Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Challenge of the Super Friends: "The Final Challenge (November 25, 1978)

In “The Final Challenge,” a space warp sucks the Super Friends and the Legion of Doom into a strange unknown universe. There, Vartu -- the “peaceful” leader of this realm -- wants to put an end to the constant and endless battling that characterizes life on Earth. 

To that end, he arranges a series of deadly challenges for the super-powered foes. These include a labyrinth of death, a lake of terror, a mission to scale an erupting volcano, and a battle with a two-headed serpent.

Ultimately, the Super Friends prove victorious, which means that the members of the Legion of Doom are to be destroyed, dropped into acid.  

The Super Friends realize, however, that even the villains of the Legion of Doom deserve a fair trial.

“The Final Challenge” is another sci-fi TV version of Fredric Brown’s story, “Arena.”  That story, about warring races brought to fight (by aliens) in a place of personal combat, has been adapted by name not only to Star Trek, but to series including The Outer Limits (“Fun and Games”), Space: 1999 (“The Rules of Luton”), Blake’s 7 (“Duel”), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (“Buck’s Duel to the Death”), and Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Last Outpost).

Here, the leader of an alternate dimension, Vartu, is tired of the strife created in the conflict between the Hall of Justice and the Legion of Doom, and so arranges a contest which will settle the battle for power once and for all.  

These challenges, intriguingly, are not all won by the heroes. For instance, Black Manta defeats Aquaman, who becomes trapped inside a giant clam. Scarecrow, likewise, defeats Apache Chief, in his particular contest.  This is a nice touch which suggests that the Super Friends are not all-powerful, and do not always win.

The original story, “Arena” ended with one alien race -- the losers in the personal combat -- being destroyed (as promised), but TV often changes this outcome. In Star Trek’s “Arena,” for instance, Captain Kirk demonstrates mercy for the Gorn, and impresses the Metrons with his behavior. A similar outcome is depicted here. The Super Friends reject the rules of the contest, and save their mortal enemies.

Intriguingly, another sci-fi TV cliché also gets a work out in “The Final Challenge.”  Specifically, the “my enemy/my ally” trope is present, which sees protagonists and villains cooperating to reach a mutually beneficial end.  Here, the Super Friends and Legion of Doom members not captured and forced to compete by Vartu work together to find their missing friends. Naturally, the Legion of Doom proves untrustworthy.

Some other intriguing notes regarding this episode include the fact that “The Final Challenge” commences with what I call a “Star Wars shot,” a view of a  large ship passing in front of the screen. 

Also, this installment  continues the general nuttiness of the series’ dialogue, which often suggests that the heroes and villains are all-powerful and all-knowing . Here, someone actually says “let’s search the universes parallel to ours!

That sounds easy, just a quick scan of a couple -- or dozen? -- UNIVERSES…

Next week: “Fairy Tale of Doom.”


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