Buck Rogers #3: Vegas in Space

"Why, Buck Rogers, what are you and that lady up to?"

WHAT'S UP, BUCK?: Buck and his partner must get a kidnapped girl out of a space casino.

REVIEW: I can't wait to see Draconia again, but at least that storyline is simmering in the background thanks to Draconian "hatchet fighters" outfitted by a local mobster (Caesar Romeo) that can't be targeted by Terran ship computers. It's the old gag of only Buck being able to "go manual", but I guess even he finds it difficult. And Wilma doesn't think the pilots will ever be able to learn how. They make us believe, for a second, that Buck has plans with another woman, but Wilma will show up at his place to watch him play golf all by himself. The tradition Buck refers to, while based on the moon mission where the astronauts did play golf, is a ridiculous waste of resources NASA would never agree to. It's all about weight and you can't bring "a few clubs" with you on every mission. But every episode sort of needs Buck to do something anachronistic that only he knows about so everyone else can look befuddled. Golf, and then blackjack (or at least counting cards) - as he's fond of saying, people from the 25th Century have lost the ability to "use their brains". His gambling hobby comes in handy as he's sent on a mission to Space Las Vegas where a young woman is being held captive so certain codes can be violently extracted from her mind.

But Buck's partner isn't Wilma Deering on this one, it's the fairly equivalent Marla Landers. Therein lies a tale. See, Erin Gray did not want to do the TV series, so they replaced her with Marla. The character was cast and filmed this episode, but then the powers that be convinced Gray to come back. The book ends were then filmed to include her in the episode. Juanin Clay acquits herself okay, especially in the "spy" sequences at the space casino, though it's perhaps a little rough when she's trying to look military. In any case, she's never seen again and doesn't have the same spark Wilma does. Pamela Susan Shoop had equally auditioned for Buck's gal pal, and she steals the show as Tangie, a casino "hostess" desperate to get away. There IS a spark there and I'd have liked to have seen what she would have done as Deering/Landers. She's certainly the best thing about Vegas in Space. We're drawn in to her plight, she's acting her socks off (and more than her socks, there's no much to that dress), and she's also part of Buck's best scene, where he's remembering an old friend, coming to terms with the fact he'll never know what happened to him. Gerard could do with more scenes like that to make his crazy situation more relatable.

The OTHER space babe in this story is Falina, an innocent computer programmer who doesn't know until the end that she's a gangster's daughter, which is why such an unscrupulous man is willing to give himself up and give Earth the specs on Draconia's super fighters in exchange for their wrestling her away from an even more unscrupulous rival. I'm afraid Ava Maria goes a bit big on her freak outs, but I do like the ending where she refuses to believe her secret parentage. But it's Romero who does all the heavy lifting, answering this is for good in a kind and natural way. Not that I begrudge the CHARACTER her freak outs - the master of the casino station, Velosi, was going to have her chemically lobotomized and killed after all. What a creep, this guy. Very rapey with Marla, his "seduction" of her tantamount to taking her hostage. No consent here. So it's great when they turn the tables on him, but he deserved a grislier fate. What was that bit where his eyes were dark pools of black and Falina was screaming her head off? Seems to suggest he had psychic powers than he then doesn't use on Marla.

As per Gerard's complains about "crime plots", this could easily be imagined as a Magnum P.I. (or something) set in Las Vegas by filing off the sci-fi tropes. Or a TV version of James Bond. Theopolis has, over the last couple stories, become Q, equipping Buck with one-off gadgets (credentials, gel bombs, and happy pills for interrogation purposes). The heroes pose as civilians, infiltrate a hive of villainy, get into fist fights and sexual danger, make their escape. You might even do the odd joke about a male alien who looks female as a trans gag (well know, you couldn't and shouldn't, but in that era, yes - and it doesn't come across as transphobic or anything, so that's a plus). There's even a very Bondian conceit that, at the end there, Tangie has been delivered to Buck's quarters. But of course, we cut to credits before we can ever get there. Finish your drink! (See yesterday's review for the meaning of this interjection.)

What wouldn't happen in that Bond episode is the 1 vs. 4 dogfight at the end, but as it's a real non-dilemma, it would probably be better without it. We're told computers can't manually lock on and that 25th-Century pilots can't do it the old-fashioned way. Well, after a bit of pressing, Marla manages it pretty easily. And while one pilot has to drive and the other shoot, these stations can be switched around, but we're told it takes too long to make the switch for the situation. Followed by slow pacing where you have to imagine they DID have enough time. Though this show wants to focus more on this type of thing than did Galactica, it doesn't do them AS WELL, which is really too bad. We were better off doing a a bit of world-building and fisticuffs aboard a space station than outside it for rote dogfights.

SPACE DISCO: The casino is very disco, especially the fashions, most especially Tangie's glitter ball dress. Another sign of the times is the wannabe cheater's GIGANTIC '70s pocket calculator.

STAR GAZING: While Pamela Susan Shoop (Tangie) and Richard Lynch (Velosi) have been guest-stars in countless television shows, they're not the biggest stars here. Caesae Romeo had, of course, been the Joker in Batman '66, and would also go on to play Peter Stavros on the prime time soap Falcon Crest. I mention this specifically because Ana Alicia (Falina) was one of the main characters on that show (Samantha Ross). Both she and Shoop would star in Halloween II. Joseph Wiseman (interrogator Morphus) had briefly played the Draconian Emperor in the movie version of the pilot, but I'll mention once again that he had been Dr. No in the film of that name. When I heard the computer croupier speak, I recognized him right away as Olan Soule, the voice of Batman in Super-Friends! And I'll put this here, but Felix Silla (Twiki) is seen in the casino as himself.

Richard Lynch had been used as a villain before by this production team - he played Wolfe in Battlestar Galactica's "Gun on Ice Planet Zero". That show also visited a space casino that was a hive of villainy in "Saga of a Star World". Ana Alicia had also been Aurora in "Take the Celestra". Note also the Star Wars fashion influence with Buck playing Han Solo in his civilian clothes, and the capes and helmets of the guards evoking Darth Vader's (but what if the Death Star were painted in peach?).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - An odd one where Buck is paired off with a different girl and her thunder is stolen by a third one (go Tangie!). Still, generally up to the show's standards of fun sci-fi action.


Mike W. said...

Okay, I got the first seasons episodes so I can follow along now. You're right about Tangie, she's great. It's too bad she couldn't have been a recurring character. The actress looks really familiar, but as you mentioned, she was on tons of TV shows, so I'm probably getting a vague recollection of her from those.

Ana Alicia is certainly attractive, but she really goes overboard on the emoting. I seem to remember her being better on Falcon Crest; maybe she had some acting lessons in the meantime.

Siskoid said...

For a lot of actresses, Buck Rogers was a first or early gig, so I completely understand if the acting isn't on point.

Tangie gets referenced a couple of times later, so there's that.


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