First aired: 20th September 1979
Gil Gerard – Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers
Erin Gray – Colonel Wilma Deering
Tim O’Connor – Doctor Elias Huer
Pamela Hensley – Princess Ardala
Henry Silva – Kane
Felix Silla – Twikki
Duke Butler – Tigerman
Mel Blanc – Voice of Twikki
Eric Server – Voice of Doctor Theopolis
Synopsis: After a voiceover narration, we open on the spaceshuttle Ranger 2 which left on a long distance space flight in 1987. The pilot is William ‘Buck’ Rogers, whose life support system malfunctioned and froze him and the shuttle has been adrift for 504 years. It is now the year 2491 and the shuttle has drifted into the path of the Draconia, a space fortress of the Draconian Empire, under the command of Princess Ardala. Ardala’s aide Kane orders the shuttle brought aboard. Buck is revived, groggy and full of head pain. Kane suspects he is a spy, but gives him pain relief anyway. Kane and Ardala speak to Buck, who is high as a kite from the painkillers and not making much sense. Kane has him placed back on the shuttle with a tracking device installed and sends him back on his way to Earth, hoping to learn the route through the planetary defense shield that Earth employs. Buck is quite happy with all this, with alien ships and princesses leaving him convinced it’s all a dream.
Buck’s shuttle nears Earth and he radios in, not much making sense to either Earth’s defense forces, or Buck himself. This is only made worse by a squadron of starfighters dispatched to bring him in. The lead pilot is Colonel Wilma Deering, who orders Buck to land based on their vectors, under pain of vaporisation. He lands safely enough, but his is quickly arrested.
He has landed in the city of New Chicago, an underground city built in the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust 5 centuries earlier. Buck is placed in a holding cell and introduced to Dr Huer, working for the Earth Directorate, who run things under the command of a computerised council. Huer hands supervision of Buck off to Dr Theopolis, one of the council, who is a dinner-plate sized coin-like disk with a light up face and carried around by Twikki a robot aide, who is clearly subservient to Dr Theopolis. Everything is explained to Buck, the fact he’s been gone for 504 years, the loss of the world that was and the realities of life in New Chicago. He is questioned, but Theopolis believes he is telling the truth, but Wilma is convinced he’s lying.
After the shock of his new circumstance, Buck wants to know more about this holocaust and about the Draconians and their intentions.
The next morning, Buck visits the old city of Chicago, now known as Anarchia. He is joined by Dr Theopolis and Twikki. They wander the city, followed by the descendants of those who survived the holocaust and live in this arid radioactive landscape. Chased by the locals, Buck finds himself near where his family lived and in a graveyard, finds his family’s graves. It hits him, all that he has lost. the Anarchians attack, keen to strip Twikki and Theo for parts. Buck takes several of them out, but there are too many. Before they are overwhelmed, Wilma and several of her men arrive to run off the Anarchians and bring the trio back to New Chicago. Wilma is furious at Buck’s actions.
It gets worse, Dr Huer finds the tracking device in the shuttle and it looks like Buck is a spy. There is a brief trial by computers, with only Dr Theopolis on Buck’s side. The verdict is guilty, the sentence is death. The death sentence is commuted, the idea being that he can prove that he is innocent, whilst giving the Earth Directorate a look at the Draconia.
Earth’s fighters arrive at the Draconia and Buck meets the princess again, but she denies meeting him before. Then pirates attack, making the Draconians look more innocent. There is a dogfight, during which all of the Earth’s fighters are destroyed, due to their relying on their combat computers. Wilma and Buck survive, with Buck destroying all of the pirate fighters.
Buck is invited the banquet, welcoming the Draconian’s trade delegation, at the request of the apparently grateful Princess Ardala. Buck is suspicious, but need to keep Ardala sweet in order to find out what’s going on. He asks Theo to get him something for a headache, then Twikki gets him a rose and he charms Ardala to the dancefloor. Unimpressed with the dancing of the 25th century, Buck convinces the band to play something a bit more recognizable. He calls it rock and roll, but looks a lot more disco to me. He swings himself an invite to the Draconia with Ardala who is practically panting for him. Huer and Wilma (who earlier made a pass at Buck and didn’t get very far) are convinced that this confirms Buck’s guilt. Theo and Twikki however are following Buck to help him.
In Ardala’s quarters, Buck drugs Ardala to knock her out, using the pain-killers that Theo provided and sneaks out. He doesn’t get very far and has to battle Tigerman, the Princess’ bodyguard. The pair fight and Buck stuns Tigerman, leaving him in bed with Ardala. After dressing up as a guard, he then visits the hangar and finds the pirate ships that are actually Draconian bombers. Realising that the recent pirate attacks have been staged to make a trade deal with Draconians seem their only recourse, Buck assumes that an attack will soon follow and starts sabotaging the bombers, but putting live missiles in their engines. Twikki and Theo confront Buck, believing he is the spy, but is convinced of what he is doing and they go to find communication gear to warn Earth, since Buck’s actions have accelerated their invasion plans.
Warned by Theo, Wilma’s fighters head to intercept and engage several of the bombers, so most of them explode as they leave the Draconia. Wilma’s squadron concentrate on the main ship, causing so much damage that Kane gets Ardala to evacuate and the pair escape, bickering and blaming one another as they go. Wilma flies into the damaged ship and rescues Buck, Twikki and Theo and they get back to New Chicago.
Back home, Buck gets an apartment, which he promptly decorates in his own style, with faces on the walls, recovered furniture. Wilma and Huer visit, offering a job to Buck to help out with oncoming threats, he’s an unknown and that could be useful. Scared to put down roots, after losing everything already, Buck is not interested. Wilma and Huer agree, but in that ‘you will see things our way soon’ sort of manner.
Notes: Buck Rogers is a character that goes back to the pulp era of the 1930s at least. He’s been on screen before as well as serials starring Buster Crabb. When Star Wars brought that kind of thing back to the forefront, this is one of the shows that came out of that trend. Produced by the same people as Battlestar Galactica, it shared a lot of the sound effects and some of the visual effects, but if possible added extra cheese.This is not a show to in any way take seriously. It’s space dogfights and alien princesses with cartoon baddies and a friendly robot sidekick.
This is cheesy as hell, with a friendly dollop of disco added to it, it’s Saturday morning serials with a technicolour silliness added on and you know what? That’s okay.
Everyone seems to be having fun here, there’s moments were you can see a smirk almost appearing on several of the cast. Not everyone is great here, Henry Silva is a bit too moustache twirling and Erin Gray as an actress makes a decent model, but in this pilot episode she mainly acts as a straight-laced foil for Gil Gerard’s Buck and does that quite well. Pamela Hemsley is also a bit of welcome relief, filling out a bikini very well and clearly having a ball playing the vampish princess who is very rarely told no. Her scenes with Gerard are some of his better ones, their chemistry fun and charming. The robot characters Twikki and Theo are given a degree of personality, Twikki playing the unappreciated worker and Theo spending a lot of time commenting on how attractive Buck is, I mean seriously he mentions his virtues quite a bit. Too much to be entirely objective. Gil Gerard himself though is a bit wooden in his other scenes, but with lashings of cheese piled on gets through the episode with a saturday afternoon equivalent of a rogueish charm. He’s not given too much to work with and so does a good job here. The action scenes are well handled with silly space ship effects, but the model work is really good and the ship design is striking and memorable. This is not high art and was never really meant to be, it’s Saturday afternoon filler and it’s good Saturday afternoon filler.
Even beside all of the cheese (not that there’s anything wrong with cheese) there’s the attempt to treat the story seriously. Buck is clearly traumatised by losing 504 years and losing everything he has ever known. When asking about the outside world he points out that until he gets there and sees the devastation, it isn’t real. That’s real pathos there. At the end of the episode, his reason for declining the job is that he doesn’t want to put down roots, having lost everything already. That’s reaction to trauma, real consequence to this sort of situation that this show tries to comment on.
So overall this isn’t the best written, the best acted, nor the deepest of shows, but it was a nice bit of 70’s sci fi fun that I could share with my son and that he could appreciate for what it is, fun entertaining television.
Does it work? Yes, there’s a reason Buck Rogers has survived as a property.
Does much need fixing? We may need an actual reason for him to join the team, but nothing beyond that.
Does it stand up? Oh god no, it’s dated terribly and the disco music doesn’t really help with that.
Do I want to watch the next one? Not really, but I wouldn’t object to it.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, this show is family friendly fun.
Overall: 3 out of 5. I am glad that I was able to show this to the next generation.