Thursday, July 06, 2017

Planet of the Apes TV Series Blogging: "The Tyrant" (November 22, 1974)

In “The Tyrant,” the fugitives -- Galen (Roddy McDowall), Virdon (Ron Harper) and Burke (James Naughton) -- attempt to entrap a ruthless, corrupt gorilla named Aboro (Percy Rodrigues), who has been promoted to prefect of a local village. He has taken over from Galen’s cousin, Augustus.

In an effort to correct matters, Galen pretends to be an underling of Dr. Zaius named Octavio, and offers Aboro a new position: as a replacement for General Urko (Mark Lenard). 

This plan requires, however, Aboro to assassinate Urko, a step he is ultimately willing to take.

For the fugitives, the plan is less simple. They must convince the human-hating Urko to go along too, to prove Aboro’s corruption. But Urko cannot trust humans, or an ape who “chose to live with humans.”

“The Tyrant” may just be my least favorite episode, so far, of the short-lived Planet of the Apes (1974) TV series. 

In short, the episode is another pot-boiler, with no real social commentary or depth. Instead, this episode is plainly “Mission: Impossible on the Planet of the Apes,” as our trio of heroic fugitives successfully bring down a corrupt ape. They resort to subterfuge and trickery to do it, waging a kind of psychological warfare campaign against Aboro.

Galen is the Rollin Hand character of this team, adopting the disguise (accent, and gait) of Octavius, a hench-ape to Doctor Zaius.

I understand the necessity of giving Roddy McDowall, the top-billed actor on the series, something of substance to do each week, but having his ape become a master of disguise is a risible solution. Galen works best, perhaps, as a guide to ape culture, and a curious “outsider” to human culture. But more and more, the series uses him as a wily trickster, fooling other apes into believing his disguise/fake identity of the week.

It is difficult to deny that episodes such as “The Tyrant” abandon all pretense that Planet of the Apes (1974) is a science fiction series, contending with legitimate science fiction issues. There is no real discussion of ape society in this episode, or even of human society, for that matter. Nor is there is “mythology” present to refer back to, regarding the astronauts’ plight. There aren’t even any futuristic futuristic touches, either.  On that last front, there was clearly a model from the feature films to work with: the subterranean human mutants.

Instead, “The Tyrant” is simply an espionage, M:I story with talking apes.

That’s a disappointment, especially since the series’ best episodes -- “The Legacy,” “The Deception,” and “The Trap” -- for instance are strong in terms of commentary and character development, at least.  Here, the character decisions are baffling, in a way. If planned out more cleverly, Galen, Virdon and Burke might have rid themselves of both Aboro and Urko in one stroke, instead of merely removing the former. But since this is a 1970’s series in which the status quo must always be rigorously maintained, that eventuality does not occur.

I suppose what I am complaining about here is that little thought seems to have gone into what kind of series this should, or could be. I suppose one might argue that Aboro is a symbol for the Watergate Scandal in the real world, but even that comparison seems incomplete, or facile.

Indeed, the most intriguing aspects of the episode actually make one sympathize a little with Aboro’s situation. Galen’s cousin, Augustus, is aghast that a gorilla has risen to the position of prefect, since “our kind” (meaning chimpanzees) “always fill administrative positions.” 

In other words, there seems to be a class stratification in ape society. Aboro rises to a role gorillas don’t frequently hold. Sure he’s a despot, but still, he’s taken advantage of his skills and his opportunities.  But then Galen and the others take him down, reinforcing the belief that gorillas can’t be trusted to hold administrative positions. In this case, the series establishes a prejudice in ape culture, and then confirms that prejudice: gorillas can’t be trusted to hold positions of power.

Surely, however, Urko is in an administrative position, right? (And he's definitely a gorilla).

Next week: “The Cure.”


  1. I saw an interview where James Naughton complained about how POTA fell into The Fugitive formula and became the same show every week. Based on your reviews thus far, it seems like the episodes weren't even that consistent. The Incredible Hulk used The Fugitive formula as well, but followed it more faithfully and were able to sustain a popular series. I always feel sorry for actors of this caliber getting involved in what they think will be a powerful series and then have to slog through filming bad scripts week after week. I hope they were at least paid well.

  2. First off, I want to say how much I am enjoying this blog. As a child of the sixties and seventies who also watched these television shows I also share the belief that even shows as short lived as the Planet of the Apes offer something more than just nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. They are also time capsules of the era in which they were made.

    I do not know if you are aware but Ralph Senensky, the director of this particular episode, writes about the experience of making this episode on his own blog:

    Senensky himself writes about the story's deficiencies:

    "But regarding this script, the two compelling characters with whom they became involved were dropped at the end of the first act; young Mikal was killed and Janor just disappeared. Might it not have been interesting and emotionally involving to pursue the story of the conservative older man, now newly awakened to the possibilities of rebellion by the slaying of his younger brother, as he was involved in an adventure of revenge abetted by Galen and the two astronauts? And if the climax of the story was his death at the hands of the apes, Galen and the two Astronauts were again reminded of the futility of trying to rebel against those in power and still faced a future of constant flight on a planet ruled by apes. But that’s not where this story went!...With my suggestion above of how this episode might have developed, I am not discounting the power of the political chicanery that did prevail. I just think there was material for two different stories: the one that didn’t get made — a personal emotional story centered around one of the white humans, and the one we attempted — a political thriller."



Star Blazers, Episode #1

In Japan, the animated series  Space Battleship Yamato  first ran on TV from October 1974 through March of 1975. It was followed by two othe...