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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jason of Star Command – Chapters 5 and 6

More thrilling escapes and daring rescues in the next two chapters of Jason of Star Command, though our son is most taken by the cute robot W1K1 and was happiest when it was rescued from the enemy’s tractor beam. Funny how Dragos has technology that lets him and his drone ships locate a tiny robot in the void of space, but apparently the escape pods of the Starfire ship, into which they bundle Rosanne Katon to get her to safety, are “too small” for his sensors.

This is the episode in which Jason, Nicole, and Allegra are attacked by a big six-legged insectoid monster. Early last year, the Space: 1970 blog presented some pretty terrific behind the scenes photos of the model. It’s a really nice bit of stop-motion work, and of course our son just loved it. It gave him a brief startle and then he watched with glee as Jason escaped from it and drove it off.

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Jason of Star Command – Chapters 3 and 4

Well, if you’re going to be running around a Death Sta– I mean, a Dragonship, you probably need to find a princess to rescue. Jason of Star Command‘s fourth chapter introduces Princess Allegra, who wears a bedsheet or a curtain or something. She’s played by Rosanne Katon, who had starred in the blaxploitation classic Ebony, Ivory & Jade a couple of years previously and was Playboy‘s star attraction literally the very month this program debuted. Considering how the networks’ Saturday morning censors were in a constant state of indigestion in the 1970s, I’m just going to conclude that somebody in CBS’s children’s department was not paying attention.

Our son just adores this program. It’s exciting and incredibly fast-paced and has monsters and explosions and special effects. It also has almost no character development whatever, but he doesn’t need that. He was particularly fascinated by the scene where the “energy clone” of James Doohan’s Commander Canarvin starts running out of energy and begins dissolving into a yellow blur.

I actually enjoyed a couple of scenes where Jason wanders about the Dragonship with impunity and starts reprogramming everything and opening the launch bays without the villains knowing. 25 years later, this would happen about every week on the Stargate shows.

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Jason of Star Command – Chapters 1 and 2

Well, here’s something we never had to do before. Yesterday, we took our son to Nashville for his very first pro sports experience. I’d won two tickets to the Titans’ game against Houston, and we had a really great time, but we got back very late and the day wiped him out. He said that he wanted to watch this new series, but he hid his head under the blanket for most of it, and when he woke ten hours later, he had no memory of it. So we watched the first two chapters again this morning.

Jason of Star Command was Filmation’s follow-up to Space Academy, reusing many of the same sets, costumes, and miniatures. I loved how our son spotted this today, musing “That’s a different ship, but it looks similar to the ship in Space Academy…” The first season originally appeared as one of the segments in Filmation’s anthology program Tarzan and the Super 7 in the fall of 1978. It’s a long story intended to evoke the classic cliffhanging serials of the 1940s and 1950s with sixteen chapters, each about eleven minutes long.

Space Academy had been in development for several months before the release of Star Wars, which gave it the final ingredient it needed, giving the producers several visual cues to make it look very modern and of the moment. But Jason of Star Command was designed from the outset to look and feel like that film, so it’s got an adventuring soldier of fortune who dresses a lot like Han Solo, locked in a war of nerves with Dragos, Master of the Cosmos, who threatens the galaxy with his death sta– I mean, dragonship. Jason has a cute robot called W1K1, although this among all the cute seventies robots is unique in being small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Dragos is played by the great Sid Haig in full Saturday morning menace mode, and Jason’s commander is played by James Doohan, who of course was Scotty in Star Trek. Support comes from Charlie Dell as a wacky scientist called Parsafoot, and Susan O’Hanlon as a captain named Nicole.

So for the second time around this morning, our son was much happier and engaged than last night, and he really enjoyed it. The sense of threat and menace is perfectly pitched to elementary school-age kids, and he enjoyed the lasers and explosions with glee while worrying about Dragos’s nasty stun-beam eye and three lumbering aliens in his employ. The show makes good use of music, both the “whimsical” cue that Filmation seemed to use in all of their programs, and what I believe is the new-to-this-season “jeopardy” cue, which everybody remembers from Filmation’s very good Tarzan and Flash Gordon cartoons.

For a Star Wars cash-in, it’s a very fun show, and I think that once we finish watching all of it, he’ll be just about ready for the real Star Wars. We’ll see…

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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 1.8 – The Phantom Planet

Halfway through its run, Space Academy is revealing itself to be pretty much the quintessential seventies sci-fi show. This episode, again written by Samuel A. Peeples, has been my favorite so far. You’ve got your Diet Star Trek storyline – a strange creature is trying to communicate with our heroes to preserve artifacts from an ancient civilization before its planetoid is destroyed – and your Star Wars sense of design and shots of the undersides of miniature spaceships with big glowing engines and your very, very seventies addition of telepathy and ESP and all that silly Tomorrow People stuff. This episode even does the mind reading one better and adds astral projection to Chris and Laura’s list of psychic powers.

Who gets the blame for all the telepathy and mind-reading and such that pushed its way into shows about spaceships, anyway? I think we can blame Erich von Däniken for all that “there are those who believe that life here began out there” nonsense in Battlestar Galactica. I’d like a scapegoat for the ESP stuff as well, please.

Anyway, understanding that any modern viewer will have to take a deep breath anytime Laura and Chris do any of their seventies psychic stuff, this really was an entertaining episode. The creature – a zero-budget “ghost” that howls and moans like ghosts always did on TV when you were a kid – is unusual and we weren’t sure what it was up to at first. Despite the goofy costume on the creature, they really did a great job with the miniature effects, and the shots of a Seeker flying among some asteroids is truly impressive. So yeah, the show’s dated, but really entertaining for all its limitations.

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