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Failure to Launch: Planet Earth

August 15, 2013
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Dylan Hunt (John Saxon) being auctioned off by the Confederacy of Ruth. Marg (Diana Muldaur) is to his left.

This was Gene Roddenberry’s second attempt at a post-apocalyptic tv series after Genesis II failed to get picked up as a series.  This time around we have John Saxon playing our hero Dylan Hunt who gives us a much more enthusiastic performance than Alex Kord.  While the story structure of Genesis II felt very Star Trek-like to me, this pilot had a much more modern script.  However, we still get other Star Trek elements creeping in.  Dylan maintains a log via a personal recorder, the team wears one piece uniforms foreshadowing the early Next Generation ones, and their doctor has some sort of psychic healing powers.  Even with these similar elements, Planet Earth stands on its own as a very good pilot that unfortunately didn’t get picked up by ABC.

Planet Earth skips the whole exposition we got for Dylan Hunt’s situation in Genesis II.  Instead, everything is briefly explained in a log entry with further exposition provided through character dialogue.  The story set-up is that the PAX team led by Hunt is ambushed at the entrance to the subshuttle station they were about to use to return to headquarters.  The group attacking them is a mutant form of humanity called the Kreeg whose culture operates on a strict military hierarchy.  Although we don’t actually learn it until later in the story, one of the Kreeg’s prominent physical mutations is a spinal column that extends over their skull to their forehead, a prosthetic that would later be used for the Klingons in the Star Trek films and the Next Generation.  One of their team members, Peter Kimbridge, is shot by a Kreeg rifle and the bullet damages his heart.  PAX has a doctor capable of performing the surgery necessary to save Peter’s life but, unfortunately, this doctor has been captured by a matriarchal culture called the Confederacy of Ruth.  So, it’s back to the subshuttle to find the Confederacy and, hopefully, the doctor. 

The team comes up with a plan to have Harper-Smythe, their one female member, lead Hunt in as a slave with the story that she is interested in joining their (obviously superior) society.  Unfortunately, the first person she runs into is Marg, played by Diana Muldaur, who is apparently the big amazon on campus.  Marg claims Hunt as her property after besting Harper in a ridiculously short combat.  Yes, in this pilot too, the PAX people aren’t exactly the fighting type.  Hunt then becomes what the women of the Confederacy call a dink (slave).  The Confederacy is having trouble keeping their population growing because the dinks don’t seem to be producing good offspring.  I’m not going to go into much more detail as I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet because it is definitely worth checking out.  Suffice it to say that there is an explanation for the Confederacy’s child bearing problems which, in an indirect way, also attracts the attention of the Kreeg.  On top of all this, the PAX team is under time pressure as Peter will only last so long without the surgery to repair his damaged heart. 

There is a lot going for Planet Earth.  John Saxon completely throws himself into the part of Dylan Hunt and is a real pleasure to watch as a result. One example is a scene early on where he is in a holding cell and decides to sneak out after dark to look for the doctor.  He walks up to the door of the cage to find a single loop of rope holding the door shut.  Saxon flips the rope to open the door and, at the same time, shoots a quick glance back at the dinks with this “really guys?” look on his face that just cracked me up.  The costuming, and in the case of the Kreeg, the prosthetics are good and hold up quite well.  The Kreeg and Confederacy cultures are surprisingly well fleshed out, much more so than the Tyranians of Genesis II.  The story is well written and faster paced than the earlier pilot. 

I just want to conclude this review with a little bit of historical background on this story.  It started life as a story concept called The Poodle Shop which was in Gene’s original Star Trek pitch.  The story was never used during the series so Gene adapted it as an idea for a Genesis II series episode which made it an easy choice for this second chance at a post-apocalypse series pilot.  The idea was also revisited in season one of Star Trek: the Next Generation in the episode Angel One where the crew encounters a planet with a female dominated society.  Of course, by this time the concept was somewhat dated and that, combined with other production issues, resulted in a less than stellar episode. 

If you want to watch Planet Earth for yourself it is only available through Warner Brother’s burn-on-demand DVD service. It’s not exactly cheap but you can purchase it through Amazon which does offer a bit of a discount.

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From → History, Reviews

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