The Legend


This cave painting appears to be the first depiction of six immortal men whose immortality stemmed from this incident.The central figure has been known as a savage, a bloodthirsty conqueror, and a killer of his brother men. The other five men are the focus here, the two curious bystanders more so than the fleeing three men. You may be able to identify these men when I say that the three men from the other tribe were all rather short. One had a shaven head due to a ritual whose origins are lost in time, another was balding but with large tufts of hair on either side of his head, the last had a haircut that would one day be called the bowl haircut, also probably some ritualized style. Of course this information comes from other sources and cannot be seen from the cave painting. The two particular cavemen who are the subject of this group were ne'er-do-well's, probably low on the pecking order of their tribes and fairly inept at tool making or hunting. If it had not been for the falling meteorite that imbued them with immortality, they probably would have lived short violent lives. As Immortals they carried out this pattern of their lives. The pair was represented by numerous actors retelling their stories and jokes: Mutt and Jeff, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello. But the originals were actually Ollu and Buzsla.
Dennis Power-ImmortalBefuddled at the Wold-Newton site

Unbeknownst to the active participants in the foreground, there were also four persons in the area nearby otherwise occupied. There was the tribe's chief Shaman, The Wizard of Ugghh (W. C. Fields), the number 2 Shaman at this time tied up on the ground and being readied for sacrifice, Old Tumnus (Buster Keaton) and the latter Shaman's daughter and granddaughter, Cedar and Willow. Quite by accident these people were also passively granted Immortality. The two women were known to wander into and out of Ollu and Buzsla's lives throughout the ages and they were represented in later times by such actresses as Thelma Todd, Hillary Brooke, Christine MacIntyre, Leslie Easterbrook and Bobbi Shaw for the large and imposing woman Cedar; and ZaSu Pitts, Betty Grable, Jean Harlow, Vera-Ellen, Dorothy Provine and Teri Copley as the slighter and slightly forlorn woman Willow. On the Flintstones, Willow was represented as Wilma, and the women were joined by another Immortal (actually the daughter of Hercules, it was said), the darker-haired Beech, Betty Rubble on the Flintstones, most notably shown on films as Clara Bow and in cartoons as Betty Boop. The Wizard of Ugghh was created by Joe Kubert for Tor comics. The characters of Old Tumnus (Tunka), Cedar, Willow and Beech are all the sole property of Dale A. Drinnon

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fantastic Journeys from the Seventies


The TV Series Fantastic Journey is the first encounter with the setup of RIFTS and essentially ALL of the characters are Ley-Line Walkers. The setup follows after The Time Travelers and in fact I had it that we are witnessing a series which follows from Time Central, at a remove of a few years down the line. The Cult TV Blog listing I am reposting here explains about the first several episodes, listed in reverse order.










CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey: "A Dream of Conquest" (March 10, 1977)

The Fantastic Journey's fifth episode, "A Dream of Conquest," is the first installment to open with a voice-over narration accompanying the opening credits. Mike Road (the voice of "The Source" in "Atlantium") now recounts the series premise. He also names and describes the main characters, and notes that our heroes -- now together -- "face the unknown."

I point out this narration, mainly, to remind one of how much The Fantastic Journey changes from episode to episode, searching for some sense of identity or some certainty in its format. Five episodes in (out of ten...), and the elements are still coming together.

In terms of the actual episode, I'd say that "A Dream of Conquest" is actually pretty strong, most notably because it is buttressed by a good, villainous performance from guest star John Saxon. Here, he plays Consul Tarrant, a "Materran" warlord who hopes to march East across the island and conquer all the time zones between his own, and land's end. In one splendid bit of series continuity, Tarrant asks Willaway about what he will find in the other time zones, and Willaway very pointedly and very specifically discusses the societies featured in "Atlantium," "Beyond the Mountain" and "Children of the Gods." For a series always shifting ideas, it's nice that The Fantastic Journey remembers its history.

Those with only a casual memory of The Fantastic Journey may also recall this particular episode because it features a kind of dog/man/alien creature called "the Nephring."

Much of The Fantastic Journey's promotional material in the 1970s featured images of this kindly, shaggy alien. The creature suit looks pretty good, even today, except for the one horrid moment near the conclusion in which you can plainly make out the monster's socks...

In "A Dream of Conquest," our travelers come across Materra, a "colony" of aliens from another solar system (and "another dimension," as Lianna asserts). The peaceful ruler of the Materrans, Luthor, is deathly ill and his power-hungry subordinate, Tarrant (Saxon) has assumed complete authority. Varian and Fred attempt to cure Luthor, while Willaway -- conducting a Mission: Impossible-style sting -- ventures out on his own to bring down Tarrant the tyrant. Willaway assumes his dangerous assignment this because he can't stand the idea of brute force winning the day, "storming" through the zones and territorializing them, each in turn. He tells a lovely Materran rebel that "it takes a thief to catch a thief," and begins hatching his plans.

Meanwhile, Lianna and Varian watch in horror as Tarrant serially mistreats the Nephring, a being that Lianna and Sil-el have determined is both sentient and highly intelligent.

In one horrifying sequence, Tarrant's soldiers use the Nephring in a military exercise, and Varian jumps into danger (and into the line of fire...) to save the creature's life.

Of course, the subtext here involves the human (and inhumane) treatment and abuse of animals. You shouldn't use them for target practice, and you shouldn't put them on the top of your family car either, when you go on vacation.

Okay, I made up the last part.
Most trenchantly, however, "A Dream of Conquest" studies the twisted mentality of a despot. Saxon's Tarrant rather pointedly utilizes language we today associate with Nazi Germany, discussing the "Birth of a New Order" and ordering "purges" of his enemies.

But of course, he doesn't really have any enemies. The other zones, as we have seen with our own eyes, are unaware of the Materrans, and either in ruins ("Atlantium," after the destruction of "The Source"), peaceful ("Beyond the Mountain") or woefully disorganized ("Children of the Gods.") In realizing this fact, we see just how petty and ridiculous Tarrant really is. He just wants to flex his muscles; to look like a "big man." He imagines enemies to conquer because of his own ego and desires, not because such enemies actually exist.

In the end, Willaway and the others restore order and sanity to the Materran Zone, and the commentary is explicitly about what happens when madmen ascend to control of their countries, a control that usually extends to the armed forces.

As Willaway says: "Ah, the generals. They are numerous, but not good for much."

This is abundantly true in "A Dream of Conquest" because none of Tarrant's subordinates stand up to the madman when he proposes and plans blatant aggression. A hierarchical structure is a good thing for maintaining order, no doubt, but a very bad thing when a madman rests at the top of the pyramid, perpetually unquestioned.

There is one very weird moment in "A Dream of Conquest:" A young Materran shows Scott a model of his colony ship, and it's clearly a U.S. space shuttle and rocket boosters!

Although it's nice to see this now-retired ship again, the space shuttle is relatively small, and more than that, incapable of traveling from one solar system to the other. How did Materrans and humans develop the same ship (but with such different capabilities?) I can only guess that the prop master on The Fantastic Journey had access to a space shuttle model, and figured (since the craft was not yet in official use...) that no one would notice.

Next week on cult tv blogging, one of The Fantastic Journey's more dynamic and emotional episodes: "An Act of Love."

Sunday, January 29, 2012


CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey: "Children of the Gods" (February 24, 1977)


In The Fantastic Journey's fourth episode, "Children of the Gods," our wayward travelers in the Bermuda Triangle -- Varian, Scott, Lianna, Fred, Willaway and Sil-El -- happen into a strange province that reveals signs of both the ancient past, namely Greek ruins from 500 BC, and the distant future, particularly a bombed-out, ruined metropolis on the horizon.

Very soon, the travelers learn that the city remains inhabited, but only by a tribe of uniformed, militant teenagers and children. All the grown-ups -- "The Elders"-- have been driven off by "the Power," a particle beam weapon, after making some children their slaves. Entrenched in the society then, is a deep-seated mistrust of adults of all stripes.

When Willaway enters the sacred Greek temple and finds a cache of high-tech laser weapons, he is promptly sentenced to death by Alpha, leader of the children, for his trespass.

Realizing only he can save Willaway from impending execution, Scott prepares for ceremonial combat with Alpha. If he wins, he can take the leadership role in the society and save his friend's life...

In reading the synopsis of "Children of the Gods," you'll probably recognize several literary and TV influences. In terms of literature, the episode harks back to William Golding's 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, which involved a society crafted solely by children. In the novel, that society was designed to serve as a microcosm for all of human society, and the author debated human nature. In "Children of the Gods," the same issue is broached.

Specifically, The Fantastic Journey appears to subscribe to the idea that power corrupts. Here, Alpha is just as much a tyrant as any adult who ruled before him. "You've become the very thing you say you hate," Varian informs Alpha, near episode's conclusion, sounding very Captain Kirk-like.

Another issue roiling in "Children of the Gods" is clearly the Generation Gap, the notion that adults and teens are literally enemies, locked in a war for all time. There can be no peace between them, apparently.
If you're a fan of Star Trek and other televised science fiction, "Children of the Gods" may strongly remind you of the first season Trek episode, "Miri," which also concerned a society where children had graduated to positions of power and authority, and deeply disliked adults, or "Grups."

In both stories, the children are finally reminded of their common humanity, and of the fact that the "leader" will soon be an adult, himself.

The Lord of the Flies premise also appeared throughout science fiction film and television in the 1970s quite a bit, from the "cubs" in Logan's Run (1976), to the "Children of Methuselah" episode of The Starlost in 1973.

In terms of The Fantastic Journey's continuity and development, "Children of the Gods" accents a number of elements that would appear again and again in the series. Here, Willaway's curiosity gets the better of him, and he inserts himself into the middle of a crisis. We'll see that again. Perhaps more importantly, Willaway is often utilized by writers as the informal historian of the group. In "Children of the Gods," he recognizes the Greek ruins, and quotes Pindar (522 - 443 BC), a lyric poet and author of choral songs. Uniquely, Pindar often wrote of athletic victories and championships in Greece, and his "temple" here is the site of the society's combat rituals.

Willaway also gets to demonstrate again his characteristic world-weariness when he wonders: "Are people ever going to stop killing each other?"

In terms of other character touches in "Children of the Gods," Varian again uses his handy sonic energizer, which is able to "manipulate matter" this week, and Lianna demonstrates the ability to render enemies unconcious by placing her hands on their temples. It's sort of a Vulcan nerve pinch variation, I guess you'd say.
In both instances, these "tools" feel a little bit like crutches. They are easy outs for the characters (and for writers...) when confrontations occur.

Other than Willaway -- who is featured in a great visual composition as he appears from behind a Greek bust -- Ike Eisenmann's Scott probably comes off the best in "Children of the Gods." His character boasts a strong sense of morality, and a sympathetic heart. Here, Scott volunteers for ritual combat with Alpha -- a much taller, stronger teenager -- knowing he will lose, but that he has no choice but to make the attempt. He's a brave and likeable kid. This is not a small accomplishment in terms of performance and character development since a lot of "sci fi kids" like Wesley Crusher or Adric end up somehow angering sci-fi fans, and, I think, unconsciously activating a sense of fandom's own deep-seated self-loathing.

Meanwhile, our young doctor Fred (Carl Franklin) is as under-utilized as ever in "Children of the Gods," though the beginning of a Spock-McCoy bickering relationship between Fred and Willaway has now begun in earnest. At least that gives him something to do, other thanmerely recite hip 1970s slang.

Taken in toto, "Children of the Gods" is a solid if somewhat uninspiring episode of The Fantastic Journey. The theme about endless war -- and children repeating the mistakes of their fathers -- is a good, if familiar one. There's not a lot new to see here, and so the episode plays as a little flat. Some of the same issues of war and peace would be better handled in the next installment, "A Dream of Conquest," with guest star John Saxon.

Next week on cult-tv blogging: "A Dream of Conquest."

Sunday, January 22, 2012


CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey: "Beyond the Mountain" (February 17, 1977)


The third episode of The Fantastic Journey, "Beyond the Mountain" introduces the final piece of the series' character equation: Roddy McDowall's temperamental scientist, Dr. Jonathan Willaway, a man whose plane disappeared over the Sea of Japan in 1963.

The character of Willaway would promptly become an important one for The Fantastic Journey, offering the writers another viewpoint to explore, and another way of handling crises.

Where Varian, Lianna, Scott and Fred tend to agree easily on how to grapple with any given situation, Willaway is a bit more independent...and feisty. In short, he adds the element of the unpredictable, and that's important for the entertainment value of the series, as well as the emerging character development.

"Beyond the Mountain" also perfects another component of its equation here: social commentary. Historically, this is a critical facet that all great science-fiction series are wise to develop: the capacity to comment on contemporary culture (safely) by projecting that commentary into an alien or fantasy realm. We saw a bit of that brand of social commentary emerge in the class warfare dynamic of "Atlantium," but the commentary is at full flower in "Beyond the Mountain."

In "Beyond the Mountain," Varian, Fred, Scott and Lianna are joined by Lianna's loyal cat, Sil-El, and then promptly engulfed in an eerie red-colored storm -- a close relative to the green one that stranded the crew and passengers of the Yonder in the Bermuda Triangle. Lianna is promptly separated from the others, and Varian laments that the time zones are not as "predictable" as he'd prefer.

Lianna ends up in a paradisaical, luxury villa, where Dr. Jonathan Willaway -- a very "strong willed man" -- is tended to by subservient humanoid androids. He calls the androids his "family" but rules over them like a very strict father. His pleasant and welcoming demeanor hides a darker streak.

Meanwhile, Fred, Varian and Scott are cast down into a misty swamp of gnarled trees and fog. The swamp (which looks like Dagobah...), is impressively-presented here, having been constructed on a sound-stage and seeming very atmospheric, especially in contrast to Willaway's sun-lit world, where the grass is literally always greener.

Before long, Willaway decides he wants to marry Lianna and attempts to keep her from searching for her friends, even as his android "son," Cyrus (John David Carson) also begins to develop human emotions for the lovely woman.

Lianna rejects Willaway's advances, and he drugs her to keep her prisoner at the villa. He then attempts to re-program Cyrus to eliminate the android's feelings for her.

Down in the swamp, Scott, Fred and Varian encounter a race of green-skinned humanoids, aliens called "Arujians" (think Indians). Their leader is deathly ill from a "bacterial disease" -- malaria -- and Varian and Fred heal him.

Once recovered, the leader explains that Willaway -- "the man from beyond the mountain" -- came to their land some time ago, subverted their androids, and banished the green-skinned humanoids to the primitive swamp.

"He does not think of us as beings of any worth," the leader comments about Willaway, and from this remark one can see how the episode's central metaphor is crafted. "Beyond the Mountain" is a comment on, for lack of a better word, "the white man's burden," and here a white westerner has re-located a race of "lesser beings" off their land for his own benefit. Just substitute green skin for red skin, and you understand the historical analogy.

It isn't just the historical relocation of Native Americans that "Beyond the Mountain" comments on, at least obliquely, but also the very concept of slavery.

Here, Willaway keeps a society of androids serving him and is unable to countenance the idea that they could be sentient creatures deserving of the same rights and freedoms he enjoys.

They are only "an amalgam of simulated flesh and bone," he declares at one point. Willaway even tells his son, "your marrow is transistorized; your heart is a battery; your veins and arteries are wire filament." This might be another way of saying that because their skin is different than his; they are "less" than human, a widely-held belief of slave owners in America a hundred-and-fifty years ago.

Adding to the depth of the commentary, Willaway generally treats his android slaves with what he believes is love and kindness, even though he is still firmly master and they still obedient servants. You've certainly heard the argument that pre-Civil War South, slaves were treated "well" and cared for affectionately. Perhaps that was indeed true in some instances; but the slaves were still slaves, susceptible to the whims and wishes of a master who believed them nothing more than property. A cage is a cage, even if the warden isn't overtly cruel. Because some slaves were treated with kindness does not make the institution of slavery morally acceptable.

Here the darkest side of the historical slavery equation is made plain when Willaway, challenged by a female android (Marj Dusay), warns her that if she misbehaves, he will "take her apart." When the enslaved androids finally do rebel against him, Willaway is baffled by their revolt. "I gave you a beautiful place to live. I even made you my son..." he says, feeling betrayed, unaware that his "children" are ready to chart their own destinies.

Again, it's not difficult to read this analogy as one akin to slavery in America. Many slaves did live on beautiful estates, and many masters did give their slaves their family name But once more these are not qualities equal to freedom, self-determination, and liberty.

So, in the course of one episode, Willaway displaces one ethnic group (the green-skinned swamp dwellers), and enslaves another (the androids).

Or as he puts it at the denouement, society and he "do have problems."

I'll say.

You'd think, given his actions, that Willaway would be played as an out-and-out villain, and left defeated and vanquished by episode's end. But The Fantastic Journey, to its credit, offers a bit more dimensionality in its treatment of Willaway.

In the end, with the help of the series regulars, both subjugated races are freed. But surprisingly, Varian shows mercy to Willaway and allows him to travel with the group.

Again, this was the final piece of the character dynamics: Varian, Fred, Lianna and Scott are all likable, heroic characters, whereas Willaway (as this episode reveals) is more flawed; and more willing to strike off with his own agenda. He isn't a constant foil (like, say Lost in Space's Dr. Smith), merely a fly in the ointment and wild card. The ending solution, Willaway joining the team, works well story-wise and is even believable because Varian is a man from a peaceful future; one where men don't hold grudges or act in petty fashion. He is the series' version of the peaceful and enlightened Spock, and a great character because he calls to the better angels of our nature.

In the spirit of Star Trek's "Requiem for Methuselah," Space: 1999's "One Moment of Humanity," Star Trek: The Next Generation's "The Offspring," and the new Battlestar Galactica's "Downloaded" this Fantastic Journey episode also involves the idea of an android (or androids, plural) attaining humanity or understanding humanity. Willaway's son, Cyrus, in this episode dies (in love with Lianna), a "tear" falling from his cheek. This image seems akin to the one of Zarl attaining "one moment of humanity" in the 1999 story, and the image of Lol dying after learning to feel love towards her father, Data, in the absolutely heart-wrenching and brilliant "The Offspring," surely one of the most affecting Next Generation episodes produced. Practically speaking, however, it's hard to imagine an android crying...unless tear ducts were installed.

Kidding aside, the idea of androids grappling with sentience and emotional awareness is handled well enough here; though the depiction of the androids (lanky men and women in gold lame jumpsuits with circuit panels on their backs...) dates the series somewhat dramatically. Still, "Beyond the Mountain" is likely the best The Fantastic Journey episode of the first three aired, and probably a serious contender for best episode of the short-lived series.

Next episode: "Children of the Gods."

Fantastic Journey Promo



Sunday, January 15, 2012


CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey: "Atlantium" (February 10, 1977)


After an elaborate re-cap of "Vortex" that eats up over five minutes of story time, "Atlantium" -- The Fantastic Journey's second episode -- commences in the futuristic city of the Atlantean people.

In terms of exteriors, this metropolis is represented on-screen by the Bonaventure Hotel (also frequently seen as New Chicago in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century).

Inside the city, it looks like a real life, 1970s shopping mall, perhaps in keeping with the Logan's Run (1976) vision of the future as a consumer's paradise.

As our protagonists Varian, Fred and Scott reach Atlantium, they learn that Eve, Jill and Paul have returned to their time (now characterized as 1977, despite the title card reading "June 1976" in "Vortex") via an instantaneous transfer device. Understandably, Scott is pretty upset that his father has left him behind, but one of the Atlantean triumvirate hands him a note from Paul Jordan that explains the decision. Basically, Paul went back to let his wife know he was alive, since she believed them both dead.

Though Scott accepts this explanation with grace and maturity, it's still remarkably lame. Scott's mother lives safely in 20th century suburban America, under the rule of law, and with available law enforcement. She might be sad to believe her husband and son are dead, but certainly she would be safe and taken care of. She'd be okay.
By contrast, Scott is trapped in the Bermuda Triangle, with danger and mystery on all sides.

Perhaps more to the point, Paul could have sent Jill and Eve back with the message to his wife that he was "okay," while he waited for Scott in the city of Atlantium. This explanation makes Paul a jerk and a bad father, no two-ways about it.

Anyway you cut it, this is also bad writing. As I wrote in the review of "Vortex," it should have been established that the Source and the Triumvirate of Guardians had Paul and the others killed. Though grim, that explanation would have tied up the dangling loose ends a bit neater. And Scott still would have wanted to get home...to be with his only living parent; his Mom.
[It is acceptable to me if the three were killed and the situation was misrepresented to the survivors by telling them the others had made it back home again-DD]

After this unfortunate business is wrapped up, "Atlantium" gets down to its plot, which involves the power "Source" of Atlantium seeking to possess Scott so it can continue to live. The Source is characterized here, and in "Vortex" as a pulsating brain in a bubble surrounded by boiling, crimson fluids. Behind the Source's diabolical plans for Scott, the episode also features a variation on a powerful conceit from the 1927 classic Metropolis: particularly that of a bifurcated, class society.

In Atlantium, specifically, we learn that the "Unders" (Underclass) toil mindlessly to grow food for the coddled City Dwellers. But here things are even worse than un-equal: the Source actually controls the thoughts of the "Unders," so that individual consciousness is not possible. With the Source losing power, however, the Unders are beginning to awaken to the idea of slavery...and freedom. Imagine if the 1 percenters could actually control our memories and thoughts, and you get an idea of the total enslavement in Atlantium.

Helping the "Unders" nurture the ideals of individual liberty is a half-Atlantean/half-alien beauty, Lianna portrayed by Katie Saylor. By the way, Saylor remains one of cult-tv's greatest mysteries. The actress was beloved for her role on The Fantastic Journey, but then left the series suddenly (with two episodes remaining...), reportedly because of a terminal illness. Ms. Saylor is believed to have passed away sometime later, in the early 1990s, from this illness. The actress however, still boasts a considerable and avid following. I receive e-mails literaly several times a year asking me to investigate what happened to Ms. Saylor, but there are precious few details available beyond those I have provided above. I have researched the matter some (and there are some answers in print, in Phillips and Garcia's McFarland book, Science Fiction TV Series), and there's not much else in the public record.

I will state this: Katie Saylor was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, and created a hybrid/empath character a decade before Star Trek: The Next Generation went in the same direction with Counselor Deanna Troi.
As Lianna, Saylor veritably radiates warmth and sensitivity, and her magnetic presence gives The Fantastic Journey a tremendous emotional boost. Though young (and yes, incredibly sexy) Saylor assumes the role of 'mother' in the group easily and confidently. She is a boon to the program, and gives every episode a lift.

By the end of "Atlantium," the Source has been defeated, and Lianna joins up with Varian, Scott and Fred as they depart the re-formed City for the next time zone. Notice I didn't include Lianna's cat Sil-El in that sentence. The friendly (telepathic?) feline remains behind in Atlantium, only to re-appear, following Lianna, in the introduction to the next episode, "Beyond the Mountain."

In terms of The Fantastic Journey's canon, "Atlantium" picks up on "Vortex's" 1970s fascination with mysteries such as the Bermuda Triangle. Only here, of course, the mystery of the week is Atlantis (a factor, naturally, in Man from Atlantis as well).

In particular, Varian tells Scott in this episode that by 2230 mankind has proof that Atlantis existed, and that it possessed incredible technology, even by 23rd century standards. When Atlantis was destroyed in the distant past, Varian insists, the Earth's continents "re-shaped" themselves. Accordingly then, the city of Atlantium featured in this episode is from a zone in the distant past (like the zone of the pirate privateers in the previous installment.) Thus, in a sneaky way, the writers have gotten around the network's edict about using the "boring" past. Clearly, Atlantis thrived in the past, but a science fiction sheen accompanies the tale and the locale, so the network was appeased.

Beyond the central mystery of "what happened to Atlantis?" "Atlantium" more succinctly acts as a pilot for the series than "Vortex" did by featuring a dynamic that would be repeated again and again on the program. Namely, it's the idea of a civilization of the week in crisis, with two factions attempting to right some social wrong. Here, a class society is brought down when the Unders awaken to the slavery of the Source. Upcoming segments including "Children of the Gods," "A Dream of Conquest" and "Turnabout," to name a few, repeat the scenario but using different topical issues (including animal abuse, militarism, and even the battle of the sexes).

I must admit, "Atlantium" is probably my least favorite episode of The Fantastic Journey. Although it introduces lovely Lianna (and Saylor) to the series, it opens so weakly, with the explanation of Paul's decision to leave Scott behind. Additionally, the show looks cheap by any standard, between the coruscating brain in a bubble and the use of the Bonaventure Hotel. Even the idea of a "giant brain" controlling minds is remarkably hackneyed.

All that established, the episode does feature some intriguing touches, namely Atlantium's "pool of dreams" (where you can visualize your loved ones...) and "The Hall of Dreams" (where your fantasies can come true.) Still, even these touches reminded me of the Logan's Run milieu, which featured locales such as "The Love Shop" and "New You."

I also enjoyed this episode's meditation on immortality, another trope of the 1970s (seen frequently in Space:1999, The Starlost and other programs of the day). Here, we are told the story of "the Source," a brilliant man and leader who ruled the city, but -- even on physical death -- could not let go of life. Now nothing more than a brain, he seeks to steal the life of a youngster, his good "human" qualities long since gone. As humans, we gain immortality from our good deeds (or evil deeds, I suppose...) and in the lives of our children and their children, not in our physical continuance. In sci-fi TV, many characters have failed to heed that distinction.

At the end of "Atlantium," the travelers unite and commence toward Evoland, on "journey towards the rising sun." That was Fantastic Journey's destination too, on ascent as it headed for greener pastures in the upcoming episode, "Beyond the Mountain."

That's where Dr. Willaway, Roddy McDowall's character, is introduced, and that's our next installment.

The Sonic Energizer (Fantastic Journey)





Tuesday, January 10, 2012


CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey: "Vortex" (February 3, 1977)

"Even as the first man walked upright from his neanderthal cave, man was also taking his first step on the moon, and there's only a thin tissue of consciousness separating one event from another."

- Varian describes the theory of the "space-time continuum" or "time-lock" at the heart of The Fantastic Journey (1977)

In "Vortex," the inaugural episode of The Fantastic Journey, a group of marine biology students led by Professor Paul Jordan (Scott Thomas), chart a small ship called the Yonder in Coral Cove, Florida, and head out to the high seas for a summer of deep sea studies. The date is June 19, 1976.
Among Jordan's group are physician Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), and Jordan's adolescent son, Scott (Ike Eisenmann). Other students include Jill (Karen Somerville) and Eve (Susan Howard).

Once at sea, the Yonder crew spots a strange green cloud on the horizon. The cloud soon pursues, intercepts and traps the ship. Once inside the emerald haze, everyone on board the small vessel hears the deafening sound of ringing bells, as though hundreds of ships are facing the same struggle simultaneously.

After losing consciousness, the crew and passengers of the Yonder awake on a strange, mist-enshrouded island that seems to stretch "forever" in Scott's words.

Soon, the new arrivals are secretly observed by what appears to be an Arawak, a Native American man...really Varian (Jared Martin). Eventually, Varian makes contact with the group and reveals that he is actually a (former) resident of the 23rd century. He reports that in his time, people use music to heal ("to restore balance to the emotions and to the mind") and that all the races of Earth have melded into one; one that has given up war. He describes humans as non-aggressive people, ones who "waste nothing." Unfortunately for Varian, his spaceship was pulled into the Bermuda Triangle, much like the Yonder, and he has been marooned on the strange island for some time.

Varian further describes the unique character of this enigmatic land mass, one that even "the superior physics" of his own time cannot adequately explain. In short, he reports that all times -- future, past and present -- seem to exist on the island simultaneously, amidst a honeycomb of "zones." There is only a "thin tissue of consciousness" separating one from the other, a kind of magnetic or electric field.threshold that can be pierced by touch.

This explanation, though strange, helps the Jordans understand why, nearby, sixteenth century pirates, led by Sir Camden (Ian McShane), dominate the landscape.
[These are of course TIME Pirates!-DD]
In fact, one of the Jordans' group, Jill, is captured by Camden, forcing action on the part of Jordan. Varian offers to help retrieve her. But in keeping with his pacifist beliefs, Varian refuses to engage in violence or murder.

After Jill is rescued by Varian and Jordan, Jordan's group heads onto the next province, unaware that "The Triumvirate" -- Guardians of the City of Atlantium -- are watching closely. The city requires a "new body" for its power source, a pulsating brain called "The Source," and Scott looks like a perfect candidate...

The Jordans continue to explore their island, splitting up into two groups. When Scott reaches Atlantium with Varian and Fred, he learns that Eve, Jill and even his own father, Paul, have been "transferred" home safely, leaving them behind at the strange metropolis.

A vortex is commonly defined as a "whirling mass," and so "Vortex" proves an apt title for The Fantastic Journey's somewhat disjointed pilot episode. This initial segment of this 1970s cult-tv series spins out so many concepts and ideas -- and goes in so many zig-zagging directions -- that it's hard to keep everything straight. Behind-the-scenes, the creators of the series faced a strong head-wind: the network kept changing its mind about cast-members, and also kept interfering with the general series concept.

In particular, authors Mark Garcia and Mark Phillips report in Science Fiction Series Volume 1 (McFarland; 1996) that actor Desi Arnaz, Jr. played a significant role in the original unaired installment as a World War II pilot trapped in the Bermuda Triangle, but that his role was entirely omitted from the aired version. Additionally, the original teleplay by One Step Beyond (1959 - 1961) scribe Merwin Gerard and Ken Pettus was re-tooled to include the new character of Varian (Jared Martin), a man from the 23rd century.

And the changes kept on coming.

The network, NBC, apparently demanded that the heroes of Fantastic Journey could never again encounter events or people from earlier historical eras on the series (after the pirates) because the past was "boring." They could only encounter "futuristic" time zones.

Furthermore, newly lensed footage had to be incorporated into the already-shot pilot to explain the disappearance of three primary characters: Scott's father, Paul Jordan, Eve Costigan, and Jill Sands.

This new material involved footage of actor Gary Collins as Dar-L, a sinister representative from a neighboring time-zone, and character from the second episode, "Atlantium." Yet all this footage is inserted rather clumsily.

So to clarify this "honeycomb" of overlaying plots, further: we have the original story of marine biologists -- the Jordans and Professor Jordan's students -- stranded in an island in the Bermuda Triangle, but minus a crucial central character (played by Arnaz, Jr.). Then, we have a re-vamped story introducing Varian and his 23rd century world. And then, on top of that, we get an explanation for the disappearance of the main replacement protagonist, Paul Jordan, and the original leading lady, Eve, and an introduction to the second episode. Whew! Talk about trying to do a lot with very little time...

At the same time the pilot for The Fantastic Journey attempts to deal with this veritable "musical chairs" of rotating cast members, "Vortex"depicts the tale of 1970s Americans encountering 16th century pirates, a tale that is ultimately given the short end of the stick, and plays out in extremely simplistic, aborted terms. McShane's Camden captures Jill and when she is freed successfully is never heard from again. Did he just give up his pursuit? What happened to him? Given the network's dislike of "historical" elements in the series, the whole plot about involving the 16th century privateers feels rudimentary at best and kind of slipshod at worst.

In terms of internal logistics and believability, it is also very hard to swallow that Paul Jordan -- a concerned father -- would simply leave behind his son, Paul, in the Bermuda Triangle, even if he believed wholly that Varian and Fred were good (temporary) wards. What father would leave behind his son on an incredible island of unknown dangers?

Given the many problems in bringing "Vortex" to air, it's really something of a wonder that the episode works as well as it does. The episode's first twenty minutes are particularly engaging, as the Yonder encounters that menacing green cloud on the horizon, and is absorbed into it. As I noted in the synopsis above, we hear the cacophonous sound of ringing ship bells as the transition into the Bermuda Triangle occurs, a cheep but effectively unsettling method of suggesting that, somehow, all disappearances are occurring simultaneously (since all time zones exist side-by-side in the Devil's Triangle).

The discovery of the island is also effective. It's probably more accurate to call this jungle location a "continent," as we see that it is huge...apparently endless. The mystery components of the episode work well as Scott concludes "it's like we're not even in the same world...anymore." Less effective, however, are the cuts to stock footage during the Jordan's "safari." The episode cuts from the Jordans, looking agape on all sides, to views of animals from the around the world...in noticeably stock material (and in various, clashing environments.)

Perhaps the most powerful and effective moment in the pilot episode involves Varian's description of himself and the future world from which he hails. This is a beautifully written monologue by Katharyn Powers and Michael Michaelian, and delivered with tremendous sensitivity by Jared Martin. The speech goes, in part:

"In 2230, man on Earth has unlimited resources because he's tapped the greatest resource of all, which is his mind. Our machines are efficient and silent, and our cities are built miles high so that the land outside is free to grow food and sustain wildlife. The five races have melded into one. There's no more war, and no more countries. It's just Earth. We're productive, non-aggressive people. We waste nothing: time, imagination, energy, effort. Because we believe these things are the very essence of life."

I must admit, it's this kind of unfettered idealism and optimism about mankind's future that perpetually draws me, in large part to science fiction, Star Trek and yes, even The Fantastic Journey. I believe that, as a species, we possess the seeds of greatness within us, and that it is possible to achieve a world like the one Varian describes. It's not easy, but it's a destination worth fighting for, and worth believing in. [I would call that an indication that "Varian" comes from the Star Trek base "Universe"  and time-period-DD]

For the five minutes or so in which Varian explains the nature of his future paradise, The Fantastic Journey's "Vortex" truly soars. The episode -- or at least this segment of it -- possesses a real vision and world-view. Varian is a pacifist, a healer, a thinker and a humanitarian, and he is differentiated from the likes of Spock or Mark Harris (The Man From Atlantis) in the fact he is not an "other," meaning an alien. He is one of us...only a better version of our nature. The world Varian describes, incidentally, is also one that Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994) sought to develop, showcasing how man in the future would not succumb to self-destructive urges but rather, improve himself as a species.

After this high-point in "Vortex," however, the show is mostly a "run around" -- a story wherein characters are captured and required rescue. And then the pilot ends poorly as a set-up for episode two, with the unbelievable idea of a father abandoning his son in the Bermuda Triangle. I understand that in terms of theme, the idea at work here is the building of a "new" family with Varian as father, Scott as son, Lianna as Mom, Sil-El as pet, and Fred and Willoway as good/naughty uncles, but it might have been better to describe Paul as murdered by Dar-L (along with Eve and Jill) rather than as merely negligent. Paul's decision to leave the island without Scott just doesn't ring true, especially since earlier in "Vortex" we see him desperately trying to find Scott when the boy goes missing.

Conceptually, "Vortex" (and thus The Fantastic Journey) commences with an historical incident (and one also featured, at least tangentially in Steven Spielberg's 1977 film, Close Encounters). Specifically, the prologue of "Vortex" involves the famous last sortie of Flight 19 on December 5, 1945. History records that on that date five Navy Avengers, on a navigation training flight, disappeared from intsruments near the Bermuda Triangle and have never (to this day...) been recovered. It is known that the planes' compasses ceased to operate before the disappearance, and an issue of American Legion Magazine in 1962 reported that one of the pilots, upon his last transmission, reported that the water was "green."

If you can watch "Vortex" today, you'll see how original scribe Merwin Gerard -- who frequently co-opted reports of the paranormal for One Step Beyond episodes -- depicted the specifics of the incident relatively faithfully. We get shots here of the Avengers in mid-air, and close-ups of compasses going haywire. And of course, the green cloud on the ocean surface fits right in with the (apocryphal?) transmission reporting "green" water. Whether you believe in the Bermuda Triangle or think the idea is pure hooey, it's rewarding that The Fantastic Journey at least attempted to get the details of the disappearance theory (or myth) down accurately, and then spun a unique science fiction story from it.

"Vortex" introduces two critical elements to the developing The Fantastic Journey format.

The first is the "invisible threshold" which separates time zones. When people cross through these thresholds, we see blobs of energy and light surrounding the travelers. This effect is utilized throughout the program to signal the transition to a new time and place.

And secondly, the episode introduces Varian's very handy, very cool all-purpose hand device, the "Sonic Energizer," which resembles an electronic tuning fork. It's part medical tricorder, part Sonic-screwdriver, and absolutely awesome I'd love to have a toy mock-up of the prop. As you might guess, in a show with wandering protagonists, no standing sets, and no "landing party" equipment, Varian's sonic energizer comes in handy.

Next episode: "Atlantium."

Sunday, January 08, 2012


CULT TV BLOGGING: The Fantastic Journey (1977)

Back when I started this blog (waaaaaay back in 2005....) I occasionally blogged short-lived cult-tv series in their totality, including Logan's Run (1977), Push, Nevada (2002) and Surface (2005).

Since then, I've also occasionally launched on cult-tv blogging jags for the likes of Quark (1978), Star Maidens (1976), and episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1970-1973).

Well, I figured this is a good time to get back to that old habit.

Therefore, I've decided to blog over the next few weeks the series The Fantastic Journey (1977), a sci-fi program which aired for ten hour-long episodes back in the watershed year of Star Wars.

I selected this particular cult series because I've always enjoyed it, it doesn't represent a vast investment in time (like blogging the entirety of Stargate, for instance...), the cast of characters remains intriguing, and because The Fantastic Journey is a cult series I'd like to see released on DVD or blu ray in the States.

With The Starlost and Man from Atlantis now available, and Logan's Run (the series) due in April, it's about time we get The Fantastic Journey too. Along with Salvage One, Project UFO and Cliffhangers, this memorable series is one of the last 1970s cult programs not yet returned to contemporary pop culture for a second assessment.

For the uninitiated, The Fantastic Journey -- initially known as "The Incredible Island" -- aired on NBC Thursday nights (at 8:00 pm) mainly in February and March of 1977. Created by Bruce Lansbury, the story was story-edited, at least for a time, by Dorothy Fontana, one of the greatest writers of science fiction television during the 1960s and 1970s.

In terms of concept, The Fantastic Journey played on the in-vogue "Bermuda Triangle" craze of the disco decade. Specifically, the series involved a group of marine biologists who inadvertently became snared by a menacing green cloud in the Bermuda Triangle, and then washed ashore on a mysterious, immense, timeless island. This mysterious island consisted of "honeycombs" of unique time zones, each one different from the next. Local legends reported that a wayward traveler could find his way home to his own epoch by visiting a mecca called "Evoland," where "instantaneous transfer" equipment existed.

The Fantastic Journey underwent numerous cast changes in short order, and the first few episodes showcase this revolving door in terms of both personnel and concepts. Eventually, the primary lead characters on the series became Varian (Jared Martin), a musical healer from the 23rd century, Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), an African-American medical student from 1976, teenager Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann), the manipulative and wily Dr. Willoway (Roddy McDowall), and telepathic/empathic alien/human hybrid, Liana (Katie Saylor), and her highly-intelligent cat, Sil-El.

To put it another way, Varian was added in a late draft of the pilot, Liana in the second aired episode ("Atlantium") and Willoway in the third episode ("Beyond the Mountain"), if that tally provides a sense of how unsettled the cast was, even as the series was broadcast.

The creation of the series was rushed, no doubt, and the pilot episode "Vortex" certainly showcases this sense of zigging and zagging in many different direction. "We had very short prep time," story editor Dorothy Fontana informed me during an interview I conducted in 2001 for Filmfax: "The pilot was sold in November and we had to be on the air the following January. It was a race to get scripts ready that we could shoot, and get rolling, and actually have a show to put on the air by January. Adding to the problem, there were many cast changes from the pilot. The parents of the boy [Ike Eisenmann] were written out of the format, and we had a woman character, Lianna [Katie Saylor] in the second story ["Atlantium"].

"Roddy McDowell came along in the third episode, actually, ["Beyond the Mountain,']" Fontana noted. "In that case, I had rewritten that episode, and my job was to create a character that would attract Roddy McDowall to him. And then we liked Willoway so much that we wanted to continue him in further shows. He liked the character too, and became a regular."
"We were so rushed, doing re-writes, settling in, and trying to figure out who the characters were," Fontana explained. "After about the sixth show, we knew where we were going and were ready to run with it. Of course, at that point we started getting pre-empted, and the network started doing all those things networks do when they want to get rid of a show."

And get rid of The Fantastic Journey NBC did, cancelling the program in March of 1977. Just scant months before Star Wars revived interest in science fiction in a big way.

So in the coming weeks, between other posts here -- on The Films of 1982, Sinbad -- and more, look for an episode-by-episode retrospective of The Fantastic Journey. The first show in the queue is that problematic pilot, the 90 minute initial outing, "Vortex."

Thursday, October 11, 2007


CULT TV FLASHBACK # 35: The Fantastic Journey: "Beyond the Mountain"

In the mid-1970s, Star Trek was a gigantic hit in reruns (in syndication), and accordingly the broadcast networks were once willing to take a risk on science fiction and genre programming despite the ratings failures of high-profile productions like Planet of the Apes (1974) and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). One such program was Bruce Lansbury's short-lived The Fantastic Journey (originally called The Incredible Island), which was a sort of "civilization of the week" series (like Trek, Space: 1999, The Starlost and other early seventies endeavors). One thing that differentiated The Fantastic Journey from those other sci-fi series was that it was determinedly "low tech." There were no spaceships or tricorders on hand (though one character, Varian, was armed with the equivalent of Dr. Who's sonic screwdriver, here a tuning-fork device of sorts), and almost the entire series was set "outdoors" in the wilds of a mysterious island.

Although it ran only ten hour-long episodes beginning in February of 1977, looking back today one can see that The Fantastic Journey featured all the elements that could have made it a huge success. The premise was fascinating and timely. There was a cultural fascination in 1970s America with Bermuda Triangle lore, and that enigmatic "zone" is at the core of The Fantastic Journey. Here, travelers from all different worlds and times become lost in the Bermuda Triangle (thanks to a green fog on the ocean..) and then trapped on a vast jungle island comprising various "time" zones (and thus various civilizations). One day, a character might encounter historic pirates (as in the pilot episode "Vortex," which featured Deadwood's Ian McShane), the next he may be dealing with futuristic civilizations ("Atlantium.") So the format was flexible enough to accommodate all sorts of stories and plot lines.

Also, the characters were interesting and diverse. Representing the audience were two people from 1977, young Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann) and an African-American physician, Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin). On their journey, they encountered a "man of the future" (from 2230), the peace-loving Varian (Jared Martin), and a psychic woman from another civilization with unique mental abilities, Liana (Katie Saylor). With Liana's cat, Sil-El, in tow, this diverse group formed an ad hoc family of sorts, and together sought the zone called "Evoland." This was a legendary realm where, according to myth, wayward travelers could be sent home to their various worlds and time periods.

The third episode of the series, "Beyond the Mountain" introduces the last piece of the character equation: Roddy McDowall's temperamental scientist, Dr. Jonathan Willaway, a man whose plane disappeared over the Sea of Japan in 1963. In this story, the other travelers are engulfed in an eerie red-colored storm and promptly separated. Liana ends up in a paradisaical, luxury villa, where Willaway - a very "strong willed man" - is tended to by subservient humanoid androids. The other characters are cast down into a misty swamp of gnarled trees and fog. The swamp (which looks like Dagobah...), is impressively-presented, having been constructed on a sound-stage and seeming very atmospheric, especially in contrast to Willaway's sunlit world, where the grass is literally always greener.

Before long, Willaway decides he wants to marry Liana and attempts to keep her from searching for her friends, even as his android "son" begins to develop emotions for the lovely woman. Down in the swamp, Scott, Fred and Varian encounter a race of green-skinned humanoids, aliens called "Arujians" (think Indians). Their leader is ill from a "bacterial disease" (malaria), and Varian and Fred heal him. Once recovered, the leader explains that Willaway came to their land, subverted the androids and banished the green-skinned humanoids to the swamp. "He does not think of us as beings of any worth," the leader comments about Willaway, and one can see how the episode's central metaphor is crafted. "Beyond the Mountain" is a comment on, for lack of a better word, "the white man's burden," and here a white westerner has re-located a race of "lesser beings" off their land for his own benefit. Just substitute green skin for red skin, and you get the idea of the symbolism.

It isn't just the relocation of Native Americans to reservations that "Beyond the Mountain" comments on, at least obliquely, but also the very idea of slavery (again - back to the white man's burden). Here, Willaway keeps a society of androids serving him and is unable to countenance the idea that they could be sentient. They are only "an amalgam of simulated flesh and bone," he says at one point. He tells his son, "your marrow is transistorized; your heart is a battery; your veins and arteries are wire filament." This might be another way of saying that because their skin is different than his; they are "less" than human, a belief of slave owners in America a hundred and fifty years ago.

Also, Willaway generally treats his androids (again, think historically: slaves) with what he believes is love and kindness, even though he is still master and they still servants. However, reflecting the dark side of the equation, when challenged by a female android, he warns her that if she misbehaves, he will "take her apart." When the enslaved androids finally rebel against him, Willaway is baffled. "I gave you a beautiful place to live. I even made you my son..." he says, feeling betrayed, unaware that his "children" are ready to chart their own destinies.

So, in the course of one episode, Willaway displaces one ethnic group (the green-skinned swamp dwellers), and enslaves another (the androids). Or as he puts it at the denouement, society and he "do have problems." In the end, with the help of the series regulars, both races are freed, and Willaway is sent packing. Surprisingly, Varian shows mercy to Willaway and allows him to travel with the group. Again, this was the final piece of the character puzzle: Varian, Fred, Liana and Scott are all likable, heroic characters, whereas Willaway (as this episode reveals) is more flawed; and more willing to strike off with his own agenda. He isn't a constant foil (like, say Lost in Space's Dr. Smith), merely a fly in the ointment and wild card. The ending solution, Willaway joining the team, so to speak, works well story-wise and is even believable because Varian is a man from a peaceful future; one where men don't hold grudges or act in petty fashion. He is the series' version of the peaceful and enlightened Spock, and a great character.

In the spirit of Star Trek's "Requiem for Methuselah," Space:1999's "One Moment of Humanity," Star Trek: The Next Generation's "The Offspring," and the new Battlestar Galactica's "Downloaded" this Fantastic Journey episode also involves the idea of an android (or androids, plural) attaining humanity or understanding humanity. Willaway's son in this episode dies (in love with Liana), a "tear" falling from his cheek. Again, this is sort of a de rigueur concept in science-fiction television; done on virtually every series from 1966-1978, probably. Still, it is handled here well enough; though the depiction of the androids (lanky men and women in gold lame jumpsuits with circuit panels on their backs...) reveals the age of the series (thirty years!) and the relative innocence of the genre back then.

The Fantastic Journey has always been one of my favorite mid-1970s American sci-fi series. Logan's Run (the series) pretty much adopted a similar formula later in 1977 (during the fall season), and even Sliders and the oft-forgotten Otherworld (1985) owe something to this show. What I always appreciated most about The Fantastic Journey was the well-developed characters, and the charming interplay between them. The series only lasted ten episodes but it had enormous potential. Not surprisingly, it still boasts a rabid fan base. Probably not a week goes by without someone e-mailing me about The Fantastic Journey at my web site (where I have a "retro TV file" on the show), which I believe is a testament to the solid groundwork that series writers (including Dorothy Fontana) laid down all those years ago. I suppose some audiences would look at the production values of the series today and conclude it is campy (no!!!!), but like every TV series and like every work of art, it is entirely a product of its age and original context. The Fantastic Journey is gloriously 1977 (pre-Star Wars), and fantastic indeed. I'd love to see an official DVD release soon.