Here’s another surprise. Jonathan Harris also makes a return appearance as Fagin, whom we met in the first episode. Daniel was briefly alarmed by this episode; it has a primitive tribe run by a witch doctor worshiping a cloudbusting rainmaker device. The goofy ceremonial mask, and threats to send our heroes into a cave of no return, gave him some brief chills, but he got through just fine.
Harris’s portrayal of Fagin as a dirty-faced and disheveled yokel with a comedy “rural” voice reminds me of Jon Pertwee’s Worzel Gummidge, and that certainly takes me back to the old days of tape trading. In an earlier installment, I’d mentioned that Ark II had been the subject of some serious disinformation because of magazines and books that spewed out a lot of baloney and lies. This made me really curious about the show, which I only occasionally saw on Sunday mornings. In the late seventies, CBS briefly programmed some of their older Saturday morning shows really early on Sundays, where we could be counted on to watch them while playing with Mego dolls and Hot Wheels cars, because the only other things actually on at that hour in Atlanta were old men in suits behind podiums.
So as we moved into the nineties and nobody had published any clear information on exactly how many episodes of this show there were, I was also big into VHS tape trading, and I’d like to think, inasmuch as there are good guys and bad guys in this copyright-avoiding world, I was one of the good guys. If I worked out a deal with somebody and needed to get them four tapes worth of stuff, I’d go buy four new TDK E-HG tapes, copy on SP using the gold connector cables, write down the contents on a little card inside each tape, and mail them promptly in padded envelopes.
But a good friend of mine was friends with this one guy in North Carolina, and that guy knew another guy who had lots and lots of absurdly rare stuff on tape, like Worzel Gummidge. Most of the details are long forgotten, but dealing with the guy was an unbelievable headache. As befits somebody who didn’t care how watchable or not his collection was, I’d get tapes from this guy which were clearly recycled. Whatever he sent was recorded on EP on an old BASF tape crammed in a Panasonic box, and either he’d hand-write the labels, crossing out what was written on them already, or not include any identifiers and force me to guess. But because the guy was the only source I could find for some of this old stuff like Worzel Gummidge, I just kept biting my lips and dealing with it for the better part of a year. I’d ask for four episodes of Worzel on SP, and he’d send four episodes on EP, plus eight episodes of some show I’d never heard of before.
After a couple of swaps, he actually sent me three tapes of stuff that I did not even ask for or want, and had the cheek to request some stuff from me in exchange. That was pretty much the limit, and I let him know I wasn’t interested in further swaps.
The very next letter he sent me, he wrote that he had just got in four episodes of Ark II, and that he knew from my wants list that I wanted some, and could we work out a trade? The answer would be no. Flatly and firmly, no. I’d rather go without seeing the show than deal with any more of his nonsense.
About sixteen years later, those BCI/Entertainment Rights people put the fifteen episodes of the show out on DVD in a package called Sci-Fi Box Set along with all fifteen episodes of Space Academy and all twenty-eight episodes of Jason of Star Command. I picked that up for seven dollars at a Half-Price Books in Kentucky, and I didn’t have to deal with the guy to get them.
We don’t plan to watch Worzel Gummidge for the blog, as the available DVDs are said to be of very poor quality and I’d rather not pay for them. I hope somebody remasters and reissues it soon, because it’s a charming and ridiculous show, terrific for under-tens. And we’ll be taking a short break from Ark II for a couple of weeks but should be back in the future before the end of September. Stay tuned for more from this century!