Star Wars was released in theaters on May 25 1977, and two months later, Filmation’s Space Academy was in production. You may think that’s an incredibly fast turn-around to start cashing in on a hot property, but watching this show, it’s impossible to ignore certain design similarities between the movie and this show, especially between the way they each use corridors, and the presence, in Academy, of a waist-high robot called Peepo. Give that robot a thick layer of grime and some Jawas would try to sell it to you cheap with a moisture converter.
But really, Space Academy, which debuted in September 1977 as Filmation’s only new live-action show that year, has a lot more Star Trek in its veins. It starred Jonathan Harris as Isaac Gampu, the commander of an asteroid-based academy for young astronauts. This isn’t explained in episode one, but there are at least three “teams” of five or more young people rotating through assignments, and the show follows Blue Team, made up of Laura Gentry and her pilot brother Chris (Pamelyn Ferdin and Ric Carrott), scientist Adrian Pryce-Jones (Maggie Cooper), Paul Jerome (Ty Henderson), and Tee Gar Soom (Brian Tochi). In this episode, they pick up an orphan from the doomed planet Zalon, a child without a name whom Gampu coins Loki (Eric Greene), who has x-ray vision and can teleport short distances.
It’s a very seventies bit of Diet Star Trek. It won’t surprise anyone familiar with sci-fi in this decade to learn that Laura and Chris are mildly psychic, and can form a telepathic link with the rest of the team to overcome mental force fields. Gotta make way for the Homo superior and all that. Also, of course, humanity’s greatest strength is its compassion, and kindness to all life forms is emphasized. It’s an earnest show, as these are, but well made and light years ahead of Shazam! and Isis in special effects.
To be fair, the first episode is also really, really slow. The Academy kids fly from their base to planets in vehicles called Seekers, and I was very pleased that our son instantly recognized that the miniature Seeker looks suspiciously exactly like the Ark II, only with wings and a booster instead of wheels. Makes you wonder whether we’ll see a full-sized prop in another week or so. The Seeker moves through space at the speed of a glacier, which is probably pretty accurate, but it kind of shows you why Trek came up with the transporter room.
Our son enjoyed it, although without the energy and enthusiasm of the other two shows we’re watching right now, and that makes sense. This show is intelligent, well written, and surprisingly well acted, from the veteran Harris all the way down to the young rookies, and I think that I’ll enjoy watching it now, but it really doesn’t have any energy at all. I didn’t actually watch this show as a kid, because Laff-a-Lympics was opposite it on ABC. I’ll try to keep our boy away from such competition.