February 16, 2007

Gratuitous Buck Blogging

This is a continuation of a series of posts about the old TV show “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” that began here with the pilot movie. The first regular episode to the first season was:

Ep. 1.3 & 1.4 “Planet of The Slave Girls (Parts 1 & 2)” (aired 9/27/79):

Before the show was green-lit as a series, there was some doubt as to whether or not Erin Gray would reprise her role as Wilma Deering. So to hedge their bets, the producers auditioned several females to take up the role. One of these actresses was Juanin Clay, who was tentatively cast to play Wilma, but it eventually worked out that Gray would come back for the series.

Juanin Clay.jpg
Wilma Deering in an alternate universe

Not too shabby. Kinda has a little Daphne Zuniga thing going on. Clay would appear in the next episode as Major Marla Landers because at the time the producers still weren’t quite sure how Buck’s relationship with Wilma would develop. They were kicking around the idea of introducing a new potential love interest every week. Note: there is a tribute site for Juanin Clay out there, touting her as “the woman who would have been Wilma”, that’s worth a look.

The one thing the producers were sure of was that Wilma had to be a blonde. No ifs, ands or buts. Ever wonder why Wilma went from blonde to brunette over the course of the first season? Now you know. Erin Gray had to get constant dye jobs to give here those lighter locks. No doubt, had Clay been cast she would have had to endure the same transformation. Eventually, however, Gray was allowed to go back to here natural dark brown hair color. Personally, I think she looks equally ravishing with either color.

How about you?

Erin Gray Blonde Brunette.jpg

Now, the episode at hand. I sense a pattern that the producers felt strongly about getting somewhat well-known guest stars each week (another page from the Aaron Spelling school of television magic). And for this episode they pick a good one: the late, great Jack Palance. He plays a kind of evangelical survivalist messiah named Kaleel who has the power to kill you with his glowing-hand Vulcan death grip. Kaleel plots an invasion of Earth. Why? Because he’s tired of dancing for the Man, that’s why. The people he leads are the slaves who make the “food discs” that sustain the Terrans. I guess these folks are simply doing the jobs that 25th Century Earth people don’t want to do.

Jack Palance Rocks.JPG
Don't talk smack, to Jack!

BTW, I always found it interesting that many sci-fi shows allow Earth to name other planets and star systems but they get to choose their own name. Usually it’s Terra and we’re known as Terrans, from the latin word that means “earth” in the literal sense (i.e. terra firma). But then “Earthlings” does sound pretty lame. Who wants to be known as any kind of “ling”, anyway?

But I digress.

Anyway, Kaleel orders the food discs poisoned so that the fighter pilots of the Earth’s defense directorate are incapacitated and the planet is vulnerable to his attack. Anyone who defies him gets to see his hands glow – right before he kills them. But, really. Kaleel doesn’t need the power of his magic hands to seize the hearts and minds of the slaves. He’s Jack Palance fercrissakes! He could lead them by sheer force of will. And he lets you know it every moment he’s on screen. “Believe it…or not.”

This is the one episode I know of that actually presents Buck with a legitimate rival for Wilma’s attention. David Groh guest stars as Major Duke Danton, Wilma’s ex-boyfriend. Presumably, Duke couldn’t deal with the idea of Wilma out-ranking him and it didn’t work out. No doubt the lovely Col. Deering was more intimidating on top, so to speak.

But despite a rocky start to their working relationship, Duke and Buck manage to find a way to work together in order to rescue Wilma, who was taken prisoner on the Planet of the Slave Girls, to which the title of the episode refers. And this is interesting because there are just as many men on the planet who are slaves as women. But “Planet of the Sausage Convention” wouldn’t attract the kind of audience that the producers were going for.

Anyway, THE sexy scene of note involves Buck, Wilma and one of the slave girls trapped in a kind of natural boiler room that provides heat to the manufacturing complex. Wilma is dressed in a slave girl outfit and she is literally drenched with sweat.

The outfit, already fairly form-fitting, is clinging to her wet body and while Buck is trying to devise a plan to get out of the chamber, every teenage boy is wishing he could find a way in. This may very well be Erin Gray’s sexiest scene in Season One.

Wilma in the "catsuit"

There are some other notable guest stars, such as Roddy McDowell as the clueless Governor of the facility (and essentially head slavemaster). Buster Crabbe, who played Buck Rogers back in the thirties, makes an appearance as a formerly retired fighter pilot who apparently avoided the poisoned food discs in favor of the Chinese buffet at the senior center. The enemy fighters (flown by former slaves who’ve never been in a ship their whole lives until now) which attack Earth are all essentially tied to a master ship flown by one of Kaleel’s henchmen. Buck of course figures out that – like sacking the quarterback in football – they only need to take out the master ship to leave the rest of the ships flying blind and vulnerable.

The strategy works. The attacking fighters are all destroyed, Kaleel is imprisoned and the final scene is of Buck, Duke and Wilma strolling arm in arm as the best of buddies (though Buck and Duke look like they’re thinking more along the lines of a ménage a trios).

Episode Rating: "Must See" (if for no other reason than to see the hot, sweaty, luscious Wilma in the skimpy outfit)

Next episode: “Vegas In Space”

Posted by Gary at February 16, 2007 08:38 PM | TrackBack

Dude, stop reading my mind. You're creeping me out.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at February 16, 2007 10:10 PM

I don't know what is more sad? Some guy creating a website of an obscure actress who briefly played the part of Wilma or the guy reading it at work at 2:40am?? Probably a draw.

Sci Fi channel briefly showed Buck Rogers in the mornings. I don't know if they still do. I just liked seeing the slinky hot Erin Gray again.

Posted by: Stillers at February 17, 2007 02:38 AM

Mmmmmm, slave girls.

Posted by: rbj at February 17, 2007 12:41 PM