Buck Rogers

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BuckRogersDVD.jpg
North American DVD release of the 1979–81 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series. Left to right: Twiki, Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), Capt. Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), and (in background) Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley).

Buck Rogers is the central character of Philip Francis Nowlan's story Armageddon 2419 A.D., which appeared in the August 1928 issue of the pulp magazine Amazing Stories. The full title of most of his appearances in various media is Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In the original novella, Rogers was not known as "Buck" Rogers; the nickname was given to the character when the comic strip first appeared in 1929. The name "Buck Rogers" was taken from an old Western fiction cowboy story scenario, which included characters called "Buck Rogers" and "Tom Mix" and a horse called "Trigger".

Buck Rogers, an American air corps officer, fell into a coma from which he was woken in the 25th century. Together with his comrades, the beautiful Wilma Deering and intrepid Dr. Huer, he struggled to rid the world of evil warlords and "Mongol" hordes.

Contents

Comics, second story, and radio show

In January 1929, under the guidance of John F. Dille, the story was turned into a comic strip that would run for thirty-eight years (1929–1967) and be credited with launching the golden age of the comic strip. It was the first comic strip with a science fiction theme. The first artist to work on Buck Rogers was Dick Calkins, who also wrote the strip after Phil Nowlan's death in 1940.

The launch of the comic strip was followed by the release of the second Buck Rogers novella, The Airlords of Han, which appeared in the March 1929 issue of Amazing Stories. The enemy force in this story, the Han, were later renamed Mongols.

In 1932, the Buck Rogers radio program began, the first science fiction show on radio. It aired four times weekly. The show ran for fifteen years (1932–1947). Matt Crowley, Curtis Arnall, Carl Frank, and John Larkin as Buck Rogers voiced the character at various times.

First movie

John Dille Jr. – the son of John F. Dille, the man behind the Buck Rogers comic strip – starred in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars. This ten-minute film premiered at the 1933–34 World's Fair in Chicago.

Second movie

1939 saw a twelve-part movie serial of Buck Rogers, starring Buster Crabbe who had previously played Flash Gordon along with Constance Moore as the only woman in the film, Lieutenant Wilma Deering, and Jackie Moran as Buddy Wade, a character not seen in the other versions.

This serial marked the only time that Anthony Warde, who had portrayed the top underling in other serials, played the boss villain himself, Killer Kane, a gangster who was also a dictator. The noted serial stuntman David Sharpe also appeared in this film.

Philson Ahn played Prince Tallen, a Saturnian native who befriends Buck Rogers. This is because the plot of the original story was that the Han (Chinese) had conquered North America. However, the other Saturnians are played by Caucasians. There is some racism, in that the workers of the planet Saturn, who are called Zugs, are ugly, dark, hulking brutes (played by Caucasians in makeup) who not only cannot think for themselves but who immediately worship and attend to a catatonically brainwashed Earthman.

The film saved money on special effects by using background shots from the futuristic musical of 1930, Just Imagine, to depict the city of the future. The garishly stenciled walls of Kane's penthouse suite derive from Azura's palace in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, and the mock-ups of the flying machines were derived from the "Strato-Sleds" of the later movie too (those made for the musical had already appeared in the Flash Gordon series).

The serial was later edited as a movie and released in 1953 as Planet Outlaws, and for television in 1965 as Destination Saturn.

First television series

Kem Dibbs and Robert Pastene played Buck Rogers in the first television series (1950–1951). The show was broadcast live, and there are no known recordings.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century film and television series

In 1979, the character was revived and updated for a prime-time television series for NBC Television. The pilot film was initially shown in cinemas in the spring, and good box-office returns led NBC to commission a full series, which started in September 1979 with a modified version of the pilot film. This omitted the death of one character (in order to allow him to return in the series), and added footage in order to help launch the series. The production also made obvious use of recycled props and costumes from Battlestar Galactica. For example, the control sticks used in the starfighters in this series were the same as those used in Battlestar Galactica's Viper craft. The Earth starfighters were Ralph McQuarrie's original vision of the Colonial Vipers.

The new series centered on the character of Captain William Anthony "Buck" Rogers, played by Gil Gerard, a US Air Force pilot who commands Ranger 3, a space shuttle that is launched in 1987. Due to a freak combination of gases, Captain Rogers is frozen in space for 500 years and is revived in the 25th century. There, Captain Rogers learns that the Earth was united following a devastating nuclear war in the late 20th century, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Forces.

The series followed Rogers as he tried to fit (not always successfully) into 25th-century culture. As traceable personal records are nonexistent for him, he is uniquely positioned on top of his considerable pilot and combat skills as well as personal ingenuity in helping Earth Defense foil assorted evil plots to destroy the planet. (In many respects, the new Rogers had more similarities with James Bond or Col. Steve Austin than Nowlan's original character.) Rogers is aided in his adventures by his friend and semi-romantic interest, Lt. Colonel Wilma Deering, played by Erin Gray, and his comic sidekick robot, Twiki, played by the voice of Mel Blanc (who had previously voiced Daffy Duck as Duck Dodgers in spoofs of the early Buck Rogers and other science fiction serials).

Twiki, a very small robot, tended to express himself with the dyspeptic ejaculation "biddi-biddi-biddi" followed by a 20th-century cliché or catchphrase he'd picked up from Buck (although he already knew quite a few by the time he first met Buck). Dr Theopolis, another robot, who consisted of only an illuminated face, was housed in a large medallion worn by Twiki, and was considered one of the planet's scientific leaders. During the first season, Rogers and Deering took their orders from Dr Elias Huer (Tim O'Connor), the head of the Defense Directorate (although some episodes also depicted Huer as the leader of the entire planet).

There were subtle but significant shifts in setting between the pilot and the series. The pilot film depicted human civilization as insular and restricted to a few domed cities (with its capital referred to as the Inner City); travel beyond the Inner City was hazardous, as the rest of the planet was said to be a wasteland inhabited by violent mutants. The series painted a more positive picture of future Earth. The Inner City was renamed New Chicago, and it was established that human civilization had not only spread once again across the planet, but also to the stars. Little reference to barren wastelands was made; in several episodes Buck ventures beyond the dome of New Chicago with no hazards encountered. As opposed to the isolationist planet seen in the film, Earth is shown to be the center of an interstellar human-dominated government (called sometimes "the Federation" and sometimes "the Alliance"), with its capital at New Chicago.

Buck Rogers' best-known nemesis during the first season was the sexy Princess Ardala of Draconia, played by Pamela Hensley, whose insatiable desire was to conquer and possess both the Earth and Rogers.

Although popular with viewers, the first season failed to receive much critical acclaim; it was seen as being too light-hearted and comic book-like for their tastes. One vocal critic of the series was Gil Gerard himself, and the star of the series pushed for more serious storytelling for the show's second year.

Production of the second season was delayed by several months due to an actors' strike. When production resumed in the fall of 1980, the format of the series was changed with Buck, Wilma and Twiki joining the crew of an earth spaceship called the Searcher which, true to its name, was in search of the lost "tribes" of humanity (borrowing themes from the earlier Battlestar Galactica). The characters of Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis, and recurring villain/love interest Princess Ardala were eliminated and replaced by the commander of Seacher, Admiral Efrem Asimov (said to be a descendent of the famous science fiction author, Isaac Asimov, whose Laws of Robotics is quoted in one episode), Hawk - a half-man, half-bird character who somewhat resembles Star Trek's Mr. Spock, Dr. Goodfellow - an eternally curious scientist, and Crichton, a prissy know-it-all robot who Twiki considers his son. Mel Blanc also left the series at the start of the season and another actor began to perform Twiki's voice, much to the dismay of viewers (Blanc came back for the final half of the season).

Gerard was successful in scaling back the humor in the second season in favor of more serious episodes (with a few notable exceptions). Buck and Wilma became more serious characters taking part in plotlines that might have been holdovers from Battlestar: Galactica. One element of the first season that was dropped was giving Buck a different girlfriend every week; although most romantic activity occurred off-screen, the second season firmly established the relationship between Buck and Wilma that had started in the pilot movie but was only hinted at (and at times outright ignored) in the first season.

Viewers did not respond well to this change of pace and with the corresponding ratings drop, the series was cancelled at the end of the strike-abbreviated season, although the ratings were still considered strong by comparison to other series.

The two seasons are so different in tone that Buck Rogers fans tend to consider the two seasons to be two entirely different series. The second season is often spoken about with scorn in science fiction Internet newsgroups and forums, but the recent DVD release has led to a reappraisal.

The show ran for 32 episodes (including a number of two-hour specials) that aired from 1979 to 1981 and was later shown in reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel. A North American DVD set of the complete series was released on November 16, 2004.

According to Erin Gray, her character Lt. Col. Wilma Deering, despite her sexy costumes and somewhat flighty demeanor in some episodes (no pun intended), became a major role model for young girls. She still receives letters from women who entered the military or other fields in part because of the inspiration of Wilma Deering.

Gray also said that she never actually met Eric Server, the actor who provided the voice of Dr. Theopolis, until many years after the series ended when she found herself sitting next to him on an airplane.

Cast

After the decision was made to produce a weekly television series following the success of the movie, it was not certain if Erin Gray would return as Wilma Deering. Juanin Clay was cast in the role as a replacement, but ultimately Gray returned. Clay subsequently played a very Wilma Deering-like character, Major Marla Landers, in the episode "Vegas in Space."

Episodes

Season 1 (1979-1980)

  1. "Awakening" (September 20, 1979) - two-hour episode, a revised version of the theatrical release Buck Rogers in the 25th Century with a different opening credits sequence and additional scenes. Syndicated as a two-part episode. (Note: the theatrical version of the pilot, not the TV version, is included in the 2004 DVD release.)
  2. "Planet of the Slave Girls" (September 27, 1979) - two-hour episode, later syndicated as a two-part episode. In a special appearance, Buster Crabbe, who played Buck Rogers in the original serial, plays Brigadier Gordon, which also refers to his other famous role, Flash Gordon. It also features Jack Palance as the villain.
  3. "Vegas in Space" (October 7, 1979) - Guest star Cesar Romero.
  4. "Plot to Kill a City, Part 1" (October 11, 1979) - Frank Gorshin guest starred, continuing the trend of former "Batman" villain guest stints.
  5. "Plot to Kill a City, Part 2" (October 17, 1979)
  6. "Return of the Fighting 69th" (October 25, 1979) - Guests Peter Graves and Woody Strode.
  7. "Unchained Woman" (November 1, 1979) - Guest starring Jamie Lee Curtis, fresh off of her role in Halloween.
  8. "Planet of the Amazon Women (November 8, 1979)
  9. "Cosmic Wiz Kid" (November 15, 1979) - Guest appearances from Gary Coleman (as the titular whiz kid) and Ray Walston
  10. "Escape from Wedded Bliss" (November 29, 1979) - Guest Pamela Hensley and Anne Jeffreys
  11. "Cruise Ship to the Stars" (December 27, 1979) - Guest starring Trisha Noble and Dorothy Stratten
  12. "Space Vampire" (January 3, 1980)
  13. "Happy Birthday, Buck" (January 10, 1980)
  14. "A Blast for Buck" (January 17, 1980) - this episode takes place prior to "Happy Birthday, Buck" but was aired out of sequence.
  15. "Ardala Returns" (January 27, 1980) - Guest starring Pamela Hensley
  16. "Twiki is Missing" (January 31, 1980)
  17. "Olympiad" (February 7, 1980)
  18. "A Dream of Jennifer" (February 14, 1980) - Guest starring Anne Lockhart. Watch for a young Dennis Haysbert, making only his 3rd television appearance. He appeared in a total of five Buck Rogers episodes, playing a different character each time.
  19. "Space Rockers" (February 21, 1980) - Guest star Jerry Orbach.
  20. "Buck's Duel to the Death" (March 20, 1980)
  21. "Flight of the War Witch" (March 27, 1980) - two-hour episode, later syndicated as a two-part episode. Guest stars included Sam Jaffe and another Batman vet, Julie Newmar. Pamela Hensley makes her final appearance as Ardala.

Season 2 (1981)

  1. "Time of the Hawk" (January 15, 1981) - two-hour episode, later syndicated as a two-part episode.
  2. "Journey to Oasis" (January 22, 1981) - two-hour episode, later syndicated as a two-part episode.
  3. "The Guardians" (January 29, 1981)
  4. "Mark of the Saurian" (February 5, 1981)
  5. "The Golden Man" (February 19, 1981)
  6. "The Crystals" (March 5, 1981)
  7. "The Satyr" (March 12, 1981)
  8. "Shgorapchx!" (March 19, 1981)
  9. "The Hand of Goral" (March 26, 1981)
  10. "Testimony of a Traitor" (April 9, 1981)
  11. "The Dorian Secret" (April 16, 1981)

Books and comics

Two novels were published based upon this series, both by Addison E. Steele. The first was a novelization of the pilot film, while the second, That Man on Beta, was adapted from an unproduced episode script.

Gold Key Comics, meanwhile, published more than a dozen issues of a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century comic book based upon the show. The comic outlived the series by several months.

Buck Rogers games

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Screenshot Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (arcade version)

A Buck Rogers board game was produced in the 1980s. The game was a space-based wargame similar to Risk, in which the players moved playing pieces representing starships around the board trying to eliminate one another.

Buck Rogers also featured in a role playing game from TSR, Inc. and associated books published from 1988-1995. In it the player characters were allied to Buck Rogers and NEO (the New Earth Organisation) in their fight against RAM (a Russian-American corporation based on Mars). The games also extensively featured "gennies" (genetically enhanced organisms). Strategic Simulations, Inc. produced two computer role-playing games based on this setting: Countdown to Doomsday and Matrix Cubed. See Buck Rogers XXVC for more information on the RPG and novels.

Sega released the arcade video game Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom in 1983. The user controls a spaceship that must destroy enemy ships and avoid obstacles; Buck himself is never seen, and its only real connections to Buck Rogers are the use of the name and the outer space setting. Home versions were released for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, Colecovision, Intellivision, and Sega Master System video game systems, and the Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, and ZX Spectrum computers.

Later novels

Numerous novelists have "reinvented" the Buck Rogers mythos over the years, including M.S. Murdock who wrote a trilogy of novels in the early 1990s, and Martin Caidin, who wrote a standalone novel retelling the original story. A series of novels based upon the Buck Rogers role playing game has also been published.

Future adaptations

As of 1997, the film rights for Buck Rogers belonged to the Walt Disney Company, but as of 2004 no new film or TV adaptation has emerged, and it is not known if Disney still owns the rights. An announcement in the summer of 2004 that a new Flash Gordon film was in the planning stages suggests a new Buck Rogers film may follow eventually.

External links

de:Buck Rogers

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