Review: The Six Million Dollar Man – Series 1 / Cert: PG / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Lee Majors, Richard Anderson, Alan Oppenheimer / Release Date: February 25th
What an staggeringly incredible and unimaginable amount of money six million dollars must have seemed back in 1973, when Universal brought the protagonist of Martin Caidin’s "Cyborg" novels to TV in a series of television movies.
That’s right - television movies. The Six Million Dollar Man featured in three feature-length films before becoming the series that would epitomise a mixture of super heroics and science fiction in the early to mid seventies and made Steve Austin (the bionic man) a much sought after action figure twenty years before Steve Austin (the WWE wrestler).
But back to the princely sum of six million dollars – that price tag, which probably wouldn’t even cover his extended warranty these days, is just about the only thing that’s dated about what must surely be RoboCop’s cybernetic grandfather.
It’s intriguing to see how the character developed from the first pilot, which is the origin story. Lee Majors plays Steve Austin as an amiable astronaut who comes across as a likeable country boy. He suffers a devastating crash on a NASA test flight and becomes part of an experiment led by Oliver Spencer, the mysterious head of a secret government department. The film deals with Austin’s emotional struggle to come to terms with his traumatic experiences, before being duped by his shady government handlers into undertaking a suicide mission to Saudi Arabia.
The second pilot, Wine, Women and War, sees a major casting change which would last for the remainder of the show’s five year run – Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman. Alan Oppenheimer steps into the role of Dr Rudy Wells for a couple of years (taking over from Martin Balsam) before the part was recast in 1975. Here, Austin himself is more of a suave Bond-type character, complete with groan-worthy quips, a tuxedo, Britt Ekland as co-star and a truly awful Bond-like title song performed by Dusty Springfield. It’s also strange to see his bionic abilities absurdly underplayed. The occasional swimming at the speed of a torpedo, a glimpse of an infrared eye for sneaking about in the dark and a display of one-armed super strength are all we get. The slo-mo runs, the bionic vision and the associated sound effects would all come the following year – or in this case, the next disc.
The third pilot – The Solid Gold Kidnapping – again sees Austin in more of a 007-type of caper as the series presumably struggled to find its direction before, in 1974, it launched its first proper season of 13 fifty minute episodes and became the show we all know and remember fondly.
As the series progresses, ex astronaut and super spy Austin is teamed up with TV’s most famous ex-astronaut, late of the Starship Enterprise, William Shatner, also Gary Lockwood of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame and another super spy, Mission: Impossible’s Greg Morris as Majors fearlessly takes on robot doubles, assassins, mad scientists, nuclear threats and snoopy journalists with future Mrs Majors, the late Farrah Fawcett, also making the first of a couple of appearances.
The nostalgia level is off the scale here, and the series is deserving of the long overdue digital re-mastering that has taken place for this release. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait around for the second season as it’s released on the same day.
Extras: Real Bionics & Iconic Opening featurettes / Season One VIPs: A Celebration of Six Million Dollar Man guest stars / Bionic Breakdown / A profile of executive producer Harve Bennett