Saturday, December 10, 2005

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Space Academy: "Life Begins at 300"

In "Life Begins at 300," another segment of the 1970s kids show Space Academy (written by Jack Paritz), a snobby cadet from Yellow Squad, Gina Corey (actress Paula Wagner) warns Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) that he should abort a Seeker mission to collect the mineral Zolium from a distant planet. She thoughtfully quotes "Stanley Crane's paper on Zolium Distribution," but Gampu doesn't consider the mission particularly dangerous.

Unfortunately, he's proven wrong, and Paul's life support badge malfunctions while he's collecting the Zolium on the planet surface. Worse, Peepo malfunctions in the atmosphere when sent out to save the cadet (with, of all things, an inflatable raft...). Though Paul is finally saved, Gampu now has serious questions about his own leadership. Was Gina right? "There's a very old saying: you can't teach old dogs new tricks," he bemoans. Then, Gampu tenders his resignation from the Academy and orders Gentry to transmit it to Earth.

But snotty Gina, who has constructed a device called "an extractor" to collect Zolium, also fails her mission, and it's up to Gampu - with his 300 year old wisdom and experience - to save her. He does so, and his faith in himself and his capabilities is restored. "We all need the experience of age, which I have, and the exuberance of youth, which you have," he tells the thankful Gina.

Ah, another lesson learned in the distant reaches of space! The most interesting thing about this episode is that it's the first one so far to include Jonathan Harris (Gampu) in more than a supporting role. I must say, he does rather nicely in the part...though his haircut is...regrettable. Also, this is the first time in the series we get to see Gampu's personal cabin, which is filled with Earth antiquities including old-fashioned spacesuits, tribal masks and shields, and nautical equipment. This decor makes a nice change from the typical Space Academy white.

I also just have to note how "Life Begins at 300" fits into that wonderful sci-fi TV convention: the mineral hunt. In so many science fiction TV series of the 1960s and 1970s, the hunt for a rare mineral resource was the plot of the day. Dilithium was in short supply in Star Trek ("Mudd's Women,") along with Ritalin ("Requiem for Methuselah.") On Space:1999, the moonbase desperately needed titanium ("The Metamorph") and tiranium ("Catacombs of the Moon.") On Battlestar Galactica, it was the valuable substance "tylium" that had to be mined by the ovions in "Saga of a Space World." Here, on Space Academy, Zolium is used to "regenerate life support badges."

I guess it makes sense that sci-fi TV shows would focus on this aspect of outer space: ideally, we hope it's a place brimming with the resources we require to sustain ourselves. But that remains to be seen. So when do we start mining the asteroid belt (and move into Outland territory?) I guess we have to win the war on terror, shore up Social Security and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure first. Sad, really. When I was a kid - watching Space Academy for the first time - I was certain that by the time of 36th birthday (last week...) we'd be making real progress towards Mars and beyond.

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