“Bidi-bidi-bidi”, too much horror makes me numb, anyone who’s been following my blog will know it’s not just about my films and novels. It’s my love of a wide variety of quality and shlock entertainment.
I’ll be frank nostalgia is a dangerous thing. It can ruin your adulthood or re-enforce that something really was great, revisiting Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was, well, hey what can I say, there’s much to enjoy even if father time has not been too kind.
Not only did it have a space load of guest stars, Dorothy Stratten, Richard Lynch, Roddy McDowall and Jack Palance to name a few. There’s some notable episodes, one with Jamie Lee Curtis being chased by a Terminator-like Cyborg, one with Jerry Orbach (Space Rockers) and a Tron-esque band called “Andromeda”, there’s Cosmic Wiz Kid with Different Strokes Gary Coleman. Also Tarzan’s Buster Crabbe, (who played Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the original serials turns up.
So here’s a roundup of my favourite episodes (in running order) from the first series, you know the one before Hawkman, where they were still based on earth, where Mel Blanc did the voice of Twiki for the whole season and Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis, Princess Ardala and Kane all appeared.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Space Vampire (12) (1980)
A space craft crashes into the space station where Twiki is getting repairs and Buck and co. try to figure out what happened to the ship’s crew.
Directed by Larry Stewart and written by Kathleen Barnes and David Wise- Space Vampire is a homage of sorts to Nosferatu, Dracula and a possible nod to Romero’s zombie films. The concept was debatably borrowed later by Lifeforce (1985).
This is one of the most eerie and the only horror toned episode of the first series. Should the makeup design of Nicholas Hormann as the spine-chilling Vorvon had been better designed this could have been the most rounded of all the episodes. Drained bodies, the morgue like environments, a ghost ship, the victims coming back to life it’s all good tawdry horror sci-fi stuff.
Wilma Deering gets more to do in this episode as she begins to see things and is subjected to entranced states. Here Erin Grey gets to show some range and not just her infamous tight outfits.
Highlights also include Buck and Twiki watching a recordings of the invisible (to the camera) assailant killing its victim. Buck’s investigation and him taking on the tranced hordes is also a blast. Notable is Christopher Stone as a doubting Space Station Commander, Royko who would later appear in the Howling (1981).
One of the stronger and more memorable episodes.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Ardala Returns (15) (1980)
Accompanied by Twiki Buck Rogers finds himself in a cloning lab where android copies of him called a Zygots are being made.
This is debatably one of the most entertaining of the first season, notable for its multiple Buck Zygots, Gil Gerard gets a lot of fun and is able to show a little range while Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala is entertaining especially when showing her disappointment with the Buck duplicates. Highlights include Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering (sporting her blue jumpsuit) and company almost getting duped by a Buck imposter and Buck out smarting Ardala with a glitch guise and then a showdown with Buck taking on himself in a dogfight.
More Buck equals more fun and Hensley fans won’t be disappointed.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: A Dream of Jennifer (18) (1980)
Buck goes in search of his girlfriend who inexplicably shows up in the 25th Century 500 years after he last saw her.
The title possibly plays on ‘I dream of Jeannie’. Opening as mystery episode with plenty of locations it’s notable for giving some background into Bucks past prior to Ranger 3’s ill- fated mission, complete with a flashback/dream scene with Buck in his 80s Formica and Velo pad.
Col. Deering’s (Erin Gray) hair is initially particularly dark then changes tint throughout. In addition Wilma sports a the less fitting white jacket/belt skirt then later the blue jump suit. Sadly she isn’t given much to do in this episode aside from bark orders.
Beneath the surface it’s an emotional episode for Buck with Gil Gerard giving full commitment especially during a death scene.
The carnival aside and despite its colourful costumes, makeup and masks this is one of the more serious toned episodes. That said, Jaws (1975) is mentioned topped off with Twiki cracking a joke about an associated tag-line in the closing.
One of the more poignant episodes.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Flight of the War Witch (21) (1980)
A mysterious large sphere lands outside New Chicago where a golden orb emerges and is brought back to the laboratory for an examination. This leads Buck to discover and impending danger from the War Witch.
Opening with an extended title sequence more money appears to have been injected into the seasons penultimate and finale episode. The special effects are better and more frequent, the sets are grander. There’s brief on location external shots.
William ‘Buck’ Rogers (Gil Gerard) smooches his way through the first half like a sci-fi James Bond joined by Theo and Twiki who go along on the adventure. Dr. Elias Huer gets some weighty scenes and is further fleshed out actor Tim O’Connor brings more gravity and emotion here giving this episode an unknown edge. Col. Wilma Deering gives a defining speech adding to the uneasiness of the episode as Buck sets off into a vortex to search for life in an uncharted universe and you really do feel at this point that Buck may actually not return (it is the last of the series after all).
Julie Newmar as Zarina commands ever scene and is a partially good female antagonist reminiscent of a live action Disney Witch. Zarina is accompanied by her right hand man Spirot played by Sig Hague who get limited screen time. Series regulars Draconian Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) sporting some fetching outfits and Kane appear as red herrings in the scope of the episode. Twiki (Felix Silla (cousin IT) and voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc) gets his usual one-liners and there’s a some fun moments where he interacts with another robot. Although Twiki’s circular robot companion Dr. ‘Theo’ Theopolis (voiced by Eric Server) doesn’t really get much to say in this outing.
Taking some visual cues from 2001 Space Odyssey and StarTrek albeit cheaper looking this episode is one of the better scripted and constructed both aesthetically and in terms of plot.
The second half includes a Star Was-like escape with Buck assisting the perfect spoilt Princess Ardala and Deering wonderfully played by the (continually underutilised) stunning Ering Gray helping Kane. Earth’s Starfighters team up with the Draconians to help the Pendarians against Zarina’s army in a dogfight space showdown.
There’s plenty of great music with some nice stings and sound effects to accompany the many well dressed setups.
Debabtly more fun and faster paced than the feature length ‘Awakening’, The two parter Flight of the War Witch closes with a rendition of Kipp Lennon’s ‘Suspension’ song that opened the series pilot/film which fittingly bookends the the first series (arguably perfectly if series/season two hadn’t had been made).
Spaceships, laser shootouts, robots, warring aliens, forcefields, voice computers to name a few, overall with some underlining theology, smidgens of action its one of the slicker produced and better looking episodes.
So there it is, what are your thoughts on Buck 80s series one?