Glen A. Larson and Donald P. Bellisario love movie mash-ups, in the episode The Lost Warrior we got a Shane rip-off with laser guns, but now in The Gun on Ice Planet Zero Larson and Bellisario put the blender on high speed as they manage to cram not one but three movies into this two-parter as we get plot elements borrowed from The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra and The Dirty Dozen.
On a routine recon patrol consisting of Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) and some Viper cadets as they discover a small moon and decide to investigate when Starbuck and Boomer fly down towards this “ice planet” to get a better look while ordering the cadets to chill out and hang back, and they are of course ignored when Cadet Bow (Alex Hyde-White) spots a flash of light on the horizon and he decides to fly over for a look-see. Turns out Ice Planet Zero is home to a giant pulsar cannon, operated by our friendly neighbourhood Cylons, and they blow poor Cadet Bow into space dust. The two remaining cadets are ordered out of the area – which if I was one of those pilots I’d be more than happy to do – but because these guys are morons they charge the giant bloody cannon in some kind of noble act of vengeance.
Only one of the pair is killed by the pulsar canon, but Cadet Cree (Alan Stock) is forced down and captured by the Cylons. Starbuck and Boomer reluctantly return to the Galactica to make their report about this icy planetoid of death.
Back onboard the Galactica Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) deduces that they have been deliberately herded into this sector of space, and with Cylon Basestars coming up on their rear the only option they have is to send a commando team down to the planet’s surface to destroy the pulsar cannon. Now I’m sure you’re all asking, “But isn’t space really, really vast, why don’t they just fly by Ice Planet Zero a little out of range of its gun?” That is a very good question and one that pretty much derails the entire premise of this two-parter. We clearly see Starbuck and Boomer quickly flying out of the range of the cannon so there really is no reason that the Galactica needs to fly that close to the ice planet’s giant gun. Hell, it’s a land-based weapon so if the Galactica wanted to it could just pass by on the opposite side of the planet and be in no danger whatsoever.
It’s here where we enter The Dirty Dozen portion of our program, as the computer is asked to list all viable candidates for a military mission on a hostile arctic planet, and surprisingly most of those specialists turn out to be criminals. Feeling guilty for losing those cadets Starbuck hacks the computer to get his name put on the list, even though he gets dizzy drinking frozen daiquiris. Way to put your guilt over the success of the mission, Starbuck. So the team will consist of Starbuck, Boomer, Apollo (Richard Hatch), a former ice planet garrison commander Croft (Roy Thinnes), demolitions expert Wolfe (Richard Lynch), alien environment expert Thane (James Olsen), and sub-zero experienced medic Leda (Christine Belford), who also happens to be Croft’s estranged wife. Gunners Haals (Curtis Credel) and Vickers (Walt Davis) are also attached to the mission, as well as weapon specialist Voight, just so we can have some more random Red Shirts.
The mission goes sideways almost immediately as their shuttle is shot down by a Cylon Raider, and the group quickly find themselves on the run across a frozen wasteland. How could things get worse? Well, how about Wolfe, Thane and Leda conspiring to abandon the group, seize a Cylon ship and leave the last vestiges of humanity to the mercies of that pulsar cannon? That’s not bad enough for you, well how about Boxey (Noah Hathaway) and his robot Daggett happening to stowaway aboard the shuttle, because Boxey wanted to see snow.
Our heroes, and hardened criminals, flee the downed shuttle in a cool snow ram, only to find themselves imminently close to death when their vehicle gets stuck on a plateau during a diethene storm. Just before everyone freezes to death they are rescued by a colony of clones, though they prefer to be called Theta-class lifeforms. The leaders of this community are Ser 5-9 (Denny Miller) and Tenna (Britt Ekland), who we learn were created by Dr. Ravashol (Dan O’Herlihy). Now Ravashol is of the absent-minded scientist variety, ones who follow the “science before everything” school of thinking.
Meanwhile on a nearby Cylon Basestar, Baltar’s (John Colicos) mood swings from revelling in evil glee that soon the Galactica will be destroyed by the pulsar cannon, to being enraged when he finds out that the Galactica landing team has not been destroyed. Lucifer (Jonathon Harris) is even less thrilled, as Baltar seems to have no problem in sending Cylon Raiders to harass the Galactica even when they don’t have enough fuel to make the attack and return safely to the Basestar.
Note: Baltar can be seen limping around on the Basestar which could be from an injury sustained when he was pinned under the stone slab at the end of The Lost Planet of the Gods. What is not explained is how he got out of that predicament, or why Lucifer is not in pieces after Baltar vowed to destroy him for attacking the tomb while he was in it.
Back on the ice planet, the clones agree to take the Galactica team to their village, where they can meet Dr. Ravashol, only to discover that the scientist is a bit of a twit. It was he who created the pulsar cannon, though he claims it was meant to be a telescope, and that it was the Cylons who modified it to be a weapon. He also doesn’t want to get involved in any kind of combat, and initially says that it’s impossible for the Cylons to be using his “telescope” as a weapon. When he is confronted with the truth, about what the Cylons are doing, he claims that it is a “temporary misuse” and he holds no responsibility for the use of his creations. His mind is changed when Apollo drops the bomb that his clones are breeding, even though they were created sterile, and he owes it to them to stand up against the Cylons.
Now willing to help, Dr. Ravashol shows Apollo a schematic of the pulsar cannon and explains that the only way they might hope to destroy the cannon would be to jam or reverse the main pump. Apollo and Starbuck decide the only course of action is to divide their parties; Starbuck will lead a group to attack the Cylon garrison, while Apollo will lead the second group to the pulsar pump room. While all this is going on Thane takes the opportunity to steal some clone clothing and slip away, but he ends up being captured by the Cylons. Though Thane was a bastard he doesn’t give up the Galactica team under interrogation, and he tricks the Cylons into handing him a hand-mine, which he detonates, killing himself and the group of Cylons.
The two groups take separate routes up the mountain, with each of them encountering different difficulties, Apollo and his team must survive avalanches caused by the firing of the pulsar (Science Note: We have become accustomed to loud explosions in the vacuum of space in our sci-fi movies and shows but this pushes the boundaries of stupidity a bit further by having the explosions in space somehow trigger an avalanche on the surface), and to make matters worse Apollo also has to put up with the mutiny of Wolfe, Leda and Croft, but is saved when at the last minute Croft sides with Apollo and the mission. The last we see of Wolfe is him hightailing into a snowstorm. Starbuck on the other hand takes Lenna on a detour to save Cadet Cree before taking out the garrison.
Everything else goes rather smoothly as Apollo, Leda and Croft make their way to the pump room to plant the charges… well, almost smoothly, for when they come under fire from some centurions Leda dives in the way of a laser blast to save her ex-husband. That’s two noble deaths from the bloody criminals, take that, Colonial heroes! The teams then meet up and get out just before the pulsar cannon fires at the approaching Galactica, and blows itself to kingdom come.
Aside from the ridiculous premise, this is a very fun episode, and if Glen A. Larson had had his way it would have been the follow up to The Lost Planet of the Gods, but when ABC decided to go immediately to series and abandoned Larson’s idea of multiple Galactica mini-movies, he was stuck plopping in The Lost Warrior and The Long Patrol between his two-parters. The biggest difference between Gun on Ice Planet Zero and the previous two episodes is in how much time and money they were able to spend on the effects. From Cree’s Viper crashing into the snow, to the incredible Cylon base with its deadly pulsar cannon, the effects and sets are on par with anything you’d see in a big-budget theatrical movie.
Note: Though Richard Lynch’s character Wolfe disappeared into the snow Lynch himself would return as a different and even more dangerous villain in the follow-up series Galactica 1980.
For the index of reviews click here: Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series
The Gun on Ice Planet Zero
This mash-up of military action movies led to an incredibly fun story, with some great action and excellent special effects, that is only really hampered by the obviously flawed premise and the inclusion of Boxey and his stupid robot dog.