Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Medicine Man" (December 4, 1976)

In “Medicine Man,” the very last episode of Land of the Lost, old enemies bring their long-standing hatred to an end with the help of the stranded Marshalls.  It’s another overtly didactic morality tale, and one highly reminiscent of Star Trek’s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”  Only here, the ending is positive, rather than a demonstration of the fact that some hatreds simply never die.
 In “Medicine Man,” the Marshalls encounter Lone Wolf (Ned Romero), a Native-American medicine man who is desperate to get medicine to his sick people.  Lone Wolf is being hunted, however, by Captain Elmo Diggs (Gregory Wolcott), a U.S. cavalry officer who claims that Lone Wolf stole the medicine that his men need if they hope to survive.

At first, Lone Wolf and Diggs circle each other with suspicion and racist fears, but thanks in large part to Jack, who brokers a peace, the two become reluctant allies.  At episode’s end, the Native-American Medicine Man and soldier ride off together, with one horse, hoping to return home to their time.  Of course, this ending is indeed a problem in the Land of the Lost continuity.  We know that the land is a pocket universe -- a circle -- and that there is no escape point, and certainly none reachable by horse.

The most disappointing aspect? The episode (and thus the series…) ends with another terrible song from Will (Wesley Eure), one in which he wistfully “dreams of home.”
Although “Medicine Man” may seem preachy, it certainly offers kids a good lesson about the human quality of mercy…and forgiveness.   Still, as a final episode, this installment disappoints.  We see Grumpy one last time, but it’s been some time since there’s been a good dinosaur story on the show.  Furthermore, we don’t see the Sleestaks, the Lost City or any other Land of the Lost regular supporting cast (like Big Alice).  The episode thus feels very contained and small, like a budget-saving effort. 

If made today, of course, there would be a great ending for Land of the Lost.  Either the Marshalls would make it back home, or the show would end on some dynamic cliffhanger.  Given the reality of 1970s TV programming, neither option was likely here.  However, it would have been nice if the series had ended more firmly on the thematic terrain where it so often exceeded expectations: as an intelligent science fiction series; one that muses about, in genre terms, the importance of environmental stewardship and responsibility.
I’ve now blogged every episode of all three seasons of The Land of the Lost (1974 – 1976), and I must confess that I’ll miss the amazing sights and unmistakable sounds of Altrusia.  Even with the addition of the uninspiring third season, the series was a usually pleasure to watch.  Land of the Lost lasted for something like forty three episodes, and most of the episodes, especially in the first two years were of a generally high quality.  It was a thoughtful series, more often than not.  No other live-action series, I should note, lasted so long or has attained such a following.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating.  Someone really ought to look at what worked about Land of the Lost in the 1970s and update the series for today’s adults.  The same underlying theme (about the environment) would work brilliantly in today’s context, and an adult science fiction series about a family trapped in a lost world would make for great, adventurous entertainment.
One of these days, if I get the chance, I’ll review the 1991 remake of Land of the Lost, featuring a family known as the Porters.  In the meantime, I begin blogging a new series next week… the live-action Shazam! (1974 – 1976).


  1. Thank you for your entertaining critiques. Land of the Lost was one of my favorite series as a child. Unlike most of the "adult" sci-fi TV of the time it featured monsters, dinosaurs and weird creatures on a regular basis. For the first 2 seasons the stories were intelligent, often exciting and sometimes even scary. I didn't get that with other Saturday morning shows. I knew that something had gone wrong with the 3rd season so I skipped a lot of the episodes.

    I've only seen part of one episode of the 1991 series. I'm interesting in reading what you'll have to say about that one.

  2. Anonymous5:09 PM

    John it was fun while it lasted. Three entertaining seasons of Land Of The Lost which was one of the engaging Saturday morning series from our '70s childhoods. It is truly ripe for a series remake done serious and not like the humorous 2009 movie. "Medicine Man" was a good episode that I believe would have led to the return of these characters in a never made season four. Especially once Lone Wolf and Diggs would find out there is no easy escape from Altrusia. There was no last episode sending the Marshalls home because they assumed a season four would happen.