Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy (1977) Series Primer

“Welcome to the most magnificent achievement in space, the man-made planetoid Space Academy, founded in star year 3732.

Here we have gathered young people from the farthest reaches of the known worlds. They have been chosen for their unique abilities, and are being trained to cope with the mysterious, the unknown, the unpredictable dangers lurking in the vast darkness of space.”

-Opening Narration to Filmation’s Space Academy (1977)

Space Academy is a live-action TV program produced by Filmation Studios and created by Allen Ducovny in the mid-1970s for the CBS TV network. 

The series was picked-up for principal photography in late 1976, and first aired in the fall of 1977 (post Star Wars) on Saturday mornings. The series was designed to be morally valuable, and educational, and U.C.L.A.'s Dr. Gordon L. Berry served as the series' technical adviser, a capacity he had also served on Secrets of Isis (1975-1976) and Ark II (1976), to name just two Filmation series.

Each episode of the series is 22-minutes in duration, and Space Academy was shot in 35mm, an unusual choice, since most of its contemporaries were filmed in 16mm. 

The series features amazing and elaborate sets for the central locale, the Space Academy, the asteroid-based headquarters for a "Peace Corps of the future," according to series producer, Lou Scheimer in an interview from 1977.

Space Academy highlights the ongoing adventures of a group of young cadets as they complete their "space training" education in the year 3732. 

These cadets include Ric Carrot as Captain Chris Gentry, and Pamelyn Ferdin as Cadet Laura Gentry, Chris's telepathic sister. These characters care a psychic bond, and have developed some basic ESP abilities.

Also Brian Tochi stars as Cadet Tee Gar Soom, a young man who boasts incredible physical strength and is studying to become a physician.

Other cast members include Ty Henderson as Lt. Paul Jerome, an African-American cadet with a chip on his shoulder, but who quickly becomes one of the Academy's most valuable students.  He's an expert pilot and a brilliant scientist.

Chris's girlfriend on the series is Adrian, played by Maggie Cooper. One of her academy projects involves human-simian communication ("Monkey Business").

Instructing the cadets on the ways of the Federation is the series’ 300 year old father figure: Commander Isaac Gampu -- think Grampa -- played by Lost in Space (1965-1968) star Jonathan Harris. 

Over the course of the series, Gampu's brother appears ("Johnny Sunseed,") as does his ex-girlfriend, Marcia ("My Favorite Marcia). On one occasion, Gampu -- feeling old -- contemplates resigning, but thinks better of it. His personal quarters on the Academy are filled with ancient Earth antiquities, including a NASA spacesuit.

Commander Gampu is also a brilliant scientist and he has constructed Peepo, a small robot who often goes on missions with the students.  By his own definition, Peepo (in "Space Hookey") is a self-determining, Type-A manu-droid. In sci-fi TV history, Peepo has the distinction of being the first remote-controlled robot to appear on a network program.

The last cast-member on Space Academy is young Loki, played by Eric Greene. Loki is a trouble-prone child discovered by the cadets in the series' premiere episode, "The Survivors of Zalon."  

Like Deep Space Nine's (1993 – 1999) Odo during the early seasons of that venture, Loki is an orphan who has no knowledge of his past, his race, his history or his family. 

Much of his time on the series is spent with Gampu trying to discover the blanks in his past.

On Space Academy, The Cadets of the Academy's Blue Team (you can tell them by their blue shirts; as opposed to Yellow Squad ["Life Begins at 300"]) travels about space in fantastic-looking shuttlecrafts called Seekers.  

The Seekers can achieve the equivalent of light speed, here called star speed ("Castaways in Time and Space") and are armed with photon-torpedo-like devices called spinners.  The Seekers can also fire gravity rays and presser rays ("Johnny Sunseed"). 

These incredible and memorable ships were created by SPFX expert Chuck Comiskey and are highly-detailed miniatures.  Often, they are depicted in the series launching and landing in a very impressive-looking docking bay.

The Cadet teams often visit inhospitable planets by donning personal force-field generators rather than traditional spacesuits. These generators are known as life-support badges.

Regarding terminology, Space Academy attempted to create a lexicon and vocabulary unique to the genre.  The cadets often reply ORACO when given a direct order.  As per "Rocks of Janus," this word means Order Received and Carried Out

Another frequently uttered exclamation on the show is "Camalopardis!" This word, according to Paul in "Castaways in Time and Space" is derived from the name of a distant star cluster.

The flute-like musical instrument that Loki often plays (to the irritation of the other characters) is called a liratron ("Hide and Seek.")

Other technological terms you’ll find on the series: Zolium is an important mineral that powers the Space Academy ("Life Begins at 300"). Technite charges are explosive devices often employed by the cadets on missions ("The Phantom Planet.")  And MX-5 is an unstable compound ("No Place Like Home").  Meanwhile The Cryotron is an experimental device, built by Tee Gar, designed to "cool down hot planets." ("Planet of Fire").

The curriculum at the Space Academy includes Astrography ("Space Hookey") but also "live missions" to repair energy distributors on the asteroid BX-3 ("The Cheat), tend to a space farm ("Johnny Sunseed") and mine critical minerals ("Life Begins at 300.”)

About the history of the Space Academy Universe: According to the episode "Countdown," there were at least three "Star Wars" in the distant past, some of which pitted Earth against the humanoid Vegans.  A significant battle in "the Vegan Wars" occurred near "Proxima Centauri."

As far as current enemies, The Denebians are a reclusive race who seed their borders with dangerous, and heavily-armed space drones.  Crossing into Denebian Territory could spark a war, according to "Space Hookey."

In terms of genre tropes, on Space Academy, the cadets encounter  non-corporeal life forms ("The Survivors of Zalon," "Space Hookey"), ghostly guardians of ancient civilizations ("The Phantom Planet"), silicon-based life-forms ("The Rocks of Janus"), and even unfriendly, arrogant cadets ("The Cheat," "Life Begins at 300.")

Guests on Space Academy include Robby the Robot, and in 1976, Woolworth's marketed a series of action figures (and "action" clothing!)

For the next several weeks, I’ll be revisiting Space Academy, as well as the first season of the sequel series, Jason of Star Command (1978-1979).


  1. So loved this show. One of my childhood favorites.

  2. Filmation live-action at it's best in the '70s was ARK II, SPACE ACADEMY and JASON OF STAR COMMAND. As a boy in the '70s, this trio was filled with wonderful adventure every Saturday morning.


  3. Loved your work and viewer's guide on One Step Beyond and Space 1999. Yes, Space Academy was rather high quality in the props and effects department for Sat morning fare as was Ark 2 and Jason of Star Command. Nonetheless, British programming for children must get a nod for being a bit more imaginative and intellectually stimulating. Look to series like Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, Sky, and Noah's Castle.