Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Space vampire – TV episode – review

DVD set (R1)

Director: Larry Stewart

First Aired: 1980

Contains spoilers

Now, I have to say that I like my sci-fi hardcore, but that is not a commodity you get on TV that often. The closest to hardcore sci-fi in a TV series would probably be Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galatica, both series I very much enjoy(ed) and both are marked by complex, long running story arcs and excellent characterisations. Buck Rogers was not hardcore sci-fi by any stretch of the imagination. In fact Buck Rogers was so cheesy, with cutesy robots and bad effects, that it out-cheesed a French rural market in Camembert.

That said, when the series first aired and I was 9/10 years old, I did like it – well I was 9/10 years old. Later, as Wilma's Butt in actionhormones started coursing through my body and it was repeated I found other reasons to like it. Okay, as a teen, the cutesy robot and bad makeup was off putting but it did have Erin Gray as Col. Wilma Deering, and her astounding butt – easily one of the finest on TV - and all round bad girl and space slattern Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley). Nowadays there is a certain guilty kitsch value, and it still has Wilma and Ardala.

This episode, #14 from season 1, does not have Ardala, but it does have Wilma, her spandex clad butt and a vampire.

Wilma, Twiki and BuckBuck (Gil Gerard) and Wilma are stopping off at Theta station to drop Twiki (Patty Maloney, voiced by Mel Blanc) off for repairs before heading to a vacation resort. They have just met with station Commander Royko (Christopher Stone) when a ship enters through the stargate on a collision course. It embeds itself in the station.

They go with Royko to help at the crash and meet Dr Ecbar (Lincoln Kilpatrick), who discovers that he cannot get any proper readings due to electrical interference. What none of them seem to notice is the red energy blob floating around. We see from the blob’s point of view and it is looking at Wilma, causing her to shiver.

Inside the ship they find that the entire crew, and one passenger, are dead. Buck finds the log. It seems the ship is the Demeter (referencing Dracula, and Buck mentions Dracula later). Their passenger, Helson (Phil Hoover), had died and then the crew started to die also. The medic suspected a virus called EL7, which causes convulsions, hallucinations and then death. The final entry shows the captain (Jeannie Fitzsimmons) shouting at something that is coming to get her. Royko quarantines the station in case it is EL7.

Nicholas Hormann as the VorvonEcbar isn’t so sure. He tells Buck that the corpses aren’t dead, though they are not alive either. They are in a state of cellular disruption as though something had drained their spirit… oh I love meaningless techno-babble, if only they’d said undead. Buck does mention vampires.

The Vorvon covets Wilma's buttOf course, by the episode title we know it is a vampire. One called the Vorvon (Nicholas Hormann). It takes out the Doctor, controlling the undead victims like puppets, and then sets its sights on Wilma – not as a snack but as a bride. Can Buck save the day, it’ll be difficult when no one believes him and think he is ill with EL7 and hallucinating.

glowing eye mojoThere is a whole set of lore surrounding the Vorvon that is remarkably familiar in many parts. The vampire is invisible to cameras and to people, only revealing itself in humanoid form to its intended victims. The eyes glow red in order to cast a little bit of the old eye mojo. As I said it can control the bodies of those it drains.

Wilma is fingeredThe feeding is on energy rather than blood and, despite having fangs, it uses long nails that leave discoloured marks on the throat of the victim. It becomes clear that it can also pass its feeding abilities and diabolic attitude on, as Wilma becomes wanton and energy hungry under its control.

the power lockBuck discovers a ward, a power lock, which is the equivalent of the cross and can hurt the creature and looks worryingly like some cheap chintz brooch that someone bought from a shopping channel. The only way to destroy it is to overload it with intense power – Buck likens this to Dracula and the sun. It can also shoot purple lasers out of its hand and absorb laser blasts.

Dr Ecbar - undeadThere really was an attempt to put a level of horror, albeit minor, into this episode. Grey faced undead victims coming at the living – most effective when we see Dr Ecbar attacking Buck on the freighter. Yet despite this they couldn’t help but throw in cheesy comedy, including a very minor sub-plot about Dr Huer (Tim O’Connor) back on Earth and his failed attempt to look after a plant.

bad effectThe effects are atrocious – especially the Demeter crashing into the station – and what was with the Vorvon’s makeup? They turned the vampire into a mono-browed Nosferatu. Acting wise, well lets be honest, this is pure pantomime – nothing more or nothing less. Despite all this, or perhaps because of this, the episode drips with kitsch value that makes it good fun in a perverse kind of way. Plus, of course, we still have Wilma’s butt.

vampires can fire lasers from their handsI struggled score-wise. Trying to weigh up how truly awful this is, and the fact that Twiki is one of the most annoying creations ever, against how much fun this is and how much kitsch value this contains. As a vampire episode the story is fairly simple, but has some unusual ideas and unique derivatives of the standard lore. I’m going to settle on 3.5 out of 10 and then duck for cover as folks disagree (I’m sure that many will argue way too high and then there are the folks at imbd who have rated this at 7.8).

The imdb page is here.


Kennedy said...

Taliesin - you are being mean!
It's at least a 5. Way better than the Salt Vampire episode of Star Trek, and I have to admit I'm a sucker for good girls going bad, as happens to Wilma and her voice in this episode.
Still loving the blog!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Kennedy, I don't know... the salt vampire in Star Trek has the advantage of being from the sixties so the bad effects are more forgivable...

That said, I did say that no one would agree with the score - one way or another.

I think that most who enjoy vampire genre stuff are suckers for the good girl gone bad... after all it is a staple of the genre... Hammer made a career out of the motif! lol

Glad you're still enjoying the blog

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Oh, better add that I shifted on the score. When I wrote this up I gut reactioned to 4 out of 10 but when I posted I decided I was being too generous and dropped half a point.

crabstix said...

Yeah, I'd give her one at the very least.

An aside - Has anyone else noticed that the genesis of the Ferengi is here in this episode. I reackon the space vampire had his drink spiked by his mates onm a night out, and while he slept they shaved his monobrow..., Hey! presto! he woke up an extra on STtNG.

(All hail the WilmaAss. One of gods greater creations.)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Crabstix, I'm not going to argue with your hail of the butt, the butt deserves a hail.

As for the ferengi connection, I'd not noticed until you mentioned it but now you have... hmmm... I can actually see it, which is strangely disturbing