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Monday, September 11, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Buck's True Friend Part 2

Only once does Doctor Theopolis lose faith in Buck: when he and Twiki follow him to Ardala's flagship, and see him working in the launch bay. But once Buck explains that the pirate ships are really Draconian fighters, that Kane and Ardala are planning to invade Earth, and he's going to stop them by loading bombs into the fighter ships' exhausts, the Computer A.I. is back on Buck's side again, and asks what he can do to help. Dr Theopolis signals Earth authorities, insists they know of Buck's role in the entire affair, and proudly proclaim's his human friend's innocence. 

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Doctor Theopolis pleads with Wilma to rescue Buck from the Draconian flagship. At first, Colonel Wilma Deering, leading a fighter attack on Ardala's ship, refuses to believe Buck's innocence. She describes Buck's death as no great loss. But Doctor Theopolis doesn't give up. "Forget us," Theopolis urged, "we're just machines, anyhow. Try to find Buck!"

Doctor Theopolis, one of the Computer A.I.'s, and a former member of the Computer Council that rules New Chicago: just a machine? Twiki, a robot drone with the ability to think and act for himself, just a machine? Two friends who continually support, argue for, and actively protect their a displaced human that no one else trusts, just machines? 


Sadly, Buck and Doctor Theopolis would drift apart from each other in the TV series. No doubt the Computer A.I. becomes immensely busy investigating Dr. Apol's part in the Draconian conspiracy, tracking down more enemy agents, and taking over Dr. Apol's traitor's duties. Still, it's not a fellow human who becomes Buck's best friend in the first season, but Twiki, his robot drone. While Buck likes Doctor Huer and Wilma Deering, his fellow humans think he's kind of strange. 

While there's undoubted empathy between them, Doctor Huer and Wilma Deering seem embarrassed by Buck's attempts to share his 20th Century heritage with them. Unless the knowledge and skills he gained in the 20th Century can help strengthen Earth's defenses, or accomplish something they desire, Buck's human friends are disinterested in bridging the centuries-old culture gap that separates them. Instead, Doctor Huer and Wilma view Buck's interests as irrelevant, and at best, endearing quirks in an otherwise fine character.

True friends stick by you, like you for who you are, and always believe the best in you. True friends find ways to share your interests, and embrace your concerns. They don't insist that you always come to them so that you can share in their lives. They sacrifice their own time and pleasures to be with you. Your happiness is their happiness, and they make you a real priority in their lives. In all these ways, Dr. Theopolis in the movie, and Twiki in season one, best fulfill the role of true friends in "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." It's a shame Buck's human friends and coworkers seem inadequate to fulfill the role, but hey, this is the 25th Century, when a robot, or a computerized Artificial Intelligence, can be a real person too.

Dragon Dave

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Buck's Best Friend Part 1

The film version of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" ends with Colonel Wilma Deering telling Buck that he's helped her get more in touch her feelings and her womanhood. In other words, this 20th Century man has made a positive impact on this tightly-focused, modern 25th Century woman. But the novelization (and presumably the original screenplay) ends quite differently. Author Richard A Lupoff (pen name Addison E Steele) returns us to the control room of the A.I. Overlords who rule New Chicago. This time, it is not Buck Rogers who is on trial, but Doctor Apol, the computer overlord who earlier prosecuted Buck. We learn that it is he who has passed crucial information to the Draconians on food shipments to Earth, which allowed the Draconians to perpetuate their piracy scam, and nearly led to Earth being forced into an unequal partnership with the empire. The judgment of the overlords is swift. As Buck was once sentenced to banishment from the Inner City, Dr. Apol is sentenced to death. 

After watching the film version several times this year, I'm left with the sense that another computer overlord, Doctor Theopolis, is really Buck's truest friend. The Draconians, Commander Kane and Princess Ardala, may have awakened him from his 500 years of hibernation, but they distrusted him, and callously used him as an unwittingly spy, known the transmitter they hid on his ship would be found and that Buck would be branded a traitor. Later, Ardala may have wanted him as a consort or husband, but it'd be hard for Buck to trust someone who might love you one minute, and want to kill you the next, or for that matter, sacrifice you if she found it politically expedient. 

Doctor Huer and Colonel Wilma Deering are little better in the film version. Initially Doctor Huer believes Buck's story, but loses his belief in Buck the minute the Draconian transmitter is found on Buck's ship. Wilma's attitude to Buck is as changeable as Ardala's. One moment she likes him, the next she fervently believes he's a spy. Like Ardala, Wilma can only love him if she believes she possesses him. In the novel, Lupoff's portrayal of both humans is more complicated. Still, they seem faithless to Buck, and hardly embody the lofty ideal of "innocent until proven guilty."

But Dr. Theopolis likes and believes in Buck from the first. When Buck first lands on Earth, the humans lock him up in a room for nearly a day, and thoughtlessly return to their duties while a thorough search is made of his ship and background. While Buck is sitting on his hands, and has trouble taking in the notion that he's now in the 25th Century, and everything and everyone he has ever known is lost to him forever, Dr. Theopolis talks to him. He has immense responsibilities as a Computer Overlord. Yet he drops them to keep Buck company during this waiting period, and bring him up to date on life in the 25th Century. He's complimentary, kind, and sympathetic to Buck's plight.

He's also loyal to Buck. He demonstrates this by defending him at trial. He does so knowing how the Computer Council works. If they rule against Buck, Doctor Theopolis will be banished along with Buck. For Doctor Theopolis and Twiki, banishment means certain death, as the scavengers will surely find them, dismantle them, and sell them for scrap value. But Doctor Theopolis risks his life for the sake of his new human friend, a man with no 25th Century connects, and who no one else will stand up for.

When Ardala requests that Buck attend her reception on Earth, Dr. Theopolis is by his side, complimenting him on his appearance, and insists he belongs at this regal gathering of Earth's leaders and dignitaries. When Buck claims he has a headache, the Computer A.I. immediately orders Twiki to hurry off and get him a pain reliever. Dr. Theopolis may admonish Twiki when the drone emulates Buck, but he doesn't criticize his human friend's 1980s style of dancing. Meanwhile, Wilma Deering frowns at Buck's decision to request a change in music, and complains that his display is barbaric.

Hardly the actions of a true friend, wouldn't you agree?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Hitler in the 25th Century

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization of "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Buck slips a powerful pain reliever into Princess Ardala's drink. After she drifts off to sleep, he slips out of her stateroom to explore the Draconian flagship. He finds the fighter bay filled not with Draconian ships, but pirate marauders. Just so there is no mistake, the snout of each vessel is emblazoned with that eternal symbol of piracy, a grinning white death's head.

Then he notices something even more frightening.

The livid red and black stripes in which the fuselages were decked gave the strange impression, here in the shadowy light of the launch deck, of an ancient symbol of death and destruction and sheer, malevolent evil, that Buck remembered learning about in his history classes back in the early 1980s.

They were formed like the evil, broken-limbed cross, the ancient swastika.

--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E Steele (aka Richard A Lupoff)

Earlier, Lupoff described Emperor Draco's physical features like those of a decadent sultan or king in a Sword And Sorcery story like Conan The Barbarian. He compared the Emperor and his accomplishments to those of Henry VIII of England and the Mongol chieftain (and empire builder) Genghis Khan. Now he enhances his portrait of Draco by suggesting a link with Adolf Hitler.

I'm not sure why Lupoff would associate Draco with a government leader remembered for killing off an entire race of people. But then, I'm puzzled why any people in their right minds would found or join a movement in the 21st Century, identify themselves with a symbol associated with racial hatred and genocide, and believe they could accomplish anything good or worthwhile through their efforts. And I'm astounded by the suggestion that a national leader could, even for a moment, sympathize with such a group.

But then, I'm often amazed by people's choices in entertainment, and by the character of the people they follow, discuss, and otherwise support.

I'm certainly glad Glen Larson never suggested a Nazi comparison in the film or TV series. I've always liked Princess Ardala. While technically a villain, she became one of my favorite characters. But I can't imagine watching the stories she starred in with such pleasure if I saw her as the daughter of a 25th Century Hitler. Could you?

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Princess Ardala Vs Wilma Deering

Commander Kane, Princess Ardala's 2nd in command, aspires to rule (or help rule) the Draconian Empire. In this, he is even encouraged by Draco. All of Ardala's sisters have married men whom they could control. Kane longs to marry Ardala, temper her wild, irresponsible tendencies, and thus help groom Ardala to succeed Draco.

There's only one problem. Ardala doesn't want him. Like any child, she always longs for what she cannot have. And she recognizes strength in Buck Rogers, a man who should have died several times, both due to her treachery (in framing him as a spy), and by sending him out to battle the "pirate ships" that attack her supposedly defenseless flagship. So when Buck courts her, in his 20th Century way, in the ballroom, she welcomes his advances. 

Sensing he is losing his hold over Ardala, Kane interrupts their dance, and asserts that she must attend to affairs of state now. Ardala's response is instant, and primal:

Ardala made a low animal growl in her throat. Her eyes flashed, and she raised her long talon-like fingernails as if she intended to rake Kane's face with them.
--Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Addison E. Steele (Richard A Lupoff)

The warrior princess is a longstanding Science Fiction trope. The idea of the feral, barely civilized princess, harkens back to Lupoff's comparison between Emperor Draco and Genghis Khan. It also makes an interesting comparison in the novel between Ardala and Wilma Deering. 

As Buck leaves the ball, Wilma Deering corners Buck. Like Ardala, Buck has awakened feelings in Wilma too. Unlike Ardala, who is all passion, Colonel Wilma Deering is all cold intellect, with her emotions firmly in the "Off" setting. Buck's arousal of unfamiliar feelings leaves Wilma confused. So she constantly vacillates between love and hate of Buck, between wanting to rush to his defense, and wanting to condemn him to death. 

Wilma may be the cool, civilized woman. Unlike the Princess, she's achieved her rank in society through hard work, determination, and merit. She may not intend to use Buck or control him like Ardala. Still, in this way, even though she's 180 degrees different from Ardala, she treats Buck in a similar way to the Princess. If he responds as she desires, she believes in him. If he doesn't...well then, he must be the enemy!

As Buck shakes off Wilma's advance and leaves the Ball, there's a poignant moment. Ardala parades grandly from the Ball, sure of her womanhood, and believing that she has Buck under her spell. Wilma watches Buck leave, and bewildered at his refusal, her passion for him turns dark at his rejection. Once more, she tells herself that he must be a spy. Then she gazes down at her fingernails. 

Unlike Ardala's, her fingernails are short and carefully trimmed.

If this physical difference between the two women was not an elaboration of Lupoff's but present in Glen Larson and Leslie Stevens' screenplay, it was abandoned during production. The Princess Ardala we see is not a feral creature. She's sensual, calculating, and willful. She is no warrior princess, capable of literally clawing out Kane's eyes. Still, she's more than a match for Kane, even if she can never capture Buck's heart.

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Return to Buck Rogers: Twiki's Rebellion

In Richard A Lupoff's novelization Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, after the reception in the Palace of Mirrors, Twiki and Dr. Theopolis follow Buck. When they see him sneak aboard Princess Ardala's shuttle, they follow, and hide in a cupboard. Unfortunately, the cupboard is refrigerated. At one point, Twiki emerges shivering. Dr. Theopolis reminds him that they need to stay out of sight, and orders him back inside. 

Instead, Twiki grabs a bottle of Vinol, opens it, and takes a swig. The computer brain Dr. Theopolis relents at this point, musing that the Vinol will help prevent Twiki's circuits from freezing. So he can drink the rest of the synthetic wine, provided he returns to his refrigerated hiding place immediately.

What can you say? Due to Dr. Theopolis' loyalty to Buck, Twiki was banished to the wasteland along with Buck. Then he was chased, and nearly taken apart by scavengers. Is it any wonder he starts to rebel in small ways, like getting down on the dance floor, or taking to the bottle? Poor Twiki! When adults like Buck behave, it's always the drones that suffer!

Dragon Dave

P.S. Keep safe on the space ways. Remember to never drink Vinol and Fly.