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Secret Empire, The

Entry updated 9 February 2022. Tagged: TV.

US television series (1979). MCA/Universal Pictures/Universal Television. Created by Kenneth Johnson. Produced by Richard Milton. Directors included Joseph Pevney, Nick Havinga, Tony Lo Bianco. Writers included Johnson, Gene R Kearny, Jeri Taylor, Nona Tyson. Cast includes Peter Breck, Pamela Brull, Stefanie Kramer, Mark Lenard, Diane Markoff, David Opatshu, Geoffrey Scott and Charlene Watkins. Twelve 20-minute episodes (only ten released). Black and white and colour (see below).

In and around Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1880, Marshall Jim Donner (Scott) is pursuing a gang of gold-shipment robbers known as The Phantom Riders; recovering the gold in a cavern, he also comes across an elevator that takes him far Underground into the futuristic City of Chimera, where he is instantly enamoured of Princess Tara (Markoff for the first five episodes, then Kramer), who is overpowered by her own brainwashing device and allows him to escape; the true-love interest is promoted through the loyal presence of Maya (Brull), daughter of a deposed emperor. But meanwhile Donner has aroused the enmity of usurper Emperor Thorval (Lenard), who plans to exploit Chimera's advanced Technology – which includes Death Rays which can also cause Suspended Animation, Robots and a mind-controlling device known as the Compliatron – to conquer the world above, with the aid of a power-mad rancher Jesse Keller (Breck). The Compliatron is powered by gold, and hence the Phantom Riders' depredations.

The series was terminated with episode ten, but what can be seen of the tale persistently homages The Phantom Empire (1935), of which it is an unacknowledged but clearly affectionate remake, though improved by its nineteenth-century repositioning – no longer needing to be set in 1935 to accommodate Dude-Ranch owner and singer-cowboy on the radio Gene Autry. Scenes above ground are in black and white while scenes in Chimera are in colour. The Secret Empire aired as one of three serials shown weekly in the Television Anthology Series Cliffhangers (1979). [JC/GSt]


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