Simply put, UFO was too realistic. SHADO knew next to nothing about the enemy it was fighting. Who the aliens were, where they were from, and what they wanted remained matters for speculation. Almost every bit of information SHADO managed to acquire about them seemed to lead to more questions than answers. Many of the stories featured downbeat, ambiguous endings. And every now and then, the aliens would thwart SHADO. The series was, dramatically speaking, unsatisfying to a mass audience.
Then there was the problem of Straker himself. To put it mildly, he did not suffer fools gladly, which made him one of the most unusual lead characters in television history. While he was capable of kicking back in his office with his sidekick, Alec Freeman (George Sewall), and while he could (very occasionally) crack a smile, Ed Straker was most of the time a tightly wound spring. His job was to kill (or, if possible, capture) the aliens before they could do harm to any human, and that was that.
In short, Straker was no Captain James T. Kirk, a heroic figure who managed to answer all the audience’s questions and tie up all the loose ends with a witty quip before the final credits. Rather, Straker had a serious edge to him. Under the pressure of his job, we see his marriage collapse. Faced with a captured alien who refuses to talk, he doesn’t hesitate to order that a dangerous, experimental drug be used to break down his resistance, an effort that ends in the alien’s death. He even orders the destruction of an alien space ship he knows is carrying his friend, a top SHADO officer, back to the aliens’ home planet. To Straker, individuals mean nothing. All that matters is stopping the aliens.
Ed Straker certainly would have been a frightening man to work for, which is probably why the mass of TV viewers found him a frightening man to watch. His kind of single-minded determination was in short supply in the 1970s, which may explain why the series appealed to people of a conservative sensibility.
In real life, however, we sure could use someone like Ed Straker for the new post of national intelligence director. Fiction is now fact: We are up against a ruthless, determined foe bent on doing us harm and about whom we know rather little. Porter Goss seems to be making a good start at the CIA, lopping off a few heads and shaking things up a bit, but its not clear that he is in Straker territory yet.
If a real-life Ed Straker is out there, now is his time.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Someone Else's Thought For The Day
Science Fiction intersects real world politics at National Review Online: