Buck Rogers: Flight of the War Witch

buck rogersThe season one finale to Buck Rogers is nearly perfect, and that’s a surprise even to me.  I’ve been enjoying this series even though some of the episodes have been a bit lackluster because the cast has been so good.  As endings go, this one really hits a lot of the right marks.  It’s a two part story, which I watched in one fell swoop, but it really had me excited to see what was coming.  Among those things was another Batman alum in it: the lovely Julie Newmar channeling her inner Ming the Merciless.  Sadly, for a woman who was always so epically pretty, they put her in a hat that makes her look like a total nitwit but barring that the sheer volume of great moments really impressed me.

“Talk about close encounters!”  When an alien orb lands right at the foot of that mountain where Kirk fought the Gorn in Arena, Buck stops to investigate.  It ends up being an invitation to come to another universe.  Unfortunately, Ardala and the Draconians – you know, the people who hate Earth but seem to vacation there – also gets their hands on it after the Earth Directorate send Buck on a mission to meet the neighbors.  Buck enters the other universe and shortly after Ardala and her people follow.

Conceptually, this is a fantastic idea.  In execution, it needed a bit of work only because you can’t send Buck to another universe and have the people look like us, speak English and all wear skimpy skirts.  Nothing against a skimpy skirt, but come on, give us something new!  But still, Huer calls it the Vortex Theory, but gussy it up however you like, the fact is Buck goes through a wormhole to universe that I’m reasonably sure influenced a favorite game of mine: Star Control.  First off, the orb ship was very reminiscent of the Arilou, but that’s little more than coincidence until Buck gets to the planet he’s heading for and finds it enclosed in a shield; another feature from the Star Control universe.  

Now, before Buck goes, both Huer and Wilma have some things to say to him and honestly I had to choke back a tear.  Huer’s goodbye I felt was more believable: he says he’s gotten to know Buck quite well and considers him part of his family.  He asks Buck to not take another 500 years to come home.  Lovely.  Wilma’s was less believable only because she’s really played a surprisingly small role in the stories to date so Buck “making her feel like a woman” seems pointless.  He spends most of his time with other women all season long, while Wilma looks on with a wry smile.  So what was her goodbye based on?  An idea??  Still it’s a lovely moment and really had me wondering if the second half was going to lead to a cliffhanger unlike anything I could have expected from the early 80’s.  This was still the early days of SF TV, after all.

So Buck answers the call for help from another universe – they want his help to defeat the War Witch – you guessed it: Julie Newmar.  When Ardala comes through and decides to befriend Newmar, sparks fly because the War Witch is actually evil while Ardala just loves to flirt.  And my god, did they give her clothing to flirt in!  Unfortunately we are still treated to some cringe-worthy dialogue when Ardala asks Kane to send in Tigerman.  Apparently, he’s off with other women, so Kane sends in… well, Ardala says “I think I’ll call you Pantherman. You’re black. You’re beautiful. Why don’t you come over here and let me see your claws?”  I don’t even know what to say…  (And again I question why all of her “pets” are named after earth creatures!)  The other glaring issue was Huer’s clothing. He seemed to take a wardrobe with him.  We see him wearing a white outfit before leaving for Ardala’s ship, upon arriving he is wearing a smart black affair, and later he’s back in the original white.  I guess he wanted to look good for the infinitely sexy Ardala.

“Why is it only the good die young?”  Twiki really gets some of the best lines.  The comedy is best between him and this R2D2 wannabe.  When the robot asks Twiki his name, he says “the name’s Twiki, Buster.”  From this point on, Twiki is referred to all episode as “Twiki Buster.” I also still love the continuity in this series.  Upon arriving on the new planet, Twiki asks if they have ping pool; this was first referenced earlier in the season when Buck gets a ping pong/pool table that doesn’t play as expected.

There’s a space battle, a creepy scream from Newmar, and more comedy but for me, the real victory came when Buck and Ardala actually team up.  This isn’t a ruse, as it usually is.  This is an actual joint victory leading to a celebration at the end between the new friends from the alternate universe, the Draconians and the Earth people.  Now, what made this unexpected to me is that I looked up what Ardala has been in besides this series (I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of her other shows) but it appears she’s done: she does not return in season 2.  Which means, intentional or not, the finale resolves the conflict between Earth and Draconia (or at least with Ardala and Kane).

“Why don’t you make like a fuse and blow.”  To end the episode, one more unexpected thing happens.  The theme music from the opening movie plays.  Instead of that great instrumental, we get that “Far beyond this world I’ve know…” song and once again, I’ve got that earworm trapped in my head.  Don’t get me wrong: this show hasn’t aged as well as many from a decade earlier, but it still has a charm that I’ve been really happy getting to know all over again.  Join me next week as we enter Season 2.  Let’s see where Buck goes in the 25th Century!    ML

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1 Response to Buck Rogers: Flight of the War Witch

  1. scifimike70 says:

    As far as the best depiction of visiting another universe is concerned, particularly considering the realisms of the multiverse today, this depiction for Buck Rogers can work simply as an adventure. Whereas Dr. Who’s E-Space trilogy at that time was more seriously dramatic. If it depends on the preferences for what another universe should be like in SF, this 1st season finale for Buck Rogers can still be an enjoyable one even for a show that agreeably hasn’t aged well. Its charm is indeed appealing in Buck’s quotes like: “Oh no, Zarina. You’ll wish you had killed me.” Julie Newmar for her own charm can still shine in the role, though she deserved better in Zarina’s final shot than a mere scream of terror just before her demise. Also good to have Vera Miles in the guest cast. Sid Haig is also interesting shortly after his breakthrough SF role as the villainous Dragos in Jason of Star Command.

    Ardala finally finding a redeeming closure is a special memory although the show wouldn’t be the same without her. Thank you, ML, for your reviews of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: Season 1.

    Liked by 1 person

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