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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series (1974)

"Those were apes, weren't they? What kind of planet is this?"
- Pete Burke (James Naughton) in Episode 1, Escape from Tomorrow

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 20, 2001

Stars: Roddy McDowall, Ron Harper, James Naughton
Other Stars: Mark Lenard, Booth Colman, Roscoe Lee Browne, John Hoyt, Beverly Garland, Sondra Locke, John Ireland
Director: Don Weis, Don McDougall, Arnold Laven, Bernard McEveety, Jack Starrett, Alf Kjellin, Ralph Senensky, John Meredith Lucas

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 10h44m:50s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 024543025214
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-C+B+ B

DVD Review

With the success of the Planet of the Apes film franchise in the early 1970s, it's not terribly surprising that an effort was made to turn the notion into a television series. What is astonishing is how well the series (which only ran part of one season) turned out. Here the entire 13 episode run, plus a 14th episode that never aired in the original run, are provided in this four-disc set.

While the series occasionally devolves into a Fugitive clone, it does manage plenty of the social commentary that was an important part of the films. Indeed, the sentiment is evocative of the original Star Trek series, with the heroes traveling from place to place, righting wrongs and teaching ethics while often under fire from those who don't understand them.

The ape makeup is not up to the quality of the movie series, with the facial appliances looking rubbery, stiff and unnatural. However, the use of costumes and sets from the films lends the program excellent production values that help make the scenarios very credible. Graphically, I must confess an extreme weakness for the nifty bulbous leather helmet worn by General Urko (patterned after, if not the same one as, the helmet worn by James Gregory as General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes). To allow for more interaction, the human populace here can talk and work farms; continuity with the film series is tenuous at best, although Dr. Zaius makes reference to earlier astronauts having crashed about ten years previous.

Episode 1: Escape from Tomorrow

The pilot episode sets things up nicely. Essentially the story repeats the beginning of the first two films, with several astronauts from 1980, Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Pete Burke (James Naughton) being thrust forward in time to 3085 as they crash land on a planet where apes are in control and humans are slaves. They befriend chimpanzee Galen (Roddy McDowall, returning to the series in yet another role). Pursued by orangutan Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) for scientific research and experimentation, and sought by gorilla Chief of Security General Urko (Mark Lenard, best known as Sarek on Star Trek), the three must flee and try to find refuge on a planet where nearly every hand is against them.

McDowall really makes the series; I doubt that it would have worked at all without him. His Galen shares the charm of his Cornelius from the original and Escape from the Planet of the Apes, without the hard edge of his roles in the later pictures. The astronaut leads are competent though obviously meant to be heartthrob types. The use of continuing background characters helps to offset the new and different places to which the three travel by providing a consistency. Unlike The Fugitive, however, there is plenty of interaction between the villains and the heroes. This episode nicely starts the series off on an exciting roll, so four bananas out of five.

Episode 2: The Gladiators

The trio stumble onto a village led by a chimpanzee prefect, Barlow (John Hoyt), who keeps the human populace calm by gladiatorial combat. When Barlow finds the disc containing the record of the flight of Pete and Alan, they must get it back in order to have any hope of returning home. Of course, this means that they end up captured and forced to combat in the gladiatorial ring.

An interesting follow-up with pacifistic overtones, this episode features a very telling moment that sets up the balance of the series. When Galen offers to risk his own life to obtain the disc, he says, "You'd do the same for me, wouldn't you." Interestingly, Alan and Pete don't have an answer to this question, lending a slight edge to their relationship. Indeed, throughout the series there will be numerous examples of Galen risking his own life, but far less frequently do we see the humans reciprocating. Another four-banana effort.

Episode 3: The Trap

Here we get some interplay between the main characters and General Urko. When they learn of a ruined city (San Francisco), they go to investigate, but an earthquake traps Pete in the BART with General Urko. Running out of air, Pete has to somehow convince Urko to work together. All is nearly spoiled, however, when Urko finds a poster of a gorilla in the San Francisco zoo, with human children laughing and pointing, disturbing Urko's worldview. This is a tense and suspenseful episode, ranking five bananas.

Episode 4: The Good Seeds

We learn here that Alan was raised on a farm when they run across a chimpanzee's farm. They are accepted as workers, but eldest son Anto is resentful; as part of tradition, the son cannot start on his own until the cow bears a male calf. When the cow suddenly becomes ill, the lives of the humans hang in the balance. Even though Alan has provided a number of agricultural innovations to them, superstition threatens the astronauts with death. Also notable is an infatuation that the daughter has for Galen. Another outstanding episode, this one also gets a five banana rating.

Episode 5: The Legacy

The astronauts make their way to Oakland, where they find a holographic projector that tells of a buried site containing a chunk of the world's knowledge, buried in anticipation of the apocalypse that ended human rule. Alas, Urko is hot on the fugitives' trail. Alan is captured and put in a cell with a young stool pigeon; Alan's poor parenting skills are on laughable exhibit here as well. Any episode that features Urko prominently can't help but be entertaining, rescuing a rather tedious episode from a lower grade. A solid three banana effort.

Episode 6: Tomorrow's Tide

Character actor Roscoe Lee Browne is featured as chimp Hurton, head of a fishing slave colony. Again superstition has to be battled as the astronauts try to better the lot of the humans. There is an amusing throwaway Jaws gag, but the ape makeup here starts to deteriorate badly; McDowall's makeup is just plain awful, with the jaws hanging open to a distracting extent. A weak two bananas.

Episode 7: The Surgeon

Galen's past is explored a little here. Alan starts the episode off with a bullet in him, and Galen goes to Kira, a surgeon who happens to be an old girlfriend. The highlight of the episode is a daring raid on Dr. Zaius' study to obtain a book of human anatomy, without which Kira feels unable to operate. Of course, understanding is promoted on all sides. Worth about 3.5 bananas.

Episode 8: The Deception

Lucian, father of the blind chimp Fauna (Jane Altman), has been killed by humans. A lynch mob of apes, The Dragoon, terrorizes the local humans, killing them and burning their homes. These Klan wannabes are infiltrated by Galen, leading to a certain unavoidable suspense. Fauna, in the meantime, is deceived to believe that the astronauts are apes, and she manages to fall in love with Pete, who needless to say does not return the favor. While the episode means well, the ending is overly pat and incredible. What could have been excellent ends up as one of the weakest entries in the series. A mere two bananas.

Episode 9: The Horse Race

In a variant on the episode regarding the gladiators, Alan here ends up having to ride a horse against Urko's rider. Of course, Urko cheats in order to make certain his winning streak remains intact. Since this is largely a rehash of The Gladiators, it's appropriate that Barlow returns here, keeping the theme consistent. For some reason, this episode runs nearly a minute shorter than all the others. A slightly longer running time to the climactic horse race could have helped this episode. But as it is, it gets a solid three bananas.

Episode 10: The Interrogation

One of the best episodes of the series, this program features 1950s B-movie queen Beverly Garland as Wanda, a chimpanzee assistant to Dr. Zaius, who has discovered a 1986 book on how to brainwash. Conveniently, Pete gets captured, and over Urko's objections Wanda gets to try her luck at brainwashing Pete into revealing all of his secrets. In addition to some truly harrowing brainwashing sequences, this episode features Galen's parents, giving a bit more welcome backstory. A strong five bananas out of five.

Episode 11: The Tyrant

Corrupt gorilla soldier Aboro taxes humans brutally and uses bribery to get himself appointed as prefect. In a display of the political intrigue common amongst the apes, Galen masquerades as Octavio, Dr. Zaius' assistant, and tempts Aboro to try to take General Urko's spot. When Aboro seizes the opportunity and decides to go a step further and assassinate Urko, the fugitives are left with a serious ethical dilemma: be responsible in part for Urko's death, or take advantage of it for their own gain. Complicated, but definitely intriguing. Four-and-a-half bananas.

Episode 12: The Cure

A village that the trio have just left develops a plague, and the group returns to assist, only to find themselves sealed in by a quarantine. Burke and Virdon butt heads with Dr. Zorran, a chimpanzee sent by the High Council to experiment on the humans. At the same time, Urko wants to burn the village to the ground, with everyone inside it. Alan unwisely confides his secret to a young woman, Amy (Ally McBeal role model Sondra Locke), and when she becomes delirious she starts spilling the beans.

The most notable thing about this episode is Galen's growing resentment toward the humans. First off, he is upset that Alan chose to trust their secret to a woman and endangered all of them, and again by not being included in the decision-making. Though relations are patched up, the alliance between them is visibly growing more uneasy. It would have been interesting to see where this would have gone in future episodes. Three and one-half bananas.

Episode 13: Up Above the World So High

In the last episode, the group stumbles onto Leuric, a human who has developed a crude hang glider. When he is captured, chimpanzee Carsia is sent by the High Council to investigate. Galen romances her, but is disturbed to find that she has an agenda all her own to wanting to make Leuric fly again. There are some interesting moments here, so this episode merits three bananas.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Colors are excellent, and black levels surprisingly good for 1974 television. Clearly this must have been shot on film, because it looks quite good. The picture is clear and detailed throughout. Several day-for-night sequences are transferred wrong and appear to be taking place in bright sunlight. A few of the episodes, such as The Gladiators and The Deception have fairly heavy speckling. The last episode at times looks like a snowstorm, the speckling is so bad. There are some specks on all the episodes at the commercial breaks, but overall this is highly satisfactory; it's certainly better than 1974 televisions likely could have reproduced. Close-ups and medium shots look fine, but long shots have a digital and processed appearance that looks unpleasant on a larger screen.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio tracks are adequate. There is some minor hiss, but the dialogue is clear and the music sounds good and undistorted. Lalo Schifrin's percussive main theme with heavy use of trumpeting horns comes through in thrilling manner.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 208 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Planet of the Apes (2001)
Packaging: Quadruple Alpha
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus 14th episode
  2. Promo for the boxed set of Apes films
Extras Review: Chaptering is excellent, with 16 chapter stops for each and every episode. There are English and Spanish subtitle tracks. An unbilled French subtitle track is also included, but it only translates the titles of each episode and does not translate the dialogue. This is frankly baffling.

A 14th episode that did not air in the original run (but has since in both Europe and on the Sci-Fi Channel) is included. This is The Liberator. John Ireland stars as Brun, high priest of the village of Borak. Periodically five people from the village are turned over to the gorillas to work the mines; the villagers raid nearby human towns to seize prisoners to turn over to the apes, in essence collaborating. Alan and Pete of course get captured and are readied to be turned over to the gorillas. In the midst of this is a temple that apparently has the power to kill offenders of the village's law. I'm not sure why this episode was not aired; it might be because many of the line readings are completely wooden and awful, or it might be references by Pete and Alan to the foolishness of relying on prayer, or the rather naked fomenting of revolution. This brings the total running time over a mammoth 11-and-a-half hours. In any event, the set is made complete with this additional episode that would merit about a banana-and-a-half.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

I have fond memories of eagerly awaiting the premiere of this series in 1974, and remembered it fondly. Unlike most things that I remember fondly of that era, the series holds up pretty well and is fairly entertaining to boot. A definite must for Apes fans, the transfer is good enough for what it is.


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