I had been planning to look at a couple of the remakes that they did in the eighties Twilight Zone, though I confess that I completely forgot to check out Charles Beaumont’s original “Dead Man’s Shoes” production before watching its 1985 rewrite. So I have no idea how “Dead Woman’s Shoes” compares to the original, but it’s extremely entertaining! Helen Mirren is completely wonderful as an evasive, shy woman who works in a Los Angeles thrift store and gets possessed by the spirit of a murdered woman when she tries on her donated shoes.
Once Mirren, possessed, gets into her old home, which she had shared with her killer, played by Jeffrey Tambor, she does herself up and looks as glamorous and beautiful as you expect Helen Mirren to look. As the cashier at the thrift store, sharing a scene with Robert Pastorelli in an amazing rockabilly haircut, she’s so introverted that she almost collapses in on herself.
After this very fun ghost story, Brian Tochi, who I remembered as Tee Gar from Space Academy even if our son didn’t, takes the lead in Alan Brennert’s “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium.” It’s a whimsical story but a bit spiky and hard to embrace because his character has sought out this strange shop in the hope of finding his lost compassion. Other shoppers have come here to find lost time or lost respect. I found it a little hard to sympathize with a character so deliberately abrasive, but it’s a swell script for what looks like a budget-saving segment.
Our son can’t decide which of the two installments he enjoyed most. He liked the ghost story a lot, but he liked the surprises and all the odd props in the second one, too. They really got the balance right with this hour, I think.
Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!
Space Academy finished its run with another really good episode in which Gampu’s brother, Professor Sunseed, comes on an official visit. He’s an eccentric hillbilly with a parrot on his shoulder who has been tasked with some Federation inspection about whether the academy is worth keeping, and things don’t look good for the team since he hates technology, computers, and machines.
It’s got a “season finale” feel that seventies programs typically didn’t have, and also some great new miniature work. This is the only episode to show three Seekers in flight at once. All ends well, of course, and almost everybody gets a central part to the story, except Eric Greene, who kind of got squeezed out of this story. Our son really enjoyed this one, and said it was one of his favorite stories of the series.
This show was really a lot better than I ever knew. There were a few clunkers and disappointments, but the overall average was way better than I expected, and I bet a second season would have been even better. Of course, Space Academy didn’t come back for another season, although some of its sets and costumes would be back in the fall of 1978 for Jason of Star Command. We’ll be watching that a couple of months from now, so stay tuned.
As for the cast, it can safely be said that none of the young actors became superstars, though each of them had a few more interesting parts in their future. Most have retired from acting by now. Looking over IMDB, I don’t think that we’ll be seeing any of them again for this blog, but I genuinely enjoyed all their performances in this show. Jonathan Harris still had a few neat jobs in his future, and he was a regular fixture at sci-fi conventions in the eighties. He seemed to be in Atlanta every other month for years, entertaining giant crowds at Dixie Trek and the AFF and whatever other shows, frequently reunited with his Lost in Space co-stars Bill Mumy and Mark Goddard. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 87. He was a tremendous talent and an incredibly fun guy.
Here’s another example of the show doing a downright great job acting and producing a script that makes Dr. Science’s head hurt. Everything about the production of this series is so much better than anything Filmation had done before. The miniature work is top-notch, and all the actors are doing a splendid job, and then they blow it with some gobbledygook about knocking asteroids together to create a new star.
And what really grated was that they could have left it with “we need to smash this asteroid into the other one that has a runaway reactor; we can rebuild later.” That would have been silly, in a “we take shortcuts on sci-fi TV” way, but no, they had to make the happy claim that this has created a “natural sun” and all the problems are solved. Marie closed her eyes and winced as this nonsense happened. “Dr. Science hates this show,” she moaned.
But never mind the fuddy-duddies. This episode was so exciting for our son that he couldn’t decide what his favorite part was. He seemed to enjoy the simmering antagonism between Chris and a guest character from Red Team named Matt Prentiss, who was played by John Berwick. Surprisingly, Berwick would play the character again in at least one episode of the next season’s spinoff, Jason of Star Command. Berwick went on to play Rex Ruthless in Filmation’s Hero High and had a small role in Goliath Awaits, one of those two-part TV movies that were common in the eighties, and which I’d badly like to see again one day.
Another very weird coincidence this time: this episode of Space Academy features a guest star named Don Pedro Colley. He plays a lonely man on an isolated planetoid who messes up Tee Gar’s experiment. I looked up his credits on IMDB, and found that he’s been out of the business for quite some time. But literally two weeks ago, Midnight Massacre, his first screen credit in eighteen years, was released, and he seems to have two other films in the works. Good to see he’s still around and getting work.
Last time out, I mentioned how Space Academy is the quintessential ’70s sci-fi show. Another point for it in that sweepstakes: Peepo. This robot is very likely the first of all the many R2-D2 clones and copies that made their way into movies and TV and grocery store personal appearances in the late seventies and early eighties. K-9 from Doctor Who is sometimes given this credit, but K-9’s first story, “The Invisible Enemy,” was taped in April 1977, a month before Star Wars was released. Space Academy went into production in July and began broadcast in September, and K-9’s first story sat on the shelf for six months and was first shown in October. Unless there’s a cash-in I don’t know about, I believe Peepo was the first robot character to have been designed as a reaction to Star Wars, and he beat K-9 to screens by a couple of weeks.
Did Peepo succeed in charming children? Well, the grownups tonight were a little restless, because Dr. Science was not happy with Tee Gar’s goofball ideas, nor his downright reckless – yet approved! – methods of experimentation. But when Colley’s character picked up Peepo and walked off with him, our son growled “Not cool, not cool,” very annoyed that the robot might get hurt. He’ll probably fall completely in love with K-9 when he meets the tin dog in a couple of years.
After the last episode of this show, which was so painfully stupid, my enthusiasm had ebbed. But then I saw that Tom Swale, who wrote three really good episodes of Land of the Lost, was credited with this script and sat up straight. While not on the crazy high level of those three gems, it’s still very good, by leagues the best of this show so far.
This time out, Laura, Chris, Tee Gar, and Loki are assigned junk duty and fly out to blast some debris from a two hundred year-old war between Earth and a rogue colony, Vega, that has drifted into the academy’s orbit. Among the junk is a large, sealed section of an old warship with a cryogenically-frozen Vegan. He’s played by George DiCenzo, who had recently starred as Vincent Bugliosi in the TV adaptation of Helter Skelter and would go on to do many hours of voiceover work for Filmation’s cartoons.
The story is a really interesting one. The Vegan has the power to immobilize his enemies with a touch, and he doesn’t believe the war ended with peace centuries ago. Complicating matters, a mine has attached itself to the Seeker’s hull. So there’s a lot going on, and even if the script doesn’t do anything too unexpected or weird, it’s a sold half hour that kept our son very curious and occasionally worried, and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t insult the grownups’ intelligence,
Well… I say that, but part of this show’s arsenal of tricks is that people can survive in the vacuum of space with just a little wristband. I guess we’re meant to pretend that it creates an invisible force field that works like a pressure suit around them? I realize the budget of this show was very tight and they spent a lot more money than any previous Filmation production, but they really should have shelled out for a couple of spacesuits. This is meant to be somewhat educational!
You get used to a certain level of dopeyness with these shows where the science is concerned. With the Filmation shows, that’s a real shame as they actually claimed to be teaching about science. But this time, everybody starts vanishing, and it’s all because of some magic space dust that somehow gets into the academy after a meteorite gets blown up. All they have to do to counteract the vanishing is take a “formula” and run it backward in a computer. Dr. Science did not graduate from Space Academy.
An interesting little first for our blog in this episode: this is the first of a few teleplays that we’ll see to be written by Samuel A. Peeples. He wrote for the original Star Trek and worked for Filmation on both the cartoon version and some of their later science fiction programs, like this show and Flash Gordon, but he also put in a little more work with Trek producer Gene Roddenberry as well. The same year that he wrote for this series, he also wrote the TV movie pilot Spectre for Roddenberry. This was a period occult thriller that starred Robert Culp and Gig Young. I’d like to see that one of these days.
Another oddball first for our son: this is the first time we’ve run into retooling between the first episode and the rest of the series. Last week, we met Ty Henderson’s character, Paul Jerome, as “the guy who gets left back at the base.” This episode is clearly set some time after the pilot, as Loki is a uniformed member of Space Academy’s Blue Team, but Paul is introduced to the others as a new character who has just transferred to Blue Team.
The bulk of the episode is conflict between the three young male leads. Ric Carrott’s Chris is reckless and driven, and Paul is a loner who wants to follow orders, and Brian Tochi’s Tee Gar Soom is stuck between their squabbles. A black hole leads them to a planet with a screaming stop-motion dragon-like monster, so they are forced to quit arguing and work together quickly.
We paused the episode to explain about black holes to our son, as we thought this was his first exposure to this favorite trope of sci-fi film and TV writers. He explained after the episode ended that we’d unwittingly cleared up a confusing bit from an episode of Clangers that he saw recently.