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It's been a while since posting the last review of a UFO episode on this forum (ie: the laughable 'Cat with Nine Lives') and I am still going through the DVD boxset (after a 3-week break). Unfortunately the fan favourite episode ('A Question of Priorities') while nowhere as bad as the 'Cat' or 'Confetti' episodes is still a bit of a disappointment. It is also an episode with such a downbeat ending with Straker's son dying that I imagine it would have turned off a lot of adult viewers (who are parents themselves) from watching the UFO series further which is surprising given that they appear to be the 'target audience' that Anderson & co were really trying to reach with this show. And so the 'Question of Priorities' episode really sums up the problem with the show's concept of trying to be 'an adult kitchen sink drama' whilst being wrapped up in a family sci-fi show. The producers should have stuck to the family show concept, it certainly would have helped with the US ratings (where most US viewers like their TV shows to be at least upbeat & optimistic).
In the case of a 'Question of Priorities' Anderson & Co should not have opted for such an exploitative shock-ending of a child dying but rather the death of a main character (such as Alec Freeman whom I mentioned before is a character I feel is a bit out-of-place in UFO). I think that such a 'shock-ending' of Freeman dying would given the right emotional weight to UFO without turning off any adult & children viewers shocked by the idea of an innocent child dying.
Another problem with this episode is its 'soap opera' scriptwriting. In true 'kitchen-sink drama' style the writing is a list of character inconsistencies, plot-holes, & melodrama-cliches all aimed at producing that 'shock ending' but upon closer inspection (especially in retrospect) the writing simply doesn't hold up.
That said I did like certain parts of the episode (which I will list at the bottom of the post) and it is a pity
that the producers didn't film the ending of the original script where Straker (a few weeks after the death of his son) visits the old Irish lady whom the alien stumbled upon. This 'ending' would have been a better way to close the episode rather than one we got with Straker being told his son is dead. In the original-script ending the old lady gives Straker (and the viewer) an insight into the alien intruder whom she had met, telling us that she felt the alien was a 'good man who did not intend to harm her'. She also tells Straker that she feels that he too is a good man (which is a more charming way to end the episode instead of the 'filmed ending' where Straker is simply demonised as being responsible for his son's death - something he actually wasn't when you revisit the episode).
Before I start on the list of problems inherent in this episode (ie: the the 'character-inconsistencies', 'plot-holes & melodrama-cliches etc) I will mention a few startling facts I learned from this episode.
A FEW STARTLING FACTS I LEARNED FROM WATCHING 'A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES' :
1) Everyone in County Galway, Ireland, speaks with a strong English Etonian accent
2) The SHADO canteen serves steak
3) The Aliens are keen 'Citizen Band Radio' enthusiasts
4) It seems the Aliens do not have conditions such as blindness on their homeworld given the way the Alien looks 'surprised' at the old lady all throughout the episode. He is even freaked out at the way she
is able to tell that he is going near her pet's birdcage. His being 'freaked out' by the sight of this blind old lady is the reason why he is 'trembling' when she touches his face later in the episode. Also the fact that the lady looks really old must also freak out the Alien (given that these beings have somewhat 'halted' the aging process on their planet).
5) Given the way that the Alien is really surprised by the sight of the lady's parrot indicates that there must be no birds on the alien's homeworld (they all must have died out due to the planet 'slowly dying' etc).
6) The Friendly Alien did not appear to be psychic in the episode (It is implied in other episodes such as 'ESP', 'Kill Straker' & 'Cat with nine Lives' that the aliens may be psychic etc). He clearly doesn't read or influence the mind of the old lady. Also the 2nd UFO seems to home-in on his 'ham radio' but not his brain-waves. Maybe not all the aliens are psychic, or maybe because the 'Friendly Alien' was such a moron to begin with he didn't actually have a brain (this could be true from observing his random acts of stupidity in this episode).
7) The 'Friendly Alien' was a long time in the old lady's house without helping himself to tea & biscuits in the kitchen, or taking a dump in the toilet :)
8) NHS ambulances of the future (ie: the 1980s) look like pimped-up Hearses.
9) The A & E wing of future NHS hospitals looks pristine & plush like an airport lounge (I mean where are all the drug addicts & crazy people you see in real life :).
10) NHS doctors of the future will only refer to bone-parts by their latin-name just to confuse laymen such the relatives of the young patient
11) NHS doctors will only cryptically shake their heads for melodrama effect when advising parents that their son is dead
12) The alien defector certainly had great taste, he certainly would have made a great tour-operator on earth. That was one beautiful part of the world he decided to crash his UFO into :)
INCONSISTENCIES, PLOT-HOLES, AND CLICHES
First-off is the bizarre stand-off between Straker & his ex-wife Mary near the beginning. Obviously they have been divorced for years, and it seems that part of the settlement was that Mary gets sole custody
of their son with visitation rights for Straker for a few hours once a month (he should have got himself a better lawyer methinks). And this arrangement has obviously been going for months if not years (given the expositional banter in the car between Straker & son regarding the toy boat). Then why does Mary's reaction to seeing Straker on her front drive seem so awkward & melodramatic as if she hadn't seen him in years (even though she would have seen him that morning when he came to collect their son)? And why do both Mary & her new husband both overreact to Straker and look at him as if he just 'drunkenly barged into their living room on Xmas Eve & pissed on the tree'? It just seems so contrived given that he would have known the new husband from the numerous times he has picked up/ dropped of Straker Jr in the past.
And from that moment the cliche's kick-in with Mary telling Straker to abruptly leave (for no logical reason) after being told that their son was going into the house to get 'something to show him'. And despite the fact that Straker had just obliged her by agreeing to change next month's 3-hour visitation slot by an extra week, Mary still insists that he should leave (adding that she would explain his abrupt exit
to their son when he emerges from the house). Straker complies and leaves the house, and in pure soap-opera fashion Mary neglects to tell their son that his father had to leave, and just lets Junior run out into the main road after his dad where he gets knocked down by a driver who swears that the boy 'just appeared out of nowhere & couldn't see him' (despite the fact that the idiot was recklessly speeding around the bend).
The scene ends like a mashup between 'Corrie' and 'Casualty' with everyone screaming & looking at Straker like it was all his fault (which it definitely wasn't).
Next it's the 'Medical Drama cliche ala Casualty' where a doctor with the worse bedside manner this side of 'Dr Harold Shipman' informs the parents in a matter-of-fact way that their son is bizarrely going to die from an infection in just a few hours (due to a reaction as a baby to some 'anti-viral' jab with a made-up-name that left him terminally allergic to anti-biotics - ALL OF THEM - LOL). Firstly it would take days not hours for someone to die from an infection. Secondly if Straker Jr was really allergic to all anti-biotics he would be living in a permanent hospital facility sleeping in an oxygen tent (in fact he probably would have been dead by the age of five given the number of virus & infections infants normally pick-up etc). Thirdly the doctor could simply boost Straker Jr's immune system with loads of Paracetomol & vitamin-C which would fight the infection either saving the lad or at least buying him some days of extra time. Nevertheless the Doctor raises their hopes by suggesting that there is a new experimental anti-biotic drug in the US which might work, only to bring them down again by calmly reminding them their son will be dead in a few hours (yep, great bedside manner - in this alternate 80's NHS must mean 'NO HOPE SUNSHINE'), as it would take days for the drug to be flown to the UK etc. Cue Straker (the B-movie studio boss) and his idea to have the drug flown by hypersonic jet which would take only a few hours.
And for melodramatic effect the 'soapy' script has all the emphasis placed on Straker's shoulder. If the boy survives then he will be redeemed in his ungrateful ex-wife's eyes. If the plane is late, or if the drug kills the boy (as it probably would as it wasn't even tested in the UK) then it is all Straker's fault (and not the doctor for suggesting the outlandish idea in the first place).
And this is where the writing really goes downhill in terms of characterisation. Straker commands his secretary to order the experimental drug and have it ready at the SHADO airfield for flying out via SHADAIR, he then orders SHADO HQ to have the SHADAIR jet for immediate take-off (instead of its normal 'next-day' schedule). However Straker, out-of-character, completely neglects to tell anyone in SHADO HQ why he is re-scheduling the flight, what's on the jet & why it has to be in London in the next few hours (and this is from Straker who is known as a 'stickler for detail' who likes to throw his weight around the office).
Even weirder is the characterisation of Alec Freeman in this episode. Freeman, whom I mentioned in other posts acts like the 'conscience' of Straker in the show (a bit like 'Bones' McCoy in Star Trek). And in every episode I have seen Freeman is 'psycho-analysing' Straker's mind & questioning his intentions (he literally asks him everything from his sex life, what he had for breakfast, the length of his stools in the toilet bowl etc). And for once he doesn't ask Straker what's on his mind. All through the episode Freeman does not question why Straker looks so troubled. He even neglects to ask him how his day with his son went (and he would have known about that since it was probably the only time Straker was 'out-of-office' on personal business leaving Freeman in charge). The fact that Straker also didn't confide with Freeman (his personal friend) about his son's condition is equally out-of-character. The only thing that is intimately discussed between the two characters in this episode is the quality of the steak in the SHADO kitchen (WTF :).
Another plot-hole is the scene where Freeman is surprised upon hearing that Straker had re-echeduled the SHADAIR flight a day early (even though he was present in an earlier scene where Straker is asking SHADO-Op Matthew Ford about the flight's status & ETA), and then proceeds to take command of the flight and orders it to West Ireland to drop off the Mobiles to hunt down the alien (BTW - isn't it strange that SHADO - a UN organisation doesn't have outposts in each country equipped with Mobiles & personnel to rapidly respond to a UFO landing in event of SHADAIR not being available to deploy mobiles in time?).
It is bizarre and totally out-of-character for Freeman, the Chief-Security officer of SHADO, to commandeer
anything without checking with Straker first (even as a formality or out of professional courtesy given that there is a chain-of-command in SHADO and that Commander Straker is at the top of it). And in true 'out-of-character' fashion in this episode Straker still doesn't tell Freeman about the purpose of the flight and his dying son when he learns that the flight has been re-directed to Ireland. Straker still could have ordered the 'hypersonic' flight to proceed to London to drop of the drugs and then fly back to Ireland to deploy the Mobiles. The whole thing would have taken about an extra 30 mins but no the 'soapy-opera' script demands that the characters keep to the schedule of letting Straker's son die in the most cliched manner :).
Another plot-hole is the fact that once SHADAIR drops off the Mobiles in Ireland and is re-ordered into the air by Straker we never hear about the flight again. Straker never asks about it and we never get to know if it ever landed in London.
Actually since there are so many plot-holes & inconsistencies in this episode it is best to list them in
the following order
1) The satellite 'SID-Vicious' fails to track the 'escape pod' that Alien jettisoned before crashing the UFO
2) Pete Carlin in SKY-1 fails to notice the 'escape pod' (which landed on terra firma and was not blown up by the alien) on his many flybys over the area
3) When the second UFO tries to re-enter Earth's atmosphere to kill the 'friendly alien' all 3 Interceptors respond with all the accuracy of 'pissed-up BULLSEYE contestants' and conveniently miss their target (nb: BULLSEYE was an 80's game show set around the sport of darts :)
4) Straker is not informed by SID-Vicious or Moonbase personnel that they failed to destroy the 2nd UFO and that it is on-route to Ireland, and SKY-1 is also not informed to be ready for the intruder.
5) Where is Paul Foster? He is sorely missed in this episode
6) 'ALIEN STUPIDITY' PLOTHOLES:
i) For some reason the alien took his helmet off upon landing (a wise move - NOT!) and is not affected by the atmosphere (even though he looks middle-aged to us and therefore could be aged 150+ in alien years which should have resulted in him 'crumbling to dust' etc)
ii) The Friendly Alien who decides to defect in order to help SHADO is a complete moron. He cannot speak English (otherwise he would have simply answered the blind old lady's questions by saying he was merely a : 'postman', 'milkman', 'binman', 'wandering minstrel' etc). He obviously doesn't understand English either given the puzzled look he always gives the blind old lady every time she opens her gob (which is a lot in this episode). I don't know how he was going to be of use to SHADO in the limited time he probably had before the atmosphere kills him (again because he unwisely took his helmet off, oh well :)
iii) The Alien stops the blind old lady from using the telephone in case she calls the authorities (which is in fact what he is trying to do in the first place - what a moron! :).
(iv) Instead he uses his 'ham radio set' to reveal his location to both SHADO and the 2nd UFO trying to kill him (because unlike the telephone the 'ham radio waves' can be tracked - again what a moron!)
(v) Once he switches on the radio he just lets the old lady harp on in the background hoping that SHADO will take the hint & notice there's an 'alien in town' instead of doing something more constructive (like tapping out something in morse code etc, or simply moaning 'STRAAAAKEEER' into the radio mike as this appears to be the one word of English the aliens do know from what we see in the superior episode 'Kill Straker'.
(vi) For some reason the alien decides to leave the cottage (probably tired of the old lady's constant nagging in a language he doesn't understand) carrying the 'ham radio set' which is clearly giving his location away to the 2nd UFO - again what a moron - sigh)
(vii) Instead of diving for cover the alien just looks up at the sky upon hearing the 2nd UFO and waits to gets zapped - absolute moron)
(viii) Why didn't the alien just activate the 'ham radio set' and leave it in the escape pod and run behind a nearby tree and wait for SHADO to arrive?
And back to the Hospital for the closing scene where the doctors just announce the death of Straker's son by nodding at him. And in true 'soap opera' cliche fashion Mary blames Straker for the death of their son because the drug didn't arrive in time (even though this 'experimental anti-biotic drug' that wasn't passed for use in the UK would probably have killed him anyway)
NOW THE GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE EPISODE
1) The special effects are excellent as usual. I love the alien escape pod sequence
2) I like the opening scene with the boy witnessing the woman being attacked only to be shown as part
of a movie being filmed.
3) The scenes with the alien and blind old lady are well directed. I particularly like the scene of the alien's reaction to the parrot.
WHAT WOULD HAVE IMPROVED THE EPISODE
1) Don't have Straker's son die at the end. It's far too disturbing & exploitative for basically a kid's TV show. Instead the closing scene could have implied that Straker's son slipped into a coma which the doctors could not revive him from, leaving his survival uncertain (and then it could have been mentioned in a later episode that he was eventually revived by the doctors and he survived the infection etc).
2) Or just have the closing scene where Straker's son is pronounced dead appear as a nightmare which Straker wakes up from (and learns that his son did receive the experimental anti-biotic in time).
3) Also I thought the Friendly Alien was 'taken out' far too quickly in the episode by the 2nd UFO. I thought it would have been better if the Friendly Alien actually met up with the SHADO Mobiles only to be ambushed by the aliens of the 2nd UFO (who landed the ship and are on foot). And that a shootout commences between the Friendly Alien & SHADO against the attacking aliens. The scene could have ended with the Friendly Alien saving Pete Carlin's life by sacrificing himself & 'taking the bullet' from the alien attackers in the gunfight (This would have confirmed that the Friendly Alien was indeed 'noble & good'). The gunfight then concludes with the hostile aliens being killed and their UFO being blown-up in the cross fire. I think this would have been a far more dramatic scene than the 'cop-out' scene we got with the Friendly Alien just being zapped whilst cloud gazing.
4) Also the final scene in the episode should have been the one that was originally scripted where Straker is having tea with the blind old lady a few weeks after the encounter which I thought wrapped-up the episode nicely instead of heavy-handed melodramatic ending we got).
And so as I have said at the beginning the 'A Question of Priorities' episode is a good but very flawed episode which despite it's boldness in showing the death of a child had probably done much to damage the UFO show's ratings among viewers. And it does highlight the fault of this show in trying to brand itself as a 'kitchen sink drama' rather then a family sci-fi adventure show.
BTW - I have not seen all the UFO episodes (the ones I have seen are: 'IDENTIFIED, COMPUTER AFFAIR, EXPOSED, A QUESTION OF PRIORITES, THE LONG SLEEP, CONFLICT, PSYCHOBOMBS, DESTRUCTION, THE DALOTEK AFFAIR, ORDEAL, ESP, SURVIVAL, KILL STRAKER, CLOSE-UP, THE SQUARE-TRIANGLE, CAT WITH TEN LIVES, and CONFETTI CHECK A-OK), so please do not post any spoilers for the remaining episodes that I have not seen as yet.
Encountering words "laughable" and "disappointing" relating to UFO in the beginning of the text made me stop reading immediately.
All the best!
Sent from my iPad
On 01.10.2020., at 05:59, "Shado-cabinet [via SHADO]" <[hidden email]> wrote:
Well, I have to admit I felt the same. AQOP is in my opinion one of the strongest and most humanising stories in the UFO library. It has to be viewed in light of Confetti-Check; Ed was very enthusiastic about being a father. He clearly carries a lot of guilt about being an absent parent, he’s loaded with guilt and shame around Mary because of the SHADO secrets which led to their separation and divorce. This causes him to act as he does with her. Sheepish, guilty, apologetic, secretive - I’ve felt the same with my ex and I’m not guarding a deadly secret! The aliens, as reflections in the water shows, understand that radio and speech is communication for humans, but they seem unable to produce sounds themselves, bar a scream I think once. They are mysterious and silent, as the episode Survival also attests to. They do show some understanding that humans are more than just the cattle they’ve treated them as until SHADO was created and started fighting back. Aliens often remove their helmets whilst on Earth.
Thank you for your reply. I didn't read it all as I have noticed there were spoilers to UFO episodes I have not seen yet. My apologies I am still working through the boxset after a 3 week break. I should have put the following statement at the bottom of my original post (I will do now) so that people do not refer to episodes I have not seen in their replies etc :
I have not seen all the UFO episodes (the ones I have seen are: 'IDENTIFIED, COMPUTER AFFAIR, EXPOSED, A QUESTION OF PRIORITES, THE LONG SLEEP, CONFLICT, PSYCHOBOMBS, DESTRUCTION, THE DALOTEK AFFAIR, ORDEAL, ESP, SURVIVAL, KILL STRAKER, CLOSE-UP, THE SQUARE-TRIANGLE, CAT WITH TEN LIVES, and CONFETTI CHECK A-OK), so please do not post any spoilers for the remaining episodes that I have not seen as yet.
But as you state in your answer AQOP does indeed tie-in with the 'Confetti-Check A-OK' episode but that's where the problem lies, its too much like your average 'kitchen sink drama' when the show should focus on the sci-fi adventure element etc.
In reply to this post by Branko
Thank you for taking great pain in pointing out to me that you neglected to read my post :)
I really appreciate the effort ;-)
In reply to this post by Shado-cabinet
Without going into a lot of detail, it seemed to me that Freeman had assumed Straker scheduled the flight based on the information they had at the time, and Freeman then re-scheduled it in the light of up-to-date information. And Straker couldn't say anything because he knew he'd acted out of line by commandeering SHADO resources for his own benefit. He hadn't just broken SHADO's rules, he'd broken his own standards of conduct. And he couldn't over-ride Freeman's orders because the alien was the number one priority.
(Incidentally, I've an idea this plot was based on a true story. I'm sure I remember seeing a documentary years ago about one of the old studio bosses like Korda or Balcon or Rank - and there was a story of how the young son of an employee came down with something like meningitis. And the treatment at the time was only available in America. So the studio boss chartered a plane to fly the treatment over and saved the child's life).
Thanks for your reply. Please excuse this late response as I have only just read it.
You are correct it is insinuated that Straker is 'acting out of line' by re-scheduling the SHADAIR flight a day early for his own purposes (although it could be argued that if Straker's son is saved by this intervention then it would ultimately be in SHADO's interests of security as there would be no media attention around the tragic death of a son of a studio boss etc). Although it is important to mention that Straker's secretary (another SHADO operator) is fully aware of Straker utilizing SHADO resources for his own purposes (in that he gets her to order the experimental antibiotics and has them loaded on the SHADAIR jet), and the fact that she does not seem to object or question Straker's actions indicates that it is not really a serious breach of SHADO's regulations and that it would not carry any serious consequences. We can see this in the 'IDENTIFIED' episode where a SHADO operator (Matthew Ford) placed a SHADAIR flight (carrying experimental equipment) in jeopardy of a UFO attack by not using the normal security procedures when amending the fueling schedule of the flight, and he did not get reprimanded or court-martialled for this monumental 'cock-up' etc.
However the problem that (due to a continuity error) in an earlier scene Freeman is over-listening when Straker is asking Matthew Ford (SHADO operator) for an update on the SHADAIR flight that he had previously re-scheduled (and it is interesting to point out that this before SHADO is even aware of an alien tourist sightseeing in County Galway which would make Straker's re-scheduling of the flight somewhat dubious & questionable in the eyes of the SHADO operators & Freeman ). And then in a later scene Freeman acts totally surprised when he learns from Ford that there is 'suddenly' a SHADAIR flight that Straker had mysteriously re-scheduled, which Freeman commandeers it without asking Straker first (which is a bit strange for the Chief of SHADO Security not to do so, especially without finding out why Straker had re-scheduled the flight in the 1st place).
Then another continuity error occurs once the SHADAIR flight drops off the mobiles in Ireland in that is never mentioned again in the episode (despite it taking only 20-30 minutes or so for this hypersonic jet to get from Galway to London etc). But as I said before the problem with this episode is that its goal is to have Straker's son tragically die for dramatic effect, which is why the whole episode is littered with plot-holes, continuity errors, major characters acting 'out-of-character' to execute this plot-device etc.
BTW - thanks for the story about the studio boss saving the life of an employee's child. It does sound like it was a direct inspiration for this episode. I only wish Anderson & co imitated the outcome of this 'true-life incident' in the script for this episode by having Straker's son saved in the last minute by the arrival of the antibiotics etc :)
I think the Ford incident was a Skydiver refuelling schedule, not Seagull-XRay. Just a line crowbarred in there to reinforce the security aspect of the organisation and to reiterate the plot outline. Identified was a very early episode.
And yes the SHADAIR flight was mentioned again. Something about it being back in the air as soon as it’s offloaded and Freeman DOES in fact tell Straker that he’s diverted the flight. He is a high up, so not unusual for him to make command orders unilaterally. I think the issue was that the diversion and the offloading took an hour longer than Johnny had. In a way, the studio exec saving the child’s life… well in that case the jet WASN’T diverted to counter an alien threat, so the outcome could have been different.
Thanks for correcting me on IDENTIFIED (I forgot it was a SKYDIVER fueling schedule and not the SHADAIR flight). But re: the SHADIR jet in the AQOP episode it is never mentioned again after Straker orders it back into the air after the mobiles are off-loaded (so we don't know if it landed at the SHADO airbase, or if the courier collected the anti-biotics etc). But as I was saying the episode is full of plot-holes etc, one of them being Security chief Freeman not checking with Straker first before ordering it to be diverted to Ireland (which is a definite plot-hole as he was present in an earlier scene when Straker is anxiously asking Matthew Ford for an update on the obviously re-scheduled flight) so he knows there is something about this re-scheduled SHADAIR flight that is obviously troubling Straker but because the script demands him to act 'out-of-character' so he does not etc.
Well obviously the real-life incident of the studio boss saving the employees child that this episode was based on obviously didn't have aliens spending quality time in Galway - lol (or DID it? :)
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