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.


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Wicker Tree Screening and Q & A

Description: Description: Description: Description: wicker man titleFROM THE CREATORS OF THE CULT CLASSIC

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Description: Description: Description: Description: abd1020 The Wicker Tree DVD 3DDescription: Description: Description: Description: abb8076 The Wicker Tree BR 3D WEB

DIRECTOR Robin Hardy

STARRING Graham McTavish, Britannia Nicol, Henry Garrett, Honeysuckle Weeks, Jacqueline Leonard

And a special guest appearance by

Sir Christopher Lee


1973 saw the release of one of the most famous horror films of all time – The Wicker Man, which is now regarded as a classic of British cinema. Now, 39 years later, comes the most anticipated horror film of 2012 – The Wicker Tree. Once again directed by Robin Hardy and featuring a guest appearance from the legendary Sir Christopher Lee, this new haunting film welcomes us to a new terror starring Graham McTavish (Rambo, 2008 and the upcoming The Hobbit, 2013), Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle’s War), Henry Garrett (Red Tails), British favourite Jacqueline Leonard (Chaplin, Doctors) and introducing Britannia Nicol in her stunning acting debut.


A Texas gospel singer and her boyfriend, both devout evangelical Christians, are sent to Scotland on a mission to spread the word of God. After a concert in Glasgow Cathedral the pair are invited by Sir Lachlan Morrison (McTavish) to preach in his remote border village. They assume their host simply wants to hear more about the Bible and are delighted when offered central roles in the fiefdom’s May Day celebrations, especially their custom of the Riding of the Laddie. But soon the horrifying reality dawns on the naïve couple as they learn the true significance of the Celtic pagan rites.

Re-live the brilliance of the 1973 original on the big screen followed by a Q&A with the film’s director Robin Hardy. Additional guests to be announced.

Then be prepared for one of the most anticipated films in horror-film history with the opening night screening of   The Wicker Tree.
The event will be attended by stars from the film as well as some very special guests, including Sir Christopher Lee. Tickets are available now -

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Six Million Dollar Diary Part Three: SERIES TWO (1975)

Jaime's back in town: Lindsay Wagner in The Bionic Woman
(Part II)
Season two of The Six Million Dollar Man was really one in which refinement and consolidation of the basic episodic TV formula, already successfully established in the Sam Strangis and Donald R. Boyle-produced first mini season, was the name of the game. With Lionel E. Siegel and Joe L. Cramer now taking over production duties, the series continued with a solid run of adventures which steadily cemented the success of the show, many of which drew more heavily on science fiction themes and weird science as the season progressed. Look alike substitutions and robotic doubles feature heavily once again, as do alien visitors with mind reading powers and -- a particular seventies obsession this, given the rise of Uri Geller during the period -- ESP-related industrial spies and their nefarious activities. The entrenchment of the close family-like relationship between the male trio of regular characters, consisting of Steve Austin (Lee Majors), OSI chief Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and bionics expert Dr Rudy Wells (Alan Oppenheimer), is clearly an on-going concern as the series advances; the relationship between Steve and Oscar in particular, continues to be portrayed as an unusually close one for the genre: in the episode Look Alike Oscar happily leaves his office unattended with its secret vault-full of top secret files still accessible, trusting Steve to lock up after him, so completely does he trust the Colonel (which is unfortunate in this instance because this ‘Steve’ is in fact an ex-boxer turned small-time crook, who’s had plastic surgery to make him look like Oscar’s bionic pal!). 

Troubled teenage psychic, Audrey Moss (Robbie Lee), helps
out the Government in The E.S.P Spy
In Return of the Robot Maker,
Steve and Oscar are even shown going out to dinner in a fancy restaurant on a double date with two young ladies, while in The Peeping Blonde Steve tags along on Oscar’s camper van vacation, where he plans to spend time relaxing by riding his home-built dune buggy around the Californian deserts while Oscar indulges his passion for amateur archaeology! Sequences like these indicate that, by now, the production team and writers were beginning to realise that they could take the audience’s acceptance of Steve and his boss being the best of buddies for granted. The ‘substitute family’ theme is reinforced by the complete absence of any reference to actual family members being present in Oscar Goldman’s life at all, at least thus far in the series. This is in contrast to Steve, whose mother, already played by Martha Scott in the season one story The Coward, returns once more for two of the most iconic episodes in the entire five series run, along with the introduction of Steve’s affable step dad Jim Elgin (Ford Rainey).

These two late season episodes introduced another member into the Six Million Dollar Man family, and arguably constitute the point at which the series really started to capture the imagination of the public in a special way. The appearance of Steve Austin’s childhood sweetheart Jaime Sommers in the two-part episode The Bionic Woman, not only catapulted the series into the forefront of consciousness as a top rated US show, it brought to a head an emerging motif of series two in which the close relationship between Steve and Oscar is often seen threatened with disruption, coming either from outside interference or as a consequence of the danger that's always inherent in their professional relationship. It also resulted in a different kind of emphasis being introduced into the series, which had more emotional depth and resonated with the viewers and fans to such an extent that it would result in The Bionic Woman writer Kenneth Johnson taking over the production duties on the third season and heading up a spin-off series that put Jaime right at the centre of her own set of bionic adventures.

Carol Lawrence awaits certain doom as Steve battles to avert
nuclear disaster aboard a nose-diving jet in Nuclear Alert
Before we get to that though, an early indication of just how the dangers of Steve’s job and the responsibilities of Oscar’s office could result in difficult decisions having to be made despite the team's close friendship, comes at the end of the first episode of the new season, Nuclear Alert. Charged with driving a truck across the Los Angeles interstate, transporting a vital component for an atomic bomb which the OSI believes is to be stolen to order for a jerry built nuclear device, reportedly being sold on the black market, Steve ends up a prisoner on-board a jet that's in the control of the rogue American nuclear scientist responsible for this treachery. Unable to risk the now-fully operational device being dropped from the craft, or its being sold-on to enemy states, Oscar is forced to authorise the destruction of the jet by military aircraft, even though Steve is still aboard. Steve manages to gain control of the jet by kicking out the doors and using his bionic strength to hold on while his enemies are sucked out of the hatch to their doom, afterwards disabling the device and reporting the crisis averted to ground control with only ten seconds to spare before missiles were due to take down the craft.

Crazed astronaut boffin David Tate (Mike Farrell) attacks Steve
and Dr Wells in The Pioneers.
In the episode The Pioneers we get the first indication that both Oscar and Rudy Wells are involved in secret cutting edge scientific research that might potentially be thought by some to take their work beyond the limits of acceptable moral norms, and which not even Steve knows anything about. The two certainly break a few ethics committee rules laid down by the Government in their sponsorship and funding of secret research into cryogenic freezing processes intended to facilitate deep space exploration; and only tell Steve about it at all when things go drastically wrong and his help is needed in cleaning up the mess by, effectively, covering the whole thing up to save their careers!  Scientists David Tate (Mike Farrell) and Nicole Simmons (Joan Darling) have developed a special cell regeneration serum which aids the body's recovery from the cryogenic state. Convinced of its importance they persuade Oscar to let them test it out by volunteering to spend a year frozen in space while they orbit the Earth in a space capsule. When the launch goes wrong and the craft crash lands in a wooded area of North America, Tate’s cryogenic chamber is contaminated by an overdose of the serum, giving him fearsome strength, but also sending him into violent seizures during which he is liable to attack anyone he comes across. At the end of an episode in which Steve fails to save the beleaguered scientist from succumbing to the effects of the serum, Oscar is ruthlessly self-excoriating about his own responsibility for the tragedy. It’s up to Steve to reassure him that he is a pioneer, and that the dead man was fully accepting of the risks and wanted to take them for the advancement of humanity and science. 

Steve feels some affinity for the two scientific test subjects, but as well as his thankfulness for the fact that his life was saved by Oscar's Cyborg program, we're reminded of the loneliness and sense of separateness from the rest of humanity his unique bionic status inevitably leaves him with, and how that loneliness has to largely remain secret because no one can know about bionics.  

Only an alien Meg Foster could learn to love Steve Austin's wide
lapel, open-necked shirt and denim leisure suit with flared
bell bottoms! From Straight On 'Til Morning.
Oscar’s self-flagellating guilt and his apparent conversion to the belief that science doesn’t have the right to advance at any cost seems to have gone completely out the window, though, only a few episodes later, in Straight On ‘Til Morning.
This was the first episode to take the futuristic basis of the show completely into the realm of full-on Sci-Fi of a type that was only hinted at in the season one episode Burning Bright -- rather than sticking with the exaggerated science fantasy represented by lifelike robots and such like.

A family of peaceful, silvery skinned alien explorers crash lands in California. Stranded on Earth with no hope of returning home, they are being slowly poisoned by the atmosphere -- and they in turn cannot even so much as be touched by human hands without causing instant critical illness to the contactee. The first disagreement between Oscar and Steve in this episode comes in relation to their respective views on the veracity of UFOs. Oscar doesn’t believe in them, but Steve, being a regular 1970s kind of a guy, seems to accept at face value the decade's pop culture obsession with all things paranormal or extra-terrestrial, and claims to have once seen a UFO himself on one of his NASA space walks. Furthermore, in the episode The E.S.P Spy, Austin turns out to be more clued up on the ‘science’ of telepathy than his boss, who dismisses it all as trickery until Steve arranges a demonstration with schoolgirl telepath Audrey Moss, who proves able to read his thoughts and report them word-for-word, although with all ‘the expletives deleted!’

In Straight On ‘Til Morning meanwhile, Steve ignores Oscar’s advice to forget the previous night’s UFO reports and sets out on his own investigation, aiding the Sheriff’s office hunt down the four strange-looking individuals who have left a number of people in the area critically ill or dead after their encounter with them. One recurrent theme of the series is Steve’s penchant for a pretty blonde ... and so he quickly builds up a natural rapport with winsome telepathic alien (and the daughter of the alien family being hunted) Minonee (Meg Foster), aided by the fact that his bionic arm enables him to hold her hand without injury, although that’s as far as alien/human contact can go in this case. Conflict between Steve and Oscar again arises when Steve promises to get Minonee -- who is by now the only surviving member of the alien family -- onto the OSI’s latest space probe, due for launch that same day. Oscar wants to keep her on Earth to study her further, even though it would mean certain death for the pretty alien. Eventually, the two men’s friendship wins out over Oscar’s scientific curiosity, but there are some heated scenes between the two before they’re finally reconciled and Minonee is allowed to re-join her own people after being smuggled secretly onto the probe, with only Steve and Oscar being aware of her presence there. 

More expensive than Steve, but unstable and power mad, Barney Miller
(Monte Markham) is The Seven Million Dollar Man.
Markham was 'Cyborg' author Martin Caidin's original choice for the role
of his creation, Steve Austin.

A far more serious potential for conflict in Oscar Goldman and Steve Austin’s friendship arises in the episode The Seven Million Dollar Man. Here Steve discovers that both Oscar and Dr Wells, his two closest friends in the world, have for some time been deceiving him, after he notices with his bionic eye Wells’ top nurse, Carla Peterson (Maggie Sullivan), handing over a restricted audio tape of his latest psychological evaluation session to a mysterious man on OSI grounds. Despite the fact that Steve once had a brief romance with Carla during his recuperation in the period after his post-crash operation (presumably this is meant to be the series’ own version of the relationship between Steve and nurse Jean Manners from the pilot TV movie), she continues to lie about handing over the tape; and, even stranger, Oscar and Dr Wells both back her up by trying to claim that the tape isn’t really missing, despite being unwilling to allow him to see or hear it so that he might confirm this 'fact' for himself, and despite Oscar soon-after sacking nurse Peterson from her post!

Barney's superior powers appear to have defeated his only rival
in The Seven Million Dollar Man.
Eventually, Steve discovers the amazing truth: Oscar and Wells have created another bionic man as part of their on-going Project Cyborg: racing driver Barney Miller (Monte Markham) has had both of his arms and legs replaced with bionics at a cost of $7 million after a racing accident! The trouble is Barney hasn’t been adjusting to his new cyborg status in the months since the operation, so Carla stole the psychological evaluation tape to try to show Barney that it was possible for him to one day come out the other side of his depressed state the way Steve has managed to. After Steve makes it clear that he’s deeply shocked by the fact that Oscar was keeping this whole thing a secret from him and that he then tried to lie about it, the OSI head tries to reassure him of their friendship, but claims that sometimes it is necessary for him to have to lie about certain things. Ultimately, this episode is designed to drum home the fact that not everybody is mentally equipped for the bionic life and emphasis Steve’s compassionate nature and level-headedness. Barney Miller is recruited, like Steve before him and like Jaime Sommers will be in the future, on the understanding that he will take part in secret OSI espionage missions for the Government, but he quickly proves himself too unstable to be effective; he gets ‘high’ on his new physical powers and indulges in excessive violence just for the buzz he gains from it.

The final "battle of the bionics" in The Seven Million Dollar
Eventually Steve and Oscar agree that Barney’s bionic powers will have to be permanently reduced and Barney returned to civilian life. But the power-crazed ex racer reacts by setting out to destroy all the OSI files and computer records on the science of bionics, so that Oscar won’t be able to create any more bionic agents in the future, and forcing him to retain Barney's services for an extortionate fee of his own choosing. In one of their many confrontations, Barney attempts to play on the fact that despite Oscar and Steve's friendship, Steve is, to some extent, still Oscar’s pet project: ‘Did you really think that when the great Oscar Goldman pushed one of his little buttons and ordered up you, his brand new bionic gadget -- did you really think he ordered only one of a kind? … Wrong!’

The classic 'which is the real me' split screen scene in Return of the
Robot Maker
If these kinds of moral and professional problems aren’t quite enough to be going on with, there are other potential sources of conflict caused by the devious machinations of OSI enemies and various criminal gangs.
There are two such instances that stand out in this series: in Return of the Robot Maker Dr Chester Dolenz (Henry Jones) returns to the series for a third time after his failed plan to replace Steve’s friend, Major Sloan, with a robot in the season one story Day of the Robot, and his subsequent attempt to incapacitate Steve in another episode from the first season, Run, Steve, Run. Here he sets out to kill Colonel Austin, setting up the plan by first kidnapping Oscar and replacing him with another of his lifelike robot replicas. Dolenz has been making some improvements to his machines since their last sighting, in response to Steve having previously accused them of giving themselves away by their ‘squeaking’! Aside from Oscar's sudden ability to down a cup of scolding hot coffee in one gulp, Steve suspects nothing, and even goes on a double date with his pal without any obvious sign from the impostor to give his robot-ness away. Dr Dolenz has even installed an incinerator in the chest cavity so that the Oscar robot can now eat and drink while secretly getting rid of the waste.

Hooking the real Oscar up to a somewhat casually introduced thought-reading machine (!) enables the doc to obtain his high security password for gaining entry into Fort McAllister: a US military base where a new form of energy is being developed as part of the top secret Brahmin project. So hush-hush is this project that the base is protected by an impregnable array of sensors and weapons: mines, alarms, automated machine gun turrets and electrified fences. The robot Oscar falsely tells Steve that a computer simulation has predicated that a bionic man might be able to breach the fort’s defences. He informs him that an exercise has been prepared to test this assertion, in which the machine guns’ ammunition will be replaced by blanks, and the mines by harmless explosive charges. Of course, this is all a lie – and Steve will, in actuality, unknowingly be up against the base’s entire armoury and the full might of its defence systems.

Meanwhile, the robot Oscar will be secretly micro-filming the Brahmin Project files at the fort while its personnel are preoccupied with their apparent intruder! Luckily for Steve, a fellow OSI agent, Barney Barnes (Troy Melton), has persuaded him to try out a bunch of his latest gadgets on the mission, and in one of those all very convenient plot developments, his bullet-proof glove, feather-light bullet-proof vest, suitcase-full of bombs and radio-disguised-as-a-pen transmitter, all turn out to be more than useful on the particular mission in hand, in addition to his bionic powers. After tracking down Dr Dolenz (having survived the attempt on his life), Steve has to figure out which Oscar is the real one and then face off against the super-strength robot version of his best pal.

The real Oscar Goldman would never lose his head in a crisis. Richard
 Anderson in Return of the Robot Maker.
Steve meets another of Oscar's protegees: Marcus Grayson -
aka boxing champ George Foreman.
The opposite problem occurs in the episode Look Alike. A former boxer called Johnny Dine gets involved with some hoods who recruit their muscle from gyms and training halls in poor working class districts. The organisation is out to steal a file on secret laser technology from Oscar’s office, and to do so they pay to have Johnny surgically altered to make him look exactly like Steve Austin. They wait until Steve’s away on his annual fishing holiday out in the sticks and manage to inveigle the fake Steve into Oscar’s confidence after the fake bionic agent explains away his early return from his vacation by claiming he has a bad cold (which also accounts for his voice being slightly more gravelly than usual). The gang behind the operation make the mistake of trying to assassinate the real Steve Austin, thereby alerting him to the fact that something is up. He returns to find Oscar showing his double around a top secret OSI facility in the city, but the fake is killed in a road accident during his attempt to escape. Steve is thus able to assume the identity of his boxing double in order to try and infiltrate the organisation and find out who is behind the scheme, as well as take back some photographs Johnny managed to pass to his bosses before his exposure. Incidentally, this episode is also noticeable for its high profile special guest actor: two-time heavyweight US boxing champion, George Foreman, who plays fellow OSI agent Marcus Grayson. This boxing themed story ends with an amusing concluding punch-up with the baddies in the middle of a stadium boxing ring, with Steve and Grayson disposing of an army of heavies by themselves, and Grayson complementing Steve on the power of his right hook!
Farrah Fawcett-Majors as news reporter Victoria Webster in The
Peeping Blonde
If there is one outside influence on the usually stable male trio of Steve Austin, Oscar Goldman and Dr Rudy Wells, which threatens on several occasions in this series to irrevocably alter the dynamic of their relationship forever, its women; who, naturally, tend to be drawn to the heroic former astronaut with bionic powers with some regularity. Steve Austin has a bit of a thing for elusive, willowy blondes it seems: during the season one episode The Rescue of Athena One, he was called upon to train the first ever woman astronaut, in the form of photogenic blonde bombshell Kelly Woods, who was played by his wife at the time Farrah Fawcett-Majors. The actress would thereafter go on to make regular guest appearances on the show, but each time playing different characters. In this season’s The Peeping Blonde she plays ambitious TV anchor woman and reporter Victoria Webster, who inadvertently stumbles upon, and captures on film, Steve demonstrating his bionic powers while she's covering a routine NASA space probe launch. She tries to use the footage as a bargaining chip in order to obtain an exclusive interview with Steve in which he will publicly reveal his bionic powers for the first time. She claims that bionics is such an amazing technological breakthrough that it should be widely publicised, as it has the potential to transform the lives of millions of other people as well. Oscar and Steve suspect selfish motives of advancement on her part and Oscar reveals that it might be necessary to take ‘drastic action’ against Webster in order to stop the film coming to light. But Steve is clearly attracted to the feisty reporter, and despite her methods and the ambiguous motivations driving her to attempted blackmail, he persuades Oscar to cut her a little slack, inviting her on their joint vacation, during which they will spend time attempting to make her change her mind by informing her that exposing Steve’s powers publicly will only make him a target for every major criminal organisation in the world.

Lee Majors and guest artist wife Farrah-Fawcett in The Peeping
The episode becomes a tussle between Steve’s heart and his brain; and between Victoria’s career ambitions and her developing relationship with Steve as a man rather than as a meal ticket to promotion. It also offers an interesting perspective on gender relations in the mid-seventies with its faltering and ambivalent attempt to portray sympathetically the ambitions of an independent woman trying to make her own way in a male-centric world. Victoria Webster's boss at the TV station (Roger Perry) routinely patronises her, and also expects her to submit to his romantic advances in return for letting her stories on the air (it also later emerges that he’s sold her film of Steve to some criminals, who, just as Oscar feared, soon set out to capture him); and she knows she’s only tolerated at all because she’s conventionally pretty -- but yet she yearns to be taken seriously as a journalist as well. The episode remains conflicted about these kinds of career ambitions in a woman though, and there is a clear subtext which suggests that such ambitions have made her hard and cynical and therefore unfeminine (which is automatically assumed to be a bad thing). Steve Austin as a character embodies something of a traditionalist attitude to the role of women and relationships between the sexes, despite his willingness to try and understand the others’ points of view. During one of their arguments over whether or not her film should be broadcast to the public, he comments on how her Southern accent comes out when she’s angry, prompting Victoria to ironically take on a girly and homely ‘Southern Belle’ persona for a second, before stating that he’d probably prefer her if she acted that way all the time, to which Steve admits that indeed he might!

Taming the feminine beast in Taneha
There’s an even more extreme example of Steve’s traditionalist attitude towards women’s roles in the conservationist themed episode Taneha, in which Steve is asked by an injured mountain ranger friend of his to help try and save a species of rare Cougar from being killed by hunters who have been employed by local farmers in the mountains who've recently have had their sheep killed by the predator. The animal's habitat and hunting ground lies on the edge of a small town much like the one Steve grew up in. He goes there to find his guide, who turns out to be a beautiful young woman, E. J. Haskell (Jess Walton), harbouring dreams of killing the cougar herself as a tribute to her trapper father who earlier perished also trying to hunt it down. E.J. is a strong, 'feisty' independent woman who can hold her own against any of the other trappers out looking for the beast, but by the end of the episode it is strongly suggested that this tough persona is the result of some kind of warped desire to be ‘like a man’ induced by a subconscious need to complete her father’s unfinished business. In the end, Steve helps her to see that killing the cougar won’t help slay her own ‘demons’; and by instead joining him to capture and preserve the beast rather than kill it, he also helps re-feminise her. The episode ends with Steve and E.J. sitting on the steps of the town hall, watching life drift by in the hazy summer sun, as though they were small town boyfriend and girlfriend; and in this image Steve’s small town sentimentalism is presented in its most prominent form thus far in the series.

This emphasis on Steve’s fondness of the American small town, and a foregrounding of the character’s homely values as counterpoint to his ultra-modern and scientifically advanced physical enhancement; his sentimental attitude to family relationships and the surrogate role Oscar and Rudy play as members of his new bionic-centred family; and, finally, the threat of disruption to that latter relationship, which comes whenever the two sides of Steve’s makeup are brought into conflict with each other: these are all themes that are finally brought to a head and reach their full expression in the two-part episode The Bionic Woman.  

The episode begins unlike any other episode so far, with a lilting country song playing on the soundtrack (the vocalist is non-other than Lee Majors himself!) as Steve Austin’s distinctive red corvette drives into the rural Californian town of Ojai, which even has a roadside sign welcoming its visitors that reads: ‘Welcome to Ojai, home of American astronaut, Steven Austin’.

Steve is returning to his home town during a short break in his work for the OSI. Here he plans to buy his own ranch and catch up with his mother and stepdad who still live in the area, neither of whom knows anything about his bionic powers. The writer of this two part story, Kenneth Johnson (who later also became producer on season three) introduced the term ‘pocket bionics’ to the show’s conceptual armoury here. This is where minor displays of bionics, usually performed in a domestic situation and with a whimsical or comedic intent, are utilised in order to keep Steve’s bionic power in use and at the forefront of attention, even when the actual storyline has no need of it. Thus this episode has Steve singlehandedly doing up his new ranch in super-speeded up time and being reluctant to accept when his aging Stepdad offers to help out (‘you’re acting like you could do it quicker by yourself!’); and when his mom wants help moving her kitchen refrigerator so she can sweep behind it, she’s nonplussed when she finds Steve has apparently achieved the task alone while she was out!
Idyllic childhood days rekindled. Lee Majors & Lindsay Wagner
are the perfect couple in The Bionic Woman.
This episode requires copious bionic ‘reminders’ such as these to retain the interest of younger viewers because the focus of the story is uniquely unconcerned with the series’ usual business of bionically hunting down various shades of criminal gangs and spies. There is a traditional white-suited counterfeiter and his similarly clothed henchman (played by Malachi Throne and Paul Carr respectively), but they make only token appearances to set up future business after the pre-titles sequence in which Steve is seen retrieving a bill printing plate stolen by the bad guys, after which the mastermind of the operation then vows to find out who he really is and exact revenge.
 Instead, most of the first episode is more a quite character piece than anything usually seen in episodic adventure TV: while strolling around town and relaxing in his casual, off-duty cardigan, Steve stumbles on his childhood sweetheart, one Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) in the park. Like Steve, she grew up to be one of the town’s few celebrities, a pro-tennis champ who’s won various events such as Wimbledon in her time (‘Jaime's the most important person that ever came out of our town … Except for that astronaut guy!’ burbles a girl fan to Steve, while watching Jaime play) but who has, unlike Steve, continued to live in the town she grew up in, where the two originally met and became inseparable all those years ago.  

A freak accident requires bionic intervention for Jaime
Sommers (Lindsay Wagner).
The series idealisation of quaint, small town values and a previously established preference (in episodes such as The Peeping Blonde and Lost Love -- the latter being one in which Steve again meets up with a former flame, this time played by Linda Marsh) for pretty, girl-next-door blondes, both combine to ensure that Steve Austin is soon completely smitten with the grown-up-home-town-girl-made-good that is Jaime Sommers; the two pursue a gentle courtship in true romantic movie fashion, with Steve all the while attempting to keep his bionics a secret. Unfortunately, one of their dates involves a spot of skydiving and the inevitable accident occurs in which Sommers’ chute malfunctions above a forest glade. She plummets to the ground and, in a perverse coincidence that echoes Steve's own accident two years earlier, and which would make anyone think they were merely characters in a melodramatic TV script, loses both of her legs, her right arm and her right ear. Naturally, Steve petitions Oscar to make Jaime bionic just like him, but the OSI boss is unwilling. He reminds Steve that he can’t authorise such an expensive operation without having to also recruit Jaime and thereafter require her to go on exactly the same kinds of dangerous mission Steve is regularly expected to carry out. He knows that even though Steve claims to be okay with this, he’ll agree to anything at the present moment just to see Jaime made better, and that when the time comes it will be different: he won’t want to see the woman he loves ever put in danger, even for his best pal, Oscar.
Difficult bedside explainations.
Romance bionic style.
As always Oscar’s steadfast friendship with Steve, and the great sorrow his refusal causes his pal, eventually see him capitulating to Steve’s insistent demands. The operation is carried out and, after a period of angst and readjustment, Jaime proves far more emotionally adaptable than did Barney Miller, the race car driver from The Seven Million Dollar Man. Cue frequent montage sequences accompanied by a rather dreadful ballad, sung by Lee Majors himself, called “Sweet Jaime”. (Sweet Jaime, I'll love you forever, I know we'll never part, I love you like I've loved no other, Make room for me in your heart) During the time covered by these scenes, Steve helps Jaime adapt to her new bionic powers by indulging in a lot of track-suited slow motion running with her. The show’s earlier adoption of the slow motion visual motif as a way of portraying high-speed bionics becomes blurred here with its more traditional usage in schmaltzy romantic drama; Jaime and Steve are frequently seen running together in slow motion while accompanied by Oliver Nelson’s romantic cues, and on one level they’re the most sentimental film romance clichés imaginable; but, at the same time, they do portray and indicate the two characters practicing their bionic skills, as is emphasised when Steve’s mother catches the couple sprinting at high speed through the fields around Steve’s ranch when she unexpectedly comes to pay the childhood sweethearts a visit. At this point the traditional family dynamic has been re-established in Steve’s life: he has his homestead ranch, parents living nearby who both adore the love of his life and come to accept the couple's bionic status, the familiarity of the town he grew up in and, soon, a marriage is also on the horizon. Steve’s life with Oscar, Rudy and the OSI seems but a mere memory that’s rapidly fading in importance.
The romantic dream is interrupted.
Bionic meltdown. Jaime Sommers at the end of the road.
This story was originally pitched as an attempt to fashion the series’ own version of Arthur Hiller’s popular film Love Story (1970), which had starred Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw. Writer Ken Johnson was always of the opinion that an option to bring Jaime Sommers back for future episodes should be kept in mind, but Universal were adamant that the character should be killed off at the end of the two-part story in true weepie style. All good tear jerkers need a dark cloud to emerge on the horizon eventually, and The Bionic Woman establishes early on that all is not quite as it should be with Jaime’s bionic powers; at first it looks as though her bionic arm needs slight adjustment, but soon Jaime is experiencing random bouts of of pain in her head and sudden personality shifts; then her bionic hand develops a tendency to go all wibbly without warning. Soon, Oscar turns up looking grim-faced, and informs the couple that their wedding will have to be postponed: he has an urgent job for them both involving the white suited mastermind Joseph Wrona, who is once again busy with his counterfeiting activities. Wrona has also been able to track down Steve -- just as he once vowed he would -- after his wedding to Jaime was announced in Ojai’s local paper, so the criminal is already preparing an ambush for the couple. Although Steve and Jaime do successfully complete their mission, Jaime experiences a loss of control during the job that jeopardises their escape and which really brings the extent of her bionic teething troubles to Steve’s attention for the first time. Back home, Dr Rudy Wells delivers the bad news: Jaime's body is rejecting her bionics and she will certainly die unless operated upon immediately.

"I love you Jaime ... I've always loved you." A final farewell to
Jaime Sommers. Or is it?
We all remember the spin-off series The Bionic Woman, in which Lindsay Wagner’s adventures ran parallel to and sometimes crossed over with those of Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man, until both series were cancelled together three years later. But this franchise extension was never an planned intention from the beginning. The character was meant to be killed off at the end of these initial episodes and that was supposed to have been that. But such was Jaime Sommers’ popularity with viewers (and the chemistry between Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner was undoubtedly strong, despite the over-sentimentalised portrayal of their characters’ developing relationship) that Universal were quick to go back on the original plan and resurrect her from the dead at the beginning of series three, in preparation for the start of her main spin-off series, which began airing soon after. But it’s easy to forget just how grim the character’s fate originally was, and was intended to be: with her body rejecting her bionics, Jaime’s brain is tormented by horrific pain that shreds her nerves until she has a massive cerebral haemorrhage! The writer of this episode, Ken Johnson, later went on to create The Incredible Hulk for TV , a series which essayed a similar mix of romantic melodrama and slow motion action, even featuring, in its pilot TV film version, a similar conclusion to this two-part episode, set in a rain storm, with dramatic thunder and lightning occurring as Jaime blacks out for the last time in the arms of her helpless fiancé.
A final scene on the operating table, concluding with a flat-lining Jaime being wheeled away after an emotional last farewell from Steve, would appear to offer no way back for the character. But Ken Johnson’s ingenuity and knack for outlandishly unlikely twists of plot come into their own in the series three opener, entitled The Return of the Bionic Woman … but that is a story to be continued at a later date.