Planet of the Slave Girls
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Episode 3 and 4
A virus spreads throughout the Earth's defence force and even into other cities around the planet, as a search for a cure goes on investigations lead to a planet which was the common link between all the food products that were being imported. The planet Vistula is an agricultural world which supplies Earth and has a governor appointed from Earth and a native population who it seems are happy to export their worlds produce so Buck and Wilma in the guise of returning an ill pilot to his homeworld arrive looking for answers. As it turns out things on the planet are not all sunshine and roses, the native population are being dominated in fact in some cases enslaved to work in the fields and processing plants and a local leader called Kaleel is fanning the flames of rebellion from his base in the Sea of Stone. Ryma a young native woman helps Buck to gain access to a processing plant but she is then captured along with Wilma and taken to Kaleel, Buck and Duke attempt to follow into the desert but are shot down and while they eventually reach the "secret" base it's decided that Duke will steal a fighter and warn Earth of the threat and Buck will rescue Wilma. Kaleel it seems has been dosing the food to weaken the Earths defence force with the aim to launch a major attack on the planet with the aid of a former Earth officer renowned for his tactical ability. Buck rescues Wilma but is unable to prevent the launch of the attack force but it is met in battle by a handful of pilots who are fit enough to fly including one very special pilot making a cameo in the series. Despite being outnumbered the tactical choices being made by Duke thanks to taking in some of the lessons given by Buck thanks to his Air Force days allows them to wipe out the attacking fleet. Back on Vistula Buck faces down Kaleel who is quickly losing his hold on his followers and once confronted and unable to use his "powers" his rebellion is broken.
|A Stargate In Operation|
Planet of the Slave Girls while very much in line with pulp scifi titling is pretty inaccurate for the episode, yes the planet has slaves but their gender is not a plot point yet the idea of colonialism and external control is rather deep for a show such as Buck Rogers. It seemed obvious that Earth wasn't asking too many questions as to how it's food was being grown and delivered nor how their appointed governor ( Roddy McDowall ) was running things when even a brief glimpse would have by his own actions and status indicated something was very wrong. That said overall the episode worked pretty well so lets get into some specifics both good and bad.
I really hate a preview of an episode to kick off the broadcast, I want to be surprised and amazed as I watch not before hand thank you very much. Anyhow I liked the Stargate method of covering vast differences in this scifi universe, credit to actually considering a method of travelling to distant star systems with a nice special effect to boot. When Wilma and Buck come across Major Duke and his charge Regis Saroyan under attack I simply did not understand why Duke was upset with their intervention, the young pilot who is being trained was in a battle for his life, it isn't a do or die test of his abilities at this stage or any stage. The ongoing conflict between Duke and Buck (Wilma in the mix doesn't help matters) is at times fun but doesn't make any sense whatsoever. In practical terms the tactics Buck proved worked and the computer combat systems having proven unreliable it was ridiculous not to embrace the new combat options. It was made worse by Major Duke himself openly negated the teaching which was fed into the younger trainee pilots, simply bad military discipline throughout. I did like the AI named Carl who had a very dry character and of course his "death" also worked pretty well making the sabotage of the search for a cure have a little more drama. When we get to meet Kaleel played wonderfully over the top by Jack Palance we see he has some sort of ability, it's not clear if he is a mutant or even native to Vistula but as an evil villain he works very well for this pulpy sort of scifi.
|Kaleel - Jack Palance|
The Sea of Stone which his the secret base of Kaleel and his strike force was also a clever idea, on the surface it seems strange that there is such a large desert area on this agro world but it makes sense that you can't have a planet that is all moderate climate ideal for agriculture, you have the opposite. It was also a nice twist to find out it's Kaleel himself that is supporting the slave trade for his own material benefit with the side effect of stoking the rebellion coupled with his ability to kill with glowly hands. I'm not quite sure where they got the infrastructure to build such advanced vessels in the middle of nowhere, nothing indicates they were bought in but we'll let it go but they also had a weapon that could leech power from aircraft/spacecraft which seemed a pretty good device to have. All that aside we know the Earth has a defence shield so regardless of how many fighters the Earth could send into orbit it's not as if any alien fighter was going to get through to attack the planet directly.
|Governor Toban Saroyan|
A big thankyou to the writers and director for the wet look Wilam and Ryma, great idea to stick the two women into a very hot prison cell which had them perspiring like crazy and lots of skin on display, of course Buck blowing up a grenade inside a helmet to throw himself into rafters was rather silly. I also felt sorry for the women who were still no doubt sticky when they had to perform in the desert, that could not have been comfortable at all. That said both Wilma and Ryma (Brianne Leary) were strong characters who achieved a lot themselves despite being saved by a man but credit where it's due for making a good attempt to provide good female role models. The big easter egg in the episode was one of the pilots who came out of retirement to defend the Earth against the approaching alien fleet, a certain Brigadier Gordon played by the one and only Buster Crabbe and the interchange between the two characters/actors was fanboy nirvana:)
Overall a fun episode with a lot of flaws.