Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Phantom Force" (November 10, 1979)

In “Phantom Force,” Jason (Craig Littler) escapes a trap in another dimension via the alien star gate and warns Commander Stone (John Russell) that Dragos (Sid Haig) is planning to use an alien power source on the planet Stygion to aid his coming invasion of "the universe."  

Star Command travels at “warp speed”(!) to intercept the alien power source on Jason’s information, but both Stone and Samantha (Tamara Dobson) are upset with Jason because his source of information is a former enemy: Adron (Rod Loomis).

After Samantha rescues a young buy, Carius (David Comfort) from a deadly ion storm, the tensions between Jason and Samantha escalate. Jason suspects something is not right with the boy, but Samantha is baffled by her friend’s suspicious behavior.  When Star Command undergoes a series of “accidents,” Jason’s worst fears are proved correct, and Carius is revealed to be…Dragos, or rather an “illusion” of Dragos.

In fact, the “Phantom Force” of the episode’s title refers to Drago’s apparently-new found ability to create hallucinations such as spaceship armadas and even phantom planets. In the episode’s final scene, Jason re-establishes his trust for Samantha by allowing her to choose which of five phantom planets is actually Stygion, Drago’s HQ.  She picks correctly, and Dragos' latest scheme is foiled again.  Star Command destroys the entire planet.

This episode of Jason of Star Command delves more into character fireworks then some installments of the Saturday morning program do, but here the frissons between main characters feel forced and manufactured.  

Suddenly, Jason and Samantha are at odds, and Jason and the Commander are at odds, and there are no good reasons for their behavior. Everyone starts spontaneously acting shitty, and that’s about as much depth as the story provides.  

Again, this is where – speaking as an adult – Jason of Star Command begins to fail. The straightforward episodes are designed for children and thus many of the plots just can’t really hold your attention as a grown-up.   I’m sure I would have loved “Phantom Force” when I was eight, and I don’t mean that sarcastically or as a put down.  The show was designed for kids, after all.

However, I must note that all Saturday morning programs are not created equal in this regard. Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977) and Space Academy (1977) both manage to remain interesting to adults even today because their narratives involve more than mere action.  There’s subtext to many Land of the Lost stories about the environment, and environmental stewardship, for instance.  Perhaps owing to the success of Star Wars, Jason of Star Command is so straightforward that it often plays as…flat.

That established, the special effects of Jason of Star Command remain astounding. A highlight of “Phantom Force” is Samantha’s rescue of Carius’s pod from the ion storm. The visual effects here are really terrific, as usual, a more-than-satisfying blend of live action, spaceship miniatures and glowing opticals (in the form of the charged ions…).  If you’re watching Jason just to enjoy the accomplished special effects, there’s nothing disappointing whatsoever about this segment.

Storywise, however, you can just detect how the ball is kind of being dropped in terms of the larger narratives.  Dragos goes from one hopeless scheme to the next, doomed to failure.  

And now even the star gate (still in Star Command’s landing bay…) looks as though it is going to be dropped as an instigator for new stories and new mysteries.   

Other elements of "Phantom Force" also raise questions. Star Command -- like the Death Star! -- boasts the power to destroy planets?  

Are only Dragos' forces living on Stygion?  Nobody even checks before obliterating the planet.  And if Carius is a phantom -- an illusion -- does that mean that Samantha never touches him, even while tucking him into bed?  

Anyway, three episodes left before the end of season two and the end of the series.

Next Week: “Little Girl Lost.”

1 comment:

  1. The production values shine in this episode. The miniature Minicat escape pod and the full-scale mockup with Samantha inside.



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