Jason of Star Command 2.12 – Battle for Freedom

This was an interesting surprise. I’ve mentioned before that Saturday morning shows typically didn’t have a planned “final episode” as we’d know them today, but Jason of Star Command comes closer than just about any of its peers. We get a positive bonanza of special effects with a bunch of brand new good guy spaceships – all “unmanned drones,” of course – and Dragos is banished to another dimension where he can either never be seen again if the show wasn’t renewed or brought back if it was, and Professor Parsafoot gets a new sweetheart, played by Udana Power.

Our son absolutely loved it. He had aliens to jeer, and explosions in space to wow, and he got to sneer “ha-ha!” as Dragos fades from the universe, swearing vengeance. What’s not to like?

As it was, the show was not renewed, since CBS figured that they could edit the first season’s 16 chapters into eight half-hours and they had a twenty episode package to rerun in the 1980-81 TV season. And so that brought an end to Filmation’s time producing live-action television. They focused exclusively on animation for the next decade, including the popular Blackstar and He-Man / She-Ra cartoons, and a little-remembered Shazam! cartoon that was a whole lot more faithful to the original funnybooks than their live-action show had been.

(Well, I say “exclusively,” but Shazam! was paired with an Archie-like superhero comedy called Hero High in an hour package with the tortuous name of The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!, and that had these deeply dopey live-action musical segments… oh, just see for yourself.)

Anyway, Jason was Craig Littler’s last starring role, but he was a regular face in guest star parts for the next twenty years when he wasn’t the face of Gorton’s Seafood in commercials. Charlie Dell is also still in the business, and shows up in small parts in all sorts of big movies, including Liar Liar and Fight Club. John Russell and Tamara Dobson have sadly passed away. Dobson left the business in the eighties but was still being interviewed about Cleopatra Jones for decades; Russell, a veteran of TV and movie westerns, was still finding cowboys and tough guys to play until the end of his life.

And Sid Haig… well, the man’s a legend. IMDB says he’s got six more movies awaiting release, and he’s a regular on the sci-fi and horror autograph/con circuit. His career slowed in the early 1990s, but then Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie, aficionados of the grindhouse horror and exploitation films where he appeared so regularly in the seventies, revived his career with grisly, modern takes on those sorts of films. House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects brought him a huge new fanbase and, as low-budget horror films took off again eleven or twelve years ago, he started getting more job offers than he had for many years.

I may really dislike these sorts of movies, but I sure do like Sid Haig. Maybe somewhere down the road a ways, our favorite five year-old critic will be a teenager, and he and his no-good teenager friends will watch something like Kill Bill. “Hey,” he’ll shout, “that’s Dragos!”

Jason of Star Command 2.11 – Mimi’s Secret

Interesting… I had assumed that the second season of Jason of Star Command was made up of four three-part adventures, but “Little Girl Lost” and “Mimi’s Secret” seem to be a two-parter, with nothing really to carry over into the final episode, which we’ll see this weekend. The strange Mimi doll, as it turns out, isn’t actually alive, but it’s a semi-sentient tracking device to home in on the missing scientist. That’s not as creepy as it appeared last time.

And speaking of weird assumptions… I’ve written previously, especially in regard to Ark II, about how information about some of these old kid shows was a little iffy in the pre-internet days. Some magazines and books just gave out information, like episode guides, that was flat out wrong.

With that in mind, I swore that I remember copying down an episode list to this show many, many years ago that contained an episode called “The Adventures of Peepo and W1K1,” but there’s not an episode by that name in this set. So I dug around my shelves and found it, hidden away in a 1991 book by Jeff Lenburg called The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons.

In the listing for Tarzan and the Super 7, which was the anthology home of Jason‘s first season, there’s an episode list for the first sixteen chapters, and thirteen of them are incorrect. For example, it says that the ninth chapter was called “The Adventures of Peepo and Wicky (sic),” when it was actually entitled “Peepo’s Last Chance.” Perhaps one of Lenburg’s sources provided him with pre-production information, before the episodes were completed and the titles finalized? Or maybe some joker just made stuff up and pranked Lenburg? Whatever the case, the misinformation didn’t creep out too much; I’ve only found the incorrect titles on just one site, the Big Cartoon Database. But this is a good reminder of those weird days when research was shaky and mistakes were easy to publish, whether by accident or design.

Anyway, this episode was the last for the evil Queen Medusa, played by Francine York, who made for a pretty entertaining recurring villain. Dragos didn’t have much of anything to do this time, but maybe he’ll go out with a bang in the finale? Stay tuned!

Jason of Star Command 2.10 – Little Girl Lost

You may well wonder why I picked an image of a knockoff Raggedy Ann doll to illustrate an episode that features both a thirty foot-tall ape monster and the return of Francine York as Medusa. That’s because the doll, Mimi, surprised the heck out of me about three minutes into the show by coming to life and looking around. Amazingly, nothing more was done with this plot development this week as Jason and his friends, rescuing a little girl called Heidi, get chased around by the monster and Medusa. Then, right at the end, the doll raises its head and looks around as everybody heads back to Star Command. Neat little cliffhanger, honestly.

Obviously, I think the doll was this episode’s high point, but our son was floored by the big monster. It wasn’t quite scary enough to send him behind the sofa, but it did have him hiding his head behind his mother’s back. So call that a medium-level fright!

Jason of Star Command 2.9 – Phantom Force

In this episode, we learn that Samantha’s instincts about mothering are pretty bad, but when it comes to random guesses between one real planet and four fake ones, she’s dead on target. She unwittingly brings a hologram of Dragos on board Star Command. The villain is disguised as a little kid, and is played by David Comfort, a popular child actor of the time.

The highlight came when the kid revealed himself as Dragos, prompting our son to bellow “Oh, come on! Seriously?!” We’re not sure whether that was his suspended disbelief crumbling, or if he just couldn’t take one more headache in everybody’s bad day.

Jason of Star Command 2.8 – Face to Face

There’s a charming bit in this episode when Jason says that all these caves look familiar. They’re the same caves that he and the Space Academy students have been walking around in for three seasons now. This one, however, has that lovely feature of walls that close in, which is the greatest thing ever when you’re a kid.

“Face to Face” threatens to be one of sci-fi TV’s many “Arena”/”Rules of Luton” stories, with our hero battling an alien enemy. But since seventies Saturday morning rules about violence would make that really, really dull, they quickly have to work together to survive since the planet they’re on is alive and wants to kill both of them. Our son enjoyed this story, and I got to be a good dad and remind him about the importance of working together. Much older than five, he’d see that as pretty cheesy, but it works for now.

BONUS MATERIAL! Sid Haig’s Dragos is barely in this episode, but this great actor gets the spotlight over at Comfort TV this week, with a look at some of his most memorable TV guest appearances. Go check it out!

Jason of Star Command 2.7 – Through the Stargate

As we take an evening’s break from this mammoth-length Doctor Who story, we pop back into the world of Jason of Star Command for the first part of another story. It appears that the second season is comprised of four three-parters, which is probably the sort of thing I should have checked on before we got started. “Through the Stargate” introduces Rod Loomis as a villain named Adron, and for some as-yet unrevealed reason he’s flying around space with a big obelisk that can teleport anybody who touches it to a twin obelisk on a remote planet.

The most interesting point so far is that there’s a friendly dragon on the planet brought to life by some phenomenally good stop-motion animation. The creature has an injury on its foot and our heroes use W1K1’s laser to cauterize the wound. I set aside any consideration about how that sounded like a pretty big and possibly very painful risk, and used it as a teaching moment to explain cauterization to our son. He then seemed pretty horrified by the possibility of a wound so grievous that it might need such action, so I focused on this show being a fun fantasy and not really like the real world at all, honestly.

Jason of Star Command 2.6 – The Power of the Star Disk

Perhaps strangely, I didn’t see any of the original Star Trek, despite its supposed omnipresence in ’70s syndication, until the summer of 1982. I certainly knew about the show. I had some of the Mego dolls, and a coloring book about a circus planet, and my friend Jamie had a Peter Pan Records comic and audio adventure which was most likely “Passage to Moauv.” I really don’t remember watching the cartoon. I read about the show when I checked some books out of the library in fifth grade, including Judy Fireman’s TV Book and at least one of those anthologies of massively condensed adaptations of episodes by James Blish.

Of course, I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture at some point in 1979. But even that came after I’d tried piecing together the story of the film from a comic that ran across on the back of a series of McDonalds’ Happy Meal boxes, and I’m pretty sure even that got garbled because the artist drew Spock in scenes before he showed up in the story.

Before I could actually sit down and watch any of that show when channel 46 (then WANX-TV) started showing it (to tie in with the second movie), I had this sort of “race memory” of what Star Trek was about, and it was mainly about noble old extinct alien species with godlike powers who don’t think that humanity is quite ready for them, and who vanish into higher plains of existence which, one day, humans will be able to reach. I knew that, and was not all that excited by it, long before I started wondering why Frank Gorshin had half his face black and the other white, and why Captain Kirk had married a native American girl. If Doctor Who is all about running through corridors, then Star Trek is all about lost knowledge of the ancients. I’ve tried, Lord have I tried, but if it ain’t got Wyatt Earp and a red sky, I ain’t interested. Not even Jeri Ryan in the skintight silver suit can get me to watch Star Trek.

I mention all that at length because tonight’s episode of Jason of Star Command, written – as many were – by Trek vet Samuel A. Peeples, is exactly like that “race memory” of old Star Trek. I mean, at the end, the ancient Tantalutians who temporarily gave the commander the star disk to counter Dragos’s power even reclaims both disks into the great beyond so that our heroes could ponder whether one day humanity would be ready to accept these great gifts.

It’s everything that eleven year-old me found boring and stupid about Star Trek. I tuned out. Our son thought it was awesome and even applauded at the end. God help us, in the future.

Jason of Star Command 2.5 – Secret of the Ancients

I have to say, Dragos has been a little subdued and sidetracked in this season, but boy howdy, did that ever change in this episode’s opening sequence. It’s full-bore Sid Haig bellowing with fury. He doesn’t seem like an evil space baddie in a Saturday morning kids’ show at all. The only reason I wasn’t worried that he was going to backhand everybody through the cardboard sets is because nobody gets backhanded in this show, period.

Our son was under the blanket immediately. “Dragos is SO MEAN,” he yelled. “Is he the meanest villain in the whole universe,” I asked, and he firmly shouted “YEAH!” Then Dragos activates a “star disk” which can teleport anything, anywhere, into what’s alternately described as “another dimension of space” and “limbo.” Now he’s the meanest villain in the whole universe and then some.

Jason of Star Command 2.4 – Beyond the Stars!

A few nights ago, we watched part five of the Doctor Who story “The Invasion,” and saw the Brigadier tell Zoe, Jamie, and most especially guest character Isobel Watkins not to go down in the sewers and take pictures of alien monsters. In that Doctor Who way that lets you know that Terrance Dicks, in his well-meaning but old-fashioned style, was involved with the writing, the Brig completely bungles the command.

It would have been perfectly sensible to say “we’ll organize a company and get some trained, armed, military men with photographic equipment,” but instead he says something about “menfolk will do this, not you girls in miniskirts,” and the guest character gets to draw back and say “you chauvinist pig,” because this was 1968 and shows needed to reflect contemporary issues. But instead of being pragmatic about the situation or at the very least giving the ladies some boots and trousers to wear, it all says “this is too dangerous for girlies.”

Compare to this episode of Jason of Star Command, which is a million times stupider in every possible way than “The Invasion,” and includes a, ahem, “space pirate” who’s about nineteen years old with a white boy disco ‘fro, but which handles the “this is too dangerous for the lead female character” scene a billion times better. They don’t mention gender, or race, at all.

We’ve had this scene in sixty gajillion drama programs. The hero has got to do a rescue, and the chief says it’s dangerous but good luck, and the female lead says let me go, and the chief says no. But here, it’s beautifully progressive and realistic. The commander won’t let Samantha go because he can’t afford to risk two pilots. That’s all. Thank heaven.

I’d like to think that’s fifty percent Filmation being an incredibly inclusive and progressive company to start with. Sure, they had almost no money, incredibly earnest scriptwriting, a tone and storylines that were lockstep firmly in Star Trek‘s shadow and visuals that owed everything to Star Wars. This time, they even added a “space age game” that follows in the footsteps of both that chessboard with hologram pieces in Wars and Tri-Dimensional Chess from Trek! Yet this was a show whose producers’ hearts were in the right place. They had to take baby steps, because, you know, kiddie TV, but casting Tamara Dobson was unbelievably great for the day. Certainly, there’s a “please, hero, explain this to me so the audience can understand” nature about Samantha that is unavoidable with any co-starring part, but Samantha is more physically powerful than Jason, very resourceful, and is not at all a damsel in distress.

It was very uncommon to see any black actress in a regular lead role in an action show before Dobson. Nichelle Nichols may have been the first, but she didn’t beam down to very many planets and blast many Klingons or Gorns. Gail Fisher on Mannix also comes to mind, but she was the secretary. If there are any American television actresses that I’m missing, please leave a comment, but there clearly weren’t very many before 1979. In the UK, Elizabeth Adare had joined the cast of The Tomorrow People in 1974; I’m not sure when Nickelodeon started showing that in this country.

The other fifty percent is Dobson herself. She’s got such screen presence, power, and magnetism that honestly, if the script had called for John Russell to tell her – to tell Cleopatra Jones – something like “This is too dangerous for a woman,” it would have stopped looking like Star Wars and looked more like Police Squad. You don’t cast Tamara Dobson in 1979 and ask her to wait patiently because being a hero is menfolk’s work. While the character did have limitations because of the format and because they couldn’t do much of anything too violent on the series, I’m glad that she was in Jason and I hope that she was a great hero to many young viewers.

Jason of Star Command 2.3 – Web of the Star Witch

We’re taking a short break from Doctor Who, since the current story is a long one. Tonight, our son got a terrific little fright in the third episode of Jason‘s second season when a hairy ape-alien – one of Tehor’s people we met in the previous installment – emerges from hiding inside the ship that they stole from Jason and Samantha. His blanket was over him like a shot!

We met Medusa, one of Dragos’s allies, a few weeks ago in chapters 11 and 12 of the original serial. She was originally played by Julie Newmar, but Francine York took over the part in this story, in which she doesn’t actually do much of anything. Despite a terrific title for this episode, it’s a bit dry.

We saw Francine York almost two years ago – have we really been doing this so long? – in the Bookworm story of Batman‘s first season. She had appeared in guest parts in just about everything in the thirteen years between Batman and Jason and had many more roles ahead of her, including playing Marilyn Monroe in a bizarre 1992 horror film called, alternately, Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars and/or Scream Your Head Off. She passed away last month at the age of 80.