I can’t be sure yet.
Because, how incomprehensibly strange it all is.
Do you know I’d forgotten all about this episode of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century?
It’s called “Flight Of The War Witch”, and if I recall the content of Ed’s old Starlog mags correctly, they spent real money on it.
Or anyway, what to them was real money; these were tightly-budgeted shows, after all.
So maybe it’s finally time to reevaluate the Buck Rogers show. Was it cheap crap? Oh, absolutely; no question about it. The final product of the first wave of Star Wars knock-offs made for TV (at least, the final one that belonged in anything like an “A” grade classification), it made Battlestar Galactica look hip and glossy, earnest and honest, exciting and original. Boasting many of the most ill-conceived excuses for SF stories I’ve ever seen, at its worst it looked like a bloated high school play: unserious and overserious at the same time; hackneyed; inexpert; apathetic; dumb. A loose clutch of tired cliches, silly mood music, and anticlimaxes lifted from…well, from just about everything past Six Million Dollar Man’s third season, it essentially took Steve Austin, put him in the disco on the Love Boat with Bigfoot, Knight Rider, and the Man From Atlantis, and then dropped the whole thing on Supertrain before blowing it up with war-surplus photon torpedoes.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but in a way it was not unfaithful to the Buck Rogers strips it took its name from. These, after all, were always more about meaningless episodic adventure, and Buck saving Wilma, than they were about Bob Shaw’s “wee thinky bits”, though the strip certainly started off a bit stronger than it finished…and many of the authentic Buck Rogers elements were in fact present in this little corner of the Glen A. Larsonverse, disco-ed up even as they were.
Boy, were they disco-ed up. Sheesh.
But watching it now is a lot different from watching it when it originally aired. Then, the strong start of the title sequence (sweet, sweet William Conrad narration), and the man-out-of-time allure, produced high hopes that were rather quickly decomposed into feelings of disgust and betrayal. You got the strong feeling that, despite the presence of several professional SF B-movie people (did I say several? I meant dozens upon dozens), who were probably (in some key cases, indubitably) all very big Buck Rogers fans when they were young, that the show was being bossed by someone who’d looked up “science fiction show” in a dictionary, but halfway through the definition figured that it’d be hard to insult the intelligence of people who liked crap like that, so why keep reading? Well, that’s how it seemed, at the time: it was all a bit insulting, really. Disturbingly like a Rob Liefeld comic, in a way…
Watching it now, I’m astonished at the sheer…what should one call it? The sheer pluckiness of the actors. There is Gil Gerard being asked to say some of the most unselfconsciously dumbass things anybody’s ever said on TV ever, there’s Erin Gray being asked to do very little more than have touchably soft hair, and to this day I’m not sure what the hell Tim O’Connor’s character was supposed to be doing for a living, besides huffing and puffing and saying “Buck” and “Dr. Theopolis” over and over again all day.
And yet, you know…it’s Tim O’Connor, right?
And as far as model-slash-actresses went…you know, damned if Erin wasn’t in there slugging.
And Gil Gerard somehow — somehow! — kind of managed to connect with his material, enough so that somehow — SOMEHOW, damn it! — he didn’t look completely lost in it. And I tell you, watch this show if you don’t believe that was a Herculean task. Who, in the mind of Glen A. Larson, was Buck Rogers supposed to be, anyway? A pinch of Steve Austin, a dash of Captain Kirk, a couple of teaspoons of James Bond, a sprinkle of Sheriff Andy Taylor, a few drops of Isaac the bartender, and just the faintest suggestion, perhaps, of Jim Rockford? Or was it Miles Monroe? Jesus Christ, I’m telling you, the thing was a mess from the beginning, and man did it get worse over time. Herculean task, ha. If anything ever needed a river redirected into it, it was this show.
Here we are at “Flight Of The War Witch”, and it’s pretty obvious that this was the result of someone’s big Orson Welles/Ed Wood moment. If it’s crap, what can be done with it? What’s the best it could possibly get? Because let’s do that, by God! And now, quick, before there’s no more time left!
Well, they did it.
It was a two-parter.
Everyone got a speech.
Tim O’Connor got a speech.
Henry Silva got a speech…kind of.
Twiki even sort of got a speech.
Erin Gray got a speech!
Man, this show was cheap. I think if I just say “Disco Space Olympics” to you, that should about bring you up to speed. Yes, we got a long. long way from Jack Palance doing his best Dr. Doom impression in the pilot…I’m telling you. It never really rose to those heights again. I call them “heights”. You don’t know, seriously. We had some space vampires on this show. Mistakes were made.
Still, if they did it today…it’d probably be worse. As I’ve had occasion to note before, there’s something about the primitive clap-trappery of this kind of junk SF that’s oddly endearing. I mean just look at poor Gil Gerard, there. Unlike his fellow space-thespians, the poor bastard gets stuck in every single scene…and yet he goes at it quite manfully. Does he try to rescue the young defector couple from the Disco Space Olympics? Yes…yes, he does, and without so much as the twitch of an eyebrow to betray his disquiet at the astro-boxing or the orbital electro-luge. Does he always have a plan, based on good old twentieth-century American fisticuffs and “going with the flow”? Yes…unfortunately yes. He always does.
But would we have John Crichton in the Uncharted Territories, if not for Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century?
I would like to be able to say to all of these put-upon performers that no, we wouldn’t. And I even think that it might, might just possibly, be true that we wouldn’t.
Though I could be accused of stretching a point, there.
Tell you what, I feel like bloody Buck Rogers, watching this. It’s crazy. This is like being right back in my parents’ basement, sitting in front of the old colour TV with the UHF dial and the thirteen channels. I can barely believe how much I remember of this awful, awful show. I don’t know what I’m going to do when Hawk and Dr. Goodfellow make the scene. Probably pitch a fit. I’ve already seen far too much of Princess Disco Evening Wear in the last week or so to be confident that my mind is anything like as stable as it was in, say, late March of this year. I’m looking at Tigerman, I’m looking at Kane: I’m feeling their anguish.
I’m looking at the hated Dr. Theopolis, and thinking Dr. Theopolis, c’est moi: I, too, am hung helplessly around the neck of an inexplicably wisecracking robot, even more inexplicably voiced by Mel Blanc. Biddi biddi biddi, all aboard for Anaheim, Azuza, and KOOK-a-monga…what? What’s that you’re saying, Twiki?
Twiki, I can’t understand you…
For God’s sake, Twiki, where are you taking me?
Who are you, really?