Saturday, March 03, 2012

Saturday Morning TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Web of the Star Witch" (September 29, 1979)

In "Web of the Star Witch," the third episode of Jason of Star Command’s second season, Jason’s apparently abandoned Star Fire returns to the Star Command docking bay.  Commander Stone (John Russell) is concerned over the strange arrival, and with good reason.  In secret, one of Dragos’ minions has infiltrated the base, and is planning to set a time bomb.

Meanwhile, Jason and Samantha run afoul of the evil Queen Medusa (Francine York), who desperately wants Jason to join her in seizing control of the galaxy.  After Jason refuses to team up with the villainess, he and Samantha utilize Medusa’s matter transmitter to return to Star Command, and help Stone and Parsafoot with a search for the ticking bomb…

All in all, "Web of the Star Witch" is perhaps a bit more exciting than “Frozen in Space,” (which I call “Frozen in Place.”)  There’s a little bit more intrigue in this narrative, and in terms of visuals, the episode features a terrific stop-motion alien monster.  

Watching Jason and Samantha face off against this unusual star beast, I was reminded immediately of Jason and the Argonauts (1962), and then considered again how the swashbuckling fantasy world of Ray Harryhausen seems to be one of the key inspirations of Jason of Star Command.  Consider the similarities: a heroic leader and his courageous team  -- with Samantha as a kind of female, amnesiac Hercules -- facing off against evil creatures and aliens.  In the same sense as Jason and the Argonauts, Jason of Star Command is tremendous fun, and filled with surprisingly effective special effects for a Saturday morning TV show.

Of course, some of the character mechanics don’t make a lot of sense.  Why would Medusa risk everything she has gained working with Dragos on the slim chance that Jason would join her? In terms of motivation, it doesn’t seem likely, and, of course, Jason rejects her call to join up.  “My allegiance is to Star Command and a free galaxy,” he tells her, and his words aren't exactly a surprise.

What seems missing from “Web of the Star Witch” is a larger overall plot-line, or arc.  Each Jason of Star Command features a terrible threat to Jason and to Star Command, and yet it all feels terribly random, as though Dragos is just throwing everything (including the kitchen sink…) at his opponents.  

Dragos would seem a more effective villain if the audience felt he actually had a multi-piece strategy.  On the other hand, if space terrorism is his goal, perhaps Drago is effective in "terrorizing" Star Command.

Another nice touch in “Web of the Star Witch” involves the development of Commander Stone, perhaps the season’s most intriguing personality.  Here, he demonstrates his people’s ability to implant mental directives directly in the minds of other individuals.  Specifically, he subdues an alien creature with the instruction to “rest.”  He does so by placing two fingers against the alien’s temple.   This ability looks like the Vulcan mind meld in practice, but acts like the Vulcan nerve pinch.  Regardless, it passes for a pretty cool ability.

“Web of the Star Witch” also demonstrates how WiKi has become an easy crutch for  series writers.  In this story, the tiny robot destroys the chains binding Samantha and Jason, overloads an alien computer, and saves the day again and again.  He has become, in short order, Jason’s “Get out of Jail Free” card.  He’s virtually indestructible too.

Although the presentation of Queen Medusa is hackneyed (she even possesses a magic wand...), “Web of the Star Witch” remains a pretty fast-paced half-hour, and at least gets Jason back to Star Command, so he can introduce Samantha to the rest of the gang. 

Next week: "Beyond the Stars."


  1. Anonymous12:01 PM

    'Jason' can be fun, if one makes allowances for it being a kid show. Queen Medusa shows a sort of anatagonistic female rivalry towards Samantha (though this really wouldn't be explored in a saturday morning show). The Queen's outfit is about as about as cliche '70s as possible.

    The most fun part of the ep goes by too quickly; the giant -snail-octopus' is another marvelously detailed, smoothly animated creature. The talented efx artists behind these creatures also worked on a sci-fi feature film around the same time. "Planet of the Dinosaurs" features superb stop-motion too.

  2. Anonymous5:11 PM

    John, as always another excellent review and analysis of a classic science fiction adventure. Keep up the excellent work.

  3. Anonymous6:14 PM

    The term "witch" used to describe a woman is outmoded and sexist. Did it not occur to the writer to use a more appropriate term in the title. Positive female portrayals are negated by negative ones such as this.

  4. Thank you to all the anonymous posters on "Jason of Star Command."

    Anon #1: I agree with you that JOSC is a lot of fun, and you have to take it as such (and as a kid's program to boot). I also agree with you that the giant snail octopus is a pretty awesome creation, and the best part of this week's show.

    Anon #2: Thank you! I appreciate your feedback and support very much.

    Anon #3: Well, at least they didn't call Medusa a slut or a prostitute, right? The witch moniker is kind of appropriate since she is a woman who uses fantastic/mystical powers (and has a magic wand and all). I don't think it was meant as derogatory towards women, more as a descriptor of Medusa's mystical/magical nature.

    best to all,