Tuesday, May 21, 2019

UFO: "The Cat with Ten Lives"

In "The Cat with Ten Lives," three UFOs approach the moon, but retreat once interceptors approach. Three more UFOs appear in short order, and the first three are pinpointed as decoys. Moonbase survives an attack with only ground tanks as defense.

Meanwhile, an interceptor pilot, James Regan (Alexis Kanner) returns to Earth and visits with his wife, Jean (Geraldine Moffatt). After an evening playing at a seance with friends, the couple returns home, and on the way, encounter a cat in the road. After rescuing it, the Regans are abducted by aliens.  Jean is taken, but James and the cat are returned, apparently unharmed.

At SHADO, Dr. Jackson (Vladek Sheybal) has developed a new theory about the aliens. An autopsy of a recovered alien pilot reveals that it has a fully human brain. In other words, the aliens don't merely harvest human parts, they seem to be incorporeal, possessing humans and other life forms.

This means that the cat is controlling Regan. He returns to the moon, unaware that he is being controlled, and set-up to to launch a kamikaze style attack on the base.  At the last minute, however, the controlling cat is stopped, and Regan comes to his senses. He crashes his interceptor (and is killed), but moonbase survives...

"The Cat with Ten Lives" is a terrific episode of UFO for two reasons, primarily. In the first case, the episode finally provides some additional information about the aliens, and their mysterious nature.  And in the second case, the episode is one of the most stylishly presented, in terms of mise-en-scene. The episode is gloriously filmed.

In "The Cat with Ten Lives," SHADO learns that the mysterious alien invaders are "not humanoid at all," and that they "just use our bodies," and our altered brains, by removing emotion and creativity from the human equation.  Dr. Jackson likens the aliens to "living computers" and the idea is that beings on Earth -- humans, felines, or otherwise -- can be lobotomized, essentially, to serve as receptacles or containers for alien life forms.  The question the episode does not answer is, simply, why do non-corporeal aliens desire to be corporeal, to take our bodies? It would have been fascinating to learn that the answer to that question. This is another reason I wish the series had gone on for several more seasons. There was still so much about the aliens to explore.

Beyond the idea of non-corporeal aliens taking our form and walking among us, "The Cat with Ten Lives" is beautifully filmed. And by that, I don't just mean it is pretty. Rather, the choice of camera angle augments and reflects the content of the story-line.

For instance, during the Ouija seance/game at the Thompsons' house, the camera adopts an overhead shot that reveals the group's vulnerability, as well as the lay-out of the board. As the danger increases, the camera begins to rotate and spin, until Regan is upside down in the frame, a  visual suggestion that his jeopardy is the greatest. He is vulnerable to alien control, and this shot establishes that fact in a way we visually understand.

The episode's alien abduction scene is also incredibly effective. There are P.O.V. shots here of the alien boots, as we watch -- from Regan's, perspective -- as he is dragged from his car, lifted by the aliens, and carried across the threshold of their landed ship. We have heard so many tales of alien abduction since this series aired in 1970, but one has to wonder if this evocative scene -- involving an abductee at night, alone on a forest road, taken by aliens -- informed some beliefs/stories on the subject over the decades. It's a textbook "alien abduction" scene, and one of the first in television history. 

There are questions to be raised, of course, about this episode's narrative. 

First, it takes an awfully long time for anyone to suspect that the cat is dangerous. Yet we have never before seen a cat in SHADO HQ. Its appearance there should have raised some alarms for Straker and the others, sooner.  

Secondly, Straker makes an unequivocally bad call in this episode. He puts a man who has just lost his wife to alien abduction in the driver's seat of an Interceptor (escorting the all-important Venus Probe). Why on Earth would he do that? The pilot, Regan, is traumatized, and clearly not fit for duty.  Sadly, Straker has no good reason for this bad call, save for contrivances of the plot. Usually, the writing isn't this obvious.

Finally, though the special effects are gorgeously vetted, the episode's climactic sequence, with Regan dying to save SHADO, seems reminiscent of earlier episodes, such as "Flight Path." Basically, a compromised SHADO officer/astronaut, proves loyal in the end, and pays for his past betrayal with his life. And everything ends with an explosion on the moon.

Next week: "Destruction."

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