Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Six Million Dollar Diary Part Four: SERIES 3 (1975-76)

Bigfoot cometh, in season three highlight, The Secret of Bigfoot
Series three of The Six Million Dollar Man feels like the inheritance of a show that has found a niche and is now busy occupying it with complete confidence: the series was at the peak of its popularity, its regular characters and their relationships comfortably established in the public mind, and the format of the show -- and its recurring motifs -- now all firmly in place. Mid-way through this season, the series was to develop its own successful spin-off; and near the end of its run, one of its most memorable stories ever would be broadcast, leading to the introduction of a certain popular ( and very hairy) recurring foe. In fact, if there is one noticeable quirk marking this particular collection of episodes out from those of any other, then it’s the sheer number of returning guest characters and references to previous episodes to which it plays host. It was perfectly common, in U.S. episodic drama of the day, for a guest artist to make more than one appearance on the same show at different times in the course of that show's history, but usually when they did so it involved them playing different characters. This was because TV of this type dealt in stand-alone stories that retained the possibility of their being broadcast in any order when syndicated; stories that did not require any particular previous knowledge on behalf of the viewer about what had transpired in other episodes during the series' run.

Lee Majors’ wife at the time, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, is a particularly noticeable example of a performer who makes multiple appearances in different episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, over the course of several years of guesting on the show playing different characters. In fact, she eventually appeared playing three entirely different people across three successive seasons, before she returned for the last time during the fourth season, this time re-playing (confusingly) the role in which she’d originally been cast for season one!

In the late-season three episode The Golden Pharaoh she’s cast as another old flame of Steve’s, this time one called Trish Holland -- who turns out to be dating the Vice Consul of a Middle Eastern embassy, Gustav Tokar (Joe Maross), who the OSI suspect of having stolen the valuable Golden Pharaoh artifact – a statue on loan to the US for a touring exhibition -- and replaced it with a gold-plated lead fake without anyone noticing; at least not until Steve casts his bionic eye over it, just before preparing for an assignment to escort it back to its country of origin!

Farrah-Fawcett Majors as Trish Holland. One of her many
guest appearances across four seasons of the series
Steve enlists Trish’s help in order to: first, discover the statue’s whereabouts; and then, steal it back from her dodgy fiancé before a visiting Egyptian specialist can examine the fake currently on display in a U.S. museum, thus causing an embarrassing international incident and a possible break in relations with the country from which the statue is being loaned. Unfortunately, Trish’s love of gambling and her mounting debt problems make her uniquely untrustworthy, and she indulges in some double dealing of her own, joining forces with a crooked businessman who runs a illegal gambling den (to which she owes a significant amount of money) from the premises of his brick-making warehouse, and who plots to melt the statue down for its gold and then split the proceeds with Trish. For this reason she decides to betray both Steve and Gustav! This is an enjoyable knock-about caper of plotting and counter-plotting, with Farrah getting to run rings round the hapless males -- bionic and non-bionic -- throughout most of it, before finally coming good in the end.

But unusually for episodic TV, though, many of the other returning guest stars seen this series are  playing exactly the same roles as they were originally cast to play for one-off appearances during the previous season, making these episodes effectively sequels which allow their characters’ stories to be developed much more thoroughly in a manner that is notoriously unusual for formula-hidebound ‘70s TV drama -- with its superficial action-orientated approach. Perhaps the most poignant example of this unusual trend comes about in the episode entitled The Wolf Boy.

After reports of sightings of a fair-haired white youth apparently living wild like a wolf in the jungles of an island in the South Pacific, Steve joins his old friend Kuroda (John Fujioka) on a personal mission to investigate, believing the boy might be the missing son of an American diplomat who died out in these jungle years before. Matters are complicated when Kuroda’s boss Ishikawa (Teru Shimada) turns out to have less than altruistic motives for sponsoring Steve and Kuroda’s trip to find this so-called wolf boy, as it is he who is in fact the man who originally killed the parents of the American child, and he merely wants to check if the stories about the discovery of this alleged feral youngster are true, and if so, to silence him for good in case the child still retains some incriminating memory of what happened to his parents all those years before, and Ishikawa's responsibility for it. 

Steve meets his old season two friend Kuroda (John Fujioka) in
The Wolf Boy
The story gains extra depth and some degree of pathos if one is aware of Steve’s past relationship with Kuroda, which was detailed in the Season Two episode, The Last Kamikaze. There, the two started out as uncertain enemies, forced to make an uneasy alliance in order to recover an atomic bomb from a crashed plane in the same jungles to which they are both seen returning for this episode. Kuroda was formerly a downed Japanese WW2 pilot, living as a recluse on the jungle island for thirty years, with no idea that the war was over, and no knowledge of political developments since that time. Steve had a tough job on his hands trying to persuade Kuroda that Japan's war with the United States was indeed finished and that his country was no longer the enemy of America. The pilot certainly couldn’t accept the idea that Japan had surrendered; or that devices which held  devastating power of the type commanded by nuclear bombs now existed. Eventually though, mistrust was turned into deep friendship and the two worked together to thwart the plans of those who wanted to acquire the bomb from the nearby crashed plane.

Buddy Foster plays a boy raised by wolves in The Wolf Boy 
But now we find Kuroda living in Tokyo, attempting to fit in with contemporary Japanese society, but still finding it difficult. He misses his old life of freedom and self-sufficiency derived  from living his former years in the jungle; and having to work in a grindingly dull and low status job as a clerk in a shoe store is gradually crushing his spirit. Returning to the jungles with Steve on their new mission reawakens suppressed memories of his old life, and he longs to stay in this place, which he now considers to be his true home. But, frustratingly, Kuroda also finds his former tracking skills have been blunted by his year of living in civilisation, and he begins to envy the life of the wild boy (Buddy Foster) he and Steve are eventually able to track down in the jungle. The most moving moment comes when Kuroda realises that taking the lost boy back to Japan and then the States, will cause the child the same problems of adaptation he himself experienced, and eventually a compromise is decided upon, whereby Kuroda will continue to live in the jungles with the boy and attempt to gradually acclimatise him to the idea of returning to civilisation. The depth of respect and friendship between Kuroda and Steve is also very touching if you remember how they started out in the Season Two episode, and John Fujioka is able to bring an unusual poignancy and depth to what was once a throwaway character in a one-off story.
The episode feels the need to indulge in lenghty and quite clunky-looking flashback sequences  in order to remind viewers of Kuroda's previous appearance on the show, and the same is also the case when it comes to the other episodes that also feature returning characters this season. usually its done with Steve gazing off to one side as he remembers previous events, which are then shown again (sometimes in black & white) but this time with slightly echo-laden dialogue to indicate that events are being replayed in Steve's head! it's quite cheesy, but a typical example of the blunt conventions of the period. 
Steve becomes a magician and Robbie Lee returns as psychic
teenager Audrey Moss in Hocus-Pocus
A quirky mid-season episode entitled Hocus-Pocus sees the return of teenage psychic wonder Audrey Moss, played by Robbie Lee. In her previous appearance on the show, Audrey was a gawky, cherub-faced troubled teen who found it difficult to adjust to the fact that she was different to other kids on account of her ability to psychically see into the heads of anyone she met. She returns in this episode, still finding high school life especially difficult, but having also grown up enough to remember Steve’s self-empowerment-based mantra “I like myself, I'm a worthwhile person” from her previous episode, The E.S.P. Spy. Here she’s part of Steve’s unlikely undercover job as a nightclub magician, for which she's been enlisted to play the role of his glamorous assistant. Steve has been assigned the task of getting himself invited to the home of magic-loving crime lord Mark Wharton (Pernell Roberts), who trusts no-one, and whose organisation has stolen a top secret code book from the Navy which he plans to sell to the highest bidder. To do this, Steve has to learn the tricks of the magic trade, and also invent a magic act that’s so amazing that it cannot fail to make an impression on an otherwise paranoid and suspicious criminal who already thinks he’s seen it all. How better to accomplish the task, then, than to use the powers of a real psychic in the act! Unfortunately for Steve and Audrey, so impressed by Miss Moss’s amazing mind-reading feats is Wharton, that he plots to get rid of Steve and use Audrey’s powers to perpetuate his crimes!

Monte Markham makes his second appearance on the show
during The Bionic Criminal
Steve probably thought he had seen the last of Barney Miller (Monte Markham), the troublesome, egotistic racing driver-turned unstable bionic head-case from the Season Two episode The Seven Million Dollar Man -- but he’s back again causing more trouble in a strong season three episode entitled The Bionic Criminal; although his surname has been changed now to Hiller, since there was a sitcom character already called Barney Miller appearing regularly on American TV at the time. Not only is Markham back playing the same character once more, but Maggie Sullivan also returns as the former nurse employed by Dr Rudy Wells (Alan Oppenheimer) and now Barney’s devoted wife, Carla Peterson. Previously it was established that Barney’s bionics had been ‘tuned down’ to normal strength and that it was impossible to reverse the process; but Steve is shocked to discover that Wells and Oscar are experimenting with a new technique that can do exactly that.
The powers-that-be have decided that a ‘bionic army’ whose members can be activated and ‘tuned-up’ whenever it becomes necessary to send  them into combat, might be a good investment of Government resources, and so Oscar has been given the job of testing out Wells’ new tuning technique on Hiller for a period of forty-eight hours only -- after which his bionic abilities will be tuned back down again to normal levels. Steve is unhappy about the idea because of Hiller’s past instability: he previously went power crazy and attempted to blackmail the OSI and even to kill Steve himself. Hiller seems to be fairly happy and sane these days, but Oscar’s notion of what constitutes  ‘controlled circumstances’ for the tests, turn out to be less than perfect, as Hiller has arranged for an afternoon off in the middle of them while he attempts to get a drive in an upcoming race at a nearby car track.
Steve follows Hiller to the test drive appointment out of lingering concern for the man’s mental health; and sure enough, he learns from Carla that Hiller has been finding it difficult to get back into the sport, blaming his bionics for not being tuned to the same level of perfection as his human limbs had been before his accident. Out of frustration for his poor performance during the trial, Barney attacks the car owner and momentarily forgets that he is currently tuned to maximum bionic strength. Believing he has killed the man, Barney goes on the run, unaware that Steve was nearby at the time of the incident and managed to get the injured man’s heart beating again soon after Barney fled the scene. Barney now becomes vulnerable to the manipulations of a corrupt businessman (Donald Moffat) who persuades him to carry out a bank raid for him, although Barney only goes through with it so that he can use the proceeds from his cut of the loot to pay compensation to the dead man’s family and provide himself with a nest egg to live off in exile after he flees the country. However, the devious criminal he’s been working for also kidnaps Carla to ensure that Barney continues to work for the criminal gang ...
Barney Miller is still the slightly egotistical and unpredictable manic depressive of the previous episode, here, but he’s no longer the dangerous maniac we saw back then. Instead, he’s just misguided and impetuous – once again emphasising the fact that he’s not cut out for bionic enhancement. The episode ends optimistically  with Barney having come to terms with living a normal life with his bionics at average strengh, and soon seen thriving again with Carla in the couple's joint auto-repair business. 
Of course, the one returning character that was the most eagerly anticipated after proving unexpectedly popular with viewers of the previous season’s adventures, was one Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), aka the bionic woman. The chances of the character making any kind of return might accurately have been deemed extremely slim at the time, given the fact that Jaime was pretty conclusively killed off by writer and producer Kenneth Johnson at the end of his two-part story The Bionic Woman, her body shown tragically rejecting her bionics not long after she and childhood sweetheart Steve Austin had become engaged to be married, having recently met up again in their home town of Ojai, California. Steve had nursed Jaime through her bionic transformation after a sky diving accident, but a massive brain hemorrhage saw her die in front of his eyes on the operating table, with even all the skills of Dr Rudy Wells proving not up to the task saving her.

However, the evocative love story Johnson’s episodes told so beautifully, and the pleasing on-screen chemistry shared between Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner, saw ratings skyrocket -- so plausibility and logic could be happily cast aside in the rush to capitalise on that success.
Writer Kenneth Johnson was even initially given the job of producing the entire season, but after the decision was taken to create a spin-off show for the revitalised Jaime Sommers, Johnson chose to devote most of his energies to the character he’d originally created, and thereafter arranged to alternate production duties on The Six Million Dollar Man with Lionel E. Siegel (who’d overseen the previous season in combination with Joe L. Cramer), while he concentrated on The Bionic Woman. Interestingly, all of the other episodes that also brought back season two guest artists were ones produced by Siegel: it’s almost as though the decision to bring back so many previously seen supporting characters was Siegel’s attempt to compete with the very strong continuing backstory and through-line Johnson had now brought into the series, and which helps give his episodes in particular a very distinctive and much more emotionally involved feel than had been the norm with this series, and with episodic action-based television in general back in the 1970s.
Season Three actually kicks off with a direct sequel to season two’s Bionic Woman story, but this time produced as well as written by Johnson. It was broadcast in 1975, the week after a repeat of both Bionic Woman episodes had just gone out, and feels very much like a continuing story, again with much more emotional development than straight action plotting at its centre. Johnson manages to come up with an equally moving emotional theme to underpin the reintroduction of the character of Jaime Sommers; but first there’s the little matter of her unlikely resurrection to be attended to ...
Steve wants answers from Oscar in The Return of the Bionic
 The Return of the Bionic Woman begins with Steve being helicoptered into another danger zone, while still preoccupied with the apparent death of the love of his life (despite the original broadcast order continuing with him embarking on missions in another bunch of stand-alone episodes, in which he appeared entirely untroubled by such concerns!). Things go wrong, and Steve’s bionic legs get crushed during an attempt to destroy the hideout of another criminal gang, leaving him at death’s door. After being helicoptered back to Dr Rudy Wells’ Colorado facility for emergency surgery, a delirious Steve thinks he sees Jaime through a gap in the door to a private room, lying unconscious in a hospital bed just down the hall from his own quarters. During the months it takes for Steve to recuperate and regain the full use of his bionic legs (which have had to be fully rebuilt), Steve mentions this 'vision' to Oscar and Rudy, but they both claim he must have been hallucinating. However, Steve spots her again with his bionic eye, from the grounds of the hospital complex -- apparently recuperating in one of the upper storeys of an obscure block of private rooms at the facility. This time he knows he’s not hallucinating, yet once again Oscar and Rudy attempt to deny what he knows he has seen with his own (bionic) eye. There are shades of the episode The Seven Million Dollar Man here, when both Oscar and Rudy again attempted to lie to Steve; but this time, the fact that the lie involves the fate of Jaime Sommers means he's  not in the mood to have any of it: for the only time in the series so far, Steve actually threatens Oscar with physical violence if he isn't told exactly what is going on. Reluctantly, Oscar fills Steve in on the facts of what turns out to be an amazing story of medical innovation …
"Who are you?" A shock for Steve Austin in The Return of the
Bionic Woman
It transpires that another brilliant, innovative surgeon, also now working at Wells’ facility, Dr Michael Marchetti (Richard Lenz), had been developing his own new cryogenic techniques. These techniques might help preserve Jaime’s body in stasis while the blood clot in her brain is treated. He persuades Rudy and Oscar to let him try it out on her, since, after all, there is now really nothing left to lose. But the trio decide not to tell Steve, in case the experimental technique doesn’t work and he would then have to go through the extra pain of seeing her die all over again. So, Jaime is indeed miraculously resurrected, but it turns out that she has received brain damage during the process, and is suffering from amnesia despite the best efforts of Rudy Wells and his medical experts to reverse the effects of the trauma. However, having now accidentally stumbled on the information of her continued survival, Steve insists on being allowed to see her, and his friends eventually have to reluctantly accede to his demand.
Getting to know each other all over again with some bionic
Their fears seem tragically validated when it turns out that Jaime has no memory whatsoever of ever having met Steve before, and certainly no recall of the fact that they were once engaged to be married! She still has to learn about her bionics again from scratch though, so Steve sticks around to help her adjust, while still being forced to keep silent about the depth and nature of their former relationship -- since any kind of memory of the past seems to bring with it a resurgence of the pain that was the symptom of her previous bionic meltdown. To make matters even more difficult for Steve, Jaime starts to become ever more attached to Dr Marchetti, who admits that this is probably a typical case of ‘patient/Doctor infatuation’, but that he too finds her attractive!

In part two, Steve takes Jaime back to their home town of Ojai hoping that this will help bring back her memory in a more gradual fashion, but once again an accumulation of factors such as the familiarity of the environment, meeting Steve’s parents again, and the recognition of townspeople (who naturally believed her dead), is too much for her, and she continues to experience increasing levels of pain whenever something happens that threatens to bring back memories of Steve. Eventually, Jaime decides that she has to leave the past behind for good, leave Ojai and instead move forwards with her life, throwing herself into working for the OSI as a thanks for her revival from the dead.  As a last ditch effort, Oscar approves Jaime’s idea that Steve and she should be allowed to go on a joint mission, but even this has to be aborted after she experiences disorientating flashbacks that result in both of them barely escaping with their lives from the industrial complex of criminal mastermind Carlton Harris (Dennis Patrick). Reluctantly Steve realises that it is he who is the ultimate cause of the continued bouts of pain Jaime is experiencing. He gallantly ‘gives her up’ to Dr Marchetti, who is to look after her from now on at the OSI’s other distant medical complex, while Steve keeps as far away from her as possible!
A joint bionic mission for Steve and Jaime in The Return of
the Bionic Woman.
Once again, Johnson manages to find an engaging new angle on Steve and Jaime’s thwarted relationship with the twists and turns of the amnesia storyline, and once again the emphasis is firmly on the characters, with Steve revealing new levels of fortitude and chivalry in showing he’s prepared to stand by and watch Jaime and Marchetti’s relationship develop -- despite his own continuing strong feelings for her -- if it means she will be spared more pain. The ‘mission’ portion of the story only takes up about ten minutes of the plot in episode two, although ladies’ man and industrialist thief Carlton Harris (Dennis Patrick) returns again in the first two-part story of the spin-off show The Bionic Woman, which began airing in January 1976 -- by which point season three of The Six Million Dollar Man was three quarters of the way into its run. The opening two-part story of The Bionic Woman series retains the style, tone and pace of both of the previous Jaime Sommers centred stories made for the original show, and once again they’re written and produced by Kenneth Johnson. In fact all six episodes play nicely back to back, and form their own little quasi separate mini-series, with a very distinctive ambiance that remains in tune with the rest of the series yet is also quite distinct from most of the other episodes in it.
Steve Austin's mom (Martha Scott) is on hand to help Jaime
adjust to her new life, in the first ever episode of The Bionic
Woman, Welcome Home Jaime.
But from now on, Jaime would occasionally still get to feature in the odd cameo sequence for some of the remaining episodes of the season, even when she had no function in the actual plots. As well as helping to establish a strong continuity between both shows (Richard Anderson does better than anyone out of this, since Oscar Goldman gets to appear every week in both series), there’s also the sense that Jaime and Steve’s relationship is gradually building up again, bit by bit, to what it was before -- again suggesting a continuing developing relationship rather than just a stock formula one that gets replayed every week, as was the usual routine in episodic television during this era.

The connection between the two characters is the main focus of the two-part episode which opens the curtain on The Bionic Woman, called Welcome Home Jaime, in which Lee Majors turns up as a guest star and Jaime returns to Ojai to work as a school teacher at a nearby Air Force base. Steve’s mother (Martha Scott) and his stepdad (Ford Rainey) keep an eye on her, and try and help her come to terms with the inevitable revelation that she was once to have been married to Steve. The fact that the first few episodes of what is to be a stand-alone series in its own right actually rely so heavily on plot threads already established in another series is unusual, although it might be a by-product of the fact that the two-part story was originally to have been split between both series in a manner which would become a frequently used marketing ploy during season four of The Six Million Dollar Man to help forge an audience for both shows.
Jaime combines being a secret agent with being a school
Suave criminal Carlton Harris (Dennis Patrick) wants Jaime
on his team. 
Wining and dining the bionic woman ...
The show works because it manages to emphasise Jaime’s softer more ‘feminine’ qualities (she’s a gifted school teacher who’s able to get the class of so-called ‘difficult’ kids she’s been assigned eating out of her hand after just one morning's work), allowing her to be funny, warm and sensitive, but also, of course, capable of great feats of strength and, consequently, enormously independent and resourceful at the same time. The character of Jaime Sommers, as played by Lindsay Wagner in this light and breezy action series with a heart, stands in stark contrast to the dour dystopian image created for the recent attempt to revive the franchise, in which Michelle Ryan played a typically modern variation on Jaime as a feisty, bionic instant kick-boxing expert. All of which fitted in with modern TV aesthetics and mores but lacked the essential warmth which made the character so appealing in the first place.
A scene from The Deadly Test.
Meanwhile, season three continues with a healthy collection of diverse episodes which often manage to overcome the limits imposed on them by mean budgets and quick turnover by resorting to the usual TV trick of making judicious use of stock footage, as in the air-based episode The Deadly Test, in which Steve is sent to serve his required two weeks of Air Force Reserve Duty at Edwards Air Base, just at the moment some political assassins decide to kill a prominent middle eastern prince (played by future C.H.I.P.S star Eric Estrada) who has been training at the facility, using an advanced electronics jamming device that  will cause his jet to crash by mimicking catastrophic instrument failure. Unfortunately, the device also affects Steve’s bionics! The United States Air Force and NASA were apparently both fans of the show, and often opened up their facilities to be used for the series' locations; and when combined with cleverly edited stock footage of military jets in flight and such-like, the results are often surprisingly passable, as proves to be the case here.

On the run ... the Cold War chase-themed episode, Divided
Divided Loyalty is a rare Cold War themed episode (more usually, the series seems to be taking place in an alternate reality, comprising of a U.S. and Soviet Union that have agreed some form of official détente) in which an American scientist (Michael McGuire) who once defected to the other side purely out of love for a woman he subsequently married, now wants to return to the States after her death. Steve is assigned the task of helping him covertly leave the unnamed Eastern Bloc country he’s been working for, but matters are complicated because his teenage son Alex (Radames Pera) has developed a deep friendship with one of the military commanders overseeing his dad's work, who practically raised him as a son of his own but who is now tasked with hunting them both down. The boy retains a love of the country he grew up in and a hatred of the United States, both of which have been nurtured through his friendship with this loyal comrade on their trail.

There’s even more trouble involving the Soviets in the episode Love Song for Tanya, but this time it’s of a rather more delicate nature, after Steve is given the job of 'babysitting' a prominent Soviet gymnast, Tanya Brevski (played by real-life gymnast Cathy Rigby) during her visit to the United States as part of a tour designed to promote peace between the two nations. Things go awry when she develops a schoolgirl crush on him and decides to defect, while a dissident group within the Soviet embassy plans to assassinate the young athlete in order to discredit their country’s non-aggression pact with the West.

Diminutive guest star Cathy Rigby in Love Song for Tanya

Jennifer Darling in her first appearance since her debut as
Oscar's secetary, Callahan, in season Two. She would
appear again in the series and on The Bionic
One of the best episodes this season is entitled The Winning Smile, and puts Oscar’s secretary Callahan (Jennifer Darling) at the centre of intrigue, after secrets only she, Steve and Oscar could know about start leaking from Oscar’s office at the OSI, jeopardising the safety of an important asset  -- Dr Losey (Milton Selzer). There’s a comic undertone to this story as Steve and Oscar decide that Callahan (who would become another semi-regular returnee, also appearing on The Bionic Woman) must be the source of the leak, either from a bug having been planted in her phone, somehow smuggled inside her apartment, or else planted elsewhere on her person. But how to figure out where the bug is without upsetting the feelings of this most loyal of OSI team members? This unusually cleverly constructed story plays even better to a contemporary audience that might be tempted to think it can see exactly where the plot is headed pretty quickly, when in fact Gustave Field’s teleplay subtly fools us into thinking we’re ahead of the main characters for most of the run time, then pulls the rug from under us and shows the solution to actually be far more ingenious than we might have assumed.

Steve and Bigfoot get intimate!
When discussing season three though, there is only one story that is absolutely guaranteed to come up in conversation every time. Just as he created the iconic character of Jaime Sommers, the bionic woman, for Season Two, so Kenneth Johnson was also responsible for the fashioning of a foe that would prove so enduringly popular with viewers that the network would demand the character be brought back every season from now on until the show was cancelled in 1978. The storyline of The Secret of Bigfoot perhaps marks the beginnings of the show producers' more overt turn of the dial towards a more knowingly outrageous segment of the show's fantasy adventure spectrum. It also makes very transparent Johnson’s childhood love of the sorts of adventure serials and B-movies for which the independent studio Republic Pictures became known in the ‘40s and ‘50s. With a plot that hinges on the existence of a secret underground colony of humanoid aliens living beneath the California mountains and guarded by an eight foot tall robot Sasquatch, that is set loose to scare off any human visitors who might wander into the area, this enjoyable romp of a two-parter is further away from the muted tone of the original pilot movie than ever.
"A very fine specimen!" The aliens admire Steve Austin in
The Secret of Bigfoot.
Alien visitors had of course appeared in the series before this, but there is definitely a campier tone emerging here, and it would only get ‘worse’ come Season Four. As is frequently the case in US adventure drama (see Irwin Allen-produced ‘60s series such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants) the aliens are given advanced scientific capabilities that equate to their being blessed with semi-magical powers, and, between them, they dress in a campy rainbow-spectrum of coverall colours, offset with flamboyant gold lamé neck-chiefs. They can read minds (naturally!) and have a small control device, for some reason given the acronym TLC, which can slow down time, enabling the aliens to move so quickly from place to place that it appears to anyone still living in a normal time-frame that they’re actually teleporting from one spot to another. They are essentially peaceful, yet regularly kidnap human ‘specimens’ and subject them to investigatory experiments and examinations (Johnson is clearly drawing on the alien abduction phenomenon, which became common currency during the 1960s, although only really ‘took off' as a cultural phenomenon in the ‘80s, after the publication of Whitley Strieber’s book “Communion”) then release them back at the spot where they were originally abducted by the Bigfoot creature (it’s not entirely certain if he’s a robot or a bionically augmented primitive life form from Earth’s pre-history)  with their memories completely wiped -- although the colony’s chief medical officer, Shalon (a memorable turn for a big-haired Stefanie Powers), seems to be using her interest in human-made bionics during a biological examination of a very naked Steve Austin here, as cover for a much more erotic interest in the good Colonel --  and even the head of the alien base comments on how fine a specimen he is at one point!

Shalon (Stephanie Powers) gets frisky
Johnson’s introduction of Bigfoot, who was played by a huge, French ex-wrestler called André the Giant (still a striking sight when the performer is finally revealed in the episode, dressed in his Sasquatch ape suit and sporting fake sharpened fangs and white contact lenses -- the latter anticipating elements of the look later developed for Lou Ferrigno in Johnson’s adaptation for TV of The Incredible Hulk) is where the science fiction and superhero elements already existent in the series previously, become mixed in with b-movie monster matinee  clichés as well, but in a flagrantly reverential manner that harks back to the Republic serials of Johnson’s own childhood. When combined with jeopardy gleaned from an unstable Californian fault line which, for the purposes of the plot, is suddenly about to give birth to a major earthquake of devastating destruction, the story begins to resemble a classic Saturday morning children’s adventure series in which a 1950s-style optimistic belief that technology can come up with an instant answer for nature’s awesome power is expressed in the most naive way.
Making friends with sultry red haired aliens and cyborg
In this instance, the answer 'science' delivers is to divert the path of the quake by detonating a 50 megaton nuclear device underground without there being any acknowledgement of the aftereffects such an explosion would lead to, all of  which would probably be as bad as the earthquake itself. Indeed, the main plot line involves Oscar having to make the decision to detonate the bomb in precisely the area in which Steve went missing in order to diver the energy of the quake in time, and since it is Steve himself who eventually has to stop Shalon from sabotaging it (the explosion would destroy her race's underground base, which is less acceptable to the aliens than the loss of thousands of human lives), he’s inevitably still in the area when the bomb actually goes off. And yet it causes nothing more serious than a rock slide! The underground base even survives after all, with Steve and Bigfoot joining forces to restore its power supply and dig out injured alien survivors. Even more unlikely is the fact that Steve suffers no effects from the massive dose of radiation he should have received – despite the fact that he would have been instantly vaporised anyway had a real nuclear blast of such a magnitude been detonated in his vicinity.

"I like you better when you're on my side!" Steve and Bigfoot get
Despite such inconsistencies, the two Bigfoot episodes of Season Three represent one of the very peaks of the entire series overall, along with Jaime Sommers in Season Two and the introduction, in sync with The Bionic Woman, of Season Four’s jaw-droppingly camp ‘Fembots’ -- by which time the comic book aesthetic was beginning to get out of hand and storylines sometimes suffered as a result of writers struggling to keep coming up with memorable material. It’s a common enough problem, affecting many long-running series in which the format is able to accommodate a certain amount of fantastical content: the longer a show successfully runs, the more it tends to tilt towards the end of the scale marked ‘deranged’!  Season Four was to be the point at which the show began overtly marketing Lee Majors as a male sex symbol, and where many of the stories and plot lines went even farther down the road marked whimsy. Several served as try outs for a couple more ill-fated attempts at creating spin-off shows, although this time these efforts came to nothing. But we’ll be looking at all this and more during the next post.



  1. Browsing your images before reading. The caption for "Winning Smile" should indicate Callahan's second appearance. She makes her debut in the last episode of second season, "Steve Austin, Fugitive."

  2. Hi! Thanks for pointing that out. I've now changed the caption.

  3. I totally forgot that Bigfoot looked like a vampire caveman.