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18 January 2021

With aliens and spaceships regularly featuring in Doctor Who, DWO recently caught up with Nick Pope (the UK's answer to X Files' Fox Mulder), who worked at the Ministry Of Defence's UFO desk in the early 1990s.

Nick discusses some of his cases, the real possibility of the existence of extraterrestrials, and his love for our favourite Science Fiction TV series. Read the DWO interview, below:

For over 20 years you worked at the Ministry Of Defence with a portion of that time dedicated to manning the UFO desk and the many reports of UFO sightings around the UK. In fact, you were the closest thing we have to The X Files' Fox Mulder - were you always a believer or did this happen during your time at the MOD?

Nick: While my MoD career lasted 21 years, before I decided to take early retirement in 2006, my time in the division where I was responsible for investigating UFO sightings was just one posting - from 1991 to 1994 - in that longer career. It was a fascinating job: I had policy responsibility for the topic (and thus drafted advice to defence ministers, in my capacity as the subject matter expert); I investigated the sightings (200-300 each year); I dealt with the public correspondence; and I drafted material for the press office to use in response to questions from the media.

In all of this, I could call on advice from specialist staff as required, e.g. radar experts, scientific and technical intelligence staff, intelligence community imagery analysts (for looking at photos and videos that we acquired), astronomers and others. 

However, it may surprise people to know that despite being a science fiction fan, I'd never paid much attention to the UFO phenomenon. So when I was assigned the job, I didn't know much about the subject and I went in neither as a believer nor as a sceptic, but with an open mind, going where the data took me. Looking back, that was probably the best approach, as I didn't come into the post with any preconceived ideas. That said, as I began my investigations, and as I read myself into the vast archive of previous files on the subject (much of which we later declassified and released), my views evolved, and I began to realize there was more to the subject than just misidentifications of aircraft lights, weather balloons and satellites!   

From 7-year old Jacob and 10 year year old Amelia: What sizes have the UFOs ranged from and what was the largest UFO you recall being reported?

Nick: UFOs come in all shapes and sizes, though from time to time we hear more about one particular type. At the moment, there's a lot of interest in UFOs shaped like a Tic-Tac, because of a very interesting case from 2004 involving the US Navy. But people also report a lot of orb-shaped UFOs, disc-shaped craft, and huge, triangular-shaped UFOs.

The biggest UFOs I've heard of are sometimes nicknamed "flying football fields" and are rectangular or triangular in shape. There were some sightings of these in the Hudson Valley, in the United States, back in the Eighties, and in the UK and elsewhere in the Nineties. I remember one witness telling me about a 1993 sighting in the UK where he looked up at night and saw the stars blacking out, one by one, as a huge, dark UFO passed slowly overhead. And another witness to a wave of sightings in and around Phoenix in 1997 told me about a huge boomerang-shaped UFO that passed over the parking lot of a restaurant, with dozens of people standing there, mesmerized, looking up. I asked how low it was flying, and he said "Nick, if I'd have thrown a rock up into the air, I would've hit it." 

What was the most compelling case you worked on in your 20+ years and how likely do you think it will be that we will have official contact with extraterrestrials during our lifetime?

Nick: The most compelling case is probably the Rendlesham Forest incident from 1980, which involved not just something in the sky, but an alleged landing. It happened before my time in the MoD, but I undertook a cold case review in around 1993. It's everything you could want in a UFO case: multiple observers from independent locations, over three consecutive nights; military witnesses; radar evidence; physical evidence in the form of indentations in the ground, burn marks on the trees and radioactivity levels at the landing site that government scientists said seemed "significantly higher than the average background". This all took place in Rendlesham Forest, in Suffolk, and the forest lies between the twin military bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge. The several dozen military witnesses included the sceptical deputy base commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt. And because this was an incident involving two US military bases in the UK, there's a file that contains numerous United States Air Force and MoD documents about this case. Believers and sceptics have their various theories, but even now, 40 years later, these are just theories - officially, the case remains unexplained.

Years later, I teamed up with two of the key military witnesses, John Burroughs and Jim Penniston, and we wrote a book on the incident, entitled "Encounter in Rendlesham Forest". It's based on declassified government documents and on testimony from the military witnesses, and as such, it's the only UFO book ever to have needed security clearance from both the UK and the US government.

I think that we'll have proof of the existence of extraterrestrials in a few years from now. I'm not sure it will come from what the UFO community calls "Disclosure" (formal, official acknowledgement of alien visitation), or even from a UFO incident, and at least in the first instance I think it's more likely to come from a radio telescope picking up a signal from another civilization. The next generation of radio telescopes (and the associated computers to process the data) should be sufficiently powerful that if there are civilizations out there - at least in our small corner of the Milky Way galaxy - we'll find them. 

It's no secret that you are a Doctor Who fan - what was your earliest memory of the show and do you have a particular favourite episode and Doctor?

Nick: My first memories of Doctor Who are some of the old Jon Pertwee stories, when I was seven. After Planet of the Daleks, I watched every week. Regarding Doctors, while David Tennant and Peter Capaldi get honorable mentions, Tom Baker is my favorite. Perhaps that's partly childhood nostalgia, but I think he best portrayed the 'otherness' of the Doctor, with the unique combination of quirkiness, sadness, humor, intelligence, courage and morality that the character possesses.

My favorite story is Genesis of the Daleks. There's always something fascinating about an origin story (and the introduction of Davros was inspired), but this was a story of real depth, with the advantage swinging back and forward, generating genuine tension and excitement. This was the ultimate high-stakes story, with memorable themes of total war, genetic experimentation, genocide, a militaristic society that had clear parallels with the Nazis, and more besides. Above all, there's the moral dilemma the Doctor faces, so perfectly brought out by Tom Baker's acting. This is Doctor Who at its thought-provoking best, with the Doctor holding two detonating wires close together, knowing that if he makes the connection, the resultant explosion in the dalek incubator room could wipe them out; but then pausing and giving his speech centered around the question "Do I have the right?"

Finally, if you could take a round trip in the TARDIS, anywhere in time and space, where would you go and why?

Nick: I'd want to go to wherever and whenever is the apex of civilization, to see how high and how far life can go, in terms of things like intellectual development and technological advance. Maybe that would be Earth, in the far future, or maybe it's an alien world in the distant past. It might be something like Gallifrey, it might be something like Trantor (if you'll forgive me mixing franchises!), and it might be something completely different and unimaginable. And maybe the dominant life form would be biological, but maybe it would be post-biological. Thus, in the best traditions of Doctor Who, I wouldn't know where or when I was going, and I'd probably encounter something quite unexpected when I got there!

+  Follow @NickPopeMOD (Nick Pope) on Twitter!
+  Visit Nick Pope's official website!
+  Buy Nick Pope's books on Amazon.

[Source: Doctor Who Online]

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