Genesis II had not been entirely lacking in potential but suffered from a noticeable lack of action. Planet Earth tries to rectify this by going for a more straightforward adventure formula.
Once again we meet NASA scientist Dylan Hunt (played this time by John Saxon) a century and a half in the future after an experiment in suspended animation goes wrong. This aspect of the story was given a lot of attention in Genesis II but it’s glossed over in a few seconds of exposition in Planet Earth. Which is a pity since it makes the whole premise a bit pointless. We don’t get to see Dylan Hunt trying to making sense of this strange new world in which he finds himself.
The idea presumably is that this is a sequel to Genesis II so we already know the backstory but in fact it’s a sequel that changes things considerably. PAX is now a much more high-tech civilisation.
As in Genesis II the future Earth, having suffered a nuclear war, is home to a variety of competing societies. The most advanced is PAX. They’re the most civilised and enlightened society because they worship science and everyone knows that scientists are always right.
The surgeon, Connor, was captured by a society of amazon women who keep men as slaves. Dylan and his team members all manage to get themselves captured and Harper-Smythe finds herself having to fight the cruel and sinister Marg (Diana Muldaur) for ownership of Dylan. All the women want to buy Dylan because he looks like good breeding stock. They all desperately want babies since babies are in very short supply. Their men are drugged to keep them docile and that seems to reduce their breeding capabilities.
What the women really need is for their men to be real men, especially with mutants running about. The women just need someone like Dylan Hunt to demonstrate how useful a man can be.
John Saxon is always a very entertaining actor but he makes Dylan Hunt a bit too much of an obvious James T. Kirk clone. He may have been a safer choice than Alex Cord (who played the rôle in Genesis II) for an action adventure series but I thought Cord’s performance was the more interesting of the two simply because it was less Kirk-like.
Diana Muldaur does the best she can with the script she’s given but Marg was always going to be a rather limited character.
Dylan Hunt’s other sidekicks are irritating psychic Baylok and pretty scientist Harper-Smythe (Janet Margolin). Unfortunately she just doesn’t quite convince as an action heroine.
Planet Earth has a bit of a Planet of the Apes vibe to it - both visually and with the idea of a world turned upside down.
The subshuttles are the same as those used in Genesis II, and they’re still a good idea. If you’re going to do a science fiction series you need some cool technology and they make a nice change from starships and robots.
The decision to make PAX more or less pacifists (they only use stun guns) is more dubious - it makes them seem a bit too smug and self-righteous.
All three pilots are available on DVD in the Warner Archive series. The first two at least look great but both would have benefited enormously from an audio commentary to give them a bit more context.
I think Genesis II could have worked if only Roddenberry had gone back to it and added a few more action scenes. Planet Earth suffers from being Star Trek without the exciting stuff like starships. Both are worth a look with Genesis II being the more interesting. I haven’t seen Strange New World yet so I cannot comment on that one.