Classic Sci-Fi - THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Tom Pheby gives six million reasons to love classic sci-fi.

There were a clutch of unmissable Television programmes back in the 70's, but one particular American import caught the attention of British public more than any other. Children could be seen in playgrounds, running around in slow motion and making a series of odd noises as they threw things through the air or scrutinised something clinically with one eye (doo doo doo doo doo) 

I am of course referring to The Six Million Dollar Man, which graced our screens from 1973-1978 and featured Lee Majors as Astronaut/Pilot Steve Austin.

Majors performances included a curiously drowsy country twang and omnipresent smirk, which on their own made it well worth tuning in for on a weekly basis.

The Plot: Steve Austin is seriously injured when his experimental aircraft suffers a catastrophic malfunction. Old chiselled features goes under the knife to replace all the various bits that were damaged and fell off in the accident, courtesy of the US government (remind anyone of RoboCop?). Both legs, his right arm and left eye are replaced with "bionic" wizardry, giving Austin an array of special powers such as significantly increased strength, speed and vision.

Austin notices that his nails need cutting on his bionic replacement.

After this heavy dollop of scientific tinkering, he was able to run at speeds of 60 mph - allowing him to sidestep any delays on the interstate, which would be quite handy if you were running late for a dinner engagement or a date with a beautiful lady. But that's not all, his artificial eye had a handy zoom lens coupled with infrared technology, and all the other non-original parts (no that wasn't damaged apparently) facilitated our country boy & former orbital hero with the power of a sumo wrestler intent on grabbing a bargain at a swimwear sale.

After the shock, and some additional training, he uses these curious gifts as a spy for the OSI (Office of Scientific Intelligence) to thwart anything considered to be a threat to national security - such as nuclear flapjacks or waffles! Think of Austin as a sort of high tech Jason Bourne with the legs of Usain Bolt.

In an age when CGI was still in diapers, the series made do with a handful of inventive tricks to give the illusion that Steve Austin was a super being. Part man, part machine - or cyborg as we say in geeky circles.

Producer Kenneth Johnson was acutely aware that the powers had limits in terms of effects and credibility and set out to establish a set of firm ground rules, he said:
"When you’re dealing with the area of fantasy, if you say, ‘Well, they’re bionic so they can do whatever they want,’ then it gets out of hand, so you’ve got to have really, really tight rules. Austin can jump up two stories but not three. They can jump down three stories but not four."
He failed to mention the running-fast-yet-moving-slowly trick, which was confusing to a whole generation, but "hey, that's science fiction for you" and it's no worse than some 900 year old dude traveling through time in a blue box that resembles a portaloo.

The series was based on the Martin Caidin novel Cyborg, which was the show's original pre-production title. Ultimately that was felt to be a bit clumsy and uninspiring, so the title was reworked to appeal to a wider audience.

The Six Million Dollar Man premiered in 1973 on the ABC network. Majors starred alongside the brilliantly dour Richard Anderson as his boss, Oscar Goldman, who bares more than a passing resemblance to the late Mike Reid aka Frank Butcher.

"Pat ! Pat !", Mike Reid AKA Richard Anderson, Austin's boss.

The series was a spectacular success, and all was well until some bright spark in a Bermuda shirt, sucking on a fat cigar said:
"Chuck, I gotta idea. We got ourselves a bionic man, what about a bionic woman?"
Two days later, after they both sobered up, they apparently still thought it a good idea and Lindsay Wagner was drafted in as a professional tennis player who got critically injured tying to jump the net during a tournament and required a hell if a lot if surgery. OK, OK, I made this up but it was a lousy idea.

Ideas and alcohol don't mix.

Jaime Sommers (Wagner) appeared in the 1976-78 spin off series, The Bionic Woman, which saw her nearly killed in a skydiving accident. Sommers is saved by Frank Butcher Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson) and his very own Doctor Frankenstein, Dr. Rudy Wells (Martin E. Brooks). All the bionic razzmatazz is applied in a similar fashion to those of The Six Million Dollar Man.

This time the lead character had amplified hearing in her right ear, coupled with an insanely powerful right arm (jam jar lids were no longer a problem for Jamie) and stronger legs which enabled her to run at speeds of (stunned and amazed) 60 miles per hour!

It was an OK show but it never captured the essence of the original and was cancelled after just a few seasons, which was a pity because Wagner looked a treat in a tracksuit.

Thereafter followed a few more lapses of judgement when it was suggested that both Majors and Wagner appear on each others shows.
"For gods sake Chuck, shoot me before I get anymore bright ideas."

The Six Million Dollar Man ran for 100 episodes and six made-for-television movies. It spawned a host of products such as action figures, boardgames and lunch-boxes. I look back on it with extreme fondness. It's obviously dated and would be scoffed at by any discerning young Sci-Fi viewer for its lack of credible effects. but back then it was all smoke and mirrors. A show loved for its flaws and one trick pony approach, captivating audiences around the world, all of whom lapped it up.

It's continued popularity led to a number of attempts to resurrect the show and to make a movie, but to date each project has failed to materialise, however on November 6, 2014, it was announced that a feature film, tentatively titled The Six Billion Dollar Man (that's inflation for you) would go into production, with Mark Wahlberg (the lord of remakes) set to play Steve Austin. Peter Berg is at the helm as its director, and Dimension Films (who are producing said flick) are hoping to get filming off the ground sometime this year, for a theatrical release in 2016.

As the old catchphrase goes, "We can rebuild him...we have the technology". And they most certainly have now, but we'll just have to wait and see if The Six Billion Dollar Man movie is finally made, and if Mr Wahlberg shapes up. He's got huge bionic shoes to fill.

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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