Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Starring: Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, Tim O'Connor, Pamela Hensley, Henry Silva
Season 1, Episode 1 & 2
Blurbing: 500 Years into the future... One Hero... An Entire Universe... Let the Adventure Begin!
Blast off with every groundbreaking episode of the action-packed sci-fi adventure. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century! Join legendary intergalactic crimefighters William "Buck" Rogers and Colonel Wilma Deering as they lead the crew of the starship Searcher against a galaxy of evil from the past, present and faraway future. This must-own five-disc collection presents the entire Buck Rogers series and original theatrical pilot on DVD for the first time ever. Thrill to the epic sci-fi hit that the Associated Press called 'razzle-dazzle good fun'.
My Blurb: Ah, Buck. I loved this series so during its first season. I wasn't so awed by the second season, in which Gil seemed less and less happy to be stuck on set, and to which the above blurb is referring. During the first season there is no Searcher. We're based on Earth and the threat is mostly coming from the Draconian Empire.
I got to see the first two episodes as a movie in the matinee and my young mind was enthralled by the ships and the laser blasts. I loved Twiki and Wilma and Ardala. Now, some of the cheeze is overwhelming, but I still enjoy it for the good fun it is, but I'd have trouble agreeing with "Epic". So, let us dive into the series and we'll point out what is so good and what is now painful about that era in Sci-Fi TV.
You should know two things before we begin: 1) This is not a spoiler free zone! 2) I got a little crazy with the screen caps to start, because I always loved the ship design in S1 for Earth's forces and the Draconians.
Scene 01: Our opening starts before the first scene, as over the Universal logo and Glen Larson's credit as producer we hear a countdown taking place.
When we reach our first scene, we see stock footage of a rocket launch in progress. Over this we get a voiceover blurb by William Conrad, letting us know the basic story. Buck gets launched into space on a deep space flight around the solar system. Something goes wrong with his environmental controls and he's placed into a deep freeze. Telemetry with his craft is lost and he's assumed destroyed. He drifts for centuries in a state of suspension until he is accidentally located by the Draconian Empire on their way to a nuclear-devastated Earth on a mission of peacekeeping. On Earth, Buck is regarded with suspicion, especially by Col. Deering, in charge of New Chicago's (and possibly all of Earth's - this gets a bit confused sometimes) defenses. He has to make the adjustment to life in the 25th Century, and the peoples of future-Earth have to struggle to understand his out of date attitudes and lingo.
Our view, as Conrad drones on, changes to the Ranger 3 space craft. Very shuttle-like, but presumably with much more powerful engines, it heads out into the solar system passed the moon. On board, is of course, William 'Buck' Rogers, hero extraordinaire.
In the tryptich view (which was a cool idea, which I still really like), we see Captain Rogers piloting, as the shuttle heads around the far side of Luna.
Rogers suddenly looks mildly concerned as a field of "incomprehensible" energetic particles sweeps over his one man vessel. Rogers' ship is impacted by this cosmic event and his environmental controls are comprimised by temperatures "beyond imagination"! Night-night, Buck.
Buck drifts in a "timeless dream" for 5 centuries....
Credits, with wonderful upbeat music, accompanied by painful lyrics. I'll be glad when the series drops the vocals for an instrumental.
Scene 02: After the longest credits sequence known to man, we fade back in on Buck's shuttle drifting through space. To blaring horns, we see a giant vessel approaching the helpless craft and its suspended pilot. This is the Draconia. If you look carefully, you'll see a lot of style flourishes that will later show up on Klingon vessels... specifically the two U-Shaped arms at the front of the ship... look at it here, and then compare to the Vor'cha class.
(Vor'cha class picture at Memory Alpha)
The aggressive Draconians take Buck's drifting vessel as a possible attack and scrambles its fighters to intercept. The fighters are about to destroy it without any attempts to communicate, when the squadron leader calls out to hold off. He reports the vessel isn't like anything he's seen before and chooses to tractor it back to the Draconia for investigation, instead.
Scene 03: Buck is found aboard and is transported to the darkest medical bay in all creation. There Kane, our main bad guy, checks on his condition. They are able to use their advanced technology to revive Buck.
Scene 04: In her quarters, Princess Ardala - spoiled rich girl, who needs daddy's approval if she hopes to be Empress one day - is updated by Kane. The Princess will be Buck's main foe during the first season of the show, but in this pilot, Kane pretty much pays lip service to her while working to restrain his eyes from rolling everytime she issues a command.
Ardala starts out impatient at Kane's reports, until he shares that if the Ranger 3's instrumentation can be believed (and it can), the surviving pilot may be 500 years old (actually decades older since he wasn't frozen as an infant, but let's not quibble - we have a lot to get through).
Scene 05: Ardala's interest peaked, she decides she will meet this 500 year old man immediately, much to Kane's chagrin.
Kane questions Rogers, but his speech is hard for them to understand. He also fades in and out. Kane's and Ardala's attempts to get something of value from Rogers is hampered by the pain medication they give him, which makes him giggly and high.
Scene 06: In the hallways of the Draconia, Kane and Ardala discuss the Ranger 3 and Buck's testimony ... what little they could get from him. Kane advises the Princess that Rogers could have been planted in their path to find from the Earth Directorate. He suggests that he is a clever plant, there to search their ship for weaponry. Since, officially, the Draconia is on a trade mission from the Empire, they are supposed to be unarmed. This suggests a high level of distrust from Earth toward the Empire, which is wise, since the empire has already conquored "three quarters of the galaxy".
Commentary: I love the costuming on this show, including the background warriors helmets and military dress. Kane's character here is a bit too stereotyped as the paranoid, military type which starts wearing on me. I really like Ardala, though, despite her also stereotyped 'arrogant, rich princess'. Pamela handles the role well and gives her character a sense of warmth under her surface arrogance. I wish they'd given her more to do throughout the series, but when she eventually has to display her sense of isolation, loneliness and need for approval later in the series, she handles it quite well.
I do question though why Sci-Fi writers always put an entire galaxy at risk... does no one understand just how huge that is?! There is no way any one empire could hold a whole galaxy under control. The personnel problems with ambitious dictators-wannabes would make it impossible for one ruler to hold the whole galaxy under their thumbs... it's ridiculous. What this throwaway line also does, though, is make the Draconians look rather silly. They hold 3-quarters of the entire galaxy, but send one ship on a secret plan to invade one ravaged planet? Why not just swarm Earth, conqueor it and be done? Why the ploys? It's just all so silly because of the attempt to make the Draconian Empire into the monolithic, all powerful foe.
Scene 07: Kane decides to place Buck back aboard his vessel and send it onward to Earth, instead of allowing him to remain on-board. Buck remains under the influence of the medication they've put him on and is convinced that he's dreaming.
Kane has added a transmitter to Rogers' ship. We find out through exposition by Kane that Earth is protected by a planetary shield. He believes that if Rogers was a spy, they'll escort him through a secret channel in the defensive field, which they will be able to remotely map for their attack squadrons. If Rogers isn't a spy, then he expects him to burn up trying to enter Earth's orbit.
Commentary: Obviously, this is meant to explain they the Draconians haven't already taken over Earth. Just as obviously, it seems highly unlikely that a planet-wide force field could be maintained under a sustained assault by an empire that has the resources to conquer and hold three-fourths of our entire galaxy. But, we're having fun, so let's just glide over these details, as the movie/series does.
Scene 08: As Buck approaches Earth, the ground flight control in charge of Earth's defensive air forces is a bit non-plussed by his transmissions. We get some background here as we learn that Earth has been plagued by private marauders and piracy of freighters in the system. This will be important later.
Buck continues transmitting to Houston Control for re-entry instructions, while New Chicago is at a loss as to how to respond. We've seen from a background shot that New Chicago has been built in the midst of a wasteland, suggesting that Houston may not even exist anymore.
Scene 09: As the supervisor on the floor tries to decipher what Buck is talking about, the control room goes into 'red alert' mode. Their space scanners detect Ranger 3 approaching on a head on collision with their destructive, invisible planetary barrier.
Supervisor orders the intercept squadron into action.
Scene 10: We meet Colonel Deering, aboard her StarFighter. She's ordered to meet Rogers' ship before it can collide with the massive shield around the planet.
As the StarFighters are locking onto Ranger 3, ground control reports its unusually slow and erratic course. Deering is mystified as she gets a look at the craft that has invaded Earth's local space.
Buck is equally mystified by the strange ship design currently buzzing his cockpit.
Buck is ordered to follow Deering into the corridor through the shields and warned that if he deviates, he'll be incinerated.
Commentary: All of this is accompanied by "exciting and tense music" that is actually pretty good and is well used. The composers for 'Buck Rogers' did a really good job in scoring these opening episodes/pilot movie. Less impressive is much of the special effects for things like screen displays and lauching sequences. Not that it's bad at all... in fact, it would be pretty terrific, except that it is all re-uses of effects we're already well-familiar with from "Battlestar Galactica".
Larson steals from 'Battlestar' relentlessly throughout the series, especially in first season. The more we see repeated sequences from the earlier seasons, the less the effects impress, which is unfortunate. Still, there is something about the ships and blasters and dogfighting of the fighters that just makes me squeal like a little boy, even now.
I also want to comment on Gil, who before he was set up as a sex symbol, is really likeable and funny as the out-of-time hero. I'll have some problems with his acting in future, which I'll be quick to point out, because I'm a bitch, but here he's easy to like and embrace.
Buck mistakenly believes Deering to be representing the Russians, but of course, she has no idea what he's talking about when he tries a greeting. He also doesn't find it odd that a Soviet would be speaking perfect, unaccented English, but we'll just put that down to his still being disoriented.
Scene 11: Buck's vessel is escorted to New Chicago.
We ignore that the StarFighters are designed to land vertically, but Ranger 3 would need a long runway to successfully land... space that isn't apparent in this hanger.
Once landed, Deering confronts Rogers about his crossing into Earth's territory. Rogers is a bit too friendly, which she responds to negatively, ordering him taken into custody for interrogation.
Commentary: What we don't get, and should have, is Buck's responses to not only seeing a class of ship from Earth that he is completely unfamiliar with, but also the fact that he should be able to recognize the area of Chicago where they set down. This landscape is completely different from what he left and since he still hasn't been informed of when he is, he should be reacting with shock, horror and at a complete loss for the changes, that from his perspective have taken place over a few years at most.
Instead, the dialog and direction has him being 'good, ole American boy' hot-shot pilot. It's completely wrong for the circumstances because there simply isn't any way that he wouldn't recognize the changes outside of his window as he's piloting in.
Scene 12: A bit later, Buck has been placed in an isolation cell. His clothes have been confiscated and he's wearing a simple robe. A man we'll know as Dr. Huer arrives to greet him.
Buck briefly thinks he's on another planet, but Dr. Huer informs him he is on Earth. He also tells him that his ship arrived at its original landing coordinates - which isn't even remotely true. He was on manual control and following Wilma's direction and did not come down near Texas at all.
Dr. Huer summons Dr. Theopolous, a circular robot being carried by Twiki, an ambuquad robot to explain Buck's circumstances to him.
We gets some exposition about New Chicago... for instance, that it is run by a computer council and the fact that the environment of the city, right down to the appearances of sunsets are controlled by computer. It falls to Theo to inform Rogers of when he's arrived.
Scene 13: Later, in a meeting between Theo, Dr. Huer and Wilma, she's objecting to allowing Rogers any freedom of movement. Deering still suspects that Buck may be engaged in some sort of complicated ruse, perhaps designed to derail the upcoming treaty with the Draconians. She requests that she be allowed to spend much more time with Buck to ascertain his true motives and purpose, even though Theo is satisfied that Rogers is who he claims, caught in a unique and bizarre situation.
Scene 14: Deering escorts Buck on a tour of downtown New Chicago. He wants to know about the holocaust that nearly cost humanity its existence, but records from that time are nearly non-existant, and she can offer him no easy history lessons. She does tell him about conditions that still exist outside of the city's shields... a wasteland of radiation, deformed and primitively violent survivors who cling to life, and lots of emptiness.
Wilma shares with Buck that Earth's current situation isn't very good. Even with their cities having been rebuilt, there is little agriculture left. Trade with other planets has become critical, but their being slowly starved out by the constant pirate attacks on their shipping. The treaty with Draconia is supposed to lend them military support in keeping the shipping channels through space cleared so that Earth can continue to receive its food trade.
Scene 15: Buck has requested to see his ship, which the Colonel allows. On inspection, he shows her the scoring on his vessel where he was obviously fired upon.
He asks if they fired on him, and when Wilma states they didn't, he wonders who did - casting aspersions on the Draconian vessel approaching Earth.
Commentary: This scene is a bit clumsy, but I believe the intent is that Rogers finds the timing of the Draconian's arrival on Earth and the increase in pirate attacks to force Earth into a treat suspicious, indeed. He finds it high unlikely that pirates would have fired on his vessel, but not boarded or killed him. However, since he doesn't know anything about the Draconians, or the fact their ship should be unarmed, it doesn't make sense he'd even bring it up as presented here. We really needed a scene just prior to this one where Wilma goes into more detail about the Draconian Empire, including the fact that they'd promised to bring in their flagship unarmed, before we can justify any suspicions by Rogers about their intent or the convenient timing of the pirate attacks.
Buck suggests that Ardala's fighters may have fired upon him before she towed his ship aboard hers. Wilma tells him that his expertise is out of date. The law is Ardala's ship comes unarmed and they can't very well start an alliance by boarding her with their own fighters and demanding her ship be searched.
He's pissy, and tells her he's going to look around the city some more to find out what has changed in 500 years. She reminds him that technically, he's still under her arrest and can't be allowed to wander freely. He leaves her standing there anyway, telling her to shoot him in the back then.
She draws her blaster, but doesn't discharge it.
Commentary: Again, the scripting here fails. Buck has no way of knowing that there were any fighter craft aboard Adala's vessel. He was still in suspended animation when he was taken aboard her vessel. It is highly unlikely that they would have told him he was intercepted by their fighters, when they're not supposed to have them aboard. Further, in the hanger where his ship was held, there weren't any Hatchet Fighters present because they're being birthed secretly. He shouldn't have any reason, other than a suspicious nature and the script, to worry that Ardala has armed fighters aboard, at all. The fact that there are pirate attacks should be enough of an explanation at this time, until something happens to arouse his suspicion that Ardala may not be as peaceful in her mission as appears.
Scene 16: Later, Buck has made his way outside of the city's defenses in company with Theo and Twiggy to see what remains of old Chicago's ruins.
Commentary: And, again, the script fails here. It seems highly unlikely that Buck would have been allowed by anyone to go wandering around the wastelands when he has no idea of the conditions out here. He couldn't have left the city without authorization and there is no reason for Dr. Theo or the council to have allowed this at this time.
Buck suggests he be allowed to spend the night, as it is getting late. Theo tells him that the heat he is feeling is being emanated by the city behind them. At night, the power is cut by two-thirds to conserve, and the night time temperatures will fall to well below zero around the ruins. They press on, even though there isn't anything to see except 500 year old ruins.
Commentary: Again, there is zero reason why Buck would be allowed to travel here. Even if they did allow him to go, in order to help him accept that the world he knew is truly gone in the past, they would certainly have made him wait for the next morning. In addition, they have traveled an awfully long distance from the safety of the city on foot. Considering the marauding mutants that they know inhabit these places, this seems ridiculous on its face. Surely, they would have had a shuttle of some sort to take him out here, and they would have had a contingent of armed men to ensure his safety. While the cityscape ruins are nice to look at, and expand the universe being created for the show, it just doesn't make sense for Rogers to be out here so late in the day, unescorted except by a physically useless computer and his non-combat robot carrier and travelling away from the city this distance on foot.
Scene 17: After dark, Buck, Theo and Twiggy are still wandering around the ruined suburbs of old Chicago. You remember - the old ruins whose temperature should be dropping below zero F, by now? With Buck only wearing his flight suit, he should be freezing his ass off and coming to the realization that this was a stupid idea.
From the ruins we see creepers keeping an eye on the travelling group. The humans who live out here as scavengers are burned and scarred by generations of mutation and radiation burns.
Commentary: The mutations is an understandable element to include here, but having 'burn makeup' is stupid. If the place is still hot enough to leave burn marks on flesh, it should be unsurvivable. And even if, somehow, people survived the holocaust enough to breed, or arrived later when the radiation was so powerful, it still creates a severe story problem that Dr. Theo would allow Buck to travel into this area, at all, let alone unprotected from the radiation dangers. And that isn't even considering the stupidity already pointed out in travelling a wasteland of marauders without armament.
Anyway, everything has an "Escape from New York" feel to it as the mutants are banging away around our troupe with pipes against windowsills and hydrants. Also, despite our subfreezing temperatures, no one's mouth steams while their breathing or speaking. Twiki rather obviously points out that he thinks they're being watched.
Buck is far too nonchalant about the risks that he is now going to have to face for wandering around after dark in the ruins. Dr. Theo points out that they'll want him and Twiki to tear apart for valuable components to be traded on the black market that operates outside of the cities.
Commentary: So, why did you come out here then, Dr. Theo, without proper escort!? For an advanced artificial intelligence, you're a simple idiot.
Buck continues ignoring the banging going on around him as he realizes that he has found his old neighborhood. Dr. Theo amusingly points out that Buck's strategy of standing in the middle of the street at this time is stupid. A shame that such insight didn't come before their excursion.
As Theo wonders what they're going to do now, Buck goes off at a run for the nearby cemetery. Twiki is ordered to follow him. In the meantime, we see that the group of scavengers continue to close on their position. Buck remains stupidly self-involved in finding traces of his 500-year dead relatives, instead of noticing that he's gotten himself into quite a bind.
- Onto Part II -