Tuesday, June 18, 2019

UFO: "The Sound of Silence"

In "The Sound of Silence," A UFO trails a NASA probe back to Earth, and puts down in a lake in the English countryside. Soon, an alien stalks the nearby grounds, tracking the movements of a local estate owner and famous equestrian show jumper, Russell Stone (Michael Jayston) and his sister, Anne (Susan Jameson).

After a local tramp, Ben Culley (Nigel Gregory) and his dog are found murdered, and Russell disappears, Commander Straker (Ed Bishop) sends Colonel Foster (Michael Billington) to investigate the situation.

There is a pitched battle on the lake, as SHADO Mobiles destroy the UFO. A strange tube is found among the wreckage, and brought back to HQ. Straker and Foster fear it is a bomb, set to detonate, but the truth is something stranger and more frightening. They have recovered Russell Stone, who is sealed inside the canister, having been prepared to be sent to the alien home world...

"The Sound of Silence" is another underachieving episode of this classic and generally high-quality series. This segment focuses on the Stone family, characters who the audience has no vested interest in. Worse, Russell Stone -- whose life is on the line in the drama's last act -- is a cold, unsympathetic person.  He nearly tramples Ben Culley, without sympathy, and is not at all a warm personality.  He seems as cold and distant as the aliens who capture him.  Yet the success of the episode's third act depends on audience identification with him, as an alien abductee.

As was the case in "Destruction," the previous episode I reviewed here on the blog, UFO's large cast seems mostly like an afterthought here, far away from and only minimally involved in the action at hand. Straker is sidelined or the most part.

By contrast, the story might have worked effectively as a horror tale, with the alien creeping around the woods, abducting and killing people and animals, but the pacing is flaccid, and the episode has no sense of style beyond the freeze-frames during the opening credits.  The tramp, Culley, meanwhile, is referred to as a hippie, and the episode also features some-dated jokes about Native American people.

There are a few highlights in "The Sound of Silence,: although even they are marred, to some extent by other factors. The battle between the Mobiles on the shore and the UFO rising from the lake is incredibly impressive. It is literally a show-stopper.  The visual highlight of the story loses a bit, however, from Billington's disinterested performance.  Foster is ostensibly leading the Mobile attack, but is only seen in cutaway shots and doesn't respond with much urgency, even as explosions and laser beams dot his immediate area. In short, the live-action performance doesn't match the intensity level of the miniature work.

The final canister opening scene at Shado HQ is indeed tense, and well-orchestrated, by comparison, and yet still feels like a missed opportunity. We learn that Russell is "all packed up, ready for shipment," but beyond that tantalizing detail we learn little of why the aliens warehouse humans in this fashion. Is it so their organs survive long distances? Light speed travel? Does travel in this manner preserve life? This plot-strand seems like a tailor-made opportunity to provide a few more bread-crumbs of knowledge about the aliens, but then the episode doesn't really deliver.

Finally, again, there's a stalker-y aspect to Paul Foster's behavior in "The Sound of Silence." In "The Dalotek Affair," we saw him romance a scientist he mete on the moon. She then was administered the amnesia drug and forgot all about him.  Later, Paul found her on Earth, and began a romantic dalliance with her all over again. He does the same thing with Anne Stone in "The Sound of Silence." He returns to her estate after she has been dosed with amnesia, and hits her up for thinly veiled "riding lessons." 

Once, this kind of thing is forgivable, perhaps. But twice?  Does Paul make a habit of stalking women who have no previous knowledge of him, but whom he has met and interacted with?  It feels a bit creepy. I know he is the series' resident horn dog, and everything, but in these particular relationships the women are on unequal terrain. He knows all about them, and they know nothing about him. Why is he so insecure that he has dalliances with amnesiac women, where he always holds all the power?  It's weird.

Next week: "The Responsibility Seat."

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