Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Some people remember Buck Rogers from short stories, comics, radio, or serials, but I remember him from the late 70’s and early 80’s television show, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. That’s how I was first introduced to the character and I know there’s a long history and different adaptations of this hero throughout the years, but what I like to talk about now is the campy sci-fi hit TV show starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray.
About a year ago, I bought the complete series of Buck Rogers on DVD and relived all those great moments I saw as a kid. After watching the whole series, it still delivers for me. Yes, it’s very campy and cheesy, but that’s what I love about it. It also has some good science-fiction stories and has a great cast. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the series, which started off as a feature film that debut in theaters in March of 1979. At the time, I didn’t remember this film being out in theaters, I just remember it being on TV. Later that year in September, it became a full series on NBC that lasted only two seasons. Since the release of Star Wars in 1977, everyone was on the sci-fi kick and there were plenty of sci-fi movies and TV shows, with Buck Rogers being one of them.
Being a Star Wars fan myself, I often watched other sci-fi material. Once Buck Rogers hit the airwaves I was hooked. This version of the space hero has Rogers (played by Gerard) as a NASA space pilot set in 1987. He is launched into space on a mission, but something goes wrong. Rogers ends up getting frozen in his ship and drifts through time, all the way to the 25th century. There’s a cool scene in the opening credits to the film, where it has Buck laying asleep on a white platform where a sexy woman after another is displayed and makes out with Bucks as he’s in a coma while the main song, Suspension by Kipp Lennon is played over it. The scene very much reminds me of a James Bond type of opening, but in space, Moonraker anyone?
The feature film sets up the story for the whole series. Rogers is picked up and waken by Draconians, who are lead by Princess Ardala (played by Pamela Hensley) and along with her aid, Kane (played by Henry Silva in the film and Michael Ansara in the series). Buck thinks he’s still in his own time while Ardala and Kane believe he’s a spy sent from their enemies on Earth. They send Rogers back on his ship to Earth where the planet now has a shield around it where if intruders try to invade they are fried. Buck is actually let into the planet and taken into custody. There he learns that it’s the year 2491 and most of Earth has been destroyed from a nuclear holocaust centuries ago and the planet is still rebuilding.
Buck is introduced to the central characters of the series, Captain Wilma Deering (played by Erin Gray) Dr. Huer (played by Tim O’Connor) and a small robot or ambuquad called Twiki (played by Felix Silla) and Dr. Theopolis which is a computer that is carried around by the robot. Since the popularity of the droids from Star Wars, Twiki was Buck Rogers answer to C-3PO and R2-D2. The voice of Twiki is the legendary Mel Blanc, who voiced thousands of different cartoon characters over the years and Eric Server did voice for Dr. Theo. Rogers eventually joins Earth of the 25th century and fights along side them.
During the first season, Buck tries to fit in and often feels out of place. He always throws out slang from his time, but the people of Earth from the 20th century just don’t understand him. I guess they don’t have slang in the future. Often homesick but never really all that lonely, Buck often scores with plenty of women, from Earth and other planets. The first season was very light hearted and had a feel good vibe to it. Buck would often throw out a lot of wise cracks and there were a lot of 70’s influenced things in the future such as clothes, hairstyles, music, and discos.
Although with all the campiness, there were many entertaining and well-written episodes through out the season. Some episodes that stand out are The Plot to Kill a City, Unchained Woman, Planet of the Amazon Women, Space Vampire, Happy Birthday Buck, A Dream of Jennifer, and Space Rockers, just to name a few.
Gerard holds his own as the space hero from another time. He’s very likable as the character and very cool as a cross between Han Solo and James Bond. Also who could forget Erin Gray and Pamela Hensley, I had huge crushes on them back in the day. They were a great part of the show playing their characters very well and being sexy at the same time.
The second season, which had a late start (January 1981) due to an actor’s strike that delayed production, was very different from the first season. One, the series took place on a ship called the Searcher, where Buck, Wilma, and Twiki were on a mission to seek out the lost tribes of humanity that have been missing since the nuclear holocaust. Being on a ship, it had a Star Trek feel to it now. The new season also added some new characters and were missing a few old ones. The new additions were Hawk (played by Thom Christopher) who was the last of the bird people who ended up joining Buck and others to help him find more of his kind. Admiral Efram Asimov (played Jay Garner), who was ahead of the Searcher, the ship’s doctor, Goodfellow (played by Wilfrid Hyde-White), and another robot named Crichton. Absent from the series were Dr. Huer, Princess Ardala, Kane, and Dr. Theo who use to be carried around by Twiki. Also, a character I forgot to mention before, Tigerman, who was Ardala’s bodyguard in the film and the series, was gone as well.
This season was also a little less campy and lighthearted. The episodes had a more serious tone and Buck didn’t make that many wisecracks. Another change that really bothered me was the voice of Twiki. Mel Blanc didn’t do the voice for the robot in the beginning of the second season, but did return toward the end. I noticed that Twiki didn’t say much with the other actor narrating and waited until Blanc was available again to have him speak more.
Episodes that stood out for this season were, Time of the Hawk, The Guardians, Mark of the Saurin, The Crystals, The Satyr, The Hand of Goral, Testimony of a Traitor, and The Dorian Secret. Both seasons had some great guest stars such as, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jack Palance, Roddy McDowall, Julie Newmar, Frank Groshin, Vera Miles, Gary Coleman, Sid Haig, Dennis Haysbert, Dorothy Stratten, plus countless others.
Just like Star Wars, Buck Rogers hit the merchandise crazy train. Everything from t-shirts, posters, books, and toys, toys, toys! Mego had a great line of Buck Roger toys, from action figures to 12” dolls to toy spaceships and play sets, they had it covered. I had a bunch of the action figures, which included Buck, Twiki, Tigerman, Kane, Dr. Huer, and probably a few others. I also had the 12” doll of Buck Rogers and a play set that had miniature spaceships and a base from the series. Colorforms also put out a Buck Rogers set which I have and I even collected the first issues of the comic book that was released by Whitman Comics or Gold Key.
Sadly, the series was canceled after two seasons like many sci-fi shows. I’m very grateful that the show is on DVD and also the series is available on different television station and on the web. Some people can relive it or watch it for the first time ever. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was a great TV series and for me, still stands today and will always be a very entertainment science fiction program during the post Star Wars time.