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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Space Academy ( 1977 ) - Television Series

Shortly after Star Wars premiered in theatres in 1977, a space frenzy hit the entertainment industry and other similar-themed sci-fi films and television shows premiered, one of which was Space Academy. This half-hour production was aimed towards a juvenile audience and aired on Saturday mornings at 10:30am EST on the CBS network. It was set in the far far future and centered around a group of bright young students belonging to the intergalactic Space Academy ( "founded in the star year 3732" ) and the various lessons they learned from encountering strange beings from space and handling problems that arose on missions to different planets.

One of the heads of this academy was Commander Gampu, portrayed by none other than Jonathan Harris, the notorious Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost in Space. In Space Academy, his character is quite the opposite of Dr. Smith; he is a wise leader and a dear friend to all of the youngsters, especially little Loki, whom he rescued from the planet of Zalon. Indeed, it is Jonathan Harris' presence that makes the show so enjoyable.

This Filmation series featured excellent set design and special effects ( Space Academy had a $150,000 per episode budget ), especially considering this was a children's television show and not a feature film production. Most impressive are the shots of the Seeker, the Academy's smaller space-exploration vehicle ( the Ark II redressed ), returning to its port within the Space Academy's floating complex. 

Space Academy began its season with some clever storylines injected with appropriate morals but, as the series progressed, the scripts, unfortunately, became more and more juvenile in theme. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining series that has held up well over the years. 

Space Academy lasted but one season and then its spin-off Jason of Star Command took over its timeslot ( it was since moved to 12pm EST ) and this show did considerably better. The character of Commander Gampu was to have continued his leadership with a new group of students but Jonathan Harris had a "falling out" with Filmation and was replaced by James Doohan as Commander Canarvin, who was then replaced by the blue-faced Commander Stone ( John Russell ). 


The Characters 


Like Star Trek, each of the students belonging to Blue Team of Commander Gampu's squadron had various abilities as well as different character strengths and weaknesses. 

Commander Issac Gampu - Jonathan Harris

The 300-year-old Commander Gampu continually drives his cadets to do better and to think out problems for themselves. He is always there to dispense advice when needed and is an excellent leader, putting wisdom before action. 

Peepo

Peepo is a little robot that becomes indispensable to the Blue Team. He is actually a "self-determining type-A manu-droid" that Gampu had built years earlier. Peepo often displays human-like emotions such as happiness ( a high-pitched laughter sound ) and fear. Peepo is especially close to Laura. 

Chris Gentry - Ric Carrott

Chris is the captain of the Blue Team and chief pilot of the Seeker when they are sent out on intergalactic missions. He shares powers of telekinetics and astro-portation with his sister Laura. Chris also has a sweet-spot for Adrian. 

Laura Gentry - Pamelyn Ferdin

Laura is often placed second in command - "co-captain" - on missions and is a valuable team member, both on the Seeker and at the Academy where she helps to watch the monitors. She appears to be the most empathic of the group. 

Tee Gar Soom - Brian Tochi

Every team needs a good doctor. Tee Gar is not only the Blue Team's medical man but he is a whiz with electronics and karate as well. He carries out orders with promptness and is always there to give a helping hand. 

Paul Jerome - Ty Henderson

Paul comes from a "pioneer planet" where survival was of the utmost importance. After a rocky start with the Blue Team he comes to be relied upon as a trustworthy member of the team. He is often acting as co-pilot and is a role-model for little Loki. 

Adrian Pryce Jones - Maggie Cooper

Adrian is the scientist of the group, a geologist, and third in command. Whenever the team land on an alien planet, Adrian begins collecting soil samples and analyzing the minerals. She is also clever with gadgets and helps build devices that the Space Academy may use. 

Loki - Erik Greene

Named after the Norse god of mischief, this heavy-eyelashed youth was rescued from the planet Zalon by Commander Gampu and joins the Blue Team as their mascot, general errand boy, and chief troublemaker.

Merchandise 


Space Academy did not have the usual range of coloring books, posters, puzzles, etc, that most children's series inspired, but that is probably because the series ended after one season. The only collectible associated with the show that I was able to find was a series of dolls manufactured by the Aviva Toy Company of Hong Kong and distributed throughout the by F.W. Woolworth and Co. department stores. There were four dolls issued: Issac Gampu, Chris Gentry, Loki, and Tee Gar. They are quite valuable today since they are quite rare and were poorly made ( plastic deterioration is a concern ). 


Top 5 Favorite Episodes


Survivors of Zalon ( September 10, 1977 ) 

Unusual activity on Adrian's computer monitor suggests that there may be life on the planet Zalon, which is due to explode in 48 hours. Commander Gampu organizes a mission to Zalon with the Blue Team, and there they discover and rescue Loki, a curly-haired waif who has been tasked with guarding a pair of glowing crystals. 


Castaways in Time and Space ( November 17, 1977 )

Paul, a new recruit to the Academy, joins Chris and Tee Gar on a mission to rescue Commander Gampu and Laura who are stranded on an alien planet after entering a black hole with their Seeker. Paul and Chris share differences of opinion about risk, which relates to their backgrounds...Paul having come from a planet where personal survival is considered most important.


Countdown ( October 1, 1977 )

The Blue Team is sent in a Seeker to destroy floating space debris left-over from the Vegan Wars, three-hundred years ago. While surveying the surrounding area they discover a massive war vessel and explore it. Inside, in a freeze-chamber, is the body of a hostile Vegan named Roarg, and outside, attached to the hull, is an unexploded magnetic mine. 


The Rocks of Janus ( October 15, 1977 )

Two comets are hurtling towards the Space Academy and so Commander Gampu sends Blue Team out in a Seeker to plant explosive charges and destroy the comets before they come any closer. While Chris and the team set up the charges, Maggie and Laura take a rock sample - and discover that the rock they "tapped" bleeds! Once they discover it is a living organism they no longer wish to destroy it. 


My Favorite Marcia ( November 26, 1977 )

Commander Gampu leads a cadet team to study a star about to go supernova, when he determines that a "galactic distress beacon" has been activated on the fourth planet in a nearby star system. The signal is being sent by his old friend, Marcia, a rogue space trader who was hunting diamonds on the planet's surface when her spaceship's power was neutralized by an evil root - Robby the Robot ( of Forbidden Planet fame ).

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I think I recall the titles of this show and spinoff, but never watched. It sounds like they had a good thing going, but too often let the quality waver. That always makes me sad and angry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's true, the show could have been better than it was, but as far as children's television programs go ( especially compared to other series of the 1970s ), it was quite good...even when the scripts were weak the production/setting was always impressive. Here is a link to the first episode if you want to gander at it:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oi4PrLjXFt4&t=20s

      Delete
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