Thursday, October 17, 2019
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: "Twiki is Missing"
In "Twiki is Missing," a space iceberg moves perilously near Earth, endangering the entire planet as an ion storm approaches.
Meanwhile, a tyrant named Kurt Belzac (John P. Ryan) runs a mine on Tauros that is the "sole supplier of an explosive called Blazium," and is tired of his persistent labor problems. He believes he can replace his human workers with robots such as Twiki. Accordingly, Belzac orders his trio of psychic enforcers to Earth to negotiate for Twiki, or if necessary, steal him.
When Buck (Gil Gerard) refuses to sell Twiki, arguing that he is a "friend," Stella (Eddie Benton) and her cohorts steal him and attempt to take him back to Tauros.
Buck follows Twiki back to Tauros, and learns that Belzac is holding Stella's son hostage. She must obey his commands, lest her boy be murdered. Buck enlists Stella's help to save Twiki, and acquire enough blazium to destroy the threat from the space berg.
With Stella on his side, Buck and Twiki return to earth to contend with the space berg.
"Twiki is Missing" is one of the lesser episodes of Buck Roger's first season. The story, at its heart, doesn't make a lot of sense. Isn't Twiki just one of many robots of the same model? Are his plans/blueprints available on the open market that Belzac could purchase so he doesn't have to resort to interstellar thievery? Are there other robots of the galactic civilization (like the ones we've seen in episodes such as "Cosmic Whiz Kid") not available or able to work in Belzac's mines?
The whole idea behind this story is that Belzac must "own" Twiki in particular, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I know Twiki has picked up Buck's habits and 20th century lingo, but it seems that these factors would make him more independent, and therefore less useful as a slave to be used in the mines.
Furthermore, the episode doesn't get at the heart of this scenario. Is Twiki sentient? Are the other robots like him sentient? Do they have rights? Is it wrong to use them as slaves, if they do have rights, and are sentient? These issues are not of interest to the makers of "Twiki is Missing."
Part of the reason that the story doesn't make tremendous sense is that we know so little about Twiki. Was he built by the computer council and other machines, such as Dr. Theopolis? We have seen a robot like him, such as Tina ("Cruise Ship to the Stars"), but very few others on Earth. Is his model out-moded? State of the art? Does every Earth citizen get a robot companion like him? As the audience, we simply don't have enough information to register this story on a deeper, more meaningful level. This is one example where Buck Rogers has provided so little information about a supporting character that a narrative about that character simply doesn't work.
The other plot line, a looming space berg, is no more successful. Here a giant iceberg moves through space, and will rip apart the atmosphere of the Earth if its re-entry is altered. At the last minute, Buck has to "eyeball" the iceberg's trajectory to get through the re-entry window. I know Buck is a great pilot, and a heck of a guy, but really? He's just going to eyeball a 10 billion ton iceberg with the correct amount of blazium, and "guess" the correct coordinates for the detonation?
Of course, he does just that.
Buck's either the most skilled and brilliant man alive, or the luckiest one. But just the fact that the episode's climax relies on him "eyeballing" this threat from space and successfully vanquishing it, speaks volumes about the level of the writing on the series at this point. One gets the impression that the writers might still have been obsessed with Star Wars, and the moment when Luke turns off his targeting computer to fire his proton torpedoes and destroy the Death Star. But at least Luke had the Force on his side. Buck just has his twentieth century "instincts." Once more, this is the idea of American Exceptionalism...in the future/in space, but it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Visually, "Twiki is Missing" is no great shakes. The blazium looks like painted styrofoam blocks. A 20th century micro-fiche machine doubles for a high-tech 25th century computer in a New Chicago laboratory, and when Twiki is lost in space, the special effects crew uses the Mego action figure, apparently, for the long-shots. There is a ramshackle, cobbled-together visual aspect to Buck Rogers that makes it look rather slapdash at times, and this is one of the worst episodes in terms of that unfortunate feature.
Next week: "A Dream of Jennifer."