That was actually much more entertaining than the first story. It was still pretty tedious, but never as stupid as the original one. It’s remarkable just how short and to-the-point this one is. There are virtually no other speaking parts beyond Steve and Oscar. Everybody else who does appear gets maybe two scenes. Steve and Oscar try a tactic to stop the Probe, it doesn’t work, they go back to the command post, get another idea, and go try again.
And do not let our son fool you. He certainly claimed to hate the Probe, but he got incredibly excited this time out. He was enjoying the heck out of this… and then he realized I had noticed him and he tried to downplay things. “Yeah, that was pretty cool…” he said at the end. If you’re between the ages of about six and nine, this is probably going to be some epic, memorable television. Older than that… well, the most challenging thing for Lee Majors in this one was maintaining his composure when the Probe blasts the engine of the bulldozer he’s driving, sending sparks everywhere. Everybody’s playing second fiddle to a big black tank. It’s not really an hour of entertainment for grownups.
This was the final appearance for the Probe, and indeed the last time any of the recurring villains or baddies would appear in either of the bionic series. But the Probe had one last outing in another time and place. The prop was redressed and used in 1980 as the Crimebuster in the Andy Kaufman comedy Heartbeeps. I can appreciate Kaufman, but the Crimebuster is the only good thing about that movie! I wonder whether the prop ever appeared anywhere else, or whether it was sold off to a collector. It was probably scrapped, but maybe it’s still in some garage someplace.
The original Death Probe two-parter may have been unbelievably dopey, but it was also unbelievably popular, inspiring a toy in Kenner’s line of Six Million Dollar Man dolls and accessories, and, heck, somebody already paid for that big prop, so they might as well use it again. Happily, this sequel is at least starting out much, much more interesting than the original one.
In the first story, we had all this nonsense with comedy small-town cops and Russian sleeper agents in the way of any mechanical mayhem. This one still leaves the Probe rolling around the desert not doing much of anything for half of the hour, but there’s an interesting mystery about who these villains are, and what they have to do with both the Soviet Union and a middle eastern Nosuchlandia – kind of a Kuwait substitute, I think.
Our son somehow remains the only child in America who does not like the Death Probe. It’s too powerful, too scary, and now it’s got these big mean drills on the front. Weird kid.
I sincerely didn’t think that we’d ever watch anything stupider than the Medusa episode of Land of the Lost, but friends, this was it.
There’s a lovely bit toward the beginning of this adventure where a farmer in a lonely corner of northern Wyoming, his horse and dog freaking out over some strange noise or other, is suddenly confronted with a Russian-made space probe that thinks it has landed on the planet Venus. The silent machine, looking like the bastard offspring of a Dalek and the tank-thing from Damnation Alley, sends the farmer scurrying to his pickup truck to get away, and the old codger takes a moment to roll up his truck’s window before starting the engine.
So the Death Probe is the last great recurring nemesis for the bionic heroes. The big machine kind of takes a back seat to the story of all the Soviet sleeper agents that are trying to track it down. The group is led by Major Popov, played by Nehemiah Persoff, and it was designed by a scientist named Irina, played by Jane Merrow. Irina had actually been introduced in a season one episode that we skipped, “Doomsday and Counting.” Merrow did quite a lot of American television in the seventies. Earlier in her career, she had been frequently cast as a guest star in many of the ITC adventure shows, and had been considered for the role of Tara King in The Avengers. And there in a single scene and not credited, you can’t miss John de Lancie as an army medic.
This two-parter was written by Steven E. de Souza. It was one of his earliest credits; he’d later find fame and fortune writing hugely successful films like 48 Hours, Die Hard, and, err… that crappy Judge Dredd movie with Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider. Honestly, I was pretty underwhelmed by this one. There isn’t nearly enough mayhem with the Death Probe smashing its way through farms and cars and houses, and far too much of Soviet sleeper agents running rings around hick sheriffs. On the other hand, our son was positively freaked out by the machine and was so excited – slash – worried by Steve looking like he wouldn’t be able to stop it that he missed the cliffhanger entirely from behind the sofa!