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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.18 – Dead Ringer

For our final episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, I’m afraid that I picked another turkey. Linda Dano, who would later star in more than 1000 episodes of the soap opera Another World, plays a parapsychologist who helps Steve investigate the possibility of his spirit finally coming to kill him after those 52 seconds that he spent clinically dead in the accident that launched the series. This spirit is, of course, a Scooby Doo hoax by enemy agents. This isn’t merely telegraphed in the first scene after the opening credits, it’s skywritten in neon pink.

So while our favorite six year-old critic was taking this creepy-to-the-young story at face value and worrying about spirits and psychic phenomena, the grownups were questioning each new addition to the story. How’d the bad guys arrange this, and that? It’s all very straightforward until we get to the doctor’s apartment and she becomes possessed by the spirit and tries to kill Steve. Good grief, I wondered. How on earth will they explain that?

They don’t.

I was pretty amazed. In the traditional “here’s how the baddies did it” scene at the end, they explained the this and the that, but they don’t even mention the elephant in the room! That’s one heck of a plot hole.

ABC showed three more episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and canceled the program, too late for the producers to consider making a final episode. That was very rarely done in the seventies, of course, but by chance, Universal was pretty sure that NBC was going to ax The Bionic Woman, and so they did give that one a proper sendoff. More on that one day next week.

As for Six, I think that overall I enjoyed this more than I thought I might. I certainly picked some turkeys, like this one, the second half of that first Death Probe story, and “The Deadly Test,” but most of what we watched was reasonably entertaining and I enjoyed seeing some good guest stars. The nicest revelation was learning that Lee Majors is actually a much better actor than I had credited him. His performances in the first Bionic Woman adventures, and in “The Seven Million Dollar Man,” were all really good.

Earlier in this blog, I compared him favorably to David Janssen, and I stand by that. Like Janssen, Majors seems more expressive and natural in the television medium than on film. Majors made some features after Six, but his next big success was in another action series, The Fall Guy, which, like this series, ran for five years. He was still believably an action star in CBS’s 1990s series Raven, and more recently he’s had recurring roles in Dallas and Ash vs. Evil Dead.

Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers were revived for three reunion TV movies in 1987, 1989, and 1994, the first two of which were positioned as pilots for new series with younger bionic characters. I’m not planning to track these down for the blog, but if I run across inexpensive copies of them one of these days… who knows?

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.15 – Return of Deathprobe (part two)

That was actually much more entertaining than the first story. It was still pretty tedious, but never as stupid as the original one. It’s remarkable just how short and to-the-point this one is. There are virtually no other speaking parts beyond Steve and Oscar. Everybody else who does appear gets maybe two scenes. Steve and Oscar try a tactic to stop the Probe, it doesn’t work, they go back to the command post, get another idea, and go try again.

And do not let our son fool you. He certainly claimed to hate the Probe, but he got incredibly excited this time out. He was enjoying the heck out of this… and then he realized I had noticed him and he tried to downplay things. “Yeah, that was pretty cool…” he said at the end. If you’re between the ages of about six and nine, this is probably going to be some epic, memorable television. Older than that… well, the most challenging thing for Lee Majors in this one was maintaining his composure when the Probe blasts the engine of the bulldozer he’s driving, sending sparks everywhere. Everybody’s playing second fiddle to a big black tank. It’s not really an hour of entertainment for grownups.

This was the final appearance for the Probe, and indeed the last time any of the recurring villains or baddies would appear in either of the bionic series. But the Probe had one last outing in another time and place. The prop was redressed and used in 1980 as the Crimebuster in the Andy Kaufman comedy Heartbeeps. I can appreciate Kaufman, but the Crimebuster is the only good thing about that movie! I wonder whether the prop ever appeared anywhere else, or whether it was sold off to a collector. It was probably scrapped, but maybe it’s still in some garage someplace.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.14 – Return of Deathprobe (part one)

The original Death Probe two-parter may have been unbelievably dopey, but it was also unbelievably popular, inspiring a toy in Kenner’s line of Six Million Dollar Man dolls and accessories, and, heck, somebody already paid for that big prop, so they might as well use it again. Happily, this sequel is at least starting out much, much more interesting than the original one.

In the first story, we had all this nonsense with comedy small-town cops and Russian sleeper agents in the way of any mechanical mayhem. This one still leaves the Probe rolling around the desert not doing much of anything for half of the hour, but there’s an interesting mystery about who these villains are, and what they have to do with both the Soviet Union and a middle eastern Nosuchlandia – kind of a Kuwait substitute, I think.

Our son somehow remains the only child in America who does not like the Death Probe. It’s too powerful, too scary, and now it’s got these big mean drills on the front. Weird kid.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.9 – Dark Side of the Moon (part two)

Overall, the main problem with this story is that it’s one missed opportunity after another. It all climaxes with yet another very boring “time is running out to do something about the bomb” situation, and what they do about the bomb is so amazingly improbable that Dr. Science’s acid reflux started acting up again. Jack Colvin’s flunkies are operating under the delusion that their crimes on the moon will work wonders for their careers. Steve never thinks to tell them that they have already killed hundreds of people and will probably end up killing millions before they’re done. There may not be a United States to come back to, and they’ll certainly never see the money Colvin promised them.

But if we must have this nonsense of a megaton bomb that can’t be moved because of a fluid motion sensor, Marie spotted the obvious solution. They’ve gone on and on about the dark side of the moon being at absolute zero and punched a hole from the surface into the mine shaft to freeze Steve’s bionics via a long steel rod. (That’s ten shades of Dr. Science having a headache, so we won’t go into how they’re keeping their artificial underground environment stable with an open borehole to the surface…) Why didn’t they just freeze the fluid in the sensor when they had a hole to the freezing surface right there?

I’d like to not be too critical, because this is for kids, and there’s some science that children can use and bring back to school Monday morning, but the rest of this is just painfully silly! Ah, well, Colvin does a good job playing the calculating and emotionless villain… even if he is pretty blasted wrong to calculate that he’ll return to Earth a rich scientific hero, he comes pretty close to getting away with it.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.8 – Dark Side of the Moon (part one)

Afraid it’s been an unhappy Thanksgiving around the Secret Fire-Breathing Headquarters. Our son is down with a stomach bug – on all the days! – and so he was curled up under a quilt for tonight’s episode. He didn’t enjoy it a whole lot, but we have to grade on a curve because he doesn’t feel all that well.

It’s commonly understood that Star Wars killed Six and all the super-agent shows of the seventies, but they went down fighting against the space invaders with some more overt sci-fi storylines. Wonder Woman, for example, had its celebrated and ridiculous “Mind Stealers From Outer Space” story, and then there’s John Meredyth Lucas’s two-part episode “Dark Side of the Moon” from November 1977, which blows kisses of plausibility at Dr. Science and then runs off and elopes with Dr. Whatever, Man, Anything Can Happen in Science Fiction.

The villain is played by Jack Colvin, who, like the other main guest star Simone Griffeth, was a Universal regular at the time. He’s a scientist with apparent access to many millions of dollars and he secretly redirects a mission to mine some Unobtanium from an asteroid to the dark side of the moon, where he’s convinced that it can be found in abundance. His whole plan reeks of being a cover story for something more sinister because, of course, there isn’t any unobtanium to be found and he says to keep blasting, but he never even blinks to say “that’s odd.” Colvin plays the character as though he’s looking for something else, which is very strange.

So Steve has to go to the moon to find out what’s going on, because Colvin’s blasting has knocked the moon slightly out of its orbit and the weather has gone haywire. In the universe of Six, Apollo rockets are ready to go at a moment’s notice, and the landers can fly around from asteroids to the moon and back without adaptation or detection from Earth. Sometimes when a show like this, which pretends to be “the real world” with just a few changes, goes off into fantasyland it can’t help but grate a little. Lee Majors is the best thing about this hour by miles. When he picks up a frisbee left behind on a previous moon mission and tosses it into the horizon, he looks like he’s having a blast.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.5 – Bigfoot V

This was an odd little hour. It’s almost entirely on location, filmed in summer but pretending to be the chilly high mountain elevations with patches of fake snow on the ground and the actors dressed in jackets and parkas. Apparently, Steve’s alien buddies have gone home but left the sasquatch behind for a very lengthy regeneration process that will remove all of his bionic circuitry and eventually leave him a simple Earth animal again. But this gets interrupted by some humans, some of whom, like a character played by Geoffrey Lewis, are up to no good. This leaves Bigfoot maddened and confused, and Steve only has a short time to return his old sparring partner to hibernation before he short-circuits and dies.

Ted Cassidy’s back as Bigfoot in this one, which would prove to be the last outing for the character. I think the producers must have realized that there’s not a lot you can do with this character without the secret space aliens, and everything you can do with him gets done in this episode. It’s perfectly entertaining, and pleased our son greatly. He said that the first part was very surprising, and then it gets very exciting, and it finished up both surprising and exciting.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.2 – Sharks (part two)

Between the sharks and the stock footage of depth charges exploding, there’s certainly enough in part two of this story to keep kids entertained. I wasn’t as keen on it myself, since Steve spends almost the entire story a prisoner and doesn’t get much of a chance to be active, but our son liked it, with one qualification. He said it was mostly good and partly bad because he was very worried that Rudy Wells would have to stay forever at the bottom of the ocean.

I was right last time, by the way: the mercenaries end up taking over the piracy of the submarine. I did kind of love the casual way that the FBI let everybody know in part one that some nuclear missiles were stolen from Boston like the thieves had helped themselves to them along with some rims and subwoofers. I missed how silly that was last night, but the recap this time had me giggling.

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The Six Million Dollar Man 5.1 – Sharks (part one)

So into the 1977-78 season and the final batch of The Six Million Dollar Man, still on ABC, and The Bionic Woman, now moved to NBC. I’ve picked thirteen episodes from the final runs of the shows, and we’ll see what surprises are in store.

One surprise for me: seeing Fred Freiberger’s name in the credits as a new producer for the show. I’d known this before, but forgot about it. Freiberger has a horrible reputation among sci-fi teevee fans-slash-loudmouths for the apparently subpar third and final season of Star Trek (I really have no idea whether it’s any worse than the other two and don’t care), and for the definitely inferior second season of Space: 1999 (the first season was grim and boring and the second was bombastic and stupid). So it used to be, among the sci-fi teevee fans-slash-loudmouths of the 1980s, Freiberger was associated with making beloved shows stupid before getting them cancelled, and here he is on Six. So is this going to be appreciably worse than what came before?

Honestly, not so far, and besides, I like the idea of challenging reputations and expectations. Using remote controlled sharks as part of a scheme to hijack a decommissioned nuclear sub is a little silly – and a little bit of a cash-in on mid-seventies Jaws mania – but it’s no sillier than many of the other far-fetched plots in this show. The villains are a disgraced US Navy captain (Stephen Elliott) and his marine biologist daughter (Pamela Hensley, possibly getting this role as a consolation prize since “The Ultimate Imposter” didn’t get picked up as a series), but they’ve hired some mercenary types to assist them, led by a guy played by Greg Walcott, and they kind of have the look of baddies who are going to take control of the situation. Walcott, incidentally, had been in the final episode of Land of the Lost about nine months before this, but he’s best known for being the square-jawed hero of Plan Nine From Outer Space. Also in the cast: John De Lancie in another small part, but at least this time, unlike part one of “Death Probe,” he warranted a screen credit.

Our son is at the age where the animal kingdom is incredibly fascinating. Of course, if you’re in your forties like me, you remember those How and Why Wonder Books on every subject from your elementary school library. He’s currently loving the modern equivalent series, called Everything You Need to Know about bugs, snakes, and dinosaurs. Sharks haven’t quite made the rounds yet, but that might be changing with this episode. He really enjoyed it. The underwater material is quite well done, although the nitpicker in me remembers from one of the initial movies-of-the-week that Steve can swim at super speed as well as run real fast, and probably could have left that last “guard dog” shark in the dust and made for the surface. Couldn’t he?

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