Tuesday, July 16, 2019

UFO: "Kill Straker!"

A lunar module with Colonel Foster (Michael Billington) and an astronaut named Craig (David Sumner) aboard experiences something strange upon re-entry. A weird alien light and vocal message orders them to "Kill Straker!"

Upon return to Moonbase, Craig attempts to kill Straker while he sleeps, and then destroy the entire installation. Fortunately he is stopped in time.  

Meanwhile, Foster is insubordinate to Straker, and even sides with General Henderson against him on a matter of SHADO appropriations.

Then, Foster attempts to murder Straker. Fortunately, it is realized that Foster is acting upon a "deep subliminal impulse" in his "subconscious."  The alien programming is countered, but Foster could be relieved of his duties because he will never again be fully trusted. 

Straker engineers a plan to prove that Foster is back to himself, however.

"Kill Straker!" does not hold up as one of the better episodes of UFO, in part because it is obvious to anyone who has watched the series even casually that Foster is not himself. Since it is obvious to viewers that something is grievously wrong with Foster, the same fact should be obvious to Straker, Alec, Ellis, and the others who work closely with him on a day-to-day basis.

Foster is insubordinate, rude, aggressive and mean-spirited towards Straker, and this is a total turnaround from what is seen in other episodes. Straker went to great lengths to defend Foster from charges of treason, for example, in the episode "Court Martial." There is just no way that Foster would suddenly turn on the commander unless he had been compromised. It makes no sense, given what we know of the characters. It seems to me that "alien brainwashing" should be on the table as an explanation immediately, especially given the acts of Paul's co-pilot, Craig.

Bottom line: It takes much too long for Straker and the others to realize the truth about Foster in "Kill Straker!" and that fact means that the episode doesn't quite hold up.

Not that there aren't some fine moments here and there. The confrontation in Moonbase control between Straker and Foster is powerful. It is Foster's "superior physique" vs. Straker's "superior will-power" in a control room where the atmosphere is slowly bleeding away.

The climax, with Straker attempting to kill Foster (to see if Foster will reciprocate the murderous behavior) is also pretty powerful. Straker attempts to goad Foster into striking back, but a terrified Foster doesn't take the bait. This character moment, unlike many in the episode, seems true to the characters. Straker doesn't resort to half-measures when he needs to prove that Foster is still a man he can trust.

It strikes me, while watching "Kill Straker!" that UFO predicted, in many ways, the post-9/11 paranoia of American culture. In virtually every episode of this short-lived series ("The Man Who Came Back," "The Psychobombs," "Kill Straker," "The Cat with 10 Lives," etc.), a "normal" and trusted person is activated as a sleeper agent for the aliens. 

It's a virtual blueprint for asymmetric warfare in the 21st century. All due credit should be given for a forward-looking series, and yet, by the same token, the same old plot has grown tiresome after nearly a whole season of look-a-like plot elements.

Next week: "E.S.P."

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