"In the year 1987, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. Aboard this compact starship, a lone astronaut, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, was to experience cosmic forces beyond all comprehension. In a freak mishap, his life support systems were frozen by temperatures beyond imagination. Ranger 3 was blown out of its planned trajectory into an orbit one thousand times more vast, an orbit which was to return Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later."
— second season opening narrative
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is an American science-fiction series that ran from 1979 to 1981. The feature-length pilot movie was released theatrically several months before the series itself aired, inspired by the success of Star Wars two years earlier. The film and series were based upon the Buck Rogers character created by Philip Francis Nowlan that had been featured in comic strips and novellas since the 1920s, and on the CBS and Mutual radio networks, airing several times each week from 1932 to 1947.The series starred Gil Gerard as Captain William "Buck" Rogers, a US Air Force pilot who commands Ranger 3, a spaceship resembling the Shuttle that is launched in 1987. Because of a freak combination of gases, he is frozen in space for 504 years and is revived in the 25th century. There, he learns that the Earth was united following a devastating nuclear war in 1988, and is now under the protection of the Earth Defense Forces, headquartered in New Chicago. The latest threat to Earth comes from the spaceborne armies of the planet Draconia, who are planning an invasion. Aiding him are Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), a Starfighter pilot, and Dr. Elias Huer, head of Earth Defense Forces, and a former star pilot himself.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century provides examples of the following tropes:
In "A Blast for Buck", Legion of Death leader Kellogg is on the long list of suspects who may have sent the deadly riddle. Appropriate as Kellogg was played by Frank Gorshin, who once played a Riddler.
After the End: The series proper takes place after a nuclear war in 1988.
Always Save the Girl: Subverted in "Hand of the Goral" where the Evil Alien puts Buck through a Sadistic Choice, having to choose between saving Wilma Deering and Hawk (an alien from a Proud Warrior Race of birdmen). He chose Hawk because he guessed that the cowering Wilma was really a double put in by the Evil Alien, reasoning that the real Wilma Deering wouldn't have been such a wuss. When Buck makes his decision, "Wilma" melts right down in front of him, into a puddle of smoking burnt stuff.
Ancient Astronauts: Part of Hawk's backstory; his race lived on Earth in the distant past until humans drove them into space.
Badass Grandpa: All members of the title squadron in "Return of the Fighting 69th". Including one Badass Grandma.
Banana in the Tailpipe: Buck's master plan to foil Ardala's surprise attack on Earth in the pilot movie — load missiles into the exhaust pipes of the Draconian fighter ships. A few seconds after takeoff... BOOM!
Bilingual Dialogue: Twiki communicates in beedees as well as in English. Buck can eventually understand them, although initially he needs Dr. Theopolis to translate.
Boxed Crook: After capturing Hawk in the second season premiere, he's effectively left in the custody of Buck and the crew of the Searcher. Hawk agrees to cooperate in the hope that they might find other Lost Colonies of his people.
Canon Discontinuity: A viewer who missed the opening episode could easily go the whole series without realizing there was a radioactive wasteland full of savages waiting just outside New Chicago. And that's just as well, perhaps.
Death by Origin Story: Hawk's girlfriend Kourie. She shows up again in a hallucination in a later episode. Or possibly not a hallucination. The plot of that episode is that reality is coming apart at the seams. Or possibly the artifact they are transporting is only making them hallucinate that reality is coming apart at the seams. (No, it isn't better in context. It was the last episode of a series cancelled mid-season.)
Eye Beams: ODX from "Journey to Oasis" — his are telekinetic and resemble lightning.
Fakeout Escape: In "Flight of the War Witch", Buck, Princess Ardala and a Pendaran captive use this to get out of their cell. Buck and the captive use a Ceiling Cling to hide, while Princess Ardala simply hides under the bed.
Flanderization: Buck's actor Gil Gerard complained that Buck was cracking too many jokes and that the Fish Out of Temporal Water aspect of Buck's character had gotten stale. This may be why Buck gets a lot more serious in Season 2. In addition, his relationship with Wilma becomes more serious instead of a different Girl of the Week.
Flying Weapon: A subversion in "Journey to Oasis"; Ezerhauden is really an invisible swordsman, vulnerable only to a thrown spear type of attack, but until he is killed, he resembles a flying self-wielding sword.
Food Pills: In "Planet of the Slave Girls" they become an important plot point.
There were few records of the 20th century, so 25th century historians confuse a hairdryer with an "early model hand laser."
In "Return of the Fighting 69th", a 20th-century belt-fed machine gun is mistaken by the bad guys for an "ancient communications device". They are quite surprised when a captured Buck demonstrates its proper use during his escape.
Major Danton: Recon One, I appreciate your concern, but I'd appreciate it all the more if next time you'd refrain from interfering in a Directorate training mission! Buck: What? If you call that "interfering", there's something wrong with your Funk & Wagnalls! note This is actually a Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In reference; they would regularly direct the viewer to "look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls", a famous brand of dictionary.
Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: In "Testimony of a Traitor" it was revealed that just before Buck left Earth, there was a conspiracy of high-ranking American officers to launch a first strike against "The Other Side".
Heel-Face Turn: The super-powered minion in "Plot to Kill a City" refuses to allow the plan to go through because it would doom the survivors to the same torment as the people of his own world.
Heel Realization: In "Flight of the War Witch", Ardala confronts a far crueler villain than herself, who then proceeds to destroy all Ardala's personal Jerk Justifications and makes her realize what a spoiled, pathetic wretch of a person she is. She later comes to Buck in tears, and he's basically sympathetic; he's always viewed her more as spoiled and na´ve than really evil.
Zarina: (to Ardala) On the contrary, we couldn't be more different. I have earned my position. You've been given yours.
Mechanical Life Forms: Earth's Computer Council (Dr. Theopolis and his colleagues) are descendants of A.I. that reached the point of building and programming themselves; they're treated as citizens, and viewed as the saviors of humanity after the nuclear apocalypse.
Memory Gambit: In one episode Buck finds himself on trial for causing World War III. In fact, he had allowed himself to be brainwashed in order to infiltrate a conspiracy in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent World War III.
Not Quite Dead: At the end of "Plot to Kill a City", Kellogg (played by Frank Gorshin) was apparently blown away in a climactic space battle. In "A Blast for Buck", however, although Buck felt that Kellogg wasn't the one who sent the weird yo-yo doomsday message device, he knew that Kellogg was still out there and really pissed at Buck.
Older than They Look: In "Return of the Fighting 69th", Buck notes that the members of the squadron don't look any older than 60 when Wilma informs him that they've all reached the mandatory retirement age... of 85.
Old-School Dogfight: Pretty much used in every episode. With the same stock footage almost every time.
"The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William "Buck" Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth... 500 years later."
It was changed for the second season, as shown with the article quote, this time delivered by Hank Sims. Both versions were abbreviated and altered from the narrative of the original pilot movie, which was longer.
To a lesser extent, the first season is retooled from the pilot movie, where Earth was a scaredy-cat backwater burg compared to the rest of the galaxy with roaming gangs of mutants in the barren regions between cities, and where New Chicago is the only point of civilization. The TV series retooled this to feature numerous cities on Earth, and with the planet being part of an interstellar community.
Although some things said in "Flight of the War Witch" imply that Earth has only recently joined the interstellar community, following their development of the now-ubiquitous Stargates, with the first person to ever use one still being alive. The first season has multiple, independent human factions, some of which (like the Draconians) being hostile to Earth. The second season shows humans as highly fragmented, and the whole point of the Searcher is to try locating and establishing contact with all the lost colonies.
The second season has the character Admiral Asimov, as well as the assertion that Twiki and Crichton are equipped with positronic brains. Lampshaded by Crichton — see Three Laws Compliant below.
Lampshaded in "A Blast for Buck". The doomsday device came with a riddle. Kellogg from "Plot to Kill a City" is one of the suspects. Buck decides, however, that Kellogg "... wouldn't be bothered with riddles, it's not his style. When he decides to come for me, he'll want me to know it's him, how he's gonna do it and how much it will hurt." Not what we were expecting as Kellogg was played by Frank Gorshin who is definitely known for his riddling tendencies elsewhere.
Gary Coleman's recurring guest character, Hieronymous Fox, is named after the creator of The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymous Bosch.
Buck being revived in the year 2491 is an obvious reference to the title of the original Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419.
Spared by the Adaptation: Ardala's bodyguard, Tiger Man, was killed in the pilot movie; the TV series version of the story let him live to reappear in future episodes.
Stock Footage: In addition to the previously-mentioned stock footage of space combat (of rejected fighter designs from Battlestar Galactica), the first season also has about three stockestablishing shots, two of which were also recycled from Battlestar Galactica.
Stripperific: Pamela Hensley as Princess Ardala wore very, very little.
Three Laws Compliant: Twiki and other Earth-made robots are explicitly Three Laws Compliant — Twiki even quotes the First Law in the second season episode "Shgoratchx" and a few moments later states all three of them after having his brain inserted in Crichton's body. Crichton even complains about this in one episode, mentioning that the creator of the Laws had the same surname as the ship's commander.
Trapped in Another World: In the two-part episode "Flight of the War Witch", the Pendarans send a distress call through a vortex to summon Buck, Dr. Huer, Wilma and Princess Ardala's entire flagship into their universe to help them defeat her.
The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer: The Ur Example in all incarnations. Even though his education and skills are 500+ years out of date, Buck has absolutely no problem adapting to 25th-century life and exploiting technology to his advantage, and Dr. Huer has no problem sending him on sensitive missions as a result. Buck using 20th century knowledge to solve 25th century problems is the theme of almost every episode. Among the highlights:
20th-century weaponry (including the nerve gas the bad guys have stolen).
Sign language (almost unknown in the 25th century) to communicate with a mute servant girl who proves critical to the plot.
Electricity (an obsolete technology in the 25th century). It being obsolete is used inconsistently, as another episode has Buck being zapped by Tweeki to thwart the villain's plan.
Gambling ability in a computer-driven casino. He wasn't even counting cards — he was just the only one able to add.
Adapting American football plays for use by the Earth Defense Directorate's pilots in squadron maneuvers.
Buck is also apparently the only pilot employed by Earth who is not completely dependent upon his ship's targeting computer because of his 20th-century dogfighting skills.
Verbal Tic: Twiki adds "Beedee beedee beedee" to the beginning or end of most sentences, except for the episodes in the second season where Mel Blanc is not doing his voice.
Villainesses Want Heroes: Princess Ardala to Buck Rogers, sometimes. Although the only time she makes a really HARD play for him is when she needs a suitable mate to keep her throne. She doesn't get Buck, of course, and it's unclear if she keeps her throne or not.