Thursday, January 23, 2020

Buck Rogers: "Journey to Oasis"

In "Journey to Oasis," the Earth is on the verge of war with the secretive Zikarians, a militaristic alien race with a dark secret. Specifically, the Zikarians are double or hybrid entities: they boast human-like heads attached to humanoid bodies, but each exists symbiotically.  In short, Zikarians and can remove their heads and their bodies still function on their own.

No one on the Searcher is aware of this strange fact, as Buck (Gil Gerard) and Wilma (Erin Gray) are assigned to transport the Zikarian Ambassador, Duvoe (Mark Lenard) to a peace conference in the city of Oasis on the planet R4. Unfortunately, all around Oasis is a wasteland, a "depository of failed experiments" and "genetic garbage dump" going back thousands of years.

Buck and Wilma's shuttle, with Duvoe and Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfred Hyde-White) and Hawk (Thom Christopher) aboard, goes down in the wasteland, and the crew must make for Oasis, and the peace conference, on foot.  The Zikarians will declare war, and destroy the Searcher, if Duvoe does not attend the conference on time.

On the planet surface, Buck and Duvoe clash, in part because Wilma knows him from a mission years earlier. She admires him, and is attracted to him, but Duvoe does not wish her to learn his secret.

The survivors of the shuttle crash make for Oasis, but must contend with a little blue imp, ODX (Felix Silla), and an invisible warlord who guards the only path to the city, and peace conference...

Stretched out to almost interminable length at two parts (or two hours), "Journey to Oasis" is a horribly sloppy episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1978-1981), and one that shows off the new format to poor effect. 

Where to begin on this one? 

Throughout the location shooting, it is abundantly plain that Wilfred Hyde-White's role of Dr. Goodfellow is being played by a double, one who doesn't very closely resemble him.  No doubt that this was an expedient because of the actor's advanced age, at this point.  But still...

Similarly, there's a strong disconnect, visually, between the location footage, and the footage shot with the primary actors on a sound-stage. The soundstage looks appropriate to Star Trek, circa its third season, in 1969, with its abundantly fake paper mâché rocks.  But this episode aired in 1981.

ODX's bight blue make-up, meanwhile, has visible edges where the paint  job just...stops. 

And Buck's final battle over the chasm, with the invisible warlord and his glow-in-the-dark sword, is rendered with fast motion photography. The result is that the final confrontation looks ridiculous. It doesn't help that the bridge Buck traverses  doesn't appear to be more than three or four feet off the ground, and it is very short in length. This episode clearly runs smack into budgetary problems that impacted the design and execution of the episode's major sets.

The shuttle in this episode, similarly, is from Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), and doesn't look like a product of Earth technology.  It's a cheap leftover.  The Searcher shuttlecraft changes designs virtually every week in the second season.  Maybe the exploratory ship carried lots of different shuttle types?

Meanwhile, the script treats Wilma badly. When she sees that cannibals have decapitated their prey and jammed their heads on pikes, she screams at the top of her lungs like a child.  She's a colonel in the military, and has seen things, in many episodes, that are far more terrifying than severed heads.  The episode makes Wilma react in this unprofessional manner so that audiences will believe she would reject Duvoe, since he too has a severed head, or whatever.

I know, it's all ridiculous, and in the service of a thin plot: a trek across the desert to reach a peace conference in time.

On the other hand, one can see that the show was, at this point, at least still trying. There is an impressive miniature for the Zikarian ships on display and I applaud the effort to fill in Wilma's back history, even if it doesn't seem consistent of what we know of recent Earth history, from the series' first season.  

It is also nice that there is the idea, here, no matter how half-unearthed, that Buck may actually be jealous of Wilma's affection for Duvoe. Too often in the first season, the relationship between Buck and Wilma is undefined.  Here, we know that he possesses deep feelings for her.

Casting Mark Lenard as Duvoe is a good call, too, though he has played alien ambassadors before (Sarek), of course, and his role here is ridiculous, and made even more ridiculous by his bad, curly wig.  

Lenard plays an important scene with his "severed" head hoisted up between two hands (perhaps his own, perhaps not), and the effect is just silly beyond measure.  He is an actor of such dignity, and yet there is little dignified about the design of his character in "Journey to Oasis."  At one point, it's clear Lenard's head is jutting out from a large rock, while his actual body is hidden inside it.  He shouts orders at his headless body, which is walking around aimlessly.

Again, the mind boggles that anyone thought this was a good idea, or would have looked anything but silly.

All in all, one can't help but think that "Journey to Oasis" would have been a tighter, more effective story at just one hour in duration. A lot of the sloppy execution might have been featured less prominently or mitigated by breezing past it as fast possible.

Next week, a much better installment: "The Guardians."

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