Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Mystery Island (1977): "Matter of Gravity"

Mystery Island (1977) is a sci-fi segment of the Hanna Barbera omnibus series called The Skatebirds (1977 – 1978).

It is a pulp sci-fi story about a mad scientist, Dr. Strange (Michael Kermoyan) who must acquire a robot called P.O.P.S. to complete his plans for world domination. 

To do so, Dr. Strange brings down a plane on the remote island where he is headquartered.

P.O.P.S. (voice of Frank Welker) and his human friends, pilot Chuck Kelly (Stephen Parr), computer expert Sue Corwin (Lynn Marie Johnston) and her brother Sandy (Larry Volk) attempt to escape Dr. Strange’s minions, while avoiding the locals, including Lava Men and strange Mud People.

The most memorable aspect of this obscure Saturday morning series (which was rebroadcast on Boomerang ten years ago in 2005) is no doubt P.O.P.S. himself, the Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) robot re-painted, re-built and modified from his time with the Robinsons. 

Now, the robot has bright blue accents, a new cake-tray like transparent dome, a bubble over his neck, and feet that allow humans to hitch a ride. Much of the first episode finds Sue and Sandy holding on to him as he scoots across the landscape.

In concept, Mystery Island isn’t very much different from Sid and Marty Krofft’s Doctor Shrinker (1976), a series which saw a trio of humans on a plane brought down to the island of a different mad-scientist.  There, the scientist's minion (played by Billy Barty) tried to capture them each week. 

What differentiates the two series, primarily, is visualization. Mystery Island heavily features exterior locations much of the time, whereas Dr. Shrinker was almost entirely studio-bound.

Mystery Island’s first episode is called “Matter of Gravity” and it begins with the humans and P.O.P.S. already on the island.  Dr. Strange, a “scientific genius” has already brought the plane (named Nimbus) down by projecting a “beam ray” from his headquarters, the “Cave of Science.”

The minions chase Chuck, Sue, Sandy and the Robot and lead them right to the Mud People, but they escape, and flee….

As the description above suggests, Mystery Island plays a lot like a 1930s movie serial.  Dr. Strange is the hissable, bearded, cape-wearing Ming the Merciless stand-in.  

The people of the mysterious island represent the weekly threats and allies, and Sue is our damsel-in-distress. Thus far, however, there is no overt Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers type hero, only the human trio and their robot friend.  

The big difference between Mystery Island and its cinematic chapter-play predecessors is not intent or sophistication, but rather color photography  Mystery Island is very colorful, very brash and vivid in palette, whereas the old serials were constrained by their black-and-white nature.

Not all episodes of Mystery Island are currently available, but “Matter of Gravity” is up on YouTube, as are later episodes.  So I’ll be skipping next week to Episode #5, “Valley of Fire!”


  1. I remember watching this series as a boy in '77 to see the revised Lost In Space Robot.


  2. Jonathan9:46 PM

    This is a great overview of this series. I'd like to add a few notes of interest.

    Hanna-Barbera was certainly known for re-purposing any success they may have had. Remember how many mystery-solving, meddling kids shows they produced after Scooby-Doo, whether those kids hung out with a Funky Phantom, a Jabberjaw, or a Speedy Buggy, to name a few. The Skatebirds was no exception, modeled after their successful 1968 show, the Banana Splits. The serial within the show would also be re-purposed. While the Skatebirds had Mystery Island, the Banana Splits had Danger Island before that.

    Another thing I always think of when I see this show is how Marvel Entertainment must have been asleep at the wheel allowing a Dr. Strange character, goatee and all, to appear in another companies product. I know this isn't Marvel's sorcerer but he looks a little too close for comfort.

    Everyone agrees that the robot from Lost in Space is the big draw of Mystery Island and they'd be right. Unfortunately, his stint on this show almost did him in. For the first two seasons of Lost in Space they had only one robot costume, a fully functional suit that the actor, Bob May, would manipulate from inside while he was towed by a cable around the set. It wasn't until the third and last season that they created a static, light weight robot for use where the full, heavy "hero" robot was impractical. So there were only ever two robots and one wasn't even a suit. P.O.P.S was the original hero suit. This retro-fit almost destroyed the robot suit. The robot's bubble head was always breaking so the cake top isn't that surprising here. Actually before this, the Lost in Space robot appeared on a Jerry Lewis telethon, looking as we all knew him with the exception of a cake top head. So that head to me wasn't the weirdest thing to me, the weirdest thing is that nobody seemed to notice that they gave him an R2-D2 theme and color treatment! Again, Hanna-Barbera and their originality.

    The original robot on Lost in Space was constantly being painted and touched up which is why he had that kind of textured look, so here they painted him white but it was all the attachments that they added that really did the damage. After Mystery Island, the robot suit languished in storage at 20 Century Fox for years until a young new employee, and Lost in Space fan, rescued him in the nick of time as the contents of that particular storage unit was scheduled for the trash. He was devastated by the condition of it and ordered the first, of what would be several restorations. In my opinion, it was never restored correctly so this, to me, was the end of the Lost In Space robot.

    As I recall Dr. Smith saying, I think I would rather have seen him end up as a pleasure vehicle of some kind.


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