Anorak | The 5 Greatest Episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981)

The 5 Greatest Episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981)

by | 26th, June 2014




AS impossible as it is for me to believe, Glen Larson’s version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 1981) turns thirty-five years old this year.

Today, this cult-TV series is often remembered for its spandex fashions, its gorgeous female stars and guest stars,  its penis-headed robot Twiki (Felix Silla/Mel Blanc), and its oppressive re-use of familiar or “stock” visual effects in the space dogfights.

Though Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had its weak installments, for certain (like the dreadful “Space Rockers”) it was also a light science fiction series a romp, essentially and the series is recalled fondly by fans on those terms too.

Yet in remembering the series, one can detect that the best episodes or at least the ones that best hold up today are those that concern relevant cultural issues, or base their narratives in literary or mythic antecedents.

Below, are my selections for the five best episodes of this space series, which ran for two seasons on NBC, and from 1979 to 1981.







 “The Guardians”

In this second season show, Buck (Gil Gerard) and his new friend Hawk (Thom Christopher) investigate a long unexplored world. Although the exploration of the planet is strictly routine Buck and Hawk soon encounter Janovus XXVI, an old man on his death bed.

This ancient “Guardian” informs Buck that he has been waiting for him for over five hundred years. Now, he must pass on to Buck, The Chosen On e ,” an ancient green box. This jade artifact must be transported to the old man’s unnamed successor and only a person who is of both  “the past and the present” can get it to its destination successfully.

Although reluctantly, Buck undertakes the task.  Soon, however, the crew of the Searcher begins to experience strange dreams and visions, ones ostensibly caused by this unique box. Admiral Asimov (Jay Garner) dreams of his crew starving to death in the loneliness of space, while Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) imagines herself a blind outcast, wandering the hallways of the Searcher alone…

As I noted above, Buck Rogers  is a pretty light show, a fact which distinguishes it from Glen Larson’s other outer space series:  Battlestar Galactica  (1978-1979). There’s often a great deal of humor on  Buck , and a tremendous amount of physical action too. In some sense, “The Guardian” showcases how the series could have approached more serious sci-fi storytelling had the producers selected that path.

Here, the visions of  beloved characters starving to death or going blind are authentically disturbing. I remember watching the program for the first time in 1981 (at age 11) and feeling pretty jolted by Asimov’s phantasm of a crew dying from hunger.  This moment resonates, and is probably the strongest imagery in the episode.

The writing for the main characters here is also some of the best in the series’ second season. We learn how heavily Asimov carries the burden of command, we come to understand Wilma’s fear of appearing vulnerable or being pitied. And we are reminded once more of Hawk’s utter isolation and alone-ness as he experiences a return visit from his dead mate, Koori (Barbara Luna).

Importantly, there is also a literary or mythological underpinning to “The Guardians.”  This is the story, essentially, of Pandora’s Box.  The jade box, once opened, creates terror and pain everywhere it is taken…







This two-hour pilot episode was released theatrically in March of 1979, and actually received strong reviews from a number of tough-minded critics of the day (including Vincent Canby), if that says anything of the episode’s quality.

In this story, we meet Buck as he is awakened a man out of time in the 25 th century, and forced to contend both with Draconian treachery and the fact that all of his loved ones from the twentieth century are long gone….dead in a nuclear holocaust.

The underlying precept of this episode is a little crazy. It’s American Exceptionalism in space, essentially, as Buck proves he is the only man who can save the Earth from its own unfortunate dependence on computers and logic.  Yet Buck the avatar for emotion and instincts hails from a time, the holocaust, that destroyed the world.  It is incoherent indeed, to say that the hope for man’s future hails from an era of global self-destruction.

Yet the film gets away with its contradictions because it plays effectively like a James Bond in space, or in the future.  We all know that James Bond is irresistible to  all  women, best in a fight or shoot-out, and supreme exemplar of style and taste.   Nobody does it better, right?   Here, Buck Rogers seems to have the same magic touch.  We accept the premise, in short, because we recognize it from that  other  popular franchise.

Despite such flaws, “Awakening” vets an intriguing premise involving the Draconian “stealth” attack (a kind of Trojan Horse in Space dynamic), and features at least one authentically great sequence set in Anarchia, or “Old Chicago.”  Here, Buck goes in search of his past, and finds it…in a grave-yard.

This scene in Anarchia is particularly well-shot, acted, and scored, and adds a significant human dimension to the film’s tapestry.  It reminds us that Buck has lost everything.  Not just his family…but his entire world. There were many stories to be vetted in Anarchia, but in its two-year run, Buck never returned there, and that’s a shame.






“The Satyr”

In Buck Rogers’  “The Satyr,”  Buck  explores the planet Arcanus, the site of a failed Earth colony while the Searcher is away for ten days on a mission to “sweep” an asteroid belt. On the planet surface, Buck soon meets Cyra (Anne E. Curry) and her son, Delph (Bobby Lane), the only settlers who have remained behind on the planet.

Buck soon discovers that the duo is regularly harassed by Pangor (Dave Cass), a half-man/half-goat creature.  Buck battles the violent Pangor, but is bitten by the satyr…

As some critics and fans have duly and accurately noted, “The Satyr” is actually a thinly veiled story about alcoholism and domestic abuse.  And again, this is not the typically “light” topic of the series.

In “The Satyr,” Cyra and Delph live a relatively happy life, until Dad  Pangor  — shows up at their home, demanding wine

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Posted: 26th, June 2014 | In: Flashback, Key Posts, TV & Radio Comments (2) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink

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