Tuesday, February 12, 2019

UFO: "Reflections in the Water"

[Note: I am reviewing UFO episodes in the order they are presented on the app Tubi. However, the order seems way off, as it mixes episodes produced early, with those produced later.]

In "Reflections in the Water," the freighter Kingston is destroyed at sea, and in orbit, aliens destroy a space probe.

SHADO investigates the Kingston's sinking, and discovers an alien dome on the ocean floor, as fifty alien craft mass just four hours distant from planet Earth. 

Straker (Ed Bishop) fears an all-out attack, and a saboteur inside his organization. Inside the dome, an officer, Lt. Anderson (James Cosmo) is seen and tagged as the spy. He is captured and interrogated, but claims to have no idea regarding the alien plot. Nor can he account or his apparent presence in the underwater facility.

On a reconnaissance  mission Straker learns, along with Foster (Michael Billington), that the strange base houses duplicates of key SHADO personnel, including Anderson, who is innocent of espionage. Straker encounters a deadly duplicate of Foster, and after fighting him, sets out to destroy the base, with the help of Skydiver One.  Once the base is destroyed, the alien attack is apparently called off.

Gerry Anderson's UFO (1970) is a strange -- or at least, unconventional -- series in the sense that it dramatizes all brands of stories. Some of its narratives are drama/human tragedy ("Confetti Check A-OK," "A Question of Priorities,"), some stories feel like 1970's political conspiracy thrillers ("Exposed,") and some seem a bit like old-fashioned science fiction alien invasion stories. 

When one considers the large, rotating cast off characters, like Alec, Ellis, Carlin, Foster, and Lake, the series becomes even harder to nail down or pigeonhole as being of a certain or particular genre of science fiction. "Reflections in the Water," in contrast to the episodes I've already reviewed here on the blog, feels pretty hoary and cliched, and is devoid of the kind of scintillating character interaction seen in both "Exposed" and "A Question of Priorities."

That doesn't make the episode bad, it just makes it notably different in style and tone. Here, an alien base at the bottom of the sea houses nefarious doppelgangers of SHADO personnel, in advance of the biggest alien attack yet. The dome is investigated and destroyed, and the aliens are thwarted.  End o story.  The story doesn't tread a whole lot deeper than that logline, though some unique and interesting touches are worth mentioning.

First, consider the nature of the alien dome. We find it is positioned near a volcano on the sea floor, from which it draws its power, and the base sits on "the front door to the Atlantic." It is constructed from a strange, self-sealing membrane material, through which people can enter and exit. The base has no apparent defensive capabilities, and is easily destroyed by Skydiver.

The base is also, incredibly, rather roomy, given that it rests on the bottom of the sea, where space would be at a premium.  There are high, strangely-colored walls and corridors inside the base that grant the audience its first, and if I remember correctly, only, look at an alien-designed interior structure. The base interior is rather Spartan in nature, but it works as as an alien aesthetic, since it is devoid of what we would categorize as instrumentation or furniture.

It is odd that the aliens would adopt the particular strategy of "Reflections in the Water," however. We know from "Identified" that these visitors travel to Earth to steal ad harvest our organs and bodies. Our human bodies are, therefore, precious resources to the extra-terrestrials. Here, the aliens are able to fashion bodies that are exact duplicates of Straker, Foster, and Anderson, among others.. I suppose it is just advanced plastic surgery we're looking at, but it's a bit off in concept that the alien plan involves creating duplicates of human bodies, when human bodies are so desperately needed to keep the aliens alive.

Also, it seems strange that the aliens would cross light years with fifty ships, and then, when their duplicate mission fails, just turn around and return home, tail tucked between their legs. Fifty ships is a vast commitment of resources, energy and manpower. And again, this fleet has traveled light years to reach Earth. If the duplicate mission failed, it seems more likely that the aliens would proceed with the attack from space, and hope for the best, rather than just high-tail back to another, distant solar system.  

The very set-up here, of fifty ships waiting or a signal to attack, suggests a desperation move on the part of the aliens. I guess what I'm saying is that, militarily, you don't put all your resources on the board, at great expense and time, only to pull them off the board when every turn doesn't go your way at the start. The aliens must have been absolutely determined and desperate to launch this gambit in the first place. If they could afford to fail, they would not have committed such a huge force to attack. (And, incidentally, one has to wonder how they got the materials in the ocean to build their dome.)

Or, an alternate reading would be that things like time and space mean nothing to these particular aliens, and therefore, they can use feints and pushes like this one, at no cost. 

But given Straker's informed speculation about the aliens in "Identified," the latter option seems highly unlikely. These aliens are dealing with sterility, and extinction, and don't have the resources to waste, or to retreat, willy-nilly from a costly venture like the one depicted in "Reflections in the Water."

Underwater domes, alien fleets massing in space, and sinister duplicates all sound like elements for a great and compelling science fiction story, and indeed, they are intriguing ingredients here Alas, this UFO episode nonetheless plays as a bit flat, since very little interesting is done with these cool concepts.  

"Reflections in the Water" feels more like a product of the swashbuckling and colorful 1960's -- spies take out a dangerous alien underwater installation -- than of a brooding 1970's meditation about limited resources, and a war against an implacable foe attempting to secure them.

Next week: "The Dalotek Affair."

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