Friday, March 23, 2018

Planet of the Apes "The Liberator"

This is my entry in the Favourite TV Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts

As a kid I was fascinated by science fiction.  In the 70's, when I was growing up, science fiction was a rarity on network TV.  Most of the successful ones managed to stay on the radar because they kept it in the modern day and didn't over inundate the public with any outre science or implausible concepts.  The Six Million Dollar Man comes to mind.  (At least I didn't think a bionic man was too implausible, anyway).But I never really considered this show to be science fiction because Steve Austin was just James Bond with some added cybernetic features.

The really cool shows lasted only one or two seasons at best.  Logan's Run for instance, which was based on the movie of the same name, managed to air only 14 episodes.  Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the original Battlestar Galactica only lasted a bare two seasons.  And one of my favorites, Project U.F.O. ( which was really about Air Force investigations in UFO sightings, and thus not technically sci-fi, but I still rank it as such) also only had a short two season run.

A far cry from other decades.  In the early days of TV there were quite a few sci-fi shows (although admittedly some had similarly short runs).  Compare that to today when there are quite a few TV series that had extended runs, not even including any of the Star Trek franchise shows.  There are about a dozen sci-fi shows currently on various formats, such as network TV, internet, and cable stations.

Planet of the Apes was based on the hit movie series.  The original movie hit the big screen in 1968 (coincidentally the Year of the Monkey in Chinese 12 year zodiac cycle).  I did a review of the five movies in 2016 (again a year of the Monkey) which you can find on this blog.  In 1974 (not a year of the Monkey, but what the hey...) CBS brought the idea to TV.  Instead of just one lone astronaut doing the gig against those "damn dirty apes" this featured a pair of astronauts, teamed with a friendly chimpanzee on the run from the authorities represented by the scientist apes and the army apes.

The series opened with the episode called Escape from Tomorrow which established the crash landing of three astronauts from 1980 on what is Earth in 3085.  One of them, named Jones (actor unknown), died in the crash.  The two survivors, Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton). were taken by Farrow (Royal Dano) to a cave.  The future Earth, much like the movie series from which it sprung, was now dominated by intelligent apes.

One particular change from the movies (the first two, which take place on the future Earth) is that the humans can talk and converse with the astronauts.  (In the movies they were mute savages, sort of a transfer of status from modern Earth in which humans can talk but apes can't).  The series starts out pretty good.  It seems to gravitate towards a moralistic theme in most of the episodes, however.  This was the mid-seventies, remember, and on the back side/decline of racial discrimination that was one of the predominant themes in the news (the other being the Vietnam War).

Over the course of it's brief run, Alan and Pete, along with Galen (Roddy McDowell), are on the run from the prevailing ape society, including the gorilla General Urko (Mark "Sarek" Lenard) , who wants to kill them, and Zaius (Booth Coleman), the orangutan scientist who wants them captured alive so they can be studied.  (Roddy McDowell, by the way, is an actor who is probably more well known for his appearance as an ape in this and 4 of the 5 Planet of the Apes movies than he is for all of his appearances as a human combined in his career)

The series only lasted one season (and in my admittedly vague memory, I don't even think all the episodes that were made were aired, at least in my part of the country).  When I finally was able to get the complete run on DVD a couple of years ago, I only remembered seeing the first 8 episodes. The powers that be tried again a year later with a cartoon series, but that only lasted one season, too.  Apparently people were willing to pay money to see apes on the big screen, but thought that the concept was just too boring stacked up against the story of a half-Chinese monk's  travels in the Old West (Kung Fu on ABC) and the travails of a black junk dealer (Sanford and Son on NBC).

 I definitely don't remember the episode I am reviewing today.  And there is some debate on the internet whether the episode even aired at all, which makes this one a natural choice to choose for someone like me.

 The Planet of the Apes: "The Liberator":

As usual, Burke and Virdon and Galen are on the run.  A village in the country is approached by a party of Apes.  A deal has been struck in the past history of the village that they will supply 5 people periodically to the apes as slaves to work.  The village usually tries to supply the slaves by capturing people outside the village (called "Meadow people"), but in order to fulfill the obligation, sometimes villagers have to draw lots to be added to the 5.

On this occasion, one of the villagers, Clim (Peter G. Skinner), decides he really doesn't WANT to be a slave and tries to run.  Outside the village he encounters our heroes who hide him from the chasing apes.  Clim lies to the group telling them the apes are chasing him for some sick idea of a sport, and takes them to his village.  Clim thinks he is in the clear because he has brought two new potential outsiders to be slaves and Burke and Virdon are imprisoned and prepared to be in the next batch of slaves given to the apes.

But Brun (John Ireland), the head of the village  and it's religious leader has other ideas for Clim.  He says the gods must decide his fate and brings him to the temple.  As Galen watches, Clim dies in the temple, without ever having been touched by Brun.

Miro (Ben Andrews), Brun's son, goes out to hunt down more meadow people to add to the next slate of slaves.  Meanwhile, Burke tries to put the moves on one of the female captors, Talia (Jennifer Ashley) in an effort to try to get her to free them.  But Talia is in love with Miro and the two plan to be married, so that idea falls flat.

When Galen tries to rescue Burke and Virdon he falls into disfavor with Brun, who despite the fact that Galen is an ape, refuses to release the two human captives and now holds Galen captive awaiting the decision of the impending arrival of the gorillas.  Miro gets sliced on his arm by one of the meadow captives and is rescued from impending death by the medical knowledge of Virdon and Burke.  So when Talia is chosen by lots to be among the next batch of slaves to go with the gorillas, and with his father refusing to allow him to take Talia's place, Miro arranges for the escape of our heroes on the condition that they take Talia with them

Cornered at all angles, they decide their only avenue is to head to the temple where Clim died.  It turns out that the temple originally was a place where they created some fairly toxic nerve gas, something along the lines of the same stuff the Nazis used to gas concentration camp victims in WWII or it is supposed to be a parallel to the Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War.  This is what has caused the death of renegades like Clim over the years, although the claim is made by Brun that the "gods" have decided their fate.

Whether or not Brun actually believes the "gods" have determined the fate of the victims is pretty much decided when our heroes discover a cache of clay pots that have been used to collect the gas.  Brun plans to use them when he has enough to attack ape villages and kill them.  The usual platitudes of how war doesn't solve anything come out from Burke and Virdon, as well as how the gas that brun has collected would also kill humans, but Brun is determined to keep his plan alive.

The episode ends rather satisfactorily with our heroes ending up continuing on their goals, and of course with the potentially deadly weapon cache destroyed.  While most of the episodes tended to beat you over the head with their barely disguised political agenda, this one tended to be a little more interesting, especially with the mystery of how Brun and his "gods" actually managed to keep the people under his thumb.

The entire series can be found online, or if you are interested, it is available as a DVD collection.



  1. My memories of the series are vague at best, but now I am intrigued and must give it a look. I don't mind morality tales (I watch TV westerns!).

    1. The best are the first one and this one. I also liked the episode where Pete and General Urko end up trapped together in an unused subway and have to work together to free themselves. The only really poor episode was where a female scientist ape tries to use an old text on brainwashing. The rest are worth at least one viewing. Thanks for reading.

  2. I loved this show and was so disappointed when it was cancelled. Same with the Logan's Run series.

    I got to meet Cornelius/Galen himself when Roddy McDowall paid the theater I worked for a visit in 1993. A true renaissance man, he was a brilliant photographer as well and I got an autographed coffee table book of his work.

    Need to check out this series again, definitely!

    1. Never met any name stars, but when I went to New Orleans in 2003 I met one of the women who appeared in The Fighting Temptations. Rosalie Washington, who was apparently a gospel and jazz musician in the New Orleans scene. Can't remember what she was doing in the French Quarter at the time I met her, but I got her picture. Thanks for reading.

  3. I was about 11 years old when this show aired (just towards the tail end of the whole Planet of the Apes craze). I remember I watched every episode, but I don't remember much about the show at all! I know I was disappointed when it was cancelled. I suppose I will have to start watching it sometime.

    Thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon!

    1. Terence, you and I are close to the same age. I was 12 for most of '74. (My birthday in December I turned 13). I didn't remember a hell of a lot of it until I got the series on DVD. Then watching them, it triggered a few vague memories. Thanks for reading.


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