Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Buck Rogers 2.13: “The Dorian Secret”

Airdate: 4/16/81

While disembarking from a space station with a group of earth’s survivors, Buck encounters a woman fleeing from a group of thuggish aliens known as Dorians. The woman, Asteria, is invited on the shuttle headed back to the Searcher, but the Dorians seize the spacecraft and alter its temperature from one extreme to the other, in an effort to get the woman back, whom they charge with the murder of one of the Dorian’s brother. Buck attempts to negotiate with the unyielding aliens, and demands to see the evidence of her crime. Unconvinced by the evidence they show him, he is even more horrified to discover that the other human castaways, outraged by the harsh temperatures and inactivity, discover who Asteria really is and jettison her off to the Dorians. At the very last minute, her innocence is proven by a Dorian confession and the race decide that their justice system, and long standing practice of concealing their identities, needs a major overheal.

Solid if somewhat complex (by the show’s standards) story is intriguing, with a nice in-media-res opening and a subplot extremely reminiscent of Twelve Angry Men and the “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” episode of Twilight Zone. The “shuttle” setting is a bit odd, as if they were trying to capitalize on the success of The Love Boat and Airplane! (Wilma is already dressed to approximate an airline stewardess), but, like most episodes of late, there’s a good message to be found when all is said and done.

They clearly didn’t know this would be the final episode of the series, and it’s too bad the writers’ strike abbreviated this season. One does tend to imagine what a final episode would be about (I envision it to be some kind of time-travel conceit in which Buck gets the opportunity to go home), but as far as I know no “reunion movie” was ever consider which would wrap up the saga in a satisfying way. Well, one can always fantasize. For now, Buck stays in the 25th century, having a platonic relationship with Wilma, with Twikki his loyal sidekick.

Not a terrible way to go out.

Buck Rogers 2.12: “Testimony of a Traitor”

Airdate: 4/9/81

While in earth’s orbit, the Searcher is boarded by an intergalactic consulate, hell-bent on arresting and tying for treason – none other than Buck! Apparently, they have a 500-year old videotape unearthed from an ancient air force base showing Buck scheming, in 1987, a preemptive nuclear attack on U.S. enemies – most likely leading to the nuclear holocaust that occurred later that year. Yes, the tape is pretty damining, but Goodfellow suggests Buck undergo a mind probe to prove his innocence. It winds up doing more harm than good as the memory scan seems to reveal Buck’s further compliance in the plot, and everyone prepares for the worst; in this case – execution, the mandatory penalty for treason. But Buck keeps getting strong memory flashes of Mt. Rushmore, so Hawk and Wilma fly him to earth to actually see the monument in hopes of jogging his memory. It works; one final courtroom brainscan reveals the president, at his secret base in Rushmore, had made Buck the inside man to investigate renegade activities within the air force. (They had to hypnotize him for such a top secret job so he could never remember what he was part of.)

Another great job by Buck’s writers – it cobbles together parts of The Wrong Man and The Manchurian Candidate to fashion one hell of a potboiler. Of course, even if Buck is guilty, there must be some kind of statute of limitations to keep him from getting charged with something that happened 500 years earlier, but we’re not to ask such questions. (Never mind that that tape is in pretty good condition for its age – I have tapes less than 20 years old that are unplayable!) Not bad for Buck’s penultimate adventure. On to the finale!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Buck Rogers 2.11: “The Hand of Goral”

Airdate: 3/26/81

Buck, Hawk and Wilma explore another Earth-like planet and find a man who had crash-landed and been stranded there for several weeks. Wilma brings the man, named Reardon, back to the Searcher while Buck and Hawk continue to survey the weird, supernatural-seeming phenomenon on the “ghost world.” Upon returning to the ship, they’re even more surprised by the crew: the admiral has become a cruel martinet; Twikki a surly, resentful back-talker, Goodfellow a cranky old man and Chrichton is…. nice! Buck suspects that the ship, and everyone on it, is a fake – and when Wilma freaks out uncharacteristically, he learns she is too. When the Sracher is held by a snare beam emanating from the planet, Hawk and Buck go down to the source and there the find a wise old Asian man – the mastermind behind the “test” Buck had just gone through, and must now complete so he can take the old man’s place as 1,000-year protector of the planet. It involves finding a sabateur on the Searcher and stopping him – it turns out to be Reardon, or at least the entity inhabiting him, and so they must get to him before a bomb blows the whole ship to Kingdom Come.

Show has finally begun to hit its stride – with only 3 shows before its cancellation. Too bad, too, because we’ve hit a stretch of imaginative, challenging storylines that give Buck more to do than just spout anachronisms and one-liners. Some of these shows, in fact, do remind me of vintage Star Trek; something I’m sure the creators would take as a compliment since that what they modeled season two after. The concept of personality shifts in characters we’ve now become familiar with is irresistible (gotta love the oversensitive Wilma!) and the finale inside the engine room is a genuine nail-biter (you sure couldn’t say that about many of the first season shows). The source of all of this – a mystical Asian man searching for his successor – is sort of part Kung Fu and part Willy Wonka. A wee bit hokey, but overall it works.

Buck Rogers 2.10: “Shgoratchx!”

Airdate: 3/19/81

Buck and the gang come across a drifting spacecraft and board it. It turns out to be a band of midgets in charge of a solar bomb disposal unit for “the queen,” but their vessel is so antiquated and badly damaged they’re essentially a floating time bomb. Buck invites the little guys to board the Searcher and offers to tow their ship to safety; that’s when the trouble really begins. In no time at all they screw things up royally, including blowing out the ship’s power grid and damaging Chrichton’s brain – they also find untold amusement in playing Asteroids by overriding the main gunnery controls. Buck gets everything back to normal – eventually – and with Twikki’s (and the dwarf’s) help they manage to jump start Chrichton’s central nervous system back to his old supercilious self. And they’re all too happy to get their diminutive guests back to their home. Particularly Buck, who hasn’t had a wink of sleep in 50 hours.

Another genuinely strange episode, and as a bonus it’s also extremely politically incorrect. Not only do “little people” take a beating, but so does feminism: in the most singularly awkward and offensive scene of the series, the dwarves, overcome by the novel sight of a woman, surround Wilma and use their telepathic powers (don’t ask) to attempt to undress her. Well, at least we finally know where Zapped! got its inspiration.

Beyond that, it’s all rather silly, but at least there’s a lot going on. Kinda cool to see Twikki sacrifice himself for the good of the ship, and Buck’s vain attempt throughout to get some shuteye is amusing, But those damn dwarves to get pretty frigging annoying after awhile – I’d have thrown them off after about 10 minutes.

The ragtag assortment of dwarves also seems to be a precursor to Time Bandits, released later that year. In fact, it looks like 1981 was a big year for little people, as Under the Rainbow was released that summer.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...