Monday, December 09, 2013

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Volcanoes

A volcano is a fissure in Earth’s surface which permits gases, ash, and hot lava to flow from a subterranean magma chamber.

In cult-television history, volcanoes have served as crucial plot devices in several prominent series.  Volcanoes are symbols, sometimes, of God’s wrath, and at other times simply representations of cruel fate.  The volcano might also signify unexplored territory, or a kind of natural, bubbling rage.

In The Fantastic Journey (1977) episode, “An Act of Love,” a group of diverse travelers lost in the Bermuda Triangle came across a society that worships an active volcano.  The series’ lead character, Varian (Jared Martin) is marked for sacrifice to the angry Volcano God, “Vetticus,” which can only be pacified by such blood rites.  At episode’s end, this inhuman policy is changed, and Roddy McDowall's Dr. Willaway urges the citizens of the village to “leave superstition behind.”

The British space opera, Blake’s 7 (1978 – 1981) also features a volcano in an episode titled, fittingly, “Volcano.”  In this third season story, the Liberator’s on-the-run crew searches for the missing Blake -- and a new base -- on the volcanic world called Obsidian. Instead, they find a man called Hower (Michael Gough), a friend of Dayna’s father.

In the remake of Land of the Lost (1991 – 1993), a first season episode called “Kevin vs. the Volcano” finds a sudden volcano eruption threatening the Porter homestead.  Green lava bursts out of the mountain and moves through the desert, towards the family tree house…at least until Kevin Porter uncovers a subterranean cave and Sleestak technology capable of quieting the volcano.  When activating, the machinery makes the lava run backwards, back into the mountain itself.

A volcano was also the location for a tense second season episode of The X-Files (1993 – 2002) titled “Firewalker.”  The episode finds Scully and Mulder visiting Oregon’s Mount Avalon, where a newly discovered and dangerous parasite may dwell.  Living in the volcano, this parasite is, presumably, a silicon-based life form, but its impact on human flesh is terrifying…

In the David Tennant era of Doctor Who (2005 - ), the serial “The Fires of Pompeii,” the Tenth Doctor and Donna (Catherine Tate) visit Pompeii, the Roman City, just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  The Doctor and Donna must not only stop an alien invasion there, but decide if it is right and ethical to save a Roman family from the coming apocalypse.  Outside the plot-device of the volcano and examination of the Doctor’s morality, this episode of Doctor Who is significant because it features Karen Gillan -- future companion Amy Pond -- and Peter Capaldi, a future Doctor.

Volcanoes have also appeared to menace characters on such animated series as Godzilla (1978) and South Park.

1 comment:

  1. I have to go back and watch my dvd set of Return to the Planet of the Apes to see the "River of Flames". I am surprised I did not remember the cutaway volcano that was number 3.



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