Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

A few months back, awash in nostalgia, I scooped up the five-disc DVD set of the old NBC series ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’. Starring Gil Gerard as the famed 20th Century test pilot thrown 500 years into the future, the series aired between 1979 and 1981 and featured state-of-the-art visual effects on par with those seen in the hit movie ‘Star Wars’. At least, that’s the way that I remembered it…

After watching the first disc in the set (a set subtitled ‘The Complete Epic Series’), I could see that this show was a lifeboat from the era of Disco – something I hadn’t realized when I was in junior high school. Perspective is a marvelous thing.

The traditional Buck Rogers story (through exposure to a strange mix of gases a 20th Century Earth man is preserved in a state of suspended animation and awakened 500 years in his future, trusted by no one and experiencing no small amount of culture shock) is fairly well translated into a zowee space opera by Glen Larson and crew.

Take for example the dramatic opening narration of each episode:

The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap Ranger 3 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 500 years later.

Side A of the first disc features the two hour ‘theatrical’ television pilot, which actually played at theaters before airing as a television series. The pilot episode blazes with the spectacle of swirling starfighters, a collection of colossal cleavages and state of the art spandex modeling, not to be attempted by amateurs…. (Helloooooo Erin Gray!). It’s also the only time you’ll ever hear the lyrics to the show’s melancholy disco theme song:

Far beyond the world I’ve known, far beyond my time
What am I, who am I, what will I be
Where am I going and what will I see
Searching my mind for some truth to reveal
What thoughts are fantasy, what memories real

Long before this life of mine, long before this time
What was there, who cared to make it begin
Is it forever or will it all end
Searching my past for the things that I’ve seen
Is it my life or just something I dreamed

(Instrumental bit)

Far beyond this world I’ve known, far beyond my time
What kind of world am I going to find
Will it be real or just all in my mind
What am I, who am I, what will I be
Where am I going and what will I see

If the site is still active go download and listen to the full-lyrics version of this song from the sounds section of the Official Gil Gerard Website, run by Rebecca from Woverhampton, West Midlands.

Naturally, the weekly episodes display little of the budget available to the makers of the pilot, but they make up for a lack of production value by stuffing episodes full of famous actors who’d hit dry patches in their careers, hungry for another chance to strut their stuff on camera (and more importantly, to make a bit of money). So far I’ve seen episodes starring Buster Crabbe, Jack Palance, Caesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Peter Graves, Roddy McDowell, a very young Markie Post and a super sexy Jamie Lee Curtis at the beginning of her career. I’d rather not even discuss the episode playing Ray Walston against an incessantly wise-cracking Gary Coleman. Episodes I have queued up and ready to go promise stars like Ann Lockhart, Julie Newmar and a young Jerry Orbach.

For all of you hard sci-fi fans out there, rest assured that science never takes a back seat to the spaceships and skin-tight bodysuits… no, science exits the vehicle entirely and walks a half-mile down to the bus station (with a paper bag over its head), where it sits in the rain for half an hour waiting for a ride to the next town, wondering where it went wrong in signing up for this show in the first place.

With the entire show flying perilously close beneath the radar net of camp comedy it was improbable that the cast would experience any real character development.

Gil Gerard does his best playing the hunky space jock, flying his space fighter in rings around everyone else, getting the women and somehow losing them before the start of the next episode. We twelve year-old fans never wondered about that…

Erin Gray makes repeated attempts to get you to look at her eyes instead of her vacuum-sealed jumpsuit, occasionally employing an especially flyaway hair-do or an uber-shiny lip gloss. Didn’t matter, we still looked at the jumpsuit, and you will too.

Let’s not forget the annoying silver robot Twiki, the kind of funky-chicken-dancing little freak that you’d like to repeatedly back over with a Mack Truck. The only saving grace for this character was that his voice was supplied by legendary voice talent Mel Blanc, of Bugs Bunny fame. The writers used Twiki as an outlet for their rotten puns and juvenile sexual innuendo, which suited us kids just fine (while guaranteeing that we wouldn’t get dates for another eight years of our lives). Annoying as he is, I occasionally find myself wanting to start off sentences with the little robot’s mystifying lead-off “Biggy, Biggy, Biggy…”. I guess it’s how robots clear their throats…. only, in one episode he meets a girl robot who begins all of her sentences “Booty, Booty, Booty”.

Um, yeah.

So, like, I still have five discs to watch in this series (I haven’t even gotten to the part where they meet the guy named ‘Hawk’ who has feathers for hair), but I can tell you right now that if you like science fiction AND tacky television acting, you need to run right down to your local DVD retailer and demand that they sell you ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century : The Complete Epic Series’.

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