Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Stars Episode #7 (October 24, 1981)


In the seventh episode of Hanna Barbera’s Space Stars (1981), Space Ghost goes up against another space pirate. This one is named Krugar and looks like of Larry Niven’s Kzin.  


After Krugar is captured and held in a force field, the Phantom Cruiser passes through a radiation cloud.  The exposure to the cloud -- just like in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) -- causes the crew to shrink.  An antidote is developed, and Krugar’s annihilator ray actually makes it more effective. “No matter how large or how small,” the narrator intones, “no evil can defeat…Space Ghost.”


“Uglor’s Power Play” is the Teen Force adventure of the week. Harnessing the brilliant minds of the scientists on the planet Centrix, Uglor gives himself the powers of all the Teen Force members. One of the scientists is a floating brain in a jar!


The Herculoids story this week features a space pirate too. “The Buccaneer” finds an alien visiting Quasar in search of buried treasure. Amusingly, the Herculoids seek the help of a group of subterranean people called “Sand People.”  They resemble not Tatooine’s Tusken Raiders, however, but rather the Jawas! They have the cloaks, and the glowing eyes.


The second Space Ghost story, “The Sorceress” involves a witch “who depends on machinery,” and the unrequited love she has for Space Ghost. Here, she captures him and takes his power bands, all while demanding his “heart.”


In “Rock Punk,” the Astro and the Space Mutts story, a mountainside sculpture of the Space Stars – “Mount SpaceMore” -- is stolen by the villain Rock Punk. His next theft involves the Earth’s moon.  Rock Punk, strangely, wears roller skates.  He also says things like “Can you dig it?”  At the end of the tale, he is captured and sent to Space-traz, instead of Alcatraz.


The final story, “The Olympians,” finds the Teen Force helping the Hercuoids to battle descendants of the mighty Greek Gods, including the children of Hercules, Mercury, Zeus and Medusa.


The Space Magic interlude this week stars Kid Comet and the Astromites and involves making a magic wand disappear.  Space Fact and Space Mystery both start Space Ghost and involve an explanation of life support systems.  The space code is SKCOR ('rocks' backwards), and features host Elektra of the Teen Force.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Shazam: "The Doom Buggy" (November 2, 1974)



This episode of the Filmation live-action Saturday morning series Shazam (1974 – 1977) is titled “The Doom Buggy,” and frankly, that’s a bit of a melodramatic title for such a pedestrian adventure.

In “The Doom Buggy,” a boy named Don decides to drop out of school, over the protests of his friend, Cathy (Lisa Eilbacher).  Don thinks he doesn’t need an education, and already has the skills to be a great mechanic.  He’s made up his mind and can’t be swayed.

Then, while driving in his dune buggy in the desert, Don has an accident and damages Mentor’s RV.  The parts that Don needs to repair the RV are an hour away, but the young man proposes a short-cut and takes Billy Batson (Michael Gray) through a span of rough desert terrain called “Perdition Flats.”




The Elders have already told Billy that “Each of us, in his own way, is a teacher,” and so when Don’s dune buggy experiences difficulties in the harsh desert, Billy showcases his knowledge.  

When the buggy becomes lost, for instance, Billy shows Don how to create a makeshift compass in the sand, using a stick and sunlight.  The Elders had already prepared him for this eventuality too, informing him that a “dark shadow will show you the light.”

And then when a fire erupts in a nearby mineshaft, Billy -- as Captain Marvel -- uses an underground spring to put out the conflagration.


At the end of this harrowing adventure, Don decides not to drop out from school…and to continue his education instead.  

The episode ends with Mentor, Don, Cathy and Billy still lost in the desert, at least until they notice that Captain Marvel has written an arrow in the sky, next to the word “Exit.”

Friday, September 23, 2016

Buck Rogers Week: "The Hand of the Goral" (March 26, 1981)


In “The Hand of the Goral,” a shuttle carrying Buck (Gil Gerard) and Hawk (Thom Christopher), and a Starfighter piloted by Colonel Deering (Erin Gray) explores a habitable planet.

On the surface of that mysterious planet, the crew finds the wreckage of a ship, and an injured survivor, named Reardon (Peter Kastner).

Meanwhile, Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) has discovered that the planet is called “Vordeeth,” meaning “The Planet of Death.”  

Ten thousand years ago, the world was inhabited by a race called the Goral, but they undertook a mass exodus, and the planet was abandoned.

Following some strange and inexplicable events on the planet surface, Hawk and Buck follow Wilma back to the Searcher.

There, they find the crew-members strangely altered.  Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner) has become a raging tyrant, Crichton has become friendly and appreciative of humans, and Twiki is a grumbly, resentful sort.

With Asimov threatening to kill and torture crew members, Buck, Hawk and Wilma resolve to return to the planet and figure out what has happened, but their escape won’t be easy. 

Buck realizes that all the crew members are duplicates meant to trick them, and proceeds to the planet below, only to be confronted with a being (John Fujioka) who promises him great riches if he cans solve the riddle of the Goral.


I suppose that I tend to go easier on the second season of Buck Rogers than many fans did in the early 1980s.  The season is not as much fun as the first, but I like the addition of Hawk -- a solid “resident” alien character -- and feel that some of the stories were compelling.  I like “The Guardians,” in particular.

“The Hand of the Goral” is not without its problems, but it too would get ranked in the upper tier of second season installments. The idea of a duplicate Searcher, where characters possess altered personalities immediately puts one in mind of Star Trek episodes such as “Mirror, Mirror,” it’s true, but in this case, an alternate universe is not at work.

Rather, an alien games-player, or “tester,” the titular hand of the Goral, is responsible. He was left behind by his people to protect the planet from intruders, and determine their worthiness to receive the wisdom and riches of the Goral.  He refers to the strange duplicates as “simulacra,” and certainly his powers are fierce.



There have been many attempts in science fiction stories to tell stories in which protagonists encounter duplicate versions of the habitat, and must determine if it is real or not. On Star Trek, Kirk was confronted with a complete mock-up of the Enterprise in “The Mark of Gideon.”  The Alphans encountered a duplicate of their moon base in Space:1999’s “One Moment of Humanity,” and here Buck, Hawk and Wilma visit a duplicate Searcher, replete with a crew of simulacra. At least in this case, it is made clear that the hand of Goral possesses incredible powers and energy stores by which to create these settings and characters.

It’s intriguing to meet the Searcher crew recreated as “imperfect fakes.” Asimov is a dictator, Crichton is nice, and Wilma suddenly is all clingy and frightened.  It’s not they are “evil” parallel versions, just versions that are off, and require deciphering on Buck’s part. 

Overall “The Hand of the Goral” is tense, keeps one guessing, and doesn’t rely on a ridiculous premise (see: “The Golden Man”) to sell its story.  I love stories about mysterious planets, or planets “of death,” with their ancient, inscrutable mysteries.

“The Hand of the Goral” may not be terribly original, but it possesses a creepy vibe, and a sense that an unseen force is manipulating reality itself.  In a not always successful second season, those qualities are enough to make the episode stand out from the pack.

Buck Rogers Week: "Mark of the Saurian" (February 5, 1981)


Just as an armistice has been declared between the Directorate and the Saurian Empire, a group of Saurian nationals masquerade in human form, as Ambassador Cabot (Linden Chiles) and his party.

Cabot and his team board the Searcher, and plot to take the exploratory ship into the “restricted zone” near the Delta Quadrant Defense Station.  The Saurian plan is to secretly seize control of that station, a weapon so powerful it caused their people to seek peace.

Buck (Gil Gerard), suffering from “Cygnus Fever,” is able to detect the Ambassador and his party as they really are: alien infiltrators. 

Although Wilma (Erin Gray) believes Buck’s story, the Searcher crew fears that Rogers is delusional, and even dangerous. They try to keep him in bed, and sedated, while the Saurians seek to stop him.

Meanwhile, Buck attempts to convince his friends that the Saurians are playing the crew for fools…




“Mark of the Saurian” is a solid episode of the second season Buck Rogers (1979-1981) format. Alas, the story also appears regurgitated, almost note for note, from another popular sci-fi series of the disco decade: Space: 1999 (1975-1977).

Fans of that series will certainly remember a Year Two story and two-part episode, called “The Bringers of Wonder.”  There, Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) is injured during an eagle crash, and consigned to Medical Center. While there, he undergoes a head-injury treatment that alters his brainwaves.

At the same time, a ship apparently from Earth, a super swift, nears Moonbase Alpha.  It is manned entirely by friends of the Alphans, including Dr. Shaw, Helena Russell’s (Barbara Bain) mentor. 

But when Koenig awakens, he doesn’t see human friends from Earth, he sees “monsters from another dimension” who are operating by their own malevolent agenda (a plot to detonate the nuclear waste domes on the moon).

Koenig attempts to convince his friends that he is not delusional or hallucinating, but they fear his injury is affecting his mind. He is out of his head, so-to-speak.

The points of similarity between the two stories are suspiciously numerous.

In both cases, we have the protagonist or hero of the show dealing with an injury/sickness. Koenig has a brain injury. Buck suffers from Cygnus Fever.  This is important, because this “condition” is the excuse by which his subordinates fail to heed his warning about enemy infiltrators.

In both cases, one of the key alien infiltrators is a doctor or physician, an individual with access to the sick bay/Medical Center, and so can therefore attempt to harm the sick protagonist.  It was Dr. Shaw in “Bringers of Wonder,” and Dr. Moray in “Mark of the Saurian” who commit this act.  They both seek to stop the one person who can see the invaders as they really are.

In both cases, a man whose word is absolutely dependable is easily questioned because of the prior incident (brain injury/Cygnus fever), leaving that man to have to act alone, without the support of his friends.



In both cases, the aliens with the secret agenda (to detonate the domes; or take over the Delta Quadrant Defense Station) are only outed when the protagonist manipulates an instrument in the control room to alter the conditions of that room and make the aliens visible to shocked co-workers.

In “Bringers of Wonder,” Koenig uses sonic manipulation in Command Center to allow the Alphans to see the “earthlings” as he sees them...as slimy aliens. 

In “Mark of the Saurian,” Buck adjusts the thermostat on the Searcher’s bridge, making it cold.  The Saurians -- who are cold-blooded -- collapse, and when unconscious, appear in their true, reptilian form.

In sci-fi TV, many stories are influenced by older stories.  Many series offer variations on a theme, or on a trope (like “the silicon based life form,” or the “fight to the death.”)  But “Mark of the Saurian” isn’t a variation on a theme so much as it is a straight-up regurgitation of “Bringers of Wonder.”  It is a point-by-point repeat.

That fact established, it’s not a bad episode in the scheme of things. Buck, feeling alone, discovers the two people he can truly count on in a crisis: Wilma and Hawk (Thom Christopher), and the episode helps us glean a sense of those friendships.

On the other hand, some questions are indeed left unanswered.  

How do the Saurians trick Twiki and Crichton into seeing them as human beings? They are robots, after all, not susceptible to a disguise device that depends, apparently, on "body chemistry."



And since when has the Directorate been at war with the Saurians?  And if the Saurians broke the armistice, does that mean the war with the Saurians will resume?

Finally, why is Buck so mean and insulting to his doctor in this episode?  He is the worst patient, ever!

Despite such questions, I enjoy some of the call-backs to Season One in "Mark of the Saurian." These include the re-use of the space station miniature from “Space Vampire,” and the re-use of the Directorate dress uniforms, seen as far back as “Awakening.” Also, the Directorate gets a specific name-check.  


If only we heard a mention of Dr. Huer.

Fans of 1970s electronic toys will also note that Lakeside’s Computer Perfection makes an extended cameo as a view screen control panel in Searcher’s sick bay.  The unmistakable blue and white toy is seen several times at Buck’s bedside, and there are two close-ups of the game’s controls (under a blue hood).



Finally, one might wonder how I can enumerate all the similarities here to Space:1999 and yet still assess this Buck Rogers episode as one of the better second season shows.  

The answer is simple.  By comparison to efforts like “The Golden Man” or “Shgoratchx!"even a retread like “Mark of the Saurians” is a welcome relief.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Buck Rogers Week: "The Satyr" (March 12, 1981)



"There are strange viruses here on this planet."

- Cyra (Anne E. Curry) warns Buck about the dangers of Arcanus in "The Satyr."

One of the real bright spots of Buck Rogers' abbreviated second season in 1981 remains the episode titled "The Satyr" written by Paul and Margaret Schneider and directed by Victor French.

On first glance, however, this development seems unexpected since the episode's storyline stems from a long-standing and ubiquitous sci-fi TV trope: "the single mother in jeopardy."

In this all-too-familiar genre TV chestnut, a series protagonist encounters a lovely single mother and her child (usually a son) who are being menaced by some malevolent outside force.  The series hero then becomes a stand-in husband/father to the duo, defeats the menace, and -- in a heartbreaking moment -- must say farewell to his new family so that he may continue his episodic adventures romantically unimpeded.

Examples of the "single mother in jeopardy" convention can be found on the original Battlestar Galactica (1978 - 1979) in "The Lost Warrior," where the convention is played well as a variation on Shane (1953) and as a commentary on gun control, in V: The Series as "The Wildcats" (wherein Marc Singer's Mike Donovan steps in to save a Mom and her daughter from the Visitors), and on MacGyver, "To Be a Man," which featured the late Persis Khambatta as Zia, the single mother in jeopardy from Russian military forces.


In Buck Rogers': "The Satyr," Captain Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) explores the planet Arcanus, the site of a failed Earth colony while the star ship Searcher is away for ten days on a mission to "sweep" an asteroid belt.

On the planet surface, Buck soon meets Cyra (Anne E. Curry) and her son, Delph (Bobby Lane), the only two settlers who have remained behind on the planet.  Buck soon discovers that the duo is regularly harassed by Pangor (Dave Cass), a half-man/half-goat or "satyr" who seems obsessed with them.  Buck steps in to battle the violent Pangor, but is bitten by the satyr.

Over a period of days, Buck begins to transform into a satyr himself, a creature obsessed with women and wine...and little else.

After being bitten, Buck learns that Pangor is actually Jason Samos, the founder of the Arcanus colony and Cyra's much-mourned husband.  She has been unable to leave the planet behind because she still feels attached to him, despite Jason's transformation into a rampaging monster.


As I've noted above, the "single mother in jeopardy" cliche has been depicted on television many times, but "The Satyr" illustrates nicely how a science fiction program can explore contemporary issues that "regular" dramatic programs either cannot, or if they do seems too on the nose, like an Afterschool Special.

 Clearly, this episode of the series sub textually concerns alcoholism; and the effect of alcoholism upon the entire family unit.  This subtext and social commentary actually elevates "The Satyr" above its familiar and cliched premise and makes it one of Buck Rogers' finest hours.

In "The Satyr," Cyra and Delph live a relatively happy life, until Dad -- Pangor -- shows up at their home, demanding wine and violently threatening Mom. 


In one well-staged scene, we watch with Delph through an exterior window as, inside the home, Pangor pushes Cyra onto her back (behind the kitchen table), and threatens physical violence.  He wants more wine, you see, even though, as Cyra tells him, "he drank it all the last time."  The subtext here isn't just violence, but sexual violence, at least in terms of the staging/blocking.


What we get in "The Satyr," particularly in this camera view from the outside-in, is the notion of a child dwelling in a terrifying household of alcoholism and domestic violence, and seeing/experiencing things that no child should.  Worse, the P.O.V. suggests isolation and helplessness.

At several points during the episode, Delph is also policed by his mother not to be too conspicuous, so as not to gain the attention of the alcoholic/Satyr.  At one point, Delph plays "flute grass" and at another point he calls out innocently for his Mom.  In both instances he is quickly "hushed" -- "Don't shout!" --  lest the angry man of the household focus his violent attention upon him.  Half the battle is staying off Pangor's radar as he pursues his vices.

Additionally, the boy, Delph, soon sees himself as his mother's defender, eventually fighting the angry Pangor and telling the beast to "leave my mother alone."   In the homes of many alcoholics, it is indeed the child who eventually becomes the protector of the Mom,or other siblings, and who stands-up to the offending drinker.

As for Cyra, she's dramatized in this episode as the traumatized, exhausted victim of sustained domestic abuse.  She hides bruises on her neck from Buck, and, quite understandably, doesn't like "to be touched."  

She also has much trouble letting go of the "good man" who was once her husband, clinging to old photo albums which reveal happier, more romantic days.  Much of the blocking depicts Cyra cowering or retreating.  She is someone who is used to being terrorized and fears being struck.

Cyra also maintains the family home on Arcanus -- despite the danger to herself and her son -- in the misguided belief that somehow Pangor can change.  In fact, Cyra spends her life appeasing the violent satyr.  "If he's supplied with enough [wine]," she informs Buck, "he's content" and leaves the family alone.

At the same time that she must handle Pangor, Cyra worries that the "virus" that affected her husband -- a metaphor for alcoholism -- could affect her son too "when he's a man."  In other words, the cycle of abuse and violence could continue to the next generation.  Yet by keeping Delph on Arcanus, in a terrorized home, Cyra makes it more likely that this will happen to Delph.

This social commentary in "The Satyr" is intriguing by itself, but the episode gains some real unexpected juice and power when Buck actually grows sick with "the virus "and quickly loses his status as the white knight.



Buck sets up house with Cyra and Delph (even teaching the boy to fly his shuttle craft) and then -- just when things are good -- succumbs to the same "virus' and begins to show signs of physical violence like Cyra's previous husband.   In one sequence, Buck tries to hide evidence of his transformation from Delph, ashamed to show his true nature as a "monster" to the boy he clearly cherishes.

Here, the subtext isn't about alcoholism so much as the nature of (some) men in general, and how some women seem to attract these monsters, one after the other. It's something in their individual nature and lack of self-esteem perhaps, and part of a deadly symbiosis involving abuser and victim. '

"The Satyr" tries to make viewers understand why Cyra stays on Arcanus, imperiled by one satyr after the other, and gives us some insight into the mentality of a perpetual victim.  In this case, Cyra just can't let go of the past and the (vain) dream that Pangor could again become the husband she once loved.

Of course, Buck -- as our stalwart series hero -- is able to kick the virus and save the day. Still,  it was pretty daring in terms of 1981-era television to create a metaphor for alcoholism and then see the likable series protagonist succumb to that  "disease."  In visual terms, Buck's horns literally start to come out, as he transforms from man to beast.

I am old enough to remember the promotional materials and interviews for the second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  The overall promise by the producers was that Buck would become more recognizably and fallibly human, and less the quipping, boogeying, Burt Reynolds-in-space figure of the first season. 

Whether or not that promise was fulfilled entirely is up for debate, but certainly "The Satyr" showcases Buck at his most human and interesting.  He exhibits real remorse when he believes he is responsible for the death of Cyra's husband, Jason, and then must battle his growing "dark side" as the satyr virus takes hold.

This episode is also intriguing for the way it ties the myth of the Satyr (a wine loving man/goat) to the alcoholism/domestic violence symbolism, and for the implicit "reason" behind alcoholism provided by the show. 

Jason had the "pioneer spirit," you see, and had hoped to turn Arcanus into a "garden of Eden."  When that dream failed, he couldn't handle it...and that's when he first acquired "the virus."  Again, this idea fits our contemporary world well. 

What leads people to drink?  Failure?  Tragedy?  Loss?  Desperation? 

All of my commentary on this episode no doubt suggests that "The Satyr" is some labored "message" show about an "important" life lesson (see: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Symbiosis.")  But that's not actually the case at all.

Like the best social commentary in science fiction television (from The Twilight Zone to Star Trek to The X-Files to Buffy), this is an episode that plays ably on two levels.  You can watch it just as a gripping, good adventure, or as a story with a bit more relevance and meaning in our own world. 

In other words, the metaphor for alcoholism holds powerfully (right down to the blocking of the actors), but you aren't hit over the head with a "lesson."

At the very least, "The Satyr" adds some much-needed depth to an old TV trope. In this Buck Rogers episode, the single mother was again in dire jeopardy, but it's the nature of  that jeopardy and the source of the jeopardy that make this installment meaningful and unique, even after three decades.

Buck Rogers Week: "The Guardians" (January 22, 1981)


The second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is not generally high-regarded among fans. In its sophomore sortie, the Glen Larson series eliminated the characters of Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis and the Draconians, downplayed Buck’s (Gil Gerard) strong sense of fish-out-of-water humor, and moved Buck from sexy secret agent work on Earth to a deep space assignment aboard the Earth ship Searcher.

These format changes cast the new Buck Rogers rather firmly in the mold of Star Trek or Space: 1999 with the new series acting as a vehicle for “civilization of the week” stories. 

In that particular format, success or failure rests largely on how well interesting and likable main characters interact with intriguing or convincing alien cultures. The Fantastic Journey (1977), for example, got the former aspect of that alchemy right (the likable main characters), but had a difficult time coming up with good stories, and original alien cultures to explore.

In broad terms, this was the very problem with the second season of Buck Rogers. Episodes that involved mischievous dwarfs, (“Shgoratchx!), or backwards-aging men spray-painted gold (“The Golden Man”) failed to impress or persuade either mainstream audiences or die-hard sci-fi fans.

Some second season episodes were better, including the dynamic “The Satyr," a show that pinpointed a great “alien” metaphor for alcoholism and its impact on families (and which I'll review later today).

The subject of this review “The Guardians” may not work as effectively as “The Satyr” -- at least on a metaphorical level -- but I still estimate it’s one of the best episodes of Buck Rogers’ second season, in part because it deploys a tried-and-true Star Trek technique for better developing the dramatis personae.

On Star Trek, an alien disease or weapon was often utilized to examine emotional aspects of the characters that they normally keep hidden. “The Naked Time” or “The Naked Now” are two such notable examples.

In those episodes, a disease that mimicked alcohol intoxication “exposed” the underneath characteristics of our favorite Starfleet officers. The character revelations were sometimes funny, sometimes extremely moving. 

That general idea informs “The Guardians,” only an alien artifact is the catalyst for the character reveals.


Here, Buck and his new friend Hawk (Thom Christopher) investigate a “Terra Class satellite.” Although the exploration of the planet is supposedly “strictly routine,” Buck and Hawk soon hear a distant bell ringing over the wind's howl. They follow the noise and discover that the bell tolls for Janovus XXVI, an old man now on his death bed.

This ancient “Guardian” informs Buck that he has been waiting for Captain Rogers for over five hundred years. Now, he must pass on to Buck – “The Chosen One,” an ancient green Pandora’s Box. This jade artifact must be transported to the old man’s unnamed successor and only a person of both “the past and the present” (like Buck) can get it to its destination successfully. 


That night, Buck sleeps in proximity to the jade box and dreams of his life on Earth. In particular, he experiences a vision of his mother, one from the eve of his disastrous mission on Ranger 3. After the box is brought back to the Searcher, it begins to have strangely deleterious effects on the ship and crew. The ship inexplicably goes off course and makes a setting for the edge of the galaxy.

 This trajectory especially concerns Lt. Devlin (Paul Carr), since he is due to be married on Lambda Colony in only a few days. 

When Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner) is exposed to the box, he imagines his crew…starving to death on the long journey in the void from the edge of the galaxy to Lambda.



When Wilma (Erin Gray) is affected by the box, she sees herself as a hopeless blind woman wandering the corridors of Searcher alone.

Then, in a matter of an hour, Wilma is blinded in real life, and realizes her vision was prophetic. Even Hawk is affected, and he experiences an emotional moment with his dead mate, Koori (Barbara Luna). 


As the Searcher reaches the edge of the galaxy, Buck realizes the box must be passed on to a Guardian, a “saintly figure” seen throughout many cultures and on many worlds. When a Guardian does not possess the box, chaos ensues, and that sense of chaos explains a lot of Earth’s violent history. Buck realizes that the Time Guardian is the very one that they now must seek… 


By and large, Buck Rogers is a pretty light show, a fact which distinguishes it from the original Battlestar Galactica or Space: 1999. There’s often a great deal of humor on Buck, and a tremendous amount of physical action too.

In some sense, “The Guardian” showcases how the series could have approached more serious sci-fi storytelling.

 This episode is not without flaws (and the ending looks cheap...), but the crew member visions of people starving to death and going blind are authentically disturbing. I remember watching the program for the first time in 1981 and feeling pretty jolted by Asimov’s vision of a crew dying from hunger…and looking like zombies.  This moment resonates, and is probably the strongest in the show, despite the fact that Gil Gerard, in the vision, hardly looks emaciated...

"The Guardian" also delves into some pretty dark territory regarding erstwhile Lt. Devlin. While Searcher is lost and heading to the edge of the galaxy, he learns that his fiancé on Lambda Colony has died.  She was killed while out searching for him and his lost ship. Again, this bit of drama is just a bit darker than the typical Buck Rogers show, and here it all works well.  A sense of panic and anxiety builds up as "The Guardian" reaches it final act.  

Frankly, the writing for the main characters here is also among the best in the series' second season. We learn how heavily Asimov carries the burden of command (imagining a future of starvation, in which he is incapable of helping his crew…), we come to understand Wilma’s fear of appearing vulnerable or being pitied. And we are reminded once more of Hawk’s utter isolation and alone-ness. 

Of all the phantasms featured in "The Guardians," Buck’s may be the least effective. It’s great to meet a Rogers family member, since we know very little of the astronaut’s family history, and yet Buck doesn’t really do or say anything important in this dream.  You’d think Buck might want to warn his Mom about the coming nuclear holocaust…tell her to go into hiding, or something. Instead, she’s the one worried about his mission. 

Buck’s dream is a bit off tonally, though it’s fun to see the special effects from “Awakening” recycled as a callback to the Buck Rogers pilot.  

In toto, I would have preferred to see a dream in which Buck revealed some personal flaw, foible or fear.  Like the fact that he was afraid of never again making a meaningful connection with the world around him.  I don't know.  But something other than an idyllic dream of lemonade and small-town Americana.  This dream tells us where he came from, but in a sense, we already know that.  Better to explore how he feels about where he was, or where he is, or where he might be headed.

Like many cult-tv programs, “The Guardians” also imagines an external force as being the guarantor of peace or war in the galaxy.

On the original Twilight Zone, the great (and incredibly atmospheric) episode “The Howling Man” postulated that man would experience peace only during those intervals during which he held the Devil captive. Whenever the Devil escaped captivity, world war would occur.  

Likewise, in Star Trek’s “The Day of the Dove,” an alien monster that thrived on “hate” was believed responsible for the violent, war-like aspects of humankind’s long history. 

Here, the Guardians preserve galactic peace, but during the uncertain periods of succession, elements of the space-time continuum “jump” their tracks, and chaos is the result.  In all these situations, "fate" is determined specifically by some agency outside of man's dominion and yet he can  still struggle to rein the situation back in during each crisis.  

Probably the best aspect of “The Guardians” is simply the fact that the episode creates a sense of terror (especially in the scene wherein the box is jettisoned from the ship…but then re-appears aboard her…) without ever focusing on a humanoid villain. There are no bad guys to be found here, at all, only a strange alien artifact that the crew of Searcher, including Buck, doesn’t quite understand. 

This conceit was very much of the Space:1999 playbook: terror is forged because man doesn’t have all the answers, and his curiosity or other emotions only create more danger.

It’s nice to see Buck Rogers operate on that more intellectual, spine-tingling level, at least for a short duration. Had later episodes followed this relatively intelligent formula, the second season might today be much better perceived.

I don’t often return to the second season of Buck Rogers today because of some of the really dreadful episodes, but “Time of the Hawk,” “The Satyr” and yes, “The Guardians” reveal how the changes from season one to season two could have truly created an interesting space opera and interesting, early 1980s alternative to Star Trek.  

I don't know if the second series was too rushed, it was difficult to find good writers, or there were problems elsewhere that needed to be addressed first, but at least for "The Guardians" everything seems to come together for Buck.   

In this case "opening up Pandora's Box" gave the sci-fi series a pretty visceral and intriguing hour.

Buck Rogers Week: "Time of the Hawk" (January 15, 1981)


"Time of the Hawk" by Norman Hudis and directed by Vincent McEveety is the premiere episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century's hotly-debated second season. 


The two-hour episode aired on NBC, January 15, 1981, following a lengthy writer's strike, and eventually earned an Emmy nomination for "Outstanding Cinematography in a Series" for director of photography Ben Colman.

Loyal viewers of Buck Rogers' first season were in for a shock with the opening moments of Season Two: Dr. Huer (Tim O'Connor) and Dr. Theopolis had been erased from the format (along with the Earth Defense Directorate), and were never mentioned again. The Draconians were also gone.




Instead, Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and Twiki -- now voiced by Bob Elyea -- were officers ensconced aboard a starship called "The Searcher," heading out on a space mission in search of the "lost tribes of Earth." They hoped to find humans who had fled Earth following the nuclear holocaust... and re-establish contact.

New characters on the series included the gruff, temperamental commanding officer of the Searcher, Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner), a dotty, scatter-brained professor, Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfrid-Hyde White) and an officious robot called Crichton, who refused to believe that humans had actually constructed him. Dennis Haysbert -- later President David Palmer on 24 -- had an early, recurring role as a "communications probe officer."



"Time of the Hawk" introduces the second season's most prominent new character, a noble bird-man called "Hawk" (Thom Christopher).

As the two-parter commences, Hawk and his mate Koori (Barbara Luna) return home to their peaceful village on the distant planet Throm in the Argus Sector, only to find that drunken humans have murdered all of their people, including Koori's family. Hawk swears vengeance on the human race and begins to launch lightning raids against human-owned starships from the cockpit of his deadly fighter, the war hawk.

"The Galactic Council" orders The Searcher to stop this "devil" called Hawk, and Buck tracks the bird-man down to the City-State of Neutralis on Throm, where Hawk's ship is often serviced by local engineers who are -- you guessed it -- "neutral" in matters of conflict.

"Forget the hatreds of the past," Buck urges Hawk, "help us discover the future..."

The first thing you may notice about this particular narrative is the overt western genre structure.

A decent lawman (Buck Rogers) on a frontier of sorts (the West/Space) needs to bring in a terrible criminal from a different or "alien" culture (think of Hawk as a native-American, a wronged Apache-Chief...), but it is mankind's (America's...) difficult history actually put on trial, particularly for the crime of genocide.

Indeed, this structure was absolutely intentional. New Buck Rogers producer John Mantley had also overseen a decade's worth of Gunsmoke (1955-1975) stories, and had re-vamped a script from that long-running series to open Buck Rogers's sophomore sortie

Mantley told Starlog Magazine's Karen E. Willson (#39, October 1980, page 18) that "something can be said for the fact that Matt Dillon and Buck Rogers are the same man, six or seven hundred years apart. They're 'both' superheroes -- the difference is that up to now, Buck has not been very real. In the first show that Matt Dillon was in, the 'heavy' blew him down. He didn't outshoot the heavy. He even hanged the wrong man once. That made him very human. In the first show of this year, Buck is going to be soundly whipped in the air by a character named Hawk..."

In theory this may have sounded like a strong and intriguing idea -- to allow Buck to finally meet his match after a season of handily dispatching space tyrants -- but Mantley's concept was also, plainly, a western re-tread, a rerun.

Author Norman Hudis explained to CFQ's Steve A. Simak (CFQ: "Back to the Future," February/March 2005, page 46) that Mantley and fellow producer Calvin Clements Jr. had "used the story at least twice before when they worked on Gunsmoke. The idea was very vaguely about somebody who was wanted either by the police or by some authority but he was safely hiding somewhere. The only way they could entice him out was to flaunt his girlfriend or romantic interest and [then] he took the chance of coming out of hiding..They both giggled about it and said 'We've used the story twice before in the Old West and now we're going to use it in outer space.'"

Basing a high-profile re-vamp of an already popular show on a decade's-old rerun may not have been the best or most creative way to countenance a futuristic series going into a critical time period, but nonetheless, Hudis's version of the familiar tale is emotionally affecting at points. "Time of the Hawk" proves a fine introduction for Hawk, at the very least.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century's second season faced additional concerns too. The shooting schedule per hour-long episode was cut an entire day from what it had been the year before. And the budget per episode of the series was drastically reduced, to approximately half-a-million dollars a show. 



This meant that props and miniatures largely had to be re-used from older episodes (and other Glen Larson series...), a fact which gave the new season a kind of bizarre, on-the-cheap visual aura. The Searcher, for example, -- the starship Enterprise of this new season, essentially -- was a redressed version of a vessel seen in "Cruise Ship to the Stars" in the first season. Had this fact simply been mentioned in the screenplay -- that a civilian ship had been retrofitted for the mission -- the re-use of a familiar miniature might not have been so alarming. She's still a beautiful vessel.


And Buck is also seen in "Time of the Hawk" tooling around in a Colonial shuttle craft from the original Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979). These two space vessels don't appear to be products of the same technology, history or culture...and that's part and parcel of the problem. In visual terms, the new Buck Rogers just looked scatter shot...like a spaceship and prop vault at Universal had been raided.

The same criticism applies to Searcher's bridge: it looks like a hodgepodge of spare parts from the first season of Buck Rogers. It's crowded, ugly -- and again -- cheap-looking. And don't get me started on the fishbowl space helmets Buck and Wilma adorn early in the show. Suddenly, we're back on Rod Brown and the Rocket Rangers.

The criticism of slipshod production values does not affect however, anything Hawk-related in this premiere episode. Hawk is introduced with great flourish, and actor Thom Christopher remains a powerful presence as the stoic, dangerous bird man. The actor brings tremendous gravitas and dignity to the role, and his "war hawk" fighter is one of the coolest, most sinister-looking miniatures ever featured on Buck Rogers, replete with retractable claws that can tear apart enemy ships.


At least this introductory episode, with its western storyline, boasts the sense to present Hawk as an authentic menace (right down to his ship...), and as a character who seems believable in terms of the genre. Some people have complained about Hawk's costume, but I submit that the overall look of the character works just fine, especially given Christopher's serious, intense interpretation of the part.

The central idea governing Mantley's re-vamp of Buck Rogers was that characters and ideas would now take prominence over space battles and action scenes. Hawk is a good step in that direction: an "outsider" with his own world perspective, and a serious counterpart for the more impish Buck.

Yet, after "Time of the Hawk," Hawk (like Maya before him on Moonbase Alpha and the Maquis after him on Voyager...) is far too easily and quickly assimilated/integrated into an existing crew structure. 

There's not much sense in presenting an "alien" character who quickly fits in with human buddies. You lose the chance to mine drama from that conflict. Hawk should have always had a different way of doing things, and always chafed at his proximity to humans. Thom Christopher always maintained his dignity, and the character's "outsider" traits, but often with precious little assistance from the story lines that followed "Time of the Hawk."



This was not the only problem with the "new" approach of the second season. Wilma has very little of substance to do in "Time of the Hawk," and soon becomes a console jockey in the series, flying the Searcher and pushing buttons. In Season One, Deering was a sexy, independent, operative for the Directorate. Here she's almost invisible, as if Buck Rogers had also adopted a Western-style aesthetic about the role of women.

In space, in the distant future, this is nothing short of absurd.



"Time of the Hawk" also presents Crichton and Asimov, two dreadfully-cartoonish, cardboard characters who hurl insults at each other ("ridiculous lamp post!" "kettle belly!") and, if anything, evoke only memories of Dr. Smith and the Robot on Lost in Space.

Where is the so-called "serious" drama in this relationship? Bickering is not a substitute for mature storytelling, just because Star Trek did it (and did it well...) with Spock/McCoy.

Most disturbing of all, perhaps, Buck and Wilma are now forced to endure playful romantic banter that, in contest, just seems ridiculous.

In their first scene of the season, they engage in a mock argument, flirt a little bit, and then reconcile...but it's all over nothing at all. It's strictly canned characterization

Everyone is too jovial, too emotional, and trying too hard to be likable and "human." This was also my problem with some of Space: 1999 Year Two: everybody was trying so hard to laugh and smile that it actually became painful to watch. Gil Gerard and Erin Gray are enormously likable performers, and one just wishes they had better material to work with here. In Buck Rogers' first year, Buck and Wilma had great chemistry and shared a kind of tongue-in-cheek relationship. The stories may not have been overtly serious, but the characters seemed real and human, and not forced, like grins had been plastered to their faces at gunpoint.

In terms of story lines, one can argue that the new season of Buck Rogers tried sincerely to make a statement about conformity, and the way that people fear or kill that which they don't understand. "Time of the Hawk," "Journey to Oasis," "The Golden Man," and "The Dorian Secret" all -- at least tangentially -- revolve around the idea of prejudice against those who are deemed different. This is a commendable and consistent theme. The best enunciation of it -- for all its flaws -- is likely in "Time of the Hawk," which condemns man for his predilection to render other species extinct because differences are perceived as threats. "The history of your race is written in its own blood," Hawk tells Buck at one juncture, and the point is made.

Looking back, I enjoyed (and still enjoy...) several episodes of Buck Rogers' second season, mainly "Time of the Hawk," "The Guardians," "The Satyr," and "Testimony of a Traitor," but the second season changes -- excluding Hawk -- by and large did not improve the series.

Today, the first season is generally regarded more highly. Still, I can't help but wish that the second season had been granted a full renewal instead of just thirteen episodes. Maybe those last dozen or so episodes that were never produced would have been the very ones that revealed just how well the second season format might have worked. 

We'll never know.


Lastly, I'll say this. At age 11...what I wouldn't have done to get my hands on a war hawk model kit...