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from Cult Times #62

The Premise: Astronaut Steve Austin, a man barely alive after crash-landing his experimental spacecraft, is fitted out with six million dollars worth of bionic replacements for his shattered limbs, and pays off the ‘debt’ by working as an agent for the Office of Scientific Investigation.

Two years later, Austin’s sweetheart Jaime Sommers is fitted out with a similar set of parts after a bizarre skydiving accident. Unfortunately, her body rejects the artificial limbs and she dies. Fortunately, the viewers love her, so the producers rapidly explain that she was put in cryogenic suspension until a cure could be found, just in time for her to get her own series.

Background: The Six Million Dollar Man began as a trio of TV movies based on Martin Caidin’s 1967 novel Cyborg. ABC network chiefs vetoed the spin-off’s obvious title of ‘The Six Million Dollar Woman’ as they thought she’d sound like a high-price call girl.

First Run: 1974-1978 (The Six Million Dollar Man); 1976-78 (The Bionic Woman).

Number of Episodes: Three Six Million Dollar Man TV movies; 102 Six Million Dollar Man episodes; 58 Bionic Woman episodes; three reunion movies between 1987 and 1994.

Allies: Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson), the head of the OSI; Dr Rudy Wells (Martin Balsam, pilot; Alan Oppenheimer, 1974-75; Martin E Brooks, 1975-78), the inventor of bionics; Bionic Boy Andy Sheffield (Vincent Van Patten); Peggy Callahan (Jennifer Darling), Oscar’s secretary; Jim and Helen Elgin (Ford Rainey and Martha Scott), Steve Austin’s stepfather and mother who were also Jaime’s landlords; Max, the bionic alsatian.

Villains: Bigfoot (Ted Kassidy), the ‘guard-dog’ of a secret alien colony; Seven Million Dollar Man Barney Miller (Monte Markham); Jaime’s non-bionic double, Lisa Galloway; the Fembots, Las Vegas dwelling robot bimbos created by a disgruntled OSI scientist; the Death Probe, a malfunctioning Soviet robot probe.

And Isn’t That... Kolchak himself, Darren McGavin, as Steve Austin’s boss in the original movie; William Shatner as an ex-astronaut with the ability to talk to dolphins; Rene Auberjonois as an art forger in The Dejon Caper; plus movie stars including Jenny Agutter and Sandra Bullock.

Overdone Clichés: Running in slow motion; someone getting bionics which turn them into a supervillain; and Oscar, Rudy or their secretary being replaced by robot doubles.

Fashion Statements: Spacesuits for the once-a-season chance to prove Austin’s still an astronaut. And for Jaime, denim jeans and rustic shirts, except when she’s undercover…

  The Bionic couple
Bionically enhanced

The Rescue of Athena One
Lee Majors’ then-wife, Farrah Fawcett Majors, makes the first of many guest appearances in the series, this time as the United States’ first female astronaut.

The Bionic Woman
A surprisingly touching love story, including one excellent scene when the newly-bionic Jaime rages at Steve for letting them turn her into a freak.

On the Run
Resigning from the OSI, Jaime is pursued by government agents determined to send her to a prison village where ex-agents are kept safely locked away. The series’ final episode only needs the presence of Patrick McGoohan to make the influence complete.

In need of rebuilding

Outrage in Balinderry, in which Irish terrorists kidnap an American diplomat who’s almost got a peace treaty sorted out. Dropped from the original British screenings, the Voyager-level fake Oirish atmosphere makes you wish it still was. And Max, where enemy agents kidnap Max the bionic dog, while Jaime is in hospital, and plan to blackmail the scientist who was dog-sitting him.


The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman
- on Sci-Fi in the UK throughout November

See listings section of this Cult Times for details

Anthony Brown

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Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction.