BR25C: Return of the Fighting 69th

June 3, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 3, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

“Return of the Fighting 69th” — Season 1, Episode 8

Originally aired ———————————

Synopsis

Our story begins with four starfighters pursuing a stolen freighter. Buck Rogers, Col. Wilma Deering and two trainees are in the hunt, but when enemy fighters engage, the freighter escapes into the Necrosis asteroid belt. Against orders, the cadets fly after it, but they are destroyed almost immediately, presumably by asteroids.

Back in Dr. Elias Huer’s office, an upset Rogers demands to know what was so important that two badly underprepared pilots were exposed to danger and death. Huer has a chilling answer: The ship was loaded with nerve gas and other ancient weapons that had been slated for destruction. Based on the freighter’s destination, those instruments of death are in the hands of gunrunners Korless and Trent, who are undoubtedly determined to use them against Earth.

A pre-emptive strike against the Necrosis asteroid base is imperative, Huer declares, and Noah Cooper — a retired pilot intimately familiar with the deadly Necrosis asteroid belt — must lead it. Deering balks, but Huer orders her to attempt to recruit Cooper.

It emerges that Cooper and his surviving squadron mates from the Fighting 69th were mentors and pseudo-family to a young Deering, whom they affectionately refer to as Dizzy D because of her antics in the pilots’ ready room. But recently, the colonel disqualified all the squadron’s members from flight duty because they flunked their physicals.

Cooper is openly affectionate toward Deering but still bitter about being taken off of active duty. He agrees to lead a mission to Necrosis as long as he can do it with the members of the 69th and all of them are fully reinstated upon its successful completion. Deering balks but relents after some (off-screen) coaxing by Rogers.

Cooper’s plan is to arm cargo sleds with one bomb and one rear-mounted laser cannon apiece and fly them to the hidden asteroid base. The test runs are abysmal, unfortunately, but the Terrans have no viable alternatives. After some (on-screen) coaxing by Rogers, Deering admits that her affection for Cooper and company has been clouding her judgment. She declares that she will accompany the Fighting 69th on the mission.

The group sets off and successfully passes through a treacherous portion of the asteroid belt. Korless and Trent then launch fighters, which the Terrans fend off. However, Deering and Rogers’ cargo sled is damaged and captured.

The villains describe being shot down at some point previously by Deering’s squadron; fire disfigured Korless’ face and led to the amputation of Trent’s hand, which has been replaced by a metal one. They threaten to torture the protagonists but don’t follow through. Instead, they place the pair in the station’s brig.

But Rogers and Deering aren’t confined for long. Alicia, a mute slave girl from Earth, steals a key from the three guards and lets the heroes out of their cell; they then turn the tables on the guards, taking their uniforms and attempting to sneak out of the base in disguise.

Meanwhile, Cooper has been stalling, lurking in the asteroids near the Necrosis base. His colleagues shame him into proceeding with the attack, despite the risk to Deering’s life, by saying that maybe the colonel was right to take Cooper off of flight status.

The attack begins right as Rogers, Deering and Alicia are apprehended in the base command center, which for some reason appears to be adjacent to the airlock leading to the hangar bay. A near-miss helps Rogers, Deering and Alicia escape into the airlock, seal it and take off in a cargo sled just as Cooper’s last-chance bombing run successfully destroys the base.

Unfortunately, the celebration — both in space near the destroyed base and later in the hangar bay with Huer, Twiki and Dr. Theopolis — is muted because Cooper appears to have died in the explosion. However, it emerges that Cooper’s vessel was simply thrown deep into the asteroid belt; he hails the hangar bay as he approaches Earth a few minutes after the other two cargo sleds have landed.

Later, Rogers tardily appears at a celebration. He announces that Alicia was kidnapped from Earth and enslaved a few years ago. However, he’s managed to find her parents. A happy reunion ensues.

Analysis

This was an excellent episode, by far my favorite. The story creates some real tension as to whether the geezers of the Fighting 69th will succeed in their vital mission.

However, I was very skeptical of the plan for attacking Necrosis. Why were three lightly armed cargo sleds used for the mission, rather than starfighters?

Peter Graves guest stars as Cooper, and he’s simply fantastic.

One of the running gags of the series has been how Twiki has readily adopted Rogers’ antiquated slang, which only the two of them comprehend. There’s an excellent example of banter between Twiki and Theopolis early in this episode.

Twiki also has a solid character moment when Huer and Theopolis assume that the strike against Necropolis will fail; the robot walks off, upset at the assumption that Deering and Rogers won’t return.

I liked the fact that the remnant of the Fighting 69th was relatively diverse — the squad contained one woman (married to another squadron member) as well as a black man.

I’m fascinated by how Deering, Earth’s top military officer, is portrayed. The role potentially could have broken old notions about gender, but the writers waffle on this front. In the second half of “The Plot to Kill a City,” Deering is shown to be virtually obsessed with Rogers’ safety. Here, she lets her affection for Cooper and his squadron cloud her judgment. (Women — they’re just so darn emotional, amirite?) I don’t mind the fact that Deering has emotions, but I do mind that writers undermine her credibility as a military leader.

Speaking of leadership, I’ve been very curious about Huer’s role, which I don’t think has been explicitly stated anywhere. Every villain treats him as Earth’s leader, and his giving an explicit order to Deering seems to confirm that. So does the fact that Theopolis meets with Huer to pick who will be admitted to Earth’s Omega complex, the only spot that will be immune to the planned nerve gas attack in this story. Yet the pilot episode said that Earth was led by computers, so…what’s the deal?

Speaking of continuity, as I implicitly was doing, this is yet another episode in which we see laser cannons being fired manually. Yet a key plot line in “Vegas in Space” was how contemporary Earth pilots were completely averse to pulling the trigger! Again, this makes no sense — what gives? (This same continuity issue also appeared in the dogfight near the end of “The Plot to Kill a City.”)

There’s some cute banter at the very end of the episode. Twiki asks Deering to dance, but she declines. Later, she asks Rogers if he’s up to dance. When he happily replies in the affirmative, Deering slyly tells Twiki that she’s found him (it? No, him) a dance partner. Good stuff.

Credits 

Cast

Gil Gerard…Buck Rogers

Erin Gray…Wilma Deering

Tim O’Connor…Elias Huer

Felix Silla…Twiki

Mel Blanc…Twiki (voice)

Guest stars

Peter Graves…Noah Cooper

Katherine Wiberg…Alicia

Elizabeth Allen

Robert Quarry

Woody Strode

Eddie Firestone

K.T. Stevens

Robert Hardy…Cadet Clayton

Duncan McKenzie…Cadet Westlake

Clifford Turknett…War Technician

Dan Sturkie…Eli Twain

Crew

David Bennett Carren…Writer

Philip Leacock…Director

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