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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.

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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 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.

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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!

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Jason of Star Command 2.1 – Mission to the Stars

Jason of Star Command‘s second season was a full half-hour program of its own, no longer one of the chunks of the Tarzan and the Super 7 anthology. As noted last time, a couple of the cast members left, and new for this season was a whole menagerie of newcomers.

Commander Canarvin’s departure was not explained, but the first episode of the second season sees Commander Stone, a by-the-book blue-skinned bureaucratic bore, taking his place. Stone was played by John Russell, who had appeared in practically every last western movie and show over a sixty year career. He had starred for two seasons in Soldiers of Fortune and four seasons in Lawman.

Also new to the series: Samantha, a mysterious, super-strong woman with amnesia who Jason finds in suspended animation on a derelict ship. She’s played by Tamara Dobson, the star of the two Cleopatra Jones movies. More about her in a later entry.

Dobson is by far the most interesting and important addition to the cast, but in the eyes of our five year-old son, the most fascinating change to the show is that Sid Haig’s Dragos now has a council of grumbling, growling aliens who sit around a conference table roaring at each other and pounding it with their fists whenever Dragos starts twirling his mustache. That cantina scene in Star Wars is the obvious inspiration for these guys. The cute robot W1K1 has also been upgraded and can speak English at last instead of high-pitched babbling, which made him chuckle, but those hairy, scary aliens gave him a good, old-fashioned surprise, although not a real fright.

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