PLANET OF THE APES
OTHER RODDY MACDOWELL SHOWS
The Fantastic Journey
ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW
Ten years after the events of the seminal film, another spaceship passes through the time warp and crashes onto Earth in the far future. One of the three astronauts dies on impact, but the two survivors soon learn that the rulers of the world now are apes, apes that fear and hate them. They are quickly captured, but the curiosity of a young chimpanzee called Galen saves them from death and eventually aids their escape. Now on the run, the trio set off to look for a future that might lead to the past.
Whatever the quality of the show, it's fantastic to see that great ape makeup again. As it happens, this first episode neatly summarises the plot of the film down into a fast-moving hour without sacrificing either sense or character. It is aided immeasurably from the central ape performances. Roddy McDowell must be as comfortable in his ape mask as with his normal face by this point and Mark Lenard (Star Trek's Sarek) makes a fine villain in Urko, the gorilla chief of security. Ron Harper and James Naughton make for passable human leads.
The set up is complete. Where will it take us?Top
When Virdon, Burke and Galen happen across two men fighting, Burke immediately wades in on the side of the loser only to have both men turn on him. In the following scuffle, the magnetic disc holding their faint hope of getting home gets lost, only to be found by the prefect of the village. Whilst Galen tries to gain the trust of the prefect, the two men are captured and faced with the prospect of fighting to the death in the prefect's games.
It's an intriguing set up. The prefect of the village is using the old Roman idea of bread and circuses to keep the intrinsic human bloodlust at bay. It's an idea that was also explored in the original 'ROLLERBALL. Around that premise is hung a flimsy story, but one that is full of incident and a bit too much moralising, something that the show could have done without.
A solid, if unspectacular, start to the series.Top
The pursuing gorillas chase the three fugitives into an acient ruined city wracked by earth tremors. One such tremor leaves Burke and General Urko trapped in an old underground station with their air running out. Gorillas and humans must work together above and below ground if they are to survive, but the discovery of a poster advertising the gorilla enclosure at the zoo does nothing to improve Urko's mood.
Since the show is called PLANET OF THE APES it is hardly surprising that it is the actors in the ape makeup that are making the most impression. Mark Lenard is proving to make the usually one-dimensional gorillas of the films into an ape of some depth, despite being the villain of the piece and Roddy McDowell continues to be a marvel as the chimpanzee Galen.
The effect of this episode would have been much more significant a few more instalments down the line after Urko is established as the fugitives' nemesis. As it is, the character interplay is fine and some of the underlying significance of ape and human history is played out.
It is bizarre, however, that Urko is a general, but only seems to have 3 other gorillas under his command.Top
THE GOOD SEEDS
When Galen is injured, the fugitives hide on an isolated farm. Whilst there, Virdon uses his childhood farming knowledge to improve life for the ape farmers, but the eldest son is hostile, thinking that their presence is a bad omen and will affect the birth of the young bull calf that will give him his freedom. When the cow's labour goes perilously wrong, it is not only the calf's life that is in danger.
Shame to say so early in the series, but this episode was downright dull. If I had wanted to know about farming I would have gone to agricultural college. That's what this is, an hour of how a farm works and how simple tricks made primitive farming easier. Oh please.
Also, how come it's Galen who, as a chimpanzee ought to be the lightest on his feet and athletic, is the one who can't keep up and gets himself hurt? Come on, he's as much one of the heroes as the two humans.Top
The trio come across another ruined city that looks suspiciously like the one from The Trap. In a ruined science institute, they stumble over a holoprojector with a message about storehouses of all mankind's knowledge. The power source dies before they can learn the location. When gorillas catch Virdon trying to gather materials to make a battery, they imprison him with a woman and a boy in order to get him to reveal where the others are hiding.
After the intense dullness of last week's The Good Seeds, PLANET OF THE APES is back on track with a much better episode. True, the use of stock images and the same set of the ruined city for the second episode in three is a bit distracting, but the story at least goes somewhere. The introduction of storehouses of human knowledge give Virdon and Burke some hope of changing this world they live on or even escape to home if they can find one of the others without the gorillas in hot pursuit.
The use of the woman and especially the boy by the apes to get the information they need from Virdon shows their level of sophistication and adds an edge to the characterisations, even if the resolution is a little stock.
Anyway, this is a more promising way to go.Top
The fugitives rescue a man who has been strapped to a raft and sent out to sea to die. Whilst he recovers in a cave, apparently wishing he was dead, they discover a work camp nearby where humans are used to spear fish. Those that can no longer meet their quotas are sacrificed to the gods of the sea, sharks. Virdon and Burke are immediately captured and must prove their worth by swimming below a lake of fire.
The discovery of the sacrifice to the sea makes for an intriguing opening to this episode, but the show goes downhill from here. The Good Seeds was all about farming and this is all about fishing. It seems that the show is locking itself into a repeating format in which the trio waltz into a community with problems and then share some of their advanced knowledge to make life better for all (in this case how to make nets to catch more fish). There needs to be a bit more variation on a theme than that
At least the plot moves along with speed enough and there are some moments of mild tension, such as the test of the lake of fire.Top
Virdon is shot and the bullet lodges near to a nerve cluster. Without surgery, he is going to die, but the only hospital with the level of care that he needs is based just outside Central City. Galen was once involved with one of the surgeons there and convinces her to help, but for the surgery to work they need access to one of the books in Zaius's collection and a compatible blood donor. Unfortunately, the only donor is a girl whose blood is deemed to be evil.
A straightforward adventure plot in which the good guys have to sneak about near to the heart of the enemy and rely on the uncertain kindness of others. Without any great message in sight, the episode is much less preachy and therefore much more enjoyable than others.
OK, so it touches on how we label things that we don't understand as being bad and that the truth is always good, even when we don't agree with it, but does so only in passing and with an eye more on the plot than on the sermon.Top
When an ape is killed by two humans who evade capture, local ape residents take it upon themselves to punish all the local humans. The fugitives blunder into this situation and make friends with a blind female ape who is the daughter of the murdered ape and niece of the ringleader of the vigilantes. Unable to see his face, she forms an attachment to Burke, something that Galen takes badly.
Science fiction, when done properly, can hold up a mirror to the modern day like no other genre. PLANET FO THE APES is uniquely in a position to do that as the apes treat humans as we treat those we think of less than ourselves. Vigilantism and the Klu Klux Klan in particular come under this distorting mirror, examining the causes of such hatred and the ignorance that informs it. Fortunately, it looks at the issues in a much better, less heavy-handed fashion than other episodes and keeps the plot moving along at the same time.
The tone of the show is beginning to settle down and a better quality is emerging from the plotting and writing.Top
THE HORSE RACE
Galen gets stung by a tiger scorpion and a human rides to get the serum to save him. As humans aren't allowed to ride horses, his life is forfeit. The prefect, however, is facing a race against Urko's champion with a huge bet riding on the outcome. When he learns that Virdon is a master horse rider, he agrees that the condemned kid will go free if Virdon will ride, and win the race. Urko, though, doesn't play fair and a gorilla is given the job of killing him before he can win.
Another day, another village, but the plot remains the same, or at least has enough elements seen before already to be completely familiar. First there's the father with troubled son scenario from The Gladiators then there is Galen getting them into a situation that the humans then have to get him out of (a la The Surgeon) and then there's the fact that Virdon is just about the best horse rider there is. Is there in fact anything that Virdon can't do (apart from pilot a spaceship around a time warp)?
That said, even though the plotting is already tired and familiar, the episode does rattle by fairly effectively, the horse riding sequences are competent with action enough and the apes continue to impress with that makeup. Frankly, though, it's getting so that isn't enough.Top
Burke gets captured by Urko's gorillas and subjected to brainwashing techniques designd to get him to reveal the names of all those that have helped him. Virdon and Galen travel back into Central City to find a way to free him, with or without the help of Galen's parents. As his father has recently been elected to the council, he counts on no support there.
THE INTERROGATION is a more interesting story than some of the others, but far from perfect. The idea of the apes torturing Burke using human techniques is the kind of reflection of modern society through the twisted mirror of the show that it should be doing more of. Instead of concentrating on the brainwashing and the effects on Burke, the plot switches too much to the attempts to rescue him and the relationship between Galen and and his parents now that he is an outlaw. This is a shame as both stories are weakened by not getting the full treatment that they deserve.
There is a great moment when Urko, having heard of Zaius's plan for the brainwashing, complains "Why do we always have to make a simple thing complicated?" It's a plea that many a sci-fi character (and others, such as guards in James Bond films) has no doubt wished to ask many times. Now Urko has and good for him.
There are also problems, such as why someone leaving a time capsule hidden in 1980 thought it would be a good idea to leave a book on brainwashing inside it. Still, because of the deeper than usual plot and Urko's outburst, this is about the best of the show so far.Top
An old gorilla friend of Urko is stealing the grain from the farmers in the area under his control. He is using that to trade for gold and using gold to buy favour in Central City. When he falls foul of the fugitives, they set out to reveal his activities to the authorities with an audacious plot.
In terms of plotting, this episode moves away from the usual format and follows a power game that is quite complex and more interesting than the usual story of astronaut knowledge overcoming ape/human problem. It also makes the most of the acting skills of Roddy McDowell, one the series' greatest and most underused assets.
In fact, this episode is more about the apes and their society and the humans aren't given that much to do. This might explain why it works that much better. Even Urko manages to get some moments to show just how he got to be the head gorilla.Top
When they learn that a village that sheltered them has been hit by a plague, the fugitives return to see if they can help. They figure out that the disease is malaria and set about manufacturing quinine, but Urko also learns of the disease and wishes to burn down the village and everyone in it.
Following last week's interesting political escapade it's back to the same plot structure that has dominated the series and allowed for very little variation. It's a disease instead of fishing, or farming or horse racing, but it is the same structure and it is getting very tired.Top
Burke and Virdon are taken prisoner by a group of humans who hunt other humans down to give to the Apes as slaves so that they will not have to work in the mines. The tribe is headed by a human witch doctor with the apparent ability to kill without weapons. The fugitives try to persuade the humans to fight the apes rather than hunt for them and discover that the leader has some very drastic plans for freeing his people.
A mixture of some tired old elements (aren't these guys getting bored of being captured all the time and is there any father/son relationship that isn't troubled) and a some more interesting subtexts. The human leader appears to be working with the apes, but is in fact creating and storing chemical weapons to use against them. Burke and Virdon try to dissuade him with an impassioned plea about escalation and the arms race. This is how the show should be exploiting its distorting mirror on today's society. It makes for a much better episode.Top
UP ABOVE THE WORLD SO HIGH
Stories of a man who has learned to fly brings a chimpanzee scientist out from Central City to find out if it is true. Her interest seems to be more than purely scientific in nature and Galen learns that she is planning to use the glider to carry out a terrorist strike on the heart of Central City to gain power for the chimpanzees.
Patriotism, terrorism, ends justifying means. There is much more going on in this episode than many of the others and the series is beginning to show much more promise, which is a shame as this was the point at which it was cancelled. It was, perhaps, not so much ahead of its times as ahead of its own capacity.Top
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