RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Quark: “The Old and the Beautiful” (Episode 3)

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Suddenly Quark works! It’s not brilliant SF, but it comes across as a story rather than just a series of gags. Granted, it really *is* just a series of gags, but after the really disjointed previous two episodes - which weren’t complete failures by any stretch - this one suddenly feels really tight and consistent.

The plot: Dink, the little Cousin Itt-wannabe from last week is back dancing around. “You’re doing the dance right, it must just be your personality the girls don’t like,” Palindrome informs him. He heads into his office with three starship commanders, just like last time. An alien captain is sent on a 30-year mission to a distant planet (“Phone when you get there”), a hot chick showing a lot of skin is given an assignment to deactivate all the Gorgon photon mines left behind on a planet from the war. She’s unpleased. Quark assumes he’ll get another crap assignment (Because he’s a garbage man, see what I did there?) but he’s informed that his mission is to go and have lots of sex with the attractive and sexually aggressive space princess (Barbara Rhoades) who looks like this and this Really just a great assignment all ‘round. In order to set up an alliance between their two peoples, the Gorgons have been courting her - and I think they mean that literally. Quark’s mission is basically make a little love, sign a little treaty, get down tonight, get down tonight.

Quark has some qualms when he realizes the princess is one he’s…ehm…known previously. Their women are known for their vigorous passion, and as such most men from the planet don’t live past twenty-five. Many don’t survive their wedding nights. “She almost killed me when I was a young man, what’s going to happen to me now?”

They stop to pick up a stray space baggie, and there’s a malfunction, so Quark heads into the garbage bay to fix the machine, and when he comes back out five hours later, he’s ten years older. Ficus realizes he’s picked up a virus that makes him age two years for every hour, and he’ll be dead by the time they get to planet sex. The plant sets about trying to figure out a cure. First he tries an unwilling transfusion from Gene/Jean since Transmutes are immune to most viruses. It doesn’t work, and by now Quark is in very late middle age. Ficus next attempts to cure Quark by electrocution, since that’s how they clear Black Root Fungus among his people. This doesn’t work either. By now Quark is in super-old senile mode, doddering and forgetting stuff.

The Gorgons attack, and Gene/Jean attempts to relieve Quark of command. Quark turns things over to the Bettys, who kind of make a hash of it, but eventually destroy the Gorgon ship, then do their little double-slap, hip-bump disco move they do when they’re happy with themselves, but mostly just bugs me.

When they get to the planet, they beam Quark down - they’ve got a teleported! For the same reason Star Trek had one! The show’s cheap! - and he ends up in the princess’ bubble-filled tub. Somewhat surprisingly, Princess Hot-to-trot is turned on by this, as she’s never been with a man over twenty-five. They get to it.

Some hours later on the ship, Gene/Jean says they need to beam Quark’s bones back up, which they then do, but - ta-dah - he’s his normal self again! Everyone is puzzled, and Ficus asks if Quark exerted himself down there “Yes.” Did your blood pressure go up? “Most definitely.” Did your heart race? “Certainly.” Ficus concludes the physiological changes brought about by a day or so of nookie killed most of the virus. To kill it off entirely, Quark can either engage in a seven-day menage a trois with the Bettys (“Oh, Adam!”) or get a shot of the Serum Ficus invented while Adam was away. Without even really giving him the option to choose, he jabs Quark with the needle. (“Oh, Ficus!” the Bettys scream in disappointment)

Quark is told that because of his successful completion of the mission, he and his crew will be give a real starship, and Gene/Jean, excited, runs off to tell Mom and Dad and Dad and Mom. Of course Quark manages to screw it up just the same.

The End.

I was staying over at my friend Mike Brook’s house the night this first aired, March 3rd, 1978. I know previously I said the show aired in 1977, but I was a bit off about that. The pilot aired in May of ‘77, the series itself started airing nine months later, in February of the next year. Once again, it’s always kind of fun to know where you were so long ago.

Depending on your disposition, this is either a blatant rip-off of the Star Trek episode “The Deadly Years,” or else it’s an on-key skewering of the same episode. Either way, there’s no mistaking where the source material came from. It’s totally the same, right down to the captain’s receding hairline, dotage, inability to command, and, of course, Adrenaline being the cure. Of course the adrenaline comes from a different source (heh heh!) but it’s the same thing.

They never actually say “Sex” in this episode, always referring to it euphemistically as an “Amorous Adventure,” but there’s never any doubt as to what’s going on. Which makes me wonder who this show was aimed at? It doesn’t seem adult enough for adults, it’s kinda’ too dirty for kids, though (I remember Mike Brooks’ mom being a bit embarrassed while we were watching it). So how to market this thing, and who, exactly, they were playing to remains a bit of a quandary, but the real problem here is that it’s only kinda’ funny, and most of that is in concept rather than in execution. The setup is funny, most of the laughs aren’t there, however.

That said, Ficus and Quark have a couple good scenes when Ficus is trying to explain the situation to an increasingly senile Quark, who keeps pretending he’s paying attention by saying the last word of every sentence after Ficus says it, but clearly has no idea what’s going on. “I’m senile, I’m not crazy” is a great line, too. Definitely there’s a chemistry and some timing developing between these two, and Ficus really is the breakout character here. Kelton has a bead on the character. Benjamin is allowed to be a bit more Benjamin-like, playing to his strengths, with less voice-over mugging at the camera. They’re definitely playing down the girly aspects of Gene/Jean, but they’re not removing them. (“I remember killing my first Gorgon, I remember buying my first dress”) There’s no scenes between The Head and Palindrome this time out. The Head only has one scene, and Palindrome is a smiling stab-you-in-the-back jackass, which he plays well. “The Head has his eyes on you, Quark, and thinks you’re ready for promotion, but he’s left the whole thing up to me, and I have to tell you: So far, I’m just not impressed.” There’s also a strong intimation that Palindrome takes bribes.

Three starship commanders getting assignments in Palindrome’s office at the start of every episode would seem to be part of the format now. The Galactic Federation would appear to have a shortage of ships, particularly since even the bad guys seem to know Quark by reputation. “Ah, the garbage man!”

The battle scene was needlessly confusing, since they couldn’t afford new special effects or models: the two Gorgon Cruisers are the same model used for Quark’s ship.

The more I look at it, the more I’m convinced that central console in Perma One command center - the one that looks like the 80s TARDIS console? - was the main control back from “The Lost Saucer.” Remember that one? Staring Jim Neighbors and Ruth Buzzi? Man, now there’s a show I haven’t seen in like thirty-five years. Wow!

In the end, Quark said it best: “I got invaded by a virus, a transfusion from a transmute, electrocuted by a plant, attacked by Gorgons, and nearly killed by an overly-amorous princess. This was my best mission ever!”