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18 May 2013

Planet of the Apes TV Series (1974)

One of my earliest VCR memories is of watching Planet of the Apes some time in the late 70s. The label on the tape was hand-written and actually read "Plant of the Apes" (a film I'd happily pay to see). It came from a video shop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but that's a story for another day.

Okay, so I've just learnt how to make animated gifs. I will try to not
overuse my new skill... but yep... there are quite a few in this post.
Stop reading now if you are prone to epileptic fits.
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

The gorillas terrified me as a child. Not since the Daleks had I been reduced to such a quivering mess. With its cutting edge make-up and whiz-bang special effects there was a lot for an impressionable mind to take in. I can't be sure how much of the film I saw from behind the settee, but it made a big impression on me. Let me lay my cards on the table... I'm still a little bit obsessed by the whole Apes thing.

Here's a picture of monkey found only in Australia

Two or three years ago I happened to see a DVD boxset of the Planet of the Apes TV Series on eBay and snapped it up thinking that it would be pretty kid-friendly. At that time I was suffering from not being able to watch anything other than bloody CBBC. Having hyped up the whole experience with my son J-Uke we eagerly sat down to watch the first episode... and we didn't even get through the credits before he made me switch it off. Damn! Roll on to a couple of weeks ago where I craftily dusted off the discs for another try ;-D

Who can these three strangers be?
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

A little bit of history...

The phenomenon that is Planet of the Apes all started with Pierre Boulle's 1963 book La Planète des Singes which I reviewed for you fairly recently. This book spawned the hugely successful 1968 film "Planet of the Apes" starring Charlton Heston which in turn lead to "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" in 1970, "Escape from Planet of the Apes" in 1971, "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" in 1972 and finally "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" in 1973.

Public enthusiasm for the franchise had all but dried up by the release of the final film. You'd have thought that this would have been the death knell, but no, some bright spark in the CBS ranks commissioned a TV series as one last desperate shot in the arm. Unfortunately, the patient died and the series was canned after one miserable run. Boo! I got to watch the show for the first time in the early 90s. I seem to remember that it was aired at lunchtime on Sundays by Channel 4 for months and months and months. It became my ironing staple.

The opening credits to the TV series are simply brilliant. Here you
can see them in low-res grainy blur. They're probably the best bit of
the whole show! ;-D
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

You will no doubt be aware that there have been several attempts in recent-ish years to reignite the franchise. I won't be talking about these today because I haven't even seen the last one.

The TV series of Planet of the Apes rode on the coat-tails of the film franchise and was loosely based upon the story fleshed out in the films. There are nods to the original characters and I fancy that many of the props are probably original too. Frustratingly, the humans can talk and the apes are all a little bit thick.

I had a bit of fun on Google+ with this snippet from one of the episodes.
It's exactly what you think it is... a monkey playing a banjolele!
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

Roddy MacDowall once again dons his fur onesie as a chimpanzee. This time around he is Galen and is joined by the chunky Ron Harper as Colonel Alan Virdon and cheeky James Naughton as Major Peter "Pete" J Burke. Harper and Virdon fitted to a Tee that dark-hair/light-hair pairing that was very popular in TV shows of the 70s. They were simpler times. ;-)

I just love this photo of Roddy McDowall chilling between takes.
Photo courtesy of  X - Woman with the X-Ray Eyes

Gorilla with gun
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

My favourite character is the gorilla Urko, played by the talented Mark Lenard. I guess it had to be a gorilla didn't it? Reading through Lenard's back catalogue just now, I realise that he embodies what the Ukulele Blog is all about (if you can look past the ukulele part). Lenard appeared in numerous incarnations of Star Trek and a fair few Westerns including Clint Eastwood's classic Hang Em High! He even appeared on Hawaii Five-O and Buck Rogers! Mark Lenard died in 1996 at the age of 72. I dedicate this post to his memory.

Mark Lenard - 1924-96
The actor who played Urko
Photo courtesy of  FanPix

The TV series was never going to win any awards. The stories are pretty obvious black-and-white moralistic tales. There are 14 shows in total running at about 45 minutes each, covering topics like trust, redemption, racism and corruption all woven into that well-worn trope of ape versus man. Virdon and Burke are on the run, aided by the renegade chimpanzee Galen, pursued by Urko and his army of Apes. Each show throws them into a slightly different situation with pretty much the same outcome... they live to fight another day! Once you get into the groove, it's watchable, but you've got to get into the groove.

This is a still that appears a number of times. There's a lot of recycling of
footage and props in the various episodes. The budget must have been
tight. I love the apocalyptic setting.
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

One of the shows on the DVD apparently never got aired the first time round due to sensitivity over current affairs. Episode 13, "The Liberator" was pulled as the plot revolved around the creation of poisonous gas as a weapon of mass destruction. This was felt to be too controversial when viewed against a backdrop of "the Watergate Scandal, the Vietnam War protests, the Agent Orange controversy, the Yom Kippur War, the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, and the enactment of the War Powers Resolution by US Congress." Wow... there was a lot going on in the 70s!

My new wallpaper
Planet of the Apes, CBS 1974

If you haven't already twigged there is a bit of a formula to the show.

I know it's corny, but I love the McGyver-like moments where Virdon and Burke amaze the locals with their futuristic knowledge. I am convinced that Virdon can whittle anything with his knife! Burke's a star too. Put the two together and they can build water irrigation systems, erect fences, deliver calves, perform delicate surgery, the works! What talented guys! Makes me proud to be human!

Human Scum!

I also love the fight scenes. They're absolutely rubbish. Ha ha. I don't know what it is with the gorillas, but they're absolutely useless at fighting. They couldn't hit the side of a barn with their rifles and they're far too clumsy for fisticuffs. It's a good job that they're almost indestructible; There isn't an episode goes by without Virdon or Burke knocking one unconscious. If I had a pound for every gorilla the boys laid low and left tied up...

I used to have this! It was a comic that came with a record.
Battle of the Planet of the Apes, Power Records
Photo courtesy of Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive

Right, time to stop... no more talk about monkeys. On the Triple-B, I wonder if 4 glasses of banana daiquiri might improve the whole viewing experience. There's only one way to find out...


  1. Re:
    "I just love this photo of Roddy McDowall chilling between takes".

    Then you should like this clip as well.

    That Aussie monkey looks kind of sexy from the neck down .-)

  2. Oh,and I agree with your rating except I'll give it 4 banana splits instead -

  3. Roddy was a star wasn't he! I tried to get a shirt like his just recently for a ball I went to (no I don't get out much). Apparently they don't make them any more. What's wrong with the world?

  4. Seen the classic and the the other movies and now waiting for War for the Planet of the Apes

    1. Wow Lucas! Can't wait. Looks great!