Buck Rogers -
Wilma Deering -
Dr Huer -
OTHER SPACE ADVENTURES
Buck Rogers woke from his 500 years slumber, caused by a freak mishap on a space mission that froze his life support and left him in a half millennium orbit, in the wake of the success of STAR WARS and as part of the science fiction boom that it had caused. The show is certainly a product of its time, a time of disco and hope and primary colours, and can only be viewed in that context as time has not been generally kind to it.
BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY is aimed at kids. True, Gil Gerard's amiable, affable Buck is designed to appeal to mums and the bevy of underclad women (led by Erin Grey's Wilma Deering whose pants often seemed sprayed on and Pamela Hensley's Princess Ardala whose legs and midriff were never knowingly left covered up) for the Dads to look at, but the plots and the design of the show is specifically for the younger audience. The stories are generally simple to the point of banality, the villains are certainly of the pantomime variety and the action rarely sees anyone really hurt and anybody killed on screen goes in a flare of bloodless light. And there's a child-sized robot called Twiki who often saves the day.
Whilst initially this all seems bright and cheerful, it soon becomes repetitive, unimaginative and limp. Add to that special effects that are initially (for the time) impressive, but get overused to the point where they are not simply reversed or run backwards but the numbers of spaceships change from shot to shot and become other kinds of ship just because that shot was available and the makers hope that nobody will notice.
By the time that the season limps to its end anyone more than its diehard young audience has lost interest and moved on, including, it almost seems, some of the makers.Top
In 1987, NASA launched a deep space probe that ran into trouble and was knocked into an orbit that brought it back towards Earth 500 years after it left. Perfectly preserved by a freak combination of circumstances, the pilot, William Rogers, is defrosted to find that the Earth has been devastated by war and pollution with only a few cities remaining. Those are at risk from the Draconian Empire, the first daughter of which, Ardala, has ostensibly come to sign a peace treaty, but is really there to destroy the planet's defence shield to bring about Earth's destruction. Buck, believed by both sides to be the enemy has to save Earth and himself.
This feature length pilot was originally released into the UK cinema, riding the wave of science fiction success in the wake of STAR WARS, but it is a TV production all the way. There are a few impressive special effects, but these are endlessly repeated and reversed to get the most of them. The plot is equally threadbare.Making sense of what's going on is a challenge in itself. Fleets of raiders appear and disappear at will, everybody's view of Buck changes from scene to scene, nobody notices a man loading bombs into the back of spaceships, homing beacons are used to find the secret routes through the defence shield, homing beacons are discovered and nobody suggests changing the routes... and on and on.
It's comic book stuff and therein lies both its strengths and its weaknesses. The character of Buck, as personified by the affable Gil Gerard, is bright and breezy, but hardly up to the darker emotions of wandering the wastelands beyond the city. Wilma Deering is attractive, abrupt, cold and then suddenly switches into a sexbomb as soon as she sees Buck dance.
Oh yes, the dancing. A formal reception is turned on its head when Buck asks the musician to play some rock and gets a boogie on. It's not just unbelievable, it's downright embarrassing and you can see in Pamela Hensley's eyes that she doesn't have to act the confusion and embarrassment of the character. Ardala, the alien princess, doesn't actually have to do much other than appear in a range of impractically revealing outfits and pout seductively. Hardly a stretch for her. It also seems that this might be the fate of many of the women in this show if the opening credits, all pretty girls in skimpy costumes with dodgy music, are anything to go by. Women's lib certainly didn't apply to those.
And then there's the 'comedy' duo of Twiki and Theo. The first is an annoying little robot (that kids inexplicably love) and the second an emotional computer being. They are mostly neither funny nor endearing.
BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY is very much a product of the 80s and thus has aged very badly. A sense of nostalgia is required to be able to watch this pilot all the way through.Written by Glen A Larson, Leslie Stevens
Directed by Daniel Haller
The pilots of the Earth defence directorate are slowly being poisoned by something in the food. As most of it now comes from another planet, Buck is sent along with Wilma to investigate. He uncovers a plot that will render Earth's defences stripped and then attacked by a huge fleet of enemy ships. With only a few pilots left, can they mount a defence?
Ok, the title just about lets you know what tone the series is going to be taking. For starters, this is a planet of slaves, yes, and some of them are women, but that doesn't make it a planet of slave girls. This is aiming for comic book stuff, affable nonsense that can entertain without having to engage a single brain cell. At 105 minutes, this feature opening episode stretches its plot out beyond the running length and doesn't come up with a lot to make it worth the slog.
What there is amounts to a hot and sweaty Erin Gray (worth the price of entry alone), a cameo appearance by the best known Buck Rogers, Buster Crabbe (here playing a character called Gordon as a sledgehammer subtle in joke), Roddy McDowell taking the money for old rope in his camp cameo and arch-villain Jack Palance doing the same schtick he's done a million times before.
Insultingly, the special effects are sloppy and incoherent, spaceships and formations changing from shot to shot as stock footage is used, at one point substituting the city known as New Chicago for the alien planet's capital city in the hope that nobody is really paying enough attention to notice.
Younger audience members might enjoy this, but the rest of the family are likely to be bored by the end. Surpisingly, it took three writers to write this!Written by Steve Greenberg, Aubrey Solomon, Cory Applebaum
Directed by Michael Caffey
The Defence Directorate's pilots are incapable of shooting down the new pirate hatchet fighters with their computerised systems. An underworld figure who can get information on why this might be is willing to do so only if the team can get back one of his employees who was kidnapped by a rival for information. She is being held on Sinaloa and Buck is teamed up with a new female officer to go in and get her out because he is the only person capable of using his brain any more.
Sloppy plotting, a juvenile script, pallid action, lame jokes and a few women in dodgy outfits showing off various amounts of flesh. It might be enough to entertain the kids, but no adult is going to get through this with a certain amount of wishing tehy were somewhere, anywhere, else.
Richard Lynch tries to make his villain both seductive and menacing and results in being neither, whilst the cameo by Cesar Romero is totally wasted. He must have owed someone a favour. The revelation of his link to the kidnapped girl is no revelation at all.
Only Gil Gerard comes out of this with any integrity left, managing to retain his affability and charm through all the nonsense. Without him, this would be unendurable.Written by Anne Collins
Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr
Buck is asked by the Directorate to infiltrate the Legion of Death in the guise of Raphael Argos, all round bad guy. The Legion has a vendetta against Earth and intend to send a message of almost global scale in the shape of an act of terrorism and it is Buckís job to find out what that act will be, but first he must convince the Legion of his false identity.
Well, where to start? This has to be one of the stupidest stories ever put on the screen, more ridiculous even than the old BUCK ROGERS serials. The Legion is made up of a mad scientist, an empath, a man who can alter his molecular density, a man with telekinetic powers, a martial artist and gun-running Raphael Argos. Can five people really be considered a Ďlegioní. Amazingly enough, none of these know what Argos looks like whilst the Directorate knows what all of them look like. On top of this, Buck runs into a space pirate (no really, this bloke dresses exactly like a space pirate) after being taken to a high security space station by tractor beam. Once his ship is on the station, nobody thinks to lock it down, shut the doors or use the tractor beam again.
On the plus side (and it is a thin plus side) there is the pleasure of seeing Frank Gorshin (the amazing Riddler from BATMAN) as the leader of the Legion. He certainly gives them more class than they deserve. Erin Grey also gets to glam up in an outfit that is slashed to the thigh.
Chances are, though, these shallow positives wonít save your attention span.Written by Alan Brennert
Directed by Dick Lowry
Buckís secret identity rumbled, the Legion of Death head for Earth with a plan to blow up the antimatter reactor outside New Chicago, destroying the city utterly. As each of the security measures fall before the combined talents of the Legion, only the seeds of revolt planted with one of the members by Buck can save the day.
They may be called the Legion of Death, but they act more like the Keystone Cops of Death, required to fall over a lot as Buck stages unlikely escapes. The security measures of the power plant are cleverly sideswiped by the combined terrorist team, but interest has long since waned and the way that this is all going to end is pretty much a given. The so-called action sequences are woeful and the shootout in space is also very poorly choreographed.
This is going to excite and interest only the most easily satisfied audience.Written by Alan Brennert
Directed by Dick Lowry
A stock of deadly nerve gas on its way to be destroyed is hijacked by a pair of deformed criminals with a vengeance kick against Wilma Deering and the whole Earth. Their base is deep within an asteroid belt and only one man can guide an attack force through. Unfortunately, that man was Wilma's flight teacher and great friend who she had to ground due to his age, so they are not on the best of terms.
At least the villains in this story are real villains, merciless and angry, not to mention ugly. They're also competent, hijacking the nerve gas, capturing Wilma and Buck and only beaten by a better strategy.
On the down side, Buck turns out to be the only man left who understands sign language (sign that man up for sainthood), which Wilma points out there is no need to learn since all children can be cured of deafness so why the slave girl who saves them ever learned it doesn't make any sense. Also, despite the tightness of her uniform, Wilma Deering's attempts at being sultry are somewhat laughable.Written by David Bennett Carren
Directed by Philip Leacock
Earth shipping is being attacked in space and the raiders know exactly where and how to get the best cargo. Only one man could be responsible and the only way to him is to get to his ex-girlfriend, currently locked away in an underground prison on an unfriendly colony planet. Buck goes in undercover and does the job, but finds the woman unhelpful and the robot guards somewhat unstoppable.
The unchained woman in question is Jamie Lee Curtis, but it could easily be any reasonably attractive woman. The part is undistinguished and the plot is embarrassingly poor. It takes Buck all of about five minutes to break out of a top security prison and the only response to such a huge jailbreak is that one of the two robot guards chases them. Where is the rest of the planet's law enforcement?
As usual, the chief villain is made out to be very bad indeed, but doesn't actually kill anyone and the identity of the traitor in the Earth directorate is obvious from the outset.Written by Bill Taylor
Directed by Dick Lowry
Earth is in negotiation with a foreign power for a planet that is the only source of the mineral that powers their reactors. This power is also responsible for taking away all of the men from the planet Zantia during a brief war and now Buck has been taken prisoner, to be a slave of the female population.
The plot resolution dovetails nicely together and it is good to see that success comes through brain and not raw power for once, but the story is completely shallow, relying on a large number of attractive women in revealing outfits to keep any interest up. For the women, Gil Gerard even gets an excuse to rip off his shirt and be paraded as a love slave.
It's all a barrel of nonsense, of course, but it passes the time harmlessly enough.Written by DC Fontana and Richard Fontana
Directed by Phil Leacock.
A planetary leader is kidnapped, forcing Buck and Wilma to mount a rescue mission. Matters are complicated by the fact that the leader is a child genius also from the 20th century.
Precocious child actor Gary Coleman plays the child genius leader and....well that's about it really. It's a one joke episode that plays heavily on Coleman's fleeting star status, but hasn't really got anything extra up its sleeve.Written by Alan Brennert and Anne Collins
Directed by Lesley Martinson
A strange and indestructible weapon appears in Earth's orbit. It belongs to Princess Ardala who intends to use it to destroy every city on the planet, unless Buck Rogers agrees to marry her, that is.
Welcome back Pamela Hensley as the never knowingly overdressed Princess Ardala. Her perfectly over the top performance enlivens another dumb piece of nonsense that treads a lot of the same ground as Awakening. There's a fight to the death and lots of Buck being allowed to wander freely around an enemy spaceship when he ought to be closely guarded.
And if that wasn't bad enough then check out the roller boogie number that passes as suitable entertainment for a visiting head of state. Embarrassing doesn't cover it.Written by Cory Applebaum and Patrick Hoby Jr
Directed by David Moessinger
Miss Cosmos, a genetically perfect woman, is on a galactic cruiser when she comes under threat from a woman with strange powers. Buck is recruited by Dr Huer to act as her bodyguard whilst Wilma glams up as a super-rich woman to lure out the thieves.
Tragic playmate Dorothy Stratten plays the supposedly perfect woman and swans around in a series of revealing outfits that would make Pamela Hensley's Princess Ardala feel positively dowdy, but she is window dressing for the main plot that is going on around her. Buck befriends a girl who unknowingly becomes the powerful female (nicely overplayed by Trish Noble) and the story concentrates on these two sides of a single mutant. It's actually more plot than you usually get in a BUCK ROGERS episode.
Add to that Erin Gray sporting a great pair of legs and the worst wig in history and ignore the dreadful dance moves and this is an episode that you can manage to enjoy without cringing too much. Until Twiki meets Tina, that is.Written by Alan Brennert and Anne Collins
Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr
A drifting space ship crashes into the space station that Buck and Wilma are visiting. Everyone aboard is dead for reasons that are not clear. People then start dying on board the station and coming back to life. The cause is a space vampire known as a Vorvon, but nobody believes it exists and believe Buck to be suffering hallucinations brought on by a virus.
If you're going to do a story about a space vampire then the most important thing is the space vampire itself and the Vorvon here is so decidedly non scary that it is likely to evoke embarrassed laughter than anything. BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY has always been a family show and would never go all out to scare any part of the audience, but if you're going to do a story based around fear then you have to accept that it ought to involve some fear. For part of the time the Vorvon manifests as a glowing red ball that nobody but the audience can see, which is confusing at first.
The vampire does manage to infect Wilma and turn her into an inhibition-free monster, but the dubbed voice and Erin Gray's overdone vamping makes that as ridiculous as the space vampire, but her evocation of a woman attacked by nameless dread is a good deal better.Written by Kathleen Barnes and David Wise
Directed by Larry Stewart
There's a threat to Dr Huer's life, but for once the threat is real and from his own past. A man he sent on a mission that led to 20 years in an underground prison has returned with the power to reorganise matter at a molecular level with his hands and he intends to turn Huer into solid silicone. Everyone is so busy planning a surprise party for Buck that only he notices.
Being thrown out of your own time and knowing that everything that you knew and loved is dead and gone would be a very lonely, depressing experience. This episode touches on that reality for Buck Rogers, but very quickly gets onto the comic book heroics. The villain with the magic hands has been done before (in Planet of the Slave Girls), but the revenge aspect of the story is played up as the villain is a man who believes that he was wronged and for whom revenge is more important than the fact that he now has the power to amass huge wealth.Written by Martin Pasko
Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr
There's a sinister plot that threatens Earth and the evidence suggests that it is being carried out by someone from Buck's past. A mind probe brings out his memories in a search for the person responsible.
Yes, it's the money-saving clips show in which any excuse is made to reuse footage from earlier shows rather than filming a whole new one. Sequences from Planet of the Slave Girls, Cosmic Whiz Kid, Return of the Fighting 69th, Unchained Woman, Vegas in Space, the Plot To Kill a City two-parter and the Princess Ardala stories all feature and it is just as depressing as it sounds.Written by John Gaynor, Nick Brennert & Alan Brennert
Directed by David Phinney
An ancient space probe is the lure that takes Buck into a trap laid by Draconian princess Ardala. She needs him to provide the programming for her new android copies of him, copies that she intends to use to destroy the Earthís defence directorate.
Itís always fun to welcome back Pamela Hensleyís barely-dressed Princess Ardala, but even her comic lustfulness isnít enough to illuminate this tired and dull storyline.
The special effects that put three Bucks in her bedchamber are well done, but the rest really isnít.Written by Chris Bunch & Allan Cole
Directed by Larry Stewart
Twiki is kidnapped by three women who have extraordinary powers when they hold hands. They are part of a plot to crash an iceberg of liquid oxygen into Earth's atmosphere, igniting it and burning off the rest of the air. Can Buck persuade one of them to help him save the day?
It's hard to believe that anyone would carry out a task that carried with it the possibility of wiping out all life on Earth. There has to be an easier way of replenishing the oxygen on Earth than the one that is being used here.
As for the rest, it's the usual running around, not very convincing fist fights and a bad girl who's not so bad finding her way back to the side of truth and justice thanks to Buck's charms.Written by Jaron Summers
Directed by Sigmund Neufeld Jr
It's the Olympic games 25th Century style and Buck finds himself trying to help out an athlete from another world who wants to defect, but whose brain will explode if his trainer presses a certain button.
Oh, there is so much wrong here that it's hard to decide where to start. How about someone using a specific wavelength of radio to set off a bomb that takes a couple of minutes to get from the detonator to the bomb? What's wrong with that scenario. Add to that the fact that the whole Olympics seem to be taking place in one big room and there only seems to be one competitor's space sled in the starting grid and...it really isn't worth going on. This is simply the worst episode that the show has produced to date and it's almost as though nobody could be really bothered to try very hard from the plotting to the script to the direction to the acting.Written by Craig Buck
Directed by Larry Stewart
When Buck was frozen for 500 years he lost everyone that he cared about, including his girlfriend Jennifer. He is astonished, therefore, to find a twin of her. She, however, is not what she seems, having been altered surgically to lure Buck into a trap that will require him to carry out a crime to save her.
For once the show chooses to delve into the darker side of what happened to Buck Rogers and is momentarily the better for it, but it soon reverts to type as cartoon villains are outfoxed and outfought with the help of a few dodgy special effects along the way.
It is nice to see a few attempts at a bit of depth though.Written by Alan Brennert
Directed by Harvey Laidman & David Phinney
The greatest pop group in the universe is being manipulated by their manager into transmitting a signal in their music that turns teens into delinquents. He plans one galaxywide broadcast that will bring the youth of all the colonies under his control. Buck, however, is moved by the spirit of rock and roll.
BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY is a product of its time and that time was disco. Throughout the series it has suffered most when it has tried to appear hip and modern, usually ending up just looking embarrassing, and that's without the inevitable dating that will come as time passes. This episode is the ultimate expression of this. The music is disco synth and OK, but hardly the sort of stuff that's going to capture the imagination of a galaxy's youth. They also only seem to have one tune to play anyway. Their costumes are hilariously bad and the manager's plot to rule the universe is utterly bonkers. On top of that, modern dancing appears to be swaying gently with a light rope around your shoulders.
The very young might not mind, but this is just plain cringe-inducing for anyone else.Written by Chris Bunch & Allan Cole
Directed by Guy Maygar
The planet Katar is under the cruel rule of the Traybor, a man whose hands can emit electricity and who takes the best of the planet's women as his wives and publicly fights the best soldiers to the death every month. There is a legend, however, of a 500 year old man who will break the Traybor's rule and Buck just happens to fit the bill.
The whole magic hands thing was done way back in Planet of the Slave Girls when Jack Palance was an altogether more impressive villain than the one here. Buck comes up with a plan to smuggles a few soldiers into the Traybor's palace through secret tunnels. Nobody, it appears, had ever thought of smuggling a big bomb into the palace in the exact same way. Quite frankly, people this stupid deserve to be ruled over by people with electric hands. At least Buck uses some good old fashioned basic electronics to save the day, if not the audience's gradually sapping will to live.Written by Robert W Gilmer
Directed by Bob Bender
A glowing orb that doesn't show up on sensors arrives outside New Chicago and gives Buck a gift of a smaller orb before leaving mysteriously. The second orb contains instructions on how to pass through the heart of a black hole into a whole new universe. Seeing it as an invitation, Buck is eager to make the flight, but Princess Ardala gains the same information and takes the Draconian flagship through as well. On the other side, they find a planet of peaceful energy beings who are threatened with extinction from a warlike woman who attack has already begun.
Whilst the opener to this two-parter starts off intriguingly enough with the arrival of the orb, the giving of the gift and the proposed trip through the black hole, as soon as Buck arrives on the other side, it turns into the same old same old. Peaceful people threatened by mad, powerful dictator and looking to Buck to save them. It's a story that's been overused throughout the show.
It's always good to see Pamela Hensley's Princess Ardala, although her routine is past its sell by date by this point in the series and there is a series of goodbyes as Buck heads off for his pioneering flight that actually approach some sort of sincerity and emotional depth.
The trip through the black hole was clearly done by someone who has seen his 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY.Written by Robert W Gilmer & William Mageean
Directed by Larry Stewart
The War Witch Zarina's battle cruiser approaches the peaceful planet of Pendar, whose defensive shield has been sabotaged, but the combined forces of Earth and Draconia stand in her way. Unless Princess Ardala tries to make a sneaky alliance, that is.
All hail Julie Newmar, the greates Catwoman that there ever was. She appeared as Zarina in the opening part of this story, but really gets her screen time in this second half and shows Pamela Hensley's Ardala just what it is to be a villain. Unfortunately, the script really doesn't give her anything to work with.
In fact, the whole story is lacklustre and without imagination. By the time that everyone decides to make their way back to their own universe you can't help but be relieved that it's all over.Written by Robert W Gilmer & William Mageean
Directed by Larry Stewart
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