When NASA sent out a space probe to the farthest reaches of our solar system and beyond, they placed a plaque on it with images representing humanity, the location of Planet Earth, and a diagram of a hydrogen atom in the hope that some time in the future, how ever long that may be, an alien civilisation would discover it and understand its message, both knowing they were not alone in the universe and that they could pay us a visit someday if they were sufficiently technologically advanced. But some experts regard this as potentially unnecessary, for they believe humanity has been visited by space aliens already - and here is William Shatner to tell us all about it.
Mr Shatner appears under a model of the U.S.S. Enterprise, naturally, and introduces himself, giving it the full Troy McClure, but Mysteries of the Gods did not originally feature him. This was the American re-edit of the German sequel to the Erich von Daniken documentary Chariots of the Gods, based on his bestselling book of pseudoscience that linked various artefacts of the Ancient World to his theories that visitors from outer space had a hand in our development as a race and as a culture. Therefore we get clips from the source, some featuring von Daniken himself, as he jets around sites of historical interest and tried to convince us that none of this stuff could have happened alone.
Now, this is a massive insult to a whole load of long-dead people who were quite capable of creating these constructions and artwork by themselves, and just because times have changed and we no longer understand everything they were on about does not mean they were basically mental children who needed any help they could get in creating from supposedly superior beings. But this was from 1976, and it was not interested in confronting von Daniken about his shaky theorising, there was a hefty profit to be made now this had entered the common consciousness, and Shatner was not about to ask any difficult questions, not least because he and Erich never actually meet.
If you think, ah, The Shat was simply performing his own riposte to his old castmate Leonard Nimoy's hit television series In Search Of, Mysteries of the Gods was filmed before that, though you cannot imagine Len would be as petty to take on the job to spite his regular co-star. What makes this entertaining is that Shatner is obviously completely invested in the subject matter; Nimoy would merely read out the script in his inimitable gravitas-laden tones, but here William was going out and rolling up his sleeves, getting involved with newly-shot interviews with anyone from NASA scientists who get down to the facts, but also the speculation, to eccentrics who have been much taken with von Daniken's material and have either bought into it, or have seen a great marketing opportunity and determine to cash in.
Everyone in this comes across as painfully sincere, such as the self-styled "Exosociologist" Richard E. Yinger, an extraordinary-looking boffin who has a lot invested in the von Daniken view of the universe and ends the discussion by emphatically insisting legitimate science take the ancient astronauts idea seriously. Meanwhile Shatner visits the owner of the crystal skull as seen in the opening titles of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World and is utterly in awe, comically so; no mention is made of the dubious provenance of the skull and that it might not have been ancient at all. Then there's a very seventies figure, the celebrity psychic Jeane Dixon who tells him that aliens will land to make contact in August of 1977, ah, remember that happening? No, neither does anyone, it never happened. Really, unless you bought into von Daniken's crowbarring of centuries-old culture into his science fiction musings the best reason to watch was, predictably, Shatner, his presence making it a must for seventies kitsch-lovers, as pretty much anything he did in that decade was.