Last night I watched an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It was like sucking (and choking, too, if the truths known) on a glorious Nostalgia Pill (you can buy those, right? Comes in a DVD box or something). It must have been thirty years or more since I last saw an episode of this old show- it aired here in the UK in 1980, but dates back to 1979 in the States. What caught my eye in the television schedules was the title of this particular episode. This was a season one episode, and the reason why I watched it is that, strangely enough, its the one episode I can clearly remember originally watching; Return of the Fighting 69th.
The reason why I remember watching it? Well, it was on a Saturday afternoon that summer that my Dad took my brother and I to watch The Empire Strikes Back. We got back home in time for tea and it just so happened that here in the Midlands at least, Buck Rogers was airing on Saturday afternoon/evenings in that teatime slot. I was quite a fan of the show; (it was colourful and fun and had great production values for the time. It also had Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), who frankly any pubescent boy would have a crush on. Actually, now that I think about it… Princess Leia, Wilma Deering… I needed to get out more, my teen crushes were clearly geeky. So anyway, having just seen the cutting-edge ILM wonders of TESB, it was rather unfortunate for Buck that this episode was (for the show) an effects showcase that featured an asteroid field and space battles that in no way compared with those of TESB. In fact, it only heightened the gap between an expensive television show of the time and an Hollywood blockbuster- nowadays its not as big a gap as you’d remember it was back then- back in the 1970s, you could drive an AT AT through that gap sideways. I had a hard time even sitting through it whilst my mind was still reeling from the latest adventures of Luke Skywalker and co. and that kinetic asteroid field sequence that was, ahem, decidedly rather static in Buck Rogers.
Poor Universal Heartland (I think it was them that handled the effects for those shows, if I remember rightly). They didn’t stand a chance against ILM. It’d be like pitting C-3PO against that robot in the new Lost in Space, old Goldenrod would be in bits before he could screech “oh my!”
But its funny, the other episodes of season one would come and go and be largely forgotten, but I never forgot watching that particular episode that suffered from that unfair comparison.
That being said… those glossy 1970s sets and skin-tight costumes and those jokes… the show hasn’t aged particularly well and it really does remind me of how far television genre shows have progressed in the years since. In that respect, its a fascinating watch just to see how much has changed. But fair play to the producers, making a sci-fi show back then with optical effects on a television budget and schedule was no mean undertaking, especially when such space stuff was still largely considered hokey and for the kids. From the somewhat scary vantage point of the year 2018, there is something pretty endearing about old genre shows like this one.
Well, I never watched it for the effects or deeply thought-provoking plots back then anyway. I was watching it for Wilma, and she never disappointed. Erin Gray was like something from another planet to a Black Country boy in 1980- and I don’t mean like one of those pod things from Invasion of the body Snatchers. Here’s a curious piece of trivia (and if its not true, I don’t care) – she actually auditioned for the role of Captain Janeway for Star Trek: Voyager and obviously didn’t get the part due to somebody’s reckless oversight. So there’s an alternate universe out there where Star Trek: Voyager is my favourite Star Trek show…