Critics of The Six Million Dollar Man have often turned to this story questioning why such a high standard could not have been constantly maintained. To a large extent they are correct, the script is of a higher class, to such an extent, that even Lee Majors looks interested with the proceedings. Don Porter adds panache as the vengeful Dr. Bacon seeking big bucks and an ego booster, via the destruction of an army batallion and a still rather uptight Oscar Goldman (his relationship with Steve hasn't quite turned into the bowling buddies schtick we would see by 1976). Population Zero, if one chooses to be stoically cycnical, looks like it was devised for another show, the production standards are certainly not like those Universal usually concieved for The Six Million Dollar Man, so much so, that parts of this could actually be passed off for a cinematic outing. The highlight is the tension of the will he/won't he scenario where Steve shows his human guile by breaking free from the freezer, slowly warming up to full power after a few tumbles, and gloriously returning to full strenght with only the sounds of an increasing heartbeat to prove his humanity always outweighs his electronics. An all time television classic.
This episode has to be the best of the series, and the first one of the series as well! The one sequence that has remained in my mind since I first saw this in 1974 is right about at the 43 minute mark, where Steve finally warms up and starts running to stop the bad guys. The part where he lifts the pole out of the ground, hefts it up, and starts his run toward the truck is as good as it gets! It also treats us to a fuller version of the theme music (at that point, you only heard it at the end, and a snippet in the intro) which perfectly framed the slo-mo and action! The entire sequence lasts for only four minutes, but what a rollercoaster ride it is!
I was 11 when the show premiered, and I hadn't been allowed to watch the TV movies, so this episode was also my first exposure.
The previous 2 reviews really hit the nail on the head, so I'll just supply this little observation I made when watching it again for the first time as an adult on Sci-Fi Channel about 12 years ago...
After Austin escapes from the freezer, and he breaks into his trademark strides (as the hearbeat sound increases), and the framerate changes from normal-motion to slow-motion, notice how his shirt is sweat-stained on his chest, left armpit and sleeve... but his right side is bone dry!
I think that's the only time we're shown that bionics don't sweat. (Just like Dr. Dolenz's robots!)
I've been a fan since 1974. I was at some babysitter's house
with several other kids and I remember seeing " Population: Zero " .
That's right, my first exposure was the series premier. I remember the first scene with the cop giving me chills. He drives into a town filled with bodies. Then grabbing his ears, screaming, and dropping down to the ground, as the villain and his assistants watch from the mobile base on the hill above. Fade to black. Then the intro. Whoa! The coolest intro ever, until they added more to it. I was hooked. This looks awesome. I remember Steve talking to Oscar in the garage talking about opening up an auto shop. Oscar tells Steve of his assignment. Steve is concerned, as he knows this town, he grew up near there. ( of course this was before establishing Steve's well known hometown, so we can forgive this continuity.) I remember Steve's discovery of the townspeople alive. Our hero directly disobey's Oscar's orders (get used to it, Oscar) and gets captured by the vengeful Dr.Bacon, the greator of a horrifying weapon which uses sonics that can kill. Unfortunately, for everyone, Bacon knows all about Steve's special attributes. The goverment and the OSI turned down Bacon's current weapon in favor of funding Bionic technology . At first he is in awe that this technology actually panned out, and excited to speak to Austin about his Bionics.. until Austin tells him the cost of his re-construction. He is furious that Goldman funded such an expensive project at the cost of his less pricey weapon, and that the goverment still thinks Bacon can't kill with it. He plans to prove otherwise, and in the process kill both Steve and Oscar. " I will reduce you to a six million dollar pile of junk. " , he tells Austin. He arranges Steve's security by putting him in a sub-zero meat freezer, where his powers won't work, thereafter proceding with his mass murder scheme. It takes awhile, but Steve MacGuyver's a blow torch to get out. He manages enough power to subdue both the gaurds, and staggers away, almost unable to move. Once out of the building , he tries to run, but collapses several times. He gets back up each time, refusing to give up. As Bacon, on his hilltop perch again hooks up his equipment for the kill, Austin's persistance and the hot, burning sun start to work their magic, thawing out those nuclear power units. As he powers back up, the heartbeat sound affect ( they had yet to add the familliar Bionic TM effect), gets louder and louder. I'm sorry, I thought that heartbeat was so cool. He runs faster, and faster. As Bacon triggers the weapon, Oscar and the townsfolk, along with the national guard, drop to their knees in agony. Austin spots the mobile base, grabs a giant steel fence pillar, rips it from the ground.. concrete base and all, and takes off for Bacon's camp. He is spotted coming up fast, and Bacon turns the weapon on Steve. Still charging forward, Austin grabs his left ear, in obvious agony, but will not stop. Bacon orders full power, and Steve almost collapses from the sonic waves, but no. With one last burst of strength, he hurls the pole like a deadly javelin at the mobile base, then collapses from the pain. The airborne weapon strikes and then ... boom!
What a great ending. There are better episodes, But for it's
nostalgic value alone, that's probably my favorite. And as a kid of 8 years, it was the coolest thing I've ever seen, and a great intro to the character and the show.
The first regular episode of the series was directed by Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2, Supergirl up to todays tv's Heroes) and made a fine job of it.
We learn some technical details about colonel Austins inplants : His eye has infrared vision and a 20 x zoom. He can run a topspeed of 60 mph. Powered by atomics, the bionic parts shut down at subzero degrees.
This is what happens when Steve is locked is a refrigerated chamber. Faced with his own limits he has to use his imagination and escapes in a MacGyver kind of way.
Government scientist Dr. Bacon, gone bad, and his two aides
meet a violent end at the hands of a recoverd bionic man.
Serving a balanced mix of personal scenes and action this simple story brings a prime classic episode.
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