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THE SPACE CROPPERS

By Matthew Wharmby mwharmby@amdragon.com

PREMISE: The Galactica's agroships are destroyed by the Cylons, so Troy and Dillon have to do a bit of wheeler-dealing with a local farmer.

MORAL: Racism is bad. So is greed.

WHAT WE LEARN: A fair bit of Chicano history, the suitability for planting of certain items of produce, and the machinations of rainfall.

BACKGROUND:

Attending college in the US, I discovered Bill Anchors' comprehensive video archive Star Tech, and immediately spent most of my tuition on his services. First priority was to collect all the remaining Galactica episodes I hadn't seen, among which, of course, were those of the infamous Galactica 1980. A bit of local history ensued, as all these tapes were recorded on first airdate from ABC affiliates in obscure places like Chattanooga or Dayton, Ohio.

THE STORY:

Troy looks serious. Too bad the show never was!Begins promisingly, with a leisurely shot of the agroship sailing delicately through space, and suitably ominous music (the music, always of the highest standard, managed to endure in quality through Galactica 1980, with some nicely done individual themes). Cut to three Cylon basestars of the lurking taskforce, and none other than Imperious Leader. Just what he's doing all the way out here is anybody's guess, but disappointment is heavy when he opens his mouth (wherever on his ugly face that happened to be), as the budget does not extend to re-employing the silken tones of Patrick Macnee.

It is rather nice to see the old-style throne room make a return, although accomplished entirely with stock footage of a single centurion making his way in for an audience (and looking decidedly wobbly-legged in the process, might I add).

Imperious Leader declares a new strategy, ordering the targeting of the Galactican fleet's food supply. With their agroships destroyed, the humans will have to approach Earth closer, and thereby reveal its location to the Cylons. To this end, squadrons of fighters take off. These raiders are piloted by what I can only imagine as Valley Cylons. 'Like-source-identified-as-Galactican-fleet;-gag-me-with-a-spoon'. A large speck of injudiciousness in the voice casting, methinks.

We are now three or four minutes into the episode and still haven't used any non-stock footage, as vipers launch and head off into the attack. You immediately notice that the viper pilots' helmets are different, being more like motorbike helmets with a smaller mouthpiece (and you'll see them repainted black on the Buck Rogers episode 'Flight of the War Witch', which was filmed within months of Space Croppers). One of the pilots to get a little more screen time is a black man in his mid-twenties with a prominent grin, whom we recall sat next to Troy and Dillon in Dr Zee's conference chamber on 'Galactica Discovers Earth', and whom fanfic (aided by a one-liner in the Berkley novelisation of that episode) casts as Lieutenant Kip. This was the lucky warrior who got the really plum assignment to the USSR.

The battle scene is lifted almost directly from 'The Gun On Ice Planet Zero', even down to the incidental music, but I'm not too bothered about that, as that was a pretty good scrap. As the Valley Cylons break and head for the agroships, we see Adama and Dr Zee watching the battle (in the conference chamber! Who's looking after the bridge?!). In a volley of stock fire, the agroships eat it, and the Cylons disengage. Kip doesn't seem too flustered, as he lets out a warrior's 'yeee-hooo!' while picking off the rearguard (Did that count as payable dialogue for that uncredited actor?).

Adama groans, wondering why the Cylons should pick that ship out of all 220, and Dr Zee responds with the second incarnation of his 'Since the time of our defeat, the Cylons have not been idle' speech. The boy genius concurs with Imperious Leader, that it's a pretty obvious plan to lead the Cylons to Earth.

There follows a strikingly pointless scene in Adama's quarters, where the Commander is unusually excited about the prospect of opening their first agricultural colony on Earth. He and Boomer (in flight uniform) are interrupted by an unidentified captain (in hangar crew uniform) barging in to complain that D Squadron (nicknamed the Daggits) have been souping up their vipers by removing the limiters from the turbochargers. So what? we wonder, as we do the same to our factory-limited BMWs. There are great fanfic possibilities for the details in this scene which I'm going to try to tackle at some point, namely the fact that Lieutenant Dante seems to be a grade-A nutter, a loose cannon who will attack Cylon baseships with neither provocation nor fear, and thus comes in useful as a protector of Troy and Dillon on their missions to Earth. We do hear the voiceover of Dante as his squadron takes off on another harassing mission against the baseships, and he does sound like a lunatic. A kind of post-Starbuck, if you will.

As Troy and Dillon make their way to Earth, we cut to a different scene. A none-too-prosperous smallholding in California's green belt owned by a Mexican-American family, the Alonsos. They are this close from bankruptcy, and patriarch Hector has taken the last resort and placed an ad for help in the local paper, but is embarrassed to have done so in front of the local Growers' Association, whom we are already surmising are a bit out of order.

First to be seen is ten-year-old son Chris, who helpfully gives us the backstory in a rather desperate prayer, the last stanza of which is the suitably prophetic 'and please, PLEASE send someone to help my dad!' Second is Gloria, seventeenish, who is played by Ana Alicia in her second role on Battlestar Galactica. And still, might I add, utterly gorgeous. She's barely on this episode, but, aside from a little issue of mine with her attitude, she could steal it.

One of the more light-hearted moments covers Troy and Dillon's approach to the Alonso farm. They encounter a shabby-looking scarecrow and immediately assume it's a local (Not such an erroneous assumption! You'd get a damn sight better conversation than out of most Californians!). The dialogue here is so priceless that I feel no shame in reproducing it in full.

DILLON: Over there, an Earthling.

TROY: That must be Mr Alonso. Excuse me...

DILLON: That's not a life form!

TROY: Some type of dried grass.

DILLON: Stuffed in an Earthling's clothing? Why?

TROY: Might be some kind of primitive burial symbol.

DILLON: Some kind of an attempt at crude artistic expression?

TROY: Looks like the main dwelling over there.

DILLON: ...Nice night!

Somehow, the readership of the small ads of the Riverside County edition of the LA Times comes from a considerably more widespread demographic than imagined, and somewhere like that was where the lads saw Hector Alonso's appeal for help. To this end, they're dressed up like hillbillies - all they need is bits of straw hanging out of their gobs, or better still, a big plug of chaw marinating away inside a cheek.

Hector's ad offers to sell half interest in the farm, but an irrigation quota placed there by John Steadman, of the Growers' Association, is starving him out. Our Dillon's not being starved, as Gloria takes an instant liking to him and starts plying him with food. Next day, Hector takes Troy and Dillon to the perimeter of his property in a wretched old truck. There, as plain as day, is a dam. Not as big as the Hoover, and not the kind beavers live in, but damnable (as it were) enough to cut off two-thirds of the water supply. As Hector explains the problem, up rolls a black Mercedes 450 SEL with natty monograms on the doors, and John Steadman introduces himself. He's a few years and a few pounds shy of Boss Hogg dimensions, and he lacks the heart of gold. He's got two redneck associates known as Maze and Barrett, and they cover the chewin' tobacco requirement.

Transpires Steadman has a problem with Hispanics and/or trespassers, but greed is this week's 'evil'; basically he wants to buy Hector's farm for a knockdown price.

What has to be the most disappointing scene in the whole episode isn't too bad on its own, but is let down by the use of music which has been used for far more exciting battle scenes. Thus, the score for the destruction of the agroships (the FIRST time around) at the opening of 'The Magnificent Warriors' is expected to prop up thirty miserable seconds' footage of Maze's thrown cigar butt setting fire to the seeds in the bed of Hector's truck. Seeds that Hector thinks are way too complicated to grow quickly on his scrappy farm.

The lads pull over, jump out and drag out the sacks of burned crops - and now it's war!

DILLON: Troy, I'm beginning to get angry.

TROY: I was angry about five centons ago.

While they could be picking out the undamaged seeds and shovelling them back into the truck, they instead endure a lecture by Hector on the abridged history of the Chicano diaspora - evidently the five minutes' education time demanded by the network. This was fine by me, as I didn't previously know about Juarez, or Diego Rivera, and happen to find the stuff interesting. Similarly for the discussion of what soil requirements you need to plant legumes (like peas and alfalfa - should I ever want to eat those ghastly vegetables! Ugh!)

Troy and Dillon go to have it out with Steadman, demanding compensation for the lost seed. Steadman has a good play with his employees, deciding to show a bit of cheap good faith by taking the payment out of Maze and Barrett's wages. He can't resist the opportunity to put one over on Troy and Dillon, and throws in an offer of untamed racehorse Satan - if they can ride him. He'd already garnered some laughs out of watching the horse throw Maze all over the place.

This is where they make a fool out of Steadman, simply pacifying the animal with a burst of alpha waves from their wrist computers.

Dillon breezes back to the ranch and presents Gloria with the horse. But I think I'd be entitled to more than an 'I think you're cute' if I'd handed over the next Red Rum as if it was a My Little Pony! Especially from the proverbial farmer's daughter! Damn!

'Nice-looking horse you got there,' the two yahoos Maze and Barrett counter in reply; 'Wait till you try watering it.' Steadman is going to cut their water off altogether.

Adama calls. In order to get the seed planted and grown to replenish the fleet's hydroponic capabilities without a blip, they have to do it that night. Dr Zee will swing by in his anti-gravity ship and niggle the clouds into producing a good storm (and here we get our third lecture of the piece. Again, not uninteresting by any means. Living underneath torrents of the damn stuff nearly every day, I'd never previously cared as to how or why rain was produced!).

One educational concern the producers ought to have thought about is child labour, as Troy and Dillon draft the scouts in to do a bit of Land Army work on Hector's plantation. No local labourers dare show up for fear of being cut off too, and they would take two weeks to do the job. So, that night, a lot of jumping and vaulting about with bags of seed (accompanied by the grotesque Super Scouts' Theme that is so obnoxious that I have to turn the sound off every time), into furrows ploughed by Troy and Dillon, with a pair of Buck Rogers handguns, gets the job done. A passing Steadman can't believe his eyes - but Chris is equally gobsmacked when he sees a flying saucer sneak past his window at roughly the same time. Inside said flying saucer (whose very smart bridge set swallowed a good percentage of Galactica 1980's budget) are a veritable army of Caprica Hillbillies, who are Galactican agricultural experts assigned by Dr Zee to harvest the crops.

Crops shoot up overnight, but this phenomenon goes unnoticed compared to Steadman's frantic revelations of leaping aliens (illegal aliens, in a final slur) and flying saucers to the Growers' Association. Thankfully, they sprout brains as quickly as Alonso's legumes and laugh him out of town, voting to order the dam torn down and the water distributed freely. Helped of course by Jamie's revealing of her press credentials, as nothing will frighten off honest country folk more than the media.

So the lads have got to go, and Gloria's heart is broken. Still, after saving her family's livelihood, scoring her a free horse AND growing in one night enough crops to feed two hundred and twenty ships, all she gives to Dillon is a shy kiss on the cheek before running off girlishly. Starbuck he's not! And I hope Troy doesn't have to take front seat next time they go out in a patrol viper!

VERDICT: Two stars (Fair). Learn a few things amid nice sunshine and idyllic settings, the odd throwaway line, and Ana Alicia.


John's Review

RATING: DUD (no stars)

The Space Croppers starts out interesting, but quickly takes an abrupt nosedive into looney land. The plot parallels that of The Magnificent Warriors. Due to the destruction of the fleet's agroships by a Cylon attack, another source of food supply must be found. The Magnificent Warriors was a horrible episode, so it must be considered quite a feat that Space Croppers turns out to be even worse.

Troy, Dillon, Jamie and the Super Scouts appear for the last time on Galactica 1980.

The Imperious Leader appears for the first and last time on Galactica 1980. His voice is done by Dennis Haysbert, not Patrick Macnee, his voice in the original series. In the closing credits, Dennis Haysbert is simply referred to as "The Creature".

The Imperious Leader's plan to force the Galactica to lead the Cylons to Earth makes no sense. How could Imperious Leader know that Earth was nearby? And if he did know, why not just destroy the Colonial fleet and conduct a search of the nearby planets? Did anything on this series make sense? Was anything supposed to?

The Super Scouts bouncing high in the air and throwing seeds while singing their song is hands down the most ludicrous thing ever shown on Galactica 1980.

This is the only episode of Galactica 1980 not written by Glen Larson.

The footage of the accelerated planet growth was taken from the 1971 movie Silent Running.

The Viper pilots wear a new style of helmets.

The Daggit Squadron is introduced in this episode.

This episode is sometimes erroneously called Harvest Home.

The voices of the Cylons sound slightly different, and not for the better.

Ana Alicia (Gloria Alonzo) played Aurora in the Battlestar Galactica episode Take The Celestra.

Unbelievably, the Alonzo family accepts the existence of aliens from another world without any question.

If Dr. Zee is such a genius, why doesn't it ever occur to him to use Galactican technology to create money so the Colonials can simply buy the food that they need? I guess such a simple solution would have made this story pointless.

This episode was sent out on satellite only twenty minutes before air time, which shows just how rushed the series was.

Adama and Dr. Zee's extended conversation about rain, precipitation, etc., is yet another example of the educational dialogue required by the network.

Blooper 1 - The Gemini freighter is seen during the Cylon attack. It was destroyed in The Super Scouts.

Blooper 2 - A Cylon tanker is seen in the fleet during the attack.

Blooper 3 - Adama states that two agroships have been destroyed in the Cylon attack, yet after the events of The Magnificent Warriors there was only one agroship left.

There is an episode of Lost In Space which is also named The Space Croppers. It involves Dr. Smith's marriage to a space cropper named Sybilla, who grows man-eating plants.


Matthew Wharmby's Hilarious Galactica 1980 Episode Reviews

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