So the retooled Buck Rogers launched on 15 January, 1981, with a two hour premiere that was written by Norman Hudis. Fans at the time, and anyone rewatching the series, like me, must have been scratching their head over the nonsensical changes that had been forced onto the series, even as it tried to shoehorn in new characters to join Buck (Gil Gerard), Wilma (Erin Gray) and Twiki (Felix Silla and voice by… wait a minute, where the hell is Mel Blanc? Bob Elyea lends a strange voice to the little droid).
Taking its cue from Battlestar Galactica, Buck, Wilma (who is still not given enough to do or respected as a character, and placed in a ridiculous space sailor’s costume, with a short skirt and high heels) and Twiki find themselves serving aboard the newly launched Searcher (a reuse of the space cruise ship from season one), which is looking for the lost colonies of humans out amongst the galaxy.
The ship is commanded by Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner), has an eccentric doctor working aboard it, Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and a snooty robot, Crichton (voiced by Jeff David) who has a low opinion of humans.
The season opener has some fun supporting cast, including Dennis Haysbert, Sid Haig, Lance LeGault, and BarBara Luna, but the big addition to the series is Hawk (Thom Christopher) a half human-half bird (you can tell because of his feathered wig, and by his name) who has vowed vengeance to his god to kill all humans he encounters when members of his family are killed by human pirates.
So begins a bit of a killing spree that Buck and the rest find themselves in the middle of, and it will be up to the 20th century hero to find a way to make a fragile peace with the strange bird man proving that now all people are evil.
The changes to the series are truly brutal, and while there is some fun location work, and a new model, Hawk’s winged craft, some of the changes were just too much for the viewers who wanted to see more of Buck’s adventures and maybe a glimpse of Ardala.
Sure, Buck’s humor is still there, but I’m sure the changes riled a number of viewers, I remember being very disturbed by Twiki’s new voice, and while I thought Hawk was interesting (as I do now) the series doesn’t do him, or any of the other characters justice.
There are some cool ideas at work here in the season opener, actually hinting at the potential for something more, but it all gets bogged down in its trappings, and can’t lift itself beyond that.
It’s still little more than Saturday afternoon matinee fare broadcast in primetime, and it’s troublesome, knowing that it could have been so much more with just a little tweaking. We’ll see how things play out over the rest of the final season, and next time, we’ll dig into another feature length instalment, Journey to Oasis.