Monday, August 15, 2011

Television: Flash Gordon and The Witch of Neptune

While I've featured print, movie serials, and radio science fiction here pretty much from the beginning, there's one medium I haven't yet scoured for the finest entertainment the public domain will allow: television.  Today, I begin making up our omission.

As we go along, I hope to bring you some science fiction you may not have heard of, and science fiction-related items from sources you might not expect.

Well, that said, let's get to some Flash Gordon.

This series, which lasted for one season in 1954-5, was an American/French/West German co-production.  In America, it aired mostly in first-run syndication, but in the east, it was on the ill-fated and, at that time, rapidly fading DuMont Television Network.  According to Wikipedia, DuMont decided in February 1955 to wind down operations, and it dropped most of its entertainment programs as of April 1.  I don't know whether or not this included Flash Gordon, which was then only 24 episodes into its 39-episode season.  I would guess not, since DuMont didn't actually produce the show, and had probably paid for the whole season already.  At any rate, DuMont aired its last non-sports program on September 23, ten weeks after the airdate of the last episode of the series.

Universal, which produced the three Flash Gordon movie serials, had let their rights to the character lapse by 1954.  Ironically, it was two former executives from the company who then partnered with rights-holder King Features Syndicate to produce the series.

By the looks of things, they bought the rights only for the name value, because this series dramatically deviates from the continuity of the comic strip and serials.  There's no Ming here, no Mongo, no Prince Barin, none of that.  It's the year 3203, and Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Zarkov are agents of the Galactic Bureau of Investigation, or GBI, fighting evil around the galaxy.

You may feel while watching this that someone has slipped you some cold medicine, or that you forgot to take your meds this morning, because this is some whacked-out shizzle.  There are times I think the scripts for this show took, at best, about twice as long to write as they do to watch.  This series has a lot of "Wait, what?" moments.  In this episode, I think my favorite is the huge, clearly labeled switches, with the exclusive function of doing something no one at GBI should ever want to do.  At least it has a two-key security system.

"So wait a minute," you may ask.  "In that case, why are you starting with this?  It couldn't have to do with the fact that Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is some of the most-watched material on your YouTube channel, could it?"  The answer to that is: well, yes, pretty much.  I'm not proud.  In fact, I'm so not-proud, I'm presenting the series' only multi-part story, a three part-epic.  This week, it's part one, "The Witch of Neptune," broadcast March 4, 1955.  (It's in two pieces because I tried uploading it as a single 4.54GB file, and it froze up 56% of the way through.  Rather than waste more time trying to get it in one piece, I split it in two... and, of course, they uploaded just fine, one after the other, so presumably it would have worked as single file the second time.  Oh, well.)

Besides, I have it from some people that this isn't even the worst series with the name Flash Gordon.  I haven't seen the 2007-8 Sci-Fi Channel series myself, though.  According to Wikipedia, the British magazine SFX called an episode of that show, written by someone I used to know, "possibly the worst episode of anything, ever."  But since, thanks to the Internet, pretty much every episode of everything, ever, is described somewhere as the worst episode of anything, ever, she probably shouldn't lose much sleep over it.

Sorry for the blown-out contrast.  That's the way it was when I got it, and there's really nothing one can do for it at that point.  Also, Part One ends kind of abruptly.  That's where the commercial break was (hence the recap at the start of Part Two), but the last few seconds before the break must have, well, broken off at some point.

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