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Old April 6th, 2005, 12:08 AM   #1
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Muffit icWales: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

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Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Apr 6 2005

Daniel Davies, Western Mail

FOR almost 75 years, Buck Rogers has killed all manner of things and people in furtherance of one aim - the freedom of mankind. And he lives on in DVD re-releases, the occasional novel, computer games and comics.

He began life as Anthony "Buck" Rogers, a character in the 1928 August issue of pulp magazine Amazing Stories. With infra-red guns for fighting at night and jet planes, the story was written as a series of predictions on future scientific inventions, rather than a flight of fantasy.

But prophetic pretence was dropped when Buck came to the attention of John Flint Dille, head of the National Newspaper Service syndicate. He took the character and commissioned the world's first science-fiction comic strip - Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Buck was a US pilot who flew over France in the First World War. After the war he fell asleep for 500 years when he was trapped in a mine and overcome by a strange radioactive gas. When he woke, he was discovered by Wilma Deering, who becomes his sidekick.

From 1929 to 1967, they fought the Killer Kane and the beautiful but wicked queen Ardala. Buck's arch enemies were the evil Mongolians. Less jingoistic ages would ditch the Mongolians in favour of alien races from distant galaxies.

At its height, the strip was syndicated to 400 newspapers in the US. It was the inspiration for other space exploring heroes such as Flash Gordon.

In 1932 Buck made the transition to radio in his own phenomenally popular programme. As in the comic strip, Buck and Wilma would fly about, keeping the world safe with an array of hi-tech weapons.

The 1933 World's Fair in Chicago saw the first Buck movie - the elaborately titled Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: An Interplanetary Battle with the Tiger Men of Mars.

In 1939, a Buck Rogers serial was made for cinemas, starring Larry "Buster" Crabbe, who had also played Flash Gordon, as Buck. There was a Buck Rogers live TV series in 1950 and 51. With the same plot of Buck vs myriad intergalactic ne'er-do-wells, the serial is not believed to have been very good. However it is difficult to check, as no known footage remains.

By the late 1970s all things outer space were considered ratings winners thanks to Star Wars. In 1979, Buck was put back on the telly in the form most are now familiar with him. In this incarnation, Captain William "Buck" Rogers (Gil Gerard) was a NASA astronaut blasted into deep space. Because of a freak mishap, his life-support system froze until his space shuttle, Ranger 3, returns him to Earth, 500 years into the future.

Buck finds Earth, in the year 2491, has been changed dramatically by a late 20th century nuclear holocaust. Now mankind's only enemies live on other planets, and Buck is enlisted as a fighter pilot for the Earth Defence Force under the beautiful (and excessively lip-glossed) squadron leader Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Like Farah Fawcett, Wilma held a special fascination for many a boy on the brink of puberty.

With such classic episode titles as Vegas in Space and Planet of the Slave Girls, it can hardly be described as visionary stuff. In plots and props, the series' producers borrowed heavily from Battlestar Galactica, which was made in 1978. New Chicago is the capital of the world and is populated by characters such as the amiable robot Twiki and Dr Elias Huer, who assist Buck in his effort to stave off the eventual demise of human beings.

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