Monday, June 18, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Flying Saucers

A flying saucer is a “type of flying craft with a disc or saucer-shaped body,” possibly of alien origin.  In terms of science fiction literature, film, and television, the flying saucer (or alternatively, the “UFO”) is the long-standing vehicle of choice for invading aliens.

In fact, if aliens ever do visit Earth and make contact with humanity, I suspect many genre fans may feel deeply disappointed if they don’t arrive in flying saucers.  

I’m not certain why it’s the case, but alien villains in sci-fi productions tend to travel in saucers rather than in needle-shaped rockets or jet-shaped fighters, perhaps because we tend to view the saucer as a kind of “universal” shape or form, and therefore it more easily fits our species-centric conception of something alien.  A saucer has no end and no beginning, no engine pipe, no smoke stack, no wings and no aerodynamic feature that is easily recognizable as being of Earth technology

The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) widely used flying saucers as the vessels of Earth-men (“The Invaders,” “Death Ship”), extra-terrestrial invaders (“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,”) and even friendly refugees (“Third from the Sun.”)  In all cases, the flying saucer was a re-use of the craft in the MGM film Forbidden Planet (1956).   

Meanwhile, The Invaders (1967-1968), Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970) and V: The Series (1985) all posited malicious alien invasions – both public and hidden – via alien flying saucers.  I’m especially fond of the UFO craft, with the spinning fins on the outside of its form, and the memorable sound effect the craft produced.  The flying saucers in V the giant mother-ships – are especially impressive, and certainly forecasted the invading saucers of Independence Day (1996).  Even the ultimate alien villains -- Doctor Who's Daleks -- have been seen to travel the dark void in saucer-shaped crafts.

Sometimes in cult television, a flying saucer has also been at the center of a hoax, as in episodes of Batman (“The Joker’s Flying Saucer), The Secrets of Isis (“The Lights of Mystery Mountain”) and even The Brady Bunch’s memorable “Out of this World.” 

It also seems that flying saucer-styled crafts are favorites of those unlucky souls who lose their way in space, such as the gorgeous Jupiter 2 of Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) and the titular craft of Sid and Marty Krofft's The Lost Saucer (1975).


  1. Kenneth Arnold, a aviator, on 6/1947, reported seeing 9 UFO's and told the media that they were shaped like saucers or a pie plate. I guess flying saucers sounds a lot more intriguing than flying pie plates.

  2. Arnold did NOT describe the UFOs he witnessed as "shaped like saucers or pie plates". He described them as looking like crescents or "boomerang-shaped" -- leading to some speculation that he may have seen captured German or experimental Air Force German-derived flying wings. He described their motion through the air as like saucers skipping across water. It was the press that garbled it into "flying saucers".


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