Monday, September 25, 2017

The Muir Cave


So, on top of everything else that has been taking my attention since summer 2017, my entire family has been working on a rec-room for the past several months. 

In short, we have converted our garage into a gaming and play "cave" for the entire family.

Today, I wanted to share a look at the room with you.  



Joel, Kathryn and I decided on the decor together  -- we went with movies (and primarily Godzilla movies) -- and my incredible and handy parents put down a new floor, and built a gorgeous bar, where we can eat our meals and watch TV.


Behind the wall-sized curtain is a garage-door length green screen, for occasions when Joel and his friends want to shoot gaming videos.


My main contribution to the room, honestly, was figuring out how to get everything hooked up to the wall-mounted TV for easy viewing and gaming.  

Our gaming "system" is currently outfitted to play XBox 360, WiiU, Playstation 4, Retropie, Playstation 2, GameCube, and Blu Rays without unplugging anything.



We still have a few posters on the way (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and another Godzilla one), but let me just say that since we finished this room a week or so ago, our whole viewing experience has been revolutionized.

Welcome to the Muir Cave!  And as you can see our cats have already started moving in...





Cult-TV Theme Watch: Dungeons


A dungeon is a subterranean jail cell, and is sometimes referred to as a keep or stronghold. Often times, one will find this underground prison in a medieval castle.

In science fiction or cult-TV history, however, dungeons might be found all over the universe, and across all different time periods as well.

One of the most unforgettable TV dungeons appears in a Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode titled "The Howling Man."  


In this haunting tale, a traveler in Europe happens upon an old monastery, and stays the night there when he falls ill. During the dark, lonely hours of night, the visitor hears a strange howling emanating from the dungeon. There, a stranger is locked up...begging to be released.  The stranger, however, is a sinister sort, and his continued presence in this dungeon is a necessity if the human race is to prosper and know peace.


Although set in the 23rd century, Star Trek (1966-1969) features many dungeons out there, on the final frontier. In the first season story, "The Return of the Archons," for instance, hooded Lawgivers (the servants of a "God" known as Landru) throw Kirk's landing party in a dungeon to wait until they become assimilated into "The Body."

In a second season story, "Catspaw," Kirk, Spock and McCoy end up chained in a dungeon, in a witch's castle, on a distant world. It is guarded, of course, by a giant black cat (in keeping with the Halloween-styled imagery).


The Space:1999 (1975-1977) story "Journey to Where" ends in a dungeon. A time travel mistake sends Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Captain Alan Carter back to Earth, but during the battle of Bannockburn in the 1310's. The Alphans are captured, held in a dungeon, and nearly burned alive before Maya discerns a method of returning them to the errant moon.

A dungeon of sorts is featured in The X-Files (1993-2002) episode "Alone," which sees Doggett (Robert Patrick) in pursuit of a murderous lizard-man. He discovers that the lizard man's victims end up in a subterranean tunnel -- or dungeon -- to be eaten alive.


Of course, Game of Thrones (2011 - ) features dungeons on a semi-regular basis, whether to house dragons, or the bones of Stark kin, and ancestors.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Dungeons

1

2

3

4
5

6

7

8

9
10

11

12

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Run Joe Run (1974): "Six Seals, Two Whales, and a Dog"


This week, I’m looking at the second of two Run Joe Run (1974-1976) episodes available on YouTube. 

To briefly recap what I wrote last week, the Saturday morning variation on The Fugitive (1963-1967) -- featuring a dog as the protagonist -- has never had a proper DVD, VHS, or streaming release. I fear such a release is unlikely, as the series is over forty years old at this point.

The episode featured this week is “Six Seals, Two Whales, and a Dog.” It is the eighth half-hour long episode of the NBC series.  In it, our runaway, hunted dog, Joe, ends up an amusement park and befriends a boy named Todd. Todd’s father works at the amusement park, training dolphins for a Sea World-type aquatic show.


Todd renames Joe “Runner,” and wants to keep him. Unfortunately, a security guard encounters Joe, and fears that the dog may be dangerous. He asks a local shelter about Joe, and learns that the dog is wanted by the authorities, with a price on his head.  

Sgt. Corey (Arch Whiting) arrives, just as Joe is performing in the dolphin show (jumping through fire hoops).  Joe flees the show, and continues on his journey, while Todd plans to get a new dog to feature in the dolphin show.


Like last week’s episode, “Homecoming,” this episode of Run Joe Run is told largely through images and music, but with very little dialogue. And, again, Joe experiences three flashbacks of his time in the military, thereby suggesting that the dog suffers from PTSD.  

In this case, we see the dog being trained to jump, and then trained to jump through a fiery window.  At one point, we see him being trained to walk across a collapsed ladder laying horizontally.

The tone is very different this week from the one we saw in “Homecoming.” This episode is more like a travelogue, as Joe moves from one amusement park attraction to the next, observing. He spends sometime watching tigers being trained, for instance, before moving on to the dolphin show.  This episode is, literally, a dog’s eye view of the world.

As far as familiar elements go, we once more have Joe on the run, befriending a child, and authorities warning a nice family about him. 

This warning facilitates the fugitive’s departure. Intriguingly, Corey and Joe lay eyes on each other in this episode, sharing the same (dolphin show) stage, before Joe runs off.

Although the tone this week is not as dark as we saw previously, the final narration of the episode again hammers home Joe’s isolation and sadness. “For a moment, Joe thought he might have found a new life…

Man, that’s sad.  

Someone needs to give this German shepherd some love. Preferably with an official DVD release, so those of us who were kids in the 1970’s can see Joe run once again.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "Today I am a Firefly"


In “Today I am a Firefly,” Sparky (Billy Barty) attempts his first solo flight, and fails. The Bugaloos attempt to cheer him up, but he decides to run away from home.

While the Bugaloos deal with this crisis, Benita Bizarre’s (Martha Raye) minions accidentally break her favorite music box.  They also manage to set their zapper to a “shrink” setting.  Suddenly, they have the perfect way to rectify their crisis.

They shrink the Bugaloos and force them to play music for Benita inside the music box.

Fortunately, Nutty Bird is able to inform Sparky about Benita’s capture of the Bugaloos, and he’s off to the rescue



Alas, there’s no new song in this week’s episode of The Bugaloos to enliven the proceedings.

Instead, audiences get the high-concept of the week: a shrink device. This shrink ray -- the zapper gone haywire -- is essentially an early version of the device we see in the Kroffts’ Dr. Shrinker (1976).

Indeed, the shrinking effects are achieved through the same technique in both series: chroma key.

The plot of the week involves Sparky, once more, making trouble. He fails badly on his first flight, and runs away. Fortunately, he saves the day because when he returns to the forest he learns what has happened to the Bugaloos.

And what has happened?

Benita’s minions have captured and shrunken the group to perform inside Benita’s favorite music box, which the minions accidentally broke.

The episode also ends with a familiar twist. The weapon of the villain (in this case the shrink ray), is turned don that villain. So we end, here with a “bitsy Benita.”

Next week “The Bugaloo Bugaboo.”


Friday, September 22, 2017

Buck Rogers Week: "The Dorian Secret" (April 16, 1981)


After rescuing a group of colonists from a deadly environmental disaster, the Searcher proceeds to take these settlers to a home on a new, more hospitable planet. 

As the colonists board the craft, a female fugitive, Eleefa (Devon Ericson) joins their numbers.  Buck (Gil Gerard) sees that she is pursued by a squad of masked Dorians, and helps her escape to Searcher.

En route to the new world, however, the Dorians intercept the Searcher in a massive and imposing dreadnought. 


Their leader, Koldar, claims that the Searcher is harboring a murderer, a treacherous woman, and demands that she be handed over. Buck and the crew of the Searcher understand that the woman would receive no justice from the harsh Dorians, a mysterious, secretive alien race.They refuse to give the woman up.

In response, Koldar utilizes a sadistic weapon -- “thermal intervention” -- against the Searcher and her people, rotating heat beams and freezing beams to discomfort and agitate the non-compliant humans.


Soon, the colonists grew desperate, and vote to hand-over Eleefa to the Dorians.  An angry Buck boards their ship, to argue for her release, following this decision.

In doing so, Buck learns much more about the origin behind the old saying, “dark as a Dorian secret.” 

After negotiating with Koldar, Buck returns to the Searcher and admonishes the human colonists for the darkness in their souls, which permitted them to turn an innocent woman over to the harsh aliens  If they are to start a new life on a new world, Buck tells them, they will need to reflect on their irrational behavior.


“The Dorian Secret” is the very last episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981), though -- in keeping with cult-TV formats of the day -- it does not provide closure for the series’ premise.  

Instead, this is a standalone adventure that boasts some qualities in common with The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”  That famous tale from Rod Serling concerned prejudice, the mob mentality, and the ways that humans can, in a crisis, succumb to irrational fear.  Similar forces are clearly at work in “The Dorian Secret.”

This is one of the better installments of the second season, for a few reasons. First, as I indicated above, “The Dorian Secret” serves as a social commentary about human nature. The colonists featured in the tale are so concerned with their own survival that they are willing to sentence an innocent woman to torture and death. 


They are selfish, short-sighted, and accordingly, very realistic.  

In short order, they are able to convince themselves that the fugitive isn’t really their problem, and that it is okay to return her to her people, the harsh Dorians. They rationalize their fear, and their behavior, and are not accountable for their actions.  We thus see them, and ourselves, clearly.  We get a little uncomfortable, the episode tells us, and we’re willing to do anything, even throw a living being under the proverbial bus, to become comfortable again.

The second aspect of “The Dorian Secret’s” social commentary returns to a theme we saw in the best episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: “The Plot to Kill a City.”  

In that excellent first season entry, a masked alien named Varek gave his life to stop a nuclear disaster near New Chicago, so that Earth would not suffer the aftermath (again) that deformed, demoralized, and mostly destroyed his own people, on his planet.

“The Dorian Secret” similarly features masked aliens -- a whole race of them, in fact.  In this case, it is Dorian Law that no mirrors or reflecting surfaces should be allowed on their home world. Similarly, Dorian citizens must never be allowed in public without their face masks on. The Dorians rigorously adhere to this custom, and don’t accept meddling from strangers, or aliens.


At story’s end, we learn the reason why: after a nuclear holocaust, all surviving Dorians came to look…identical. 

In the bizarre finale, the Dorian bridge crew unmasks before Buck, and the same actor plays all of the crew, including Koldar (who is voiced by Walker Edmiston). Koldar discusses the terror and agony of the knowledge that “every face” encountered is a “mirror image of your own.”  

The Dorians have no real visual identity. Inside, they are different people. But on the outside, they may as well be clones.

This revelation is quite a surprise, and somewhat effective. The unmasking scene loses some impact because, let’s face it, a face can look different for a few reasons: facial hair, haircut, and even age.  Every Darian we see on the bridge, including Koldar, is exactly the same age. Koldar should look twenty to thirty years older than at least some of his crew members. At least he wears a different, slicked-back hair-style.

Still, the final moments of “The Dorian Secret” pack a decent punch. Buck sternly lectures the colonists about their behavior, and it’s is clear he is angry. He has just had a lesson not only in Dorian nature, but in human nature, and this is a somber and sobering note to end the episode -- and the series -- on.  

I love that Buck is a character who doesn’t have to obey an enforced system of rules (like Starfleet protocols) and can, without fear of reprisal, show his distaste for people he finds, well, distasteful.

I readily admit my bias in cult-television programming: I would rather watch a show that is about something -- even if it fails to hit on all thrusters -- than watch an empty show that doesn’t really mean anything, but “entertains.” Some fans have considered “The Dorian Secret” heavy-handed, preachy, or obvious, and at moments, the installment is indeed all of those things. 

And I’ll still take it, warts and all, over empty-headed escapism like “Vegas in Space” or “Twiki is Missing.”

“The Dorian Secret” is an attempt, at least, for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century to live up to the grand tradition of series such as The Twilight Zone or Star Trek. In its exploration of the alien, the episode works to excavate some quality of life here on Earth. 

I would have loved to see how the series’ makers learned lessons from this episode, and grew better and stronger in delivering this kind of tale.

Unfortunately, “The Dorian Secret” was an end, not a new beginning.


Buck Rogers Week 2017: "The Hand of the Goral" (March 26, 1981)


In “The Hand of the Goral,” a shuttle carrying Buck (Gil Gerard) and Hawk (Thom Christopher), and a Starfighter piloted by Colonel Deering (Erin Gray) explores a habitable planet.

On the surface of that mysterious planet, the crew finds the wreckage of a ship, and an injured survivor, named Reardon (Peter Kastner).

Meanwhile, Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) has discovered that the planet is called “Vordeeth,” meaning “The Planet of Death.”  

Ten thousand years ago, the world was inhabited by a race called the Goral, but they undertook a mass exodus, and the planet was abandoned.

Following some strange and inexplicable events on the planet surface, Hawk and Buck follow Wilma back to the Searcher.

There, they find the crew-members strangely altered.  Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner) has become a raging tyrant, Crichton has become friendly and appreciative of humans, and Twiki is a grumbly, resentful sort.

With Asimov threatening to kill and torture crew members, Buck, Hawk and Wilma resolve to return to the planet and figure out what has happened, but their escape won’t be easy. 

Buck realizes that all the crew members are duplicates meant to trick them, and proceeds to the planet below, only to be confronted with a being (John Fujioka) who promises him great riches if he cans solve the riddle of the Goral.



I suppose that I tend to go easier on the second season of Buck Rogers than many fans did in the early 1980s.  The season is not as much fun as the first, but I like the addition of Hawk -- a solid “resident” alien character -- and feel that some of the stories were compelling.  I like “The Guardians,” in particular.

“The Hand of the Goral” is not without its problems, but it too would get ranked in the upper tier of second season installments. The idea of a duplicate Searcher, where characters possess altered personalities immediately puts one in mind of Star Trek episodes such as “Mirror, Mirror,” it’s true, but in this case, an alternate universe is not at work.

Rather, an alien games-player, or “tester,” the titular hand of the Goral, is responsible. He was left behind by his people to protect the planet from intruders, and determine their worthiness to receive the wisdom and riches of the Goral.  He refers to the strange duplicates as “simulacra,” and certainly his powers are fierce.




There have been many attempts in science fiction stories to tell stories in which protagonists encounter duplicate versions of the habitat, and must determine if it is real or not. On Star Trek, Kirk was confronted with a complete mock-up of the Enterprise in “The Mark of Gideon.”  The Alphans encountered a duplicate of their moon base in Space:1999’s “One Moment of Humanity,” and here Buck, Hawk and Wilma visit a duplicate Searcher, replete with a crew of simulacra. At least in this case, it is made clear that the hand of Goral possesses incredible powers and energy stores by which to create these settings and characters.

It’s intriguing to meet the Searcher crew recreated as “imperfect fakes.” Asimov is a dictator, Crichton is nice, and Wilma suddenly is all clingy and frightened.  It’s not they are “evil” parallel versions, just versions that are off, and require deciphering on Buck’s part. 

Overall “The Hand of the Goral” is tense, keeps one guessing, and doesn’t rely on a ridiculous premise (see: “The Golden Man”) to sell its story.  I love stories about mysterious planets, or planets “of death,” with their ancient, inscrutable mysteries.

“The Hand of the Goral” may not be terribly original, but it possesses a creepy vibe, and a sense that an unseen force is manipulating reality itself.  In a not always successful second season, those qualities are enough to make the episode stand out from the pack.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Buck Rogers Week 2017: "The Satyr" (March 12, 1981)



"There are strange viruses here on this planet."

- Cyra (Anne E. Curry) warns Buck about the dangers of Arcanus in "The Satyr."

One of the real bright spots of Buck Rogers' abbreviated second season in 1981 remains the episode titled "The Satyr" written by Paul and Margaret Schneider and directed by Victor French.

On first glance, however, this development seems unexpected since the episode's storyline stems from a long-standing and ubiquitous sci-fi TV trope: "the single mother in jeopardy."

In this all-too-familiar genre TV chestnut, a series protagonist encounters a lovely single mother and her child (usually a son) who are being menaced by some malevolent outside force.  The series hero then becomes a stand-in husband/father to the duo, defeats the menace, and -- in a heartbreaking moment -- must say farewell to his new family so that he may continue his episodic adventures romantically unimpeded.

Examples of the "single mother in jeopardy" convention can be found on the original Battlestar Galactica (1978 - 1979) in "The Lost Warrior," where the convention is played well as a variation on Shane (1953) and as a commentary on gun control, in V: The Series as "The Wildcats" (wherein Marc Singer's Mike Donovan steps in to save a Mom and her daughter from the Visitors), and on MacGyver, "To Be a Man," which featured the late Persis Khambatta as Zia, the single mother in jeopardy from Russian military forces.


In Buck Rogers': "The Satyr," Captain Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) explores the planet Arcanus, the site of a failed Earth colony while the star ship Searcher is away for ten days on a mission to "sweep" an asteroid belt.

On the planet surface, Buck soon meets Cyra (Anne E. Curry) and her son, Delph (Bobby Lane), the only two settlers who have remained behind on the planet.  Buck soon discovers that the duo is regularly harassed by Pangor (Dave Cass), a half-man/half-goat or "satyr" who seems obsessed with them.  Buck steps in to battle the violent Pangor, but is bitten by the satyr.

Over a period of days, Buck begins to transform into a satyr himself, a creature obsessed with women and wine...and little else.

After being bitten, Buck learns that Pangor is actually Jason Samos, the founder of the Arcanus colony and Cyra's much-mourned husband.  She has been unable to leave the planet behind because she still feels attached to him, despite Jason's transformation into a rampaging monster.


As I've noted above, the "single mother in jeopardy" cliche has been depicted on television many times, but "The Satyr" illustrates nicely how a science fiction program can explore contemporary issues that "regular" dramatic programs either cannot, or if they do seems too on the nose, like an Afterschool Special.

 Clearly, this episode of the series sub textually concerns alcoholism; and the effect of alcoholism upon the entire family unit.  This subtext and social commentary actually elevates "The Satyr" above its familiar and cliched premise and makes it one of Buck Rogers' finest hours.

In "The Satyr," Cyra and Delph live a relatively happy life, until Dad -- Pangor -- shows up at their home, demanding wine and violently threatening Mom. 


In one well-staged scene, we watch with Delph through an exterior window as, inside the home, Pangor pushes Cyra onto her back (behind the kitchen table), and threatens physical violence.  He wants more wine, you see, even though, as Cyra tells him, "he drank it all the last time."  The subtext here isn't just violence, but sexual violence, at least in terms of the staging/blocking.


What we get in "The Satyr," particularly in this camera view from the outside-in, is the notion of a child dwelling in a terrifying household of alcoholism and domestic violence, and seeing/experiencing things that no child should.  Worse, the P.O.V. suggests isolation and helplessness.

At several points during the episode, Delph is also policed by his mother not to be too conspicuous, so as not to gain the attention of the alcoholic/Satyr.  At one point, Delph plays "flute grass" and at another point he calls out innocently for his Mom.  In both instances he is quickly "hushed" -- "Don't shout!" --  lest the angry man of the household focus his violent attention upon him.  Half the battle is staying off Pangor's radar as he pursues his vices.

Additionally, the boy, Delph, soon sees himself as his mother's defender, eventually fighting the angry Pangor and telling the beast to "leave my mother alone."   In the homes of many alcoholics, it is indeed the child who eventually becomes the protector of the Mom,or other siblings, and who stands-up to the offending drinker.

As for Cyra, she's dramatized in this episode as the traumatized, exhausted victim of sustained domestic abuse.  She hides bruises on her neck from Buck, and, quite understandably, doesn't like "to be touched."  

She also has much trouble letting go of the "good man" who was once her husband, clinging to old photo albums which reveal happier, more romantic days.  Much of the blocking depicts Cyra cowering or retreating.  She is someone who is used to being terrorized and fears being struck.

Cyra also maintains the family home on Arcanus -- despite the danger to herself and her son -- in the misguided belief that somehow Pangor can change.  In fact, Cyra spends her life appeasing the violent satyr.  "If he's supplied with enough [wine]," she informs Buck, "he's content" and leaves the family alone.

At the same time that she must handle Pangor, Cyra worries that the "virus" that affected her husband -- a metaphor for alcoholism -- could affect her son too "when he's a man."  In other words, the cycle of abuse and violence could continue to the next generation.  Yet by keeping Delph on Arcanus, in a terrorized home, Cyra makes it more likely that this will happen to Delph.

This social commentary in "The Satyr" is intriguing by itself, but the episode gains some real unexpected juice and power when Buck actually grows sick with "the virus "and quickly loses his status as the white knight.



Buck sets up house with Cyra and Delph (even teaching the boy to fly his shuttle craft) and then -- just when things are good -- succumbs to the same "virus' and begins to show signs of physical violence like Cyra's previous husband.   In one sequence, Buck tries to hide evidence of his transformation from Delph, ashamed to show his true nature as a "monster" to the boy he clearly cherishes.

Here, the subtext isn't about alcoholism so much as the nature of (some) men in general, and how some women seem to attract these monsters, one after the other. It's something in their individual nature and lack of self-esteem perhaps, and part of a deadly symbiosis involving abuser and victim. '

"The Satyr" tries to make viewers understand why Cyra stays on Arcanus, imperiled by one satyr after the other, and gives us some insight into the mentality of a perpetual victim.  In this case, Cyra just can't let go of the past and the (vain) dream that Pangor could again become the husband she once loved.

Of course, Buck -- as our stalwart series hero -- is able to kick the virus and save the day. Still,  it was pretty daring in terms of 1981-era television to create a metaphor for alcoholism and then see the likable series protagonist succumb to that  "disease."  In visual terms, Buck's horns literally start to come out, as he transforms from man to beast.

I am old enough to remember the promotional materials and interviews for the second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.  The overall promise by the producers was that Buck would become more recognizably and fallibly human, and less the quipping, boogeying, Burt Reynolds-in-space figure of the first season.

Whether or not that promise was fulfilled entirely is up for debate, but certainly "The Satyr" showcases Buck at his most human and interesting.  He exhibits real remorse when he believes he is responsible for the death of Cyra's husband, Jason, and then must battle his growing "dark side" as the satyr virus takes hold.

This episode is also intriguing for the way it ties the myth of the Satyr (a wine loving man/goat) to the alcoholism/domestic violence symbolism, and for the implicit "reason" behind alcoholism provided by the show.

Jason had the "pioneer spirit," you see, and had hoped to turn Arcanus into a "garden of Eden."  When that dream failed, he couldn't handle it...and that's when he first acquired "the virus."  Again, this idea fits our contemporary world well.

What leads people to drink?  Failure?  Tragedy?  Loss?  Desperation? 

All of my commentary on this episode no doubt suggests that "The Satyr" is some labored "message" show about an "important" life lesson (see: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Symbiosis.")  But that's not actually the case at all.

Like the best social commentary in science fiction television (from The Twilight Zone to Star Trek to The X-Files to Buffy), this is an episode that plays ably on two levels.  You can watch it just as a gripping, good adventure, or as a story with a bit more relevance and meaning in our own world.

In other words, the metaphor for alcoholism holds powerfully (right down to the blocking of the actors), but you aren't hit over the head with a "lesson."

At the very least, "The Satyr" adds some much-needed depth to an old TV trope. In this Buck Rogers episode, the single mother was again in dire jeopardy, but it's the nature of  that jeopardy and the source of the jeopardy that make this installment meaningful and unique, even after three decades.

Buck Rogers Week 2017: "Mark of the Saurian" (February 5, 1981)


Just as an armistice has been declared between the Directorate and the Saurian Empire, a group of Saurian nationals masquerade in human form, as Ambassador Cabot (Linden Chiles) and his party.

Cabot and his team board the Searcher, and plot to take the exploratory ship into the “restricted zone” near the Delta Quadrant Defense Station.  The Saurian plan is to secretly seize control of that station, a weapon so powerful it caused their people to seek peace.

Buck (Gil Gerard), suffering from “Cygnus Fever,” is able to detect the Ambassador and his party as they really are: alien infiltrators. 

Although Wilma (Erin Gray) believes Buck’s story, the Searcher crew fears that Rogers is delusional, and even dangerous. They try to keep him in bed, and sedated, while the Saurians seek to stop him.

Meanwhile, Buck attempts to convince his friends that the Saurians are playing the crew for fools…




“Mark of the Saurian” is a solid episode of the second season Buck Rogers (1979-1981) format. Alas, the story also appears regurgitated, almost note for note, from another popular sci-fi series of the disco decade: Space: 1999 (1975-1977).

Fans of that series will certainly remember a Year Two story and two-part episode, called “The Bringers of Wonder.”  There, Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) is injured during an eagle crash, and consigned to Medical Center. While there, he undergoes a head-injury treatment that alters his brainwaves.

At the same time, a ship apparently from Earth, a super swift, nears Moonbase Alpha.  It is manned entirely by friends of the Alphans, including Dr. Shaw, Helena Russell’s (Barbara Bain) mentor. 

But when Koenig awakens, he doesn’t see human friends from Earth, he sees “monsters from another dimension” who are operating by their own malevolent agenda (a plot to detonate the nuclear waste domes on the moon).

Koenig attempts to convince his friends that he is not delusional or hallucinating, but they fear his injury is affecting his mind. He is out of his head, so-to-speak.

The points of similarity between the two stories are suspiciously numerous.

In both cases, we have the protagonist or hero of the show dealing with an injury/sickness. Koenig has a brain injury. Buck suffers from Cygnus Fever.  This is important, because this “condition” is the excuse by which his subordinates fail to heed his warning about enemy infiltrators.

In both cases, one of the key alien infiltrators is a doctor or physician, an individual with access to the sick bay/Medical Center, and so can therefore attempt to harm the sick protagonist.  It was Dr. Shaw in “Bringers of Wonder,” and Dr. Moray in “Mark of the Saurian” who commit this act.  They both seek to stop the one person who can see the invaders as they really are.

In both cases, a man whose word is absolutely dependable is easily questioned because of the prior incident (brain injury/Cygnus fever), leaving that man to have to act alone, without the support of his friends.



In both cases, the aliens with the secret agenda (to detonate the domes; or take over the Delta Quadrant Defense Station) are only outed when the protagonist manipulates an instrument in the control room to alter the conditions of that room and make the aliens visible to shocked co-workers.

In “Bringers of Wonder,” Koenig uses sonic manipulation in Command Center to allow the Alphans to see the “earthlings” as he sees them...as slimy aliens. 

In “Mark of the Saurian,” Buck adjusts the thermostat on the Searcher’s bridge, making it cold.  The Saurians -- who are cold-blooded -- collapse, and when unconscious, appear in their true, reptilian form.

In sci-fi TV, many stories are influenced by older stories.  Many series offer variations on a theme, or on a trope (like “the silicon based life form,” or the “fight to the death.”)  But “Mark of the Saurian” isn’t a variation on a theme so much as it is a straight-up regurgitation of “Bringers of Wonder.”  It is a point-by-point repeat.

That fact established, it’s not a bad episode in the scheme of things. Buck, feeling alone, discovers the two people he can truly count on in a crisis: Wilma and Hawk (Thom Christopher), and the episode helps us glean a sense of those friendships.

On the other hand, some questions are indeed left unanswered.  

How do the Saurians trick Twiki and Crichton into seeing them as human beings? They are robots, after all, not susceptible to a disguise device that depends, apparently, on "body chemistry."



And since when has the Directorate been at war with the Saurians?  And if the Saurians broke the armistice, does that mean the war with the Saurians will resume?

Finally, why is Buck so mean and insulting to his doctor in this episode?  He is the worst patient, ever!

Despite such questions, I enjoy some of the call-backs to Season One in "Mark of the Saurian." These include the re-use of the space station miniature from “Space Vampire,” and the re-use of the Directorate dress uniforms, seen as far back as “Awakening.” Also, the Directorate gets a specific name-check.  


If only we heard a mention of Dr. Huer.

Fans of 1970s electronic toys will also note that Lakeside’s Computer Perfection makes an extended cameo as a view screen control panel in Searcher’s sick bay.  The unmistakable blue and white toy is seen several times at Buck’s bedside, and there are two close-ups of the game’s controls (under a blue hood).



Finally, one might wonder how I can enumerate all the similarities here to Space:1999 and yet still assess this Buck Rogers episode as one of the better second season shows.  

The answer is simple.  By comparison to efforts like “The Golden Man” or “Shgoratchx!"even a retread like “Mark of the Saurians” is a welcome relief.