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.

Jason of Star Command 2.2 – Frozen in Space

Last time, we got to meet Dragos’s mob of growling aliens in hairy costumes. In this episode, John Berwick gets to play one who has a gorilla’s body and a one-eyed spider head by the name of Tehor. Berwick had played Matt Prentiss in an episode each of Space Academy and Jason. The episode is written by Margaret Armen, who had earlier written a pair of Land of the Lost stories.

I’ve never actually seen this season of Jason before. I watched the first episode several years ago, but the rest of this is all new to me, despite my being precisely the target age for the program when it first aired in 1979. CBS aired it at noon on Saturday mornings, which was probably far too late for me to still be watching TV when there was outside playing to be done. Despite some different characters, it’s tonally identical to the first season, which I remember enjoying, so I can’t imagine deliberately tuning out, certainly not to watch either the ABC Weekend Special or repeats of Jonny Quest, which I never enjoyed (it’s okay; everybody else enjoyed it twice as much), so I must have just wanted to go play. After five-odd hours in front of the TV every Saturday, something surely had to give.

Anyway, our son says that this episode was both “scary” and “cool.” He didn’t like it when two of Tehor’s hench-monsters jumped from behind a rock and captured Samantha, but Samantha is strong enough to bend the bars of her cage and escape. Whew!

Wonder Woman 1.1 – Wonder Woman Meets Baroness Von Gunther

If Wonder Woman‘s pilot had been badly uneven, with all the guest characters twirling mustaches and playing comedy baddies, then this is much better, and far more toned down. It’s a simple, kid-friendly adventure with a script by Margaret Armen, and you have to be willing to accept secret passages out of federal prisons during wartime for this to work. For all of Batman‘s silliness, they never once pretended there were secret tunnels for the criminals to get out of Gotham State Prison.

Speaking of kid-friendly, this is the episode where Wonder Woman leaves her magic lasso in the care of a little boy whose dad is the prison’s warden. I was actually thinking this week about how I enjoyed the bit in the pilot movie where Wonder Woman didn’t understand much about American society, including money, and how the show would have been more entertaining if the character was still learning about everything. Instead, we got super-efficient Yeoman Diana Prince, with her Georgetown apartment.

Well, I say Georgetown, but that’s so California. There’s a bit at the “Old Virginia Stables,” and they were probably shooting M*A*S*H on the hill behind it and had the Dukes of Hazzard crew shooting there the next day.

Anyway, Wonder Woman is still naive enough to leave her lasso behind in a kid’s care for the Nazi saboteurs, led by Christine Belford and Bradford Dillman, to steal. Our son liked the kid, who was clearly there for the five year-olds in the audience. He said that he liked the beginning best, most likely meaning the two scenes where Wonder Woman rescues Steve from a couple of scrapes.

Casting note: this is the first episode with Richard Eastman as General Blankenship, and it pretends to introduce Beatrice Colen as Corporal Etta Candy. The character has exactly two lines and is not named, so we’ll call it a first appearance rather than an introduction.

Land of the Lost 2.1 – Tar Pit

Season two of Land of the Lost began with what I remembered as a pretty inconsequential story with dinosaurs and Pakuni – and non-threatening dinosaurs, at that – but I had overlooked that Daniel would become very worried for Dopey when the “two-ton” dino gets caught in the tar pit. That’s really all the plot is for the episode; the humans and the reluctant Pakuni make several attempts to free Dopey.

I really like the way that Margaret Armen’s script wasn’t afraid to give huge chunks of time over to the Pakuni arguing about whether to help. About a third of the dialogue isn’t in English, which is really impressive.

Some minor changes in between seasons: they found a new brown shirt for Wesley Eure to wear, and Ta is played by a new actor. Joe Giamalva had played the character in season one, and Scutter McKay, who played various costumed parts in H.R. Pufnstuf, took over the role here. I really like how McKay and Philip Paley debate whether to do some nebulous task or whether Cha-Ka is going to paint Ta’s portrait. When the Pakuni all finally arrive to see that Dopey is sinking in tar, Ta can’t be bothered to help. He dismisses Dopey’s problem with a dismissive “bye-bye” wave.

Behind the scenes, Dick Morgan became the story editor, and Tom Swale the associate producer. Between the two of them, they’d be responsible for seven of this season’s thirteen episodes, including the really big one that’s coming up next.

Land of the Lost 1.3 – Dopey

After two child-terrifying lessons in world-building, the pace of this show slowed to a merciful crawl for a comparatively inconsequential romp for episode three, giving the audience a short break. Margaret Armen, who wrote this one, was another veteran of TV science fiction. David Gerrold, who was story editor for the first season, brought on board several people who had written along with him for Star Trek, both the original show and the Filmation cartoon version, people who thought things through in a big picture sense that most Hollywood writers of the time simply didn’t, and so there’s a level of competency here that’s fun to watch.

Things have consequences that come back later, and elements are introduced in one episode that we’ll see again, like the strange gold obelisk thing that was seen very briefly in episode one, and which will later become extremely important. I was very pleased when Marie mentioned tonight that somebody had written “BEWARE OF SLEESTAK” on a pillar in the previous episode.

I couldn’t quite get the image to freeze on the very brief shot – repeated during the end credits – of Holly riding on Dopey without blurring. That’s a remarkable special effect for its time. The green screen / chromakey effects of the show are undeniably primitive, but Sid and Marty Krofft’s crew, who’d been working with the technology since Lidsville in 1970, had come up with some amazing imagery within the limited resources.

Sure, you can tell the joins between the actors and the stop-motion photography, but look at that shot and notice how Kathy Coleman is balanced on a blue sawhorse or whatever and keyed on top of the little stop motion model of Dopey. But the model is moving, and the actress appears to be moving in sync with it. I know that Coleman is stationary and waving her arm and it’s the live action camera that’s moving, but it’s moving at just the right speed to create the illusion of movement that matches the motion of the model, perfectly. What I’m getting at is that the special effects crew on this show had the most amazing challenges on American television at the time, and if I were in their company, I would have had an absolute blast trying to figure out how to make these sequences work.

Speaking of which, Daniel concluded that he only liked the ending of this episode, before admitting that he also liked the middle, and the beginning. Another one for the win column!