Retro-Musings: 1971’s “Earth II” sees Gary Lockwood taking a very different kind of space odyssey…


I remember reading about the little-known 1971 TV movie “Earth II” years ago in the pages of Starlog magazine. Back then, it was very easy to confuse the film with several failed Gene Roddenberry pilots made around the same time, such as “Genesis II” (1973) and “Planet Earth” (1974) or even the much later, short-lived, non-Roddenberry TV series “Earth 2” (1994-5). None of these dystopian future/off-world space colony shows were similar to “Earth II,” which is set aboard an Earth-orbiting space station in a fictitious, but recognizable post-Apollo era of 1970s space travel—in that way, “Earth II” has more in common with Ronald D. Moore’s current AppleTV series “For All Mankind” (2019-present).

Long before the International Space Station, “Earth II” imagined a space station with people from many nations working together.

The failed pilot turned TV-movie chronicles a large, tinkertoy space station which welcomes people from all over Earth to join its international community of astronauts, engineers, and other specialists to create a new nation; a nation fully committed to peace, as well as finding new natural resources for its citizens and for mother Earth. After its first crew is launched, a late-night vote is taken by lights measured over the nightside of North America to grant Earth II its sovereign status.  In a few short years, the station becomes a thriving community of over 2,000 people. Earth II also acts as a way station for voyages to other planets. It’s like the International Space Station of today, but on steroids.

“Give us your poor, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for zero-G…”
The Kargers (Marriette Hartley, Tony Franciosa) arrive as immigrants to Earth II.

“Earth II” was written by Allan Balter and William Read Woodfield, two writers from TV’s “Mission: Impossible” (1966-1973), and directed by the late Tom Gries, who helmed 1976’s “Helter Skelter,” which is, to this day, the definitive TV-movie on the Charles Manson cult killings of 1969. The movie also stars Gary Lockwood (“2001: A Space Odyssey”), Mariette Hartley (“Star Trek,” “The Incredible Hulk”), Hari Rhodes (“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”) and Tony Franciosa (“The Name of the Game”), so it has a nice talent pool.   

After reading about this movie for many years, I saw it listed in the Warner Archives Collection DVD catalog about a decade or so ago, and my curiosity took over from there.

“Earth II” (1971)

The launch of a crew to “Earth II”; taking place in the Apollo era allowed the production to use lots of NASA footage.

The movie begins in Cape Kennedy, in the early 1970s, with the imminent launch of a Saturn V booster which is about to send three men into orbit along with the first stage of a new space station. All eyes of the world are on this flight, including a would-be saboteur in scuba gear with a sniper’s rifle off the Florida coast.  The three astronauts are Commander David Seville (Gary Lockwood), pilot Jim Capa (Scott Hylands) and Dr. Loren Huxley (Hari Rhodes), who’ll serve as chief medical officer for the new station.  Just as he’s poised to fire his rifle at the rocket, the would-be sniper is killed by feds from a nearby boat.  With the saboteur dead, and the space-bound crew completely oblivious to their near brush with death, the mission launches…

Note: The movie was made with the cooperation of NASA, and it shows; not just with the generous use of Apollo stock footage, but also in technical advice. “Earth II” uses a great deal more ‘real’ space science than other shows of this time, including “Star Trek,” which is far more fantastical by comparison. 

Walter Dietrich (Gary Merrill) and Frank Karger (Tony Franciosa) watch as a space democracy is born.

In Mission Control, we see flight controllers Walter Dietrich (Gary Merrill) and a cynical Frank Karger (Tony Franciosa) discussing the historic nature of this mission.  Frank opposes the flight, but vows to do whatever he can to make the launch a success.  As the flight climbs into orbit, it’s revealed in a message from President Charles Carter Durant (Lew Ayres) that the booster contains the first stage of the new Earth II space station—a station that will serve not just as a scientific outpost in service to finding new resources for the entire planet, but also as a sovereign nation.  

Note: It’s never made clear exactly how an American-built space station with a first crew of Americans launched from the United States could ever be seen as anything more than an American colony by other nations. Given the cynical attitudes towards American imperialism both then and today, this would be a hard sell for newly-arrived immigrants to Earth II, to say the least…

Astronaut David Seville (Gary Lockwood) is going into space without a HAL-9000 onboard this time.

As to how the Earth II space station will achieve its sovereign status, a unique vote will be held across the continental United States at 3 am eastern time. Those in favor of making Earth II a new nation in space will turn on their lights, and those who are against it will leave theirs off; the astronauts aboard the command module will record the difference in light levels.  As Dr. Huxley mans the scope aboard the spacecraft, the votes are measured, and Earth II is declared a sovereign nation in outer space.  Mission controllers rejoice, except for Frank Karger, of course…

Astronaut and space physician Dr. Loren Huxley (Hari Rhodes) watch the results of the dubious ‘light vote’ from orbit…

Note: There are enough holes in this voting method to fly a Death Star through.  What if part of the country experiences a blackout?  What if the vote is too close to call optically?  Are citizens of Alaska and Hawaii ignored?  What about ordinary streetlights and other public utilities left on all night—are they automatically counted as yea votes?  Voting by light might’ve sounded elegant in a script, but declaring an accurate vote simply by measuring levels of light pollution in a nighttime sky is lunacy. 

“Pull my finger”…
President Charles Carter Durant (Lew Ayres) makes a startling announcement; a peace treaty with the Cylons.

President Durant then makes a wordy speech about how this new nation in the sky will bring hope to the world by locating new resources and innovating new technologies, etc. I’m not sure if a United States president has the sole authority to declare a new nation, but there you go…

Note: Actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996) was most famous for his roles in “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) and the “Dr. Kildare” movies of the late 1930s.  To sci-fi fans, he is perhaps best known as another sci-fi president, “President Adar,” from the 3-hour 1978 pilot episode of “Battlestar Galactica,” where he foolishly signed a peace treaty with the murderous cybernetic Cylons. Big mistake…

Jim Capa (Scott Hylands) welcomes serpent in the garden Frank and his family aboard as new citizens of Earth II.

We then cut to a few years later.  The Earth II station is completed, and is now home to over 2,000 citizens. We then see a shuttle full of immigrant passengers arriving, including the Karger family; former mission controller Frank (who opposed Earth II’s sovereign status), his photographer wife Lisa (Mariette Hartley) and their 9-year old son Matt (Brian Dewey). As soon as the Kargers arrive, they are held up by the station’s customs people.  After waiting a few moments, they are met by Jim Capa, one of the founding inhabitants of Earth II. Jim levels with them; they’re being held because security found Matt’s toy pistol in their luggage, which violates the station’s no-weapons policy—even toy replicas. An incredulous Frank can’t believe what he’s hearing, while Lisa says “It’s marvelous.”

Note: This basic ideological divide between Mr. and Mrs. Karga becomes the focal point of the story; the hawks and the doves, with both taking extremist viewpoints from their respective corners. By joining Earth II, Frank is casting himself as the serpent in this Edenic space-utopia…

Matt Karger (Brian Dewey) is upset that Earth II doesn’t allow guns (even toy guns) to the relief of his mother, Lisa Karger (Mariette Hartley). Is it just me, or does that kid look like comedian Jim Gaffigan?

Meanwhile, young Matt bounces off the floor, before he learns about the station’s magnetic floorboards. With the boy upset because he can’t keep his toy pistol, Jim decides to show the Kargers all the wonderful things they can look forward to aboard the station besides toy guns. Taking them on a guided tour, they walk along the walls in a demonstration of microgravity. Jim also shows them the livestock, and the hydroponics area, where Earth II grows fruits and vegetables.  As a souvenir, he gives Matt a water globule from a water dispenser—which holds its rounded shape in microgravity from surface tension.  As they walk into the simulated gravity area of the domiciles, the water globule flattens and wets Matt’s hand.  Life aboard the pacifistic Earth II will present many new challenges for the Karger family… particular for reactionary Frank.

Note: While the movie gets a lot of its microgravity physics woefully wrong, I still give it points for trying. This was made in 1971, and on a TV budget, so expectations have to be tempered. All the same, I can’t see how a few cows and a single hydroponics bay will feed over 2,000 people. I assume those cows aren’t going to be slaughtered weekly for steaks? 

Make Lagrange, not War...
As Frank settles in, he and David find themselves at an ideological impasse.

As they get settled, astronaut David Seville pays a visit to the Karger domicile, where young Matt is enjoying a nice, violent western on TV, while Lisa prepares supper.  David asks that engineer Frank join him in the station’s Mission Control room, as soon as possible. Frank reiterates to David his opposition to the station’s no-weapons policy.  The calm and collected David asks Frank exactly why he’d want to become a citizen of Earth II if he can’t abide its pacifist ideology. Frank brings up the station’s total-democracy leadership—one voice, one vote. If any single member of the station’s citizenry wish to challenge station policy, they have the right to call a “D & D”; Discussion and Decision.  If one’s argument persuades a majority of the population, it is enacted. Frank expects that once he settles in, he’ll be changing a number of things aboard Earth II (cue maniacal laughter…).

Note: No, my fellow Gen-X geeks; D & D doesn’t stand for Dungeons and Dragons here. Sorry…

Frank and Walter learn of a Chinese satellite bearing nuclear warheads that threatens their space paradise…

Frank reports to Mission Control center, where he meets up with his old NASA colleague Walter, and is introduced to a Russian-born member of the team, Anton Kovalesky (Edward Michael Bell), whose wife Ilyana (Inga Swenson) is expecting their first baby.  Distrustful Frank later mutters to David, “Isn’t he Russian?” To which David coolly replies, “No, he’s a citizen of Earth II.”  Touché.  Meanwhile, Walter is getting a report of rocket launch from China that appears to be carrying several nuclear warheads, and is headed for a parking orbit near Earth II.  Frank reminds them of the saboteur who tried to fire a rifle at the Earth II launch vehicle—turns out the man was hired by the Chinese government, who are none-too-thrilled with this international extension of democracy flying above their heads…

Note: A similar rivalry has played out decades after this film was released. Around the time the International Space Station was completed in 2011, the Chinese launched their own space station, the Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”). The Chinese previously tested an missile interception system in 2007 that sprayed debris across low earth orbit, in what was perceived as a blatantly careless move. All pieces of space debris larger than 4 inches (10 cm) have to be tracked by the Space Surveillance Network as potential navigational hazards to orbital space.

Pilot Jim and photographer Lisa take a good look at the Chinese satellite.

Realizing they need to learn more, Jim takes a shuttle with photographer Lisa aboard to get some juicy closeups of this mysterious new Chinese neighbor.  As they close in on the satellite, Lisa gets her telephoto lenses out and takes some remarkable closeups of the Chinese lettering and other details.  Taking the photos of their intruder back to Earth II, it’s concluded that the object is a Chinese satellite containing several nuclear warheads.

Note: I like that the character of Lisa Karger isn’t just a housewife aboard this space station full of professionals—she plays a vital role herself in identifying the Chinese satellite, and later in understanding its complex circuitry. In the early 1970s, many women on TV were depicted as housewives, save for rare exceptions such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which featured the titular actress playing “Mary Richards,” a happily-single, associate producer of a local news program, making a life for herself in Minneapolis. While this wouldn’t raise any eyebrows today, it was downright groundbreaking in 1970.

David and Walter take a shuttle back to Earth; the hardware of the movie is early to mid-1970s, but the science is more plausible than most space shows/movies of that era.

Realizing they need to talk to the Chinese before the situation escalates out of control, David and Walter take a shuttle down to Earth to meet with both Chinese and Russian officials in Switzerland (the only host country to allow non-United Nations China a seat at the table).  At the summit, they meet with a Chinese delegate (Soon Tek-Oh) and a Chinese general (James Hong). While the delegate tries to ease tensions, the general states that any attempt to disarm or tamper with their weapon will be considered an act of aggression by the Chinese government. The Russians are currently having their own issues with the Chinese, and show rare solidarity with fellow United Nations member, Earth II.  With nothing more to discuss, the Chinese delegation leaves, along with the delegates from Earth II. The situation is at an impasse. 

Walter and David make a rare return to Earth with meet with other UN members (yes, Earth II is part of the UN) to discuss the Chinese nuclear satellite–a discussion which ends in international brinksmanship.

Note: In an uncredited role, veteran actor James Hong plays the Chinese general.  Hong is a veteran of countless TV and film appearances, including such genre favorites as “Blade Runner” (1982), “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) and more recently in the Academy Awards sweeper “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (2022). My wife and I had the privilege of meeting Hong at San Diego Comic Con 2012, and he was quite a character—posing for pics with fans while wearing a hat shaped like a bowl of noodles (I kid you not).  A delightful and hilarious man, it’s great to see Hong (at age 91) finally getting such recognition.

“Let’s play D&D.”
Frank pushes David for a “D&D” (Discussion and Decision); the right of every citizen on Earth II.

Returning to Earth II, David and Walter meet with Frank, and a handful other concerned citizens of Earth II, including the Kovaleskys and Dr. Huxley, who’s taking care of the very pregnant Ilyana Kovalesky. Frank demands that they take action and disarm the warheads—failure to do so would make them appear weak against the Chinese intrusion of their sovereign space. David disagrees, worrying that any attempt to disarm the weapon could set it off, which might very well start World War 3—a very ironic move for the unarmed, pacifist space station and its peaceful inhabitants. Lisa Karger agrees with David; tampering with the nuclear warhead is too dangerous.

Anton (Edward Michael Bell) and Ilyana (Inga Swenson) are two Russians living aboard Earth II; forecasting international cooperation in space years before it came to pass with Apollo-Soyuz, Atlantis-Mir and today’s International Space Station.

Gathering opinions from some of the other faces in the room, Ilyana unexpectedly sides with Frank; she believes something has to be done about the Chinese satellite, since it threatens them all.  Dr. Huxley and Walter both agree that the radiation danger is negligible—unless it detonates, of course. The consensus seems to be a near-even split, and with the issue about to be tabled, Frank brings up the station’s policy of every citizen getting an opportunity for a D & D, which David grudgingly admits, “That’s how things are done here.”  Frank then calls for a D & D for his plan to disarm the warhead, with David taking the con position…

Note: You just knew Frank was going to be trouble the moment he defended his son’s decision to bring a toy gun aboard a weapons-free environment. It’s a wonder his good-natured wife wants anything to do with him. Frank seems oblivious to the goal of Earth II, which is to try a whole new experiment with the human race; a nation without aggression or any hostile intent whatsoever. He’s the kind of guy who’d go for a stroll in paradise—only to take a dump in the rose bushes.  

Computer-generated chyrons moderate the D&D for the citizens aboard the station, indicating when the discussion is factual, misleading or emotionally-driven. This is one of the single best ideas of the movie.

The Discussion and Decision is broadcast on TV monitors throughout the station, with easy access to voting machines in each domicile. As both Frank and David present their cases for how to deal with the satellite, live computer-generated chyrons appear on the bottom of the screen, which inform viewers when an argument is being factual, misleading, or emotionally manipulative. These chyrons act as a silent moderator, giving viewers insight into the comment as it escapes the lips of the speaker.  After both sides make arguments with equal mixes of facts and emotional appeals, the votes are taken.  By a significant majority, Frank wins the debate. Earth II will attempt to disarm the warheads on the Chinese satellite.  Taking his loss in stride, David taps Jim and Anton to take a tug and carry out the mission…

Note: The fact-checking chyrons during the D & Ds is one of my favorite ideas of this movie, and it’s something the future can’t bring fast enough. Personally, I’d love to see all political speeches and debates instantly fact-checked by such chyrons in realtime, allowing viewers (and voters) to know when they’re being lied to, or shamelessly manipulated. Yes, there are some debates broadcast on YouTube (and other streaming platforms) with live fact-checkers, but they often have biases for one candidate or another, and they can miss a few falsehoods, especially when a speaker bombards a viewer with them.

Anton tries to short out the Chinese warhead–and winds up shorting out himself instead.

With the tug arriving at the satellite, pilot Jim eases them into a position near the device that won’t alarm the Chinese who are monitoring its telemetry.  Jim even talks to David on an open mic about not wishing to set the device off—a message for any Chinese listeners who might be eavesdropping. Meanwhile, Anton puts on an MMU (manned maneuvering unit); a large wraparound ‘seat’ that acts as a mini-spaceship for the wearer—with tiny thrusters directing the wearer wherever they need to go.  As Anton approaches the satellite, he carefully unscrews the panel to the gyroscope and arming mechanisms.  Anton then removes two of its cables before he’s electrocuted. Jim quickly retrieves the unconscious spacewalker and is forced to tow the satellite back as well—since the disarming sequence wasn’t completed, they’ll have to finish the job in the safety of the station’s hangar bay.  Jim informs Mission Control that he has to bring the Chinese satellite aboard.  With no alternatives, David agrees.

Note: Poor Anton’s fate was trulyshocking. Okay, I’ll stop. For now. 

Dr. Huxley tells Ilyana (Inga Swenson) of a dangerous surgery to save Anton’s life, though it may leave him disabled or dead.

With Anton in the station’s infirmary, Dr. Huxley tells a tearful Ilyana that he only has two options to save Anton, and neither of them are good; he can keep Anton alive mechanically, or he can attempt an “all or nothing” surgery with less than encouraging chances of success. Speaking for her husband, Ilyana says Anton wouldn’t merely want to stay alive—he would want a chance for a full recovery, however slim. Dr. Huxley and his surgical team go to work.

Note: Granted, this is a sci-fi TV movie from the 1970s, and not an episode of “House MD,” but Huxley is really vague on the specifics of what he’s going to do in the ‘all or nothing’ surgery.  If I were in Ilyana’s place (and I have been) I’d like to know as many details as possible of any life or death surgical procedure being performed on a loved one.

Dr. Huxley and his surgical team work to save Anton’s life–and to keep the other doctors from falling on them.

Huxley and his team go to work. After a long surgery, Anton is in recovery and Ilyana is allowed to see him, briefly. Anton briefly stirs from unconsciousness and takes his wife’s hand just before flatlining. The surgery didn’t work, and Anton is dead.  Ilyana is then comforted by Dr. Huxley, who worked so tirelessly to save her husband.

Note: A split-screen/rear-projection effect depicts members of the surgical team appearing to stand on the floor and ceiling of the operating room. Like the earlier clumsy attempts at depicting the low-gravity environment of Earth orbit, I applaud the effort, however mixed the result. So many space shows of this period made no attempts whatsoever to suggest microgravity during their space scenes, so it’s the thought that counts…

Lisa takes action herself–without waiting for a D&D. Big mistake.

After receiving photos of the Chinese satellites circuitry up close, David and Frank have an idea about disarming it. A gloating Frank tells David that since they have the Chinese weapon under their control now, Earth II can be considered a nuclear power nation.  David says that is out of the question, and that the satellite will be launched towards the sun as soon as possible, where it will detonate harmlessly.  Frank says he’ll challenge David to another D & D if necessary, arguing that he won once, and he can win again. Overhearing Frank and Jim in Mission Control, Lisa looks out a window at the rising sun outside, and gets a really bad idea…

Note: Bad ideas seem to be a staple of the Karger family…

My bad.
Lisa foolishly launches the warheads in the apparent direction of the sun, but in space, things are not what they seem.

Going down to the unguarded observation area overlooking the hangar bay, Lisa looks down at the Chinese nuclear satellite with deep contempt for everything it represents.  Studying the bay control panel, she finds the emergency button to blow the bay’s outer hatch off.  With that done, she then hits another button, which prompts an emergency jettison of the satellite into the apparent direction of the rising sun.  However, in space things aren’t always what they appear to be, as the satellite tumbles away from the station…

Note: I realize that Earth II is supposed to be an environment of professionals with total trust and all of that, but didn’t any of the station’s designers think to put fail safes on any of the controls to prevent a wayward civilian (or child) from doing exactly what Lisa did right now? Even a simple coded login?

David realizes that the entire Karger family are major pains in the ass…

Up in Mission Control, the blown hatch of the hangar bay is detected, as well as the Chinese satellite falling away from the station.  David, Frank and Jim rush down to the hangar bay and find Lisa at the controls.  Lisa is proud of her actions, since she believes she’s fired the satellite into the sun using line-of-sight. David takes Lisa by the shoulders and carefully explains to her that launch windows are far more complicated than simply pointing something at a target on the horizon and shooting toward it. There’s Earth’s gravity to consider, as well as atmospheric drag, and many other factors.  When David asks for the satellite’s current trajectory, Walter reports that it’s spiraling down to Earth, over the Great Lakes area—where the friction of atmospheric entry will melt its failsafe pins and cause the four onboard nuclear warheads to detonate in less than one hour.  Lisa is mortified; her goal was to rid the station of a deadly menace, and now she may have just initiated a nuclear nightmare over North America. David calmly tells her that’s why they have D & Ds on Earth II; so that no one goes rogue. 

Note: I like David, and he really keeps his cool through most of the movie, but I cringe a bit at the way he mansplains the concept of launch windows to Lisa like she’s five years old. 

David and Jim set out to retrieve the Chinese nuke before it puts on one hell of a fireworks show over the Great Lakes…

With the clock ticking, David and Jim suit up and fly a shuttle out to the wayward satellite, which is about to enter the upper atmosphere—the friction of which could melt the failsafes and activate the four nukes. Following the shuttle directly behind the glowing satellite as it begins its descent. Tiny glowing embers from the satellite fly towards the shuttle and harmlessly impact the black heat shield mounted on the nose of the craft (much like the retired US space shuttles). They adjust their angle to get below the satellite, open their shuttle’s cargo bay and capture it with its closing doors. With the bulky satellite pinched between the cargo doors, the shuttle flies carefully back to Earth II; keeping the satellite in shadow from the sun’s glare, since the additional heat would melt the safety mechanism. 

Note: Some nice visual effects for the time, as the shuttle enters the wake of the slowly disintegrating satellite, with glowing embers flying towards the shuttle’s windshield, harmlessly popping against it. Granted, these effects may not be so spectacular by modern standards, but considering they were all done optically (with no CGI), on a modest, made-for-TV budget in a pre-“Star Wars” age?  They’re pretty impressive. 

How many astronauts does it take to unscrew a nuclear warhead?

The shuttle delivers the crippled, scorched satellite back to the hangar bay, where the blown-off hatch means that temperature and pressure can’t be equalized inside; if the sun should creep into view from the now open portal, the heat will still melt the safeties and activate the warheads. To stop the sun from accidentally peering through as they work to disarm the satellite, David assigns Jim to take a large space tug and use its mass and thrust to completely stop the station’s rotational inertia. 

Note: The temperature variation between sunlight and shadow in orbital space can be as much as +250 F (120 C) to -148 F (100 C) respectively. Once again, the space science and physics of “Earth II” are nowhere near perfect, but at least they’re not ignored.

“Do we cut the blue wire or the red wire?”

Now begins the process of deactivating the warheads aboard the satellite before the safety mechanisms melt. David and Frank are forced to trust each other, since David is an expert on the Chinese disarming systems (thanks to his wife’s photos).  While the tug settles into position against one of the stations limbs to stop any remaining spin, the sun slowly creeps in through the open hangar bay.  It’s a race against time, as the temperature slowly rises.  Eventually, Jim’s tug is able to stop the station’s inertia. With some of the satellite’s controls melted from its flight in the upper atmosphere, Frank and David are forced to improvise, using power tools to open melted screw heads and wedging wrenches into half-melted safeties to keep them from prematurely collapsing. Working together, they are finally able to neutralize the satellite and prevent its warheads from detonating. 

Note: While the disarming sequence is a nail-biter, it also drags on a bit too long—even for the film’s scant 97 minute running time. Incidentally, the disarming sequence is where writers Allan Balter and William Read Woodfield really show their “Mission: Impossible” TV-series writing roots, along with “Earth II” music composer Lalo Schifrin. Schifrin first composed the famous “Mission: Impossible” main title theme for the TV-series back in 1966, which has also been used (with new arrangement) in the mega-successful series of rebooted “Mission: Impossible” movies (1996-present), starring Tom Cruise. At 91 today, Schifrin has composed scores to many feature films, including the memorable scores for George Lucas’ first feature film “THX-1138” (1971) and “The Amityville Horror” (1979).

“Here comes the sun…”
With the nuke en route to the sun, Lisa and Frank decide to abandon Old Earth ways aboard Earth II…

With its nuclear warheads now fully disarmed, David proceeds with launching the Chinese satellite towards the sun—successfully, this time—in keeping with Earth II’s original ‘no weapons’ policy.  David asks if Frank wishes to challenge him with another D & D, but the hawkish Frank grudgingly relents, telling pacifist David, “No, we’ll try it your way this time.” As to whether keeping Earth II unarmed will work in the long run, David candidly confesses, “I don’t know. It’s never been done before.”  While the nuclear drama was going on in the station’s hangar, the population of Earth II was increased by a single member—the widow Ilyana gave birth to a baby boy; Anton Kovalesky Jr. This new birth gives everyone aboard hope for a brighter future…

The End.

Note: The rebooted TV series of “Battlestar Galactica” (2003-2009) had a similar ending for its first regular episode, “33,” where a sleep-deprived Colonial fleet—having desperately outrun a series of Cylon attacks every 33 minutes—saw the birth of a new baby boy among the survivors, which brought tears of joy to the fleet’s president Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell).  To those who’ve never seen it, the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” is one of the finest TV series of this century.

Summing It Up

“Earth II” has many interesting, ambitious ideas laid out in its 97-minute running time; some of which have come to pass, like the creation of the International Space Station, which unites world rivals in common scientific cause. “Earth II” was broadcast years before the ISS was conceived, let alone placed into orbit in 1998.

Gary Lockwood’s David Seville is the laidback ambassador of “Earth II”; a fully democratic society without a single leader.

The space science depicted in “Earth II” is limited more by what was technically possible with 1971 moviemaking technology than the writers’ imaginations. Orbital mechanics, microgravity, and other complex ideas in physics are not ignored, even if their depictions are sometimes very inaccurate. We see examples of microgravity with a globule of water, floating medical gurneys, and a surgical team standing on the floor and ceiling of an operating room. I’m more inclined to forgive a show that tries to depict science with some small measure of accuracy over one that ignores it altogether. 

Meeting Gary Lockwood in 2015 at WonderCon in Anaheim. Cool guy, like an easygoing uncle.

Actor Gary Lockwood (“David Seville”) is the series’ lead, if such such a thing is possible with the leaderless democracy of “Earth II.” While the society of Earth II makes all decisions by popular vote, Seville acts as the station’s de facto ambassador and voice—even shuttling to Earth on occasion to meet with other representatives from the United Nations. He would’ve been this show’s pacifist answer to Captain Kirk.  “Earth II” also champions some diversity with its characters, including Black actor Hari Rhodes as Earth II’s chief surgeon, Dr. Huxley, along with pair of Russians (played by an American and a Swede). In its modest way, “Earth II” follows the path first paved by TV’s Star Trek a few years earlier (a series in which Lockwood and Mariette Hartley both guest-starred).

Some impressive visual effects for a 1971 TV-movie; at least as good as the Oscar-winning FX of 1969’s “Marooned.”

On the downside, “Earth II” sometimes gets bogged down with sweaty-palmed, “Mission: Impossible”-style ‘cut the left cable’ theatrics that go on a bit too long. This is perhaps unavoidable, given that its writers wrote for that series as well. While the lengthy defusing of the Chinese warheads adds to the the tension of the final act, I would’ve rather have seen that time spent on world-building and characterization earlier on. The characters of “Earth II” range from theatrically broad (Tony Franciosa would twirl his mustache if he had one) to almost nonexistent, with some of the movie’s characters barely registering as people

Yes, Earth II looks ike a tinkertoy, and its exterior betrays the curved walls of its centrifugal interiors.
However, it does resemble the more modular architecture of the International Space Station.

“Earth II” showed great promise, and a bit of prescience.  Even when the production’s seams show, and they do, its largely forgivable because of the film’s ambition and scope. If it were picked up, “Earth II” would’ve been a TV series set aboard a large space station two decades before “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999) and “Babylon 5” (1993-1998).  

As failed sci-fi pilots of that era go, “Earth II” was definitely a cut above—its lofty ambitions hampered mainly by the limitations of 1970s television production. 

Where To Watch

“Earth II” can be rented/purchased from iTunes, YouTube or GooglePlay; streaming rentals are $3.99, and digital purchases are $14.99 as of this writing.  The movie can also be purchased on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection on Amazon ($9.99); I own the DVD, and the quality is more than adequate.  Be careful when ordering to specify “Earth II” of 1971, since there are several movies/TV shows with variations of that title.

All Images: MGM/Warner Archive Collection, with some augmentation for clarity.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. scifimike70 says:

    I remember seeing Earth II so long ago, after seeing Gary Lockwood in both Star Trek and 2001 of course. Even if it may not have been among the best, it’s good to revisit it after all this time and I must say that it lifted my spirits a bit which I greatly need.

    As for Lew Ayres’ SF roles, the first I remember seeing was Mandemus in Battle For The Planet Of The Apes.

    Thank you very much for your review.

    1. You’re very welcome, Mike.
      Glad to have had any part in lifting your spirits, always.

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