Home > Reviews > BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (S2) Reviews: “Journey to Oasis”/”The Guardians” (spoilers)

BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (S2) Reviews: “Journey to Oasis”/”The Guardians” (spoilers)

“Journey to Oasis” is another 2-hour episode, written by Bob & Esther Mitchell, who wrote a dozen episodes of Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants. It opens with a curly-haired Mark Lenard as Ambassador Duvoe of Zykaria, a civilization on the brink of war with Earth. The arrogant nobleman Duvoe is en route to a peace conference to try to head off the war, but he’s concerned about preventing the prejudiced humans from discovering the Zykarians’ major difference, namely that they’re symbiotic life forms whose heads can separate from their bodies. (Much the same idea as in David Gerrold’s Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “BEM” from 1974, but with fewer separable parts.) It’s hard to see what evolutionary purpose this could serve, since his head can’t move under its own power, needing an aide to detach and replace the head. Could it be that it allows a brain to swap out for a new body if the old one dies or is injured? How many spare bodies are available? Do noble heads hoard extra bodies while poor heads are forced to go bodiless or timeshare?

The episode doesn’t address this, instead having Duvoe reminisce about an enchanting human woman he fell for despite himself when they met 7 years ago. Naturally, this woman turns out to be Wilma Deering, and they’re reunited when the Searcher arrives to escort Duvoe to the peace talks on Oasis, the one civilized settlement on planet R-4, a galactic dumping ground for failed genetic experiments – basically the Island of Misfit Toys writ large (more of this show’s creepily cavalier approach to the idea of eugenics). While flying over the wasteland, a recycled Battlestar Galactica shuttle containing Buck, Hawk, Wilma, Dr. Goodfellow, and Duvoe is caught in a magnetic storm and drained of power, crashing next to Vasquez Rocks (every planet in the universe has a Vasquez Rocks). The shuttle sinks under the sands once the passengers get off, so the Searcher will have no way to find them, and Buck and the imperious Duvoe butt heads – heh – over the best way to survive and reach Oasis. Ironically, the Searcher can’t search for them, because all its surviving atmospheric craft are fighters whose deployment would break the peace – an odd limitation for a research vessel.

As they wander through the desert (or rather, around various parts of Vasquez Rocks and a studio set), they’re tracked by the mutants of the wasteland, while Dr. Goodfellow keeps trying to wander off to satisfy his scientific curiosity about them. This leads to him getting trapped in a pit under a big rock by a pair of mutants. But the team is helped out by a blue, gnome-like creature called Odee-X (Felix Silla, with what I think is Bob Elyea doing his voice), who emits telekinetic rays from his eyes. Apparently he’s an old genetic experiment created around Saturn 400 years before, the Ocular Dynamics Experiment, though how that fits into the timeline of Earth suffering a holocaust nearly 500 years before is unclear. Odee-X feels like something out of a Lost in Space episode, a cheesy-looking space leprechaun who talks in boasts and riddles.

Things up in space are more serious, as Admiral Asimov and his Zykarian counterpart Admiral Zite (Len Birman) deal with the inexplicable disappearance of the shuttle and their mutual suspicion of foul play. Birman effectively plays Zite as a thoughtful leader reluctant to go to war but goaded on by his intelligence officer Rolla (Michael Stroka), while the equally reluctant Asimov relies for counsel on his junior officer Lt. Devlin (Paul Carr), a new recurring character who’s basically there to be a sounding board for the admiral. We also get the first appearance of Wilfrid Hyde-White’s son Alex Hyde-White, who would also recur as a minor crew member. (Alex Hyde-White’s notable roles include Reed Richards in the unreleased 1994 Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie and Henry Jones Sr. from the neck down in the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) Anyway, Asimov’s reassurances fall on deaf ears, since the only conclusion the Zykarians can reach is that the shuttle landed in an underground hangar and that their ambassador has been abducted. Zite calls in battlecruisers to stand ready to fire if Duvoe doesn’t arrive in time for the conference. It gets to the point that Asimov orders Devlin to rig the Searcher to explode and take out the enemy ships if it comes to that.

Wilma and Duvoe exchange lots of heartfelt talk (romantically scored by John Cacavas) until they’re attacked and strangled by mutant lichen, and after they’re rescued, Duvoe wanders off to remove his head and massage his neck. He’s found by Buck before he gets himself back together, but Buck keeps his secret, feeling it’s a matter between him and Wilma. Still, Wilma senses he’s uneasy about something and is troubled that the two men can’t seem to get along. Meanwhile, Hawk gets his own subplot chasing after Odee-X, whom he inexplicably likes and gets further riddles from, mostly involving the threats they’ll face in the Cave of Winds. Deciphering those riddles helps them get through the inexplicable and contrived traps and ultimately destroy the cave’s guardian, though we’re supposed to believe that it’s hard for our heroes to figure out that “Give him the point of your argument, straight” actually means “Stab the guy in the heart.” Come on, did they really need to solve a riddle before trying that?

Finally we reach the moment I’ve always remembered most vividly from seeing this episode in childhood. The spires of Oasis loom before the heroes but they’re confronted by the wasteland mutants, who have been established as worshipping shrines of severed heads. A last riddle from Odee-X gives Duvoe the idea to scare them off by raising his head off his neck and pretending to be an angry god, shocking Wilma with the revelation of his secret. It’s supposed to be a big dramatic climax, but come on, it’s a guy holding his detached head up in the air, so it looks kind of goofy.

Later, though, after the peace conference is successful and Duvoe makes his farewells, Wilma assures him that she was only briefly shocked, not condemning, and that there’s still a chance for them in the future. Duvoe and Buck part as friends as well.

This was a letdown after “Time of the Hawk.” That episode had some silly sci-fi elements, but they were outweighed by the strength of the drama. “Journey to Oasis” shifts the balance the other way. It makes a respectable attempt to tell an allegorical story about how intolerance and mistrust can lead to unnecessary war, and the shipboard drama between the admirals is effective, although it’s a bad sign when the guest admiral gives a more impressive performance than the series-regular admiral – plus it’s disappointing that Asimov doesn’t find a better response to the crisis than setting the self-destruct. But the stuff on the planet with the mutants and Odee-X and the magic cavern just gets more and more silly and Irwin Allenesque as it goes, and a lot of it feels like unnecessary padding, random obstacles that serve no plot or character purpose beyond taking up time. This could’ve been a solid 1-parter without all that nonsense.

Although having the Zykarians’ shocking difference be removable heads is a somewhat silly choice that undermines the seriousness of the ideas the Mitchells were trying to explore. The Wilma/Duvoe story reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “The Host,” with Dr. Crusher falling in love with a Trill ambassador who turns out to be just the host body for a symbiotic slug (something commonly known about the Trill today, but treated at the time as a long-hidden secret). Something like that would’ve been a better choice than an Amazing Screw-Off Head. Although I will say “Journey to Oasis” surpasses “The Host” in its ending, at least, because Wilma is actually able to accept the ambassador’s alienness and remain open to a future relationship.

One point in this episode’s favor is that its story is set up so that Wilma spends the entire 2-parter in her snazzy Jean-Pierre Dorleac-designed military dress uniform from season 1 rather than her ridiculous sailor-suit Searcher getup. Also, Twiki remains agreeably marginalized. Rather than hanging out with Buck all the time, he’s set up here as the Laurel to Crichton’s Hardy, and as a general sort of steward or yeoman to the admiral.

By the way, the new backstory of young Wilma’s love affair with Duvoe seven years before overwrites the assertions in “Awakening” and “Flight of the War Witch” that Wilma had always been a cold, unfeeling officer until Buck had awakened new emotions in her. I can’t say I mind that at all. Still, Wilma is written in a more conventionally “feminine” way here than she was last season, involved primarily as half of a romantic subplot and screaming in un-colonel-like terror at her first sight of the mutants’ severed-head shrine. It’s not a good sign for her future characterization. Nor is the fact that Wilma is the only female character in this entire 2-parter, aside from some background extras on the Searcher.

“The Guardians” is a surreal episode by Paul Schneider & Margaret Schneider, the former of whom created the Romulans and Trelane for Star Trek. It’s notable for being directed by Jack Arnold, director of classic ‘50s sci-fi films such as It Came from Outer Space, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, and The Incredible Shrinking Man – and by far the most prolific director of Gilligan’s Island episodes.

While surveying an uncharted planet, Buck and Hawk come across a dying old man (Harry Townes) who says he’s been waiting 500 years for Buck to arrive and accept the task of delivering a glowing jade box marked with arcane symbols (a prop I’m pretty sure I’ve seen on some other show). He says it’s for his successor, but dies without telling Buck where to go.

That night, Buck touches the box in his sleep and is whisked back in time to 1987, on furlough to visit his mother (Rosemary DeCamp) shortly before his Ranger 3 flight. She worries about the risks of the flight, but he cockily assures her nothing can go wrong. After that (and presumably after his previous flashback dream in last season’s “A Dream of Jennifer”), we finally get to see Buck’s flight dramatized directly, when before it was only summarized in images and narration. And it reveals something new: The accident wasn’t just a random mishap, but Buck’s own fault, because his pride led him to take a reckless risk with untested boosters. I’d say this is part of John Mantley’s desire to make Buck a more human, flawed character this season, but the revelation doesn’t really get much followup. The flashback continues until it catches up with the stock footage of frozen Buck from the pilot, whereupon Hawk awakens Buck and the latter finds that a flower he took with him on the flight, a memento of his mother, is in his hand in the here and now. It wasn’t a dream – he was actually there, back in time.

Back on the Searcher, Buck has brought the box aboard for analysis, though he honors the dying man’s request to keep it unopened. Dr. Goodfellow has studied the old man’s scrolls and spins some rubbish about the legendary cosmic Guardians of the fundamental forces of creation, including time. He believes the old man was a Guardian and the box is connected to time. Soon, the members of the crew begin to have disturbing visions of their own, and the ship is dragged inexplicably off course toward the “edge of the universe.” Admiral Asimov smugly ignores the warnings against opening the box and gets a vision of his crew starving to death. Hawk takes the box back to his quarters and uses its powers to summon Koori back from the dead, but they have a brief reunion before she convinces him it’ll never work out. The bridge crew discovers that they’ve been lost for 8 months relative to the outside universe, and Paul Carr’s Lt. Devlin learns that his fiancee, whom he was going to marry on reaching Lambda Colony in 2 days, was killed 6 months ago while searching for the missing Searcher. An enraged Devlin tries to jettison the box into space, and Wilma, who’d had a vision of herself as a blind woman, wrestles with him, causing the box to open and emit a flash that blinds her. Asimov does then jettison the box, only to find it sitting on his chair when he returns to the bridge. Buck realizes they have no choice but to let it take them to its intended destination. He and Goodfellow also realize that the box isn’t evil, just showing them the consequences of their own sins – Buck’s pride, Wilma’s anger, Asimov’s gluttony, etc.

Once they reach a “Terra-class star system” and go down to its studio-backlot settlement, they find a lame shepherd boy (Shawn Stevens) who’s friendly to them but can’t help them find the Guardian. The earth randomly opens up and the boy falls into a chasm, and when Buck endangers himself trying to reach him, the boy lets go and sacrifices himself to protect Buck, a total stranger. Apparently this was Buck’s role in the whole affair, for the Guardians (led by Vic Perrin) materialize and tell them that these events have revealed to them the new Guardian, the shepherd boy, who’s now resurrected as one of them and declares that everything will be put to rights. Wilma’s sight is restored, and back on the ship, they find they’re back where and when they belong, at Lambda Colony right on schedule for Devlin’s wedding.

Okay, this was weird. I wasn’t a fan of season 1’s aggressive avoidance of science fiction stories, but season 2 seems to have a hard time telling SF from fantasy. This is a pseudo-Biblical morality play through and through, as mystical as anything on Battlestar Galactica or season 1 of Space: 1999. It makes an effort to be more character-driven and idea-driven than season 1, but the only substantial character insights we get are into Buck and the minor player Devlin, with Hawk, Wilma, and Asimov getting more cursory arcs, and even the revelations about Buck are soon forgotten in favor of more weirdness. The futurism is iffy as well. Wilma’s vision of herself as a permanently blind woman with a cane and sunglasses doesn’t make sense in context with the first season, which established that nearly all forms of disability could be cured by advanced surgery.

Once again, Wilma is the only female Searcher crewmember to have any dialogue. The only other women in the episode are Buck’s mother and Koori.

Between “Time of the Hawk” and these episodes, it’s clear that early season 2 has far more ambition than season 1 — though it could hardly have less. But its ability to live up to its ambitions is iffy. It’s trying to be about something, but what it’s about is often pretty silly. Unfortunately, “The Guardians” is the last episode for a while that has even such flawed ambition.

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