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Oliver Spencer

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Character played by: Darren McGavin
OliverSpencer
Oliver Spencer
Job/Career or Title OSO Director
(presumed)
Appearances
SMDM  The Six Million Dollar Man
BW  none
Reunion  none

Oliver Spencer was the ostensible, though not explicit, head of the Office of Strategic Operations. It was Spencer who oversaw the operation to rebuild Steve Austin after his near-fatal plane crash. (The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)).

His precise relationship to Oscar Goldman, if any, was never explored, because Spencer was not seen after Steve's first bionic mission. Little is revealed about Spencer in the telefilm, other than he comes across as somewhat world-weary and cyncial, and has adopted an "ends justifies the means" approach to his work with OSO, treating human beings as tools to be used and, if necessary discarded. His initial mission for Austin is designed to be a suicide mission should he fail, Spencer's justification being he can always build another bionic man. After Austin returns, Spencer asks Rudy Wells about the feasibility of keeping Austin in electrosleep full-time, reviving him only if needed. Another aspect of the character is that he walks with a cane due to an unexplained leg injury or medical condition; this leads Steve, at one point, to suggest Spencer might have been a more appropriate bionic test subject.

Deconstructed

Much of what is "known" about this character is largely assumption based on a single appearance. Confusion exists as to his place relative to Oscar Goldman's. Largely because they occupy the same narrative space — that of Steve Austin's government "boss" — they are often assumed to have the same job. However, this is rendered difficult to believe because they make no claims to be working for the same organizations. Spencer repeatedly refers to the OSO, while Goldman consistently uses OSI, as does the series proper and The Bionic Woman.

A character named "Mrs. McKay" — likely a reference to the literary Jackson McKay — is seen to be at the head of the table when Spencer makes his Cyborg presentation. Moreover, she subsequently conducts Steve's first post-bionic mission briefing, even though Spencer is in the room. If McKay is Spencer's superior, and that Goldman actually replaced her, then the disappearance of the OSO after the pilot could be the result of departmental reorganization which folded the OSO's activities into the larger OSI.

Further confusion arises from the opening credits of the second telefilm, Wine, Women and War, which shows Oscar Goldman, not Spencer, convincing Rudy Wells of the need for the bionic operation. Goldman is also heard being in direct communication with Austin during his crash, which contradicts the first telefilm which had no such communication and established Spencer as being in another location (the aforementioned conference with Mrs. McKay) at the time of the crash.

It is also possible that Austin's missions were tranferred to the OSI after initial testing, though "Operations" calls for a different conclusion. Given Spencer's strained, almost-adversarial relationship with Austin, it is conceivable such a transfer could have been at the request of Austin or Dr. Wells, who objected strenuously to Spencer's approach.

If the syndicated version, "The Moon and the Desert," is canonical, then this opens several additional avenues of speculation. Since this version, alone, is narrated by Rudy Wells, one could assume that he has, for security reasons, changed the names "Oscar Goldman" and "OSI" into "Oliver Spencer" and the "OSO". Although he does NOT obscure the name "Steve Austin," it is possible that by using "fictional" organizations and personnel, he could have sufficiently confused anyone WITHOUT Level 6 Clearance Authorization who might have come into possession of his narrative. (A similar concept drives the novel James Bond: The Authorised Biography of 007, written by John Pearson, which establishes in a fictional context that Ian Fleming's Bond novels were mostly based on fact, and published as pop fiction in order to confuse enemies as to the real activities of MI.6.) Actor Martin Balsam's in-character narration as Wells references that it is some three years after the accident, by which time Wells knew precisely how Goldman and the OSI were involved in his bionics program. On the other hand, if Wells was trying to protect Goldman and the OSI, then The Moon and the Desert is a sloppy job, since OSI is on a door and Goldman is in the intro. Perhaps the plan is to make it seem as though the OSI is the fake cover story, and the OSO is the real McCoy, when in fact it is the other way around.

Season Six Comic

Oliver Spencer reappears in the early issues of Six Million Dollar Man Season Six by Dynamite Comics, which launched in early 2014 and is a continuation of the TV series. Spencer is the head of OSI's Robotics Division. He is in charge of developing the M.A.S.K.A.T.ron android for the OSI. The android incorporates technology created by Chester Dolenz.

In the comic, Spencer has the world-weary, cynical, pragmatist attitude noticed in the pilot movie. He still uses a cane and now wears a porkpie hat (possibly a visual reference to Darren McGavin's famous hat-wearing TV character Carl Kolchak). Thus far in the series, he is depicted as an antagonist, and appears to have some seniority over Oscar Goldman as he is able to order the bionics program shut down in deference to his M.A.S.K.A.T.ron project.

The comic has now established that Spencer and Oscar Goldman exist in the same continuity, although this is still difficult to rectify with, for example, the opening credits of Wine, Women and War that have Oscar, not Spencer, be the man who convinces Rudy to operate on Steve.

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