We start 2023 with a return to our past, visiting another old favorite from my childhood. Join me on my journey through the 25th century…
It’s been decades since I last saw Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In our Junkyard, we focus on a lot of mixed things but we try to unearth some lost gems when we can. It’s easy to find the modern stuff, but where did it all come from? What were the progenitors of the shows we love today?
I was pleasantly surprised by my journey into the past with Space: 1999, so I decided to jump into the future for another series… or should that be a decade into the past? Buck Rogers was released in 1979; 2 years after the end of Space: 1999 but it takes place in 1987, when America launches the last of its Deep Space probes and Captain William “Buck” Rogers “experiences cosmic forces beyond all comprehension” bringing him back to Earth 500 years later…
I was in for a surprise when I started the series and it opened like a movie. I had vague memories of watching this when I was a kid. I would have been around 8 when this series came out and actually feel like I’d watched that first episode in my kitchen. No idea why I remember that, but I can see it on that TV in my head. Some things stood out enough to be remembered, some things, not so much… The biggest change was the opening music as Gil Gerard falls through space to one of the best openings I remember from my childhood.
Well, about that… The music was immediately catchy and I found myself singing it on my drive to work the next day, but it wasn’t the instrumental version I remembered but a rather disco-y version that ear wormed itself into my head like one of Khan’s bore worms! The imagery that accompanies it is pure 1970s sexploitation. In fairness, this is going to be a common trait during the first episode as Princess Ardala sports some insanely sexy attire throughout. Totally not in keeping with what most princesses are expected to wear, but hey, space princesses get special privileges. Plus, all of her slaves dress the same way. (I often wonder what got me into science fiction… maybe now I know!)
The plot is fairly simple but by necessity, it has to be; it needs to introduce us to the characters and set the stage of the new world Buck discovers. Having been found by the bad guys, they think he’s a spy so they send him to Earth to learn about the secret defenses of our planet. This rapidly becomes a case of the good guys not trusting Buck. Alas, this too is a familiar trope where pirates attacking Earth lead to the need for an alliance with Ardala which of course turns out to be perpetrated by Ardala’s own people. It will fall to Buck to save the day. Meanwhile, to acclimate to the new world, the humans allow him to visit the site of his parents graveyard. It’s clear he misses his world (which he says comprises a mother, father, brother, sisters and a woman he cared about) and has to adapt to the new one, but that’s where execution goes wrong and I’d love to see this reproduced with today’s technology. The old ruins of Chicago are peopled by mutants. They like to bang sticks on things before attacking and it comes off a bit “old school”. Still, I sort of remember liking them when I was younger, because they are the only “monsters” in the episode. The people of Ardala’s race are not human but you’d never know it by looking at them. Then there are other rough patches. Buck telling a DJ to play rock music, for instance, is embarrassing and the dance he and Ardala do is painful to watch, regardless of how beautiful Ardala was. As a kid, I loved his droid, Twiki – clearly a mix of R2D2 in height and C3PO in form. As an adult, I found his “bedebedebede” sound effect annoying but worse were his deep-voiced jibes. (Having said that, I did laugh heartily when he said he was “freezing his ball bearings off.”)
There are a handful of things I don’t know what to make of yet but I think I’m impressed by. The uniforms of the Earth Defense Directorate have rainbow armbands. Against the otherwise white uniforms, I think it looked good, but also saw it as a very modern thing which I felt was a nice touch in today’s climate. I was also impressed by something that is so briefly seen that, if you blink, you’ll miss it… Earth has been devasted and rebuilt. People didn’t do a great job with things, so robots like Dr. Theopolis run the place. Yet on Tim O’Connor’s desk, in a glass case, is the Holy Bible. Now, nothing is said of it, nor do I think it should have been, but it was a nice touch, illustrating a deeper understanding may have developed around the planet.
Now, it’s not all good, as you probably could imagine. Tigerman is Ardala’s bodyguard. Remember when I said they are not human? So why is he called Tigerman? Could it be that he dresses in tiger print clothes? So why would an alien race call him by a name of an animal on an enemy planet?? Come on! And he changes radically in the episode (I mean before being blown up). I had to check to see if I’d lost my mind, but he is indeed played by two people during the 90 minute opening movie. Also, Wilma Deering (the lovely Erin Gray) has this uncomfortable crush on Buck that seems to come out of nowhere and is exacerbated by her jealousy over Ardala. Trust me, it’s not easy to watch!
Henry Silva plays the main villain, Kane, who even gets to boss the princess around all in the name of her father, King Draco. Draco makes a holographic appearance at the end and I hope we never see him again because he looks ridiculous, but this is the pilot so, fingers crossed, someone else will play him later. But the big takeaway for the scene is how much this would be mirrored by Star Wars years later when the Emperor eventually makes his appearance. Well done Buck.. you got there first.
Will this be a gem for us to share? Well, we’re going to find out. Episode one didn’t blow my mind, but the nature of pilots is to set the groundwork. Whether it continues to impress as it goes on remains to be seen, but maybe we can find out together! If nothing more, it might offer insights into other series that we love. What other things did Buck show us before they became popular elsewhere? Let’s find out… ML
I saw this as a child, and remember nothing about it apart from the robot, which I absolutely loved. I suppose that just goes to show that you’ve got to add in something to appeal to the kids, even if it annoys the adults! I’ve added in a menu page for Buck for you, Mike.
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The more I’ve watched, the more Twiki has grown on me. Amazing how the brain adjusts.
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For one of the few sci-fi shows at the time that would seriously affect how the classic Doctor Who would be done and made in the 80s, Buck Rogers certainly attracted my attention and there were plenty of things about it that I enjoyed as a kid. Nowadays I chiefly recall its most serious dramas for Buck, but of course I’ll reserve comment on those episodes until the Junkyard gets to them. In this pilot, which I had finally got round to after seeing much of the series (I seem to recall renting the pilot on VHS at some point), it was as interesting as it usually was for me when I finally saw a pilot to a show I was familiar with. To grasp the impact of a man who must come to terms with a new life in the future and the loss of everything he knew in the past, we might expect this kind of sci-fi show to have a much more serious tone today. So again as with classic Star Trek and Space: 1999, we have a great opportunity to explore some sci-fi glory days nostalgia. Thank you, ML, for including Buck Rogers on the Junkyard for the New Year.
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hey, thanks for reviewing this show. it’s one i hadnt seen in over 20 years, and ive thought about picking it up and watching it now on dvd. i remember the pilot vividly, quite enjoyed it, and i did want to say i’m so glad you enjoyed the opening credits. it was my favorite part, the song is super catchy and evocative of the pulp scifi adventure it is, and the lovely ladies and the buck rogers in space… its so immersive and magical. i told people about it back then, they thought it was bad. what do they know? the show is seen as second rate, but based on your reviews it seems much better than reputed, and i’ll admit im getting psyched to relive it. so thank you, and i hope you enjoy more of your adventures with captain rogers!
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Terence, thanks for the feedback! I’m delighted that you’ve enjoyed the write up. I have been having loads of fun with this show. Only a few have been lame, but most are surprisingly delightful. I can’t believe how much charisma Gil Gerard had as Buck. I remember the show from my childhood, but really didn’t expect to like it so much. I actually expected to like Space: 1999 much more but Koenig had so little charisma, by comparison to Gerard, that I think Buck is winning out, even though Space: 1999 probably had way better stories. I’m looking forward to reading more from you. ML
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It’s a fun show that really needs a reboot– I’m looking forward to reading your reviews 🙂
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