It’s been forever since I watched this short-lived series, but alongside Star Wars, Star Trek, and Galactica, Buck Rogers was an integral part of my youth. I had previously written about the pilot episode, released theatrically, before airing on network television on 20 September, 1979, so I moved right on to the next episode in the season, which, like the pilot was broadcast as a two hour movie.
It’s tough to watch this series now, enjoying how much fun it is, knowing what’s in store for the second season when it got repurposed by the network and executive producers, which caused its decline and cancellation.
Sure, watching Planet of the Slave Girls, which debuted on 27 September, 1979, and was written by Anne Collins, Aubrey Solomon and Steve Greenberg from a story by Solomon and Greenberg, is vey camp, delightfully so, but it’s so much better than what happened to it.
Captain Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) a transplant from the 20th century, is still trying to adapt to life in the 25th century, and while he’s declined to sign up with the Earth Defense Directorate, he will quite happily lend a hand to Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray – and boy what a crush did I have!), and Dr. Huer (Tim O’Connor).
When Earth’s citizens begin to succumb to an illness, which incapacitates a number of the pilots, Buck and Wilma try to figure out what to do. Huer with the aid of a fellow scientist has figured out that their food supply has been poisoned. Buck and Wilma are off to investigate it, and discover a supply chain that is built on the work of slave labor.
These slaves are sold by Kaleel (Jack Palance chewing scenery), who runs them as a bit of a cult, and has some strange powers that make him a dangerous threat to our heroes. He sells his people to the governor of Vistula, the food processing planet, Governor Saroyan (Roddy McDowall), who, despite being from Earth, seems to have no problem buying people, despite our planet’s history.
It will be up to Buck and Wilma to stop the slavery and put Kaleel down, before the vicious slaver can lay claim to Earth before it has recovered from his poisoning.
Sure, there’s some padding to the story, including pairing Buck with Major Duke Danton (David Groh), who he’s butted heads with over orders, aiding others, and basic dogfighting as they try to survive a crash landing on Vistula’s desert area, known as the Sea of Stone (which, conveniently is where Kaleel’s base is, and where Wilma has been kidnapped to but is working on her own plan of escape)
I love the matte paintings, I love that sound effects and models from Battlestar Galactica have been put to work in the series, and I love, in the pilot, and this episode (we’ll see how long it lasts) the character of Wilma. She’s a colonel in the Earth Defense Directorate, she’s smart, powerful, and doesn’t take any guff. And then, on top of all that, she’s incredibly attractive. It’s no wonder I crushed on her so bad.
The disco influenced soundtrack is one of the things that really dates the show. I mean sure some of the costumes are a little silly, and the alien outfits are obviously constrained by a budget, but, it’s the music that really cripples this episode.
But even with that holding it back, it’s actually a lot of pulp and campy fun. And older Buck Rogers fans would have been delighted at the time when the climax of the episode came along and up pops the original Buck Rogers (as well as Flash Gordon), Buster Crabbe, flying one of Earth’s starfighters, in the form of Brigadiere Gordon.
The diminutive droid, Twiki (Felix Silla, voiced by Mel Blanc), and his portable computer attachment, Dr. Theopolis (Eric Server) remain on Earth, far from Buck’s side in this episode. He hangs out with Huer throughout, so he pops up, but he’s not quite as fun as he had been in the pilot film.
It’s not quite self-aware, but the series, at this point, seemed intent on being a nod to the pulp stories of yesteryear’s science fiction, while looking as big budget as it could. And sure, folks were looking at the fantastic Erin Gray in her clingy costumes, but the producers also made sure to get Gerard’s shirt off on the regular as well.
And while I openly admit I think season two, though short, is going to be tough to get through, I can’t wait to see what it’s like revisiting this series. Let’s go!!