Review By Paul Mount, 3 out of 5
US science-fiction TV in the 1970s was a very strange beast indeed. There were none of the hallmarks of today’s better fantasy shows ?no multi-layered story arcs, no intriguing conspiracy theories, no well-rounded characters. No, back in the 1970s US SF TV was just runaround stuff, variations on a men-on-the-run theme or else shows about groups of people stranded on some strange new world. Think FANTASTIC JOURNEY, LOGAN’S RUN and many more I’m far too chillded-out to remember. PLANET OF THE APES falls squarely into this curious group. With the film series having come full circle and run right out of steam, it was time for the ape masks and the stock footage to make the inevitable leap into weekly television. Remember that this show, screened prime-time Sunday nights in the UK, pulled in around 16 million before feeble ratings Stateside pulled the plug on the whole dirty stinking ape phenomenon until Tim Burton’s witless revision of the theme a couple of years ago.
It’s not hard to see why the PLANET OF THE APES series bit the dust after fourteen episodes. It just doesn’t have any of the wit and wisdom of the film series. It’s also stultifyingly unimaginative ?although it starts off fairly promisingly. Echoing the first movie, astronauts Virdon (Harper) and Burke (Naughton) find themselves on a familiar-yet-unfamiliar world when their spaceship tumbles through a handy spacewarp. They quickly discover that ?gasp! ?this is a future Earth where ?gulp! ?Man has become the slave and talking apes the masters. Yikes! V and B quickly team up with friendly chimp Galen (McDowell adding some simian savvy to the proceedings) and they’re forced to go on the run from nasty gorilla General Urko (Lenard) and his brutish thugs who are desperate to stop our heroes revealing the truth about the planet’s heritage to all and sundry. The three fugitives wander around the Los Angeles countryside encountering the human inhabitants of disparate settlements and, in the space of forty-five or so minutes, help sort out some local crisis or dreary domestic difference.
PLANET OF THE APES was really never going to work long-term as a TV show, at least not with this limited format and the limited imaginations of those working on it. The series either blithely contradicts the film series or else pointedly ignores it ?here the humans aren’t mute as they are in the film and it’s never made clear, despite references to other visitors, exactly where in Ape chronology all this takes place. Fans of the films may enjoy revisiting familiar concepts but the rest of us will soon be bored witless by antics involving hang-gliders, pregnant cows and badly-choreographed gladiatorial combat. Cancellation at fourteen episodes was a mercy killing.
THE DISCS: Not much in the way of remastering going on here but American film series generally look good in any format and these episodes are bright and colourful, despite the odd fleck and scratch. Extras? Trailers for the film set and that recent filmzp>
The PLANET OF THE APES TV series boxset is available now in the US and is released on 18th August 2003 in the UK.