In "Life Begins at 300," another segment of Space Academy (written by Jack Paritz), a haughty cadet from Yellow Squad, Gina Corey (actress Paula Wagner) warns Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) that he should abort a Seeker mission to collect the mineral Zolium from a distant planet.
She thoughtfully quotes "Stanley Crane's paper on Zolium Distribution," but Gampu doesn't consider the mission particularly dangerous.
Unfortunately, he's proven wrong, and Paul's life support badge malfunctions while he's collecting the Zolium on the planet surface.
Worse, Peepo malfunctions in the atmosphere when sent out to save the cadet (with, of all things, an inflatable raft...).
Though Paul is finally saved, Gampu now has serious questions about his own leadership. Was Gina right? Did he underestimate the danger?
"There's a very old saying: you can't teach old dogs new tricks," he bemoans. Then, Gampu tenders his resignation from the Academy and orders Gentry to transmit it to Earth.
But Gina, who has constructed a device called "an extractor" to collect Zolium, also fails her mission, and it's up to Gampu -- with his 300 year old wisdom and experience -- to save her. He does so, and his faith in himself and his capabilities is restored.
"We all need the experience of age, which I have, and the exuberance of youth, which you have," he tells the thankful Gina.
The most interesting aspect of "Life Begins at 300" is that it's the first episode thus far to include Jonathan Harris (Gampu) in more than a supporting role. He does well in the role. I like that he can be both stern and gentle, and that he is alwys driving the cadets to be better. Gampu is a far cry from Dr. Smith on Lost in Space. He is a great elder spokesman for the human race and its values, and I like that Harris was given an opportunity to reveal another side of his persona.
I also just have to note how "Life Begins at 300" fits into that wonderful sci-fi TV convention: the mineral hunt.
In so many science fiction TV series of the 1960s and 1970s, the hunt for a rare mineral resource was the plot of the day. Dilithium was in short supply in Star Trek ("Mudd's Women,") along with Ritalin ("Requiem for Methuselah.") On Space:1999, the moonbase desperately needed titanium ("The Metamorph") and tiranium ("Catacombs of the Moon.") On Battlestar Galactica, it was the valuable substance "tylium" that had to be mined by the Ovions in "Saga of a Space World." Here, on Space Academy, Zolium is used to "regenerate life support badges." That's an intriguing background note that helps us understand how the seemingly miraculous future world exists.
I suppose it makes abundant sense that sci-fi TV series would focus on this aspect of outer space: ideally, we hope it's a realm brimming with the resources we require to sustain ourselves. But that remains to be seen. So when do we start mining the asteroid belt (and move into Outland territory?) I hope it happens soon.
Next week: "The Cheat."