The previous episode of Nancy Drew was full of established Hollywood stars making guest appearances, but this morning’s story was full of up-and-comers. Cast as four motorcycle-riding carnival workers who have a job on the side heisting appliances from fancy houses, there are two of the stars of Jason of Star Command, which would begin production a little more than a year later: Craig Littler and Susan O’Hanlon. Perhaps better known are the other two members of the gang: Jamie Lee Curtis and Robert Englund. Beverly Garland also has a major role in this story, but she was no up-and-comer; she probably had more than two hundred credits by the time she’d made this.
Also appearing, the Universal backlot. Well, it gets used in most of these episodes, but I don’t remember ever seeing it from this angle before. The carnival sets up on the other side of the studio pond, so the cameras are facing the “quaint coastal western” buildings and the riverboat, leading any viewer paying attention to ask the not unreasonable question where on Earth, other than a studio backlot, this carnival could possibly be. The actual story was just a bit of harmless fluff, but our son really enjoyed all the motorcycle stuff, including a big chase at the end that saw one or two of the “try your luck” stands destroyed by runaway bikes.
Speaking of Nancy Drew, we genuinely had no idea until yesterday that a new Nancy Drew film was released literally a month ago. I found the DVD at Target yesterday. Has anybody heard of this film? The 2007 movie with Emma Roberts has been on the “maybe” list to watch with our son for a while. Should we look at this one as well?
Chapter 15 of Jason of Star Command ends with one of those classic cliffhangers where the heroes think that they’ve won, but the villains have one last trick. And our son, smiling from ear to ear, instantly despaired as three clones of the evil Dragos appeared to mock Jason and Nicole. The fiend!
All was well in the end, of course, and the climactic space battle, which looks pretty darn impressive for a 1978 Saturday morning show, had him cheering, and the final destruction of the Death Sta– I mean, Dragonship, was the greatest thing ever. “That was rockin’, bro!” he announced. Then it was our turn to despair at his awful slang. I think this kid’s really going to enjoy Star Wars when we introduce him to it in a few months.
Jason would have a few cast changes when the show returned for the second season, so this would be the final appearances of Nicole and Commander Canarvin. Susan Pratt, who acted under her married name of O’Hanlon for this series, has appeared in a few guest star roles in soap operas and dramas. James Doohan was not available for the second season because he was working on the first of the Star Trek feature films in 1978-79. He appeared in six of those movies along with some Trek video games and TV episodes, while working in some guest star parts for other dramas and appearing at quite a few fan conventions around the world every year. He largely retired in 1999 and passed away in 2005.
Len Janson and Chuck Menville continue script duties as the serial gets closer to its climax. The big moment in chapter 13 is a return of the big alien beast from the fifth part of the story. Once you shell out for animation that good, it makes sense to use a little more of it.
Both the alien monster and Sid Haig’s Dragos had our son more worried than he usually is. He says that he doesn’t like Dragos because he’s so mean and – surprisingly – “always wins.” We had to have a little chat in between the episodes to discuss the reality that Dragos has not actually accomplished much of anything, and that his bonehead spaghetti aliens are totally incompetent. But I think that because he keeps capturing Jason and his friends, even though they escape almost immediately, and because he always acts like he has the upper hand, that’s enough to convince a kid.
Plus, you know, it’s Sid Haig. Dude scares plenty of grown-ups.
There’s just a hint that there may not actually be enough plot to fill sixteen chapters of this story. Some guest writers, among them kidvid vet Chuck Menville, come aboard for a two-part detour. Chapter ten had ended with our heroes helplessly about to crash on a planet, and chapter twelve ended with them helplessly about to land on the Death Sta– I mean Dragonship, which is where they were heading in the first place. In other words, you could safely excise these two chapters and lose nothing of the plot. Such was the way of the classic Saturday matinee serials that this program emulates.
The guest villains this time out are the gorgeous Julie Newmar, vamping it up as Dragos’s moll Queen Vanessa, and her associate Bork, played by Angelo Rossitto. We’ve seen Rossitto buried under foam and fur in some of Sid and Marty Krofft’s earlier shows. He was the original Seymour – and Clang, the smaller one – in H.R. Pufnstuf, and Mr. Big, the gangster hat in Lidsville. He’d been working in Hollywood since the late 1920s.
Bork controls a deeply silly monster with the head of a sheepdog and a costume that says “we can’t afford Julie Newmar and a monster costume at the same time.” Nevertheless, our son thought the beast was remarkably mean, with “claws like saws!” We mistakenly thought he was very excited when Jason was trying to activate a heavy switch before Queen Vanessa and Bork returned. He clarified that he was very nervous and worried. As ever, I’m pleased that when I find the shows a little wearying and see-through, he’s having a ball, loving the action completely.
The story gets a little stranger, for me, in these two chapters. For some reason, the Filmation people chose to wait quite late in the day to introduce some more solid elements from Space Academy. So in chapter 9, the cute robot Peepo joins the proceedings, and chapter 10 is given over to rescuing Lt. Matt Prentiss, from the Academy’s Red Team, from Dragos’s “time dimension” trap. We met Prentiss, played by John Berwick, in episode eleven of Academy.
This is such an odd choice. If you wanted to strengthen the ties between the two programs, why not bring back any of the six young lead characters from the earlier show, and not a one-off guest star? I suppose they couldn’t have asked Jonathan Harris back to play Gampu for a week, because James Doohan is wearing Harris’s costume. (grin)
Our son was very pleased with chapter nine, less so with the strange science of ten. Chapter nine has Peepo and W1K1 arguing with each other. This is extra-cute because Peepo was designed as the R2-D2 cash-in, but now this robot takes the C-3PO role to get all prissy and worried while the small companion babbles in beeps and bloops.
Not a lot happens in these two chapters, but in chapter seven, we learn that Dragos has a remote planetoid staffed by a guy who claims to be Captain Kidd along with a bunch of hologram people and sound effects of dinosaurs. Is this chapter a polite tip of the hat to Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost, which went down in cancellation the year before? The planetoid is called “Limbo of the Lost,” the holograms are of cavemen, cowboys, and pirates, suggesting they’ve all been caught in time warps, and the dinosaur sound effects clearly include the exact screeches of pterodactyls that the Kroffts had used.
Another little bit caught my attention. As Jason attacks the Death Sta– I mean, Dragonship in chapter eight, we see that the big craft’s “arms,” which end in big radar dishes, are not fixed in place and can slowly move. I’m very impressed by the miniature work in this series, and that little affectation was not necessary for the model. But it sure looks neat!
Apart from Jason talking to Kidd in an “Arrr, matey” pirate voice, our son was most impressed by the space ships firing lasers at each other. He was very excited and enjoyed this tremendously. But his biggest grin came in the preview for the next installment, because it’s revealed that the robot Peepo from Space Academy is coming to visit.
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.
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.