Dog is joked upon (and sometimes criticised) by his officers.
- Enemy Mine — While shooting down an alien craft in one episode, Foster crashes on the Moon. His radio is broken, but he discovers that an alien is also alive (and his communications are also broken), and the two form a truce and co-operate to reach Moonbase. There's a hope that this show of good faith could lead to the alien entering Moonbase alive and opening negotiations with SHADO - but once they reach Moonbase, the guards think the the pilot is being held captive, and they shoot the alien.
- Energy Weapon — The UFOs have them, but their ground troops use chrome assault rifles firing ordinary bullets.
- Everybody Smokes — Even on the Moonbase, medical areas, and computer rooms!
- Faceless Goons — In this case it's to enhance their mysterious and threatening nature, rather than so the audience won't identify with them. Though episodes where we're supposed to feel sympathy for a space-suited invader feature a lot more close-ups.
- Fan Service — And how! Our first view of the 1980's is a mini-skirted dolly bird sashaying away from the camera, which is positioned at hemline level. Male actors had to wear jockstraps due to their slick trousers and form-fitting catsuits. Then there's the fishnet shirts of the male and female Skydiver crew that show off their nipples, and this famous clothes-changing scene which seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a ten minute coffee break. See also All Men Are Perverts. Some women too, see slick trousers and fishnet tops above.
- Fighter Launching Sequence — Every time the Moonbase intercepters, SHADO mobiles or Sky One deploy.
- Front Organisation — SHADO headquarters is hidden under a film studio, where all the odd goings-on can be passed off as something to do with a movie. Fair enough, but how does Straker have the time to run a film studio and be the leader of an international alien-fighting organisation? Wouldn't hiring a front man as studio boss make more sense?
- Of course the real reason for disguising the base as a film studio was that the series was shot at a film studio! (Actually two in succession, because the first studio closed down during production.)
- Future Music — "Ordeal" wrongly predicted that you can go to a party in the future dressed like Goldmember and not get laughed at; however it was correct in assuming that The Beatles song "Get Back" will still be popular.
- Government Conspiracy — SHADO conceals evidence that UFOs exist to prevent worldwide panic. Their methods include intimidation (ranging from beatings to pressure on the employers of the witness), conscription into SHADO, amnesia pills, and even murder.
- He Knows Too Much — Test pilot Paul Foster is given a choice between joining SHADO or dying when he witnesses a UFO attack and starts asking questions. Later when Foster becomes unreliable due to alien brainwashing it's expected by all concerned (including Foster) that Straker will kill him as it's impossible to simply fire the man. Instead Straker forces the issue with an intense Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand moment in a Shooting Gallery.
- Hey, It's That Voice! and Hey It's That Girl — Ed Bishop (playing Straker) voiced Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons, and even copied Blue's distinctive white hair for his character. And Canadian actress Lois Maxwell (more commonly known as Miss Moneypenny, and also the voice of Atlanta Shore in the Andersons' Stingray) is Straker's secretary for a couple of episodes. SHADO, WASP and MI6 must have a staff exchange program.
- Human Aliens — Justified in that the aliens are using human bodies. Even the legendary Little Green Men look is Handwaved as being from the fluid used to cushion their bodies for faster-than-light travel.
- I Did What I Had to Do — Very much. There's lots of Black and Grey Morality, and plenty of What the Hell, Hero? moments.
- Infinite Supplies — Averted. Several episodes show Straker arguing with his superiors over his budget allocation. (Players of X-COM might have a idea of how he feels.)
- In Space Everyone Can See Your Face — Applies to the humans, though the aliens are usually obscured by their liquid-filled helmets.
- It Was All Just a Dream — "Ordeal", "Mindbender"
- Made of Explodium — The UFOs disintegrate if they spend too much time in Earth's atmosphere. They can also be destroyed by conventional weapons.
- The Men in Black — Though dressed a lot more stylishly. Well...colourfully anyway.
- Military Mashup Machine — Skydiver, an atomic submarine with hydrofoil capability and a jet fighter attached to its nose. The name makes a lot of sense when you see the opening titles: "SKYDIVER" is written on the side of the hull. When the jet, "Sky One", separates from the sub, the word splits in two: the jet now says "SKY" and the sub "DIVER".
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate — Dr. Doug Jackson, who speaks with a noticeable Eastern European accent and always has a vaguely sinister air about him. It's possible he is a spy for Straker's superiors. As the doctor says on his first appearance, things are not always what they seem.
- Ms. Fanservice — Lieutenant Gay Ellis.
- Necessarily Evil — The aliens are motivated by desperation rather than malice.
- No New Fashions in the Future — In the 1980's wigs have replaced bad hairstyles, suits and ties have given way to turtlenecks and Nehru jackets, while catsuits and calf-boots are standard military uniform.
- No Biochemical Barriers — The aliens can adapt human organs to replace their own, yet die if exposed to our atmosphere for too long.
- No Pronunciation Guide — An idiosyncrasy of the series is that the term "UFO" is pronounced as a word ("you-foh"), as suggested by the real-world originator of the term Edward J. Ruppelt, and not as the more common "you-eff-oh". This is particularly true of the lead character, Ed Straker. Technically speaking the series title should properly be pronounced "you-foh" as well. However, the "you-foh" pronunciation was not consistently applied and some supporting characters use the now more common form.
- Nuke'Em — Each Moonbase Interceptor is armed with a single large nuclear missile on its nose, though the Sky One fighter (that operates in Earth's atmosphere) uses multiple rocket launchers with conventional warheads.
- Old School Dogfighting — Though special-effects limitations prevented much in the way of actual dog-fighting, the imagined space combat draws very much from Battle of Britain tropes. Moonbase is the beleaguered sector airfield, and SID (Space Intruder Detector) the early-warning radar. Calmly-speaking young women (the WAAF's) vector in Interceptors (Spitfires) against the anonymous alien invaders (German bombers). But given that the Moon takes 27.322 days to orbit the Earth, one wonders why the aliens don't just attack when Moonbase is on the opposite side of their target.
- According to the numbers mentioned in the show, SHADO routinely tracks and attempts to intercept UFOs still flying faster than light. To have a prayer of doing this, the interceptors must be wicked fast for a sublight craft, enough for the relative position of the Moon not to matter much, I suppose.
- Out of Order — Every TV broadcaster showed the 26 episodes in different order, due to the then highly-localized nature of the ITV "network" in Britain (This was completely normal at the time, and explains the absence of multi-episode plotlines).
- Person of Mass Destruction — "The Psychobombs"
- Psychic Powers — ESP is a mental condition treated by mainstream psychologists.
- Red Alert — SID (Space Intruder Detector), SHADO Control and Moonbase all call them.
- Rewind, Replay, Repeat — In one episode, Straker catches a subliminal clue about UFO attacks from a documentary film, and insists on watching the clip over and over until he figures out what triggered the association.
- Shoot the Dog — "A Question of Priorities", "The Responsibility Seat", "Ordeal"
- Sigil Spam — SHADO puts its name and logo on all of its vehicles, even though SHADO's existence itself is secret.
- Smoking Is Cool - Straker, Freeman
- Solemn Ending Theme — It has a fast upbeat opening theme, but closes with an ominous atmospheric piece.
- Space Is an Ocean, Space Is Noisy, Space Is Slow Motion, Standardized Space Views
- Stealth in Space — Averted. Nothing escapes the eagle eye of SID; in fact most alien plots are about trying to get past the SHADO defence system.
- Stock Footage — The underwing rocket packs on the Sky One fighter resemble those used by RAF ground attack fighters, saving money on shots of them firing.
- Time Stands Still — "Timelash"
- To the Batpole — Pilots use chutes to quickly get to their interceptors on Moonbase and the SkyDiver submarine. SHADO's headquarters (hidden under a film studio) is accessed by Straker's office which serves as an elevator. Hopefully no-one peeked into the bosses window and wondered why his office was sinking into the ground.
- The latter point was lampshaded by Gerry Anderson himself in a DVD commentary.
- You Gotta Have Purple Hair — One of the rare Western examples, and from before anime became popular to boot.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes? / Compressed Vice — Straker suffers from Claustrophobia, which causes problems when he's trapped on a damaged submarine (though though you'd think it'd cause problems in the confines of a spacecraft too).
- Zeerust — The series foresees the pervasive use (though not the nature) of computers in everyday life, spacecraft piggy-back launched from aircraft, voice print identification, car and cordless telephones, and that space debris will become a serious concern. Incorrect predictions include an extensive space/lunar industry, widespread use of supersonic transport, cars driving on the right hand side of the road in the UK, and racism dying out by the 1980's (though the last is presented as an Aesop; a black officer points out that while overt, explicit racism might have disappeared, he still has to put up with its more subtle forms, which is pretty much Truth in Television).