Tuesday, May 07, 2019

UFO: "Close Up"


In "Close Up," Commander Straker (Ed Bishop) plans for NASA to launch a B-142 space probe equipped with a new electronic camera, a billion dollar piece of technology that, if properly deployed, should be able to photograph the alien home world.

One SHADO researcher, Dr. Kelly (Neil Hallett), however, wants 50,000 dollars for his project, which concerns close-up, micro-photography.  His request is denied, but Straker's is approved by General Henderson (Grant Taylor).

Thus, "Project Discovery" is launched. It involves interceptors pushing a UFO into a flight path where the camera-equipped probe can track it, and follow it back to its distant home planet. This is a plan developed by Lt. Ellis (Gabrielle Drake).

The mission is a success, and all that is left is for SHADO officers to wait four months for the probe to reach that far away planet and begin sending back data. When the first photographs of the alien world arrive, however, they are not what Straker or the others expected or hoped for, as Dr. Kelly quickly points out.


"Close Up" may just be one of the most dated episodes of this classic, fifty-year old science fiction series from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.  In this UFO story, a scientist must explain to Straker about the importance of knowing distance and magnitude while reading photographs. And, the episode features a scene that, by today's standards, seems horribly sexist.

Let's begin with the photographs. "Project Discovery" is a billion dollar boondoggle for Straker, because the new, expensive and high-tech camera malfunctions, and no one can read the distance or magnitude of the photographs of the alien planet. The intel provided here by the camera is thus useless.

First, this is a black-eye for the Straker character, and it is a surprise that General Henderson doesn't rake Straker over the coals, or attempt to have him removed from command. This is just the expensive disaster that Henderson has, in previous episodes, been looking to hang around Straker's neck.


But beyond that, the episode ends with Dr. Kelly lecturing to Straker about the importance of "inner space," and understanding distance and magnification in photographs. Not only is this a seemingly basic fact treated as a cosmic revelation, but it makes all the other characters seem stupid for not realizing it. I suppose that the point of "Close Up" is that bureaucracy is inefficient. Kelly's plan costs only 50,000 dollars, but Straker went for the shiny object instead, the billion dollar camera.  And look what happened: no viable photos of the alien planet! The point is not bad (and actually forecasts the initial Hubble Telescope problems), but it sacrifices Straker's integrity as a character, and gives his nemesis, Henderson, all the ammunition he would ever need to have Straker removed from SHADO command.


The second problem with "Close Up" is the very dated treatment of Lt. Ellis, the commander of Moonbase. Straker sits down with her at one point in the drama and tells her that she is doing a "man's job," and that she should never forget that she is a "very attractive girl." 

Today, such comments would earn him a visit from SHADO's HR department, for certain.  We have heard in previous episodes how command of Moonbase should go to the "best man" for the job.  Apparently that descriptor was literal. This is considered a man's job. So even though racism is conquered in the world of UFO, apparently sexism is not.  


Compounding the problem, Straker categorizes the mature Ellis not as a woman, but as a "girl," and doesn't compliment her mind, her plan, or her tactical ability, instead paying attention to her physical appearance and calling her attractive.

As I always write in these matters, it is illogical and impractical to expect a TV series made a generation (or two...) ago to espouse today's societal standards regarding, race and gender.  My point in bringing this up is merely that this is one arena where the often forward-looking Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series is clearly dated. 

To make the sexism worse, the commander of Moonbase, Lt. Ellis, in the final scene, is asked to model for Kelly, basically, so he can demonstrate his micro-photography for Straker, on her bare leg.

Again, calling HR...

Next week: "Mind Bender."

1 comment:

  1. I have to go back and look at this episode because I don't remember it at all. I'm always surprised at the blatant sexism in the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson shows since it was my impression that Sylvia Anderson was the person who worked with the writers while Gerry handled the technical details. You would think that she would have removed many of these sexist moments, but I guess it was part of the environment at the time and even women in positions of power would expect men to always act this way. It is notable that, in addition to Lt. Ellis, they created a female second in command after George Seward decided not to return for the second half of the season. It was as if society was accepting of women in more critical roles, but they still wanted them to stay pretty and demure and get out of the way of the men when there was some serious work to be done. Definitely a transitional period.

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