Planet of the Apes – TV Series Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 1 release of Planet Of The Apes – TV Series. The spin-off 1974 television series has been spread out over four discs and placed in one box set by Fox, unfortunately the picture quality is inconsistent and often terrible, and there are no extras other than two brief trailers.

The Planet Of The Apes Legacy of films had more than outstayed its welcome with its final chapter in the series Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, a dire effort that attempted in 1973 to bring the series full circle to the original classic in 1968.

However, rather than bite the bullet and accept that every drop of milk had been squeezed out of the Apes cow, Fox studios pushed on, commissioning a television series spin-off a year after the films had been laid to rest.

Still titled Planet Of The Apes, the television series had enormous potential on paper. Although most of the series’ more memorable characters had long since left by the time of the fifth film, Fox announced that the television series of Apes would have completely new characters and be set in a different time period. However, the key trick up Fox’s sleeve in terms of Planet Of The Apes – Roddy McDowall, portrayer of Cornelius and his son Caesar in the Apes Legacy, would still be retained for the series. Other famous television actors were brought in. Mark Lenard, more noteworthy to Star Trek fans as Spock’s father Sarek, was hired to play the gorilla Urko. James Naughton and Ron Harper were the two ‘human’ stars of the television series, playing stranded astronauts Peter Burke and Alan Virdon.

The television series only garnered lukewarm reviews and tepid ratings in the United States, which was unfortunate, considering that the show was a massive success on these shores when it arrived in the form of syndication. Broadcast out of synchronisation with its initial production order, Planet Of The Apes only had fourteen of its episodes produced before the show was cancelled. Because it was performing so badly on network US television, Fox decided not to even bother showing the last episode produced that had yet to be aired.

Therefore, the Planet Of The Apes television series is more of a curiosity item to fans as opposed to a classic television series immortalised on the small screen. These fourteen episodes have never before been released on any mainstream medium, and so Fox rushed released them in one four DVD box set in order to capitalise on the current media hype concerning the dreadful Tim Burton remake.

Essentially, the series’ fourteen episodes followed the same basic formula that seems to characterise many sixties and seventies’ television shows. Burke and Virdon, astronauts from the nineteen eighties, crash land on a planet in 3085. They soon realise that this planet is merely Earth in the future, and find themselves hunted by intelligent apes whose civilisation has overcome humans and now dominate the world. Although humans can still talk and perform in the same way as in Burke and Virdon’s time, they have been reduced to a dumb, timid species exploited as pets and slaves by the apes. Because Burke and Virdon are clearly more intelligent and from a different time, they are considered a threat to the apes’ dominance and so are considered public enemies number one. However, they manage to appeal to one ape’s benevolent nature, this Ape is Galen (played by McDowall), and so each episode features Burke, Virdon and Galen on the run from the Ape authorities whilst in pursuit of their own destiny. Here is a guide to the synopsis of the fourteen episodes.

Whereas the five films of the original movie Legacy each had different and original plots when compared to one another, this television series lacks any sort of edge and is often nothing more than routine Saturday morning entertainment. As short open-and-shut storylines, the concept of a Planet Of The Apes plot works tremendously, but when presented as an infinite series in which the three heroes are continually evading their persecutors in each episode the plot lacks any sort of obtainable goal. It’s basically ‘apexploitation’, considering that none of the witty subtext or eerie science-fiction of the original film seems to have been retained. It’s as if the producers have commissioned the series without fully understanding why the concept worked in the first place.

Acting wise, Roddy McDowall leads by example, and does his best with what must seem like cheaper quality surroundings. James Naughton and Ron Harper are average as the two human astronaut heroes of the series, and yet they seem unable to stamp any sort of trademark on the series, almost suggesting their acting skills are merely on autopilot. Even Mark Lenard struggles to inject any venom into the fearsome Urko.

Some episodes work very well, and some are plodding and instantly forgettable. The Deception is an enjoyable ethical tale of racial inequality, in which a blind female chimpanzee falls in love with Burke because she doesn’t know he is human. The Legacy is science-fiction television at its best, when Burke and Virdon discover recorded messages from scientists of their own era. It’s unfortunate the show had to suffer such an early demise, as given a few series to find its feet Planet Of The Apes might have fared better.

Because the Planet Of The Apes television series has never been released on any home viewing medium before and wasn’t considered a success when it was aired, you can understand how and why the master tapes have obviously gathered dust over the years. Unfortunately, because of Fox’s eagerness to rush-release this box set onto the market, the picture quality is truly awful. Some episodes are fine, give or take the expected element of grain and occasional dirt. However, some episodes are littered with excessive amounts of digital artefacts that in Fox’s haste to cover up any obvious print damage has marred some of the viewing pleasure. At least if Fox had ensured that picture quality was consistent throughout the series then you could have assumed that they provided the episodes in the best condition available. Don’t listen to any other reviews claiming the picture quality is fine, as these reviewers have obviously not watched every episode. Presented in original television aspect ratio of 4:3.

In contrast to the awful picture quality of the series, the sound recordings are fine. Presented in the original television mono mix, the sound hasn’t been remastered but is presented at an acceptable level of volume and is mostly free of noticeable hiss.

Menu: Poor silent and static menus that seem out of focus and graphically uninspired.

Packaging: The four discs are presented in an extended amaray packaging that is essentially two double amaray cases combined together. An eight page booklet is included and contains very brief episode guides and chapter listings.


Planet Of The Apes Cross Trailer: A trailer for Fox’s Planet Of The Apes Legacy.

Planet Of The Apes Remake Trailer: A trailer for Fox’s 2001 remake.


Any Apes fan should already own this television series set for completist purposes. Other than that, there is little to recommend in terms of both content and the quality of the presentation. The RRP isn’t very affordable either, ensuring that the Planet Of The Apes television series still fails to find a mass audience.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: May 09, 2002

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