May 19, 2023 I Nick Redfern

TV Robots from the Past: Nostalgia, Entertainment, Bigfoot and Nessie

The Six Million Dollar Man was one of the most popular television series of the 1970s. It starred Lee Majors as former astronaut Colonel Steve Austin who, while test-flying a new, prototype aircraft, suffers a terrible accident in which he loses both of his legs, his right arm, and his left eye. It could have spelled the end of any kind of meaningful life for Austin. Except for one thing: thanks to the work of a secret government agency – the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) – Austin is rebuilt, using sophisticated robotic technology called Bionics. In short, he becomes a cyborg: a half-human, half-machine, long before Robocop was on anyone’s radar. The long-running series (which followed in the wake of three, successful made-for-television movies) was an immediate hit with the viewing public. It ran for 100 episodes and six movies and provoked a spin-off show, in 1976, The Bionic Woman (starring Lindsay Wagner). The Secret of Bigfoot was a two-part adventure that aired in February 1976. It was, and still is, one of the most popular of all the many and varied stories told in The Six Million Dollar Man. In terms of Bigfoot, the 1970s was the one period, more than any other, in which there was a significant focus by the monster-hunting community on the Ssasquatch-flying saucer connection and controversy. Today, the vast majority of Bigfoot investigators are highly intolerant of the idea that there might be a link between cryptid apes and aliens. Back then, however, things were very different. And that seventies-era fascination for the UFO-Bigfoot link also spilled over into the domain of fiction.

(Nick Redfern) Bigfoot and aliens: some say the Bigfoot creatures are really extraterrestrials

The story is set in the heavily forested mountains of California – from where a great deal of real-life sightings of Bigfoot have been made. From the outset, the tale is shrouded in intrigue: a pair of geologists, monitoring earthquake activity in the area, have vanished. That the OSI, under Steve Austin’s boss, Oscar Goldman (actor Richard Anderson), is working with the geologists, Ivan and Marlene Bekey, means that Austin soon plays a leading role in the quest to find the pair. And particularly so when huge, humanlike footprints are found in the area. While Marlene remains missing, Ivan turns up, in a condition of near-hysteria. He is not the only one who turns up: a huge Bigfoot (played by wrestling legend, Andre the Giant) is soon on the scene, too, and launches a violent assault on Austin’s and Goldman’s encampment. It’s during the attack that Austin wrenches off one of the arms of the hairy monster, which reveals it to be not a flesh and blood animal, but a highly sophisticated robot. We also learn that the Bigfoot is controlled by a group of aliens, who have a secret installation built inside one of the huge mountains.

(Nick Redfern) Bigfoot went on TV in The Six Million Dollar Man

Austin soon becomes a victim of alien abduction, in which he discovers that Marlene and Ivan were attacked because they had inadvertently uncovered evidence of the alien base. Even worse, OSI’s studies in the area show that the entire West Coast is about to be hit by a devastating earthquake, one that could potentially kill millions. The only available option is to detonate, underground, a small atomic device on the fault line, thus preventing the quake from occurring. Unknown to Austin, the aliens try and prevent the nuclear explosion from taking place, since they believe – correctly – that it may also destroy their mountainous, secret abode. Austin is determined that the earthquake must be stopped and he succeeds in thwarting the plans of the aliens to prevent it – as well as finding Marlene, much to the relief of Ivan. In the final scenes, we see that the atomic explosion has indeed prevented the catastrophic earthquake from occurring, but, as suspected, it has also caused major damage to the extraterrestrial facility. As a result, Austin – with help from Bigfoot, no less – gives the aliens assistance in repairing the damaged parts, and systems, of their base. Careful to ensure that the truth of the alien presence, and of the real nature of Bigfoot, remains hidden, the visitors from beyond wipe out Austin’s memories of the bizarre and near-catastrophic events. Bigfoot is once again the enigma that it always has been.

Such was the success of this particular story, Bigfoot was brought back, in September 1976, for another two-part story: The Return of Bigfoot. Again, the focus was on aliens and underground bases. To help boost ratings on The Bionic Woman, part-two of the story became the opening episode of the new series of that particular show, in which Austin and the bionic woman herself, Jaime Summers, clash with both ETs and Sasquatch. Unfortunately, given that he made an excellent Bigfoot, Andre the Giant was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by Ted Cassidy (Lurch, in The Addams Family), who reprised the role a year later, in 1977, in a one-off episode titled Bigfoot V. For fans of The Six Million Dollar Man, The Secret of Bigfoot remains a firm favorite of robot devotees. And of Bigfoot, too. There's something else, too: there is a pretty large body of real-life Bigfoot-seekers who believe that the Bigfoot creatures are extraterrestrials. A case of fact and fiction.And focusing on fact and fiction, read on...

Now, let’s take a look at the world’s most famous, fictional time traveler: Dr. Who. The show first appeared on BBC television on November 23, 1963 – one day after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Viewers quickly learned that Dr. Who was not, and is still not, your average time-traveling-themed show. For example, the doctor did not began as a dashing, handsome, heroic type of the kind that you might like to see in a Hollywood movie. Quite the opposite, in fact. The eccentric doctor was played by William Hartnell, a British actor known for his work in movies and who was in his sixties when he took on the role of the now-legendary time-surfer. As for the doctor’s time machine, it was disguised as nothing less than a British Police Box, the Tardis (which, in the show, stands for “Time and Relative Dimension in Space”) that is much larger on the inside than the outside. The white-haired old man became a star, perhaps to everyone’s amazement. And the show became one of the BBC’s most popular shows – period. Of course, Hartnell, given his age, couldn’t be expected to go on playing the doctor forever. So, when he decided to quit the role in 1966, the writers came up with an ingenious idea. The doctor, periodically, would have to regenerate – and in doing so he would take on another appearance. And another. And so on. 

It should be noted that the BBC didn’t have much of budget at the time. Special-effects were not great, but viewers loved the quaint imagery, the rubbery/plastic monsters and the not so good make-up. It was all good fun. Also loved by the fans were the arch-enemies of the doctor – the Daleks, the Master, and the Cybermen - and his ever-rotating companions. In fact, it’s very interesting to note that the the Cybermen and the Daleks are the most popular of all the Dr. Who villains. The Cybermen are cyborgs and, as for the Daleks they are, as Alas, all things come to an end. Dr. Who did so in 1989. It wasn’t due to monsters or aliens. Ratings – or, rather the lack of them – were the cause. Nevertheless, it’s not easy to keep a Time-Lord down for long. A movie was made in 1996, which was received in positive fashion. Things really changed, however, in 2005. That’s when the doctor was back in big-time fashion. High-tech special-effects caught the attention of a whole new generation and there was barely an old man in sight. The new doctor (in all of his new regenerated forms) was cool. He still is. Or, rather, we should say, “She is.” That’s right: we have had a female Dr. Who – played by English actor Jodie Whitaker - much to the delight of the fans. Indeed, the change was great. There seems to be no stopping Dr. Who – whether in the past, in the present or in the future. The same goes for the Cybermen and the Daleks.

(Nick Redfern) When the Abominable Snowman and Dr. Who crossed paths

In 1968, when the doctor was in his second incarnation – played by actor Patrick Troughton – a still much loved adventure was broadcast: The Web of Fear, a 6-part story that ran from February 3 to March 9, 1968. It followed on from a previous adventure: The Abominable Snowman, which was aired in late 1967. In the first story, the doctor and his comrades, Jamie and Victoria, materialize in the doctor’s TARDIS time-machine in Tibet – and right in the heart of Abominable Snowman territory. Not only that, there’s an intriguing robot tie-in with all of this. Unfortunately for the doctor, he becomes the prime suspect in the death of a man who was actually killed by a huge, hairy Yeti. While the doctor is imprisoned, Victoria and Jamie discover huge footprints around the TARDIS and go on a quest to locate the legendary beasts. What follows is a strange story of real flesh and blood Yetis and robot versions that are under the control of the evil Padmasambhava, who has tapped into what is termed the Great Intelligence, a formless, non-physical alien entity that is intent on dominating the Earth. No-one will be surprised to learn that the doctor and his friends save the day, and the real Yetis, from the wrath of the Great Intelligence and its robotic snowmen. Such was the success of The Abominable Snowman, it prompted the BBC to work on a sequel, the aforementioned The Web of Fear. And, yet again, much of the story was based upon the real Yeti.

In the new story, the Himalayas have been replaced by London, where the Great Intelligence is hard at work to – yet again – try and make the Earth its own. It’s clear from the outset that something menacing is afoot: the city is shrouded in a strange, ominous fog and the London Underground has become infested by a strange fungus that spreads rapidly along the old tunnels. There’s something else in the shadowy, coiling tunnels too: an army of robotic Yetis, once again doing the bidding of their ethereal master, the Great Intelligence. Cue a battle between, on one side, the doctor and the military, and on the other, the alien invader and his mechanical man-monsters. No prizes for guessing who wins the day. From August 30 to September 20, 1975, the BBC ran “Terror of the Zygons.” It was a four-part Dr. Who story, broadcast on Saturday evenings, and which put an interesting spin on the story of the Loch Ness Monster. In much the same way that the monster of  the 1970 movie,

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, was actually an advanced piece of machinery – namely, a carefully camouflaged submarine – so was the Nessie that tangled with the world’s most famous, fictional time-traveler, Dr. Who. “Terror of the Zygons” tells the story of an alien race, the Zygons of the title, whose home world was decimated and destroyed by solar flares centuries ago. As a result, they decide to create a new home for themselves. No prizes for guessing the planned location of that new home: the Earth. The one, solitary band of Zygons that successfully makes the journey to Earth has the distinct misfortune to crash in none other than Loch Ness. And they remain there for hundreds of years, patiently planning for the day when they can finally claim the Earth as their own. To help them in their quest to seek control of the planet, the Zygons employ the use of a terrifying, huge monster known as the Skarasen. It’s an ancient beast of the deep waters that the Zygons turn into a cyborg – a half-flesh, half-machine that does their every bidding and which lives in Loch Ness. It has, over time, of course, become known as the Loch Ness Monster. That bidding includes a wave of mysterious and violent attacks on oil-rigs in the North Sea. It’s up to Dr. Who and his comrades, Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, to defeat the deadly Zygons – who are shape-shifting monsters that can take on the form of any human being they choose. Fortunately, Dr. Who finally saves the day, as he always does. But not before the Skarasen/Nessie wreaks havoc in and around London’s River Thames and the Zygons do their very best to take hold of the planet.

(Nick Redfern) Again, a legendary monster is turned into an extraterrestrial

That's good for entertainment! And, it might be true

It’s time now to take a look at the hugely popular 1960s-era TV show, The Avengers. A particularly intriguing episode (at least, from the perspective of the Men in Black issue) is that which is titled "The Cybernauts," and which was Diana Rigg’s third appearance. Her first two being "The Town of No Return" and "The Gravediggers." The Cybernauts of the title are ruthless, humanoid, killing-machines of a robotic nature. They’re quite familiar too: they dress in black suits, they wear black fedoras, and they are seen in black turtle-neck tops – all of which are often reported in MIB encounters. On top of that, and also like the MIB, their mannequin-like faces are pale (silver, in their case), and they completely lack any and all emotion, expect for the desire to kill. Or, rather, they are programmed to kill. There’s no doubt that the Cybernauts are the Men in Black in everything but name (the murderous angle aside). You can find a summary of the episode here. There’s something else, too. Without giving away much of the plot, I will tell you that a portion of the episode is focused upon a mysterious “gadget pen.” In fact, the pen is an integral part of the story. It so transpires that the MIB have longstanding ties to pens, as bizarre as such a nutty thing undeniably sounds.

It so happens that both the robotic Women in Black and the Men in Black have a fascination for pens. One case of three I know of will suffice. It’s the most famous example, too. Mary Hyre was a woman who played an integral role in the series of 1960s-era events that led John Keel to write The Mothman Prophecies. In January 1967, Hyre was visited by a creepy, bowl-haired MIB of around 5-feet in height and who had oddly hypnotic eyes. Throughout the encounter, the black-clad “man” kept staring at Hyre’s ballpoint pen. To the point where Hyre told him he could keep it. He took it, laughed loud in a strange fashion, and vanished as mysteriously as he had first arrived.

(Nick Redfern) The Avengers and the Men in Black: a clear connection

On September 30, 1967, the black-clad robots of The Avengers were back in an episode titled (what else?) "Return of the Cybernauts." Once again, the black outfit, the black hat, and the blank expression were all in evidence. September 30 (in 1915) was the birth-date of the aforementioned Mary Hyre. And 1967 was the year in which the collapse of the Silver Bridge – in Point Pleasant, West Virginia – occurred, and which Keel chronicled in The Mothman Prophecies. Of course, many might say that all of this is nothing more than a case of finding similarities and making connections that have no bearing on anything but coincidence. They may well be right on target. It is, after all, extremely easy to make connections to just about anything if one tries hard enough. Sometimes, it’s extremely easy to do so. On the other hand, there are a few more MIB-themed odd synchronicities that are linked to the worlds of television and movies. Indeed, sometimes, TV sci-fi parallels with TV fiction to incredible levels.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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