Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "The Tank" (October 16, 1976)

In this episode of the Filmation bicentennial era TV series Ark II, the moving “repository of scientific knowledge”—the Ark II -- cruises Sector 18, Area 93 and finds an “old battleground” there.  Captain Jonah’s stated mission is to make sure that “nothing dangerous still exists” there.

Nearby, scavengers attack and abduct a young woman named Jewel (Bonnie Van Dyke). She was visiting the battleground with her friend Zachery (Christopher S. Nelson) in defiance of their village’s laws.  There, Jewel’s dad -- the leader – has decreed that all machines are forbidden because they are “evil.”

Jonah visits the village to tell the village leader of Jewel’s abduction, and responds that machines are “just tools” and that “good and bad exist in the men” who use them.  This opinion doesn’t sway the leader, but when he and Samuel and Adam are also captured by the scavengers, Jonah and Ruth deploy a pre-apocalypse tank to help free the captives from a mountainside jail.

After the scavengers are successfully dispatched, the village changes its rules about machines, and the tank – an ancient war machine – is converted into a useful farming vehicle.  It’s a literal reading of the notion of turning swords into ploughshares, and a terrific final image for the episode.  Jonah’s final log entry in the episode reminds viewers that men can “seek out the good or bad in anything.”

Like all Ark II episodes featured thus far, “The Tank” is heavily moralistic and didactic in tone, but again the series was oriented towards children and these social messages were part of the Filmation formula.  What I appreciate so much about the program is what Ruth notes explicitly in this episode: “We don’t carry weapons.  We don’t believe in them.”  Instead, the Ark II team again uses that defensive weapon I mentioned last week: a hand-held light device which momentarily blinds enemies, a nice variation on the ideas of phasers set to stun, you might say.  It’s nice to see, each week, that the Ark II crew lives up to its values and don’t carry guns.

In terms of visuals, the opening of “The Tank” is a little intense for kids.  A group of male scavengers snatch a protesting, wriggling, screaming woman, Jewel.  This abduction looks and plays like a moment more appropriate to The Road Warrior (1982) than a children’s TV series.  The implication, at least at this point, is that Jewel is going to be physically assaulted.   Like I said, tough stuff for a kid’s program of the 1970s.

Once more, the Adam character is a bit of a stumbling block for me.  The talking ape is used often as comic relief, and here he makes banana on bread sandwiches for the crew’s lunch.  Again, I really wish they wouldn’t have the monkey preparing the food for the humans.  I’ll be blunt: this series would be a heck of a lot better without the talking chimp, especially since the series writers make no effort whatsoever to explain him.

Finally, there are some new sound effects featured in this week’s installment, and they all sound like they are borrowed from the original Star Trek.  Aside from that, “The Tank” features some nice new footage of the Ark II activating its force field, and of the vehicle roaming the battlefield of ruins.

Next Week: “The Slaves.


  1. Anonymous3:00 PM

    John nice review of this episode. I have to agree with you that the series would have been better off without the talking ape Adam since he was never really more than a mascot or “pet” to the rest of the crew. As you stated in another post, Adam was probably there because of the popularity of the Planet Of The Apes franchise in the early to mid ‘70s. Myself as a boy then, Adam felt like a nod to Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp (1970-1972). [In the Summer of 1971, as a six year old boy I convinced my parents that my slightly older siblings and I would not be afraid to see Planet Of The Apes(1968) in the drive-in because we watched Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp on Saturday mornings. Boy was I wrong! ] As far as the ARK II’s “arsenal” , I liked the handheld rectangle shaped[with six square emitters] Laser tool that the crew used in “Mind Group” “Wild Boy” “Robot” “Robin Hood” “Cryogenic Man”.


    1. Hi SGB:

      Your detailed remembrance of these episodes is amazing. I'm looking forward to seeing the episodes you mentioned, and the laser tool. That sounds very cool.

      Adam is definitely problematic, isn't he? I do think he's there primarily because of Planet of the Apes. But he doesn't really work as a concept or as a character.

      Great comment.