Tuesday, July 09, 2019

UFO: "The Man Who Came Back"

In "The Man Who Came Back," A long-serving SHADO astronaut, Craig Collins (Darren Nesbitt) is presumed dead in his space capsule after a fire develops. Meanwhile, S.I.D. (Space Intruder Detector) is attacked by UFOs, and badly damaged.

Eight weeks later, however, Collins is mysteriously discovered alive and well, and returns to work. He is needed to help repair S.I.D. since he and Straker (Ed Bishop) were the astronauts who put the satellite in orbit in the first place, years earlier.

Collins, however, becomes the target of suspicion when he begins to act strangely. He is widely jealous of Paul Foster (Michael Billington), who has taken up with Colonel Lake (Wanda Ventham) in his absence. 

He also is competitive with his brilliant mission commander, Grey (Gary Raymond). When Foster is injured working out with Collins, and Grey is nearly murdered when the air gauge in his moon base quarters malfunction, Straker becomes Collins' partner on the S.I.D. mission. Grey warns Straker not to go, but Straker is reluctant to believe that one of his "closest friends" could be an alien-controlled assassin.

Unfortunately, Collins is indeed under alien control. As Grey suspected, the aliens have "burned out the personality centers" of the astronaut's "brain" and are controlling him via radio waves. Collins attacks Straker during a space walk to S.I.D. but Straker manages to rip out his air hose, and kill the astronaut in time.

"The Man Who Came Back" is a tense and successful episode of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's UFO. The episode's value is lifted primarily via the delightful performance of Darren Nesbitt as Craig Collins. Nesbitt makes Collins an easy-to-hate yet charismatic character, one who routinely shows disrespect to friends, associates, and lovers alike. 

However, this trademark disdain just seems to be his personality, not "alien control," so there is some doubt about whether he is a actually an alien "sleeper agent" waiting to be activated, at least for much of the hour. (Until we see him willfully sabotage Grey's air supply, anyway).  The scene in which he "accidentally" injures Paul with a heavy bar bell is also a terrific moment.

The most intriguing aspect of " The Man Who Came Back," however, is not the familiar human-subverted-by-aliens plot-line, but rather the depiction of romantic (or just plain sexual?) relationships in SHADO. 

Here, Collins is upset to learn that Colonel Lake has moved past her relationship with him to one with Paul Foster.  

So, everyone just seems to be fucking...everyone.  And mostly without judgment or scorn. It is just taken as fact that (at least on Moonbase), the crew people pass the time by having sex with one another.  It's 1960's free love or promiscuity, updated for the "futuristic" timeline of the series' 1980's setting. 

Unless I am mistaken, no romantic relationship between Foster and Lake has been featured in other episodes, yet here they are depicted as lovers. 

I don't object. 

It's just weird the way the characters go in and out of relationships, and those relationships are not referred to ever again in the series. I suppose in this "future" human-kind has gotten over hang-ups such as jealousy, or a devotion to monogamy.

In terms of draw-backs, this episode doesn't do much for Straker's reputation as a strong commanding officer. He rationalizes convincing evidence away, regarding his "friend," Collins, and puts his life (and therefore the success of the SID mission) in danger, by his refusal to listen to Grey.  

Straker is often portrayed in the series as a near emotionless machine, one with a clockwork mind and ruthless logic. It is difficult to believe he would let himself get into the life-and-death struggle in space that we see depicted in this episode's climax, without a back-up plan. Like "Close Up," this episode actually makes Straker look a bit foolish.

Finally, this episode features some stock footage of the rocket launch from the 1969 Anderson live-action science fiction film, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. "The Man Who Came Back" also features a dazzling opening sequence, an alien assault on S.I.D. that sends the satellite spinning out of its orbit.  Even today, these effects hold up very well.

Next week: "Kill Straker!"

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