SF Obscure: Hard Time on Planet Earth/Chaos on the Bridge


Hard Time on Planet Earth was an American series broadcast for 13 episodes in 1989 starring Martin Kove. An elite alien military officer is sentenced to earth as his penalty for rebellion. He is given human form-much weaker than his older form-and sent to Earth to improve his violent behavior. (Or maybe curb his violent instincts or learn about goodness, it all gets a bit murky.) Anyway, he’s banished to Earth with an AI system called Control to monitor him. He’s given the name Jesse. Control  is a giant, floating mechanical eye. Jesse has to help people in need to get back into the Ruling Council’s favor.

Hard Time on Planet Earth is an adventure-of-the-week type of show. Jesse has to learn to survive on Earth. Most of the information he and Control rely on comes from television shows, so its not entirely accurate. There’s a heavy dose of comedy with commentary on modern (1989) consumer America.  In one episode he steals money from an ATM then turns himself in when he finds out its a crime. In another, he goes to Disneyworld. In yet another, Jesse joins the US Army. Along the way, he meets new people and becomes involved in their daily lives. The also spend a lot of time trying to think up ways to hid an giant floating AI eyeball.

Critics trashed it. It didn’t get much of an audience which is why it was canceled so quickly. Watching it again, it’s not nearly as bad as I remembered it. The floating eyeball is still dreadful; but some of the episodes are kind of charming and its has sort of a goofy but endearing element to it. There were actually quite a few well-known writers. Micheal Piller of Star Trek fame wrote a few episodes.  I won’t lie and pretend like it’s a hidden classic. Thirteen episodes pretty much covered the possibilities  of the “alien super soldiers in human bodies with floating eyeball partner” genre.


I also got a chance to see Chaos on the Bridge on Netflix. It covers the backstory of the making of Star Trek: The Next Generation and all the controversy that surrounded it. The infighting. The studio conflicts. The fans who were sure it was the end of the franchise. (Sound familiar) It’s only about a hour and worth the watch. If you haven’t already, watch it along with The Captains, which are William Shatner’s interviews with all the  actors who played captains in Star Trek, how they felt the role impacted their lives and careers.  (Sir Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine) or if you prefer, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, Archer, and Kirk 2.0. It’s a Shatner production and very Shatner-centered, but still a lot of fun.

I plan to see Black Panther when it premieres in Japan this weekend. And apparently a reboot of Lost in Space is coming to Netflix. I’m not sure if it’ll be on Netflix Asia, but I might give it a watch.


SF Obscure: The Tomorrow People


A few years ago, there was a TV show called The Tomorrow People which I only saw a few episodes of. It was a paranormal show in the midst of many paranormal shows, but in this case dealt more with telepathic and psychic sorts of powers. I remembered watching it and thinking…wasn’t there something like this before?

And I was correct. It was a remake-though really more of a re-imaging because the look and style is much different from the original.

The original The Tomorrow People was a British children’s SF show which ran from 1973 to 1979. The basic idea is that humans are reaching a new step of evolution and these new humans are developing various psychic powers- telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation  usually at the onset of puberty although a few are a bit older. Anyhow, there is an organization that tracks tomorrow people and helps them adjust. There is also a biological computer called TIM, and a secret base, and they sometimes deal with a galactic group that tracks telepathy all over the universe. The Tomorrow People (homo superior)  are fundamentally unwilling to kill and have to hide from those who want to exploit their powers. It was supposed to be the ITV answer to Doctor Who and it has that kind of SF, mystery, adventure sort of feel. The theme music is by Dudley Simpson who also did a lot of the Doctor Who music as well as the them music for Blake’s 7 and the very short lived Moonbase 3. 

It doesn’t age particularly well. Clothing. Hair. Limited budget and not-so-special special effects. The acting is…well…not exactly the best.  It does have a nostalgia value for a few episodes 🙂 And I have to admit, some of the plots were rather sophisticated and compelling.


However, I realized this wasn’t even the version I was remembering. The Tomorrow People was revived in the 1990’s. It ran on Nickelodeon from 1992-1995. It’s similar to the original-though they had a psychic spaceship rather than the computer and they use their powers more freely, but still don’t kill. It’s one of the early roles for young Naomie Harris who has sent moved on to be Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, and an Academy Award nomination for Moonlight. 


The newer 2013 version is more young adult than children’s show with edgier plot lines. Plus, the emergence of The Tomorrow People and the governement/military involvement is amped. It didn’t see very many episodes, but I think any alien invasions or Doctor Who-ish type plots are dropped.

Big Finish ran a brief audio drama series based on the original.

*By the time this finishes, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery will be finished and I can assess how I feel about it. I have been watching Star Trek: Voyager which I hadn’t seen in a while and forgot a lot of those first few seasons. It’s better than I remembered it even if there are a few clunker episodes. I also finally have a chance to watch Killjoys. It wasn’t broadcast overseas so I had to wait for Netflix. So far, it’s a fun one.

SF Obscure: Planet of the Apes TV


So, I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday season. It was mostly time for family friendly viewing although I did get to see the Black Mirror Episode, Callisto, and Star Trek: Discovery is back for its second half. I love Discovery. This month also marks the 25th anniversary of Deep Space Nine-one of my favorite series of all time and my personal favorite Trek. And the 40th anniversary of Blake’s 7-another of my favorites. Big Finish has released an anniversary audio adventure, which is on my order wishlist.I cannot wait. I love the Blake’s 7 audio series.

Anyway, I saw the DVD release for the latest new Planet of the Apes. I haven’t watched the newer ones because…. it just never really happened, but it reminded me of the original franchise and a faint memory of a TV show or an animated show. Turns out there was both a live action TV show and an animated show.

The live action TV series has two new astronauts stranded on future/parallel earth.  In this version, there are human villages-not quite as primitive as the original movies movies-ruled over by Apes as governors and guards. The two astronauts are assisted by another Ape who believes humans are capable of more. It’s a run of the mill action adventure with the planet of the apes spin. Entertaining, but not outstanding. It was, unfortunately, an expensive show and cancelled after 14 episodes.


The animated series (RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES) was launched in 1975. It follows three astronauts ( one a woman this time) who land on earth in the year 3900 or so. Time travel is an accepted theory. In this version, the Ape future is a bit more sophisticated. Rather than the world created with more of an ape-like style, we have cars, apartments, airplanes. Humans can be hunted as sport or kept as pets.They do have a decree-that if humans are discovered to have language and sophisticated reasoning ability they are to be wiped out. I found it to be more engaging than the live action, if only because the themes were closer to the original. The assembly line animation with the old style block face templates is not my favorite, but getting past that, it’s a fairly good show.


SF Obscure: Alien Nation TV Movies


I did a post long ago on ALIEN NATION. If you haven’t seen ALIEN NATION watch it before you read. 🙂 It focuses on a group of aliens, the Newcomers, whose slave ship crashes on Earth and they become part of the population of L.A. It’s a combination of SF and crime drama. The episodes follow two detectives, Matthew Sikes(human) and George Francisco(Newcomer) as they navigate the human and Newcomer (Tenctonese) worlds. The series only lasted one season, but there were a series of TV movies to continue the story.

DARK HORIZON begins where the series leaves off. George’s wife Susan and his daughter Emily are attacked with a engineered virus to exterminate Newcomers. All of the cast is back. Cathy, the Newcomer nurse, is a doctor now. (Newcomers adapt and learn quickly). Matt and George have to find a cure for the virus as well as deal with a Tenctonese agent, Ahpossno, sent by the Overseers, to reinslave them. It’s a good show. The two parallel plots are well paced and engaging-although the Overseer Agent plot takes over if only because the character of Ahpossno is engaging. I also liked the richer exploration of Tenctonese culture explaining its matriarchal origins and life before their enslavement.

BODY AND SOUL follows George and Matt as they investigate what appears to be a hybrid human-Tenctonese child. Because the Tenctonese are bred for adaptability, this may be the beginnings of a new race. This episode also explores the beginnings of Matt and Cathy’s sexual relationship and differing attitudes towards sexuality. It fairly heavy on the social commentary about sexuality and politics, but I think it does the job nicely while keeping and engaging plot.

MILLENNIUM follows George and Matt as they investigate a Tenctonese influenced cult that George’s son Buck falls in with. It’s entertaining, but lacks some of the strong social themes that gave the previous two its impact. Also, the characters of Buck and Emily, George’s kids, never seem to have a consistency to them. I am not sure if its the characters or the writing but their personalities seem to change with the plot, which makes their adventures less convincing. Still, it has its moments and the cult leader, Jennifer, really steals the spotlight.

THE ENEMY WITHIN focuses on a group of Tenctonese called the Eenos who are discriminated against and treated as untouchable. They were forced to do the worse jobs of waste extraction and sometimes survived on carcasses. As a result, other Tenctonese refuse to accept them. The movie begins with an escaped Eeno girl left to die as other Tenctonese refuse to help. Matt is shocked at George’s open bigotry; and George has to confront his discomfort with his slave past. As a subplot, George is asked help father a child. Among the Tenctonese, two males are needed to impregnate a female. George’s wife, Susan, deals with her own feelings of jealousy as human and Tenctonese value systems clash within her. This is a return to Alien Nation’s social themes and a stronger movie than the previous one.

THE UDARA LEGACY is the last of the TV movies. It focuses on a resistance movement of sleeper agents among the Tenctonese. It is the most action SF of all of the movies. There is more screen time given to Emily Francisco and a continuation of some to the relationship of Matt and Cathy. Like the third movie, it moves away from the social themes and as a result, is not as interesting. Alien Nation can get preachy, but it does that well and is most effective in that element. This is still not a bad TV movie, but not my favorite.


Well, it’s almost time for the holidays. I haven’t had time to do much TV watching, thought I did get to see BLADE RUNNER 2049 (twice) and THE LAST JEDI. And a few mysteries here and there. (ENDEAVOUR!!) I’m looking forward to BRIGHT- a Netflix series starring Will Smith with elves. I am a fan of anything with elves, pretty much. And the holidays are always the season for my Lord Of the Rings Marathon.

Happy Holidays!


SF Obscure: First Wave


 First Wave was a Canadian action/Adventure SF series that ran from 1998-2001. It ran for three seasons on the Space Channel in Canada. Yay Canada!

The plot centers around Cade Foster who’s framed for his wife’s murder and is on the run to uncover a vast alien conspiracy. From what I gathered-it took a bit to put the pieces together-the aliens kidnapped him and made him part of an experiment to test emotions or responses or something. Anyway, Foster doesn’t become their pawn and goes on the run. He is helped along by Eddie, a guy who ran a paranormal magazine and does all the computer nerd stuff. They are later joined in their quest to stop the aliens by an alien assassin turned ally named Joshua.

The aliens are called the Gua, who eventually intend to take over Earth. The Gua come from a star system via wormhole travel by putting their souls into little silver orbs and inhabiting human husk bodies. (This saves on the make-up budget, I am sure.) Also, salt is a highly addictive drug to the Gua. (If the Gua are inhabiting human bodies why would salt have adverse affects? Nevermind.) Apparently, Nostrodamus was a Gua and his predictions of three waves leading to the destruction of mankind are part of the alien plot. Most of the episodes involve Cade and Eddie following strange, paranormal stories and then investigating them for the true alien link. Every once and a while, law enforcement tracks Cade or aliens try to kill him.

The lead actor Sebastian Spence was later on Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t recognize him from that, but I realized that I did recognize him from the infamous X-files episode Home. Roger Cross, who plays the alien Joshua is apparently in Dark Matter (which I haven’t seen) but was also in the very fine Canadian SF show Continuum. And Traci Lords who was quite famous/infamous in the 1980’s for her porn career and the whole debate about it; but later became mainstream actress.

 First Wave is a decent show. It’s formulaic and loses steam as the episodes go on. But it’s not a bad show and it was an interesting trip down nostalgia lane.


SF Obscure: The Visitor


The Visitor was a 1997-1998 series starring John Corbett. If you don’t know the series, you probably know John Corbett from lots of dramas, particularly if you’re of a certain generation. (Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The Visitor lasted one season for 13 episodes. ( I have seen it listed as two seasons-unsure of how it was broadcast.)

Anyway, John Corbett stars as Adam McAuthur, a WWI pilot who went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out he was abducted by aliens and returns 50 years later. Adam hasn’t ages and now possesses special powers. Anyhow, Adam has been returned to Earth as a part of a mission to save humanities future. It’s premise is similar to the 4400.

In the pilot, The Visitor is similar to 4400’s human drama themes. The Alien ship crashes and Adam is on the run. He’s helped by a single mom and her son whom become attached to him as he reintegrates to the modern world. Adam uses his special powers and tells us all about how aliens want humans to reach our full potential; love one another; we’re all connected etc etc.  (It reminded me of the 1982 series The Phoenix, with Judson Scott. Anyone else remember that?)

The next episodes become more focused on a larger mission for Adam to seek out special people who will influence history to some mysterious end. It’s still feel good, but with a wider focus. It morphs yet again as a parallel plot line of ramps up with Adam pursued by government agencies. This is full on X-Files copy with hidden conspiracies; nefarious secret groups meeting in hushed voices and casting long shadows in vaulted rooms; classified documents stumbled upon and dossiers tossed importantly across desks; and, of course, black helicopters.

I liked the individual episodes well enough but I did feel as if the series couldn’t decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Family drama SF light? Conspiracy action show? A bit of both? There was a really neat Halloween/ War of the Worlds episode. Even though I was reasonably entertained by the episodes, I understood why it was cancelled. I don’t think all series need a story arc- but I do feel, especially in SF, series need a distinctive style or focus. The Visitor didn’t quite get there for me.


SF Obscure: The Tripods


The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.


SF OBSCURE: BeastMaster


BeastMaster the TV series ran from 1999-2002 for three seasons. It’s listed as an American/Canadian/Australian series. It was broadcast on Canadian TV initially and filmed mainly in Australia. I’m not clear who owns it. It was loosely based on the 1982 movie The Beastmaster . (Which also has some low budget sequels)

The series centers around Dar (David Goddard) who can talk to animals and protects them as well as saving villagers from various threats. His has a friend Tao (Jackson Rain) a healer whom he travels with. They are later joined by Arina (Marjean Holden) a warrior. Marjean Holden later played the medical doctor on the Babylon 5 spin-off series Crusade.

This is a sword and sorcery world. There are many scattered tribes, lots of lost cities and ruins, and of course, magic. Some of the episodes are action/adventure-with Dar and Tao taking on evil tribal leaders and saving villagers. Others focus on the nature aspect and Dar’s ability to communicate with animals. Later on we learn more about Dar’s past, legacy, prophecy…that kind of thing. There are lots and lots of sorcerers. Most of them are women with perfect make-up and fabulous hair who control some sort of natural object (birds, fire, etc.).

As much as it’s easy to tease it’s not a bad show. There is nothing particularly innovative in the sword and sorcery genre, but it delivers what most people expect of that kind of show. Dar and Tao grow on you; Arina is a cool warrior woman; and it’s general family fare. I started to really enjoy watching it. I can’t say I’d binge watch all three seasons, but it’s a cute show. It reminds me of Xena, Hercules, even Legend of the Seeker. I haven’t seen many shows of that type recently. I tried to watch a few episodes of The Shannara Chronicles, but the young adult hipster elves relationship problems tend to grate at me. I’m just too old for it.


SF/Horror Obscure: Beasts


This series is awesome. And its more horror than SF, but it’s speculative.

I needed to recover from TekWar, so I decided to watch Beasts. I’d seen one episode a while ago, and was meaning to sit down and watch all six so here was my chance.

Beasts is a short run anthology horror show by Nigel Kneale, the creator of Qatermass.

(If you don’t know Qatermass it was one of the first serious SF TV serials and inspired Doctor Who among other things.) Nigel Kneale has a long and distinguished career in SF and horror.

Beasts originally ran in 1976 on ITV, as six episodes (50min). They are connected by a loose them of strange creatures and horrific circumstances, but the real power lies in the often unsympathetic but completely compelling characters. There are many recognizable actors in the series including Martin Shaw (Inspector George Gently!!!) and Micheal Kitchen (Inspector Foyle!!). I’m a huge fan of British TV mysteries-I’ve watched more of Midsomer Murders than is healthy.

One of my favorite episodes, Special Offer, stars an awkward, plump shop assistant who may or may not be responsible for calling up a poltergeist in the form of the shop’s mascot. Cans fall from shelves, packages of food are torn open and eaten, and items are knocked over with increasing frequency and violence. The worst part, however, is the store manager. He’s a handsome ambitious young man who comes across as smiling and friendly to the customers. He changes completely around the plump shop assistant-berating her, making fun of her weight and her looks. He shows his true self bit by bit as we watch his underhanded schemes and casual cruelty. Yet, as hard as it is to watch, the actress, Pauline Quirke, plays her part of the put upon shop assistant so brilliantly that you can see every bit of her pain, her humiliation, yet her possible power. She’s fantastic.

What Big Eyes has the same effect-taking a run down pet shop, an animal cruelty inspector, a discredited scientist and his daughter. The daughter believes her father to be a genius and a great man, even as he tells the inspector that he thinks her slow and largely useless. Like the shop girl in the earlier skit, we see a compelling, powerful portrayal of a woman who is put upon and victimized, yet it does not turn out as you’d suspect.

Beasts is…creepy, disturbing, hard to watch, yet almost impossible not to. The sets are small and simple, very much like a stage play, and the acting is effective.


SF Obscure: 1990


This is a series I’d heard about in rumors, but hadn’t had a chance to see. It was released on DVD in March and came highly recommended. (However, it’s a UK release only as far as I know so borrow or buy a multi-system player) Series 1 and 2 are available.

1990, made in 1977, posits a future Britain run by the Public Control Department (PCD)- an all powerful bureaucracy in which government regulations turn into social control.  A few lone journalists walk a fine line between criticizing the government and being shut down.

It starts with an attempt at a military overthrow in the mid 1980’s in which the state took over.   Emigration, not immigration, is Britain’s biggest problem as those with skilled jobs and higher education seek a life abroad. As such, the PCD makes it extremely difficult to get a travel visa, so an underground system emerges to smuggle people out of Britain. There are also strict labor union codes which basically lock people into jobs; county estates are turned into ‘reeducation centers’ for those who are unemployed or the government thinks needs ‘reforming’; a whole series of codes governing arts, education, journalism, and what language is deemed appropriate.

There is a rather large cast of characters-but I found it to be more of a topical show than an character based show. There is continuing subplot involving spies in the PCD and the PCD infiltrating other organizations. ( A resistance cell?) Some of the discussions can be confusing if you don’t know much about the British political system. It’s a unique show in that it posits a slow slide to dictatorship rather than ‘one evil leader’ and raises uncomfortable questions about limits on speech and personal freedoms worth thinking about in today’s world.  The PCD’s belief that it’s ‘helping’ people when their actions show otherwise makes you question those who think they know ‘what’s good for you’.

1990 is a thinking show…if you want shooting and riots  this is not for you. I found it fascinating. I’m saving my pennies for Series 2. There are also novelizations of the series. Highly recommended.