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Space Academy 1.15 – Johnny Sunseed

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.

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Space Academy 1.13 – Space Hooky

There’s a cute double-meaning in the title of tonight’s episode, another in the series that’s written by Samuel A. Peeples. It seems to be referring to Loki and Peepo sneaking into space without authorization, but then they meet a couple of odd aliens – simple colored lights, which is actually more effective than covering a body stocking with silver tinsel – who are also playing hooky. The alien “children” can hide in human minds and possess people, but they’re not malevolent, only immature and mischievous.

That said, our son did get briefly worried when one of the lights pops into Gampu’s head. He gets to pull faces and act about as silly as the actors who play Arashi and Ito on Ultraman, actually.

Also of note this week, one of the cameramen made a really odd error filming this episode and stuck a circular “POV” lens (or something) over the action, so about half the shots in the climactic moments have this curious “halo” effect around the picture. Here’s another screen grab, so you can see what I’m talking about.

Honestly, this is purely to illustrate the odd camera error, and not to give you a bonus picture of pretty Maggie Cooper. Surely not.

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Space Academy 1.9 – Planet of Fire

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.

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Space Academy 1.7 – Monkey Business

There wasn’t anything wrong with tonight’s episode – it concerned a solar mirror jammed in the wrong position, pointing down at an artificial planetoid – but I guess I wasn’t in the right mood for it. I just kept questioning things instead of taking this inoffensive story on its own terms. For example, I wanted to know…

It’s 1977. Didn’t we already see a kid and a chimpanzee stowing away on this morning’s repeat of Speed Racer? And…

Why are the hangar bays at Space Academy so incredibly huge? Isn’t that a somewhat inefficient use of space?

Ah, well. My son wasn’t distracted by such boring adult concerns. He liked the story just fine.

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Space Academy 1.5 – There’s No Place Like Home

Our son’s doing a lot better dealing with kids and innocents in danger. This time, Larry Dobkin – the “There are eight million stories in the Naked City” guy – plays an alien who forces young Loki to steal a chemical from the academy’s lab. He’s actually meaner than you’d expect from a kid show and his shapeshifting powers leave the audience unsure what he can do. The security blanket was employed, but he stood his ground and handled it pretty well.

This show’s not bad so far. It’s definitely more entertaining than I had expected.

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Space Academy 1.4 – Countdown

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!

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