Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Six Million Dollar Diary Part Five: SERIES FOUR

The Return of Bigfoot also sees the debut of Steve Austin's
hideous moustache
Season four of The Six Million Dollar Man is a curious beast. Over the course of three previous series, the show had pretty successfully managed to negotiate all of the safer ground -- from action drama and adventure, through to science fiction -- for which its versatile format was best suited, with relative comfort. But now, having apparently exhausted the relevant spectrum of story types available to it, the series seems to shift gears as it starts to strain at the boundaries that normally determine the rules governing the genres across which it had been ranging widely for quite some time. On a few occasions, this leads to a sort of self-aware kitsch quality invading a handful of these episodes; while at other times the militaristic, macho/action side of the equation (which was inevitably always a strong factor in the style of the show) is excessively ramped up, and Lee Majors’ sex appeal as a hairy-chested air force hunk who likes sport gets highlighted much more prominently than it was before. All this was part of an understandable effort to maintain the show’s audience share in a fiercely competitive arena, but at around this time it also appears to have been starting to get difficult to find new angles on an increasingly familiar format; the drama -- whether sci-fi or action-orientated -- was being pushed to extremes and entering a region of more pronounced fantasy as a result. The process had really started with “the Bigfoot episodes” in season three, but it reaches its zenith here in the three-part extravaganza of camp that is Kill Oscar. At the end of this particular run of episodes, though, the series' spin-off, The Bionic Woman, was to be cancelled by the ABC network, despite several high profile cross-over stories (such as the latter), that make a big impact during the first half of season 4 of The Six Million Dollar Man, and which had been designed with a view to maintaining an interest in the franchise as a whole. The Bionic Woman would go on to find a new home at rival channel NBC for one more season, but this development also prohibited a close association between the two productions continuing, something which had previously served the duel functions of allowing Lindsay Wagner and Lee Majors to maintain a mutual presence in each other’s respective shows, while also reminding viewers of their characters’ shared history. From hereon, both shows would be forced to fend for themselves ... 

There is one new development in season four, though, which makes its presence immediately apparent and certainly caused some degree of consternation when, as a Steve Austin obsessed eight-year-old, I first sat down to watch the opening episode, The Return of Bigfoot (a two-part story where the second instalment also acted as season opener for the second series of The Bionic Woman): the imperturbably cool bionic hero was now seen proudly sporting, without anyone ever commenting upon it's incongruous presence, a distracting piece of facial ornamentation on his upper lip! I remember being horrified by Steve Austin’s moustache at the time, although it seems a trivial matter to get so worked up over now. It's just that Majors’ new look somehow didn’t feel right for the character of Steve Austin as far as my former eight-year-old self was concerned; and there does seem a vaguely defined sense in which this small detail of recalcitrance in the facial grooming department  also becomes a symbol for how Majors was possibly starting to act bigger than the show and throwing his 'star' weight around behind the scenes. It always feels to me, even now, as though it is Lee Majors to whom this on-screen moustache truly belongs, and not Steve Austin! The actor apparently grew the offending article without first okaying it with the show’s producers, who were none too pleased when they found out about it (after belatedly reviewing the dailies for the first episodes of that coming season) because  it meant that episodes from across different season batches could no longer now be as seamlessly mixed & matched when it came to the running of repeats.

The only person with more hair than either Steve Austin or
John Saxon in The Return of Bigfoot: Ted Cassidy is the new,
even more powerful Sasquatch.
You’d have thought Jaime Sommers might have had a gentle word in his ear about it before the facial fungus got out of hand, but The Return of Bigfoot sees both the Bionic Woman and Steve Austin faced with more immediately perplexing problems … such as a renegade gang of criminal aliens led by a hirsute John Saxon, who’ve stolen the Bigfoot cyborg and have started using him to commit a series of daring raids on sensitive institutions, including banks that've been holding vital reserves of gold bullion and secret nuclear power centres. This is Saxon’s second appearance on the show following his memorable stint as a remote-controlled robot in season one. This time he’s hiding behind a bushy beard and playing Nedlick -- formerly one of the group of peaceful alien scientists that set up its hidden research base under the California Mountains and which were encountered by Steve in the season three story The Secret of Bigfoot. Nedlick and his cohorts have gone bad, and want to take control of the Earth away from ‘inferior’ humans. They’ve already damaged the power generator sustaining their original outpost in order to stop their former comrades from pursuing them, and they’ve also taken control of the mighty Sasquatch by making the simple creature believe that the life of his mistress Shalon (Stephanie Powers) depends on him following their orders. Sasquatch has been carrying out the raids for Nedlick’s group, who are planning on using the components they’ve managed to obtain in order to devise a shield to protect their New Mexican base while they drill farther into a geothermal vent with the intent to tap its great power as part of their bid for world domination. Unfortunately, as viewers of The Secret of Bigfoot will doubtless remember, Steve had all memory of his adventures with the Sasquatch, Shalon and her people completely wiped from his mind by the aliens at the end of that story - so they could preserve their anonymity while continuing with their remote surveillance and research programme. As far as the intelligence services are concerned, the only possible explanation which can fully account for the level of damage perpetrated during this series of raids is that the assailant must have bionic capability. Steve becomes the number one suspect, even in the eyes of a disbelieving Oscar and Rudy! Only Jaime continues to trust in Steve’s integrity, despite his inability to remember or explain what’s really going on, even after being reminded of the Sasquatch foot cast which was previously recovered in the California Mountains. So Steve is forced to go in the run to clear his name and find the real culprit, because the authorities order Oscar to have Austin's bionics tuned down to normal strength!

Pixieish alien Gillian (Sandy Duncan) arrives to seek Steve's
help in the battle against Nedlick.
Perhaps because it was devised as another of the Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman crossover adventures, The Return of Bigfoot tends more towards a playful approach in its plotting, inclusive of broad character motivation and plenty of colourful, cartoony incident that serves to bring out writer-producer Kenneth Johnson’s deep love of old 1950s sci-fi serials: evil alien villains in colourful jumpsuits plot to take over the world; an unstoppable rampaging hairy monster steals gold from a bank vault; and a volcanic disaster threatens to wreak havoc on millions. These are all typical ingredients of the Saturday morning matinee adventure narratives so indicative of Johnson's beloved Republic Studios.  The story proceeds in a bright, bold and brash fashion after the appearance of actress Sandy Duncan in the role of Gillian. She's one of the good aliens from the crippled Californian base, who zaps her way into a perplexed but curiously deadpan Steve Austin’s house (one of the few times when we get to see inside his home) to reinstate his memories and appeal for his help in stopping Nedlick’s diabolical plan. The slight, waifish and small-of-stature Duncan was quite familiar to American audiences at the time, and in particular had become famous for having taken the role of Peter Pan during a run of the eponymous stage play. Her role here is made similarly conspicuous in its fantastical and genie-like appeal: using the time-line converter (TLC) device showcased in the previous Bigfoot episodes, Gillian pops up whenever a bit of fanciful exposition is called for, or to transport Steve to wherever convenience of plot demands he should be taken -- something he appears to accept with remarkable equanimity seeing as how he had no memory at all of his previous adventures with the aliens at the time of her first arrival. Saxon can be relied on to deliver a joyous pantomime villain performance as Nedlick behind the fake beard and purple jumpsuit, and the role of Sasquatch is successfully handed on to the-slightly-smaller-but-still-ruddy-massive Ted Cassidy. Previously better known as the sepulchral manservant Lurch in the 1960s series The Addams Family, Cassidy took on the role of the towering ape-man cyborg after AndrĂ© the Giant’s previous success with the part in the last series led to him becoming so sought-after for his particular skills that he was unavailable to resume the role for the shooting of this second story. Cassidy would retain the part in season 5’s final outing for the Bigfoot character, Bigfoot Five.
John Saxon plots world domination in The Return of
Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) pleads with aliens Shalon
(Stephanie Powers) and Gillian (Sandy Duncan) for help in
saving the dying Steve Austin in The Return of Bigfoot.
If this first series crossover story of the season has a classic adventure sci-fi appeal and a certain element of campiness in its approach, well that's as nothing in comparison to the other story to get split across both shows later during season four: the three-part epic Kill Oscar -- which starts on The Bionic Woman, continues on The Six Million Dollar Man and concludes as another Bionic Woman episode. We’ll look in more detail at this all-time classic in a moment, but first, although it seems fair to emphasise how distinct these crossover stories are from most of the rest of what appears on the series -- thanks to their comic book plots and offbeat humour -- they weren’t in fact the only episodes to to follow their own rather peculiarly crooked paths. One that particularly stands out is a mid-season attempt to do a Christmas tale, which originally aired in the US in December of 1976.

A Bionic Christmas Carol is essentially just what its title suggests it is: a spoof re-telling of the Charles Dickens Christmas classic, but acted with tongue firmly in cheek. It starts with a deadpan scene set in Oscar’s office, during which you can almost see Lee Majors and Richard Anderson struggling to keep straight faces as Steve hands his boss a Christmas gift and is crestfallen when Oscar sheepishly reveals he’s forgotten to get his pal anything in return (Steve then grumpily bends the table lamp that Oscar has just unwrapped as a present from him, and claims its a piece of modern art!). Even worse, Steve’s planned Christmas holiday with his parents at home in Ojai has now had to be cancelled; instead, he’s given a last-minute assignment: to get to the bottom of some production problems concerning the work being done at the factory of one of the OSI's major suppliers, after it was commissioned to develop components for a life support system that's to be used on an important mission to Mars. At first surprised that the factory would even still be in operation over the Christmas period, Steve soon discovers why in fact it is: penny pinching boss Horton Budge (Ray Walston) is making his dispirited workforce graft right the way through most of the Christmas period, and as well as indulging in classic Scrooge-like behaviour such as forcing Christmas carollers  to be removed from the site for interrupting his workers, he’s also been cutting costs by making sure the components the factory is making for the OSI mission only comply with the barest minimum legal standards of workmanship!
Capitalist miser Horton Budge (Ray Walston) is shown the
error of his ways by a heavily disguised bionic man, in A Bionic
Christmas Carol.
Because Horton isn’t technically doing anything illegal, The OSI can’t break his contract, and after Steve discovers the miserly boss’s nephew and poorly paid Chauffeur Bob Crandall (Dick Sargent) can’t even afford to give his family a decent Christmas, Steve takes a tip from Dickens’ tale and sets out to reform Horton by dressing up and pretending to be Santa Clause then using his amazing bionic speed and jumping capacity to show the old skinflint (who’s in a semi-delirious state after a bad fall in his mansion) the error of his ways while giving him a guided tour of the results his actions have had upon the lives of those around him. He even pretends to show the old codger a glimpse of his future, a la the Ghost of Christmas Future, after using his bionics to quickly knock up a granite gravestone with Horton’s name carved on it! This rather unlikely tale is given a further air of unreality when one realises that Horton happens to live in the Bates Mansion from Psycho (the ever-accommodating Universal backlot becomes the show’s very own way of making Horton-like cost efficiencies, here) and, during a visit to a toy shop in the town, when Steve decides to buy Crandall’s kids some presents in return for the Chauffeur’s insistence that he spend Christmas with the Crandall family rather than all alone in an anonymous hotel room, one can clearly see a Steve Austin action figure on one of the shelves in the background at one point in the ensuing scene! The sight of Lee Majors in a Santa suit is not something to forget easily: this episode’s lack of any real danger or threat, let alone a true bad guy, makes it one of the most whimsical and good-natured of Six Million Dollar Man stories, doffing its cap to Dickens’ characters and situations with a hearty wink throughout.

Steve tries to make carnival worker Kim (Cheryl Miller)
believe the crazy plot of Carnival of Spies - but with little
Similarly off-the-wall plot revelations are showcased during Carnival of Spies. The episode follows an intriguing espionage formula for most of its run-time involving doubles being ingeniously switched, covert cross-country chases in the dead of night and clandestine rendezvous’ using secret passwords. Steve is assigned to keep an eye on suspect visiting East German scientist Ulrich Rau while the subject is attending a high profile scientific conference in the states. Rau has the expertise to design the specs for a surface-to-air missile system that might be attractive to a great many of the US's enemies, but Steve is at first at a complete loss to explain why the scientist slips away from the conference only to meet up with a fortune-teller working a fairly ordinary-looking carnival/fairground site. All becomes clear near the conclusion, though, when Steve realises that the entire carnival, and the fairground rides inside it, are really the individual elements of a disguised ground-to-air missile site set up by Ulrich’s contacts with the intent of shooting down a new B-1 Bomber that's about to be tested in the region by the US. The system's control room is hidden in the ghost train, and the Tilt-a-Whirl ride is really a nuclear missile aimed at the Bomber's flight path, its launch facilitated by twisting a gorilla's arm (not a real one, obviously!); while the Merry-go-round is actually the site's radar tracking system!

A typical, not-in-the-least-stereotypical representation of a
teenager who is interested in science. Lanny Horn as Danny
Lasswell in Danny's Inferno.
Some of the other episodes which also make use of off-the-wall ideas such as the one above include the entertaining episode Danny’s Inferno, in which Steve befriends a bespectacled, frizzy-haired teenage science geek (Lanny Horn) who has accidentally stumbled upon a new form of thermonuclear energy in his mom's garage, that could alleviate the world’s dependency on oil. Unfortunately, young Danny Lasswell doesn’t really know how he’s created this marvellous wonder fuel from simply messing around with random ingredients. The OSI’s sensors detect the massive explosion his  amateur experiments cause above the skies of a built-up suburban region of the city, and Oscar sends Steve out to investigate. But others have got there first -- in particular a corrupt official who befriends the young lad and persuades him to hand over the rest of the valuable solution he’s still got stored back at his mother’s house. The mixture inevitably gets sold on to a shady conglomerate whose corrupt boss wants to know the formula at any cost, and who sets out to kidnap the boy genius -- unaware that Danny has no idea how he’s managed to come up with this amazing discovery in the first place! This story has a pronounced comic feel to it. The villains are largely bunglers and Steve’s relationship with Danny is what drives most of the episode's events. Of course, Danny’s interest in science means that he has to be kitted out in oversized Woody Allen-style black specs and made as socially awkward and geeky as anyone interested in science always is on TV, particularly in 1970s TV. But there’s some amusing interaction here with, for example, the OSI’s top fuel scientist, who is brought in to work out the formula for the kid's invention but becomes increasingly exasperated at Danny’s inclusion of some rather unorthodox ingredients, and the boy's less-than-precise means of recording his experiments. There’s also an amusing scene in which Steve, now acting in his capacity as bodyguard to the imperilled teen, comes to sleep over on the spare bed in Danny’s bedroom and reveals -- rather unconvincingly, it has to be said -- that he was once also a teenage nerd who couldn’t get any attention from pretty girls ... Yeah, right!   

"Have you heard the one about how my act, thirty-five years
from now, will come to symbolise everything that's unacceptable,
 outdated and reactionary about 1970s comic mores?" Flip Wilson
as Billy Parker in the episode Double Trouble. 
One attempt at a similar sort of humour in the episode Double Trouble, comes off rather less successfully though. An old-school nightclub entertainer called Billy Parker (played by Flip Wilson: an African American TV comedian, famous at the time, but unknown outside the US either then or now) just happens to look exactly like a visiting African head of state, recently elected after proposing to end his country’s long association with the Eastern Bloc and forge friendly relations with the United States instead. A scientist working for ‘the other side’ has come up with a conveniently clever space-age device that can change and control the behaviour of any person after its implanted in the base of their brain. The plotters have already implanted their gizmo in the unsuspecting lookalike comedian’s head and are planning on kidnapping the African prime minister he resembles before he can deliver his alliance-changing speech at the African Embassy. The remote controlled double under the direction of the kidnappers, will then deliver the speech the Soviet Bloc wants to hear instead. There’s a scene in which the gang behind this plot test the implant in Billy’s brain by forcing the hapless performer to carry out all sorts of embarrassing actions -- such as clucking like a chicken or removing his shoe and attempting to eat it Charlie Chaplin style -- while he’s on stage attempting to deliver his act to an all-white club audience. This means we have to listen to a large chunk of the comedian’s material beforehand; most of it, it has to be said, is based around an excruciating tale about a racist parrot! The audience is clearly finding it a bit painful as well, but tellingly, Billy gets his biggest reaction when he extorts his audience to ‘laugh or I’ll come and rob your house!’ By this point, it’s a relief when the dastardly plotters start wreaking his act by forcing Billy to perform their outlandish test actions! Any thing's better than listening to this weak 1970s racism.  
Still, the one story this season that combines off-beat humour, a certain knowing campiness and the series' taste for bizarre sci-fi tinged storylines to best effect, is the three-part crossover adventure that actually starts off as an episode on The Bionic Woman: Kill Oscar. A number of elements come together to produce a much broader style of action adventure here, laced with a certain comic-book appeal. Each episode has its own unique focus. The first one has a certain satirical feminist take, and looks as though it may have been inspired by the 1972 film of Ira Levin’s novel “The Stepford Wives”, although the unconventional path it takes also went on to influence the Austin Powers movies. The set-up instantly announces this particular story’s heightened sense of unreality: ex OSI employee Dr Franklin (John Houseman) has been employed by Russian agents to steal a brand new top secret weather controlling device that’s been under development at OSI headquarters for some time, and which Franklin himself actually initially developed before being sacked for seeking to use the device as a weapon rather than for humanitarian purposes. Concerned about the amount of extra funding Franklin is now requesting for his plot to steal back the device he once created, the Soviets send the flamboyantly white suited money man Baron Constantine (Jack Colvin) over to check on his progress. Colvin plays this Soviet paymaster with an exaggerated accent and a menacing swagger -- a typical comic book villain. Houseman’s performance as the disgruntled ex OSI scientist is equally over-the-top and produces perhaps the most memorable (and curiously likable) villains in the shows entire history. The British-born actor and theatre producer (he co-founded the Mercury Theatre company with Orson Welles, which later staged that infamous radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”) who played a key role in Citizen Kane, is perfect as the rotund, fey and Hitchcock-like mastermind of a most fiendish plot to destroy the OSI from within by replacing all its female secretaries with robot replicas obedient only to him!
Dr Franklin (John Houseman) demonstates what makes the
perfect woman tick, in a scene from Kill Oscar.
Constantine is not terribly convinced that such an outlandish plan could ever work because these robotic mannequins can’t demonstrate self-will and could never think for themselves; but a perplexed Dr Franklin merely responds: ‘Since when is thinking for herself an asset… in a woman?’ In fact, Franklin’s deliciously casual sexism here, leads him to the logical conclusion that his Fembots are actually superior to flesh and blood women … because they are so unerringly obedient! This is a rare trip into satire for the series (although remember, this first episode is a Bionic Woman episode and not The Six Million Dollar Man -- which often seemed quite comfortable with its own casual sexism, if not quite this blatantly) -- for Franklin’s plan actually comes very close to succeeding precisely because the attitudes he so glibly expounds to Constantine are also endemic (if unspoken) to the office culture at the OSI -- where Oscar’s loyal secretary Peggy Callahan (Jennifer Darling) has previously confided in Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) that she feels unappreciated and overworked. When Both Callahan and Rudy Wells’ secretary Lynda Wilson (Corinne Michaels) are both replaced by Franklin’s physically perfect Fembot replicas, no-one notices apart from Jaime who, having spent time with the women, knows enough minor detail about their lives to be able to catch the Callahan Fembot in a lie after having been first alerted to something not being quite right with her when her bionic ear picks up the high-pitched radio control frequency Franklin uses to control his creations.  
The team assembles: from left to right Lynda Wilson (Corinne
Michaels), Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), Callahan (Jennifer
Darling), Dr Rudy Wells (Martin E Brooks) and Jack Hanson
(Jack L Gling)
The second stage of Dr Franklin’s plan is to kidnap Oscar and replace him with a replica that will then be in an ideally placed position to steal the weather control device. But after Oscar’s abduction, the OSI head’s own contingency plan, in the event of his capture by the other side, automatically kicks in: so sensitive is Oscar’s position within the agency, regarding the amount of top secret information he is privy to, that the country’s enemies must be prevented from coming into possession of any of it through torture or brainwashing; because of that risk, Oscar has left a videotaped set of instructions insisting that the OSI must dedicate itself, from this moment on, to the objective of bringing about his elimination! The National Security Bureau (NSB) is brought in to organise the man hunt, led by Chief Supervisor Jack Hanson (Jack L. Ging) -- and he’s not about to waste time listening to Jaime’s stories of robot infiltration. But after she is attacked and nearly killed at Callahan’s apartment by both Fembot replacements (which also have bionic levels of strength), it’s left up to Steve to take up the baton of investigation in part two of the story -- attempting to pin-point the location of Franklin’s hideout by triangulating the control frequency Jaime had previously identified using her bionic ear, with the position of the Lynda Fembot now deactivated in Rudy’s lab. The subsequent action plays out very much like a typical episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, yet we learn at the end of it that everything that happens in the first half – Steve’s daring one man mission to rescue Oscar and the real Lynda Wilson from Franklin’s heavily fortified desert compound and the base's subsequent destruction, as well as the shocking news that the real Callahan has been killed – has all been part of the avuncular plotter’s original plan. Callahan is actually still alive, and a prisoner of Franklin and his Fembots; the destroyed compound was a fake and the Oscar Steve has rescued is in fact the Fembot (or Manbot?) version of the OSI head, who is now perfectly placed to have the weather device transported to a location of Franklin’s choice! This middle episode is notable for Steve’s iconic extended battle with a duo of faceless female robots, one of whom is the robot version of Callahan. For the second time Steve also gets to battle a robot Oscar, but it is too late to thwart Franklin’s plot, and the episode ends with the mastermind surreally speaking through the Lynda Fembot to confirm his victory and hold the world to ransom, threatening worldwide  climactic catastrophe  if his future demands are not met.
A perfect replica yes, but Dr Franklin still hasn't mastered the
art of making robots whose faces don't come off when they fall
A soggy Jaime Sommers (Lindsay Wagner) about to show
sexist criminal mastermind Dr Franklin (John Houseman)
whose really the boss.
After one episode of garish comic satirical fantasy and another that re-stages the more popular action elements of previous bionic/robot fighting face-offs, staged between Steve and the various robot replicas of Chester Dolenz in past seasons, the three-part story ends with a team mission for Steve and a revived Jaime Sommers that has a distinct James Bond flavouring to it. Franklin takes on the air of a stereotypical Bond villain – reconvening with his Fembots, and a loyal technical expert, to a remote tropical island from which he starts unleashing random weather related chaos on the world. The Air Force can’t get close enough to bomb his island base and because Franklin is still holding Oscar and Callahan as his prisoners, Steve and Jaime manage to persuade an eccentric elder Air Force general to let them have a go at sneaking onto the island by being fired out of a submarine hidden in torpedo casings (the same idea was previously used in one of the pre-series TV movies) to stage a rescue mission before the army does anything  too drastic. Franklin’s hubris and his crazed determination to prove that his Fembots are better than Rudy Wells’ bionics eventually leads the embittered rogue scientist to a reckless act of self-destruction and the tropical storms he unleashes on the island to try and tame Steve and Jaime also cause the collapse of a dam that is protecting his high-tech base from being flooded and washed away. Franklin survives at the end of this epic tale though – suggesting that he might well have made a comeback in the future if circumstances had been right. The interesting thing about Franklin as a villain is that once he has successfully pulled off his plot of stealing the weather control device from the OSI and taking revenge on Rudy and Oscar for his past treatment, he really has no idea what to do next. He plays the role of a mastermind who wants to dominate the world with a sort of ironic flourish rather than any real burning desire. This gives him a sort of likability, and even Steve and Jaime appear not to bear too much of a grudge at the end of it all -- despite the near destruction of the OSI and  the worldwide chaos brought about at his hands. When Jaime threatens to pick him up and carry him out of his underground control room if he doesn’t leave the base as he’s been told to, Franklin’s outrage and puzzlement at being defeated and then talked down to by a woman is played with a baffled air, as though his world has just been turned upside down, by the amusingly fruity-toned Houseman. ‘Leave me my dignity, please!’ he splutters. ‘Miss Sommers, you're a very determined young woman, with a mind of her own. I've always said that was a defect in a woman.’
Steve's about to cop it, and only Jaime can save him in The
Return of Bigfoot.
These cross-over stories need to be able to find reasons for each of their bionic protagonists to, at some point, drop out of the story in order to make room for the other. In The Return of Bigfoot for instance, Steve gets severely beaten up by an extra-strong Sasquatch and ends up at the finish of the first episode languishing at death’s door after his bionic legs are crushed, a lethal dose of radiation from their power packs having poisoned his system. The Bionic Woman then continues the story with Jaime Sommers charged with tracking down a supply of the alien wonder drug Neotraxin – the only thing that can save him. In Kill Oscar it is Jaime’s turn to find herself (once again) faced with the possibility of her system rejecting her bionics, after she’s forced to make a jump from the top floor of a tenement building while escaping from Franklin’s Fembot replica of Callahan. Her legs are critically damaged by the jump, and Steve has to take over the ensuing attempt to rescue Oscar, before both are teamed up again for the final episode of the three-part adventure. Both of these stories are forced, out of necessity, to introduce this baton-relaying plot construction, but the possibility of certain kinds of damage interfering with a bionic protagonist's ability to complete their mission  actually results in a whole new source of suspense which this series of The Six Million Dollar Man goes on to exploit on several other occasions during its run as well.

Rudy Wells fixes up Steve's damaged arm in Vulture of the
Andes. One of several bionic injuries sustained during the
course of the season.
On at least one of those occasions, the same idea was used for similar reasons: simply as a means of writing Lee Majors out of the episode for a brief time. In Vulture of the Andes Steve takes up gliding in an effort to thwart the plans of wealthy and wonderfully named playboy Byron Falco (Henry Darrow), who’s been dropping concealed homing devices near a US military installation and is preparing to blackmail the OSI into providing him with the military means to stage a coup in his home Latin American country, or face hijacked missiles under Falco’s control being unleashed on American military targets. It’s not one of the most riveting episodes in the series’ history, but there is a curious interlude half-way through when Steve injures his bionic arm saving a young child who’s managed to get himself tangled up in a rope attached to one of the gliders, and is just about to be dragged into the skies above the California desert until Steve’s timely intervention. His rope-yanked bionic arm has to have its circuitry repaired by Rudy, but instead of calling on Jaime Sommers, Oscar sends in another of his non-bionic special agents as a replacement, posing as a camp photographer and played by Bernie Kopell. It feels weird to have the episode inexplicably handed over to someone we’ve never heard of before, but apparently this odd interlude was required because Lee Majors had been scheduled to make a personal promotional appearance at the behest of the Network, slap in the middle of the shoot!
Elke Sommer is the glamorous guest star of H+2+O = Death
While posing undercover as a defecting scientist dung the episode H2O = Death, in order to break up a spy ring, led by the mysterious criminal known only as Omega, which has been responsible for stealing specialised components from under the OSI’s nose, Steve has to fake the invention of a desktop nuclear powered device – a feat which is achieved by using his bionic arm as its true power source. When his arm is damaged during Omega’s (Linden Chiles) attempt to steal the mock up, he’s forced to let double agent Dr Ilse Martin (euro starlet Elke Sommer) in on his bionic secret in order to gain the opportunity to organise a spot of clandestine self-repair with the help of a smuggled soldering iron!
Mad Rudy, infected by a chimp bite, leaves his bionic friend
hanging around in The Most Dangerous Enemy. 
In the episode The Most Dangerous Enemy, Steve is incapacitated while he and Rudy are visiting a remote island on which a young female scientist by the name of Cheryl Osborne (Ina Balin) has been working on an intelligence boosting serum which she’s been testing on captive chimpanzees. Her animal experiments go disastrously awry though, and her best chimp test subject not only gains extra intelligence but increased strength as well, then proceeds to escape and run amok on the island. Steve’s bionic-related troubles in this instance derive from an unexpected source: Rudy gets bitten by the super-chimp escapee and himself becomes a crazed superman who, now deranged by the serum-infected bite, is intent on hanging on to his new-gained powers at any price. After Dr Osborne informs him that the serum will kill Rudy if its antidote isn’t administered quickly enough, Steve attempts to persuade his scientist pal to allow himself to be injected with the normalising agent, but ends up falling into a disabling trap super-Rudy sets up to immobilise him and which gums up the servomotors in his legs, leaving him hanging helpless by his feet from a tree.  ‘I made you … and only I know how to stop you!’ the OSI genius reminds his bionic colleague.

It may look more like a garbage disposal unit but this is actually
an unstoppable Soviet-made killing machine!
In the two-part story The Deadly Probe (another of the season’s most fondly remembered adventures), a deadly Soviet Venus exploration probe crash-lands in Wyoming, and a group of Soviet sleeper spies are activated to try and reach it before Steve and Austin can also track it down and discover its secrets. Unfortunately, this autonomous, semi-intelligent tank-like device has been designed using a newly developed super-strong alloy contrived with the aim of withstanding almost any challenging environment likely to be found on its journey in space. When the probe goes on an unstoppable rampage across the countryside after the shut-down codes fail, Steve finds even his bionic strength is no match for it, and once his bionic  arm is left useless after one particular encounter, and explosives and missiles prove equally ineffective in thwarting the probe’s relentless rampage of destruction, he’s forced to come up with an outrageous idea that involves him dangling from a helicopter and attaching a bungee rope to the top of the device so that it can be toed off into the stratosphere until internal pressure eventually causes it to explode; although no one bothers to satisfactorily explain how the device managed to get into space in the first place given such an obvious flaw in its construction.
Yet another bionic injury sustained while tackling The Deadly
Action based episodes, usually involving the participation of the US air force and partaking of stock footage featuring military aircraft in action; McGuffins which take the form of secret weapons technologies, and the various espionage plots inevitably related to them: these are the elements that are the spur for a collection of much more straightforward adventures this season. Nightmare in the Sky features Farrah Fawcett-Majors in her final guest appearance on the show, once again playing the character from her Season One debut, the pilot Kelly Woods. After experiencing a bizarre hallucination during a test flight for a new experimental aircraft, during which a World War II fighter appears to force her down in the desert, only for the abandoned test craft to mysteriously disappear afterwards, Woods comes under suspicion from air force authorities who couldn’t see anything but her craft on their radar screens at the time of the incident. Steve believes her story and busts her out of the military hospital where she’s being held for “evaluation” and together they uncover a plot to steal expensive military prototype craft by using holograph projections, beamed from a secret desert location, to create the Bermuda Triangle-like disorientation effect that forced her to bail out.
Steve lets Kelly know how special she is to him. Farrah Fawcett-
Majors -- making her final guest appearance on the show.
 The feature-length episode The Thunderbird Connection contains more stock flight footage and has Steve joining up and flying with the US air force aerobatics display team known as The Thunderbirds, for an aerial show scheduled to take place in a Middle Eastern country that’s just been the site of a coup organised by Air Marshal Mahmud Majid (Robert Loggia), who claims power in the name of the young prince Hassard, the son of the recently assassinated King. The OSI knows that Majid plans to have the prince disposed of in just the same way as he removed the father, but Steve’s rescue plans soon fall into disarray when he discovers that the youngster is completely under Majid’s influence, and the plan to smuggle him out of the country in the specially-constructed nosecone of his Thunderbird display crafts ends up turning into a suicide mission when the prince stupidly betrays the plot to the authorities and Majid has a bomb secretly planted in Steve’s cockpit, hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Another undercover mission turns equally hairy in the episode Taskforce when, having successfully infiltrated a heist gang which is preparing to hijack a nuclear missile while it’s being transported by road via San Diego to a Nevada test site alongside an OSI escort, Steve finds himself under lockdown at the gang’s hideout, unable to communicate with Oscar to warn him that the head of the military escort employed to guard the missile is in fact in the pay of the hijackers. This particular episode also marked the final appearance on The Six Million Dollar Man of Jennifer Darling as Oscar’s secretary Peggy Callahan. Meanwhile, in the episode The infiltrators, Steve again goes undercover, this time as an amateur boxing champ for a team that’s been built around foreign defectors secretly trained as a hit squad. The OSI has to uncover the gang’s target; and to get Steve on the boxing team he and Rudy contrive an amusing way of removing one of the legitimate competitors so that Steve can take his place: the athlete is persuaded to believe that his strength has failed him and that he needs to pull out of the match and take extensive bed rest, after being given deliberately mislabelled weights to lift during a fitness assessment in Rudy’s lab. The dumbbells actually require a good deal of strength just to even be able to pick them up, but Steve (posing as Rudy’s lab assistant) is able to handle them with ease, using his bionics to facilitate the illusion that they’re really just trivial weights, which the athlete should be able to lift without even thinking about them.
Steve gets involved in Middle Eastern politics in the episode
The Thunderbird Connection.
Peggy Callahan (Jennifer Darling) joins Steve undercover in the
episode Taskforce.
Out for the count. Steve is drugged during a boxing bout in
The Infiltrators.
Routine adventures such as those mentioned above are beginning to predominate towards the middle half of the season, and although they all have their moments, we don’t see anything quite as weird, wild and imaginative as the Bigfoot or Fembot stories again this year. The other two episodes which stand out in this particular run though, do so perhaps because they were originally intended as trial runs for yet more potential spin-off shows, although ABC's cancellation of The Bionic Woman made the prospect of either of them being picked up a remote one.
Steve gets sporty ... in a cow field? A scene from The Bionic
Boy, starring Vincent Van Patten (right) and football star Frank
Gifford (centre).
The Bionic Boy even got the full feature length treatment and revolved around Rudy Wells developing a new power pack implant that might help paraplegics walk again. The OSI computer scans every case in the country for the most suitable -- both physically and psychologically -- recipient on whom to test the device (no doubt hoping to avoid another case like that of Barney Hiller) and comes up with the name Andy Sheffield (Vincent Van Patten). Steve takes a trip to the boy’s home town in Utah to break the news and discovers that things aren’t quite as straightforward as the OSI computer painted them: Andy is a previously highly active college football player who became paralysed after an accident in which his father died in a rock slide trying to prove his beliefs about an ancient Indian burial ground in nearby mountains. The episode represents a definite change in pace to those which had defined the majority of the rest of the series; it takes its time to develop Andy’s backstory and examine his ambivalent feelings about the prospect of going through with Rudy’s new procedure, given the many failures and disappointments he’s had to endure before. When he does agree to the operation, Steve becomes a sort of mentor and guide through the emotional pitfalls the bionic implant technology sometimes brings with it. One can see from the tone and sedate pace of this episode how any spin-off series would have refocused attention on the sorts of adolescent problems which define growing up, but with an added bionic twist; but sadly it was not to be, and the episode became just one more interesting addition to The Six Million Dollar Man archives.
Stephen Macht takes the lead role as re-programmable
OSI agent Joe Patton in the episode The Ultimate Impostor.

The single most unusual episode of the entire series was also yet another attempt to engineer a spin-off show -- and once again the effort came to nought. The writers William T. Zacha and Six Million Dollar Man producer Lionel E. Siegel even had another crack at it a few years later when they produced a pilot movie of the same name and with a similar storyline, but with all previous references to the show removed. In this first trial-run version of The Ultimate Impostor though, Oscar and Rudy are seen testing yet another of Dr Wells’ innovations: this time it’s a device which can swiftly wipe and re-programme the human brain, enabling it to learn any skill or assume any identity in a matter of seconds. Steve Austin plays no part in the main bulk of the story and Lee Majors is confined to bookending guest appearances (although a pretext is found for Steve to display a feat of bionic strength during the opening segment). Instead, Steve’s pal Joe Patton (Stephen Macht) takes over as the leading man, presumably to henceforth be sent on missions by Oscar and to have his brain programmed for them every week by Rudy, should the show have gone to syndication. Here, Joe is sent undercover programmed with the knowledge and skills of a dishonest industrial chemist called Lyle Montrose, in order to rescue his imprisoned girlfriend Jenny (Pamela Hensley) -- another OSI agent -- from a counterfeiter gang led by someone called Stenger (David Sheiner). The implausible concept at the heart of the proposed series clearly had potential to offer a diverse collection of episodes which would’ve allowed Joe to take on pretty much any new guise each and every week. Yet Stephen Macht seems rather uncharismatic as a leading man, and the problem remains of how to create interest in a character whose identity and personality changes every time you see him. It’s a problem also encountered by the ill-fated Josh Whedon series Dollhouse, which clearly shares fundamental conceptual DNA with this 1970s spi-fy idea.
And so The Six Million Dollar Man headed towards its fifth and final full series: the moustache was by now gone (thank goodness) and the last run of episodes was to rely mainly on some generic military adventure subject matter for most of its story material, although there are still some interesting variants scattered amongst quite a few otherwise average stories. It is probably true to say that the show was finally beginning to run its course and many more stories are stretched across two episodes in that fifth series than had ever been the case before – sometimes with rather mixed results. But we shall be taking a more detailed look at Steve Austin’s final collection of missions in the next blog entry.