Kidnapped from Earth by aliens 5 centuries ahead of us, Tomo, a.k.a. Robert Prentice (played by James Darren) is trained on their planet Andro to be the advance scout for an Earth invasion! First captured as a spy then accepted in Project Delphi, a top secret device to ward off such invasions, Tomo aids the Earthmen in defeating the enemy but the planet must stay alert as there will certainly be future invasions.
This presentation reel created by Irwin Allen & his talented staff for CBS as a short pilot was originally envisioned as a third season episode of Lost in Space where Tomo would meet the Robinsons and over dinner tell his tale. In a Feb 1968 TV Guide blurb (newsbrief) 25th Century was was expected to replace Space in the 1968 fall season as the show, now in its 3rd season was, as TV Guide described it, "running out of ratings steam." However it wasn't ready in time so a short presentation film was created instead.
(Interestingly in March of 1968 NBC aired the classic Star Trek episode
"Assignment: Earth" which had a similar though more sophisticated plotline.
It never made it to series form either.)
The sets representing the planet Andro were simply constructed and made
use of Irwin's trademark "black backdrop". The aliens weren't much better as
their earlobes were pointed as opposed to the ear tips a la Mr Spock. Only a
few actors received screen credit who portrayed the aliens but Dick Durock,
later to portray the Swamp Thing told Starlog Magazine he played the giant
alien defeated by Tomo. Morgan Farley and of course John Crawford played
two more of the aliens.
From the start Tomo does not seem to be a good candidate for leading an
invasion of Earth as he still possesses the Deadly Sins of arrogance and
pride and has inferior ESP abilities. The aliens send him anyway and are
shocked & angry when he fails in his mission.
Most of the special effects are carefully matted paintings. Almost all
miniature shots are stock footage from Lost in Space except for one scene
which will be discussed later. one often-talked about scene that is NOT a
matte shot is Tomo's sportscar exiting his spaceship (the full-sized Jupiter
2 mockup with landing legs). Many writers have claimed this is the ramp
built for the Chariot to exit the Jupiter that was never used but having
seen the original 20th century Fox blueprints for this pilot I can say
unequivocally it was constructed during the filming of this show not Space.
Speaking of sets the ones constructed to represent Project Delphi were
well made considering they were mostly created from existing Fox stock
computers, which brings us to the OTHER often discussed scene. The "planet"
version full-sized Jupiter 2 mockup was also used with large computer banks
& 'slants' (the kind used in Time Tunnel) hiding the interior. These sets
were dismantled & destroyed shortly after filimg this pilot so this is the
last time viewers ever see them.
Why can't Prentice kill the guard (played by Pat Culliton an Irwin Allen
bit part alumnus)? Supposedly he's had twenty years training but still cannot
bring himself to murder. Aliens this inept don't deserve to take over Earth!
Manned Orbital Lab 3 is the Vera Cassel from the third season Lost in
Space episode "Condemned of Space". Stock footage of Time Tunnel guards
running through the complex is used as Delphi gets ready to operate.
The new miniature effects scenes created for this episode are very well
done as an alien saucer not stopped by the Delphi beams attacks & destroys a
local gas station. It is shortly destroyed thanks to Tomo/Prentice.
The aliens transport a duplicate of Prentice into Delphi and there's a nice action/explosion sequence as the two men fight and blow up much of the complex. The real Prentice of course defeats the duplicate and the ending leaves open the possibility of future alien invasions, assuring Prentice a steady job.
While entertaining, the thin premise would not have lasted more than one season (if even). For such a limited budget the pilot had impressive sets, explosions, and matte shots. James Darren, John Crawford and Ford Rainey were excellent choices to star in the pilot and the plot wasn't bad either. Joey Tata, another Irwin Allen bit-part alumnus (he was a space biker in Lost in Space and Napoleon in Time Tunnel) played a radar technician at Project Delphi and remarked that the that Man From the 25th Century was a "fun" show to do but to passe' for 1968 audiences. "Irwin's formula was getting past its prime for some people and the network felt some viewers had outgrown that sort of show."
Ever the optimist, in 1970 Allen had first-class TV writers Anthony Wilson & Arthur Weiss create a fleshed out 90 minute pilot script with much more character development for ABC TV's Movie of the Week but sadly Tata's prediction came true and this, too was rejected.
All in all a very enjoyable sci fi adventure considering its length & budget.
WHAT WERE THE WRITERS THINKING? DEPT:
The pseudo scientific gibberish spouted by Tomo and the aliens in the beginning speaks for itself. Did the unknown writer(s) think ANY of that made sense?
In the script there were two extra scenes proposed but ultimately scrapped due to time constraints & budgetary restrictions: As Tomo/Prentice approaches the Delphi Complex his car hits a pickup truck with Cass, Fred and little Mary Sue as passengers. "This is gonna cost you, man!" shouts Fred but Tomo unleashes a secret weapon the aliens gave him-CASH! Tomo pays for the damages & drives on. The ending was different too. The saucer is destroyed not by Project Delphi but by Tomo who crashes an armored vehicle into the UFO and saves the gas station and little Mary Sue in the process. The giant alien from the beginning of the show emerges from the burning saucer but Tomo once again defeats him this time for good. The closing shot is Tomo, Mary Sue & the flaming wreckage of the UFO.