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By Thomas Wheeler

It's amazing what can spark a toy memory at times, especially for those of us that have been collecting action figures for most of our lives.

Sometimes the DVD racks can be rather surprising. Granted, those surprises can range anywhere from "Man, I wish I had the money for that!" to "They wasted perfectly good discs and packaging to bring THAT out on DVD? What were they allegedly thinking?" Then there's the stuff that falls more along the lines of taking you completely by surprise that they WOULD release it on DVD, but it's not necessarily a bad thing that they did -- even if you can't afford it.

One of these happened to me recently, and it brought forth a toy memory, as well. Someone saw fit to release the complete series SPACE ACADEMY on DVD. What, some of you may be asking, was Space Academy?

It was one of a number of live-action series produced by Filmation in the 1970's, for Saturday morning broadcasts. Although Filmation was best known for its animated product from around the same time period, including Star Trek, Tarzan, Batman, The Lone Ranger, and a few years later, the original Masters of the Universe, they were also responsible for a number of live-action series. Probably their best known was Shazam!, but they did have others.

Space Academy came along in 1977, trading off the skyrocketing popularity of science-fiction on the heels of Star Wars. It showcased the adventures of a group of teenagers who were attending -- well -- Space Academy, which was a spaceborne facility built into a massive asteroid. The model of this was actually very well done for the time, and taking into consideration the doubtless limited budget of the show.

Space Academy was notable for several things. The teenagers' commander was Professor Isaac Gampu, played with scenery-chewing expertise by Jonathan Harris, best known as the wily Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. There was also a robot on the show, and it was an ACTUAL robot, a boxy-looking thing called Peepo that had a fairly annoying personality. There was also a boy on the show, named Loki. He was an orphaned alien (although he looked as human as the others), discovered in the first episode, and brought into Space Academy mostly because he had nowhere else to go. He also provided a younger presence for the younger viewers of the series to identify with. Loki, living up to his name, could be a little mischievous at times, and he had the ability to either turn invisible or teleport. I honestly don't recall which. Might've been both. Granted we're not talking much in the way of special effects here. Stop the camera and let the kid walk out of the frame.

Interestingly enough, the show spawned an action figure line! Exclusive to Woolworth's stores (anybody remember those?), the Space Academy line featured 9" scale figures of Professor Gampu, students Chris and Tee- Gar, and a shorter figure of Loki. And, even more interestingly, the line was manufactured by Hasbro.

Well -- sort of. It was technically produced by Aviva, but this, I believe, was one of those spin-off names that some companies used at the time for certain ancillary product, which apparently Hasbro regarded Space Academy as being. However, there was also no denying the fact that the three adult figures used the same bodies that were in use right around the same time for Hasbro's SUPER JOE action figures.

The figures were actually quite well made. The bodies had good articulation, the character likenesses were above average, and the cloth uniforms were nicely done. There was just one thing -- they couldn't use the Super Joe body mold for Loki, and he was an important part of the show. I believe they had to create his body molds entirely from scratch. Certainly I've never seen any other figure resembling him.

And I was reasonably certain that I still had my Loki figure around here. I knew I'd lost the other three years ago, even if I didn't recall exactly how (if I could recover every action figure I used to have that went missing one way or another), but I did believe I still had Loki. And sure enough, a mild search turned him up. So let's do a Flashback Review, okay? A really obscure one, I'll admit, but sometimes those are the ones I get the most e-mail responses to. :)

In the series, Loki was played by a young actor named Eric Greene. A brief check on the Web indicates that he didn't really continue acting much past the early 80's. His only other notable role was as a young King Tut in a 1981 TV movie called "Through the Magic Pyramid". This movie (and God help me I actually watched it for some bizarre reason) involved a young boy in the present day who is somehow able to travel to ancient Egypt by using a pyramid he's built in his room. He befriends the young King Tut and actually saves his life. Nothing like a little historical revisionism, eh? "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" this wasn't.

The Loki figure was a capable enough likeness of young Greene, although not surprisingly, the sculptors has some trouble matching the actor's hair. Greene had this thick mass of curly black hair on his head that wasn't exactly an afro, and we're not quite talking a hairdo like the WWE's Carlito, but it would probably present something of a challenge to toy sculptors even today, never mind 30 years ago. For the time, they did a good job.

Loki stands about 6-1/2" in height, a good size for a child in a 9"- scale figure line. The figure is nicely poseable, articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, legs, and knees. About the only thing that's lacking is that the adult figures' hands, being based on the Super Joe body, had their own version of "Kung-Fu Grip", which Loki doesn't have. The hands are still nicely sculpted, however.

Loki is wearing a Space Academy uniform, and I always felt that the design was well-done. It was relatively simple, but it worked. The outfit consists of a light grey bodysuit with a blue shirt underneath (although on the toy this is just sewn as part of the uniform), with a dark grey collar and belt, some silver stripes running the length of the uniform, and pale grey boots, in this case molded from fairly rigid plastic. There's a stylized "SA", the Space Academy insignia, on one sleeve.

Space Academy ran for one season, 15 episodes, and actually spawned a semi-sequel series called "Jason of Star Command". It used the same space station prop, and even some of the same uniforms, but it was a completely different cast, and featured the adventures of a Han Solo-like hero named Jason. Interestingly enough, later episodes of this series featured James Doohan as the station commander. Star Trek fans will immediately recognize the actor who played Scotty, and I have to say it was a little strange seeing the actor in a non-Trek uniform, on a sci-fi series, speaking without his Scottish accent. The mind doesn't quite want to accept it. There were, to my knowledge, no toys based on Jason of Star Command. This series was recently described by Starlog magazine as the most expensive show ever made for Saturday morning (so maybe Space Academy had a better budget than I thought), and is also due for a DVD release.

I rather have the feeling that if I did purchase the Space Academy series on DVD, I'd probably be rather dismayed at how poorly it holds up. I don't know, maybe it might be pretty decent. I do recall one fairly hysterical scene where the students discover Professor Gampu's real first name, Isaac, something he isn't especially fond of. Loki looks at him quizzically and says, "Isaac!?", whereupon the Professor, with all the considerable bluster Jonathan Harris can muster, rises from his chair and bellows, "What did you say?" or words to that effect, just as one of the older students picks up Loki and gets him out of the Professor's office as quickly as possible.

Still, it WAS thirty years ago. So maybe the series wouldn't otherwise hold up too well. But my Loki figure has held up very nicely, thank you, and honestly, stacks up as a good quality action figure even compared to a lot of modern stuff on the shelves these days. I'm pleased I still have my SPACE ACADEMY LOKI figure, and I hope you've enjoyed this look back at him, and the time and series he came from.