First aired: 4th November 1977
Bill Bixby – Doctor David Banner
Susan Sullivan- Doctor Elena Marks
Jack Colvin – Jack McGee
Lou Ferrigno – Hulk
Synopsis: Doctor David Banner is grieving. He was a happily married man. There was sadness and joy and laughter and then there was a car accident. Laura was trapped under a car, he couldn’t get her out. The rage and pain has never left him, he dreams about it, well has nightmares about it.
During the day he works with Doctor Elena Marks at the Culver Institute where he tries to answer the question of how some people exhibit moments of super human strength in times of crisis. Mrs Maier and her son BJ were in an almost identical accident, but one where there was that feat of extraordinary strength and Mrs Mair was able to save her son, where David hadn’t saved Laura. There are other stories, other feats of strength and a multitude of different situations.
The team check blood cells, even down to the DNA level, finding a mutation that all of the people they have studied have, even David. The difference ends up being levels of gamma rays in the atmosphere during sunspot activity. At this point David decides to add that missing ingredient to himself using the Culver Institute’s radiation emitter. He tries a burst of what he imagines is 300,000 units, but what he doesn’t know is that it’s closer to 1,900,000 units (it’s never made that clear what unit of measurement they are using) and he is bombarded with gamma radiation. Without any immediate effect, David drives home in the rain, full of disappointment. There’s a storm brewing and it hits while he is on the road. The tyre bursts and in the pouring rain, David has to replace the tyre, he’s raw and angry as he does so. It builds to an emotional crescendo until he hurts himself on the wheel. His eyes drain of colour, he body swells, the skin turning a shade of green. His clothes tear as the body they are covering grows far too big for them. This new, huge creature who was David is full of rage and demolishes David’s car, eventually throwing the car off the road.
Morning comes and this beast that David has become comes across a young girl fishing. Seeing the creature, the girl gets into a boat and tries to get away, but falls in and the creature knocks over a tree and tries to use it to get the girl to safety. The girl’s father arrives and seeing the scene before him uses his rifle to shoot at the creature. The creature walks over, grabs the rifle and smashes it to pieces and throws the father into the water, where ironically he can do the job the creature was trying to do and save the little girl. Walking back, exhausted the creature falls to the floor and looks into a puddle and sees his face slowly change back into David Banner, who had no idea of anything that happened after the flat tyre. He goes to Elena and tells her the parts of the story he remembers. Elena tends the bullet wound that David can’t remember getting, but notes that it looks days old already.
The pair go to work, narrowly avoiding persistent journalist Jack Magee who is sniffing around for a story. He’s been looking into it more, sensing something unknown. David and Elena, try to recreate the event under lab conditions, but nothing happens. After a wasted day, David sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber they were using to recreate that night. David has a nightmare, the same nightmare and during that nightmare, his eyes go white.
He becomes the creature again, who rails again the iron walls of the hyberbaric chamber, breaking out as Elena dictates what is happening rather than (as SuperSam who watched it with me suggested) running away. She is face to face with the creature, but she knows him to be David and she talks to him calmly until he calms and once again becomes an exhausted David Banner. The pair realise that rage is also a common factor and that if David gets angry he could change again.
After being questioned by the police over his car being found, David is then confronted with Jack Magee, who relates the story of the man and his daughter ‘attacked’ by this creature he refers to as a Hulk. Sent away with the warning “Don’t make me angry Mr Magee, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” Magee returns that night and beaks into the Institute. He hides in a chemical supply closet, spilling just enough stuff by accident to cause a chemical fire. He is found and David takes him outside, whilst that happens the fire spreads, putting Elena in danger. David runs inside,is trapped by the fire, changes and the Hulk carries Elena’s body out. She dies in the creatures arms, declaring the love for David that anyone could see was always there.
Later and the story is published that the Hulk killed two scientists, Dr David Banner and Dr Elena Marks. David is alive, but must leave with everyone thinking he is dead.
“And he must allow the world to believe he is dead, until he can tame the raging spirit within.”
Notes: In the 1970’s Marvel made several attempts to turn their comics properties into live action television. The only real success they ever had was this one. This is not the comics version, so much was changed to accommodate a TV budget and a more real world setting, so this isn’t really the Hulk as the more comics-centred fans would recognise. So this show had to stand very much on it’s own merits. And to be honest it does. The supporting cast does very well with Susan Sullivan playing the best friend who has been in love with the lead for many years. Colvin is also well cast as the slightly sleazy reporter who is right about the story, but goes about things in a very underhanded way. But this was always going to stand on the twin leads. Ferrigno is huge, towering over the rest of the cast, buried under a wig and prosthetics and devoid of dialogue, he has to convey emotion simply with growls and roars, but he does manage it quite well. But the star of the show is Bill Bixby. Bill’s David Banner is charming, funny and yet straining against the rage and pain he is carrying. His story is compelling and you find yourself rooting for him almost from the get go.
There are questions, such as why he his able to just experiments on himself, or why the Institute is funding this vanity project. But they are minor and don’t detract from enjoyment of this episode, which sets up the show in an almost perfect fashion. The pace is 70’s slow, but that gives you a chance to really get into the characters and in particular the relationship between David and Elena, which is the beating heart of the story, rather than the lost wife, who we only see in a cheesy flashback montage.
I have fond memories of this show from when I was younger and so was apprehensive about watching it again, so I decided to share it with SuperSam who is more familiar with the more recent CGI heavy versions. I wasn’t sure how well it would look to someone without that nostalgic feeling. To be honest he loved it, having no problems with the slower pace and less than special effects and it reminded me that this show is as good as it ever was.
Does it work? Yes, the changes made served to make this show work and the program works incredibly well.
Does much need fixing? Not really, the status quo is set up nicely and allows the show all kinds of different options.
Does it stand up? Despite being over 40 years old, this stands up for new and old audiences.
Do I want to watch the next one? I did, but don’t have the DVDs.
Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, as did SuperSam.
Overall: 5 out of 5 this is how you do a pilot, we have character plot and everything you need in here and was very glad to have an excuse to watch this again.