- Developed for television by Glen A. Larson and Leslie Stevens
- Based on characters created by Philip Francis Nowlan
- September 20, 1979 to April 16, 1981
“The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William “Buck” Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns Buck Rogers to Earth…500 years later.”
- Captain William “Buck” Rogers-Gil Gerard
- Colonel Wilma Deering-Erin Gray
- Dr. Elias Huer-Tim O’Connor
- Princess Ardala (Four Episodes)-Pamela Hensley
- Kane-Henry Silva in Theatrical Pilot Film/Michael Ansara Three Episodes
- Twiki-Felix Silla Physical Performance
- Twiki (Physical Performance, Three Episodes)-Patty Maloney
- Voice of Twiki-Mel Blanc
- Narrator-William Conrad
- Captain William “Buck” Rogers-Gil Gerard
- Colonel Wilma Deering-Erin Gray
- Dr. Goodfellow-Wilfrid Hyde-White
- Hawk-Thom Christopher
- Admiral Efram Asimov-Jay Garner
- Lt. Devlin-Paul Carr
- Twiki (physical performance)-Felix Silla
- Twiki (physical performance, three episodes)-Patty Maloney
- Voice of Twiki (second-season episodes starting with “The Crystals” through “Testimony of a Traitor”)-Mel Blanc
- Voice of Twiki (“Time of the Hawk” to “The Golden Man”)-Bob Elyea
- Voice of Crichton-Jeff David
- Narrator-Hank Simms
A 20th-century astronaut awakens out of a 500 year long accidental suspended animation into a strange future.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was an adventure of the week science-fiction show that started in the late 70s. This wasn’t the most serious effort when it first came out. And then again most primetime network shows were not at the time. This came out in a time when science fiction was slowly being taken seriously but the view of the genre being “for kids” was still held by many in the industry.
To go a little off topic Star Trek: TOS had a structured world in which they lived. The first 2 to 4 episodes were a little rough but they quickly establish the rules of their universe and worked from there. You knew what the what was. Buck Rogers big issue was that it never quite found that. It felt like the writers and producers were winging it from episode to episode. I’m curious if there was even a series Bible to go by.
One thing that was clear even to me when I was young is that the people that were doing this were more into science fiction being kids’ stuff than they were into something more serious like Star Trek or even Battlestar Galactica. And this is considering the connection between Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers. The pilot episode, released theatrically, was in production at the time that Battlestar was being made. They shared costumes and props.
That’s not to say I never liked Buck. I loved it and I still do. Despite its all its flaws it was just pure fun. They were there to entertain and not necessarily make something groundbreaking. It was harmless and family friendly without being too bland.
Featured largely during the first season was the Earth Defense Directorate. Their starfighters are some of my favorite spaceships in science fiction. It’s just a really cool design that is essentially a cockpit between two rockets. But it looked cool! To go off again on a little tangent I had this cheap plastic toy that I think was bought at my local Dollar General. It was a starfighter that if you pressed the button on the back a laser blast would pop out from the middle. It wasn’t designed to fire anything. Anyway I figured out how to dislodge it to the point that it would fire out each and every time. My mother realized this was a danger and fixed it at least twice before the toy went MIA permanently.
I might be reaching a little bit. I might not be. Anyone who’s followed this blog long enough knows I am a fan of the show Farscape. It’s just a brilliant bit of more recent television science fiction. Why do I bring the show up? Because Buck Rogers reminds me a great deal of John Crichton. I see a bit in common between the two.
Both were men out of their element. John was a bit more of a science-fiction geek, but both made pop culture references and the key to their respective effectiveness was that they were dropped into totally alien worlds. Neither one is a product of the environment in which they found themselves. How they act befuddles and perplexes not only their friends but their foes as well. I am curious if anyone behind Farscape drew inspiration from this series.
As it is Buck is a fish out of water. A man out of time. Gil Gerard makes him cocky and self-assured. He’s a bit of a charming asshole in how he is portrayed here. Buck uses phrases and words and cultural references which are lost on those around him. His actions and mannerisms defy what they feel is common sense or should be done. The execution of the Buck Rogers character here was a bit more of a James Bond adventure of the week type thing.
Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) is the beautiful and experienced military officer who should be more involved in the action of the series yet more often than not is just window dressing. This was the late 70s/early 80s and female characters didn’t get too much to do but she really has nothing to do even for the time. She is the very definition of extraneous. Maybe not nothing to do but not very much to do. Often she is there to react with Dr. Huer or show concern for Buck. There was the occasional implication of romantic interest between her and Buck but our hero generally played the field.
Twiki (voiced and performed by several actors) was a great sidekick. I had many of the figures from this series and I never saw one featuring him outside of a real turd of one that came with a signaling set. To use modern parlance, he was Buck’s ride or die pal. His faith in Buck bordered on blind faith. Not only that but he thought Buck was the coolest person he ever met. The character came off as almost worshiping Captain Rogers. His part here was also to essentially be the R2-D2 to Dr. Theopolis’s C-3PO.
Dr. Theopolis’s (Eric Server) appreciation of Buck was a little more logical. It wasn’t hero worship but rather based upon the individual he could see that Buck was. He made it through the first season before the massive changes in Season Two and his absence was a bit of a loss as the dynamic between he and Twiki was an important part in the portrayal of the latter.
Dr. Elias Euer (Tim O’Connor) was essentially the dad of the show. He was a fatherly figure who was somehow Wilma Deering’s superior. How the command structure of this show worked was never really made clear. I really wish I could give you an answer, but I’m lost on it. His character was rather static during his only season with one episode focused largely on his past but with Buck as the main character.
Strangely though “A Dream of Jennifer” and “Flight of the War Witch” expanded up the character of Huer and gave him some moments beyond confusion at a Buck reference or action. We learned he was a widower as well as getting some real emotion between he and Buck. I wanted more of that. When those two characters got deep it got good.
There was a writer’s strike and Season Two got delayed. Once Buck Rogers finally came back it was changed. Buck was now stationed on an Earth ship called The Searcher and apparently working for Earth Defense Directorate full-time rather than for it on an as desired basis like Season One. Some of the Season One cast joined him on the ship. Wilma and Twiki came along but Dr. Theopolis, who was a scientist in and of itself, and Huer who lead the Science Directorate at one point did not follow along for whatever reason. The changes of Season Two would have been perfect for those two to shine.
In exchange we got Dr. Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White) who was essentially a friendly mad scientist. The ship was captained by an Admiral Efram Asimov (Jay Garner) who was a direct descendent of Isaac Asimov. We have trouble keeping track of the descendants of Abraham Lincoln. How do they keep track 500 years later of the descendants of Isaac Asimov? And after a records destroying nuclear war too?
The robot Crichton (voiced by Jeff David) was the apparent replacement for Dr. Theopolis. The prop looked like a conglomeration of several Season One props smashed into one. Seriously. As I was watching Season One, I started thinking I saw parts of Crichton but I thought I was mistaken though when I saw him for the first time in 40 years I knew I was not.
But the most significant addition, and one that sidelined Wilma apparently to the part of ship’s helmsman, was the addition of Hawk (Thom Christopher). He was from a race of a bird people (they really tried hard with the name). Now I can see bits of D’Argo or even Teal’c in him. He was a stoic lone warrior with a somewhat tragic backstory. Apparently for 100,000 years his people were on Easter Island and then they were chased away by humans and have been running from humans ever since. Don’t think about the lack of space travel there for a few centuries.
Hawk had a really cool ship though. It was designed to look like a bird. They really ran with it and it could extend bird like talons and grasp an enemy ship with the idea to destroy it or force it to land. A cool idea that only ever got used twice.
Much of Buck’s success in episodes against villains was that he was not as dependent on technology as others of the time were. In the episode “Vegas in Space” Buck was shown to be a good card player (at least better than most other people in the episode). The reason alluded to was that Buck wasn’t dependent on machines for decisions in his daily life.
A few characters made several appearances in the show. Very few. Gary Coleman appeared twice as Hieronymus Fox. Michael Ansara appeared three times as the human Kane who was working for the Draconian Empire. Pamela Hensley played the Draconian Princess Ardala four times.
Ardala’s schtick was that she was an immature space princess horny for the manly Buck. Not bad but she never developed much beyond that. I guess it was the episode “Escape from Wedded Bliss” which showed her all to briefly as being lonely. A small moment where she was looking in a mirror but one that gave depth to an otherwise shallow character. Then there was “Flight of the War Witch” which to me showed her as a little more plotting and intelligent even if she was still a petulant child.
I always though the stories were a little too light. Don’t get me wrong. I like the show, but it was a definite throwback to the old-school movie serials and even at the point this show came out science-fiction in television was very different. The show should’ve had a somewhat more serious tone but still a fun adventure show. Two that come to mind, and I have mentioned them already, “A Dream of Jennifer” and “Flight of the War Witch”. “A Dream of Jennifer” explored Buck’s backstory while in the 20th century and “Flight of the War Witch” which was just a high stakes action story.
I thought the uniforms for the series were not too bad. I wouldn’t call them great but they were cool. The dress uniforms though they were just a military style jacket with the usual pants. Casual dress was reminiscent of the TOS film uniforms that were worn in the first film. My only quibble is there weren’t clear indications of rank on any of the uniforms in Buck. Everything from the standard uniform to the dress uniform rarely indicated anything of a hierarchy. The closest we got were admirals or dignitaries with lots of random medals.
The major shortcoming of this show was the special effects. Star Wars set a new standard for special effects and it was a long time before anything on television or theatrically released could equal it. They do an okay job but not great. The sets were a little bland. Not much in them. And the costumes, while effective could look a bit cheap at times.
Despite the time and the obvious cheapness of the production the execution of the scripts great for what the show was. Nothing groundbreaking but still entertaining.
Season Two was an attempt at a more serious show but with many of the same goofy trappings of the first season. The show had elements that allowed it to develop enough of a popularity that they kept it around for a second season, but they dumped the bulk of those popular elements of favor of a brand-new formula.
Buck wasn’t bad though. It’s from a simpler time made by different set of producers who had a different idea about science fiction. It is very much a product of its time as are the stories. They are fun and occasionally touch upon concerns people head from the era.
I saw this when I was a young kid and it still speaks to me but it’s also entertaining to the adult. It’s fun and the moments of excitement are genuine and exciting in the world being created.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a footnote in science fiction and I wish it was a bit more. It’s just entertaining and despite its flaws and it’s often times dated elements you will go back again to watch.