Genesis II (1973), Planet Earth (1974), and Strange New World (1975)

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Okay. Let’s get this out of the way: This is the movie were you video fringe horndogs lose it over Mariette Hartley (as Lyra-A) in a two-piece bikini sporting two belly buttons (a dual circulatory system with two hearts) as a (network censored) “dominatrix” who breeds men for an oppressive, feminist regime.

Gulp.

Yes. Mariette Hartley: We’re talking Zarabeth in the Star Trek: TOS episode “All Our Yesterdays” where she cracked Spock’s emotionless Vulcan shell. She mixed it up with Gary Lockwood as Lisa Karger in Earth II (another failed TV movie pilot-to-series). She tempted Charlton Heston as Harriet Stevens in Skyjacked. She gave Dr. David Bruce Banner butterflies as Dr. Carolyn Fields in The Incredible Hulk. Yes. Mariette Hartley, with a resume of too many popular TV series to mention, all the way out to Fox TV’s 2018 hit series 9-1-1 as Patricia Clark.

Just one look at Mariette in Genesis II and you’ll forget all about the über-cool Sub-Shuttle that we all came for (and not a bogus CGI model . . . but a non-operational, full-sized prop pulled on a long-cable by an off-camera semi-truck) that pulls into a carved-out-of-the mountain sub-station (which Elon Musk has since pinched for his next millionaire-toy project). Oh, and did you notice the sterile, ultramodern-styled city looks suspiciously like the city in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox’s “Century City”)? And did you notice how many times the Sub-Shuttle footage was recycled in ‘70s sci-fi television?

Anyway . . . times were hard for ex-Star Trek creators.

In 1974, after the go-to-series failure with Genesis II, Gene Roddenberry developed another TV movie/series pilot with The Questor Tapes (1974). A thinly veiled reworking of the Gary Seven character and plot from the Star Trek: TOS episode “Assignment: Earth,” it was intended as a vehicle for Leonard Nemoy’s return to weekly television. The end product starred Robert Reed-doppelganger Robert Foxworth (1979’s Prophecy) who portrayed an android with incomplete memory tapes — in a pseudo The Fugitive storyline — searching for its creator and purpose (that also sounds like V’ger from Star Trek: TMP).

Then, after the additional go-to-series failures of the Genesis II reboots Planet Earth and Strange New World produced in the wake of The Questor Tapes, Roddenberry tried again — by jumping on the ‘70s “occult detective” sub-genre with 1977’s Spectre — by reworking another Star Trek element: the contemptuous friendship between Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy, itself a homage to the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Spectre starred Robert Culp (The Gladiator) as William Sebastian, a criminologist and occult expert assisted by Gig Young (1978’s Game of Death with Bruce Lee) as Dr. Hamilton. (If you care: Other shows in the ‘70s occult TV movie-to-series subgenre include The Sixth Sense with Gary Collins of Hanger 18 and Killer Fish, Roy Thinnes of Satan’s School for Girls in The Norliss Tapes, and the most-successful of the pack: Darren McGavin of Dead Heat and the post-apoc dropping Firebird 2015 A.D in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.)

Genesis II stars Alex Cord (who also journeyed into a “fucked up future” in Chosen Survivors) in the “future world” of 1979 as NASA scientist Dylan Hunt. Of course, he opens the post-apocalyptic proceedings with that all-too-familiar apocalypse (or psychological horror) cliché: “My name is Dylan Hunt. My story begins the day on which I died.” So goes the story a “20th Century Boy” (T Rex, anyone?) thrown forward in time by a suspended-animation earthquake-accident that damages his New Mexico/Carlsbad Caverns-housed “Project Ganymede” system for astronauts on long-duration spaceflights.

And we flash forward to the year 2133.

An archeological team of PAX (Latin for “peace”) descendants from the NASA personnel that lived-worked-were trapped in the Carlsbad installation when World War III (aka “The Great Conflict” because, well, the docile hoards of all post-apoc futures never seem to be able to preserve or retain a basic semblance of American history) broke out, discover Hunt’s buried chamber. And while they can’t seem to “remember” World War III, the PAX are smart enough to construct a subterranean rapid transit system utilizing a magnetic levitation rail operated inside a “vactrain-tunnel network” that spans the globe and saves the masses from air transportation attacks.

Anyway, here’s where Mariette Hartley comes in.

Lyra-A oversees the all-female totalitarian regime known as the mutated (natch) Tyranians that rule the lands once known as Arizona and New Mexico. In addition to their increased physical abilities, you can always spot a Tyran by their nifty, dual navels — that they seem to love to show off. (Schwing! Thank you, Gene!) Not that the wussy PAX-rats would do anything when they spot a Tyran: they let themselves be enslaved.

Lyra-A, in a grand alien fashion of the Star Trek variety, is enraptured by Roddenberry’s “Buck Rogers” and wants to harness Hunt’s knowledge of (among other things) nuclear power systems to fix the Tyranians’ dead power plant. But apoc-bitch Lyra-A double crossed him: it’s a ploy to reactivate a nuclear missile system to destroy the PAX. As a result, Hunt goes into Moses-mode (see the apoc-romps No Blade of Grass, Ravagers) and leads a revolt of the enslaved, sabotages the nuclear device, and destroys the reactor.

Sound pretty cool, right?

Airing to high ratings in March 1973 and eencouragedby the network brass, Roddenberry worked up a 20-episode first season on the adventures of Alex Cord’s post-nuc Moses. Then CBS-TV dropped the bomb: they passed over Genesis II and gave the timeslot to another competing post-apoc series: the short-lived and low-rated Planet of the Apes.

Those mothballed Genesis II episodes featured recycled ideas from Star Trek: TOS and fueled the later Star Trek movies — with stories about suspended animation soldiers from the past (“Khan!!!”), a London ruled by King Charles X; NASA “evolved” computers and equipment left on Jupiter’s Ganymede returning to Earth in search of their “God” (“The Changeling” and the annoying Persis Khambatta-V’ger non-sense from Star Trek: TMP); men turned into breeders and domesticated pets (reworked for the second pilot, Planet Earth); the ol’ catapulted-through-a-time-continuum back to 1975 gaffe (“Tomorrow and the Stars,” an episode from Star Trek: Phase II, the proposed-failed post-Star Wars reboot), and a creepy priesthood who enslaves the masses via electricity used as a “God” (“Return of the Archons” from ST: TOS).

The reason the network passed on Genesis II: The series was “too philosophical” and Alex Cord’s portrayal was “too dark and brooding.” They wanted another handsome and charmingly arrogant Captain James T. Kirk. So Roddenberry and Warner Bros. rebooted Dylan Hunt into an action-driven and conflict seeking Kirk-like character embodied by John Saxon.

Cue for Planet Earth.

Now Dylan was one of three cryogenically-frozen astronauts who return to Earth to reestablish the PAX organization that sent them into space. And while we lost Mariette Hartley, we gained the equally fetching Diana Muldaur (from Cord’s Chosen Survivors), who rules the Amazonian, male-enslaving “Confederacy of Ruth,” along with cherished character actors Bill McKinney (Deliverance, Cannonball) and Gerritt Graham (Phantom of the Paradise, Used Cars) as “impotent males” in recurring roles.

This time, instead of CBS, ABC aired the Warner Bros. produced program in April 1974.

The network passed.

Cue a Strange New World.

To creative and legal reasons lost to the test of time, Warner Bros., who now owned the intellectual rights, reworked the premise a third time as Strange New World (pinching the title from Star Trek’s opening monologue) — sans Roddenberry’s involvement — dumped the PAX and Tyranians, and retained John Saxon as the same Kirk-like character, now known as Captain Anthony Vico, who returns from a suspended animation space trip with two other astronauts (as in Planet of the Apes TV series that screwed Genesis II in the first place).

The movie aired in July 1975.

The network passed.

And with that, between Roddenberry’s vision, and the failure of the Planet of the Apes TV series (episodes were cut into overseas theatrical and telefilms), the small screen’s attempt to jump on the major Hollywood studios’ post-apocalyptic bandwagon was over. Thus, us wee lads and lassies gathered around the TV on Saturday mornings and settled for Filmation’s Ark II, whose 15 episodes (it seems it had more episode and was on much longer), aired in 1976, then reran in 1977, then again in 1978. And that kiddie-apoc series stopped production because the network “wanted Star Wars” (and not a TV knockoff of 1977’s Damnation Alley). So Ark II was reworked and repurposed (the same “universe,” so to speak) as Space Academy and Jason of Star Command (Sid Haig, rules!).

There was also another, similar attempt at the Genesis II concept with, ironically, another Star Trek: TOS alum: Glenn Corbett (warp-drive creator Zefram Cochrane in 1967’s “Metamorphosis”). As with Roddenberry’s The Questor Tapes, The Stranger (1973) was another failed TV movie-to-series sci-fi twist on the ‘60s runaway TV hit, The Fugitive. This time, instead of returning to a post-apocalyptic society, our astronaut (Hey, Sam . . . he’s named “Stryker”!) returns to a totalitarian “twin” Earth run by the “The Perfect Order.” (And if it all sounds a bit like 1969’s Journey to the Far Side of the Sun by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson of the fellow-failed, post-Star Trek series UFO and Space: 1999 . . . then it probably is.)

But wait . . . all was not lost with Genesis II.

Roddenberry’s widow, Majel Barrett (Nurse Christine Chapel in Star Trek: TOS and Lwaxana Troi on Star Trek: TNG and DSN) produced one of Roddenberry’s old pre/post-Star Trek dystopian-apocalyptic concepts, Andromeda (itself recycling from Genesis II and Planet Earth), a Canadian series that ran from 2000 to 2005 and aired in syndication on U.S television.

VHS rips of Genesis II and Strange New World can be enjoyed for free on You Tube, while Vudu has official, affordable streams of Genesis II and Planet Earth. For whatever “legal” reasons, no streaming platform offers Strange New World. However, copies of all three are widely available on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video’s Warner Archive Collection.

You say you’re still jonesin’ for a fix of the “Big Three”-over-the-air U.S television network movies from the good ol’ days before the VHS and cable television boom? Then check out B&S Movies’ tributes of “Lost TV Week,” “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Sons of Made for TV Movies Week,” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week.” 

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