Today and next Sunday I’m going to look at two specials Filmation produced to promote season one and then season two of the new He-Man show, which it goes without saying was a massive hit. They took three episodes and then added some new animation around them “hosted” by some of the characters from the show. Next week’s episode is probably the better one in that respect, although this is the special that has the best episode.
The Sorceress welcomes us to the show as we move through space to Eternia and describes the planet and the things that go on before entering Castle Grayskull to join her. As powerful as she was, she also fell into the trap of becoming a damsel in distress too. The show produced years later by Mike Young probably went a little too far the other way, with her being far more aloof to hide her insecurities, which is something we’ll see the reasons for here. An introduction to a gallery of the villains transitions us into the first episode.
Diamond Ray of Disappearance
Although it’s not the first episode in production order, it is effectively the pilot, introducing close to twenty characters straight away. Skeletor is in possession of the Diamond Ray of Disappearance, with no quest to get it. The newer show did a funny take on this, showing him at the start of one episode just about to gain it, then He-Man breaks it straight away. We get a couple of vignettes to show off Skeletor’s evil warriors and their powers. I’ve never understood Tri-Klops’ power of gamma-vision, which can “see around solid object” – presented visually, it looks like he just sees through them.
Then to the royal palace, soon to be under attack, with the original grumpy version of Man-At-Arms getting drenched by one of Orko’s magic tricks gone awry. Duncan was far better as your kindly grandfather than your pissed off dad. Adam slips away to transform into He-Man in a rather understated and quick “first” transformation within the context of the show. Trap Jaw acts as a distraction for Skeletor and the other guys to get in and capture King Randor, Queen Marlena and Duncan (and the Sorceress in her falcon form of Zoar). He-Man bends his lasertron attachment so that he can’t fire at him, but his whole gimmick is that he has a missing right arm and can attach and detach weapons interchangeable, so why couldn’t he just swap his hook in? In fairness, they do get a line in about how he’s having trouble getting it to go in (we’ve all been there, right guys?).
Of note, this special features a scene that for some reason has subsequently been omitted from DVD releases with Orko with a pot on his head. No idea why, but it’s an odd omission because the content isn’t questionable, so might be due to damage to the original masters. Orko meets up with He-Man and goes to collect Stratos and Ram-Man (Skeletor’s mates are far cooler than He-Man’s). John Erwin has the deep He-Man voice down pat straight away, but he’s really stilted initially. He’d get a little more nuanced and emotive as the series went on.
It’s a pretty by-the-numbers episode, there’s a fun big battle at the end with the theme tune playing throughout, but that’s really the high point. As goofy as it is, there’s a part where Stratos comes up behind Evil-Lyn and ties her up in a ball with her own cape that I like. It’s an episode that tries to do almost everything and make every reference it can to show it can and establish all the quirks of the show.
Back to the framing section with the Sorceress, we discuss the heroes of Eternia, with a special focus on Man-At-Arms’ adopted daughter, Teela, captain of the royal guard, with reference to the Sorceress’ relationship with her too.
The episode begins with a flashback to Queen Marlena’s previous life as an astronaut, which is something everyone remembers but they didn’t bring up that often, much like the big reveal in this episode. Then to Duncan’s workshop, where Orko has accidentally built a bomb (the cad!). Teela’s admiration for Queen Marlena gets her thinking about her own mother, who she doesn’t know. Duncan refers to knowing her father (who we never find out the identity of) but cannot reveal the secret identity of her mother in a move that seems like being a bit of a bastard. This leads Teela to seek out the Oracle of the Crystal Sea.
At the same time, Mer-Man, who has an old grudge against Duncan, wants to raise the sea demon Bakull and needs a sacrifice – Teela will do. “So be it!”, says Skeletor, with a response that I’m not sure is dickish or cool or cool dickish. Teela already has Shadow Beasts to contend with en route, who apparently fear light… even though they’re out in broad daylight. Upon arrival, she gets to hear that part of her origin involves a falcon (but doesn’t put two and two together) but the recap gets cut short when she gets surprise attacked by Mer-Man’s soldiers that’s quickly cut like a David Lynch film. Finding out about it in Castle Grayskull, the Sorceress heads out to help her on FALCON’S wings.
Mer-Man summons Bakull with Teela as his captive, who at least turns up before her blood is shed or anything. Zoar shows up, takes the spear and pearl that Mer-Man uses to control Bakull, and drops it to break it. Bakull is buried beneath crystal for another twenty years to save the day and Teela gets to finally hear that her mother is, of course, the Sorceress… and then the Sorceress wipes the knowledge from her memory until the time she will come to take her place (and so that it doesn’t mess with the continuity or running order).
Paul Dini wrote this episode, so it’s no surprise it’s a good one. His skill is evident early and he would go on to be a big writer in animation (not as much in other places – for every episode of Lost there’s Double Dragon), and even though he’s just telling someone else’s story he’s still contributed something incredibly significant to the canon.
And not much more is said back at the Castle to preview the next episode, which just about sums it up.
Skeletor debuts the Collector, a flying ship that looks like a skull with claws that can turn people to stone and stone to life. First attack sees Duncan turned to stone and conspicuously placed statues of warriors and a lion turned into Skeletor’s soldiers. The heroes are left with Duncan stuck in position like Bernie from Weekend at Bernie’s and no idea how to change him back. At the same time, Skeletor goes to use the energy he’s siphoned to awake the stone giant Colossor, with Beast Man and Evil-Lyn making implicit and explicit references to wanting to betray him, which goes nowhere.
So, He-Man goes on a quest to get something to make something to do something. Then he gets aboard the Collector, does his thing, Skeletor elbows Beast Man and then gives him a hug, everyone gets changed back to normal, Colossor comes by, He-Man fights him, beats him. The end. It’s a really uninspiring episode. Colossor has an interesting look, but it’s just a giant stone creature who says nothing. As the season went on, the writers realised they couldn’t do much action because of the limitations of the animation so they actually started developing personalities for the characters and that’s when it got good.
One more time back to Grayskull for the conclusion of the show and a preview of other episodes via pictures in the gallery, many of which are far better than the last one we saw here, and the Sorceress heads off as Zoar for another adventure.
Conclusion: It’s kind of a two out of four rating overall if I take the three episodes and the framing device as four different elements. Diamond Ray isn’t great, but it’s kind of necessary. Teela’s Quest is very good. There are so many better episodes than Colossor Awakes (Evilseed would’ve probably been the best replacement), and the framing device with the Sorceress is just boring. It might’ve even better if Orko hosted, it might’ve been kiddyish he would’ve been a far more enthusiastic character.
Next week: Skeletor’s Revenge!