February 11, 2017


(CBS, September 15-December 8, 1984)

DiC Entertainment, Namco

Lisa Lindgren – Tess Darrett
David Coburn – Dan Darrett
Kaleena Kiff – Daisy Darrett
Jack Angel – Dr. Zachary Darrett
Melvin Franklin – Wheels
Darryl Hickman - Roadie

            Pole Position was a racing video game designed by Toru Iwatani for Namco. The game allowed players to drive a Formula One race car around the Fuji Speedway in Japan, making it the first game to include an actual existing track. It was also the first to feature an introductory time trial qualifying lap before the actual race to determine if the player would continue on or not. The game was one of the earliest examples of product placement in video games as billboards for real products were included along the track (many were region-specific being that some of the featured advertisers were inappropriate for a game meant for children). Players raced against seven other CPU-controlled cars, attempting to take first place while avoiding crashing and exploding.

            The game was released in July 1982 in Japan. Later that year, Namco offered Bally/Midway the chance to publish the game in North America, but they opted to take Mappy instead. Atari ended up handling the release that November. By 1983, the game had become the highest-grossing arcade game that year; selling over 21,000 machines with average earnings of $450 a week per machine. The game established many of the conventions for the racing genre in the years to come as well as inspired numerous imitators. Atari expanded on its success by porting it to various home video game consoles. A sequel, Pole Position II, was quickly released in 1983 with improved graphics and three additional tracks.

The Darrett family with Kuma, Wheels and Roadie.

            Looking to capitalize on the success of the arcade game, DiC Entertainment licensed the name from Namco and Jean Chalopin and Michael Reaves developed a series around the concept. However, the resulting show had little to do with the game outside of racing and seemed more of a clone of Knight Rider. The series centered around the Pole Position Stunt Show, which was a front for a government-sponsored clandestine investigative team. The group was led by Dr. Zachary Darrett (Jack Angel), a wheelchair-bound engineer who became the caretaker of his brother’s children after he and his wife were killed in a traffic accident. The eldest, Tess (Lisa Lindgren), was the de facto field leader of the Pole Position team while her partner and brother, Dan (David Coburn), was more of a reckless hothead. They also had a younger sister, Daisy (Kathleen Kiff), and a genetically created pet named Kuma (Marilyn Schreffler) who resembled a racoon mixed with a monkey. The Darrett children were effectively carrying on with their parents’ work, as they, too, were part of the Pole Position team. The characters were designed by Jesse Santos.

Wheels' A.I.

            Tess and Dan drove two very special cars. Designed by Zach, the cars featured extremely advanced artificial intelligence computer systems and numerous gadgets. Tess’ car was Wheels (Melvin Franklin), which resembled a 1965 Ford Mustang, and was the most cautious of the two cars. Dan’s car was Roadie (Darryl Hickman), a futuristic-looking car, who was very smart and often tried to keep Dan out of trouble. Both cars’ AIs appeared as digital faces on removable modules located on the dashboards that could be carried around. The cars were designed for the show by Eric Heschong. To mimic the game, chase sequences would often take on a first-person perspective.

Zach Darrett.

            Pole Position debuted on CBS on September 15, 1984, with music composed by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. The series was animated by Visual 80 Productions with Japan Computer Graphics Laboratory and MK Company providing computer graphics. The series was notable for being one of the earliest writing credits for noted television producer Chuck Lorre, who was joined by Chalopin and Reaves as well as Rowby Goren, Ted Pedersen and Marc Scott Zicree

VHS cover.

The series only ran a single season of 13 episodes, which was repeated over again for the 1985 season and a few months in 1986. The Family Channel would air it from the late 80s through the early 90s, as would CBBC and BBC1 in the United Kingdom. Warner Home Video released several VHS tapes containing an episode each in 1989. In 2008, Brightspark Productions released the complete series on DVD in the UK, while Exposure Entertainment released the set in North America. In 2012, Mill Creek Entertainment released 10 of the episodes as part of a compilation pack with C.O.P.S. and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. Later that year, Mill Creek released another compilation set, TV Toons To Go, which included the three remaining episodes. In 2014, as part of their TV Guide Spotlight series of DVDs, Mill Creek put the first two episodes on the compilation Super Action Animation.

“The Code” (9/15/84) – Vance hires Greg Dumont to acquire the control codes to Roadie and Wheels in order to use them against Pole Position.

“The Canine Vanishes” (9/22/84) – The team heads to the Florida Everglades to find a lost dog that carries an important vaccine.

“The Chicken Who Knew Too Much” (9/29/84) – The team learns a chicken given to them has a connection to an ancient treasure.

“Strangers on the Ice” (10/9/84) – Snow keeps the kids from retrieving satellite equipment stolen from them while on a delivery.

“The Race” (10/13/84) – The team enters a race in order to find a computer chip being smuggled out of the country.

“The Thirty-Nine Stripes” (10/20/84) – The team protects museum paintings that have been mysteriously vandalized.

“The Thirty-One Cent Mystery” (10/27/84) – Kuma tries to warn the team about a plan to steal an Indian totem hidden near Mount Rushmore.

“Dial M for Magic” (11/3/84) – The team ends up trapped in a strange town with a sinister illusionist.

“The Bear Affair” (11/10/84) – The team searches for the engineer who created Roadie and Wheels with only a teddy bear as a clue.

“To Clutch a Thief” (11/17/84) – Tess is made the carnival queen in their hometown, but the queen’s amulet ends up being stolen and replaced by a fake made of candy.

“The Secret” (11/24/84) – An unfriendly town raises the team’s suspicions that something illegal is going on.

“Shadow of a Trout” (12/1/84) – The kids are suspects in the disappearance of their Uncle Zach.

“The Trouble with Kuma” (12/8/84) – Rescuing Kuma’s creator from a tsunami leads to the revelation a more sinister plot is in play against him.

No comments: