Tuesday, March 26, 2019

UFO: "Court Martial"



Commander Straker (Ed Bishop) discovers his car bugged, and suspects he knows the source of the surveillance: General Henderson. His suspicions are correct, and Straker confronts his bureaucratic nemesis, only to learn that Henderson has been tracking a dangerous security breach in SHADO.

Worse, the security breach is traced back to Paul Foster (Michael Billington). It looks like a slam-dunk case against the officer, and he is apprehended and tried or treason. Later, Paul is found guilty and held to be executed.

Straker attempts to clear Paul's name before it is too late, but the case against him appears airtight.


This week's thoroughly conventional and predictable episode of UFO opens with Paul Foster being declared guilty of treason, and then works back to reveal the particulars of "his" alleged crimes. Namely, he has apparently been paid to release critical SHADO information to the press, such as the time and date of Skydiver's arrival at a local port.

The problem with "Court Martial"-brand stories is that -- at least in terms of classic TV -- they are incredibly predictable  Not to mention familiar. Everyone (of my age, anyway) has seen enough of these stories, and so is (acutely) aware that the main character on the series isn't going be found guilty of a crime and then executed or incarcerated.  Why?  Well, the series has to continue next week, doesn't it?  

So when Captain Kirk is tried for negligence in "Court Martial, or Lt. Starbuck is tried for murder in "Murder on the Rising Star," it's a kind of cheat. It's a wasted hour of storytelling time. We know the outcome from the very beginning, so some aspect of drama and suspense is missing. 



Here, everyone understands that Paul is not a traitor, despite the breadth of evidence against him presented in the court room.The episode is not particularly interesting because it is basically an exercise in waiting until the "twist" is revealed and Paul's name is cleared.

About the most intriguing scene in the episode involves Ed Straker taking the stand during the trial. When asked if Paul is a friend, he all but says no. He actually tells the court "not in the sense you say." This frank admission is very non-traditional in terms of classic TV tropes, wherein all main characters are basically supposed to be best buddies. Here, Straker flat-out states that isn't the case.  Later on, however, he acknowledges that his "gut" feels that Paul is innocent. So Foster may not be a friend, but at the very least Straker understands his (good) nature.


Perhaps the biggest question this episode raises involves SHAD personnel.This week, Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) again plays Jackson (a character who was a doctor in earlier episodes).  In "Court Martial," Jackson takes on the role of court room prosecutor, and is depicted as a kind of treacherous, untrustworthy character. He is not at all consistent here with his previous appearances.

"Court Martial" is a predictable and largely forgettable episode of this (usually inventive) cult-series.

Next week: "The Square Triangle."

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