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INTERVIEW: Chris Thompson on UFO SHADO Technical Operations Manual

The vivid and imaginative world of Gerry Anderson’s 1970 British cult sci-fi series UFO will explode to life again with the October 2022 release of the UFO: S.H.A.D.O. Technical Operations Manual. Written by Chris Thompson and Andrew Clements, and published by Anderson Entertainment, the UFO: S.H.A.D.O. Technical Operations Manual immerses readers in the classic show, which followed the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization as it sought to defend Earth in the face of a significantly advanced alien menace – all while maintaining absolute secrecy of its efforts and methods from the general population. UFO preceded the hit Anderson science-fiction series Space: 1999 and shares much of its design aesthetic.

Across the oversized (300 x 230 x 22mm) and lavishly illustrated (180+ brand-new illustrations) hardcover book’s 208 pages, Thompson and Clements explore S.H.A.D.O.’s history, introduce readers to the show’s inventive vehicles and equipment via illustrations and blueprints, and share an overview of everything known about the dangerous unidentified aliens, a dying race that – in 1980 — abducts humans and harvests their organs.

Jamie Anderson recently spoke to author and designer Chris Thompson about the upcoming book!

So, what’s all the fuss about? What is this new UFO book?

Well as you know, getting abducted by aliens is one of the big crises of the world today so I figured that I’d write a book to raise awareness of a little organisation (that I could best describe as “groovy”) that the governments of the world set up called “SHADO” whose job it is to fight off these alien invaders. The book is a deep dive into the organisation and its operations.

For those who’ve got the Moonbase Alpha Technical Operations Manual, how similar is it?

I had to go into UFO with a slightly different mindset than I did with Space:1999. Firstly the MBATOM was an optimistic overview of an alternate history space program and required a lot of retrospective world building to tie everything together. It was also written like an informative travel document so a big part of it delved into an everyday view of the base from a lifestyle point of view. In contrast, the SHADOTOM is very much a piece of literature that is designed never to see the light of day and gives a wider overview of a future that is barely a decade from the time it was conceived. Tonally it is a darker book but shows the occasional moral quandary in SHADO’s operations. Visually, Amazing15 have come up with a lovely new layout that feels familiar to the MBATOM but different enough to stand as its own thing.

TLDR we don’t show the SHADO HQ toilets in this one…

Was UFO more or less than a challenge than Space:1999?

Both brought their own unique challenges. From a modelling standpoint, while they took longer to do, I found the more modular elements of the Space:1999 craft and sets easier to model, plus a lot still survives from that show in terms of reference. I also had 4 months of lockdown to make quite a serious dent in it.

UFO had the Century 21 FX team working at the top of their game, meaning a lot of the vehicles had these very streamlined but complicated shapes that made them quite tricky to model, along with a ton of markings and tiny details. The standing sets were also all very detailed with very few common elements so a lot of time was taken modelling buttons, lights and knobs well into the night. Where UFO really helped however was finally being able to get back to Earth. I really enjoy doing the land, sea and air stuff and after spending 278 pages on the Moon I was keen to artistically branch out as soon as possible.

How do you go about writing these books?

The first thing you do is start watching the show and making notes as you go along of cool things to include or fun little bits you can link together. Then I’ll put together an asset list and a provisional list of pages for our editor Steve to approve. Then I have a big chat with AC about what bits he’s doing and distribute accordingly.  Usually I tend to work out of sequence and try to get some of the more technical sections out of the way, modelling the assets and then writing about them while all their individual parts are fresh in my mind. I have a big spreadsheet of all the pages and I get to colour each page in green as I finish them like a little serotonin-producing advent calendar.

Eventually you tick off section by section and finally you have a disparate collection of text and images which you email to Marcus at Amazing15 which comes back in a sexy pdf!

How many new models/illustrations have been done for this?

Just over 50 3D models. I haven’t totalled the illustrations yet but at a guess I’d say 150 to 200.

What where the biggest challenges? Is there any conflicting info in the show or its spinoff media?

It’s really hard to tell as we didn’t have access to UFO’s series bible on this one but I feel like UFO as conceived with a very solid and well thought out structure to SHADO that they slowly started to abandon as the show went on in the interest of making the show more exciting in the later episodes. This does create awkward situations of interceptors dogfighting when they shouldn’t be able to, or the Aliens using incredibly advanced powers in oddly inefficient ways. There may have been a few things I deliberately glossed over.

What new things did I learn about UFO during the process?

I don’t know if there’s anything specifically new about UFO but I certainly got to view it in a different light. I grew up in the 90s where UFO was one of the few shows not to get a revival so my only contact with it was a listing in an old sci-fi book my brother owned and the corner of a Steve Kyte poster. I finally watched the show on DVD and immediately fell in love with Skydiver and made a little short film with my future co-writer AC a few years after that can be seen here.

I think I only really started to gel with it when I was older because it’s much more of a human story than other sci-fi shows, with the Alien threat taking a back seat to the everyday drama of SHADO itself.

What is your favourite section of the book?

I really enjoyed working on the SHADair section, partly because I got to do a little more retrospective world building (most things that SHADO builds can’t really have much history beyond “they built X to solve problem y”) so I got to have a little fun with the more commercial nature of SHADair and the various environments the aircraft operate in. My fondness for Skydiver cannot be understated so I had a lot of fun with that whole section too!

What new things will UFO fans learn from the book?

What lies below Moonbase? Where is the Human Resources section in SHADO HQ? How does Sky 1 reconnect with Skydiver?

Growing up with sci-fi tech manuals such as Sam Denham and Graham Bleathman’s Supermarionation books, or Mike Okuda and Franz Joseph’s Star Trek manuals, I always thought the best parts were the bits that expanded the canon somewhat. So like on the MBATOM, we have added some new stuff to give people a little look around the corner so to speak.

While I’d never presume to try and write a canonical ending for the show, AC and I have put together “Operation Prometheus” and “Operation Chimera” which can be found at the end of the book. Two plans that SHADO could put into effect, and in theory make for some exciting and morally dubious potential episodes…

Anderson Entertainment will publish UFO: S.H.A.D.O. Technical Operations Manual, by Chris Thompson and Andrew Clements, in October 2022. It will be priced at UK £34.99, with pre-orders starting in late September 2022. Anderson Entertainment will also offer a Special Edition, limited to 500 units worldwide, which will include an individually numbered S.H.A.D.O. ID badge, replica S.H.A.D.O. document wallet, and selected S.H.A.D.O. paraphernalia showcased in a custom presentation. It will cost UK £99.99, with an online pre-order launching in late September.

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Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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