“From The Age Of Disco To The Time Of Future”
The 1970s begat us a large number of weird and wonderful cultural phenomena, and perhaps none so noteworthy as a curious sub-genre, which could be best described as ‘Disco SF’: that brave new world that consists of gleaming pristine metal and flashing lights, soundtracked by synthesizers and wah-wah guitars, in which men were real men, women were glamorous but objectified, and robots were shiny and highly annoying.
Average Romp takes us back to that future past with the pilot for a proposed online audio ‘Disco SF’ comedy, Dick Dixon In The 21st Century. The writer, Jonathan Morris, has been on a ‘Disco SF’ odyssey since 2020, finding and viewing as many examples as he could, ultimately managing to spot all of the tropes that are so common across them all, and deconstruct the genre, with the end result being such a loving homage to that shiny, Spandex-clad, incredibly sexually-charged retro-futurism, dating back about five decades.
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It was during the first lockdown last year that Morris found himself watching a lot of TV sci-fi, like Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, Battlestar Galactica and Space: 1999, with the unintended side effect of finding he was making up his own jokes and plots. Having contributed to TV sketch shows like Dead Ringers, and written a sitcom pilot for ITV, Morris spent a week coming up with a script, which he shared with some friends, including writer/comedian/actor/presenter Toby Hadoke, who liked it enough to want to make it, so he ended up being its director.
Morris has also written extensively for Doctor Who, in book form and for audios by Big Finish, so he definitely knows his stuff. One of the best things about being a fan of something is having the ability to poke fun at it in a loving manner, and manage not to take things too seriously; with Dick Dixon In The 21st Century, Morris has revisited an era and style of TV and film entertainment which still possesses a certain type of fond nostalgia for anybody who was a part of the audience at the time, and given it a rather warm-hearted dig (or several) in the process.
The premise of the series has the British Rocket Programme launching its first probe into Very Deep Space in 1977, with Captain Richard ‘Dick’ Dixon at the helm as the vessel’s lone space astronaut pilot. Caught up in a freak wormhole, Dick Dixon (Kieran Hodgson) is sent spiralling through 100 years of time, returning to Earth in the 21st Century. Dick’s friends in this new era include Colonel Gina Summer (Allyson June Smith); Professor Disco (Terry Molloy); Fox (Sooz Kempner): the robot B-G (Dan Starkey); and The Admiral (Starkey once again).
Buck Rogers In The 25th Century is the obvious foundation of the series, which seems particularly ironic, as it was ITV’s main rival to Doctor Who on Saturday nights, trouncing it in the ratings and toppling its unassailable supremacy after 18 years; as a result, there has been more than a bit of friendly rivalry with Buck Rogers, as far as Who fans are concerned, so this could be seen as a little payback. However, all of the digs and barbs are done very affectionately, and with a clear awareness that some of the targets could also apply to Doctor Who as well.
A lot of TV programming from the 1970s – not just in terms of sci-fi series – tends to look rather differently now when viewed with the hindsight and perspective of 21st Century standards and values; look at programmes like Channel 4’s It Was Alright In The…, in which an assembly of talking heads scoff at clips of TV shows from the ‘60s through to the ‘90s, pointing out just how things are different now, and feeling terribly superior. Dick Dixon is as much a satirical dig at that kind of attitude, as much as trying to reflect a very ‘70s take on the world of tomorrow.
The era’s rather dubious sexual politics crop up, taking a shot at the sort of behaviour which, while dubious even in the day, would probably end up being part of Operation Yewtree now; also, a reminder of the casual xenophobia which would crop up. However, all of this is done with a real lightness of touch, the point never coming at the expense of the joke, and never coming over as hectoring or browbeating in any way. We all recognise there were things which look dodgy now, and Dick Dixon encourages us to laugh with them as much as at them, with the sheer nostalgic glow helping soften any blows.
There are also a few nods and winks to the listener, by way of the occasional ‘fourth wall’ breaks, pointing out some of the more obvious sci-fi cliches which might have occurred to the audience, letting you know that you are all on the same page. Even the trope of a courtroom battle – as seen many times in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, with stories like the ‘The Measure Of A Man’ – is deployed here, and the fuzzy warmness which comes from that recognition is all down to a form of effective shorthand which comes from being a fan of the genre.
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The important thing to note, however, is there is no need to be a die-hard aficionado in order to be able to get all of the jokes, as Dick Dixon is funny in its own right. With the main character being called ‘Dick’, you get an idea of how some of the humour is pitched, and the opening exchange – which is full of Carry On-style double entendres – helps set the tone from the off; rest assured, if Morris sees the opportunity for an innuendo, he will definitely whip it out and slip it in there, managing to pull it off with a flourish.
The pilot episode is currently available for free on YouTube, and a Kickstarter campaign is also underway with the aim of raising funding for two more episodes. Based on the pilot alone, it would be a crying shame if Dick Dixon should fail to fight another day, so it really is worth pitching in, to ensure that his future is a bright one.