Friday, November 16, 2012


Welcome back to "Fave Five" - a very irregularly-posted feature wherein your humble blogger counts down his own top five favorite whatevers from the Space: 1970 era; i.e. favorite spaceships, favorite captains, favorite novelizations, favorite cartoons, favorite Space Babes, etc. Most bloggers do Top Ten lists, but honestly folks, that just seems like way too much work!

This time out, I've picked my favorite "token aliens" of 70s sci-fi television. Ever since the ever-logical, half-human/half-Vulcan Mr. Spock strode onto the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise and became the breakout character of the original Star Trek, producers of outer space-set television adventure series (especially those trying to directly imitate Trek; I'm looking at you, Frieberger and Mantley), have often felt the need to include at least one extraterrestrial among the cast.

As a storytelling device, the token alien has multiple uses. For one, it gives the writers a mouthpiece to make observations on human behavior from the point-of-view of a friendly non-human (androids and robots work well in that capacity, too - but that's a different list), and second, since these characters are almost always given abilities and powers that poor Earthlings don't possess, they can also be useful plot devices when things get too tight for our heroes... thanks to a last-minute mind-meld or surprise metamorphosis.

Jason Of Star Command
"I'll tell you this: your capturing me was a bad idea, and you'll regret it."

Discovered in suspended animation within a derelict spaceship by the titular Jason of Star Command, the amnesiac Samantha (Tamara Dobson) quickly became a valued partner-in-adventure for brash rogue Jason and his Star Command allies. With a variety of vaguely-defined powers, including superhuman strength and assorted psi abilities, the striking Samantha may have been unable to remember where she came from - all she recalled was that her people were conquered by the armies of arch-fiend, Dragos - but she soon made a home for herself aboard the Space Academy, and figured prominently in Dragos' final defeat.

I admired the strength of character that Dobson brought to the role, a mix of compassion and toughness reminiscent of her cinematic character Cleopatra Jones... but without the kung fu, Corvette and machine guns.

NUMBER FOUR: Ficus Pandorata
"There are no good or evil plants. There are only plants."

A member of the crew of a United Galaxy Sanitation Patrol cruiser under the command of Cmdr. Adam Quark, science officer Ficus Pandorata (Richard Kelton) was a Vegeton; although outwardly human-looking in every aspect, he was, in fact, a plant. Being a plant, he needed to monitor his moisture levels and reproduced asexually, by means of pollination. Always rational and logical, Ficus was frequently baffled by the actions of his human (and transmute, and clone) crew mates. Indeed, when the crew met their alternate universe evil twins, there was no discernible difference between Ficus and his other-dimensional duplicate.

Although a parody of Star Trek's Mr. Spock, Richard Kelton really made Ficus an interesting character in his (its?) own right, deftly deriving considerable humor from his unemotional character, and slyly skewering the self-delusions of his captain and crew mates.

Space: 1999
"You mean, people killed people, just because they were different from each other? That's disgusting."

The last survivor of the doomed planet Psychon, possessing the power of "molecular transformation," the exotic Maya found a home - and camaraderie - with the human inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha as it soared aimlessly through the universe. I've always had mixed feelings about the shape-shifting Maya. On one hand, her introduction to the Space: 1999 universe by second-season producer Fred Frieberger was another obvious instance of the wholesale Trek-ifying of the franchise and a harbinger of the show's overall decline in quality. But, on the other, actress Catherine Schell imbued the otherwise-contrived character with such a warm, appealing personality and ingenious blend of confidence, sexuality, competence and vulnerability, that ultimately, she won me over.

Too bad they romantically paired up with the walking cliché that was Tony Verdeschi. I also never understood why an alien beauty from Psychon would have such a penchant for using her ability of "molecular transformation" to shape-shift into distinctly Terran creatures like lions....

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century
"I shall kill them all. All humans who cross my path. And I shall keep killing them, until they have killed me."

Native of the planet Throm, Hawk (Thom Christopher) is the last survivor of a colony of humanoids that evolved from birds (and originally migrated from Earth, according to Dr. Goodfellow, but his speculation is based on virtually no solid evidence whatsoever. Dr. Goodfellow is a very bad scientist, really.). After his tribe and mate are massacred by human renegades, Hawk swears vengeance upon the entire human race, vowing to kill every puny human who crosses his path. This rampage brings him into conflict with Captain Buck Rogers of the Earth starship Searcher.

Of course, brave Buck soon won the avian alien's respect and loyalty, and Hawk joined the Searcher crew. Although the addition of Hawk ended up taking too much screen time away from Erin Gray's Wilma Deering (and that's hard to forgive), the talented Christopher imbued his birdman (ludicrous as the concept might have been) with a strong sense of nobility and a bushido-like code of honor that really spoke to the teenaged me. Besides, that feather toupee looked cool.
Star Trek

TV's original "token alien," and still the best. Star Trek's Commander Spock, dual Science Officer and First Officer of the Federation starship Enterprise, was a brilliant television creation, a perfect union of character and actor that became - and remains, more than four-and-a-half decades later - a universal pop culture icon. Half-human and half-alien, Leonard Nimoy's Spock was in perpetual internal conflict, a man struggling to reconcile his emotional human half with his Vulcan father's devotion to pure logic. That alone would make the character memorable, but he was also a brilliant scientist, a loyal friend & officer, and a slyly humorous conversationalist with a devastating wit (just ask Dr. McCoy!).

Literally volumes have been written about this character, his role on the show and his impact on society, and I certainly don't have any startlingly new observations to contribute. All I can say is that, well, Spock rules.

As always, these are my favorites. You may disagree with my choices and/or rankings. If so, feel free to share your favorites in the comments.


  1. If there was a better looking alien than Catherine Schell's Maya, then I wanna know about it

  2. Plus Hawk had the awesomest ship, seriously.

  3. FICUS TOTALLY ROCKS..!!! He's the BEST part of watching 'Quark'. His best scenes were with Richard Benjamin, arguing about love and other human frailties, not to mention mating with the princess..

    Besides Spock, he's my favorite.

    Space:1999's my all-time favorite show, and liked a few of the 2nd year changes, but never warmed to the Maya character. I missed Barry Morse TOO much, plus never liked the grafted-in Trek influence and forced humor at the end of each episode, or turning Landau into essentially an 'action figure', which was never his strong suit as an actor, and against the character's nature.

    Loved Catherine otherwise, and she did try to add some good emotion and depth, but the whole animal-changing schtick grew old very quickly in such a high-caliber show as 1999's first year.

    1. The dull lead actors and lack of chemistry between them was the overwhelming problem with 'Space: 1999' for me. The terrific Barry Morse was the only exception. It's a shame they didn't get that element right, because the show had some good writers and ideas and remains the best looking sci-fi show of all-time in my opinion

  4. I will stay with Chris's top two picks. I loved the Hawk character. My favorite scene is the sentencing phase of his trial where Hawk stood stoically by while the court is going through some rituals before sentencing him to death - and making themselves look like the cretinous fools they were. That scene did for me. I think it says much for Thom Christopher that he was able to play this role so well.
    As for Spock- what can you say? I was in grades 3-5 in the original run and that guy with the pointed ears just grabbed the show. Being a nerdiac I guess I just gravitated to him.
    btw Chris- I agree Goodfellow was not a good scientist . Spock was the only character that even today I could take for one. Not much has changed either. Generally scientists on SF shows aren't!

  5. Hawk looked alrigh and had a cool ship, but he was never used well. Maya never did much for me, but there were far worse things about season two of Space:1999.