Saturday, September 14, 2013

Star Trek: The Animated Series: View Master

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Star Trek: The Animated Series: "Albatross" (September 28, 1974)


The U.S.S. Enterprise delivers life-saving medicine to the planet Dramia, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is surprised when the planet’s Supreme Prefect produces a warrant for the arrest of Dr. Leonard McCoy (De Forest Kelley). 

The Prefect claims McCoy is under arrest for the “wanton slaughter of hundreds of people” during a plague that ravaged Dramia 2 some nineteen years earlier.

Kirk can do nothing to prevent McCoy’s incarceration since the warrant is legal and binding. However, he orders the Enterprise to Dramia 2 to investigate the doctor’s guilt or innocence.  One of the Prefect’s men comes aboard the Enterprise to demand the investigation be dropped, but Kirk impounds his craft and classifies him as a “stowaway.”

On ruined, abandoned Dramia 2, Kirk and Spock meet a witness, Koltai, who will vouch for McCoy’s innocence, and he volunteers to speak at the doctor’s trial. 

On the return trip to Dramia, however, the Enterprise passes through a mysterious aurora, and the nineteen year old plague suddenly re-asserts itself, infecting Koltai, Kirk, and the entire Enterprise crew save for Mr. Spock.

Now, only Doctor McCoy -- a man still in custody -- can save the Enterprise.

Over the years, Star Trek has often returned to the idea of an officer on the Enterprise being accused of a crime, an accusation that then warrants an investigation by his dedicated friends.  

On the Original Series, Kirk was held for trial in “Court Martial,” Mr. Spock was held in “The Menagerie” and Scotty in “Wolf in the Fold.” 

In later generations, Riker faced trial in The Next Generation’s “A Matter of Perspective” O’Brien did the same in Deep Space Nine’s “Tribunal” and Paris was tried and punished in Voyager’s “Ex Post Facto.”

McCoy gets his turn on trial in this Animated Series episode, “Albatross.”  Despite the (over)familiarity of the premise – a hero wrongly accused of a crime – this episode nonetheless counts as one of the best of the cartoon canon in my estimation.  

In part, this is because the episode isn’t a sequel to another episode, doesn't feature familiar villains (like Klingons or Romulans), and isn’t pitched on a juvenile or "kiddie" level.  On the contrary, the teleplay by Dario Finelli would fit right in on the Original Series, save for the budget-busting depiction of the Dramians, their shuttlecraft, and their plague-ridden world. I particularly enjoyed the latter element of this story, the excursion to the ruined planet surface, a place now abandoned and feared by citizens of the solar system.

But I also appreciate this episode because it takes time to develop McCoy, a character whom we know very little about.  I know that The Final Frontier (1989) isn’t a popular film with fans, but it is nonetheless one of the few franchise entries to provide any character background whatsoever on Bones.  

“Albatross” fits in the same small category.  

We know that, according to this episode, he was on Dramia 2 nineteen years before was serving aboard the Enterprise, and furthermore, we get to witness the essential nobility of his character here.  Bones doesn’t argue that it is impossible that he caused a plague; he merely argues that if he is responsible, it was the result of a terrible mistake.  Furthermore, he resists jailbreak on Dramia, so as not to make a bad situation worse.  He is, in short, a real hero.

By focusing on McCoy and the crew’s efforts to clear his name, and by avoiding gimmicks like giants or love potions, “Albatross” emerges as one of the most adult and satisfying of Star Trek: The Animated Series.  It’s an episode that deserves a better reputation than it currently possesses.

The only negative in "Albatross:" a big blooper in the final scene. In one frame set in the transporter room, McCoy is seen to be wearing a gold tunic instead of his standard blue one.

Next week: “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha Set (Mattel; 1976)

The year 1976 was America's bicentennial, but much more importantly (!) the heyday of Space:1999 toys and memorabilia. 

Mattel released its three-foot-long Eagle toy in 1976 and also a line of  action figures to go with this play set, the Space:1999 Moonbase Alpha "control room & launch center."  On television, this area was called "Main Mission" and was a colossal, two-level chamber replete with big screen and observation deck.

This toy doesn't quite live up to the impressive set from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series, but is a lot of fun nonetheless. 

It comes with a cool "Starflash Computer" that "really lights up!" and  vaguely resembles one of Alpha's trademark "comm-posts." 

Eagle-eyed collectors, however, will also notice that the Starflash computer is actually a toy re-purposed from the popular Matt Mason toy line of the sixties.

Other than the Starflash Computer, this set is basically a vinyl mat with  a swivel chair, a console chair and table, TV monitor screens, console readout dials, and vinyl covered walls. 

You could apply decals to the playset, to recreate scenes from Year One of the series.  Most importantly, however, this set was a place where your Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Victor Bergman action figures could hang out and fight Planet of the Apes figures, or the aliens from Mego's Star Trek line.

The back of the box described the set this way: "18" x 30" x 11" control room & launch center designed for 9" Space: 1999 action figures. Control panels are printed, label set and instructions included.  Action figures not included. Flasher light "D" battery sold separately."

Today, as an adult collector, I long for a more accurate representation of Moonbase Alpha, one that  captures the minimalist, Kubrickian aesthetic of the TV series a bit more closely. 

But I still have a lot of nostalgia for this toy, in part because I remember seeing it in toy stores back in the disco decade and begging my parents for it. 

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Action Figures (Mattel; 1975)

The years 1975 and 1976 brought a flood of great toys and other merchandise from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson spectacular, Space: 1999.  I've written about the giant Eagle One space ship before, as well as the Moonbase Alpha HQ.  Today, I look back at the action figures who populated Main Mission.

Three nine-inch figures were produced by Mattell, all bearing the likenesses of the actors on TV.  These "exciting TV characters from Moonbase Alpha" include Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Doctor Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), and Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse).  In terms of the face molds, all three characters boast a strong resemblance to the real life models.

The back of the card describes the characters and their milieu: "Action figures stand nine inches tall. They can sit, stand, and they're poseable.  They wear Space:1999 uniform with Stun Gun and holster, plus Communicator-Computer which clips to the belt."    The idea was clearly to "collect 'em all" (and compete with Mego's popular Star Trek action figure line).

Perhaps the coolest aspect of these action figures is indeed their series-related, space-age accouterments. The stun gun and comm-lock are very authentic-looking, and molded in machine gray.  Although the figures' hands can't hold the stun gun, there is a clip on the comm-lock which at least allows for the appearance that they are in use.

The biggest disappointment with Mattel's Space:1999 line is the general inaccuracy of the uniforms.  Professor Bergman wears a dark brown uniform, and Dr. Russell's is shades of bright orange.  On the TV series, all the characters wear a cream-colored basic (unisex) uniform, with only one sleeve in color (marking what division of base operations they work in.)  Koenig should have a black sleeve, for instance, but instead he has a cream uniform and a brown sleeve.   Bergman, as an unofficial adviser, should have no color mark on his sleeve. The figure has a cream sleeve.

Another disappointment is that the "villain" Zython (not from the series) was never produced to challenge our heroes.    I would have  loved to see an extension of the Mattel Space:1999 line to include some of the Palitoy figures that were released in England, including Captain Alan Carter (Nick Tate) and Paul Morrow (Prentis Hancock).  Also, like every Space:1999 fan of the 1970s, I hoped for a Maya (Catherine Schell) action figure... 

Breakaway Day 2013: Mammoth Model Eagle 1 Transporter (1976; Crafts by Whiting)

When I was a kid in the 1970s I was fascinated by all things having to do with Space:1999's trademark Eagle spacecraft.  I had a model kit of the ship from Airfix, a huge toy of the Eagle (from Mattel) and more. 

And in 1976, ATV licensed "Crafts by Whiting" (a Milton Bradley Company) to create another variation on the famous Brian Johnson design: a so-called "mammoth model" for ages 10 to 16.

In this hugely complicated kit, "everything" was "included to make" a "giant size decorative model."  The contents (unassembled) included "approximately 50 seventeen inch long straws, glue, die-cut printed parts and easy to follow illustrated instructions." 

The assembled Eagle model was "over 3 feet long."

On the side of the mammoth model box, intrepid young modelers were reminded "It's as easy as one, two, three."  First "position cut and glue straw parts over pattern sheet."  Then "press out and assemble die-cut printed cardboard pieces."  And finally "combine straw structures and die cut assemblies to complete spacecraft."

Today, I own one of these Mammoth Model Space: 1999 Eagle Transporter in its box, but have never, ever attempted to build it.  The directions say easy as one-two-three, but I just don't believe them.  Looking at the unassembled kit, it looks like the most complex thing imaginable. I'm afraid I would just ruin it.

So for now, and the forseeable future, I'm just going to enjoy the box art of this unique Eagle Transporter "Mammoth Model," and remember that I have an unbuilt Eagle at the ready should the fancy ever strike...

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Eagle 1 Spaceship (Mattel; 1976)

Long-time readers of the blog may recall that I’ve featured this particular toy before -- on November 24, 2005 and July 11, 2012 --- but sometimes, you have to return to your “greatest hits” and just hope people will be patient with your idiosyncrasies. 

And this Mattel Eagle 1 Spaceship (1976) remains my all-time favorite toy, hands-down.  So today seemed like a good time to highlight again, especially for newer readers.  I’ll probably feature it again in another seven years, so be warned.

In part, I favor this 1970s Mattel toy because it comes from my all-time favorite science fiction TV series, Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977). But in part it is also because the toy is downright colossal: over 2.5 feet long, as the box trumpets. 

Beyond these values, the Mattel Eagle also comes apart into a smaller ship, a combination of the command and engine modules.  This aspect of the toy seems very realistic to the series (or “show accurate,” to use collecting lingo) and the modular design of the Eagle (from SPFX maestro Brian Johnson).   The separated command module resembles some of the incarnations we saw of the Eagles in episodes such as “Missing Link” and “Dragon’s Domain.”

The box for this toy noted: “It’s a space vehicle.  It’s a headquarters and living quarters on Moon Base Alpha! With three 3” characters.” 

In the latter case, that means that this Mattel toy came complete with three intrepid Alphans: Commander Koenig (Martin Landau), Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) and Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse). 
As a kid, I remember being deeply disappointed that there was no Alan Carter action figure, especially since he was the character most commonly seen piloting the craft on the series.  Anyway, the figures featured the show’s trademark orange space suits, as well as removable helmets and back/chest packs.

Again this just perfect for pretend play: the Alphans could walk in space, or take their helmets off for planetary action.  Just don’t tell the Prometheus nitpickers I took off their helmets in dangerous situations, okay?

On the nose section of the Eagle, the “module hatch” would open and hold two action figures.  Inside the “carrier” section was the passenger section, replete with computer decals, “weapons rack” and “space crane.”  The weapons rack held four stun guns and one laser rifle. “Both side panels” of the carrier would slide open, allowing you access to the interior sections.

I was given this really awesome toy shortly before my sixth birthday, in 1976, by my Mom and Dad.  I remember that I was sort of depressed because my older sister didn’t want to play with me on a Saturday and I had nothing to do.  My Mom noticed I was down in the dumps.  So she led me into my parents’ bedroom and told me to look underneath the bed.  I did, and there was Eagle 1, ready for action!  The surprise gift made my day…and I’ve never forgotten it, or my Mother’s kindness.  She was always doing things like that for me (and still does, for my son Joel, to this day.)

Then, as my real birthday approached, my Mom and Dad took me aside and told me that my Uncle Glenn, who recently passed away, had also bought me an Eagle One toy.  They asked me if I wanted a second one, or something different.

Well, of course I wanted a second one.  The only thing better than having Eagle One was having an Eagle fleet!

That Christmas season, both Mattel Eagles went to forest planets (my backyard), ice planets (on snow days) and other dangerous environments.  I recruited the giant squid from G.I. Joe’s Sea Wolf submarine to serve as the tentacle monster from “Dragon’s Domain.”

Even after Space: 1999 disappeared from the pop culture horizon and Star Wars (1977) took its place, I kept and cherished and played with my Eagles.

For years, I’ve kept and cared for these ships.  The one you see pictured is in relatively good condition.  Inside the box is the one I really played with, and which is…battle damaged, let’s just say.  I do worry about my “good” Eagle simply because it is getting really old.  In less than four years, it will be a forty-year old toy, which I find virtually impossible to believe. 

Anyway, if you look closely, you can detect yellow glue lines on the toy, apparently from manufacture, at all the seams.  These lines are becoming more pronounced over time.   The hull is also yellowing in spots (the dorsal lattice, particularly…).

That’s okay, though. I’m keeping this toy in my home office until I die.  And then I’m leaving instructions to my son that it should be buried with me (along with the box).  

Unless, of course, he wants it, in which case I’ll be happy to pass it on. 

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Flying Eagle (Vertibird/Mattel 1976)

The year 1976 brought a number of great toys related to the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson outer space series, Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977).  One of the rarest and most valuable of such toys is the Space:1999 Flying Eagle or "VertiBird."'

Like many VertiBird toys (and there were also editions for Battlestar Galactica [1978], and -- apparently -- Megaforce [1982]), the Flying Eagle toy consists of a central column and a small control panel that controls speed and altitude.  Hanging from the top of the central column is a long arm which holds up a craft, in this case an Eagle (with a propeller on the dorsal spine).  By adjusting the controls, you could fly your Eagle Transporter in a circle, take-off, and land.

On the box, the legend reads: "Space Age flying fun indoors and out."  And the advertisements promised a "compact operational version of TV's Space:1999 vehicle...You pilot tight maneuvers, sky-lift a moon buggy," etc.

The Space:1999 Flying Eagle came with a light mast, capsule, moon buggy, plus labels.  I had the toy and I can also attest that it came with a Kaldorian space ship from the episode "Earthbound" (guest-starring Christopher Lee).  The Light mast is a show-accurate representation of a lighting tower seen inside Moonbase Alpha's Eagle hanger.  You can see the photos of my Flying Eagle accouterments below.

Alas, these are that I still have left of the toy.  

The central column and Eagle itself are long gone.  As a child of about ten, I think, I attempted to do surgery on the Eagle Transporter by removing it from the arm, and breaking off the propeller.  I wanted it to look more accurate, I guess, as a spaceship.  As you might guess, the operation was not a success.  Today, the Flying Eagle buggy and Kaldorian ship dock at my Cardboard Amsco Moonbase Alpha Play Set.

Similarly, I also distinctly remember getting for one Christmas a Star Trek-styled VertiBird knock-off.  In this case, it was called "CSF" or Controlled Space Flight (from Remco).  There, you could control the flight of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and the unsightly propeller was lodged in the underside of the saucer section.

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Adventure Playset (Amsco/MB 1975)

I first featured the Amsco Cardboard Adventure Sets of the 1970s here on my blog way back on September 29, 2005.  But, every now and then -- especially if the toy is Space: 1999 related -- I enjoy hauling out a collectible a second time.

So today, I’m once again featuring the Space: 1999 Cardboard Adventure Playset, with some new photographs I just snapped.

A little background: In the early-to-mid 1970s, Amsco and Milton Bradley cooperated to produce four cardboard play-sets (for Marvel Comics, Planet of the Apes, The Waltons and Space:1999 ). These giant Amsco dioramas were packaged in large, attractive and colorful rectangular boxes, were produced from "durable" cardboard, and were advertised as "fun to assemble,"

The kit you see pictured comes from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's outer space epic, Space:1999 (1975 -1977) and is a diorama of the lunar installation, Moonbase Alpha. 

As you can see, there's a landing pad, a cross-section of Moonbase Alpha's interior, including Main Mission Tower, a yellow moon-buggy, and plenty of cardboard representations of characters and aliens.  Also, the set comes with two Eagle spacecraft and two nuclear charges, the latter for detonating asteroids.

The heroes in the Space:1999 set are made in the likenesses of Martin Landau's Commander John Koenig, Barbara Bain's Helena Russell, Barry Morse's Professor Victor Bergman and even Clifton Jones' David Kano.  Unfortunately, the set was produced pre-Maya, so there's no Catherine Schell figure here.

One thing I enjoy about this particular set is that some effort was made towards accuracy in terms of the figure personalities (if not the Moonbase interiors). For instance, three cardboard figures in the Space:1999 set are aliens directly from Year One episodes. 

Peter Cushing's Raan, from "Missing Link" is here with his daughter, Vanna. The popular and horrifying octopus-like monster from "Dragon's Domain" is featured as well (with a puddle of drool/goo...).  Even the scorched Zoref (Ian McShane) from the episode, "Force of Life" is included in the set.

The Alphan figures can inhabit the base, and even ride a working elevator from one level to the next.  One door in the interior leads right out to the docking port, where the docked Eagle is stationed. One figure is a blond astronaut, who I insist is actually Captain Alan Carter (Nick Tate), although his hair isn’t quite right.

Breakaway Day 2013: Official Space:1999 Stun Gun (Remco; 1976)

Featuring "realistic space sound" and "3 function actuator," this stun gun toy from Space:1999 (via Remco) was actually little more than a flashlight, I suppose you could say.  But when you de-pressed the trigger (located above the handle), you could "fire" a "lazer beam," "project a light target" on a wall (like an Eagle, for instance...) or enjoy the "sequential color lights."

If memory serves, Remco also produced a Star Trek phaser very much like this toy, with similar light and sound effects, and the same capability to project images on the wall.  I'm pretty sure I had that one too, though I no longer own one today.

Recommended for children over five, the Remco stun gun operated on 2 "C" batteries, and proved a critical part of  many interplanetary my own backyard, of course.

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Chest Pack Radio (Illco., 1976)

Another Space:1999 toy I vividly recall was the Illfelder Toy Company's Chest Pack Radio (style no. 37-2070).

As the box reads, this was a "solid-state transistor radio with microphone, space signal morse code button and ear-plug."   In design, this ATV-licensed toy is made to resemble the Alphan space suit chest pack.  It straps on over the shoulders, and is worn across the torso.  It takes four C size batteries to operate properly.

The Space: 1999 Chest Pack Radio includes the following features:

1. Solid State 5 Transistor A.M Radio
2. Sensitive Volume Control.
3. Microphone.
4. Space Signal Morse Code Button
5. Earphone
6. Precision Tuning Dial
7. Microphone Mix Control.
8. "Red Alert" Light
9. Authentic Space:1999 Chest Pack Style
10. Heavy duty body straps
11. Completely portable.

With the microphone you can "Broadcast your voice or sing along with your favorite tunes

With the "Space Signal Button" you can "send real morse code messages."

And with the ear plug you can engage in "private listening."

So in other words, this is really just a sort of kid's radio, only styled and packaged to seem futuristic.  It's similar to Mego's Star Trek Command Communication Console in concept, I suppose.  The toy likely wouldn't seem too thrilling to today's kids, I'd wager.  Precision tuning dials? Volume controls? Ear plugs?  I mean, whoo-hoo, right?  Today we sleep next to tiny alarm clocks with many of these features...though personally I'd like them better if they also included "red alert lights."

But back in the 1970s (the decade of the CB radio, lest we forget...), this kind of toy was absolute nirvana...and state of the art. 

Breakaway Day 2013: Space:1999 Sonic Powered Megaphone (Vanity Fair; 1976)

It's always interesting to see what kind of toys are packaged and sold as part of a TV series franchise license.  

Case in point is this collectible, the Space:1999 "Sonic Powered Megaphone" from Vanity Fair.  

I can't really recall many times that Commander Koenig (Martin Landau), in spacesuit, actually used a megaphone...and yet, I can't say for certain that he didn't ever use one.  

On the other hand, the illustration on the box is sort of impractical in terms of function, since it shows an astronaut using the megaphone while in a spacesuit helmet.  Could a megaphone really amplify your voice, if you were wearing a helmet like this?

Anyway, this "sonic powered megaphone" features:

Dual Trigger Action

Voice Amplification

Sonic Space Alert Emergency Siren!

Inside the box were operating instructions: "To operate megaphone connect one (9) volt battery to clip located in battery compartment (2).  To amplify voice press trigger (3) slightly and speak into microphone (1) located in back.  To activate sonic alert press trigger (3) all the way back."

I collect any and all things related to Space:1999, so even some of the weirder stuff -- like this megaphone -- strikes a nostalgic chord for me.