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I have been fascinated with robots for the longest time. Android, cybernetic creature, artificial intelligence, automaton, technologically-enhanced humanoid... Whatever the appellation, the thought that we could someday invent an artificial being who could act like a human is a mind-boggling concept which has me endlessly captivated. I know that there is very little chance I might see this happening in my lifetime. But I still love to imagine the day where robots will become highly sophisticated creatures able to think and learn just like a biological entity.

As a young child, I would watch anything on television that emulated that concept. And two series who were very popular in the 70's satisfied my cravings on that front. The first was The Six Million Dollar Man. This show actually started as a 90 minute movie which aired in March 1973. This is the story of Steve Austin played by the very good-looking Lee Majors. Honestly, I had a major crush on him as a kid even though I didn't have any notion about sexual attraction just yet. And I still think he has the cutest nose I've ever seen.

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Steve is an astronaut who loses both legs, his right arm and eye in an accident. Rudy Wells, a doctor employed by the SIO (Special Intelligence Organization) a top secret U.S. government agency, saves his life and replaces the missing limbs with a new technology called Bio-ionic or Bionic for short, giving him superhuman powers. He can run a lot faster, jump higher, see better and is much stronger than any other man in existence. Once he recuperates, he becomes a secret agent and goes on different special assignments using his enhanced capacities.

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Since the movie was a huge hit, they decided to develop a regular series with that same concept and the new show premiered a few months later in January 1974. It became an instant hit, airing for five seasons until March 1978. In its heyday, this show became a sensation and everybody was transfixed by Steve Austin's adventures. I was about seven years old at that time and like everybody else, didn't miss one single episode. That show was groundbreaking on many fronts and the special effects, even though they look ridiculous and hopelessly outdated to the contemporary eye, were very innovative for that era.

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In its second season, the show introduced a new character called Jaime Sommers played by Lindsay Wagner who appeared in two episodes. Jaime was Steve's old girlfriend with whom he resumes a love relationship. They decide to get married but everything changes when Jaime is the victim of a skydiving accident. Just like Steve, she loses both her legs and her right arm but in her case, it would be her right ear who would get the Bionic treatment. In order to save her life, Steve implores Rudy Wells to use the Bionic technology on Jaime as well.

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The procedure is succesful momentarily but soon after, her body starts to reject the Bionic implants. Rudy tries her best to save her but to no avail. She dies on the operating table. Then, through a miraculous new intervention, she is revived but with all her memories wiped out in the process. Steve is still in love with her but she doesn't remember him at all. They decide that for her well-being, it would be best not to say anything to Jaime about her previous relationship with Steve. He is forced to step back giving her time to rediscover herself.

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The character of Jaime in those episodes became so popular that the network decided to create a spin-off of The Six Million Dollar Man which would center on Jaime Sommers, now on her own. Called The Bionic Woman, the new series premiered in January 1976 and aired for two seasons on CBS and then, was picked up by NBC for a final season. In the show, Jaime Sommers becomes a school teacher which really is a front for her secret agent activities. Her boss is "Oscar Goldman" played by Richard Anderson who actually played the role in both series all through their run. Dr Rudy Wells played by Martin E. Brooks also appears in both shows sporadically, maintaining and improving the Bionic technology for both Jaime and Steve.

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Even though I was really into the Steve Austin saga, I became even more engrossed in the adventures of his female counterpart and to this day, I prefer "The Bionic Woman" for some reason. I always found the stories to be more interesting and Lindsay Wagner had a special charisma which made Jaime very likable. I liked every episode of "La Femme Bionique" as it was called in French, the language in which I viewed those episodes at the time. But there are several who hold a special interest to me even today.



I was especially thrilled whenever Steve Austin paid his former girlfriend a visit. And one of those instances introduced the most succesful villain in the series, "The Fembots" who are still remembered today. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me starring Mike Myers is an example of a contemporary movie who made a parody of that popular icon, having the lead female character Vanessa played by Elizabeth Hurley turning into one. In the second season of The Bionic Woman, a special episode called "Kill Oscar" aired as a trilogy. The story was about a certain Dr Franklin, former employee of the SIO who was crushed when the Bionic technology was deemed more promising than his own who concentrated on building human-like robots.

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He decides to take revenge by replacing several secretaries of important men working for the SIO with exact replicas who are actually robots he christened Fembots. Those female robots possess a superior strength even more powerful than the Bionic technology. At first, everybody is fooled by those perfect copies of the originals. But then, Jaime starts to get suspicious when her friend Callahan, Oscar Goldman's secretary, starts to display some weird behavior. She confronts the "double" in her appartment only to discover that she is an impostor.

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When Jaimie tries to get away, another Fembot appears in the door frame and Jaimie smacks her accross the face causing the robot's mask to get ripped off... The close-up of the robot's naked face, with all the wires and transistors in plain view and Jaimie's total shock upon seeing it was absolutely mind-boggling to me. After watching those episodes, I have to admit I was scared like hell creatures like that could exist somewhere. Granted, I was only eight years old. But it left such a deep mark in me that I remember it vividly to this day.

You can actually see a condensed version of the scene in question below. Now, remember that this was the 70's so it might not look very scary now. After all, we are used to seeing a lot worse on television nowadays and the technology from that era didn't allow very effective special effects. Also, the little clip is a rather crude animated .gif file. But it will nonetheless give you an idea of the action that took place. And I'll tell ya, when I saw it back then, it absolutely terrified me!

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After this altercation with the two Fembots, Jaime tries to jump off the balcony but her Bionic legs can not support a jump from this distance and she gets seriously injured. Since Steve Austin is in town, it's up to him to track down the Fembots for a while. Eventually, with Jaime up on her feet, they both end up on an island where the base of Dr Franklin is and after many tribulations, succeed in destroying all the Fembots and capturing the evil Dr Franklin.

Those episodes got such huge ratings that the creators of the show revived the Fembots in a second installment called Fembots In Las Vegas in the last season. Presented in two parts this time, this was the story of the son of Dr Franklin trying to avenge his father's death in prison by killing the three people he felt were responsible, namely Jaime, Oscar and Rudy Wells. But at the end, we discover that he is actually a robot himself and Jaime succeeds in killing him after many plot twists.



I guess it was really at this point that my fascination with The Bionic Woman was at a fever-pitch. I remember every kid in my neiborhood talking about this show, especially those deadly robots. It was a huge deal in those days. I recall fantasizing about having Bionic powers myself and I didn't miss one show the whole time it aired. But sadly in the 70's, we couldn't record anything from television and once you saw a show, that was it. We never even thought it would be possible one day to preserve episodes to view them again.

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Therefore, I had to rely on my imagination in order to reconstruct those moments in my mind. That is probably why they had such a lasting impact on me. And what really gets me is that only one episode of The Bionic Woman (the pilot) is available on VHS today. I really can't understand why they don't release all those episodes on DVD. I understand that the complete series has been released in the UK but in America so far, nada. I mean, I would pay a lot of money to see those shows again. And from the looks of it, I am certainly not the only one. You might be surprised at the amount of web site paying tribute to the Bionic phenomenon.

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Actually, I never even saw the original English episodes of The Bionic Woman nor The Six Million Dollar Man. A few channels have aired them in my part of the world over the years but they were all translated in French. And I'll tell you, I can't stand to watch anything that has been dubbed. Even if a television show or a movie is shot in a language I don't understand, I'd rather watch it with subtitles because for me, it is very important to hear the real voices of the actors.

That would be such an amazing experience for me to watch them all again with my adult perspective. I can only hope that one day, they will become available so I can satisfy my cravings for them. I guess it is a question of nostalgia because I am fully aware that viewed today, those two shows don't stand a chance with all the technology we now take for granted on television and in movies. The 1970's was an era where computers were not what they are today and the special effects would make any youngster burst out laughing.

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But for me, Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers are both icons who have left a deep mark on my kid's psyche. As a young lad, I would sit in front of the television set completely immersed in this new reality. The sounds used to accentuate any Bionic action, the slow-motion effect suggesting that they ran at very high speed, the fact that they were stronger than any other human beings... True, those elements are laughable today but they were very new at the time and had a powerful impact on the public. And for a young kid like me who used to crave technology so badly, they were the perfect fantasy.

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I have read on quite a few web sites that some movie studios are interested in both The Six Million Dollar Man and "The Bionic Woman" as future motion pictures. The premise of Bionic enhancement is potentially very rich in possible storylines. And can you imagine how great they could make them with the special effects available today? There were a few Bionic movies done for television over the years but sadly, those are still not available just like the original episodes.

I just hope that if the rumors are true, they won't spoil the Bionic concept by casting actors who would be wrong for the part. Or even worse, by wasting tons of money on brilliant special effects without a strong story to hold it together. Well, whether it happens or not, I will always cherish the originals. They were part of an era and still hold up well today as true innovators and classics of the first order.