Monday, September 19, 2016
Buck Rogers Week: "Cruise Ship to the Stars" (December 27, 1979)
In “Cruise Ship to the Stars,” Buck (Gil Gerard), Wilma (Erin Gray), and Twiki (Mel Blanc) board the space luxury liner Lyran Queen on a mission to protect Miss Cosmos (Dorothy R. Stratten), a genetically perfect human woman, and “beauty” contest winner.
Mystery assailants aboard the space liner realize that Miss Cosmos possesses a “staggering genetic value” and wish to sell her body parts on the black market.
Once aboard, Buck and his friends attempt to protect Miss Cosmos, unaware that their opponent is a dangerous “transmute.”
Sometimes, the would-be-thief is the meek, gentle Allison (Kimberly Beck) and sometimes she is the avaricious, incredibly powerful Sabrina (Trisha Noble).
Allison and Sabrina both are being manipulated by their boyfriend and thief, Jalor Davin (Leigh McCloskey), who is plotting to use Sabrina’s abilities to capture and dissect and Miss Cosmos.
“Cruise Ship to the Stars” is another intriguing Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) pastiche. It’s another episode that seems basic, and even clichéd on the surface, until one looks at a little more deeply at the influences going into it.
In this case, the episode takes its setting from one of the most popular TV series of the latter-half of the disco decade: The Love Boat (1977-1987).
Instead of a sea-bound Pacific Princess, however, Buck Rogers sets its story on the gorgeous star-liner Lyran Queen. The miniature for this spaceship is incredible and it would recur -- though with less-flamboyant coloring and trim -- as the starship Searcher in the series’ season two. I’ve always loved this ship’s appearance, with the forward sphere, the long tube, and the over-powered, rear-mounted engine tubes. It’s a fantastic design. I’ve always wanted a model kit of it.
In terms of interiors, the set used for the directorate hangar deck during the first season has been rebuilt or redecorated here as an elaborate Lyran Queen swimming pool (another set frequently seen on the Pacific Princess).
The episode takes a little bit from The Love Boat in terms of structure too. Here we meet a number of different passengers, all with a story to tell. Even Twiki gets to fall in love with the gold ambuquad named Tina (Patty Maloney). I won’t comment on the fact that she says “booty booty booty” instead of Twiki’s “bidi bidi bidi.
In terms of characters, however, “Cruise Ship to the Stars” -- at least on its surface -- is really a kind of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story. That story first came into the pop culture firmament back in 1886, when Robert Louis Stevenson published his tale, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novella is a case study in the duality of man’s nature, both moral and immoral, and perhaps even a reflection of the conscious vs. unconscious mind.
Here, Buck tangles with an opponent who boasts two distinct personalities. One is meek and gentle, learning to assert herself and declare her needs. That’s Allison, our Dr. Jekyll in this case. The other personality is an out-of-control Id, a thief and a savage: Sabrina, or Mr. Hyde.
The sci-fi concept that permits this doubling is the idea of a “transmute,” some who can alter their physical and psychological identity.
The question becomes, I suppose, who is really in charge? Sabrina or Allison? And beyond that, who is the “real” personality, and who is the “created” one, if we look at the concept in that fashion?
When we look in the mirror, we could ask ourselves the same questions. What controls us? The unconscious mind? The Id? Or some higher, more “civilized” function of the new brain, rather than the prehistoric one?
On an even deeper level, “Cruise Ship to the Stars” is really all about identity and the way society judges the standard of beauty.
Ms. Cosmos is beautiful inside and out, so much so that she is judged perfect by society. Her beauty is both physical and genetic, and therefore coveted by others who wish to profit from such “perfection.”
Sabrina and Allison navigate standards of beauty in a fascinating way as well. Sabrina is physically attractive, and yet her soul is monstrous. Her beauty is external; wrapped up in things like materialism and avarice. Jalor considers Allison meek and weak, though she is also physically beautiful. But as Allison asserts herself, as she undergoes the process of “becoming,” she might be seen as self-actualizing in a beautiful way as well.
I rather like the episode’s climax, wherein Buck, Twiki and Wilma close in on Sabrina and incapacitate her with sonic beams. They make a good team.
Finally, I can’t end this review without noting the appearance here of Dorothy Stratten as Ms. Cosmos. Stratten also starred as Galaxina (1980), and was named Playboy’s Playmate of the Year for the same year.
And, of course, Stratten’s beauty was also coveted and manipulated by others. At the age of 20, she was murdered by her former husband and manager.