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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Adventure > Children > Comedy > Space Academy – The Complete Series

Space Academy – The Complete Series


Picture: C     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Episodes: B



Since the early 1950s when TV arrived, there was always a Science Fiction show of some kind that went out of its way to be child-friendly and good for the family when the media still knew how to produce such a thing without it being phony, heavy-handed, slanted and fake.  This tradition started with the likes of Tom Corbett and Rocky Jones, peaked at its conclusion with Filmation’s live-action hit Space Academy.


Created by Allen Ducovny, who produced Filmation’s first classic animated TV shows (based on DC Comics’ Superman, Batman and Aquaman, though far from his first DC work), this show too broke ground for TV, children’s and otherwise in ways no one could have imagined at the time.  The set-up was similar to something like The Tomorrow People, where children and young adults composed a team of talents working together in the science of the future.  In this case, it was the outer space established by TV hits like Star Trek and Space: 1999.


Filmation had a head start with the huge critical and decent commercial success of the animated Star Trek, but like so many animation houses, added live action shows to their production slate to diversify, expand and often save money.  Sid & Marty Krofft’s hit were all taped and often big hits, while Hanna-Barbera had success with The Banana Splits than mixed live action series with animated ones, hosted live action by the title friends.


In 1975, Filmation decided to do more than just a comedy show with a low budget or one that just showed off the fun new colorful look of then-new videotape.  After success with such a show called The Ghost Busters (a Comedy/Horror show) in 1975, the company went with film resulting in the phenomenal successes of Shazam! and The Secrets Of Isis.  They then tried a smart Science Fiction show for a younger age group called Ark II (now out on DVD) that was a hit and the success of all led to Space Academy.


The show stars Johnathan Harris, best known as Dr. Smith from the TV classic Lost In Space as Commander Isaac Gampu, the adult overseer of the title location, an artificial mini-planet/asteroid/space station where young adults with exceptional talents have been assembled for various missions.  This includes Captain Chris Gentry (Ric Carrott) who has exceptional flying skills, his telepathic sister and Lt. Laura Gentry (the great Pamelyn Ferdin), scientist Tee Gar Soom (the great Brian Tochi) who also has hidden super-strength abilities, engineer Lt. Paul Jerome (Ty Henderson) who is being groomed to succeed Gampu whenever he feels like retiring, data analyst/Lt. Adrian Pryce-Jones (Maggie Cooper), the talking robot Peepo and a young new orphan addition they name Loki (Eric Greene, now a film historian among other accomplishments) who has the power of invisibility.  They will make up Team Blue.


This is not only one of the best-cast children’s shows of all time, but honestly one of the best-cast outer space series in TV history.  The chemistry and believability of this group is stunning, loaded with energy, spontaneity and sense that it is really all happening that has made the show a huge favorite for those lucky enough to know it.  The young actors are surprisingly good in their roles too.


Filmation’s wisdom and experience, plus putting more profits into production, offered yet another peak for the company.  Following hits like Star Trek and Space: 1999 on TV, plus Logan’s Run and immediately Star Wars from theaters made it a big hit for the company and CBS beyond anyone’s dreams when the show was first developed.  No competitor producing children’s programming ever came close and the fact that it fared better commercially than live action TV versions of Logan’s Run, Planet Of The Apes (reviewed on this site) and Westworld (the dreaded Beyond Westworld) says how ahead of major studios MGM and Fox they were.  Ironically, CBS originally broadcast those shows too.



The complete shows are as follows, in their original broadcast order:



1. The Survivors of Zalonm – This pilot show directed by Jeffrey Hayden (Batman, Mannix) introduces the team and how they find Loki.


2. Castaways In Time & Space – Written by Samuel A. Peeples (the animated Star Trek, reviewed elsewhere on this site), the story has Loki as a member of the team, but Paul still not.  Though this seems erroneous, the idea of the show is to deal with a glass ceiling of racism in the genre and hits the nail on the head.

3. Hide & Seek – Co-written by Ted A. Pedersen (The Bionic Woman) and Martha Humphreys (The Bionic Woman, soap opera Capitol), the crew starts to disappear one by one when they are about to take on an asteroid heading for them.

4. Countdown – Written by Tom Swale (from the original Land Of the Lost), George DiCenzo (The Night Strangler, The Norliss Tapes, both reviewed on this site) plays a man who thinks the latest “star war” is ongoing when it ended a while ago.  He is still on the kill, unless they can prove him wrong and get him to stop.  The first of two audio commentaries are included.

5. There's No Place Like Home – Written by Marty Roth (It Takes A Thief), Lawrence Dobkin (actor and sometimes director) plays Kane, an alien who tries to get Loki to steal information for him, putting the manipulated child in an ugly dilemma.

6. The Rocks Of Janus – With a story by Marianne Mosner (Rocky Jones, Space Ranger) and adapted into a teleplay by Jack Paritz (Batman) has two comets about to collide with each other and the Academy, but something is strange about one of them.

7. Monkey Business – An intelligent monkey (ala Ark II) is on board when Tee Gar and one Professor Jasper Bolt (Arnold S. Soboloff) are in jeopardy.

8. The Phantom Planet – Why is a “phantom planet” appearing around an asteroid about to be demolished?  The second of two audio commentaries are included.

9. Planet Of Fire – Co-written by Peter Packer (Lost In Space) and Susan Dworski, Don Pedro Colley (THX-1138, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, Night Gallery) plays a giant loaner on a barren planet Tee Gar, Loki and Peepo visit.  Tee Gar has invented a freezing ray, but anything it freezes becomes unstable and explodes, but none of them know this.  A race against time to find them ensures.

10. Life Begins At 300 – As Gampu begins to doubt himself and his ability to lead, efficient new cadet Gina Corey (Paula Wagner, then an actress who now co-owns Untied Artists and is co-producer with Tom Cruise) only makes his feelings worsen until a mining project goes awry.

11. The Cheat – Written by Robert Specht (The Immortal with Christopher George, Kung-Fu, Columbo) stars John Berwick (Brian Clemens’ Thriller) as a rowdy pilot who is making Chris unhappy, but his slightly higher rank put Chris under his command at the worst time when they go on one of their most dangerous missions.

12. My Favorite Marcia – Dena Dietrich (The North Avenue Irregulars, a later Gloria Petrillo on The Golden Girls, Mother Nature in a major 1970s TV margarine ad campaign) plays the title character, an old love interest of Gampu’s when she turns up expected to explode.  We soon learn that they did not stay together is because she is his match, all the way down to the sarcastic wit.  Don’t miss the Lost In Space robot joke and how Peepo deals with it.

13. Space Hookey – Loki and Peepo go for a joyride in one of the shuttles, but just as they are getting in trouble, they have brought trouble to the Academy in the form of mischievous “light aliens”.

14. Star Legend – Howard Morse (Twilight Zone, Filmation voice actor) plays an older starship captain who still flies what has been written off as a ghost ship, but he is very real and has bad news for Gampu.

15. Johnny Sunseed – Veteran voice actor Dallas McKennon plays the title character, who happens to be Gampu’s brother and one judging whether Bluer Team should continue its mission.



That final episode was designed to set up a second season that sadly never materialized.  Maybe the switch was a commercial one because of Star Wars mania, but it ended, which was better than the bizarre switch between seasons of Space: 1999 that killed that show before it could continue on its own bold and innovative course.  Space Academy is smart, fun and charming in a way that no show or film since has been.  We will likely never see such a show again.



The 1.33 X 1 image comes from what looks like very good, clean film sources, but the holding company for Filmation used digital transfers for this set that show their age a bit.  The result is slight softness throughout, despite the obviously excellent shape of film materials.  Either way, the cinematography by Alric Edens, A.S.C. (McCloud, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Six Million Dollar Man, Ellery Queen, John Cassavetes’ Minnie & Moskowitz) once again delivered a great look to what he shot and added a denser feel to the look of the show than it might have had in most hands.  This will be more apparent when these are upgraded for High Definition from the original film masters.  The cinematography is impressive and then there are the models and visual effects.


Chuck Comisky started his career as a special visual effects career with this show, continuing in its spin-off Jason Of Star Command, soon moving to feature films with Battle Beyond The Stars (where he hired then-unknown James Cameron to do effects), the Brandon Lee Crow, the original Blade with Wesley Snipes, the 3-D specialty spinoff of Terminator 2 and James Cameron’s recent 3-D science documentaries.


Robert A. Maine co-supervised the effects with Comisky coming from the 1960s TV series Davey & Goliath and sexual spoof Flesh Gordon (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and delivered them for all 15 episodes at a then amazing sum of only $90,000!


Paul Husdon did production design for miniatures and was one of the suddenly out of work crew who was snagged by Filmation after they finished the original Star Wars.  They convinced the writers to add references to that film, in part because they knew it better than just about anyone at that time.  He eventually went back top Lucasfilm for The Empire Strikes Back and has been there ever since!


Fellow Special Effects man John Frazier had worked on Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes when he did this show.  Later, he went on to Airplane!, Gardens Of Stone, Basic Instinct, Unforgiven, Hoffa, Speed, Absolute Power, Armageddon (which reminds us of this show in particular when they get to the asteroid), The Perfect Storm, Space Cowboys, Almost Famous, Windtalkers and the Spider-Man trilogy.  That is some serious talent, all starting out on this important show.  No wonder it holds up pretty well considering its age and that it is a TV production with a limited budget.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is very good for its age and easily sounds better than it ever has before.  The sound effects and score are instantly memorable to those familiar with the show.  Besides the entertaining title song, some classic sound effects from the Filmation library also turn up in all the episodes.  All in all, they have a surprising amount of character, though I would love to hear someone take the audio stems (one hopes they still exist) and try to do a 5.1 remix.


Extras include the exceptional "Back To School With Space Academy" featurette that runs over a half-hour and could have been longer, audio commentaries on two episodes (the 4th and 8th), several terrific still galleries including pictures of the Avia Toys action figure line for the show, all 15 episodes’ script as DVD-ROM scripts and the series bible, commercial break bumpers, three screens of trailers for other classic Filmation series and Easter Eggs.


So what happened to that children’s model of the space show?  Star Wars changed everything and a spinoff called Jason Of Star Command reflected that.  We hope to look at that series on DVD next, though it is a shame this series did not continue.  However, despite showing its age a little here and there, Space Academy is a children’s television classic and minor classic of Science Fiction television.  Its DVD arrival is long overdue.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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