Recently I was enjoying watching an episode of Gerry Anderson's UFO, an SF series made in the very late 60s and first broadcast in 1970. I was a fan of it when I was a boy - not just because of the lovely Gabrielle Drake who played Lt Gay Ellis, the commander of Moonbase. In the days before CGI the "Century 21" model work, refined in the years of Anderson puppet series, let at least one teenage boy see the technology of the future. In those days before the pervasive presence of the personal computer and video games, that SF vision of the future on the TV screen and comics was exciting in a way modern teenagers surely can't possibly understand.
UFO was Gerry Anderson's first foray into live-action TV, having made his name with Thunderbirds. The darker themes and character interplay of UFO confused broadcasting moguls, coming after a string of puppet series aimed at children. Sadly, UFO was only made for 26 episodes.
UFO was an ambitious project for TV of the time, imagining and realising the technology of an interplanetary war as it would be in the 1980s - 20 years in the future. And it had one of the coolest opening credit sequences ever.
NASA was still making moon landings as UFO was being broadcast and everyone knew that a moonbase was not long away. In the 1980s of UFO the cars had gas turbine engines, we drove on the right-hand side of the road like the rest of Europe, and gorgeous women wore silver catsuits and striking purple wigs as a uniform. Shuttles flew between Earth and the Moon as a matter of routine whilst Commander Straker (the late Ed Bishop) fought bureaucracy as well as the enigmatic alien menace. Nuclear powered submarines with amphibious fighter planes carried on the nose prowled the sea. Everyone smoked, alot. SID, the Space Intruder Detector satellite, an advanced AI system kept track of UFO incursions into the solar system: instantly calculating speeds and trajectories, points of origin and destination, working faster and more accurately than any team of humans ever could. There were cordless and mobile phones, supersonic transport aircraft were the only way across the Atlantic (of course in the 60s, and unlike now, you could actually go across the Atlantic in an SST) and racial tensions had "burned themselves out."
So, I was thinking… where did that future go? Where did all the things everyone "knew" would happen in the future disappear to? The Cold War paranoia of UFO and its era have been replaced in with the post-9/11 paranoia of the Global War On Terror… but is it the same or has everything changed?
When I was a boy at school we dreamed of moonbases and time travel machines to see the dinosaurs. Now kids at school dream of ecological disaster and the extinction of polar bears. But what future will we really get? Can we predict the future in any meaningful way? Who is predicting the future… and for what purpose?
Aye, there's the rub. Our dreams of the future are really about our present. They're about how people feel about themselves and where they're going. And for some reason people today fear the future, despise themselves and humanity. We're killing the planet, our children are too fat, and there are terrorists under every bed.
Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool fully paid up member of the Grassy Knoll Crowd I have my theories about the whys and wherefores of this. The future is being destroyed by evil men for evil purposes. And the future is now. I'm reminded of another SF tagline,
"The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."
Fight the alien menace. Take back your future.