“The Return of the Fighting 69th”

Directed by Philip Leacock
Written by
David Bennett Carren, (characters created by) Robert C. Dille
Season 1, Episode 8 (Episode 6 in original run)
Original Air Date: October 25, 1979

Sizzle Reel

Assemble All Pilots on the Flight Deck

This week’s stellar guests:

Once again, Buck Rogers plays in the future while paying tribute to the past with a constellation of classic guest stars…

Major Noah Cooper …. Peter Graves
Roxanne Trent …. Elizabeth Allen
Commander Corliss …. Robert Quarry
Sgt. “Big Red” MacMurthy …. Woody Strode
Corporal M.K. Schultz …. Eddie Firestone
Lt. Harriet Twain …. K.T. Stevens
Eli Twain …. Dan Sturkie
Cadet Westlake …. Robert Hardy
Cadet Clayton …. Duncan McKenzie
Alicia …. Katherine Wiberg
War Technician …. Clifford Turknett

Go for Launch!

Note to the two regular readers and that person who stumbled across it looking for Erin Gray-themed erotica:  Sorry this is so late.  Life happened.  It seems I have contracted advanced syphilitic dementia as a result of an enthusiastic handshake from the President of the United States.  Then I had to go back and remind myself what the hell this episode was about.  In my memory it had blended together with the movie AIRPLANE! and LifeAlert commercials.  So here is my recap of the next episode.

Late middle-aged nightclub act Corliss and Roxanne have turned terrorist and live on an asteroid.  Like most Buck Rogers villains so far, there is a personal score to settle. Last week it was Frank Gorshin’s anti-Riddler after Dr. Huer.  This week, Corliss & Roxanne have it out for Wilma who, if you listen to these idiots, literally set both of them on fire. Roxanne lost the use of her hands and now has an Ash Williams gauntlet.  Corliss has a lumpy face with bionic implants.

Of all the toxic chemicals and weapons they could choose to use, these chucklenuts have opted to steal 500-year-old nerve gas from an ancient weapons dump on Earth.  Think about that for a moment and let the questions form in your subconscious.

Wilma and Buck are leading to young pilots in pursuit of Steve and Edie’s getaway ship into the asteroid belt.  The young pilots hot dog it into the asteroid field and end up smeared across the rocks. The field is too treacherous to be navigated by starfighters and the secret base of Sonny and Cher is too deep inside a big space rock to be taken out by lasers. So they agree to use gravity and inertia to propel one of the largest asteroids directly at the base, crippling it and forcing their surrender.

No, of course not.  They head home to work out how to fill the remaining 40 minutes of the show.

Just so you know how evil these clowns are, they bark at and bully the help, especially their deaf slave girl who reminds us how innocent she is by showing us a magic globe with images of her lost parents.

Back on Earth Twiki and Dr. Theopolis are conducting experiments on a robot for some reason.  Theo mentions attempting to find the bot’s “hurt circuits” when Twiki rips a bundle of cables from the things insides. The robot screams in agony, so when Dr. Huer pings their intercom, Twiki crushes its vocal emitters.  The two are summoned to join Huer in the Directorate Offices. The robot is left alone to die a slow, agonized death in the dark.

Because asteroids apparently don’t move in space in the 25th century, they need a pilot with knowledge of the field from decades in the past who can lead a courageous bombing run of the secret base.  Unfortunately, that person is a retired pilot – a man close to Wilma’s family whom she had to ground for failure to keep it up.  It happens that the man was past the usual retirement age of 85 and failed his flying tests, but there’s still some bad blood there or at least some unresolved sexual tension.  Despite Wilma’s willingness to try ANYTHING else rather than send an old man into space, Dr. Huer makes it an order and sends her and Buck to make it happen.

Back on on Necrosis, the deaf slave girl, Alicia, is folding towels in the quarters of The Evil Captain & Tennille when they show up and begin talking about their plot to use the nerve gas on Earth and punish it for treating them like the smuggling criminals they are. It seems Wilma had the audacity to fire on their fleeing ship and it caught fire.  Marie had to put out Donny’s face with her hands but not before he lost an eye.

So, logically, the whole Earth has to burn for it.

Also note that they have the means to build a base inside an asteroid belt that is un-navigable by small fighters.  How did the base get in there? It must have cost a lot in time and materials getting little bits in there…so you’d think they could have invested in some decent prosthetics and plastic surgery to improve their quality of living, yes?

Alicia overhears(??) their plans to murder-death-kill Earthers before the conversation leads to their enduring marriage and attributing its success to a vigorous sex life and the strong values of their shared mother.  Alicia accidentally knocks a brush off Evil Rosemary Clooney’s dresser and so the old bat menaces the poor girl with her metal duck hand for a bit before chasing her from the room.

On Earth, Buck and Wilma hit up the 25th Century’s VFW looking for Old Man Noah.  Wilma’s familiar with the place. Her father and Noah Cooper used to be besties back in the day and now he’s retired to hang out there with his surviving buddies to drink and gamble their pensions away.

Noah shows up and it is the legendary Peter Graves!  He asks the bartender if he likes movies about gladiators and orders the fish plate special for his buddies in the back.  He sees Wilma and she blushes.

We get the first hug, the smiles and then a quick reminder that Wilma ended the old man’s career by cutting off his space penis and forcing him into retirement. Wilma tries to apologize but it’s no good: you can’t take back the castration of an old space pilot.

There’s no time to waste, though, because it’s time to oil up and get to the elder-orgy!  Wilma and Buck follow Noah into a back room that looks like the bedroom of a kid who is a big fan of space operas.  In the middle of the room is a group of excited old folks buck naked and getting ready for love!  When Buck and Wilma arrive, they quickly slip back into their flight suits (now probably very uncomfortable with their bodies slathered in industrial lubricants) to talk about this chance for a final mission.

It seems that this mission requires old people in old space ships with old weapons.  It is so important that it also requires pilots who totally failed to execute their mission the last time they were allowed to fly.  So, they got that going for ’em.

Sure, Noah says.  We’ll be your special squad – BUT – when it’s done and they somehow survive they must all get back their space wings and be restored to active duty.

Wilma, who thinks they’ll all die screaming in the middle of an asteroid field anyway, says “Sure. What the fuck.”

Back in space, we have time for another bitter vignette. Our deaf damsel in distress pisses off Angry Dinah Shore again and gets her memory globe crushed for her trouble.  As if we needed more reason to hate these assholes.

Wait, What’s The Plan Again?

It’s time to revisit the newest plot to destroy Earth.  Remember that Evil Burns and Allen stole ancient gas weapons from an ancient storage vault and brought them all the way back to their base on Necrosis IV.  If one needed to BOMB the base to stop the missiles from launching, all one would have to do is push a bunch of big rocks into it.  At the same time, all our Evil Dinner Theater couple would need to do to fuck up the Earth would be to do the same, except in the opposite direction – drop a couple of bus-sized rocks on us.  The whole idea that unstable poison gas inside rusty Army containers is the most practical idea.

If you get the sense that Buck Rogers has had little to do so far in this episode, you’re right.  He’s been pushed to the background for most of what is Wilma’s and Noah’s story.  It’s a nice change of pace, introducing some development of Wilma’s character that doesn’t involve dress-up and rape peril.

The re-activated 69th Bomber Group is greeted by Dr. Huer and they set out on their bombing run in three old bombers.

Meanwhile, Theo and Twiki have secured a small lab near the prison wing of Directorate headquarters.  They’ve assembled a new robot with knives for hands and a retractable, thorny penis (which absolutely DELIGHTS Theopolis).  It stands headless in the corner with wires reaching out into a bank of computers.   A drone enters with a body on a cart covered in a silver sheet.  Twiki pulls the sheet off to reveal Marcos from last episode.  He looks dead, but Theo confirms he is only in “stasis” and that he possesses the final piece to their Promethean Experiment.  Twiki changes the prison log to show that Marcos died in his cell and then prepares for surgery.

In space, the low-budget cast of Cocoon prepare for their bombing run.  Shit happens and Buck and Wilma are captured rather than just blown into space goop.  The rest of the team retreats into the rocks to come up with a new plan.

Our heroes are brought before regional dinner theater’s favorite power couple and playfully threatened with fire for a time before getting thrown into a prison cell.  Once inside, Alicia pokes her head in and makes contact with Buck.  Fortunately for the plot, sign language survived to the 25th century and Buck happens to know it! They communicate a plan to escape.

Wilma strikes a pose and flirts with one of the security guards.  Then all three.  She sets up the plot for every Buck Rogers Porn Parody to follow by inviting them into the cell for some sexy time.  Of course, these goons are dumber than a sack of reality television fans, so they fall for the ruse (even with Buck playing the role of pimp by encouraging them to come on in and take a turn).  Three of them get their asses kicked and stripped for their trouble, allowing Buck, Wilma, and Alicia to disguise themselves and try to escape.

Unfortunately, their route out is through the only other set piece they could afford to build – the bad guys’ command center.

Back on Earth, Theopolis confirms that the robot, now with Marcos’ head attached, is ready to be activated.  Twiki throws a switch and Marcos comes to life.  For a moment, he’s confused, then horrified, then begins shrieking in horror and pain as the current coursing through the robot overloads his brain.  Theo and Twiki watch as the head bursts into flames and Marcos’ screams turn into a crackling moan before the fire suppression system silences him forever.  Theo decides it is time for “more serious measures” to be taken.

After a short Benny Hill chase, more threats, and the convenient use of a 500-year-old M-60 that 1) still works and 2) has ammunition that still fires, the heroes escape just as the bomber group gives up on them and start their run.

The bombers succeed in burying the bad guys, their minions, and all their slaves in space rubble.  Hurray!   Everyone escapes the blast except Noah’s bomber, which disappears from their scanners.

But it’s all okay!  Back on Earth, just as the survivors prepare to write them off as dead, Noah brings the bird in, gears up, steel on concrete until it comes to rest with Otto the Autopilot at the stick.  Noah and his bomber roll out and report to Deering with a snap salute.  Everybody gets their wings back and is returned to active duties.  Unfortunately, on their flight home, Mr. and Mrs. Twain confuse the throttle control for the turn signal and drive their bomber through the side of a Walgreen’s.

Party at Buck’s place!  Alicia and her dog made it out but they are sitting alone, being ignored.  Buck is nowhere to be found and everyone is drinking heavily.  Twiki hits on Wilma and is botblocked.  Buck shows up and introduces the room to Alicia’s lost parents!

Alicia, overcome with relief and excitement races over and…hugs Buck first? Okay, he was in the way.  He gets some sugar before the big reunion and happy ending.

Moments later, Doctor Theopolis arrives atop his six-foot-tall killer robot.  He declares himself Supreme Ruler of Earth and demands a sacrifice of blood.  He immediately atomizes Alicia and her parents and we freeze on the image of the robot’s whirring blades menacing everyone else inside.

Mission Debrief

This was a fun little episode that touches the subject of age-ism and how the 25th century military is pretty much like our own.  It forwards the idea that, even if you are past mandatory retirement and quantifiable cannot do your job, you can keep that job (or get it back) by doing something highly specialized and very stupid once.

The premise of this episode is another “Let’s blow shit up out of revenge” plot. I guess Corliss and Roxanne were too busy doing dinner theater on the side to join the League of Intergalactic Assassins.  Either that or Frank Gorshin tossed them out for being annoying as all fuck.

There’s very little that’s scary about a late middle-aged married couple who resemble the angry, snobbish neighbors always bitching about how everyone else lets their lawns get overgrown and how they can’t stand they Jewish family over the back fence that keeps “snooping” around their property line.  Yeah, they’re assholes, bullies, and probably deeply racist, but scary?  Not particularly.  They hire stupid goons who don’t deserve their own uniforms.  I would picture this power couple designing peach-colored polo shirts and khakis for the staff and making sure the darker skinned hires only work in the kitchen.

I admit, the episode is a little darker than the usual campy romp and Theo’s heel turn was an unexpected twist.  I can’t remember how it all played out but we’ll see as we go through the rest of Season 1.

Peter Graves is excellent, as usual.  He has only slightly more to do here than his team members in the “fightin’ 69th” to protest their legitimate imposed retirement.

In all, I call this a mindless but non-threatening experience.

Cookin’ with Buck!

At the party, everyone is drinking.  But I doubt it’s Buck’s radioactive wine.


Hip-Hugger Report

To meet Noah at the Future VFW, Wilma wears something from the 1974 “Active Moms” catalog from Sears, complete with wing collar and sassy flares.

She wears her flight suit to kick ass in space.

She steals a guard’s uniform that looks like a biker gang at Pride parade designed by someone who wanted the look to be “festive, but edgy.”

Later, she kicks back in her standard blue disco pants and casual military disco top.

Play Back That Last Communication, Please?

Theopolis: The Council wanted us to experience human emotions, so they programmed pain receptors to simulate everything from unease to crippling agony.  I am now setting you to experience what it is like to burn alive in a coal fire.  Please, I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I will enjoy inflicting it upon you.

Buck: Hey, lady. I bet the reason your husband is such a pussy is because one night you jerked him off with the wrong hand.  Jerked right off, you might say.

Next Time on…