Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Planet of the Apes: The Series (1974) Part II

For an overview and a review of the first seven episodes, please click here.
For some great series posters (I've borrowed one below) and other great memorabilia, please visit Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive.

And so we come to the end. Not just of the season but of the show. As the opening credits of the final episode began and the percussions sounded, I was admittedly saddened; the series grew on me more than I had expected. It's too bad the networks didn't allow for POTA to at least play out the entire season, thereby giving it a chance to garner additional viewers, and at least leaving us with a few more episodes. There is no finale here, no opportunity to let viewers know of the eventual fate of our heroes. The show simply ends, as though the peephole we've been glimpsing through at these events has been boarded up, and while the three fugitives continue on the other side to live on the run, we no longer have any access to them. I truly hope they managed all right.

"The Deception." (Episode 8: First aired 1 November 1974) Directed by Don McDougall (his third and last for the show), and written by Anthony Lawrence.

Human (or ape) nature doesn't change over the centuries. Our heroes stumble upon blind female ape Fauna (Jane Actman) who lives isolated with her uncle. Since she is blind, the humans do not need to hide in Fauna's presence, only to avoid her touch. As a consequence of this deceit, Fauna quickly falls in love with Burke, claiming his voice is similar to that of a former lover. Burke is the second of our heroes to have a female lusting after him (Galen met a lustful female chimpanzee back in "The Good Seeds," and don't worry, there is plenty more female lust to come).

Fauna's human-loving father was a victim of the dragoons, a secret society of apes that perform violent acts against local humans while wearing cloth masks. To help out the innocent members of the local community, Galen infiltrates the organization by becoming a dragoon recruit. There is nothing subtle or surprising about the episode but it is nonetheless well done. Science fiction set in the future often deals with our mistakes of the past (and visiting the past is a common science fiction trick, popularized for television by Star Trek; POTA is uniquely pre-steampunk in that it is set simultaneously in the future and the past--the future of Earth existing in a primitive setting). I wonder how much pressure (if any) producers or writers faced in having to deal with topical issues, or scenarios dealing with recent American history.

The title of this episode alludes to a variety of deceits, from the deceiving of an innocent and sensitive blind ape by our fugitives, to her uncle's deceiving her about his role in dragoon violence and the part he himself played in her father's death. 7/10

"The Horse Race." (Episode 9: First aired 8 November 1974) Directed by Jack Starrett, and written by Booker Bradshaw and David P. Lewis.

Most shows had one of these: an episode consisting of a race with great stakes to be had or to be lost. In this one, Virdon must race against Urko's best horse in order to save the life of a rebelling human farm boy. Urko's team of soldiers do not play fair, setting traps and planning, at the finish line, to kill the opposing jockey. The theme is a little tired and the episode itself is standard fare. Moreover, favourite character Galen has little to do with this, except to get stung by a poisonous scorpion that sets off the chain of events. 5/10

"The Interrogation." (Episode 10: First aired 15 November 1974) Directed by Alf Kjellin, and written by Richard Collins. Guest starring Beverly Garland, Anne Seymour

Director Alf Kjellin is a veteran of television, with work dating back to 1950s Swedish cinema, and a repertoire that includes an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Hour; in the 1980s he fared quite poorly, having to work on Dynasty. Either way, the effort put into this hour of television is quite commendable.

In a quick, exciting opening sequence, Burke is captured by gorilla soldiers. In Central City, it is evident to General Urko that Burke's capture will lead the other fugitives to him, so troops are set up at every possible entry point. And while Urko wants to have Burke lobotomized, Zaius instead hands him over to the young chimpanzee scientist Wanda for experimentation. There is a wonderful scene between these three, the orangutan, the gorilla and the female chimpanzee, where Urko's frustration at the others' need to experiment and his understanding of brainwashing is simply hilarious. Mark Lenard, best known for his various Star Trek roles including Spock's father Sarek, is particularly effective here as Urko; while we are faced with his most irrational and threatening side, he manages nonetheless to be amusing to the point of likable. Television icon Beverly Garland does a great Wanda (she has had regular appearances in many TV shows, including the role of Maggie in the The Twilight Zone episode "The Four of Us Are Dying").

As for the washing of the brain, Wanda wishes to use the methods she discovered in a book found in a time capsule from the distant and primitive past of 1986. Oddly, though, the book looks like something printed in the 1940s. What is odder still is that though Wanda wishes to brainwash Burke, to "replace his ideas with other ideas" (paraphrase), what she essentially does is interrogate and torture, asking him over and over which humans have helped him and his fellow refugees. She employs disorientation, sleep deprivation, starvation, and so forth, and I'm really not sure where the replacing of ideas comes into play. I'll blame the confusion on the tattered book having been produced in 1986; that was truly one dated and confused society (I wonder what else was locked into the time capsule, a recording of "Walk Like an Egyptian" and VHS copies of Platoon and Top Gun. The horror.)

Other wonderful moments in this episode include Galen impersonating a woman, and the interactions between Galen and his parents. Yes, we meet his chimpanzee folks, his liberal, loving and rational mother, and his hard-headed father. Anne Seymour makes a wonderful mother to sensitive Galen, while Norman Burton is her fine antithesis as father Yalu. Really, apes are so like humans in nearly every way; why can't we just get along? (Incidentally, Burton was also in the original Planet of the Apes film, playing the gorilla hunt leader.)

And all this excitement is capped off by a great hospital fight sequence. 7/10

"The Tyrant." (Episode 11: First aired 22 November 1974) Directed by Ralph Senensky, and written by Walter Black.

Urko is once again a good ape. Not that he has warmed to our heroes, but simply because he is decidedly at odds with bad ape Aboro, the "Tyrant" of this week's title. In a farming region Aboro, an old academy buddy of Urko's, has bribed his way to the role of prefect. While Aboro is quite amoral, willing to use murder for profit, he says of the ape general: "Urko never approved of corruption." This treats us to a unique view of our heroes' prime enemy, essentially portraying him as an upright lawman bent on chasing our friends from a sense of duty rather than personal vengeance. This portrayal, however, completely contradicts previous Urkos we've seen, especially the overly corrupt one of "The Horse Race." But consistency has never been a staple of television, and given that last week we settled for dumb Urko to great laughs, this week we'll happily accept upstanding Urko.

Yet there is another glaring error in the episode, though this one is self contained and not a result of the series as a whole. Our heroes play Robin Hood by inciting humans to steal back some grain, a revolt which leads to the death of a human. (A responsibility our leads do not appear to be guilted by, or even fully aware of.) This cold-blooded killing and the previous attitudes of our heroes inspires a human youth to want to rebel against the apes. Yet now our wise humans, who that same morning roused the same man to rebel, getting another man killed, wisely tell the revolutionary wannabe that it might be best to go through proper channels and meet with the district prefect. Why had they not made this wise, unrebelious suggestion before getting an innocent man killed?

Roddy McDowall once again steals the show with Galen's impersonation of Zaius's assistant Octavio, and the strongest scenes in the episode are those between Octavio and Aboro. The corrupt Aboro is well played by unknown Percy Rodrigues, who lends a fine voice to the role. 7/10

"The Cure." (Episode 12: First aired 29 November 1974) Directed by Bernard McEveety, and written by Edward J. Lakso.

Finally, Virdon can also boast about having a woman lusting after him, this one even more lustily determined than the females desiring Galen ("The Good Seeds") and Burke ("The Deception). Moreover, this time the lust is all human.

We have seen our multi-talented ass-tro-nauts play the role of gladiators, farmers, veterinarians, fishermen, electricians, and jockeys, and in "The Cure" they reveal their talents as both doctors and apothecaries. Our heroes have just left the haven of a small community, forced to return when they learn (conveniently) that a sickness has struck the human population. Being good doctors, they quickly assess the symptoms of malaria, and, as masterful apothecaries they search for the tree whose bark can be ground into a cure. They must, however, match wits with the chimpanzee physician who, it quickly becomes apparent, knows little of ailments, as well as General Urko, who becomes livid when his own men become infected. (Multi-talented, certainly, but just imagine all they could have accomplished had they had access to Wikipedia.)

An average episode with some ups and downs. The ease with which our pilots can treat this illness borders on comical, though I suppose it's necessary for the show to focus on the tensions between Urko and, well, pretty much everyone else. A smart move was to begin with the men leaving the community, the woman Amy (Sondra Locke, successful actress and long-time partner of Mr. Clint Eastwood) already in love with Virdon, rather than to tire us and embarrass the actors by showing the awkward process. 6/10

"The Liberator." (Episode 13: never aired) Directed by Arnold Laven, written by Howard Dimsdale. Guest starring John Ireland.

"If chimpanzees were ever afraid, and if humans were what they were afraid of, I can tell you that is a man to fear." So says Galen of village leader Brun, a man who prays to the gods and, as witnessed by our chimpanzee friend, the gods listen.

In this world laws are as diverse and numerous as the villages. Twice a summer apes arrive at this episode's village to gather five human slaves and drag them to the mines, each of whom, we later learn, dies within a few months. Village members hunt the "meadow people," those who live out in the open to give to the apes in place of their own. Stumbling upon a fleeing villager, Burke and Virdon are caught and held as future slaves for the apes. All of these laws are upheld by leader Brun, even where the happiness of his son is concerned, whose wife is also to be among the slaves.

(Major spoilers.) Whereas earlier our heroes have proven their talents in a variety of areas, here we add to their expertise the knowledge of chemistry. It turns out that the thing killing those who enter the temple is not a pagan god, but a poisonous gas, and Brun survives only because he wears a gas mask (it is this technological defense that is our future god). Moreover, Brun is stockpiling the poison so that he can later use it against the apes, annihilating them. A creepy episode that is essentially about genocide and germ warfare. Canadian-born John Ireland does well in playing Brun, being menacing, kind and naive all at once. Truly a very good episode, in part because both apes and humans are portrayed in their darker colours. 8/10

"Up Above the World So High." (Episode 14: First aired 6 December 1974) Directed by John Meredyth Lucas, written by Arthur Browne Jr. and S. Bar-David from a story by Bar-David (Shimon Wincelberg). Guest starring Joanna Barnes, Frank Aletter and Martin E. Brooks.

"Some humans are much more human than other humans. You! You are the most human." So says wise Galen, though we learn that even chimpanzees can be human, some even more human than humans.

In their final screen adventure, our friends try to help a hopelessly stubborn and ambitious man (the You! from the quote above) named Leuric (Frank Aletter) who has built a glider and wants nothing more than to be the first person to fly. By now we've learned that Burke and Virdon can do anything, so of course they realise immediately that Leuric's glider cannot the mystery of flight, and that they can, in no time at all, build something better. (In fact, the glider's so finely tuned with great steering and comfy first-class seating I'm surprised our heroes can't fly it straight back to the home of their past.) The real treat in this episode, incidentally, is watching an excited Galen perfect the flying machine.

Yet the real excitement sits in blue-eyed chimpanzee Casia, a scientist proven to be more human than hard-headed Leuric. Now, by "human" Galen (and I) mean those aspects that make us desire glory only for ourselves and limit our perspectives of the world as a whole. Casia is strong-willed and driven by a need to show the world that chimpanzees are superior to gorillas and orangutans, and is haunted by the reality that no chimpanzee sits on the high council. Galen is smitten with her, as she is with him, and the attraction, along with Galen's flirting, is great to watch. Moreover, Casia is well introduced in her meeting with gorilla officer Konag (Martin E. Brooks, who was Leander in the previous episode "The Surgeon") as she toys with him and gets everything she wants. As Casia, Joanna Barnes does a great job, both in delivery and in the way she positions those chimp hands.

Directed by the late, long-time TV writer and director John Meredyth Lucas, who has written and directed for Star Trek, and did a fine job with the Night Gallery segment "The Housekeeper" (see my review). Despite some sound trouble in some outdoor sequences, with voices nearly drowned out by strong gusts of wind, Lucas has put together a well structured episode. There is some great lighting and shadow play in the sinister moments in Carsia's quarters, and the flight attempt scene is nicely desperate and chaotic, though this is enhanced primarily by the editing.

A good episode for a series that truly should have run the course of the season. But I suppose network producers are more human than both humans and apes. 7/10


Anonymous said...

I watched Pota , The show when originally aired and have the dvd B. S. I know for a fact each show had the coming attractions for the following show at the end of each episode,Here is The question- at the end of the final show " Up above the world so high" it shows for the following week which of course never aired Virdon and Burke seeing two lookalikes in cages . I recall Virdon possibly saying" My God, Pete it's us ". I know I saw this . It has been a mystery for me personally since I was 6 yrs old. I am convinced that Fox pulled after initially saying that the attractions would be present on the dvd set, because it would have to explain why is there a preview to another episode? What is this? Etc. The phone would be ringing off the hook.I recently saw an old article which stated that they new they were cancelled earlier but on of the producers said continue to make more shows And we will convince them otherwise.I met Roddy McDowall once in 1993 at a convention and should have asked him , but sadly I did not. Thanks , Mr.Go Ape

Casual Debris said...

Interesting little mystery; thanks for posting. What you might have seen was a preview for the episode "The Liberator." This episode never aired in North America(though it may have aired in the UK) but is included as episode 13 of the series (bumping "Up Above" to episode 14). Virdon and Burke do find themselves locked in cages, though there are no look-alikes. That portion might be a trick of memory.

Anonymous said...

I live in brazil,south america,and liked the serie planeta dos macacos,all sunday at 12 o clock am,by rede globo television,never more be forget.antonio carlos zambon.age 53

Carl said...

Many thanks for this feature on the Planet of the Apes TV show. From the ages of ten to twelve or so, I was the POTA equivalent of a Trekkie (an "Apie," as it were) and loved the movies and the TV show (and the novel by Pierre Boulle). I recently discovered that my public library has the episodes on DVD, and watched them all again for the first time in decades. For all their flaws, they held up better than I expected, and I appreciated discovering your commentaries on the show.

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