Series: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
"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. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
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
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:
- Action Girl: Wilma Deering
- After the End: The series proper takes place after a nuclear war in 1988.
- Alternate Universe: The two-part episode "Flight of the War Witch".
- 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.
- Artificial Intelligence:
- The Computer Council, although the only member we got to see regularly was Dr. Theopolis.
- Also Twiki and Crichton.
- Ascended Fanboy: Tim O'Connor as Dr. Huer.
- 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!
- Beware the Superman: A regular plot in the first season.
- 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.
- By the Eyes of the Blind: The Vorvon in the episode "Space Vampire" could only be seen or heard by its intended victim.
- 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.
- Captain Ersatz: Dr. Theopolis & Twiki for C-3PO and R2-D2.
- Chickification: Wilma lost a lot of her martial airs in the second season Re Tool.
- Clip Show: The episode "A Blast for Buck".
- Clothing Damage / Carpet of Virility: Gil Gerard's hirsute chest is displayed on more than one occasion.
- Cold Sleep, Cold Future
- Comic Book Adaptation: Gold Key Comics published an adaptation of the movie, followed by about 10 issues of original stories. It stands as the last TV series to be adapted by Gold Key, which used to get the rights to virtually every action-adventure TV series and sitcom on the air back in the 1960s.
- Comic Book Movies Don't Use Codenames: Killer Kane he's not. He's just plain Kane.
- Cool Gate: The stargates (no relation).
- Cool Starship:
- Hawk's bird-shaped spaceship.
- The Searcher from the second season.
- Coy, Girlish Flirt Pose: Wilma, on occasion.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: The city of Oasis. New Chicago looks pretty sharp as well.
- Daddy's Little Villain: Princess Ardala of Draconia is at least as evil as her father Emperor Drako.
- 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.)
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Wilma Deering
- Domed Hometown: New Chicago
- The Dragon: Tiger Man. (His name is a Shout-Out to the Martian Tiger Men of the original comic.) Later replaced by Panther Man.
- The Empire: The Draconian Empire.
- Enemy Mine: Buck and Hawk, at the beginning of the second season. Hawk then joins the heroes.
- Evil Diva: In "Space Rockers", the music of the band Andromeda is used by their producer to drive the youth of the galaxy to riot in a bid for power.
- Explosive Leash
- Exty Years from Now: Averted. Buck stays frozen for a non-round 504 years.
- 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.
- Fan Disservice: In the "Space Rockers" episode: Lennie Briscoe and Bull in spandex. Good luck sleeping tonight.
- Erin Gray in spandex jumpsuits and miniskirts.
- Pamela Hensley in even less.
- And the opening credits to the theatrical version of the pilot episode.
- Femme Fatale: Princess Ardala
- Fighter Launching Sequence
- Fire-Forged Friends: Hawk and Buck.
- Fish out of Temporal Water
- 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; the manufacturer was poisoning them.
- Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: The theme tune had lyrics that were sung by Kip Lennon during the opening credits of the original Pilot Movie.
- The Future
- Future Imperfect:
- 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.
- Future Music: Complete with an entire episode devoted to the idea.
- Future Spandex: In the first season, Colonel Deering and Buck sometimes wore spandex jumpsuits.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: After Buck saves a rookie pilot from being jumped by pirates, the pilot's instructor chimes in:
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
- Girl of the Week: To the point where they did a Lampshade Hanging of it halfway through first season.
- 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".
- Harmless Freezing: For 500 years...
- Heavy Worlder:
- A one-shot character by the name of Toman, who used his heightened strength to become a hitman.
- Another heavy-worlder in an earlier episode had telekinetic powers.
- 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.
- Human Popsicle: Buck himself.
- Insufferable Genius: Crichton, who substituted for Dr. Theopolis as Robotic Smart Guy in the second season. However, at least in "The Crystals" he was willing to admit to a serious mistake in his findings about the terrible fate of the humanoid beings of a planet degenerating into mindless monsters; he found that he got the process completely backwards and the beings were actually metamorphosing into sapient beings.
- Invisibility: Ezerhauden in "Journey to Oasis". The reason Odee-X could not defeat him.
Odee-X: Could you see Ezerhauden? Nor could I. And since my power is in my eyes...
- Ironic Echo Cut: When Buck is on trial and Dr. Theopolis is defending him.
Dr. Theopolis: We haven't a thing to worry about.
Judge: Captain Rogers, the council finds you guilty.
- Kill Sat: The Draconian weapon in "Escape from Wedded Bliss".
- Lady Land: The planet Xantia, as seen in "Planet of the Amazon Women".
- The Lancer: Hawk from the second season.
- Last of His Kind: Hawk, the last survivor of a Lost Colony of hawk-people.
- A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": Both in the original pilot movie and in a later episode about space rockers.
- 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.
- Military Science-Fiction / Science Fantasy: In effect it was two shows, with the first season being James Bond Recycled In Space, and the second being a full-out Science Fantasy.
- New Neo City: New Chicago, New Detroit, New Manhattan, New Phoenix, New Tulsa, Boston Complex, New London, and "City-on-the-Sea" (formerly New Orleans).
- New Old Flame: Mark Lenard's character to Wilma in "Journey to Oasis".
- Nice Hat: Princess Ardala's horned headress in the pilot is only the first of a long line of fancy crowns and headresses — which no straight male viewer ever notices.
- No New Fashions in the Future: Buck's civilian clothes wouldn't look out of place in the late 1970s. The other characters wear clothing that at least looks futuristic (albeit Zeerusted).
- 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.
- Opening Narration:
- First season, delivered by William Conrad:
"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.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The episode "Space Vampire" has a creature called a Vorvon. It has the abilities of Hypnotic Eyes, Shapeshifting (to a floating red ball of light), Vampiric Draining (of Life Energy), Invisibility to electronic viewing and turning the humans it killed into zombies. It can be fended off by a "power lock" instead of a crucifix and is Weakened by the Light of the sun.
- Petting Zoo People: Hawk; Kourie
- Pilot Movie
- Pleasure Planet: The episode "Vegas in Space".
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Hawk in the second season.
- The Reptilians: The Saurians.
- Re Tool:
- The second season, which tried to Follow the Lead of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek.
- 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.
- Really 700 Years Old: Buck Rogers was born in the 1960s, and is doing his thing in the 2400s.
- Recycled In Space: Space mummies and space vampires, among others.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: The space vampire.
- Robot Buddy: Twiki, one of the Trope Codifiers. He may look rather innocuous, but he can pilot a fighter and dogfight with the best.
- Robot Me: Three of them, actually, in "Ardala Returns".
Ardala: Captain Buck Rogers, meet Captain Buck Rogers.
- Running Gag:
- Buck's cooking and use of 20th century slang.
- Also the rubber plant.
- In "Plot to Kill a City" part two the intercom pages Adam Strange and those departing for Thanagar.
- In the episode "A Dream of Jennifer", the intercom can be heard paging Norrin Radd as Buck is arriving, and Captain Christopher Pike a short time later.
- 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.
- Slept Through the Apocalypse: Buck Rogers
- Smoke Out: In the episode "Vegas in Space", Buck has devices which cause a complete blackout in the immediate area. He uses one to escape from enemies.
- Space Fighter: The starfighters are some of the most gorgeous ships of this type ever designed. They were rejected models from Battlestar Galactica.
- Space Opera
- Space Pirates
- 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.
- Time Travelers Are Spies: Buck is accused of being a Draconian spy in the pilot movie; his defense against the charge is not helped by the Draconians having installed a tracking device aboard his space shuttle. Buck then has to redeem himself in the eyes of Earth by sabotaging the Draconian surprise attack on Earth—during which he is again mistaken for a Draconian agent by Doctor Theophilus and Twiki.
- 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.
- Ultra Terrestrials: Hawk's race evolved from birds and left Earth eons ago.
- 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.
- Unique Pilot Title Sequence:
- The end credits to the pilot feature the theme song's lyrics.
- And the theatrical version of the pilot features Fanservice images of a swimsuit-clad Pamela Hensley, Erin Gray and an uncredited model. The TV version just uses a standard starfield.
- The theatrical opening credits also feature the vocal version of the theme song (which is titled "Suspension").
- Un-Person: In the TV series, part of Dr. Huer's argument in favor of Buck becoming a special agent is that, at least at the beginning of the series, he had no legal identity.
- The Vamp: Princess Ardala
- 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.
- Villainous Breakdown: Ardala, in part 2 of Flight of the War Witch.
Buck: Are you OK?
Ardala: (snaps) Yes, I'm fine!
Buck: Are you sure?
Ardala: I said, I'm FINE.
Buck: Alright, just making sure.
Ardala: (pause) Buck. I'm NOT fine. I'm HORRIBLE!
- Wagon Train to the Stars
- Weird Science
- We Need a Distraction: Anytime Buck needs to get out of a detention cell, or slip past some guards. Most involve a cellmate pretending to call for help, and when the cell is opened, Buck jumps the guard(s).
- We've Got Company: "Stop breathing, we've got company!"