Space Patrol Orion (1966)
Hi all, Nate here, partnering up with Pam for another multi-episode television series review. This time we're venturing across the Atlantic to mid-'60s West Germany for what is essentially the low-budget, spotty-quality, German version of the low-budget, spotty-quality, American Star Trek. Only seven episodes were produced in 1966 before it was canceled, though the series has lived on in numerous tie-in novels and semi-erotic fan fictions. Let's get right to it. First off, I'm going to just type the opening voice-over that starts out each episode (always the same), because it's very informative...
What seems like a fairy tale today may be reality tomorrow. Here we present a fairy tale of the day after tomorrow. There are no more national states, only mankind and its colonies in space. We've settled distant stars and the bottom of the sea has been made habitable. At what are today unimaginable speeds, the spaceships of tomorrow traverse the Milky Way. One of these spaceships is the Orion, a small part of the giant security system which protects Earth from extraterrestrial threats. Let us accompany the Orion and her crew on their patrol-route at the edge of infinity...
Got all that? Good, because I'm not going to type that again. Obviously the first episode is going to provide a ton of background history and exposition, which is fine, we need all that, but a lot of that is given in the intro voice-over. Just know that humanity is spread out across the galaxy and adventure and conflict abounds.
As we open, the head of the Supreme Space Command is telling us about how the Fleet's best starship captain is being demoted from front-line duty because he's a loose cannon and a danger to everyone around him. This despite the fact that he's their best tactician and combat leader, but rules are rules and rulebreakers will be punished (oh, you, Germany...). The Captain and his crew, because apparently the crew is inexorably linked to the Captain, are being reassigned to what is essentially the Coast Guard, forced to do three years of patrolling the backwaters of the galaxy, far from the edge of battle. Their ship, the Orion, is being reassigned with them.
So says the circular computer thingie.
The crew of the Orion is a Xerox copy of the Enterprise crew from the original Star Trek series (out the same year, remember). We can line these up fairly well based on their jobs and other distinguishing characteristics, though they all have uniquely German personalities and hairstyles. Since we have a tad over 7 hours together, we might as well get to know them now...
Captain Cliff McLane is, of course, our Captain James T. Kirk analog. He's known for his “unauthorized landing on Rhea" and his “insane flight to the second moon of Jupiter" and his “mad breakthrough to Saturn Base during Space War 2" and even his “interference at Alpha Centauri". All of that means he's a brilliant war leader and a dangerous rogue, just the sort of ship commander that either ends up dead or in the brig early in his career, long before he can gain such a loyal following.
McLane, front and center with his crew.
Hasso is the chief engineer, a schlubby guy who likes to drink a lot just like those drunken layabout Scots! So he's totes Scotty. Hasso will grate on your nerves after a while, mostly because he's so negative and pessimistic all the time. He's McLane's confidant and maybe the only person who actually likes him, so he gets to be the sounding board for a lot of the Captain's rambling diatribes and rants (lucky guy?).
Hasso acts like he's listening.
Atan is head of navigation, the helmsman who drives the boat, so to speak, so he can be no one other than Ensign Sulu. He owns one of the last few poodles in existence, which is a nice touch, and seems the most sensitive and compassionate of the group. We'll see as the series progresses if he toughens up a bit.
Atan behind his console.
Mario is the weapons officer, a womanizing playboy who looks like a chubby Slavic NYC taxi driver, and the guy who hits the “Fire" button a lot. The Enterprise equivalent would be the boyish Ensign Chekov. I'm not sure I even have an opinion about Mario, he really doesn't do much of note.
Mario, on the right.
Helga is the crew's only female member and she's in charge of communications so, duh, she's Uhura. Headstrong and free-spirited, she's also clearly in love with the Captain (also duh). For the most part, Helga gets to stay on the ship, safely behind her computer screens, while the menfolk get to go out and do the exciting stuff.
Helga is grumpy a lot.
The ringer is Tamara, the Galactic Security Department Political Officer assigned to keep the ship and her crew out of trouble. Since her character is cold and distant and brutally honest with everyone, plus she has repressed sexual feelings for the Captain, Tamara is pretty much Spock with boobs, is she not? Imagine if Starfleet assigned a Political Officer to the Enterprise, someone who was to hover around and make sure Kirk followed the Prime Directive and kept his spacepenis out of the local alien princesses? That would have been a tough job.
Tamara, standoffish as usual.
As the entire series is set onboard her, let's look at the spaceship Orion in some detail. First off, she's technically the Orion 7, as McLane's previous six starships were all named Orion (he done gots them all explodey). Referred to variously as a “high-speed space cruiser" and the “fastest ship in the Fleet", she's equipped with a “hyperspeed drive", essentially a Warp engine, and “light guns", which are much like Phasers. Unsurprisingly, the Orion is shaped like your standard 1950s-era UFO flying disk, but with a few protrusions that make it look like a mutated horseshoe crab from some angles. Tough to tell the size, but it's certainly smaller than the Enterprise's saucer section.
Like the early Star Trek sets, everything we see of the interior sets is sterile Germanic minimalist, over-lit, flat and angular, with lots of clear plastic and unmarked buttons. No comfy couches, no potted plants, no art on the walls, nothing purely for decorative or leisure is to be seen. Everything seems to have a purpose, a place, a functional design, like living inside a BMW factory. How boring. Personal styles are even more bland and unremarkable, for clothing, everyone takes their color palettes from Lego Batman, “only in black, or very dark gray...". Hair styles are military-buzzed for the men, severe and bouffant and mod for the women. Much hairspray is in evidence.
Should have been shot in color.
Pretty much the first half of this first episode is about Tamara's slow, painful integration into the Orion's veteran crew. Remember she'll be with them for three long years in space, so at some point she's going to have to chill out and let her hair down, even if she's still technically the boss. She doesn't know much about spaceships or astral navigation or any of that technical stuff, she just knows the GSD rulebook and has a pathological need to make sure that everyone, McLane especially, knows that she has the power. Tamara is actually a fantastic character, cold and angry and also vulnerable and often unable to hide the fact that she's out of her element, she's so far my favorite character in the show.
Sadly, she'll fall in love with him.
So, on their first patrol, they come across a deep space navigation station on a small planetoid and make a detour when they realize that no one is answering their calls. Atan and Hasso form an away team and take a small landing ship down to the station. Of note here is the spacesuit design with their huge, comically over-sized clear plastic domes and the general lack of the type of superfluous badges and gaudy pinstripes you see in American b-movies. For the most part, the space stuff in this series actually looks like it would work in space.
I want to laugh.
Also of interest is the design of the Lancet, the landing ship, which is, in a word, awful. Ugly and misshapen, it has the grossest overuse of the vacuformed plastic bubble since, well, since The Starlost. What possible value would there be to having clear bubbles over a traditional viewscreen or a canopy? Your outward visibility is severely compromised by the frames between the bubbles, which seems especially hazardous because you apparently have to fly and land the thing by line-of-sight controls. I suppose that's better than having a single-piece bubble like the Jetsons' astrocar.
That doesn't seem safe.
Anyway, in the base Atan and Hasso find the oxygen drained and the crew dead. It's not long before they encounter an alien seemingly made of flickering, translucent blocks in a roughly humanoid form (!). Is this First Contact??? I had thought before that other intelligent life had already been discovered but perhaps not. Most notable are Atan and Hasso's reactions to discovering alien life; shock, terror, fear, an instant gut reaction to flee. This is so refreshingly real, so human, and so different from 99% of b-movies from the 50s and 60s where First Contact just illicts a yawn and a “meh" from the stalwart American astronaut and his plucky bubblehead girlfriend.
The blur in the middle is the alien.
Seven alien spaceships that look like lawn darts now appear! Space combat, baby! Things go badly for the Orion as the aliens zap their computers and drag them into a gravity well of sorts. Tamara wants to disengage and speed back to Earth and alert Space Command of a possible alien invasion, but McLane, being the hero, wants to go all full speed and damn the torpedoes on them. For everyone puffing McLane up to be this great leader and heroic combat fighter, he sure seems flustered and indecisive here. Of course, First Contact with aliens and a space battle with them all within five minutes would make jelly of the bravest of men (except Picard).
McLane asks for advice.
Atan and Hasso are on their own now, fighting against all odds in the derelict station as the aliens land and approach them. They have no weapons, no idea of what will even work against the aliens, just their own wits and Germanic determination. To add to this there's this robotic scientific ship, the Challenger, that's about to crash into the planet because it couldn't get the right automatic course corrections because the station is out of order (that makes even less sense when I type it...). On top of everything else, Tamara picks this moment to butt in and start tossing around her authority, demanding that McLane destroy the planet to prevent its capture and McLane has to battle his own conscience to do what he knows is right (which, in the end, is blow up the planet and sacrifice his friends, which only a fortuitous ship-wide power loss prevents).
You're all so serious all the time.
The ending is tragically rushed, though you could see that coming as the time was ticking down into the last minutes of the episode and they still didn't seem to have any realistic way to resolve all the plotlines in time. Suddenly the Challenger explodes, because script! Suddenly the aliens all die because they're allergic to oxygen, because script! Suddenly Atan and Hasso fix everything that was broken, because script! Suddenly everyone is back on Earth laughing and joking and talking about whiskey and casinos, because script! What a letdown, a terrible way to end what was overall a very effective pilot episode.
I'm disappointed in all of you.
A couple random thoughts: So far the techno-babble is intense! So many numbers recited, so many nonsensical made-up equipment terms tossed around, just so much sciencey talk, just too much. I refuse to go back and actually count, but surely 20% of the dialogue is needless techno-babble. The special effects, notably the spaceships and starfield optical effects, are pretty good both for the era and what has been said to be a pitifully small budget. The Orion model is ok, just nothing new or inventive, though I guess I should be glad it doesn't look like a Flash Gordon finned rocket with flames shooting out the tailpipe.
Lots of underutilized space.
There's also a throwaway scene in an undersea base on Earth, and huge fish swim by the windows for no reason other than the effects team figured out how to do a back projection matte in a cut-out negative. So, hit and miss on the effects but overall a nice job. There's a fair amount of military-speak, especially in the organizational structures. Overall space operations are run through the Supreme Space Command. First-line military operations are run through the Space Rapid Deployment Force. Secondary military operations are run through the Space Reconnaissance Force. Yes, this is the Star Trek Federation and its Space Fleet.
The “Starlight Casino" is actually underwater.
As we open, the battleship Hydra is on patrol and has encountered difficulties. The Hydra is commanded by General Van Dyke, a sexy lady who both hates and loves McLane, he having served under her in the regular Space Fleet for many years before he got his own command. I can't tell her apart from Helga or any of the other half-dozen female background extras we've seen so far, they all have the exact same haircuts and body shapes and faces. In fact, if it wasn't for her having platnium blonde hair, I would struggle to tell Tamara from them either.
General Lydia Van Dyke.
The hostile aliens are active again, having first shown up in the last episode, and they've been knicknamed the “Frogs" for some reason. The Frogs have somehow tossed a huge “super nova" at the Earth! It's due to arrive at Earth in seven days, but the heat and radiation will have fried the planet a couple days before. I don't think the scriptwriters understood what a “super nova" was in 1966, because that's not something physical that you can just toss around like a frisbee, no matter what your level of technology may be. While the science is sketchy, the opticals for the nova are actually pretty good, looking like a wriggling sperm or a flaming tennis ball filmed through a smoky lens filter.
Where is the camera filming this nova?
Much screentime is spent with a tablefull of old men in a room, the military and political leaders of Earth. They alone know about the incoming nova and they argue and bicker about who is to blame and how they can save themselves if it can't be stopped. There's some interesting examinations here of the merits of keeping the public in the dark about the true nature of the threat (conspiracy!). Knowing the Space Fleet can only evacuate a relatively small number of people, the polititans want to make sure that the general populace doesn't panic and storm the spacepads before they can plan how to load up their wine collections and Swiss back accounts and make their own escape. Hard not to look back 20 years in German history and see parallels in how the German High Command was still selling the line that everything was awesome and victory was just right around the corner, even as Stalin's tanks were literally at Berlin's gates.
"Everything is just fine. Really."
But all is not lost just yet, even if, in a very Star Trek sorta plot twist, the Orion is the only ship (of a stated 5,600-ship strong Space Fleet) that's close enough to the nova to do anything about it. Sure. So it's completely up to McLane and Co. to save the planet. First effort, find and blow up the Frog control station, supposedly located in the asteroid belt. This the Orion does with little difficulty, zapping the base from orbit (it's the only way to be sure...). There is, however, no discernable effect on the nova's flight path. Not exactly sure why, but it seems the nova's trajectory has already been locked in? Nothing is every clear when it comes to the techno-babble, much of it seems made up on the fly.
Plots it out on paper!
Second effort, set an intercept course and pummel the nova with antimatter bombs from the Orion. These bombs seem to be less Photon Torpedoes that home in on their target and more just glowy shiny things tossed out and detonated at random by a guy (Mario?) with the aiming being done by peering out the window and trying to gauge when it's close enough. None of the antimatter bombs seem to connect (shocker) and there is again no discernable effect on the nova's flight path. They make this big deal about how these anitmatter bombs are experimental and ultrapowerful, but when they're aimed with all the accuracy of a howler monkey throwing his poo at tourists, you might as well not even bother.
Tamara is not amused by this incompetence.
Third, and potentially last ditch effort, ram the Orion into the nova and blow her up like a suicide bomber. Everyone frets that this is not how they want to die, but McLane has a plan wherein the crew will evac on the Lancet shuttle over to the busted battleship Hydra, which is still floating in the general area. This actually works, as the Orion's reactor is powerful enough that when it goes boom it takes the nova out with it (yay, humans!). Looks like there's going to be an Orion 8 now (recall the lost ship was the seventh with the same name).
The Orion (lower left) on her final death mission.
The last 15 minutes are the now-homeless Orion crew meeting up with the derelict Hydra and working to fix it up enough to get back home. They reach the Hydra and Hasso has to float over like in Roy Schneider in 2030, though we don't actually see him do it (tight budget). The Hydra interiors are clearly a redress of the Orion bridge set, just a console moved over there and a chair over here and maybe some more mood lighting by the desk. There's some manufactured drama as the oxygen (“cold pressure"?) runs out and stuff and things happen but you know in the end that everything will work out just fine for them because they're special snowflake people. General Van Dyke and her crew are found in hibernation and are saved (this “battleship" seems to have a crew of four). They repair the Hydra's engines enough for impulse power and they limp back to Earth.
”Wake up, it's your cue.”
Things we learn this episode? Tamara was willing to shoot McLane to keep the mission going, which is sorta in line with her character as a political/security officer, but no one holds it against her later. Hasso is kind of a wimp, and he complains a lot about being here, he volunteered to go back into space, right? Another episode where Atan and Mario do little to distinguish them apart, their roles really could have been combined into one character and the rest of them wouldn't be so cramped in that smallish bridge set. Helga hasn't done much either, but she can stay because I'm hopeful that she and Tamara will at some point get into a hair-pulling catfight over McLane (man I hope so...).
My money is on Tamara, she fights dirty.
OMG McLane is suuuuuuuuuuch a dick, so much more than I was expecting. He's rude and insulting to everyone, even his own crew, and he's especially biting and mean to Tamara, who is just doing her job. I get that he's a great space leader (though we haven't seen much of that so far) but you have to wonder why anyone even acts like they respect the guy. There's a point where your bad attitude and terrible workplace behavior far outshadow your (alleged) job preformance and I think that point is now. He's not even that handsome, if he was uber-hot then you could maybe overlook some of his dickishness, but he's just a poor man's replacement discount Steve McQueen in a bad suit.
Get over yourself.
Finally a note on the interior sets, which really are dreadful the more you see them (and that you do a lot). The ship control panels are more and more laughable as we get better looks at them, just insane amounts of buttons and switches and knobs that crewmen randomly press and flip and twist in no particular order. There are also a plethora of chrome cue balls on sticks that seem to not even move that everyone is always fondling and tapping and gently caressing to make screens pop up and doors open. Exactly when in THE FUTURE did a simple keyboard or a steering wheel go out of style? Human hands and fingers have not changed, nor has our reach or span or dexterity, so why would you have such pointlessly complicated and confusing control schemes? Just to be “sci-fi cool"? Ugh.
Typical control panel.
Now over to Pam for the next couple of episodes, hopefully she'll find things picking up a bit.
Thanks, Nate. You are so right about McLane. I’ve been trying to figure out why his crew not only puts up with him, they actually seem devoted to him. It’s not just that he treats them so badly at times, it’s also that his superiors dislike him, which is likely to have a negative impact on his crew’s careers. Every time McLane and the Orion are reassigned to lesser duties, the crew’s chance to shine and boost their careers is diminished. But then, the crew doesn’t seem all that ambitious, either. If McLane’s and his crew’s disaffected attitudes will be a key plot point, this will be interesting, and something most TV shows of its time didn’t get into. But, on the other hand, maybe it’s only childish rebellion against authority written in to appeal to a youthful audience, who knows? But look on the bright side. Space Patrol Orion is, so far, still better than The Starlost.
At least no one has bellbottoms on.
Right away we’re reminded of McLane’s basic unpleasantness, as we see him snickering through a serious lecture on dealing with malfunctions in robots. His crew isn’t behaving any better, though. This is probably an answer to the question about why his crew puts up with him: they’re just as bad as he is. They’re relieved, and probably so is the instructor, when they’re pulled out of the class to be given a special assignment which turns out to be not that special, since all they’re going to be doing is collecting astrophysical data from space probes. After a snarl or two at his superior officer and a little sexual harassment of a couple of women, McLane and crew report to the Orion, and off they go. It doesn’t appear to occur to McLane, or anybody in his crew, that possibly his bad attitude has something to do with the lackluster assignments he’s been getting.
Pay attention, fools.
It appears that collecting the data involves somebody taking a shuttle and actually going to the probes. Atan and Helga set off to get started gathering the data, but just as they leave the Orion, the Orion gets a call from a passing space freighter, which informs him that there might be a problem with some robots on a planet named Pallas, where a mining colony is located. No sooner has McLane heard this than he’s abandoned his mission and is off to Pallas to investigate. What does this tell us, besides the fact that McLane may suffer from ADD? First, that McLane has no problem disobeying orders he was given, which is old news. Second, the spaceship captain, a Commodore Ruyter under whom McLane once served, thinks it’s perfectly appropriate for McLane to do this. In fact, that’s why the captain contacted him. Why doesn’t the captain inform his superiors back on Earth, and let them designate somebody to investigate? What sort of sloppy organization is Space Command? McLane seems to think it just doesn’t care what’s happening to the people on Pallas. Are the writers really trying to convey that Space Command is so heartless individual officers have no choice but to take matters in their own hands? Is this an attempt to overcome the stereotype of Germans as blindly following orders given by evil leaders?
Manning the helm.
Tamara makes a feeble protest and points out McLane and Co. will be in trouble if Space Command finds out the Orion isn’t where it’s supposed to be. But McLane has a plan: it seems Atan can set up a force field from the shuttle that will make it seem as though the Orion is right where it’s supposed to be. From the way he says this, it sounds as though this is something they’ve done before. While the Orion hares off on a mission it really shouldn’t be on, Atan and Helga will stay behind and maintain the illusion the Orion is still there, and, let us hope, gather the data the Orion is supposed to be getting. However, there seems to be one tiny flaw in McLane’s plan. Space Command is trying to get in touch with the Orion and summon it back to Earth, and since it isn’t where they think it is, they can’t reach it. I guess Atan can’t set up his communications system to receive calls meant for the Orion, which seems a little odd, unless their method of communication is actually more like a telephone than a radio, so only the party being called can receive the message. There seems to be some urgency in getting the Orion back to Earth, by the way. It remains to be seen if Earth is in some kind of trouble, or if Space Command is just being officious, not that they don’t have a right to be. In what sort of organization, whether military, merchant, or scientific, is a ship’s captain allowed to take his ship and do whatever he pleases?
Hostile workplace, as always.
McLane can’t get anyone on Pallas to answer his hails, so of course, being the kind of person he is, he goes ahead and lands, not considering that if there really is trouble on Pallas, perhaps he ought to call for reinforcements, or at least inform somebody at Space Command of the situation. I mean, they encountered hostile alien life forms in the first two episodes, couldn’t that be what’s going on here? However, this occurs to nobody. To make matters a little worse, Mario informs McLane there’s a time constraint – the ship’s “converters” can be kept idling for no more than 18 hours. Even five minutes more will cause the “crystals” to melt down. Mario injects a little more rebellion when he grins and tells McLane that the official deadline is 16 hours, but he knows better. Let’s hope Mario actually knows what he’s talking about when he says 18 hours will be safe.
Pallas sure is rocky.
McLane, Hasso, Mario, and Tamara exit the Orion to investigate. No money was wasted on setting up a landscape, Pallas consists of a featureless stretch of sand and a black sky with a moon and stars visible. Odd that Tamara, who was so against going to Pallas, is coming along with the others, but maybe she feels it necessary to keep tabs on what they’re doing. They can’t get an answer to their communicator calls, and the base is underground with the entrances for some unfathomable reason concealed. Why hide the entrances? The mysterious aliens showed up only recently, and it sounds as though the base has been on Pallas for some time. Was there some kind of war between humans in the not-too-distant past, so it was necessary make it appear there was nothing on Pallas? Whatever the reason, the Orion crew doesn’t bother to mention it, and McLane orders everybody to split up and look for an entrance. Tamara makes another feeble protest, claiming that it’s against regulations for an entire crew to leave their space ship under these circumstances. I’d say it’s against all common sense, too, with some unknown trouble going on, and also a bad idea for everybody to go off by himself, but McLane doesn’t agree. He also points out that according to regulations, he, Hasso, and Mario are supposed to stay with the ship, which would mean she’d have to investigate on her own. She doesn’t like that idea at all and is beginning to back down when word comes that an entrance has been found.
Best composite shot in the series so far.
The base proves to consist of multiple large metal rooms, almost completely unfurnished and very bleak. Possibly whoever designed the base was going for the bare minimum, which does make sense, since everything would have to be transported from Earth. Pallas seems to have a breathable atmosphere, so conservation of oxygen doesn’t seem to be a consideration, but I don’t see how anybody could stand to live this way very long. The noise alone of people walking on the bare metal floors must be nerve-wracking. McLane’s former commander mentioned there were 71 colonists on Pallas, but there’s no sign any of them tried to personalize the base a little.
So much stainless steel!
Then again, so far there’s been no sign of any people at all. However, they come across an elevator that seems to be able to move by itself, and naturally McLane just has to get in. The rest follow him with no protest, although Tamara doesn’t look too happy. Her instincts are correct: just as the elevator door is closing, they turn around to see two menacing-looking robots standing there. McLane does have sense enough to tell everybody to draw their guns and stand by when the elevator stops. The robots are ahead of him, though. They’re holding guns on a human captive, who tells his fellow humans to put down their guns. This they do, and the robots enter the elevator, leaving the humans behind. The robots, by the way, are not the usual Robby-the-Robot-type knockoffs you often see in science-fiction movies. These are an original design, being a large fat disk with a big knob on top and several flexible arms sticking out around the equator of the disk. The disks are each balanced precariously on one curved leg. I must say the robots look interesting, but that one leg doesn’t seem to make for a very stable configuration. Since the robots appear to move by floating, with the end of the leg not quite touching the floor, I’m not sure why they even need the leg.
Terrible optical effects.
Once the robots are gone, the Orion crew plus the hostage are joined by other humans. The hostage turns out to be the base commander, and he has a sad tale to tell. It seems that everything was going well on Pallas until recently, when somebody smuggled drugs into the base and everything fell apart. The drug users refused to work and apparently incited others to refuse to work also, and the base commander ended up shooting two of the druggies. This, it seems, caused the robots to turn against the humans. Tamara points out that robots are programmed never to hurt humans but to preserve human life, and it seems these robots have taken that seriously. They’re keeping the surviving humans on a tight rein to prevent further bloodshed, something which might be justified. The base commander got very vague when he came to the part about shooting two people, but it sounded as though his primary concern was keeping the ore production on schedule rather than stopping a physical threat from the drug users.
They all have some issues.
Even given the robots were programmed with enough initiative to supervise the humans so they can’t kill each other, mysteries remain. The robots are making the humans continue mining the ore, but it seems it’s not actually getting back to Earth. Commodore Ruyter mentioned that when the ore containers were opened, they contained only waste material, not the germanium ore they were supposed to be carrying. This makes it even odder that Space Command wasn’t willing to do anything, since if they didn’t care anything about the humans on Pallas, they surely must have wanted the ore.
As a matter of fact, it seems they do. Back on Earth, Commodore Ruyter is being interrogated by a representative of Space Command. It appears that Commodore Ruyter, who is fondly remembered by McLane, may not be quite the upstanding space-going officer he appears to be at first glance. Not only is there the matter of the missing ore, it seems two transport ships have also gone missing under the Commodore’s watch. It also seems that Space Command is on to McLane’s trick with the force field, and McLane’s superiors are debating what to do to find him. There’s a space fleet in the area, but for some reason I can’t understand at all, it seems either the entire fleet must be sent, or none of the fleet. They finally decide to dispatch the fleet, but from the expressions on their faces, it may be less a rescue mission and more a catch-McLane-and-bring-him-back-for-disciplinary-measures mission. Why they can’t detach one ship from the fleet and send it, who knows.
Who is this guy?
Meanwhile, Atan is faithfully gathering his data, a task which isn’t quite as easy as it seems, because he has to put on a spacesuit, leave the shuttle, and float to the collector to get the data. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to tether himself to anything while he does this, which is stupid but about what I’d expect from a member of McLane’s crew. Helga has been trying to reach the Orion for two hours but is having no luck. She’s worried, but Atan thinks they’re just off somewhere having fun. He seems okay with this, even though the reason for the Orion leaving him and Helga was to rescue the Pallas colonists from possible peril. The infatuated Helga wants to speed off to find McLane, but in addition to love, she has a more serious concern, which is that maintaining the fake Orion is draining power from the shuttle, and very shortly the shuttle will be out of juice. Even this won’t make Atan budge, so we’ll leave them there and return to Pallas.
Well, as we know, far from having fun, the rest of the Orion’s crew are now prisoners of the robots. McLane, however, has a plan, which is elegant in its simplicity. Just reprogram the robots so they’ll let the humans go! It seems that none of the colonists came up with this idea, which only goes to show what a genius McLane is. But there is a small problem, which is that nobody knows how to do this – except for Tamara, who was the only one paying attention in the class we saw at the beginning of the episode. But how to catch the robots so this can be done? Commodore Ruyter mentioned there were 21 of them. McLane has another plan. They’ll turn off the mining equipment, the robots will come to check, and they’ll set explosives to make the ceiling collapse in a spot that will leave the robots trapped. Um, two problems I can see with this: one, how can you be sure all the robots will come, and two, if there’s enough fallen rock to trap the robots, how will you be able to get to them to reprogram them? Clearly I’m unfit to be a member of McLane’s crew.
Here they come.
Sure enough, only two robots actually show up. While they’re waiting, McLane displays his usual sensitivity and compassion and berates Tamara for not being absolutely certain she remembers how the class instructor said to reprogram the robots. You will of course recall he was attending the same class she was and remembers much less than she does, but it appears you’re alone in your recall, because neither he nor Tamara seem to remember this point at all. The two robots are in fact trapped in the rock, luckily with their tops accessible, since reprogramming them seems to be a matter of opening the knobs on top and moving some kind of switch to a different position. Tamara’s problem is she can’t quite remember which of two positions the switch needs to be moved to. The right position will make the robots obedient to humans again, the wrong one will make them berserk. Some design. Especially since it appears that anybody can open up the robots and move that switch.
Finding the switches.
It is, of course, the valiant McLane who has to step in and make the decision, since when all’s said and done, Tamara’s assertiveness seems to be limited to rattling off regulations. The reprogrammed robots are sent off to do something to the other robots, and the Orion crew and the colonists huddle anxiously to see what the two reprogrammed robots will do to them when they get back, although from what McLane and Tamara said just minutes ago, it should have been immediately obvious if they’d done the reprogramming right. The elevator reappears and opens, the two gun-toting robots draw nearer and nearer to McLane and Tamara with their guns pointed straight at them, until…the robots stop and McLane and Tamara take the guns. What a surprise!
She wants to be the boss without being the boss.
I was expecting now all was well, but the Orion crew and the base commander run to the elevator with the guns they took from the robots, and when the elevator door opens, they begin shooting some robots who have gathered there. So what were the reprogrammed robots doing? Never mind, because this way we get an exciting sequence as McLane and the others race through the base looking for stray robots, while Helga and Atan sit on the shuttle, barely conscious as they watch their power dwindle. They finally turn off the Orion simulation, hoping this will leave them with enough power to hold out until the Orion returns. I think we’re supposed to forget Atan thought the Orion might be off on a toot somewhere, so there’s no particular reason to think it’ll be back anytime soon. But here wrong McLane, because once all the robots are dispatched, he and the others immediately return to the Orion. (Look closely, and you’ll see only Tamara, McLane, and Mario actually return to the Orion. Did they leave Hasso behind? No, we see him later in the Orion.) It appears they made it back within Mario’s 18-hour window, although nothing more has been said about that.
Everyone assembles in order.
Oh, gosh, Helga is unconscious, and Atan isn’t much better off! Will the Orion, can the Orion, reach them in time? It is to laugh. Of course it does. McLane seems quite surprised to find Helga and Atan in such bad shape, so it appears the brilliant commander ordered them to simulate the Orion without having any idea what it would do to the shuttle. I’m going to give him something of a break here, though, because he’s not an engineer, and Hasso, who is an engineer and should have told McLane what the dangers of making the simulation were, seems to be equally surprised. Considering their superiors back home acted as though producing simulations of this sort are a common trick, this is inexcusable. Atan has enough strength left to call the other crewmembers “fools,” to which Hasso cheerfully agrees without displaying a shred of guilt, but I’d say Atan was a fool himself for not stopping the simulation when it became obvious it was posing a hazard to him and Helga. Maybe he was afraid he’d be in trouble if those in authority over McLane found out he’d produced the simulation so McLane could go off someplace without orders, which would be a reasonable expectation if this were a well-run organization, but if so, nobody mentions this.
Wake up, dude.
Fortunately for Atan and Helga, a little fresh air is all that’s needed to restore them to complete health. McLane, as always the perfect commanding officer, chews out Atan for waiting for his order to turn off the simulation. Far from sympathizing with Atan’s near death, which after all came about because he was trying to keep them from getting into trouble with their superior officers, Hasso and Mario make it clear they consider Atan’s grievances to be nothing but babyish whining. It appears McLane really is promoting the idea his crew can do anything they want, although I have a feeling this attitude would change in a hurry if he were to get into trouble because one of his crew chose to exercise his or her initiative.
She'll be fine, really.
However, McLane has an idea to restore morale, which is to order drinks for everybody (!) Although I’m aware that unlike the U.S. Navy, most navies do allow some alcohol to be served aboard ship, I point out that every single person on the Orion is drinking, and those are pretty big glasses they’re drinking out of. Also, judging from the bottle it came out of, it’s hard liquor, not beer or wine, and I don’t see any mixers, or even ice. This is probably why when they receive a call from Space Command, they find it uproariously funny that Space Command was concerned about not being able to get in contact with them. Right, because nothing could ever go wrong with the Orion, so why would anybody need to be worried when they don’t hear from it? But the female voice from Space Command admits that Space Command isn’t perfect, either, because the data-collecting mission was supposed to be given to the Arion, not the Orion! So it’s all good. And they do make it back to their base safely. And they have a lot more to drink when they get there. And a fleet general shows up and without quite saying so, manages to convey to McLane he approves of all the actions McLane took (!!!)
Booze 'em up!
I watched the first two episodes in this series, although not with the attention I gave this one because I wasn’t reviewing them, and I told Nate I thought the series was actually pretty good. He warned me I wouldn’t think so when I watched it more closely. Nate was right. I didn’t fully appreciate the depths of McLane’s terrible behavior and the other problems with the show until I watched this episode. The only explanation I can come up with for why his crew puts up with him is that they’re such screw-ups themselves no other captain will have them in his crew. Well, Helga seems reasonably okay, but of course she’s in love with McLane. Why? There seem to be a lot more men in the Fleet and in Space Command than women, surely she can find somebody better. And he’s not even that good-looking!
And he's such a dick...
Unlike Nate, I liked the design of the ship’s interior, as well as the design of their underwater base. Even the design of Pallas Base was visually interesting. The problem is, as Nate pointed out, when you look closely at anything, you see the design is mostly non-functional. The set designer had great artistic sense but obviously paid no attention to building anything that looked as though it would actually work efficiently.
Like why are the viewscreens circular?
Then we get to a frequent complaint of mine: sloppy writing. The little subplot involving Commodore Ruyter’s possible misdeeds didn’t go anywhere. We were never told what happened to the missing ore. Will this be followed up in subsequent episodes? I haven’t watched any yet, but I suspect not, because according to IMDb, the character Commodore Ruyter appears in only one episode. And why was a Commodore in command of an ore freighter, anyway? This brings me to the biggest question I have, which is, what is the relationship between Space Command and the Fleet? They wear different uniforms, with members of Space Command in light gray and members of the Fleet in dark gray. It seems as though there may be some sort of adversarial relationship between the Fleet and Space Command, with perhaps Space Command largely made up of political appointees that are mostly a hindrance to the Fleet’s functions. That, or the Fleet as a whole has a lot of bad apples in it, which of course suggests Space Command isn’t doing its job if it’s supposed to be providing oversight of the Fleet. I was surprised when the general expressed his approval of what McLane did, which, after all, nearly killed two of his crewmembers for no good reason. Of course, the possibility exists that the episodes were written by writers who had no idea how a military organization works and wanted at all costs to avoid suggesting that Germans follow orders unquestioningly, since despite the multi-national names, the actors all seem to be German.
Well, on to the next episode. Despite the problems with this one, and despite the fact I’m hating McLane more and more, I’m curious to see what will happen.
Looking at the title of this episode, I’m wondering if McLane and Co. are going to take their rebelliousness to the next level and actually desert. Their superiors are probably hoping so, but as it happens, it’s a certain Commander Alonzo Pietro that tried to jump ship – and to the Frogs, at that. Why? Is he crazy? Apparently not, the doctors say he’s completely sane. He himself refuses to say what led him to make the attempt. Perhaps not surprisingly, Commander Pietro turns out to be an old friend of McLane’s, and McLane is somewhat concerned. He’s trying to find out what happened from General van Dyke, but she doesn’t know either. While he’s in the bar trying to get information, Tamara is sitting a few tables away, drinking heavily and trying to pretend she’s not watching McLane’s every move. What is it with these women, first Helga and now Tamara? You’d think he’s the only man in the Space Fleet. In fact, from the way General van Dyke’s looking at him, I think there’s something going on between them, too.
The bosses have decided for him.
General van Dyke does reveal that many people who have been on the space station M8-8-12, including Commander Pietro, have come down with something called “space madness.” Unfortunately for our Orion friends, that’s where they’re going next, in order to install a marvelous new weapon called Overkill, and Tamara breaks the news to McLane that a doctor has been assigned to the Orion to observe its crew. (Not an assignment I’d want – cooped up on a spaceship with crazy people!) McLane is so unhappy at this news he threatens to resign, but apparently there’s nothing he can do to prevent the doctor from coming along, and he doesn’t actually carry out his threat.
The doctor meets the crew.
So off the Orion goes to M8-8-12. McLane has been told that in view of the problems with space madness, the station is now crewed entirely by robots. For this reason, he’s rather disturbed when they don’t answer his calls. However, the robots do turn on the landing beam, and the entire crew of the Orion, plus the doctor, enter the station. Why the entire crew? Captain Kirk has been criticized on many a fansite for always putting himself in harm’s way on alien planets, but here McLane is not only imperiling himself, but everybody else aboard the Orion. Why did they all have to come, especially in view of the fact that in the last episode they ran into danger from malfunctioning robots, and they have good reason to believe the robots on M8-8-12 aren’t working the way they should. Oh, excuse me, I just noticed Tamara didn’t come, but since she’s a security officer, not part of the crew, it seems pointless to leave her alone on the Orion. How could she get the ship home if everybody else gets killed?
The Orion above the station (woof!).
It doesn’t look as though the ones McLane brought along were the best for the job, either. Atan opines that exhaustion (!) is the reason all the robots we see are just standing there. Mario is annoyed that the robots didn’t come to greet them. Hasso claims he’s never even seen this model of robot. McLane in his wisdom spots the latch to open the robot, and he’s fake-modestly explaining to the doctor that his 15 years of experience in space taught him how to do that, when it appears the robot didn’t care for being opened. Or maybe it, like all the women so far, has fallen for McLane’s charms, because it glides up to him and grabs him around the waist with two of its arms. McLane ungratefully pulls a laser on it and shoots, having apparently been taught by 15 years in space just where on its case to aim. The poor creature sinks to the floor with its one leg folded up under it. McLane feels it best to shoot the other robot as well, and for once I don’t disagree with him, but he doesn’t want to do it himself and orders Hasso to do it. Hasso flatly refuses and tells McLane to call Tamara, who, as he points out, recently took a course in dealing with malfunctioning robots (McLane took the same course, but nobody’s mentioning that). So Hasso goes back to the Orion while Tamara joins the rest of the crew.
She'll be useful this time, I promise.
The rest of the crew get busy installing Overkill, while Tamara, despite her supposed expertise with malfunctioning robots, stands and watches instead of looking for robots to fix. The equipment the crew is working with is very pretty, seemingly made of glass, with the exception of something Atan is using, which looks very much like a 20th-century electric iron with some metal doo-dads glued on it. The artistic set designer strikes again. Hasso is back on the Orion, helping with the work on the station by falling sound asleep. McLane has some trouble waking him up, but finally he responds to McLane’s radio calls. As a matter of fact, though, Hasso looks more than just drowsy, and faint electronic background music confirms my suspicions that whatever got to Commander Pietro is also affecting Hasso. McLane has ordered Hasso to prepare a course for the next space station, which he obediently does, but as the metal punchcard (!) course program is produced, we wonder just what Hasso programmed…
That's totally an iron.
The rest of the crew finishes up and heads back to the Orion, congratulating themselves on a job well-done, but leaving several robots behind on the station without us having seen Tamara do anything with them. Did the Orion crew assume since the robots seemed to be working right, there was no need to inspect them? Was Tamara too enraptured by McLane’s manly charms to remember what she was supposed to be doing? Will this prove to be a problem later on, or is it just more sloppy writing?
McLane will fix the script.
Anyway, the crew shortly finds out they have more to worry about than a few rogue robots. McLane takes a look at the punchcard Hasso made, and he sees it’s set for the same destination Commander Pietro tried to reach! Tamara then announces there’s obviously a traitor aboard the Orion, which, as the Security Officer, gives her the right to take command of the ship so she can investigate and find out who the culprit is. It seems to me it’s only too obvious who’s responsible, seeing as how McLane told Hasso to program the course, not to mention he’s plainly not acting normally. However, this convenient blind spot on the part of the crew gives the writers a chance to write a dramatic interrogation scene which culminates in Tamara putting Hasso under arrest. Not only under arrest, but threatened with being shot with a paralyzing ray. McLane protests loudly that he’s known Hasso for years and he couldn’t possibly have done this, while the rest of the crew stands in the background, also skeptical and protesting. But what nobody bothers to ask is, why would Hasso sell out the Orion in the first place? What could he possibly expect to get by taking it to the Frogs? Come to think of it, nobody asked that about Commander Pietro, either.
Is that an iMac?
Helga, who seems motivated as much by jealousy of Tamara as by concern for Hasso, points out with considerable heat that Tamara was alone on the Orion for some time before Hasso was sent back to take her place and so had the same opportunity as Hasso to program the wrong course. Helga seems to think Tamara programmed the coordinates before Hasso got back. Hasso certainly ought to be able to testify if he found the course already programmed, but all the yelling almost makes us forget he’s still in the room and still unparalyzed.
I thought this was Helga, but it's General Van Dyke! I can't tell them apart.
The doctor finally steps in to stop the catfight, but even he doesn’t think to ask Hasso if he programmed the course himself or found someone had already done it. Instead he rambles on, trying to connect the faulty course with the actions of the robots at the space station. But several times the camera cuts to a closeup of Mario, accompanied by the same electronic music we heard when Hasso started acting strangely. Oh noes! Sure enough, we see him tapping keys on a computer console, and when McLane goes to investigate, he finds a metal punchcard with the same destination Hasso programmed, and Mario has no memory of punching in the coordinates. It turns out the doctor’s ramblings have a point after all: he realizes the common point between Hasso’s and Mario’s actions was that they were both standing at the computer console. He asks Tamara to stand at the console, and sure enough, she begins to enter the same coordinates. The doctor concludes the Frogs have managed to take over the computer and beam some sort of waves from it that control the minds of humans.
Ohmygod he talks too much.
It seems to me this raises more questions than it answers. How could the completely alien Frogs figure out how to control human minds? How do they know how to make human computers broadcast the waves? Did they infiltrate human society long enough ago to have the time to learn how to do this? How many humans are under their control? Do the robots at the space station have anything to do with this? Were the malfunctioning robots from the previous episode actually under Frog control? The doctor does believe the robots at M8-8-12 were under Frog control, with the purpose of delivering Orion to the Frogs so they can extract technical knowledge from the crew. This still doesn’t answer the question of how the Frogs learned to control humans, or human robots for that matter, in the first place, and it doesn’t answer the question of why the Frogs are going to so much trouble to learn about human technology, since from what we’ve seen of them, they’re so radically different from humans they may not even be able to use our technology. Of course, Overkill has been installed on the Orion, but the crew doesn’t seem to know anything about how it works, only what buttons to push to activate it. And if they can control human minds from a distance, their technology seems to be far in advance of ours, anyway.
So many questions, he has no answers.
The doctor and McLane agree that the best thing to do under the circumstances is to follow the course to the Frog base (!!!) This is what I’d expect from McLane, but I would have expected the doctor to have better sense. We’ve been told the radio signals have been blocked, so the Orion can’t report back, but the sensible thing to do would be for it to fly back to some place where it can communicate to its headquarters and ask for help. One small ship against an enemy of unknown size and capabilities? And how do they know the Frog mind control is limited only to the computer console and it won’t overcome them? Not only that, but as Tamara points out, there are space stations along their path that will spot the Orion, and once its course is reported to the Space Fleet, they’ll be after the Orion with orders to shoot to kill. Does this make McLane change his plan? Of course not!
Crossed arms for extra effect.
In fact, the Space Fleet is notified almost immediately about what McLane is doing. I’m not quite sure exactly what’s going on next. The light-gray-uniformed commander dispatches the fleet to catch up with the Orion and destroy it, while the dark-gray-uniformed commander contacts General van Dyke on the Hydra. I thought he was going to order her to contact McLane to give him a chance to explain his actions before blowing up the Orion, but no, he tells her to go ahead and shoot without contact. General van Dyke doesn’t argue. Is this not a little extreme? Is the defection of the Orion so devastating to the humans that they can’t take the time to find out a little more about what’s going on? In any case, wouldn’t it be more useful to try to capture it and study ship and crew to try to figure out what’s causing all these seeming desertions? There’s no evidence they know about the computer controlling the crew’s minds (because McLane couldn’t be bothered to try to find a way to tell them, the dummy), so it can’t be they think any communication with the Orion might spread the contagion to other ships. After all, McLane’s been a troublemaker for a long time, wouldn’t it be reasonable he might decide on his own to go ahead and desert? And why are the two forces apparently acting independently of each other?
How is this a helpful computer display for anyone?
But capturing and questioning the Orion’s crew wouldn’t be nearly so dramatic, so off it goes to the Frog base. Before it gets there, it’s surrounded by Frog ships, which as seen on the viewscreen look quite a bit like sperm. McLane says they can’t try to fight, since the Frogs expect them to be under complete mind control. So why aren’t they? Are the Frogs under the mistaken impression the computer can control minds over a much greater distance than in fact it can? I can certainly believe this, but how does McLane know the computer is supposed to be able to control everybody on board, not just the person who’s standing at the console, programming in the course?
The visuals for this “space battle” are lacking.
General van Dyke has been slowing her ship down as much as possible, despite some protest from her crew that she’s disobeying orders, and when she sees the Frog ships, she orders the Hydra to turn around and return to Earth, saying the Frog weapons are too much superior to the Hydra’s for there to be any use fighting them. Her crew isn’t happy with her decision, but they obey. The Frog ships actually let her go, so McLane has one less threat to worry about. He has the Frog base in sight, when Atan reports there are now 22 Frog ships around the Orion. McLane, undaunted, deploys the mysterious Overkill, and the Frog base blows up, somehow managing to shoot flaming debris which continues to burn in the vacuum of space. You will, however, remember there are 22 Frog ships still around the Orion, and if the Frogs react like humans, they’re fighting mad. Luckily for the Orion, Overkill can be focused down to destroy individual ships as well as it can destroy space stations.
Plus, McLane is just that good.
Things must have worked out okay for the Orion, because the next we see of the crew, they’re back at the underwater base, dancing and drinking. McLane’s superior officer, the one who thought he did such a good job the last episode, stops by to congratulate him. He’s also the one who ordered General van Dyke to shoot the Orion on sight, but he’s not saying anything about that now. So it’s another happy ending for the Orion, but I wonder what happened to General van Dyke? And Commander Pietro? And that little mind-control thing the Frogs have going on – isn’t it a little too early to celebrate, just because the Orion managed to destroy one of their bases? How far has the mind control spread, and isn’t it possible the Frogs have other nasty tricks up their sleeves?
Who cares? Drink up!
Now that we’re a more than halfway through the series, I can say Nate really did manage to pick a bad one. (Yay, Nate!) McLane’s a jerk, the Orion crew are a mess, the structure of this space organization is unfathomable, the special effects are horrible, and the writers don’t bother with boring things like logic or continuity. Worst of all, we haven’t seen Atan’s poodle yet! Where’s the poodle? I’m going to turn this review over to Nate while I think up some more things to complain about. Over to you, Nate.
Thanks, Pam! Let's get right on with Episode 5, no time to waste when there's so much drama and romance (ick) in space. As we open, the bright burning ball of plasma at the center of our solar system has been getting especially angry lately, tossing out larger-than-usual solar flares, calling in “sick” to work, and firing off drunken texts to its ex-girlfriends. The effects on the Earth are severe, with ice caps melting, tidal floods washing away cities, and my Comcast cable being out (again). The smartyheads gather and discuss the problem.
They need better lighting in their meeting rooms.
Meanwhile, daring space captain and all-around rouge McLane and the crew of the Orion 8 are doing humdrum survey work in some forgotten corner of space, still on penal duty despite the fact that they've saved countless lives (most of humanity) on several occasions since they were sentenced to patrol duty. Surely by now someone in Space Command would have figured out that putting McLane back on the front lines would be a benefit to civilization. But no, out checking planetoids for dirt and rocks will teach him a lesson, by gum.
At least the effects shots are better.
It's on one of these barren rocks that the Orion crew surprises a couple of dudes out in a shuttle doing stuff they are not authorized to do. In fact, they aren't even from Earth, but from the planet Chroma. Chroma is “somewhere” out in space, and is home to a population of humans who fled there 500 years ago after the last Great Space War. They've avoided contact with Earth for all this time because they are a peace-loving people and want to be left alone. The problem is that they are doing experiments to try and boost up their own sun that are somehow (?) causing our sun to go haywire (what?). That makes zero sense, of course, but increasingly the “science” part of this series has become insanely stupid in every way, so just roll with it.
Chroma dudes wear silver.
The captives are taken back to Earth, there's some torture, there's some violation of civil rights, and the story of Chroma's past and present is discovered. The leaders of Earth want to send the entire Space Fleet to Chroma and Shock-and-Awe it to cinders to keep them from messing with our sun. All series long, humankind has shown a willingness to use the military to solve every problem (by breaking stuff real good), so this isn't really a surprise. A bit weird coming from German in the '60s, though, they were generally trying to avoid any memories of the militaristic 1930s and 40s. Perhaps this show was taking shots at the Americans and Rooskies? During that time we were actively planning on fighting WWIII on German soil (sorry, civilians!).
Giant Viewscreen Guy wants war.
McLane determines that he and he alone can save the galaxy from war, so he needs to go to Chroma and hash out a diplomatic solution on his own before the Fleet is ready to rumble. To do so he does some back-channel plotting with Tamara's boss in the Space Security Branch and gets the off-the-record OK to take the Orion to Chroma and do what he can. If he fails, they'll disavow any knowledge of him. Of course, if he fails the war will most likely consume him and his crew anyway. The rest of his crew volunteers to go with him on this presumably-suicide mission, as does Tamara, because this is an ensemble show and everyone needs to have their contractually-obligated screen time.
Even if they're not happy about it.
The Orion reaches the planet Chroma, and thanks to having the two captured Chroma scientists aboard, they are allowed to land without being blown to pieces. McLane is brought alone to meet the Chroma leader while the rest of the crew is left to stew and nail-bite out in a field with their ship. Yes, an actual field with trees and grass and everything, because (surprise!) Chroma looks exactly like like the Ruhr Valley east of Berlin. Imagine the odds.
Also to the surprise of absolutely no one who has ever seen a sci-fi show from the 1960s, Chroma is a matriarchal society led by a Queen. Men are allowed to be gardeners and nuclear scientists, and soldiers and lovers, but the women don't trust them enough to let them be in charge. Though I'm sure they're all like “oh sure, why don't you tell me what you think of this new law, I'm totally listening to you”, because women. The Chroma Queen (and her lieutenants) are, also unsurprisingly, sizzling hot size-2 Nordic girls with perfect hair and fashionably fake eyelashes.
I approve of Chroma hospitality.
So McLane, being McLane, is shocked (shocked!) that women (gasp!) are in charge of Chroma (the horror!), because in his mind women are inferior to men in every way. He's so abrupt and condescending towards the Queen that you wonder why she just doesn't have him executed on the spot. The reason, of course, is that she kinda likes to be treated that way, because all women like to be treated like dirt by a man, just like your older cousin Ricky always told you and he had, like, eight girlfriends before he got sent to juvie. You know how we here at MMT are constantly ragging on old movies for being horribly misogynistic? We do it a lot. Well, almost always those movies are from the 1940s or 50s, an era where women seemed to have had it pretty rough on the silver screen. By the late 1960s, however, the general trend worldwide was one of more respect for women and that was reflected a lot in popular television and movies. Not so our series. We've already seen what a terrible chauvinist pig McLane is and how no one seems to mind, and in this fifth episode he takes it to the next level. It's embarrassing to watch.
Just shoot him.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, things have gotten worse and now the Space Fleet is massing on the borders for a final, crushing attack on Chroma. This news is relayed to Tamara and she and the Orion's crew must chose to flee now without McLane or to stick around and try and save him and maybe get caught in the crossfire. Considering what a raging dick McLane is to everyone, you'd think they'd take the easy route out and leave his lunkass there, but instead they decide to wait it out and see if they can save him. Ugh.
Live to fight another day?
The crisis is resolved off-screen, oddly enough, as the Chroma Queen sees the error in her ways and tells the Earth that she wants peace and the attack is called off. Further, she announces that the Chroma Empire will henceforth open full diplomatic relations with Earth and allow sex tourists and venture capitalists and real estate developers and guys looking to open used space shuttle dealerships across the street from seedy liquor stores and all that. That's not going to end well, isn't it? In some ways this is the most Star Trek of the episodes so far, it's a very Roddenbery thing to have the horny Space Queen give in to the smarmy McLane/Kirk's masculine charms, even if it may mean the eventual end of her kingdom and their entire way of life. But, hey, love (lust), amiright?
Negotiating on the sofa.
So none of that matters because this episode is all about Tamara finally realizing that she's in love with McLane and getting up the nerve to tell him that (and give him a sloppy kiss). They think they're just minutes from death, so she figures she might as well lay all her cards down, which is pretty much spot-on with what we've seen of her character so far, never showing anything unless she has to. McLane, for his part, seems genuinely surprised at Tamara's admission of love, but gives her a kiss in return, he's game for anything that will end up with a naked girl in his bed, no matter how many Space Regulations it would violate.
The kicker is that the sexed-starved Chroma Queen has requested that McLane stay on Chroma while negotiations are ongoing, which has got to make Tamara a stewing pot of raging jealousy. Oh, and poor Helga, once she finds out that McLane (her dream lover) and Tamara (her arch-rival) are now a thing, she's going to be drinking more than she already does. I'm not sure I'm going to like this new development, most every series that drifts from the “will they/won't they” sexual tension to “totally boinking” usually ends up jumping the shark. We, as viewers, want to see the pain and torture of a woman pining helplessly for a man and all the missed opportunities and misunderstandings that clueless and insensitive men tend to bring. Well, at least I want to see that, but I'm weird that way.
Helga is not happy about this, either.
BTW, did it seem like McLane and the Chroma Queen had some real sexual chemistry going? Kind of like the actors were really in love/humping each other off screen? Well, that's because they were, but they were married to each other, so no gossip there. In fact, Dietmar Schonherr and Vivi Bach stayed married for 48 years and were by all accounts happily in love to the very end, that's pretty sweet.
Let your hair down, girl.
Homestretch now! As our sixth episode opens, High Command has decided that the Orion will host an embedded visit from a famous science fiction novelist, who just so happens to be some bigwig minister's son-in-law. The novelist is researching a new book and wants to tag along with the Orion to get some first-hand experience in spacey things, which seems legit. McLane, of course, is a total douchewaffle to him, though not as much as I would have expected considering how much he hates having anything pulling attention away from himself. Also, the novelist is far more handsome than he is, which has to grate at McLane's fragile ego like nothing else. For his part, the novelist never really gives us (the audience) a reason to dislike him, he seems like a pretty nice guy and he's really tall.
The novelist entertains the crew.
Out in space, there's some drama as the novelist does something stupid and ends up crash landing a shuttle on the “Prison Planet Mura”. The Orion is lured to the surface trying to rescue him and is trapped in a force field (the kind of force field that you'd think would be simple to detect with the ship's sensors). When the bad guy leader of the prison colony shows up on the viewscreen and demands that the crew submit to being boarded and removed, McLane gives up the ship too easy. And I mean just says, “Ok, you got us, come lock us up now.”, without even a second's thought to fighting it out or trying to buy some time to call for help. Captain Kirk would never (ever!) just give up the Enterprise to an attacker, no matter what the odds, that's just not what the commander of a military vessel in a situation like this would ever do. Especially a German, the Bismark fought to the last shell!
Can't Tamara override him?
The Prison Planet Mura seems to be a no-staff facility, counting on the ultimate isolation of a planetoid without a way off to keep the prisoners contained. The twist is that, instead of being hardened career criminals and convicted killers, the inmates here are disgraced former military officers, sociopathic geniuses, and scientists with questionable ethics. As such, this is less a prison where McLane is going to get shanked with a shiv on the exercise yard, and more a place where he's apt to engage in high-brow intellectual conversation with the guy who used to be Earth's most brilliant scientist (who is going to kill him).
Man, these sets look familiar...
Why do they want to kill McLane? Well, mostly because he “knows too much” about their plans. What are their plans? To steal the Orion and take it to the Frogs (the hostile aliens). Why do they want to defect to the Frogs? Because they have been abandoned by Human civilization here, never to be reformed or returned, so they might as well Quisling out to the enemy. Delivering one of the Space Fleet's newest and blingiest cruisers will (they hope) allow them to live with the Frogs in peace. Not a bad plan, eh? Sure, it's treason to your species of the highest order, but you can hardly blame these men for wanting to escape their murky, sterile prison planet.
Their octagonal torture chamber.
But they hadn't bargained on McLane being so...McLaney. Where a lesser man would have wilted under the pressure like a four day-old cabbage leaf in the sun, our dashing space captain with his chiseled chin will stop at nothing to foil the bad guys' plan. When his usual brand of bluster and arrogance doesn't work, and in fact just makes his captors more determined to ditch him there, McLane has to try new tricks. He tells them that the Orion is so new, so fancy, so awesome, that the prisoners can't possibly hope to fly it to the Frog world by themselves without crashing it into an asteroid or getting lost in Bushwick and having to take the GW back across the river before they can find a place to turn around. Don't ask why this high-tech spaceship doesn't have a computerized autopilot feature or an instruction book on file somewhere. The Orion seems so hi-tech, but the rudimentary and labor-intensive control scheme owes more to 1940's U-Boat operations than anything else.
All that metal is just for show.
So McLane manages to connive and lie his way into getting him and his crew back aboard the Orion under the guise of training the prisoners in how to operate the engines. There's actually some tense moments as McLane and the evil boss trade barbs and block-and-check each others' plans, that's some good writing there. In the end, of course, McLane gets the last move and it's checkmate. The force field is neutralized by sacrificing a shuttle on a kamikaze run and the bad guys find themselves facing capture and a trip back to Earth for re-trial (though you wonder where they are going to exile them to now).
Surrounded by the enemy.
In this entire series so far, this episode has by far the most physical stunts by the main cast. When things start to go south there at the end, the crew starts punching and kicking and karate tossing the bad guys around to a bouncy jazz instrumental score. Everyone, even the ladies, gets a chance to subdue someone with a nifty flip or a chopping hand, and by and large they all do a pretty good job with the stunts. Shameful that McLane never once rips his shirt open or does a double flying leg kick, but I guess you can't have it all (without being sued by Paramount Studios...).
Subduing the henchmen with ease.
Also, remember last episode when Tamara professed her love for McLane and it looked like they were going to be an item? Well, that hasn't happened yet, apparently, and I'm wondering what happened. There's obviously some feelings there, especially when McLane shows some manly jealousy when Tamara says how hot the novelist is, but they seem to be trying to keep their relationship (if you can even call it that) on the down-low. Probably because that sort of Command/Security porking is verbotten in the Space Fleet for obvious reasons. It's also not entirely clear that Helga, who is still pining for McLane, even knows about Tamara getting a jump on her. The two women spend the entire episode being BFFs so I guess not. It's going to be awkward when Helga walks in on them doing the space boogie one day.
Smile while you can.
Back now to Pam for the final episode, I'll be back at the tail end for some closing thoughts.
Well, folks, we’re on the last episode now, let’s see what the final adventures of the good ship Orion and its fearless crew are going to be. I hope we finally see Atan’s poodle.
The Frogs have been appearing and disappearing from episode to episode, which has irritated me a little. Why set up a plot with a deadly enemy posing a dire threat to the Earth, then just forget about the enemy periodically? Judging from the title of this episode, though, I’m guessing this episode is going to be all about our friends the Frogs. By the way, is that supposed to be a jab at Germany’s old enemy, the French?
Yes, they seem the type.
The episode begins in the usual way, with McLane being informed he’s been assigned to routine patrol duties, and with McLane hotly protesting this and threatening to resign from the fleet. The discussion between him and his superior is interrupted by an urgent message before we find out if the upper ranks are going to greet this threat with dismay or rejoicing. It seems the space cruiser Tau is in trouble. My first guess was that the Frogs had attacked it, but I was wrong. No, it seems the Tau was caught in a solar storm which dismasted it– I mean, knocked out its controls and energy, so it’s drifting helplessly. The writers seem to have forgotten they’re not dealing with a ship in a surface navy here, and when we switch to a scene aboard the Tau, we see it’s swaying back and forth, just like a ship on the ocean. This is naturally an unfortunate occurrence in itself, but what makes it a lot worse is there’s a VIP on board, a certain Colonel Villa, head of the Secret Service organization to which Tamara belongs. In contrast to the Tau’s commander, Colonel Villa himself is of the opinion that it’s “oscillating gravity fields,” not a solar storm, that are responsible for the Tau’s plight. Why does this matter? Because disturbances in gravity fields indicate a Frog attack, doesn’t everybody know that? Anyway, he thinks it so important that Earth know this, he insists on reporting this information to Earth before allowing the crew to take to the lifeboats, I mean shuttles. Sadly, it appears that brief radio call was just a few seconds too long, and nothing more is heard from the Tau.
Same old set...yawn.
I don’t remember seeing this, but it seems McLane has also encountered oscillating gravity fields. I’m going to take his word for it, because I don’t want to review the last six episodes to see where this might have happened. McLane’s superiors want to question him about his experience, but first, let’s have a dance and a drink! While McLane and Tamara are chilling in the bar, with dancers dancing their hearts out in the background, good news is brought to McLane: Colonel Villa is alive! At least one shuttle made it to Gordon, a nearby space station. In addition, it seems Colonel Villa’s experience has had a positive effect on him, despite the fact he seems to be the sole survivor of the Tau. And not only has he come around to the Tau commander’s opinion that it was a solar storm that destroyed the Tau, he now has a broad, vacuous grin on his face.
The boss is quite angry.
I’m a little skeptical of this sudden change of opinion, and McLane is more than suspicious. Very oddly, nobody else seems at all suspicious, either of the Colonel’s sudden change of opinion or the fact he’s the lone survivor, although their readiness to commiserate with Colonel Villa on his traumatic experience suggests some brown-nosing is going on here, and they don’t necessarily believe everything the Colonel says. Even so, I suspect the writers are setting McLane up to be the Hero of the Hour, the only man with the brains to see through the Colonel. McLane’s told sharply to stop asking questions, go on his routine patrol, and under no circumstances to go anywhere near Gordon! Guess what happens next. Guess.
The Orion gets eaten by a spaceworm?
Did you guess right? Yes, you did. In fact, McLane leaves for Gordon with Colonel Villa’s blessing, although Colonel Villa insists McLane wait for the installation of a newly-developed gravitational field generator. And he informs McLane that Tamara won’t be coming along. The Colonel says it’s because she’s taking a course required for a promotion, but in fact he had her arrested when he caught her snooping around. However, her place is taken by Kranz, the expert who came along to test the new gravitational field generator. Why isn’t McLane suspicious of this new generator, when he thought Colonel Villa might have been taken over by the Frogs, and he knows the Frogs have a way of controlling gravitational fields? And why isn’t anyone else suspicious of Colonel Villa’s sudden change in character? It’s already been shown the Frogs can control minds through computers.
McLane needs to keep his focus.
No sooner has the Orion blasted off than we see Colonel Villa giving orders to people who, judging from their light-gray uniforms, are his subordinates. He tells them to jam Space Patrol communications, block space bases, and set all radar warning circuits to “record only” (What? I suppose actual humans no longer monitor them.). After all this is done, all space ships will be ordered to go to the closest base. His subordinates agree without protest, and I’m not sure if they’re all just well-trained and trust the Colonel implicitly or if there’s some mind control going on.
Is that Jim Bob Dugger back there?
The Orion hasn’t been in space long before Helga announces she’s spotted some moving objects, presumably where none should be, at some distance from the Orion. Atan’s picking up signals from them, and McLane says that if they’re Frogs, they’ve managed to make it past two radar circuits. For once acting responsibly, he radios Space Patrol to report his findings. You’ll recall Colonel Villa has directed his staff to jam Space Patrol communications, which has been done. One of Colonel Villa’s (mind-controlled?) staff assures McLane that work is being done to restore communications between spaceships and Space Patrol, and that Space Patrol has been informed of what McLane saw.
Does no one need a drink of water at these meetings?
Just about then, Helga spots multiple Frog spaceships heading for Gordon. McLane makes another attempt to contact Space Patrol, but his calls are sent to Colonel Villa again. This time McLane doesn’t even pretend to believe the Colonel’s assurances that all is well, but the Colonel has an ace up his sleeve. As you know, he’s holding Tamara prisoner, and he orders her to inform McLane that she’ll be killed if he doesn’t cooperate with the Colonel and his underlings. She does this, but he’s not the only one she informs. While she was talking to McLane, she pressed a button that relayed her message to others on the base as well as to McLane. We’ll see what the base personnel decide to do. But in the meantime, Colonel Villa orders McLane to turn command of the Orion over to Kranz, or something bad will happen to Tamara. The Colonel is planning to use something called “HM3” on her, which apparently does something really awful to human beings. The bold Commander McLane is, for the first time in this series, completely at a loss to know what to do. He begs his crew to tell him what to do (!) and they, to a man (or rather to three men and a woman) tell him to turn command over to Kranz and save Tamara’s life. McLane caves, and Kranz takes control of the Orion.
Kranz is not nice.
Back at the base, things are getting exciting. Tamara’s message was heard by the right people, and Space Patrol personnel are taking steps to capture Colonel Villa, who is proceeding with his nefarious plans. The Frogs are not just sitting back letting the humans do all the work, either, they’re blowing up spaceship bases and heading toward Earth. Colonel Villa is in fact surrounded and captured by Space Patrol personnel, but he just grins and says it’s too late. The Frogs are coming, and there’s nothing we puny humans can do to stop them.
Lots of unused space.
Meanwhile, aboard the Orion, Kranz is lounging around, fondling a gun and looking smug. Mario asks him why he doesn’t save himself the trouble of watching five people and just kill them all and let the computer run the ship. However, according to Kranz, the Frogs are expecting the Orion and its crew on Gordon. Apparently Colonel Villa told the Frogs about the Orion. I really don’t understand how Kranz can watch five people by himself. Doesn’t anybody ever have to go to the bathroom? Also, the way the bridge is set up, there’s no way he can actually watch every move each one of the crew makes, not to mention that Hasso’s work station isn’t on the bridge. (Nobody’s mentioning that.) Kranz does threaten that Tamara will be killed if anything happens to him, and since McLane has been shown to be rather selfish, it’s possible he places Tamara’s life over the good of all humanity. Kranz comforts the crew with the thought that once they get to Gordon, they’ll all undergo an attitude adjustment. But Kranz’ mellow is harshed when Hasso informs the people on the bridge that two of the “converters” are malfunctioning, so the Orion will have to fly at half speed until he can get them fixed. Kranz threatens to start killing members of the crew if Hasso doesn’t get those converters back on line PDQ, but there’s really nothing he can do, since he has no idea how to fix the converters himself. Besides, it sounded as though the Frogs want the Orion’s crew alive for some reason.
That computer is not ergonomically designed.
Now that Colonel Villa’s in custody, Space Patrol is doing its best to stop the Frogs. They’ve discovered that Gordon is supplying the Frog spaceships with power (and let’s not even bother to ask how that’s done), so the humans can’t stop the Frogs until they destroy Gordon. Unfortunately Colonel Villa ordered all spaceships except the Orion well away from Gordon, so the only one that can possibly get there in time is the Orion. Space Patrol is trying to contact the Orion, but Kranz is still firmly in control, and he won’t let Helga answer the calls. Oh, what to do? However, you’ll recall the Orion is now flying at half its normal speed, which may give another spaceship a chance to catch up. General van Dyke is dispatched in the Hydra to try to intercept the Orion, and Tamara, now free, has another idea: let General van Dyke attack the Orion, in the hope that McLane can regain control in the confusion. Space Patrol decides to give this a try.
Why the ankle-level viewscreens?
Hasso is down in Engineering, giving the impression he’s working like a dog to repair the converters, with his trusty iron standing by in case he needs it. On the bridge, Kranz is getting antsy. He’s just telling McLane that he’s finally going to kill somebody and see if that won’t make Hasso get the Orion back up to full speed, when the Hydra appears on the scene. The Hydra promptly attacks, and Kranz is caught and subdued. It’s only a partial victory, though, because the Frogs are still at it. General van Dyke orders McLane to take the Orion to Gordon and use Overkill to destroy Gordon. Based on the speed at which the Frogs are approaching Earth and the time it’ll take the Orion to get to Gordon, it looks like it’s going to be a photo finish. But in something of an anticlimax, the Orion reaches Gordon in time and uses Overkill to destroy it. We don’t actually see what happened to the Frogs, and we don’t find out why the Frogs wanted the crew of the Orion to go to Gordon. Are we supposed to assume McLane and his crew are so important the Frogs make eliminating them a top priority? Possibly the money for filming was running short, so that’s why we got the abrupt ending.
Didn't spend the money on optical effects, that's for sure.
Back on Earth, there’s still the problem of what to do with all the mind-controlled humans. From the overwhelming predominance of people in Space Patrol uniforms at the meeting being held to decide, it appears that it’s up to Space Patrol to make the decision, although there does seem to be one lone representative of the world government at the meeting. The fact that a military organization has so much input in such a matter is interesting. Also, McLane and his crew are sitting in on the debate, and I have no idea why they get to be involved. Some want to treat the mind-controlled humans as criminals, but others claim it’s possible to break the mind control and bring the controlled humans back to normal, and this whole debate just has to be a stand-in for the de-Nazification process after World War II. It appears the majority is in favor of treatment, and with that, the meeting breaks up.
Wake up, General.
I’d almost forgotten, but McLane did take the Orion to Gordon after he was ordered not to by his superiors in Space Patrol. Luckily for him, Space Patrol has decided he was right to do this. In fact McLane is promoted to colonel, and he and the rest of his crew are given three months’ vacation. Mario wants to spend his on Chroma. To top it off, the Orion is being reassigned to combat duty, which is where it was before McLane screwed up and got transferred to routine patrols. The bad part of this is that Tamara won’t be coming along, since McLane is now considered responsible enough to do without a babysitter. However, McLane says he’ll get General van Dyke to allow her to stay with the Orion, and the episode ends with McLane and Tamara kissing. So I guess everybody is living happily ever after.
As happy as McLane can be, that is.
I’ve noticed some improvement in McLane as the episodes go on, and in this one he’s actually fairly responsible. It helps that he’s not on screen as much as he was in previous episodes. There is that scene where he has to ask his crew whether he should turn control of the Orion over to Kranz, but at least he’s not willfully endangering the lives of his crew for no good reason. And he did head off to Gordon against the order of his superiors, but Colonel Villa gave him the okay, and from what we’ve seen through the series, it appears that Colonel Villa probably had the authority to do that. Episode 7 McLane is still an improvement over Episode 1 McLane.
Still a wonder why anyone likes him.
I can’t say I hate this series. It has its problems, but it has its good points, too. The episodes managed to hold my interest, and if the writing was careless in places, at least every episode was different instead of having the same plot slightly rewritten. I can live with the fact that the spaceship design was more pretty than practical. It was definitely better than The Starlost or Ark II, and I can see why it became a cult favorite in Germany. I’m bummed we never got to see Atan’s poodle, though. And why are poodles so rare, anyway? Nobody ever explained that.
Here you go, you're welcome.
What did you think of this series, Nate?
Well, Pam, I have to agree that it was picking up steam there at the end, it's a shame that it was canceled when it was. It definitely lacked the charm and personality of Star Trek, though it had a lot going for it anyway and I recommend that anyone with seven free hours check it out (it's all on youtube). I am surprised they haven't rebooted the series already, it seems tailor-made for a basic cable “re-imagining” ala Battlestar Galactica. Perhaps one day.
Come back to us.
Written in June 2015 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
comments powered by Disqus
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...