[Season 1 !Season 2]
This is a modified-for-TV version of the feature-length movie. It has been trimmed down to allow for advert breaks, so instead of the James Bond style opening credits we are pushed into the action with a now-iconic intro sequence.
The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak misshap, Ranger Three and its pilot - Captain William "Buck" Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns Buck Rogers to Earth five hundred years later.
The tell-don't-show continues. Our narrator (William Conrad) tells us that Buck has been rudely awakened in the year 2491 by the sinister forces of the Draconian Realm. On cue, we get sinister music as an enormous interstellar warship files past. Nowhere near as good as the opening short of the ISD in SW: A New Hope , but that would be too much to ask for. Buck is defrosted by the Draconians and introduced to their leader, Princess Ardala ( Pamela Hensley ). She is typical of the female rulers of the era, like Servalan in Blake's Seven - libidinous towards the hero, and always dressed in evening wear.
The brains of the Draconian operation is her courtier, a renegade Earthman called Killer Kane (Henry Silva - ). Named after the villain of the original 1930s show, of course. Kane states that the Draconians rule three fourths of the universe. This is clearly an exaggeration, because the Draconians only appear as villains in the show when they visit Earth itself.
The Draconians put Buck back in his shuttle, and send him to Earth. He is intercepted by a patrol commanded by Colonel Wilma Deering ( Erin Gray ). Wilma uses yards as a measurement - yes, the metric system is not in use yet! They aim towards the great lakes, pass over a desert that looks like Monument Valley (Utah), and arrive at the futuristic city of New Chicago.
Buck is comfortable enough to see a woman Colonel in charge of the Space Force. Well, she is clad in skintight lycra. The Earthlings wear white uniforms, in contrast with the black uniforms of the Draconians, so we are left in no doubt as to who the good guys are.
Dr Huer (Tim O'Connor - Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear ) introduces his administrator, an AI called Dr Theopolis. Theopolis is a member of the city's ruling computer council, and is personally responsible for the city's environmental controls. They assign Buck a companion named Twikki (Felix Silla - ), an ambi-quad robot with a voice provided by Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny). Yes, an R2-D2/C-3PO combination.
We get our first look at the futuristic city of New Chicago. There is no smog or traffic, and only a small bullet-train that whizzes past. Yes, the secret seems to be a combination of walkability and public transport. The problem is that there is a lack of fertile land, so the city relies on food supplies imported from other worlds. A group of space pirates are attacking the supply ships, and Earth needs an alliance with the Draconians who have offered to protect the supply routes.
Buck learns that the old world was destroyed by a nuclear war referred to as The Holocaust. He decides to explore the ruins of old Chicago, which is now a hell-hole called Anarchia. The locals are mutants who are disfigured by radiation, and survive by trading looted technology on the black market. They basically serve the same fucntion as the Sandpeople in Star Wars . Even though Buck and Twikki set out at first light, it is getting dark by the time they arrive.
Buck is accused of treason, even though he is not a citizen. They think he is working for the space pirates, so under pre-industrial piracy laws he might be in trouble. Instead of being tried by a jury of his peers, his fate is decided by the artificial intelligences of the computer council. Doc Theo is more sympathetic to Buck, but the city is still a dictatorship that uses the death penalty.
The story is split in two episodes, although this is not much of a cliffhanger. The most important thing to notice is that the end credits music still has the lyrics.
Buck gets his death sentence suspended long enough to participate in an inspection tour of the Draconian warship. Princess Ardala ( Pamela Hensley ) pretends not to know him, but she later on shows an interest in him. However, before tghings get boring the space pirates appear from nowhere and start shooting things up. Nobody asks where the pirates are based - presumably they do not come through the Stargate or they would get caught, and Wilma must have searched the other planets in the star system. The only alternative would be that they have a mothership somewhere.
Buck takes the initiative in the dogfight with the space pirates. Despite this being his first time in a starfighter, he is better at it than the so-called experts are. Perhaps it is because the layout is so simple and easy to use. After all, it is digital rather than the analogue dials he probably used in the 1970s. The centre display is a cathode ray tube screen, which shows the ship's statistics in a Command Line Interface layout. The targeting screen is a wireframe of the target, and the scanning screen is a two-dimensional radar-type layout like in Battlestar Galactica (1978) . In fact, the control stick seems identical to the Galactica Vipers' one so the chances are that the cockpit interiors are the same on both shows.
All the big questions were answered in the first episode of the two-parter. This is basic by-the-numbers build-up to a TV-budget climax. Afterwards, an extra scene has been tacked on. Dr Huer and Wilma offer Buck a job in the Earth Directorate, where he can take advantage of the fact nobody has a file on him to go undercover on secret missions.
Buck has not yet agreed to join the Earthforce Directorate. Wilma gives him some lessons in piloting a starfighter, and they encounter some rookie pilots and their instructor Major Fields. Buck gets invited to lecture the rookies on some Twentieth-Century tactics, so he teaches them a football-based one called Sacking the Quarterback.
Buck and Fields develop an antagonistic relationship, which is actually something of an improvement since Dr Huer and everyone else is so emotionally flat and repressed. Later we discover that Fields is Wilma's ex-boyfriend, which may be the root of his rivalry with Buck. Not that there is much cause for jealousy - Fields and Wilma broke up when she got promoted above him, and the only time Buck gets to grapple with her is when he teaches her Judo.
Dr Huer reveals that 25,000 people have been hospitalised with food poisoning. This has disproportionately affected the military. The contaminated food discs (biscuits?) are made of soy that was sent from the grain world of Vistula. New Chicago's top scientist, Dr Mallory, has a bad-tempered A.I. named Karl to help him research the virus and find a cure. It is as big as a bookcase, which is unusual since Doc Theo is a small box around Twikki's neck. Karl the A.I.'s personality seems the basis for Kryten in season 2 .
Meanwhile, in the middle of the grain world's desert, Khalil (Jack Palance - The Spy With The Green Hat ) is chewing the scenery and spreading discontent. He uses his magically glowing hands to kill anyone who questions his orders. His plan involves sleeper agents in New Chicago, poised to commit sabotage and assassination if his plot is uncovered.
Buck and Wilma find a pretext to visit Vistula, just beyond Stargate Five. Governor Saroyan (Roddy McDowell - Planet of The Apes ) welcomes the Earth delegation. At dinner he divulges that he buys nomadic workers from Khalil. Buck condemns this as slavery, a concept that is apparently so out-dated that the Earthlings have never heard of it. They are not exactly the Star Trek Federation. Well, since Earth cannot grow its own food they cannot be choosy.
At night, Buck sneaks out by himself to investigate the food processing plant. Unfortunately all the action happens in his absence. The Governor's overseer (Don Marshall - Land of Giants ) is up to no good. Luckily, instead of just killing people he sends them off to be killed elsewhere. This allows Buck and Fields a chance to save the damsels in distress.
We get an actual cliffhanger this time, as the starfighter is destroyed by a Power Leech. This is a great form of anti-aircraft defence that should be used more often. The other thing to note is that the end credits use the instrumental-only theme music.
Buck is stranded in the middle of Vistula's desert, the Sea of Stones. His only companion is his arch-rival, Major Fields. They are attacked by natives who use slings and smoke-bombs.
Wilma is not a damsel in distress, and rescues herself. She goes straight for the transmitter, which is old-fashioned push-button technology. However, she has reckoned without the other side's ingenuity. Khalil may be the equivalent of Ardala, but his hench-woman fills Killer Kane's role as the brains of the operation. She is almost as much fun as Miss Diketon ( Janet Leigh ), his sadistic assassin in The Man from UNCLE.
Buck and Field discover what Khalil invested his slave-trade profits in. There are dozens of second-hand starfighters stockpiled in the desert. Field intends to escape the Power Leech by going straight to Trans-Light velocity. This is probably not a good move within an atmosphere or a gravity well. And if fighter-craft have FTL capability, what do they need Stargates for?
Field gets back to Earth, and gets the surviving pilots ready for a pre-emptive strike. Their only chance is to destroy Khalil's fleet on the ground. Unfortunately the defence force has been reduced to such small numbers that it can be easily portrayed on a television show's budget. An old man named Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe - ) is dragged out of retirement. Twiki and Theo fill another one of the starfighters.
Khalil monologues his captives. His secret weapon is General Galen, formerly Earth's greatest military strategist. Galen went freelance seven years ago, and has not been seen since. Yes, Killer Kane was not the only high-level defector to leave Earth's employ.
After the monologuing, Buck and Wilma get stuck in a death-trap. Of course, the guards do not bother to search Buck so he conveniently has a concussion grenade on his person. A better way to escape would be for Buck and Wilma to work together, him manually boosting her up to the air vent. However, the show is named after Buck so he has to do the rescue by himself. Wilma later takes out two guards single-handedly, but this happens off-screen so it does not really count.
Buck and Wilma rejoin the Earth squadron for the final battle. The Earthlings are severely outnumbered, but the rebels are untrained peasants. This means that their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness - their reliance on Galen the super-tactician. As a result, Buck's lecture about the tactic of Sacking the Quarterback was exactly the right thing for this situation.
Buck and Wilma have a training dogfight with some simulated Hatchet fighters. They are apparently so advanced that normal targeting computers cannot keep a lock on them. Since the Draconians have upgraded to these new Hatchet fighters, this is now a major military issue.
Malton Velsoi (Richard Lynch - Galactica 1980 ) kidnaps a woman named verleena and holds her prisoner aboard his space station, a casino named Sinaloha. Velosi calls in a torturer named Carl Morphus (Joseph Wiseman - Dr No ) to get the info out of Verleena's mind.
The woman is an employee of Amos Amat (Caesar Romero - Batman (1960s) ), a businessman who made his fortune in moonbase construction. Law enforcement could never prove it, but they suspect him of extortion, weapons smuggling and slave trading. He offers to turn himself in to Dr Huer, in exchange for the victim's rescue. Huer also insists on technical info on the Hatchet fighters. Amat does not have much alternative - if Velosi gets Verleena to talk, he will be able to launch a hostile takeover on Amat's empire.
Buck performs this mission with Major Marla Landers ( Juanin Clay ). She was the first of a series of female sidekicks, because Wilma Deering ( Erin Gray ) had not signed to continue the rest of the series. Buck and Marla go undercover as gamblers in a Mission: Impossible style mission. Doc Theo and Twikki pop up in the role of Q, to deliver some gadgets which will come in useful later.
Buck and Marla arrive together on the same starfighter, wearing matching Earthforce uniforms. After they land, they split up and pretend not to know each other. Instead of a James Bond-style Tuxedo, Buck wears a white shirt with a black waistcoat - Han Solo style. He soon gets a friendly bimbo named Tangie ( Pamela Susan Shoop ).
Buck learns a few things, as do we the audience. In the year 2491, hand-held calculators are still as big as 1970s ones. The sexy blue-skinned women from Klossoff Three actually identify as male. People use an all-in-one swipe card for identification as well as financial micro-transactions. Well, there are no pockets in those skin-tight bodysuits.
Marla's starfighter is a four-seater. The front seats allow a split between navigational controls and weapons. Obviously, this is a lot better than what the Galactica's Vipers have. But it also seems a bit convenient for the plot.
Once again we have a two-parter story - the third within six episodes. This may have been for budgetary reasons, to stretch the finances by re-using sets and costumes and guest-stars so as to make the show's production values seem higher. Also, the show's patented Buck-Fu fight scenes have been cut. Perhaps it is because the stunt-doubles were unable to shoot the scenes in time, or it might be a censorship move to reduce the amount of on-screen violence. On the bright side, this story has some physical locations instead of just the usual cheap-looking studio sets.
Buck starts the day with a Han Solo style shootout in a bar. The victim of this sting is a gunslinger named Rafael Argus. Argus had been recruited to join the League of Interstellar Mercenaries, a group that Dr Huer nicknames the Legion of Death. The League's boss, Kellog (Frank Gorshin - ), is a scientist. His associates have superpowers. Sharisse ( Nancy DeCarl ) is an empath, while Quince (John Quade - ) has telekinetic powers. Kellog's bodyguard Varrak (Anthony James - ) is a genetic mutant who can alter his mollecular density and pass through solid objects.
Wilma goes on ahead, to Aldebarran Two. Her mission is to seduce Quince, an ugly fat man. For some reason she wears a wig, which certainly looks very good but it does not work as a disguise. After all, nobody will recognise her anyway but the fact she uses a wig will merely draw suspicion to her.
Buck goes undercover as Vargas, and meets an old flame named Joella Cameron ( Markie Post ). He learns a few things. Firstly, the target is New Chicago. Secondly, the blasters' stun setting only works on a victim's nerve endings. Someone whose nerve endings are severed, and thus cannot feel pain, is also immune to the stun ray.
New Chicago is the capital of Earth. It has a population of ten million, and is powered by a Contra-Tureen (anti-matter) reactor in the wasteland outside the city.
The League have reason to be suspicious of Buck's identity. They turn against him almost instantly. There is a lot of running around, which is hard on the female characters because their otherwise impressive costumes leave them running in high heels.
Kellog's bodyguard Varrak (Anthony James - Blue Thunder ) turns out to be quite a sympathetic villain, since his planet was destroyed by the same kind of atomic explosion that Kellog plans to cause on Earth.
The League get to Earth, and infiltrate the power plant. It has gun-toting androids as security guards, instead of ambi-quads or any of the other types of robot and A.I. we have seen. Their main job is maintenance of the power plant, which is a good idea because they are less vulnerable to corruption or contamination.
Releasing the anti-matter will destroy everything within two hundred square kilometres. Which begs the question - did they adopt the metric system after all?
Buck and Wilma go after the fleeing villains. There is no attempt to arrest them, it is a clear shoot-to-kill assassination mission. Luckily Quince has his telekinesis, which he can use at close range to take control of an enemy's controls. The starfighters' weapons blasts tend to explode when they miss, rather than carry on forever. Presumably this is because the twin blasts meet at a convergence point, but everything is within extremely close visual range rather than use some long-range missiles to do the job.
The after-action sequence is of Buck's experiment in creating red wine. He likes it, but Huer and Wilma are less keen. Meanwhile, Twikki is making progress with Joella Cameron ( Markie Post ).
Buck has been talked into helping Wilma train some rookie pilots in flight maneuvres. They get called in to recapture a stolen starship freighter, which is filled with cannisters of pre-WW3 nerve gas. Unfortunately, Wilma gets the first of several personal motivations.
The freighter was stolen by Commander Korlis and Roxanne Trent, a husband-and-wife team of gun-runners based in the Necrosis Four asteroid belt. Three years ago Wilma's squadron attacked their ship, as punishment for selling weapons to rebellious colonies, and injured them so badly that they needed shoddy black-market cyborg implants. As a result they swore revenge on Colonel Deering (her second motivation) and the Earth Directorate.
The villains' plan is to destroy all life on Earth. Yes, just like the League last week they are doing genocidal revenge for free. They also have a spy inside the Earth Directorate. If only the villains could network and pool resources, they could actually make their evil plans work rather than just repeat them endlessly.
Dr Huer orders Wilma to recruit a guide for the asteroid field, a retired Major named Noah Cooper (Peter Graves - ). Unfortunately his history with Wilma makes this her third personal involvement. Wilma's father flew with Noah's Earth-Space marine squadron, the Fighting 69th. Later on, Noah was Wilma's flight instructor. But when he hit retirement age (85 years old), and could no longer pass the annual physical exam, Wilma had to force him into retirement.
Noah agrees to help out, but on one condition. As twenty years later, in the movie Space Cowboys (1999) , the indispensible old man insists his old crew come along. They modify 20-year-old cargo sleds with rear gun turrets, load them with 30-year-old incendiary bombs, and fly them into the asteroid field. Big Red (Woody Strode - ) is Noah's rear gunner, while Buck is gunner on the ship which Wilma flies.
The attack is meant to be reminiscent of World War Two bombing runs, or at least the movies made in the 1960s. Or a cheap version of Luke Skywalker's trench run. Unfortunately Wilma and Buck crash-land on the target asteroid and get taken prisoner by her arch-enemies. Rather than just keep the nerve gas to sell it to paying customers, they intend to go ahead with the plan and destroy Earth for free anyway.
The villains have a slave-girl. Yes, slavery seems quite prevalent in the future. She is deaf, and Buck befriends her with his knowledge of sign language. Wilma points out that in her era, deafness is usually cured in childhood with electronic surgery. This must be the equivalent of Twenty-First Century coclear implants Luckily, Buck once had a female friend who was a teacher working with handicapped kids.
The episode tries to have a realistic, bitter-sweet ending. Unfortunately the final result is cloyingly sickly-sweet instead. Except for the villains and their henchmen, who do not get invited back for any recurring villainy.
Buck and Wilma hijack a prison shuttle. Their pretext is a check for smuggling, but it is a Zetan government ship within Zetan territory so Earth Directorate has no jurisdiction there. Buck poses as a convict, so he can break into the Zetan prison.
Dr Huer gives an expositionary briefing to his old friend, Ambassador Ted Warwick. The Ambassador represents Earth in diplomatic matters within the Third Quadrant, including the Zetans. He has been unable to arrange extradition of a convict named Jen Burton ( Jamie Lee Curtis ), who has info vital to Earth's security. Someone has been leaking Earth's shipping schedules to a pirate named Mallory Pantera, and Jen is the best chance that Huer has of discovering the traitor.
The Zetan prison is in the middle of a desert, with an aerial defence shield. The main cell is two hundred metres underground, and run by practically indestructible android guards. Luckily it is co-ed, so Buck can mingle freely with Jen and the other women.
Pantera is hanging out in New Chicago, rather than lie low in a secret base. He has a new girlfriend ( Tara Buckman ), and wants to kill Jen rather than rescue her. The traitor has to choose between keeping a fifth of Pantera's take, and getting imprisoned by the Earth Directorate. Not much of a choice. Please note, this is probably not the same traitor as in the previous episode. Almost every villain so far - Ardala, Khalil, Kellog, Korlis - has had defectors from or spies inside the Earth Directorate. Yes, it certainly does not seem a very secure organisation.
Buck and Jen trek through the desert together. This allows for some great location shots, which make up for the lifeless matte paintings. Then they get to a back-lot previously used in Wild West movies. Well, the walls are old but they have electronic sliding doors.
Theo and Twikki realise that most of the pirated shipments were in Quadrant Three. And the guest-star happens to be ambassador for that quadrant. I wonder who the traitor will turn out to be? Dr Huer should not have given details of the operation to someone not covered by need-to-know. Worse, the ambassador no longer has plausible deniability.
Wilma runs into trouble. Luckily, she and buck are the only ones who know judo techniques so this kind of martial-arts move can take a henchman off-guard.
Buck is kidnapped, then auctioned off to sex-starved women. Perhaps this was a response to some feminists who protested that the episode title Planet of the Slave Girls was misogynist or something.
Dr Theopolis negotiates with a foreign planet - whose negotiator is his evil counterpart!
Gary Coleman, the wee kid from Diff'rent Strokes, is still alive in the 25th Century! He is President of a distant planet, where he is also chief scientist, engineer, etc ... Unfortunately, he is kidnapped and ransomed by Albert Popwell (Token Black Guy in the first four Dirty Harry films).
The Prez's babelicious bikini-clad bodyguard goes to Earth and begs Dr Huer to help. Huer refuses, so she kidnaps Buck (who is going on vacation) and forces him to help her.
Meanwhile, Huer secretly sends Wilma on a solo mission - to rescue the Prez! She meets a human-hating robot, one of a handful of interesting characters in this show. It seems a prototype for the character Crichton, who appears in the dreadful Season 2.
Buck, Twikki and Wilma (in a horrible wig) travel incognito aboard an interstellar cruise-liner. Their mission is to guard beauty queen Miss Cosmos ( Dorothy R. Stratten ). Buck and Twikki also take the opportunity to find female companionship.
Twikki meets a female counterpart, who goes boody-boody-boody instead of beety-beety-beety. Buck's woman has even more annoying qualities. She is a damsel-in-distress blonde ( Kimberly Beck ) whose alter-ego secretly asserts herself - physically! She becomes Trisha Noble - who is brunette (shorthand for evil), ten years older and Australian. She also has telekinetic powers, but since she co-habits another person is body that is hardly a shock.
The real villain is the manipulative boyfriend of the dual-personality woman. This is shockingly reminiscent of Dorothy Stratten's own relationship ...
Buck and Wilma are aboard a space station when it is boarded by a Vorvon - a fellow in dodgy Nosferatu makeup. He can drain his victims' essences, then make them do his bidding. And he makes Wilma into a seductive monster ...
Traeger, an earthman lost on a space exploration mission decades ago, secretly returns. He has developed a skill - well, more of a superpower: he can manipulate energy with his mind, and alter the molecular structure of things just by touching them. He wants revenge on his former boss, Dr Huer.
Someone is teleporting strange objects into Earth Directorate's HQ. Buck, Wilma and Dr Huer must solve the mystery within one hour, a deadline set by the teleporter's user.
This is basically a clip show. We see the best bits of previous episodes, and get info on what happened to the surviving villains.
Twiki is kidnapped by a trio of telekinetic babes, led by Anne-Marie Martin (credited as Edie Benton). Their boss runs a mining operation, and has realised that if he duplicates Twiki's AI upgrades (courtesy of Buck, of course) he can make his mine more efficient.
Buck decides to rescue Twiki, but he is on his own. Wilma and the rest of Earth Directorate are busy trying to deflect a Space Berg (like, a comet???) that is about to smash into Earth!
Can Buck convert Anne-Marie to his side, then save Twiki and get home in time to save Earth? All within 42 minutes (plus advert breaks)?
Cold War at the Interstellar Olympics. Buck and Wilma must help a couple of athletes defect.
A mysterious sphere lands on Earth. It contains a message, basically inviting the Eartlings to visit - through a vortex, in another universe.
Buck is the one who discovers it, although nobody tells Dr Huer this fact. Buck volunteers to go into the Vortex, and the others give him prelonged goodbyes. He's done plenty of dangerous missions before, and there's no need for this. Dr Huer says he was a test-pilot when the Stargates were invented, implying that interstellar travel has only been common for a few decades. Wilma, however, gets all weepy and tells buck he made her feel like a woman. FFS, how completely pointless and out of character can things get?
Princess Ardala's spies get her the message, and she takes her warship through. The inhabitants of the alternate universe apparently intended for her to come, although by relying on her spies they are taking a very roundabout route!
The War Witch ( Julie Newmar ) employs a torturer who is a transmute. Like several other villains in the series he can break molecular bonds in an object just by touching it. But why bother, if everyone in the other universe is an energy being?
Buck and Wilma are now aboard the starship Searcher. Dennis Haysbert ( Now and Again ) is helmsman!
Buck has to track Hawk down. To do this he has to confront Lance DeGault ( Quantum Leap ) and his sidekick, who was also the War Witch's torturer.
Buck helps the Hawkman get his wife to safety. The healers certainly LOOK human, although Hawk's actions indicate that they are aliens. How silly - even Trek made the non-humans wear putty on their faces to differentiate them!
The climax is a trial reminiscent of those in 1950s westerns such as The Last Wagon
Buck and Hawk go on an away mission. An old man gives Buck a glowing green box which gives him flashbacks to his mom's house and his space mission. The entire crew start having troubling visions of the future.