UFO Episode Timing

by Deborah Rorabaugh, ©1997, 2011

UFO had no set episode order except that Identified, being the pilot, should be first and Exposed should obviously come before any other episode with Paul Foster in it.

However, there are a few definite dates given (two newspaper dates, one death date, and a possible date from a script) and other internal clues as to how some episodes relate to one another, such as who is in command of Moonbase and occasional longer passages of time stated within an episode. And then there are time references that just don't work.

  • Identified: The newspaper in Lake's hand has the date of August 24, 1980. This clearly gives the week that SHADO became fully operational. It also gives the date of the first successful interception of a UFO by SHADO. Straker also gives a few vague time references, — Moonbase and 'the other satellites' have been operational for a few months, there have been ten years of 'mishaps' and 'miscalculations', the first incontrovertible proof was found 'nearly' ten years before. This gives a tentative date for the Carlin incident of late 1970 and the 'accident' with the Rolls Royce very shortly after that, possibly within weeks of acquiring the film.
  • Confetti Check A-Okay: This episode describes the early days of SHADO, beginning with Straker's wedding to Mary (no maiden name given).
    The wedding itself takes place in the warm months, only four days prior to Straker's meeting with special committee of the United Nations in New York City. Internal time cues: Enough time has passed for Henderson (seriously injured in the Rolls Royce 'accident') to have been moved to a convalescent center where he appears to be in reasonably good health aside from being in a wheelchair. Henderson tells Straker: 'Apparently, I'm stuck in this chair for another couple of months.'
    Later, we see Straker and his new wife buying a house and in the very next scene we see indications of the passage of time: the house is mostly furnished with walls painted, drapes on order, and the insurance agent showing up the next day. While some claim the one month to three month time frame for furnishing the house is much too short (probably true), insurance agents normally make housecalls only when there is a need — such as a major policy change. In this case, the logical policy change that would prompt an agent to come out would be Straker finally putting his wife on his life insurance policy or insuring the house itself (which should have already been handled on the purchase of the house). The fact that Mary sees it necessary for Straker to meet with the agent could indicate the matter deals with Straker's own insurance — something she would be unable to sign on his behalf.
    Minor timing issues: While we don't know exactly when Straker met Mary, it's probably a safe assumption that they met shortly after the 'accident' and it was a 'whirlwind romance'. Another possibility is that Straker was personally investigating Leila Carlin's disappearance and met Mary at that time. Of course this explanation brings up the question of why Straker would have been courting a woman he would likely never see again after he returned to the States when the investigation was over.
    Next: The next time we see Henderson he is out of the wheelchair and in his new office in the IAC building. This would indicate that at least a 'couple of months' have passed. Freeman is introduced to Henderson as SHADO's first recruit. Oddly enough, it's Straker asking Henderson about the 'construction' program. Henderson's response is: 'You should be able to pay it a visit in a couple of months.' Chris Bentley puts the construction time for SHADO HQ as taking only one year to complete the habitable shell and occurring between Jan 1, 1971 and Jan 1, 1972. We see Straker, Freeman, and several technicians inside a partially equipped office and control room, which puts the first scene in this sequence sometime after Jan 1, 1972, possibly even later. (DAR: For various reasons, I believe the construction began and ended several months later than Bentley's estimate.)
    We see Mary's announcement of her pregnancy, probably July 1972. This is followed by scenes with SHADO HQ more complete, and Mary at several months pregnant and telling her mother that the baby is due the first week of April. We then have a conversation, outside in cold weather, between Straker and Freeman where we are told the first batch of recruits will be ready in the spring (March or April 1973). The meeting with the first batch of recruits takes place the day before Mary falls and the baby is born by emergency C-section. The baby in the hospital bassinet looks full term so John Straker, although an emergency delivery, was a close-to-term birth.
    There is also an unfilmed scene in the script of Confetti Check A-Okay that puts the recruiting of Ford and Barry at 'about' one year after the Rolls Royce 'accident'. Back-timing six months from March 1, 1973, gives us a date of August 1972 or so for the beginning of their training or even earlier. (It is generally assumed that the meeting in Barry's apartment was a final briefing before the members of the group were sent out on their various assignments. But it also could have been one of a series of meetings. A minor complicating factor here: Masters and Maxwell were with the group in Barry's flat and were also two of the technicians working on the computers in HQ soon after the complex was opened for occupation. In this case we almost have to assume that they were recruited into SHADO as specialists from another agency and that actual SHADO training began later that summer.)
  • Exposed: Since Foster's plane was damaged during a successful UFO interception, this obviously places this event at sometime not long after August 24, 1980 (say September 5, 1980). Foster is in a coma for 6 days and writes his report on his UFO sighting 3 days after that. It is unlikely the meeting with Kofax took place less than a month after the 'accident', so placing the meeting with Kofax at 6 weeks after the 'accident' gives a date and Foster's recruitment at least a week later than that gives us a date in mid to late October.
    In Confetti Check A-Okay, we are told that training SHADO operatives takes 6 months and there is no reason to believe that training for SHADO recruits has gotten easier or shorter. However, we also know that Foster was on Moonbase on April 12, 1981, so we do need to shorten Foster's training period by at least a month, if not more. If we assume that at least a month of a recruit's training is on various technical aspects of the job — radar, communications, etc., and Foster was not being trained for a technical position, then that portion of standard training might be skipped in favor of on-the-job management training.
    The events in episodes Computer Affair, Flight Path, and A Question of Priorities could easily take place while Foster was in training.
  • Computer Affair: The original story treatment for this episode placed the time as 1985. The original script places the action as starting November 4, 1981, on Mark Bradley's 29th birthday. Although Bradley reads off the date 1984 from a champagne bottle, this can (and probably should) be interpreted as an uncaught error from the script itself (a blooper) or explained away by other means. (As an aside: most champagnes have no vintage. Those that do are either very good or very bad.) One suggested explanation for the 1984 reference: both Ellis and Bradley recognized elements of Orwell's 'Big Brother' in how SHADO's computers knew what they were thinking and feeling before they themselves realized it. In that case, '1984' could be a literary reference to their situation as we are hearing only the tail end of their conversation.
    In terms of character development and since Mark's birthday is never mentioned in the final episode, the events in this episode most likely take place not long after the events in Identified.
  • A Question of Priorities: The script describes John as being 8 years old, and Straker having been divorced from Mary for 3 years and she is newly remarried.
  • Close-Up: This episode is one with a long internal time-frame. From the initial civilian tests to the NASA launch on the '19th' is four to six weeks. Then there was a 6 month wait before the photos were received on Earth. Obviously, the events of several episodes can easily fit within this 6 month period. Since there is a conversation between Straker and Barry indicating that she is new to Moonbase, this episode likely takes place early in Foster's career with SHADO. The episodes Kill Straker!, Dalotech Affair, Responsibility Seat, and Reflections in the Water could certainly take place within this 6 month period.
  • Kill Straker!: Again, a reference that Straker has spent ten years putting SHADO together. Assuming that most episodes with Foster as Moonbase commander should be together as a block (Dalotech Affair, Responsibility Seat, Conflict, and Survival) ten years 'ago' would be April of 1971 give or take a few months.
  • Survival: Astronaut Bill Grant was killed on April 12, 1981 while Foster was in command of Moonbase.
    Odd timing issue: Barry is seen as being on Moonbase during Identified. But in Survival, Straker refers to Barry as 'settling in', even though the events in Identified took place 8 months earlier.
  • Reflections in the Water: In Kill Straker!, Straker makes reference to the strong possibility of a mass attack by the UFOs. This attack takes place in Reflections in the Water. The Kingston was sunk a week before the studio diver was killed. It is about 3000 miles between Cornwall and the spot Straker indicates as the area where the Kingston was sunk. At Sky-diver's maximum underwater speed of 40 knots1, it would take Sky-diver at least three days to follow the temperature gradient and the cable from the mid-Atlantic back to Great Britain. Assuming Sky-diver was originally cruising the area near Great Britain and used 'seaskim' to get to the Kingston's last known position, it would have taken the boat 2 days at 60 knots to get there, making it a 5 day round trip.
  • E.S.P.: Foster was in the hospital for a month after being injured.
  • Ordeal: Foster had been on Sky-diver for several weeks and should be at the Research Center (Health Farm) for 2 weeks. It is unclear exactly what Foster was doing on Sky-Diver unless it was for training.
  • The Man Who Came Back: Craig Collins was missing for two months and SID was down the entire time.
  • The Long Sleep: Of all the episodes, this is the one with the most serious timing issues. We are told that ten years have passed since Catherine Frazer was injured and hospitalized. We are also told that she was injured in 1970, only three days after a major earthquake in Turkey. In the real world, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey on March 28, 1970, killing more than 1,000 people. However, Straker is the one driving the car that knocked Frazer down three days after the killer earthquake. An April 1, 1970 date would put this event as prior to SHADO being chartered and having operatives on staff to do any investigating. (We are told that the file number is YP-115 and the investigating officer was Colonel Johns, implying it was a SHADO investigation.) Therefore the date of the killer earthquake needs to be fictionalized and placed near the end of 1970 or even later. Assuming Straker's reference to '10 years' is a rounded down number (from 10 years 5-6 months or so), we can put Frazer's death somewhere in mid 1981.
    However, the development of the characters, especially Foster, would indicate this event should actually be at least a year or more later than mid 1981, placing the main action of the episode in 1982 or '83. This would involve placing the time of the earthquake in 1972 or 1973 to bring the other time references into line. This also brings the original placement of the bomb to well after SHADO's founding.
  • Sub-Smash: This obviously takes place after A Question of Priorities. The original script for Sub-Smash has a conversation between Nina Barry and Straker where it is established that they have known each other for 12 years. This would put this episode somewhere in 1982-83. Then, assuming Skydiver 1 was not a total loss, three to six months in drydock.
  • Destruction: The newspaper Straker is reading has a date of February 3, 1983. This puts the UFO attack on the Naval vessel at sometime in January 1983. We are also told that Moonbase was under construction 'five, six years ago'. This puts Moonbase as being under construction from 1977-78 (and probably even before) to mid 1980.
  • Other Episodes: Most other episodes have the bulk of their action within a very short time frame — several days at most. So it is easily possible for the events described to occur within weeks of one another. (Square Triangle, The Sound of Silence, and Psychobombs all have very short time frames.)

There are minor discrepancies between some elements in Identified and Confetti Check A-Okay. In Identified, when asked: 'How long have you been with us?' Ford answers: 'Just over two years, sir.' But in Confetti Check A-Okay, Ford is clearly seen as one of SHADO's first recruits. While a few people insist that this particular exchange means that SHADO's first recruits were actually processed and trained in 1977-78 (disregarding the fact that in the final version of Confetti Check A-Okay, we see that Barry was recruited and trained at the same time as Ford, the script for Confetti Check A-Okay puts their recruitment at a year after the Rolls Royce 'accident' and the script for Sub-Smash clearly states that she has known Straker for 12 years prior the events in Sub-Smash), the most logical explanation is probably the one given by Chris Bentley and others — Ford was referring to his being assigned to SHADO HQ in 1978, rather than to his recruitment into SHADO in 1970-71.

1Underwater speed from Chris Bentley's The Complete Book of Gerry Anderson's UFO. Seaskim speed postulated based on expected speeds of 1960s military hydrofoil ships.

A purely conjectural Event Table

Story Title Event Date UFOs AF VL PF MnCdr Sky-1
Identified Rolls Royce Attacked Nov 05, 1970
Notes: The Carlin incident would have been shortly (within a few months) prior to this.
Confetti Check A-Okay SHADO Chartered Apr 19, 1971
Building open Jun 01, 1972
Birth of John Straker Apr 05, 1973
Identified Alien captured Aug 24, 1980 1 C C Ellis Carlin
Exposed Foster injured Sep 05, 1980 1 C U C Ellis Carlin
Computer-Affair Death of Ast. Gordon Sep 14, 1980 3 C, M U U Ellis Carlin
Investigation Sep 17, 1980
Alien captured Sep 20, 1980 1
Ellis, Bradley cleared Sep 22, 1980
A Question of Priorities Death of John Straker Sep 29, 1980 2 C U U Ellis Carlin
Foster recruited Oct 12, 1980
Flight Path Roper investigation Nov 21, 1980 2 C U U Ellis Carlin
End Roper Investigation Nov 23, 1980
Roper's death Nov 25, 1980
Foster completes basic training Feb 09, 1981
Close-Up Initial test Mar 06, 1981 1 C U C, M Ellis Waterman
Responsibility Seat Sovidex Incident Mar 25, 1981 1 C U M Foster Waterman
Dalotech Affair Dalotech team Arrives Moon Mar 29, 1981 2 C U M Foster
Destruction of Shuttle Apr 05, 1981
Destruction of U.F.O. Apr 07, 1981 1
Survival Grant's death Apr 12, 1981 Foster
Moonbuggy Crash Apr 14, 1981 1 C U M Bradley
Foster rescued Apr 15, 1981
Close-Up NASA Launch Apr 19, 1981 1
Court Martial Foster suspected Apr 20, 1981 C U C Waterman
Foster's trial Apr 25, 1981 C
Foster released Apr 27, 1981 C
The Long Sleep The Sleeper awakes May 01, 1981 U C C
Notes: Using a late 1970 date for the Turkish earthquake.
End Sleeper Inv. May 06, 1981
Kill Straker Attack on shuttle May 23, 1981 1 C U M, C Ellis/Foster
Attack on Straker May 25, 1981
Foster released Jun 08, 1981
Ordeal Foster arrives on Sky-diver Jun 19, 1981 S Waterman
Foster Leaves S.Diver Jul 17, 1981 S
Foster - Health farm Jul 18, 1981 C U H Ellis
Foster Leaves H-Farm Aug 01, 1981 U U C
Reflections in The Water Destruction of Kingston Aug 15, 1981 U C C Barry unnamed
Death of Studio Diver Aug 20, 1981 2
Discovery of dome, Aug 25, 1981
Notes: Even at full speed, Sky-diver would need at least 5 days for the round trip.
Dome destroyed, alien mass attack Aug 27, 1981 50
Sounds of Silence Russell Stone Kidnapping Aug 28, 1981 1 U U C Barry
Square Triangle Square Triangle Aug 30, 1981 1 C U C Ellis Waterman
Cat with Ten Lives Regan's death Oct 23, 1981 1 U C M Barry
Receipt of photos (Close-Up) Nov 02, 1981 C
Notes: Ellis on Earth furlough
E.S.P. Foster injured Feb 16, 1982 1 C U C Ellis
Croxley's death Mar 16, 1982 2
Conflict Maddox death Apr 12, 1982 1 C U M, C Ellis
Foster's Flight Apr 14, 1982
U.F.O. Destruction Apr 16, 1982
Psychobombs Straker Contacted May 08, 1982 1 U C C
Dest. of Fairfield Radar base May 10, 1982
Destruction of Sky-Diver 3 May 12, 1982
Death of Linda Simmons May 14, 1982
The Man Who Came Back Collins shuttle lost Jun 12, 1982 1 U M M, C Lake
Notes: SID down
Collins returns Aug 14, 1982
Collin's death Aug 21, 1982 U M C Lake
Sub-Smash UFO through defenses Sep 01, 1982 1 C U C, S Waterman
Sky-diver sunk Sep 04, 1982
The Long Sleep The Sleeper awakes Oct 10, 1982 U C C
Notes: Disregarding the 1970 reference for the Turkish earthquake and using 1972 instead.
End Sleeper Inv. Oct 14, 1982
MindBender Destruction of U.F.O. Dec 30, 1982 1 U C C Barry Waterman
Mindbender Jan 06, 1983
Destruction Report of attack on R.N. vessel Feb 03, 1983 2 U C, S C Barry unnamed
Adm. Sheringham, Control Feb 09, 1983
Time Lash Time Lash Mar 04, 1983 1 U C C Barry?
Total UFOs: 84

Bold dates: date from episode. Red dates: pure conjecture. All other dates extrapolated from minimal data.
Other codes: UFOs = Number of UFOs seen and/or destroyed.
AF, VL, PL - Alec Freeman, Virginia Lake, Paul Foster.
C = HQ, M = Moonbase, S = Sky-Diver, H = Healthfarm, U = Unknown.

This also ignores discrepencies in set dressing.

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