Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Series
Starring Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, Felix Silla, Henry Silva, Tim O’Connor, Mel Blanc, Pamela Hensley, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gary Coleman, Sid Haig, Frank Gorshin, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
A 20th century astronaut is caught in a freak accident in space that sends him back to Earth… 504 years in the future.
It’s easy to sneer and mock at old TV shows from years gone by but if you were a child of the 1970s/1980s then the recent Blu-ray releases of the likes of The A-Team, The Incredible Hulk and Airwolf are pure magic, especially as we can watch them now and point out all of the famous faces that appeared in them every week. Originally broadcast in 1979 and running for two seasons, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was based on the 1920s comic strip character and was, along with Battlestar Galactica, perfectly placed to tap into the post-Star Wars zeitgeist of the late 1970s, giving the kids desperate for more space adventures a new story every week and the adults a bit of scantily clad space-age eye candy.
The original idea for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was to make a series of TV movies for broadcast on US television but as the feature-length pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica – also produced by Glen A. Larson, a name that would pop up on dozens of TV shows throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s – had been released theatrically in certain territories and had done well it was decided that a feature-length Buck Rogers movie would be released into cinemas, its success paving the way for a weekly TV show, the first episode being a slightly altered version of the theatrical film where the year is 1987 and astronaut Captain William ‘Buck’ Rogers (Gil Gerard – Airport ’77) is piloting a small spaceship into deep space. After the craft is blown out of its trajectory, Rogers’ life support system freezes the lone pilot and he is awoken 504 years later when his ship is discovered by the Draconians, led by the seductive Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley – Rollerball) and her scheming subordinate Kane (Henry Silva – The Manchurian Candidate). The Draconians are looking to break Earth’s defences and conquer the planet and so Kane fits a homing device to Rogers’ ship and sends him to Earth where the unwitting Captain discovers that he has woken up in the 25th century and Earth has become a wasteland after a nuclear holocaust. Buck joins up with the Earth Defense Directorate, under the watchful eye of Dr. Huer (TV regular Tim O’Connor), the beautiful pilot Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray – Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) and useful robot Twiki (played by Felix Silla and voiced by Warner Bros. cartoon legend Mel Blanc), and convinces them that the Draconians are planning to break the peace treaty and attack the Earth.
All of that, plus more, is in the first episode Awakening – included in this set in its theatrical and TV versions – and from then on in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century plays with the themes of a man being out of his time and having to adjust to life in a new century whilst at the same time helping his new friends to fight off the marauding masses that threaten to invade the Earth every week. Gil Gerard was perfectly cast as the rough-around-the-edges but charming pilot, riffing off Harrison Ford’s roguish Han Solo (even down to the haircut) but a little smoother, although a penchant for shooting first was very much part of what you got with Buck as he fought off whoever wanted the Earth that particular week with whatever weapons were at his disposal. Naturally, there were also hordes of beautiful women always ready to fall at his feet – something that the disco-influenced opening credits with the awfully syrupy theme song alluded to – and all the other TV show clichés that kept us tuning in every week – including guest spots from the likes of Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Richard Lynch (Bad Dreams), Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire), Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar and Cesar Romero (Batman: The Movie) – and whereas Battlestar Galactica seemed to re-enact the final 20 minutes of Star Wars every week but with a slightly sterner message lurking beneath the surface, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century at least gave the thrills and the humour of a swashbuckling adventure with not quite so much of a strait-laced outlook.
Presented in HD for the first time in the UK, this set comprises of eight discs with each episode displayed in its native 1:33 aspect ratio which will no doubt get those with bigger TV screens complaining about the black borders on either side but that is how it was shot and there is nothing you can do about it now. The picture quality itself is pretty good, looking very clean and tidy when the image is bright but there are bits of grain whenever the screen is darker, like when scenes are set in space, but it is a TV show that is nearly 40 years old so let’s not be too harsh on it. Extras come in the shape of alternative versions of certain episodes, such as the aforementioned pilot episode Awakening, which are fine for the diehards but perhaps some sort of retrospective documentary would have been nicer for casual viewers or those just looking to relive their childhoods, especially as most of the main cast are still alive to recount their tales. Nevertheless, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: The Complete Series is a worthy addition to the growing box sets of nostalgia aimed at those of us of a certain age, being fairly consistent across its two-season run and proving the Star Wars theory that sci-fi didn’t need to hammer home socio-political messages all the time and could actually be fun, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is certainly that, from the knowing twinkle in Gil Gerard’s eyes right down to the naff superimposed optical effects that aren’t helped at all by HD – but that’s part of the fun, right?