Thursday, October 10, 2019

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: "Ardala Returns"

In "Ardala Returns," Buck (Gil Gerard) and Twiki (Mel Blanc/Felix Silla) are lured into Earth orbit by the mysterious presence of a 20th century satellite from 1996, despite the fact that Dr. Huer's (Tim O'Connor) historical records show "no further records" of space flight following Buck's disappearance and the holocaust.

The satellite is a trick, and Buck and Twiki are captured by Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) aboard the Draconia. The Draconians have been unable to find pilots to fly Kane's (Michael Ansara) new hatchet design fighter, and, in fact, seven pilots have died attempting to do so. In Lab 23, Ardala has Buck duplicated as three separate zygote replicas, hoping that they can fly the fighters, and will also prove more romantically pliable than the original article. However, their thought processes are scrambled, making each replica imperfect in his own unique way.

Buck and Twiki attempt escape from the Draconia, but a zygote makes it back to Earth, where it is expected to self-destruct in New Chicago. Fortunately, Wilma (Erin Gray) sees through the ruse in time.  

But even with one Zygote destroyed, Buck must outwit, outfight, and outfly his dangerous doppelgängers.

It's always nice to see Princess Ardala and Killer Kane again, even if "Ardala Returns" doesn't hold up as a great episode of this 1970's space opera. The story involves, essentially, the idea that there is only one Buck Rogers, and that even exact duplicates can't successfully replicate his unique sense of humor and joie de vivre.  He is "the master mold."

There was a huge fascination or obsession in 1960's and 1970's sci-fi TV with "exact duplicates" of heroic characters, and many episode plot-lines seem designed solely to see if the main character's friends or sidekicks can detect the difference. 

Duplicates of Captain Kirk populated many episodes of Star Trek including "What are Little Girls Made Of," "The Enemy Within," and "Whom Gods Destroy." In Space:1999, a duplicate of John Koenig terrorized Moonbase Alpha in "Seeds of Destruction."  Even as late as Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Datalore," in 1987, the same idea of villainous doppelgängers was popular and common-place.  

Much like the android-making process of "What are Little Girls Made of," the duplication process of the human mind in "Ardala's Return" is successfully scrambled, meaning that Buck's friends can tell him from the genuine article without too much difficulty. For one thing, the zygotes get Earth colloquialisms all wrong.

Gil Gerard seems to have a good time playing the "imperfect" versions of the series' titular character in "Ardala Returns," even if those same imperfect models exasperate Ardala. The episode also features some emotional genuineness, which is nice for a change. Buck tells Ardala that love isn't something that two people can try to make happen. Ardala isn't having it however, noting that she may be a Draconian princess, but she still has feelings. She is also offended to be rejected again and again by Buck.

One thing is for certain: in both "Escape from Wedded Bliss" and "Ardala Returns," one feels sorry for Ardala. She is a beautiful, intelligent, powerful woman, and yet she is lonely, and can't get past her entirely unhealthy obsession with Buck Rogers. One gets the feeling that Ardala would really start to be her best self if she could just get past this fascination with the 20th century astronaut.  He has made his feelings plain, and yet she still can't move on.

The special effects (mostly split screens and doubles) in "Ardala Returns" don't hold up all that well today, but this is a mostly inoffensive, fast-moving episode. The bits with Buck's "Ping Pool" table are actually pretty amusing. Ping pool is a weird combination of Ping Pong and Pool, just as it sounds. A ping pong paddle is used (as is a net), but the ball is a pool ball, which makes the paddle wholly inadequate in terms of game play.  

Next week: "Twiki is Missing."

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