Buck Rogers in the 19th ...er, 25th Century


Let’s start off by acknowledging that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a blast. A sleek scifi television show (and close cousin of Battlestar Galactica) riding the wave of Star Wars mania, the first episode aired in 1979. It had everything you could want from late-Seventies science fiction: a dashing, brash hero, a post-apocalyptic Earth, an evil empire thirsty for conquest, and flagrant sexism. So much sexism.

500 years of equality progress

Buck Rogers is an American Air Force Captain who, after launching in the year 1987 in the last of the nation’s “deep space probes,” gets frozen in a freak accident that preserves him for 500 years. The series pilot was two episodes (which, according to Google and not our faulty memory, was released in theaters) and uses an awesome narrator, who tells us just how Buck is awakened:

"Rudely."

Yes. Buck Rogers is, and we’re quoting here, “rudely awakened by sinister forces of the Draconian Realm.” Let’s be clear: it’s bad enough to be jolted out of a cryogenic sleep. But to be rudely awakened is just the worst.

Anyway. Buck’s ship is thawed out by “the Flagship of Draconia, Envoy of Draco, Conqueror of Space, Warlord of Astrium, Ruler of the Draconium Realm, Princess Ardalla,” who, as you might expect, is clearly turned on by the 500 year old human. This will prove to be her downfall.

What we find out is that the Buck Rogers pilot is based on a fairly sophisticated plot, one reminiscent of the Star Wars prequels two decades later. In the 25th Century, Earth is unable to produce all the resources needed for a post-apocalyptic world that resembles Omega Man but with lasers. There is a system of intergalactic trade, but pirates are threatening these trade routes. Enter the Draconians, who, despite having conquered most of the universe, offer to secure the trade routes in exchange for some unspecified trade treaty. So. Pretty exciting stuff. Especially since the Draconians have no intention of being good partners, but rather more East India Trade Company types.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1223229

So the Draconians send Buck to Earth for Reasons, and he is intercepted by Earth fighter craft, one of which is piloted by Colonel Wilma Deering, the commander of Earth Defenses. So right away, Buck starts in with the sexism. Upon landing, he (a US Air Force Captain), tells Col. Deering “Hey colonel, take it easy. I’d fly with you anytime” (Pats her condescendingly on arm). That would be worth a court martial today, but not in the 25th Century.

Now, it is true that Buck later admits he was out of it (the Draconians gave him a powerful sedative that made him loopy), but the story remains sexist even if Buck learns to control himself a bit. We’re not going to go scene-by-scene here, but Col. Deering clearly is fighting off an attraction to Buck. Doctor Theopolis (a robotic doctor that looks like a high-tech tambourine that hangs around the neck of the drone Twiki, who was so cool to a child and so annoying to an adult) notes that Col. Deering, who we remind you is in charge of Earth Defenses, is “uncharacteristically emotional” about Captain Rogers.

Those dames and their emotions.

Anyway, we get some good character development punctuated with lasers and the possibility that Twiki could be used as a sex doll by the marauding sub-human survivors of Chicago (watch it if you don’t believe us). But hanging over Buck is the suspicion that he is somehow a Draconian spy or an agent of the pirates or something. So a death sentence is handed down to him, but Col. Deering comes up with a plan to see if Buck is telling the truth about being awoken on the Draconian mothership. It’s interesting that for someone so suspicious of Capt Rogers, Col Deering appears to be very trusting of a race that has, by its own account, conquered 3/4th of the universe.

Again, we digress.

Lots of things happen, including a ship-to-ship space battle where 25th century military pilots rely on futuristic combat computers so advanced they only fly straight in order to enable Earth pilots to be easily picked off by pirates. So Buck, who has no problem figuring out how to fly these space ships, schools Col. Deering on how to fight, and single-handedly blows up like seven pirates. We get to see Col Deering simply fuming while Buck darts hither and yon blowing them up. Our favorite is when Buck calls out “Colonel, go down, straight down then hit your retros.” You know. Like in an F-16 or whatever he flew in the Air Force.

Deering responds, “I can’t. It goes against all principles of modern aerial combat.”

Those 25th Century pilots suck. But after all is done, Deering thanks Buck and gives the classic “Let’s go home.” To which the Captain replies, “My place or yours?” Because that’s what you say to a colonel.

Also at one point Twiki, seeing the Draconian princess Ardalla in her skimpy dress at the Earth celebration organized to welcome them, mumbles  “What a body.”

Remember, sexism.

The waves of jealousy crash amidst the celebration with all the hormonal intrigue of a high school prom, as Col Deering and Kang (Ardalla’s advisor) glower at the sexual electro-funk created between Buck and the Princess as they, to use Capt Roger’s words, “boogie.”

Col Deering, unable to control herself any longer, admits to Buck that she wants to be a “friend,” that she has feeling she can’t control (those ladies!) and then plants a kiss before propositioning him. But while Deering has tossed aside her lifetime of military professionalism, Buck has work to do! And by “work,” we mean saving the planet from an invasion by seducing Princess Ardalla.

A lot happens after that. But lets say that the skill with which Buck slips a knockout drug into Princess Ardalla’s drink is a bit unsettling too.

Buck Rogers winds up saving the day, as one would expect. And Deering does some courageous things as well. The show is still fun, but man, the grains of salt you have to take some of the scenes will make you thirsty.

 

And Buck is arguably groovy.




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