Clearly, the Voltron cartoon series and the associated toys are a benchmark in my childhood, the first time that I ever felt I’d “discovered” something really cool, something that I hadn’t been told to like by commercials. And as evidenced by the lengths I went to get the lion Voltron and the fact that I was one of a few people so fully vested in the cartoon that I also had the vehicle Voltron, I was one of those kids who watched the show religiously, even when both cartoons had cycled completely through and WPIX began re-airing the original lion stories.
But as Voltron fans, my second-grade friends and I were not fully satisfied by what we were seeing on television. After a slew of lion stories , what seemed like an interminable amount of vehicle stories, and endless debates on which Voltron could win in a fight, we wanted a crossover. I mean, He-Man and She-Ra could do it (and later on in the 1980s, G.I. Joe and The Transformers would do it) so why not the lion and vehicle Voltrons?
In 1986, we got our wish with an extra-long episode entitled Fleet of Doom, although I don’t know if most of my friends knew it. I first learned about the crossover episode when my dad took me to Video Empire one day and my sister and I spent a few minutes combing through the children’s section looking for something other than the same five Disney cartoon tapes we’d rented since the day the store opened in 1984. There, two shelves above my head, were two or three Voltron video boxes. I jumped up and got them down, then studied the synopsis on the back of each (I have loved reading the back of videocassette/DVD boxes since I first stepped into a video store). Two of them were shows I had already seen—the original five-parter and some of the episodes hat immediately followed—but the third was called “Fleet of Doom” and was about a team-up between both the lion and the vehicle Voltron.
I was sold. I went home, watched it, and apparently remembered very little about it because when I watched it last week (thank you, Netflix) it really felt like I had never seen it before. I mean, even with American Ninja, which I hadn’t seen in 25 years either, I at least had some flashbacks to when I originally watched it. Fleet of Doom? Nothing. No memory of what it was about; honestly, I can see why.
The opening to Fleet of Doom is a little bit different than that of the regular series, and it actually clears up something that, when I was a kid, wasn’t clear to me: the lion Voltron protected the far universe while the vehicle Voltron protected the near universe, and what we were about to get was a huge throwdown between the two Voltrons and the villains of each of the cartoon series.
The premise here is that King Zarkon (the lions’ adversary) and the Drule Empire (the vehicles’ adversary) have discovered the secret planet where the Planetary Alliance (I guess that’s kind of like the United Federation of Planets) maintains its energy source, which is a big complex with a bunch of “energy domes” around it. They figure that if they can destroy this energy source, they can cripple the Alliance and therefore invade. Naturally, each of the evil empire rulers has a plan to wipe the other out once they get rid of the alliance.
Now, both Voltrons are light years away from the energy planet, which seems kind of ridiculous because if it’s such a huge secret and you have the means to defend the universe with giant robots of awesomeness, wouldn’t you want to defend your energy planet with giant robots of awesomeness? I mean, either Voltron’s a long trip away, so an enemy could just come by and blow the place up unannounced before the heavy firepower arrived.
That is, if they’re smarter than the two villains we have here, who decide to do a scouting raid on the planet, attacking it and therefore alerting everyone to their plan and allowing the Alliance to get the lion Voltron ready to fight. You know, instead of sending a few spies, then amassing a gargantuan fleet to wipe everything out in one fell swoop.
But no, Zarkon and company decide to allow Voltron the chance to fight, and the Castle of Lions, which is some sort of secret space shuttle, takes off for the planet. Zarkon knows Voltron is coming and asks some Druel scientist to make a roebeast (which is the name of all of the monsters that are created to fight the giant robots) . This pisses off Haggar, the Rasputin-esque evil witch adviser to Zarkon who also makes men’s clothing, and she decides to get back at him by casting a spell on Princess Allura, the pilot of the blue lion.
Now, if you’re familiar with Voltron, you know that Princess Allura is clearly the Leia character and Keith, the black lion and Voltron team leader, is Luke Skywalker (an alternate-reality “she’s not my sister , so it’s okay if we make sweet, sweet love” Luke Skywalker, that is), and they’re supposed to be romantically involved in some way or another. But since this is a kids’ show, there’s no real affection, they just remain chaste while staring longingly into one another’s eyes. Anyway, seeing his piece of royal ass get a spell put on her that puts her in a coma pisses Keith off and he decides to go kick Haggar’s ass by entering some realm of nightmares.
Meanwhile, the rest of the lion force—Lance, Pidge, and Hunk—go after evil Prince Lotor’s invasion fleet. And here’s where I say that red-lion Lance is one of two guys on the Voltron Force that I always felt bad for (the other was Sven, who was in the first five episodes and then got injured so bad that he left the force and Allura took his spot). Lance is basically the fifth wheel of the lion guys. I imagine that he and Keith were buds but once Keith started getting some of that sweet royal lovin’, Lance got cast aside and he’s too weirded out by the fact that Hunk and Pidge are really close (in a NAMBLA way) that he doesn’t have anyone to hang out with. Plus, he’s got Steve Perry’s haircut and wears a Members Only jacket half the time. Is he going to save the universe or sing “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’”?
The lions get their asses handed to them and so the vehicle Voltron team is called in as reinforcements. Yay, it’s … Jeff. Seriously, whoever decided to choose the most generic names possible for the Voltron force people wasn’t very creative, and “Jeff” sounds like he should be heading the Alpha Betas or something. They’re sent to rescue the lion team, but it requires an arduous journey through the asteroid field, something that will take long enough for us to all see Keith try to rescue Allura in the magic dimension where Haggar is making him face the monsters from his childhood nightmares.
So Haggar gets all Freddy Kreuger on Keith, who has Richard Marx’s haircut, and he acts brave and defeats her with the help of Allura who forces Haggar to reveal that she was once a beautiful woman who was tricked by Zarkon and is now an ugly hag. Or something. Basically, Allura baits Haggar into having her own version of the Clark-Superman junkyard fight from Superman III, and the good Haggar wins and lets the lovebirds go. Once they get back to the Castle of Lions, they get into gear and join the other lions just in time to take on the massive invasion fleet that has finally been assembled.
Prince Lotor sends robot rhinos, scorpions, and other big robot animals at the lions and are doing well until the lion Voltron forms. And here’s my next question: when the Voltron Force is doing their whole “Form feet and legs/form arms/I’ll form the head” bit, why doesn’t the enemy unload all of their firepower on the robot? I mean, you would be able to seriously injure or destroy Voltron pretty quickly because it’s a relatively elaborate process, yet nobody touches anything. These villains deserve to die.
The various robots prove too much for the lion Voltron but it doesn’t matter because the vehicle team arrives and forms their Voltron quickly. They start to take on the fleet, but Lotor busts out the weapon he needs as his robot roebeasts form an anti-Voltron. So it’s good versus evil Voltrons while the fleet starts to decimate the planet.
Naturally, Voltron wins, by poking the anti-Voltron in the chest like he’s a video game baddie, and cutting him up. Lotor escapes, the planet is saved, and everyone celebrates the awesomeness of Voltron.
It’s one of those stories that, if it had been a full-length movie instead of a 45-minute “double episode” would have been flat-out awesome, but the story moves so quickly that you don’t get a chance to really settle in and enjoy everything. And the fact that I wound up watching for the first time on VHS and I don’t remember my friends seeing it because I’m pretty sure it would have been a big deal, was an indication that we were moving on.