By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Season two of television show Buck Rogers saw a whole new shift in premise and content. As you will recall, Buck, Played Gil Gerard, is frozen aboard a space shuttle mission and awakens 500 years in the future to find a very different Earth. The first season dealt with Buck trying to fit into this new society and bringing a touch of the twentieth century to it.
However, this all changed in the second season which became a more Star Trek type show. Buck, Wilma and Twiki relocated to the starship Searcher as it ventured into space to find the lost tribes of Earth; people that left when the nuclear war happened. New elements were introduced, like robot Crichton who played off against the more hip Twiki for comedy value and Wilfred Hyde-White played Doctor Goodfellow. His presence on the ship quite frankly baffled me as he was very old and was a bumbling character that just seemed to be there to fill in numbers. Plots were variable but effects were to the usual standard.
Gerard admits he didn’t think Buck would have joined the ship as he hadn’t yet acclimatised to life back in the 25th century so it made little character sense to fly off on a deep space mission and leave it all behind. However, it did make an attempt to delve deeper into Buck and Wilma’s characters especially in stories like Testimony of a Traitor where evidence from a newly unearthed secret base at Mount Rushmore shows Buck was instrumental in causing the nuclear war that devastated the Earth. The Guardians, thanks to a jade box, allowed us to meet Buck’s mother and what happened in the days before his ill-fated shuttle mission.
But there was one new addition to the short lived eleven episode that worked completely.
In the opening two parter, Time of the Hawk, Buck is assigned to bring in a terrorist called Hawk who is part man, part bird. Hawk, as it turns out, is waging war on the humans for the persecution and near extinction of his kind. We discover that Hawk’s avian people are in fact from Earth and left a long time ago. The inference is the statues of Easter Island were just those people. Now only Hawk and his mate, Koori are left and it is in a battle with Buck that Koori is mortally wounded. Buck and Hawk battle it out to the death before a God like being intervenes. Hawk is put on trial but is saved from the death penalty by Buck who tells of the slaughter of Hawk’s kind and that, by definition, the Searcher’s mission includes Hawk’s kind. He joins the crew as their mission becomes his too.
Played by Christopher Thom, Hawk was a fabulous creation and a character that you could feel for. He also showed that mankind in the 25th century really had lost their way. It was alright to wipe out Hawk’s kind but when he fought back he was condemned as a threat. It’s only Buck’s compassion and humanity that prevents another tragedy from taking place. He and Hawk became good friends and the bird man had one of the coolest ships in sci-fi history. It was shaped like an eagle and had retractable claws that allowed him to swoop down and pierce an enemy ship’s hull with its talon-like landing gears.
Thom played the character with a grace and dignity that left you in no doubt that this was an alien species, albeit one that was from Earth. His battle suit design still holds today as does the head full of feathers which works extremely well for the character. You know you’re dealing with something new which may have human characteristics but isn’t like us. An accomplished dancer, Thom also spent a lot of time studying birds for their movements and qualities and if you watch him climbing a hill for example, he never uses his feet and legs as a bird would in order to maintain the mannerisms – Hawk may have a human face but he was something infinitely more. And it worked. He’s a warrior and a lethal assassin all rolled into one, fearless and loyal to his friends. Buck is able to bring out a portion of his humanity through their adventures and Hawk quickly developed into an integral part of the show.
Christopher Thom has nothing but good things to say about his co-stars and the show which suffered heavily in the ratings battle. Had they gone with a third season, there was going to be a Hawk spin-off as he was an instant hit with viewers. To this day he is still surprised at how fondly people think of Hawk and there is word that a twelve inch figure will be released soon. Not bad for something that ended thirty years ago.
It would have been so easy to make Hawk a token alien presence on the show, but Thom really went the whole nine yards to make Hawk something different and unique. Not every story was a classic by any means but he was outstanding even in the most ludicrous scenes. One story he loves telling is how during one scene where they were fleeing down a corridor, the sound man kept picking up a strange hissing sound. No one could figure it out until they realized it was Thom doing the sound effects to himself of his gun shooting. Who among us hasn’t done that?
So if you watch the second season again, have a closer look at Hawk and see what I mean. He wouldn’t have been out of place on Deep Space 9. It’s a pity he was only on screen for eleven episodes, but thirty year later everyone still remembers him as one of the best things about the show.