Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Original Aired: 1979-1981
Available on: Tubi
“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.”
The above quote is the voice-over to the opening title sequence of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV show, which aired from 1979 to 1981. The show stars Gil Gerhard as Captain William “Buck” Rogers. He looks like a knock-off version of Lee Majors, a.k.a. The Six Million Dollar Man. And Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering, though some might know her best from her role in the 80s situation comedy Silver Spoons as Kate Summers, assistant to Edward Stratton and later his wife. The show was created by Glen A. Larson, who also created Battlestar Galactica and Leslie Stevens of The Outer Limits fame. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century lasted for two seasons, 24 episodes in season one, and just 13 episodes in season two before being canceled.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century features Captian “Buck” Rogers, who was accidentally cryogenically frozen for 500 years only to be discovered and thawed out in the year 2491. Along with him, he revives old ideas and tricks from the 20th century, which have been lost to time—he uses this to his advantage. Life in the 25th century has given way to technological oversight like governing and automated piloting during space combat due to bad past human decisions. Though viewed as archaic, Buck’s antiquated methods aides him and his friends in his adventures.
The character Buck Rogers began back in the era of pulp magazines as a serialized comic strip in newspapers. The strip’s creators, writer Philip Nowlan and cartoonist Dick Calkins, were inspired by the story “Armageddon: 2419 A.D.” published in Amazing Stories. In that story, Rogers was a WWI veteran who got himself trapped in a coal mine and put into a state of suspended animation. When he was revived 500 years later, he woke to a war-torn land that used to be the United States. The comic strip launched several adaptations, a radio show, a film serial, two television shows, a roleplaying game, and other entertainment media.
Chances are more people today know of Looney Tunes’ spoof, “Duck Dodgers and the 24th and a half-century,” rather than Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I know I did. When Buck Rogers aired in the late ’70s, I didn’t watch it even though my favorite shows at the time were space-themed, thanks to Star Wars. Whatever my disinterest at the time, now as an adult, I can and did watch all 37 episodes thanks to the free internet streaming service Tubi.
Before it broadcasted on TV, its first two-part episode was a made-for-TV movie that was theatrically released to theaters before moving to the small screen as an episodic series on NBC. The movie (two-part episode) began with Ranger 3, Buck’s ship, already in the future, 500 years. Princess Ardala of the planet Draconia, an opposing force to Earth, discovered Roger’s ship adrift in space and brought his ship aboard hers. She revived Captain Buck Rogers, drugged him, and used him as a pawn to gain information about Earth’s defense shield. She then returned him back to his ship and placed it back on course to Earth along with a bit of technology that would relay information on bypassing Earth defenses. Buck safely landed back to Earth at New Chicago as his onboard computer was programmed to do. There he learned of his long sleep. Not sure what to make of him, the inhabitants of the 25th century believed him a spy for Draconia after the Princess’s technology was discovered in his ship. Buck eventually convinced his new friends he was on their side and became the go-to man for many futures adventures. Among his new friend were Colonel Wilma Deering, a military starfighter, Dr. Elias Huer liaison to the Defense Directorate, Twiki, a service android voiced by Mel Blanc, and Dr. Theopolis, a computer intelligence and member of the Earth’s Computer Council who embodied a large circular disk often worn around the neck of Twiki.
The stories throughout the series were adequate but nothing worth emulating. They often had Buck conducting missions for the Defense Directorate, the Earth’s military organization. Throughout the series, most of the acting was wooden or lacked emotion despite having some great guest appearances from some of the hottest talent
s of the era like Mark Lenard, Frank Gorshin, Roddy McDowall, Anne Lockhart, Jack Palance, Roddy Mcdowell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gary Coleman, and more. At the time, critics agreed the show had the potential but didn’t live up to the iconic character previously portrayed. Some critics place it on the list of the worst science fiction shows of all time—Space 1999, in my opinion, is at the top of that list. Some were excited to see a strong female character with Colonel Deering; it was enough to get the show a second season, but with it came changes.
The show is revamped and moves in another direction. In the first season, Buck’s started to make a life for himself in New Chicago. He had his own apartment and started to fill it with 20th-century items like a 25th-century styled ping pong table and a house plant. We would often find him there at the end of the show after completing a mission. In the second season, Buck and his friends are aboard the starship “Searcher,” leaving behind New Chicago. His new mission is to search for humans who fleed Earth after a devastating war-ravaged it. Buck’s
As I watched these episodes, I tried to find elements to use in my roleplaying games, but I’m having a hard time coming up with anything. There was very little tech to pull from the show. The best I could muster is their version of long space travel called Star Gates. These Star Gate are wormhole openings of the sort that launches a ship to another set of Star Gates. The gates are depicted as four points of lights set in a diamond pattern that a ship would fly through. It’s hardly exciting or clever enough to use. Similarly, the 25th-century version of a tractor beam consists of three ships flying in formation while projecting a green glowing light that creates a triangle between the three ships. The object is then towed in the center of that triangle.
The show’s only real saving grace for me was the funky 70’s soundtrack, strong thumping bass lines, and its whatcha wah-wah guitar riffs. I also found its sense of fashion amusing. It had some really crazy outfits. The most outrageous outfits can be seen in the “Space Rockers” episode, also quite possibly one of the worst episodes of the series. The episode centers around a three-piece band called Andromeda. A politician uses the group’s music and inserts subliminal messages, which cause its listeners into a destructive rage. I’ve included an image because I don’t think I could have written a just description. It’s amazing what you can do with rope lights.
Overall I wouldn’t recommend Buck Rogers in the 25th Century to anyone. There is more bad than good. The spaceship and laser’s sound effect are directly lifted from Battlestar Galactica. Even the sweet sound of Mel Blanc’s voice as Twiki is out of place in the show. The writing is not there, and using Twiki as comic relief, often repeating 20th-century slang he picks up from Buck, falls flat.
Just recently, as in January of 2021, it is rumored that there is a Buck Rogers reboot in the works. George Clooney’s production company is said to be in the process of examining a possible remake. I am or may not view it if it ever comes to fruition. If it does it, I wonder if Gil Gerard will make an appearance like Buster Crabbe, who played Buck Rogers in the movie serials, did in the “Planet of the Slave Girls” episode. Until then, I’m going to keep my eye out at my local used bookstores for the Buck Rogers Roleplaying game, and just maybe I’ll post a review. Until then, in the words of Twiki, biddi-biddi-biddi, that’s all folks.
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3 Comments Add yours
I watched the show as a kid, and I remember that it was… okay. Even as a kid I wished the show would live up to the potential that I envisioned for it. I remember that I was disappointed that they backed off of the point that the Earth was a nuclear wasteland except for a handful of domed cities, I wanted to see more exploration done in the ruins.
The one lasting thing for me is that the Earth starfighters are still one of my favorite ship designs. A model of the ship was one of the fist models I ever built and I played with it all the time.
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Likewise. I watched Buck Rogers fairly thoroughly as a kid, and found it enjoyable, even great at times. But even then I knew it didn’t stack up to the stories in my Dad’s Sci-fi book collection.
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I have some fond memories of Buck Rogers (1979-81), especially Twiki who was an adorable robot character. But it was finally getting to know the much earlier versions that helped me to fully realize the enduring impact of one of sci-fi’s most popular heroes.
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