Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
While it is undeniable that the third season of Land of the Lost suffers in terms of its continuity with the preceding two years’ worth of episodes, I nonetheless appreciate how the third season occasionally adapts creepy elements of world mythology to the world of Altrusia. It’s a different take than the original vision, to be certain, but the mythology-based episodes make for intriguing adventures, at least on a few occasions.
Such is the case with “Flying Dutchman,” this week’s installment, which first aired on October 23, 1976.
The story uses as its basis the legend of a Dutch man-of-war “ghost ship,” reported as early as the 18th century by sailors and other travelers on the high seas.
In some stories, the captain of the Flying Dutchman (known as Bernard Fokke) is believed to be in league with Satan himself….a devil. In other variations of the folklore, the captain (sometimes Vander Decker) is being punished for some moral failing by this eternal life on the seas, never able to reach port again.
The Flying Dutchman is also sometimes reported to be a pirate ship, lost off the Cape of Good Hope, and a young King George V once reported seeing the eerie vessel off the coast of Australia.
In Land of the Lost’s “Flying Dutchman,” The Marshalls discover a wrecked man-of-war in the Mist Marsh (former home of the Zarn), but the area is not referred to on-screen as such, which is disappointing.
The Marshalls hear ghostly voices emanating from the ship’s deck, and find a lonely captain, Van Der Mere (Rex Holman) alone on board. Although he promises to take Uncle Jack, Holly, Will and Chaka back out through the vortex by which he arrived, the captain secretly plans to leave with only Holly (Kathy Coleman) on board. She is a dead ringer for his long-lost daughter, Wilhelmina, and he misses his child’s companionship.
Uncle Jack (Ron Harper) realizes that Van Der Mere’s ship is the legendary Dutchman and saves a drugged Holly at the last moment. The Captain apologizes for his behavior. “I am ashamed,” he admits. “You have my apologies…it’s so terribly lonely.”
In the episode’s final moments, the Marshalls and Chaka watch in awe as the Flying Dutchman takes to the air, and sails out of view...though how it escapes Altrusia (and the land’s one in/one out rule of entry/exit) is left unexplained.
On the plus side of the equation, “Flying Dutchman” is an episode filled with creepy imagery of the derelict ship in the Mist Marsh. These moments are atmospheric, and a real sense of danger and terror dominates the show (at least in Saturday morning terms).
On the down-side, this episode sees the return of the single-worst character in Land of the Lost history, the cave-man Malak (Richard Kiel). Too much time is wasted in “Flying Dutchman” as Jack and Will negotiate with Malak for the release of Captain Van Der Mere’s nautical belongings, including a sextant and a compass.
Some viewers, I remember, found this episode sexually perverse, with an adult man professing his love for a much, much younger woman, Holly. But the text of the episode makes it absolutely clear that Van Der Mere’s affections are not sexual, but those of a father who misses his daughter, and can never be reunited with her so long as he is cursed to travel the endless corridors of time. For me, the episode doesn’t play as particularly perverse, though I admit it features a scary undercurrent about children being kidnapped and swept away by dark forces.
Despite the fact that “Flying Dutchman” plays fast and loose with the established rules of Altrusia, I still feel that the episode, much like “Medusa” works as a sort of children’s horror show. I remember that I liked this installment very much as a child, and was obsessed with the legend of the Flying Dutchman for months after viewing. I still find the legend compelling, and accordingly, I would rate this episode of the third season pretty highly in the roster.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
In “Spaced Out,” Diana Prince (Lynda Carter) races against time -- and a master thief (Rene Aubjernois) – to recover stolen crystals that are desperately needed for “space navigation.”
These crystals have been unwittingly transported to a hotel in Los Angeles where gathered fans are celebrating the return of a popular old TV series, “Space Quest.”
Also in attendance at this convention is a popular TV superhero, “The Black Avenger.” Because this hero is never seen out of costume, it is easy for the thief (Auberjonois) to masquerade as him, and keep one step ahead of Wonder Woman…
Over the years, quite a few episodes have featured stories set at science fiction conventions. She-Wolf of London (“Beyond the Beyond”), Castle, Psych, and CSI are just a few examples.
But, to its credit, Wonder Woman’s “Spaced Out” is probably the first convention-themed cult television episode in TV history. Here, Wonder Woman encounters Robby the Robot (acting as emcee for a costume contest…), and crosses paths with fans from a popular franchise of the day…Logan’s Run (1977).
Actually, “Spaced Out” is accurate, to a high degree, about 1970s fan conventions and their rituals. Back at the height of Logan’s Run’s popularity some, fans played a game as “runners” and “Sandmen,” dressing in show-accurate costumes, and hunting one another through hotel corridors. I learned of this “game” first-hand from a friend who attended a Star Trek convention in New York City in the late seventies, and later from Dorothy Fontana, when I interviewed her about the impact of the Logan’s Run series. So “Spaced Out” serves as a time capsule of sorts for an early chapter of convention cos-play.
In terms of Logan’s Run, this episode also features Jessica’s dress from the film and TV series, and an accurate Sandman costume. Although “Space Quest” replaces Star Trek as the subject of the convention (right down to the fact that a movie revival was in the offing…), other sci-fi notables are seen in attendance. There’s not just Robby here, but the Metaluna mutant from This Island Earth (1951).
Unlike many convention episodes of cult-television series, Wonder Woman’s “Spaced Out” -- title notwithstanding -- isn’t downright dismissive of fans, or of fan culture. Although Diana Prince initially wants to book another hotel when she learns of the con’s presence, fans ultimately come to help her out, and resolve the mystery involving the crystals (which become props for a fan-made control room display).
The Black Avenger -- a superhero with his own TV series – might also be seen as a commentary on Wonder Woman’s role on the sci-fi convention landscape. No doubt Lynda Carter was swarmed at every stop, just like the Black Avenger, and asked about the minutiae of her character’s history and life. Still, this ribbing is gentle and humorous, and hardly the caustic “get a life” commentary that would come in the 1980s.
Outside of its value as a time capsule of science fiction conventions and Logan’s Run, “Spaced Out” is another mostly disposable, light-hearted episode of Wonder Woman. The episode flies by on a wing and a prayer, and Lynda Carter’s humanity pulls the hour through the rough patches.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
In “The Starships Are Coming,” Diana Prince (Lynda Carter), and Steve Trevor (Lyle Waggoner) watch local news reports from a small town called Berryville that suggest an attack by alien invaders has begun. News footage shows flying saucers strafing and blasting a vehicle convoy and pedestrians.
Diana heads to Berryville, along with Colonel Robert Elliott (Tim O’Connor), to investigate the invasion’s veracity.
Unfortunately, they come to different conclusions about it. Elliott unexpectedly encounters aliens, and is told that a starship fleet will soon launch to destroy America…from mainland China. The only option is for Colonel Elliott to launch America’s nukes (at China…) before that can happen. Fearing the end for his country, Elliott prepares a strike against China.
But Diana learns that the alien invasion is a clever hoax constructed by uber-“patriot” and capitalist Mason Steele. He has orchestrated the alien attack in a warehouse-turned-studio using actors, rear-projection screens, and sound-effects.
“My hands are not tied by red tape,” he explains. Specifically, Steele sees Red China as an enemy and is determined that American democracy should “outlive” all other forms of government.
Now, Diana must escape from Steele’s custody, and convince Colonel Elliott not to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Red China that will instigate World War III…
The Wonder Woman episode “The Starships Are Coming” plays on a couple of significant ideas that found currency in the American culture and national dialogue of the late 1970s.
The first was an all-out fascination with UFOs, stoked by films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and by television programs such as Project: UFO (1978 – 1979).
The second was a movement in American politics to declare nuclear war a “winnable” enterprise. Some individuals -- especially on the far right edge of the political spectrum -- labored to explain how a nuclear war wouldn’t be that bad and, in fact, could be vetted in a successful fashion. These same voices attempted to pressure Ronald Reagan, in the late 1980s not to negotiate with Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. Fortunately, Reagan didn’t listen.
Anyway, “The Starships Are Coming” is about a business-man who fancies himself a “patriot” and hopes to trigger a nuclear war that will destroy an enemy that hasn’t even attacked: Red China. But to get his way, and his war, this businessman, Steele, must first stoke fear in the American people, which he does by staging lightning strikes on a small-town. And he blames invading aliens for the attacks, though it seems it might have been more convincing to frame China for them.
Wonder Woman -- perpetual guardian of peace – sees through Mason Steele’s madness and notes, trenchantly, that his attempts to coerce a nation into war and kill millions of innocent people have “done more to destroy democracy” than any “communist country” in history. It’s an effective rebuke against those who would turn life and death, war and peace into a game of winners and losers, profit and loss.
“With patriots like these, the country doesn’t need any enemies,” suggests the dialogue in “The Starships are Coming,” and the episode’s last moments involve a countdown to the launch of deadly nuclear mission. Finally, Wonder Woman appears on television to stop the count-down, and calm the panicky populace.
Although the outcome is good, I often find it funny that the Wonder Woman character as portrayed in the 1970s series isn’t nearly as proactive as she might be, given the high stakes she often faces. For instance, Diana Prince is captured by Steele in “The Starships Are Coming”, and tied to a chair in a warehouse while the countdown to World War III commences.
Instead of trying to break free, or otherwise engineer her own escape, Wonder Woman just sits…and is conveniently rescued by a local man named Henry. First, I think Wonder Woman could have found her way out of that chair and warehouse on her own. Doesn’t she have extraordinary strength?
And secondly, why did her savior have to be a man?
It’s funny how entrenched sexism can be, even for a series about a feminist icon. Often, Wonder Woman, the series, gets by on the pure charisma and charm of Lynda Carter, and this episode, although it is timely, is not an exception.
Monday, January 25, 2021
In “Formicida,” Diana Prince (Lynda Carter) investigates a series of suspicious building collapses for the IADC. All the demolished buildings belong to one man: the tycoon Mr. Harcourt.
Although Diana doesn’t realize it, Harcourt is being blackmailed by a super-villainess called Formicida (Lorene Yarnell). She can telepathically direct ant colonies to destroy Harcourt’s expensive buildings, and will continue to do so unless he shuts down a chemical plant that is producing a pesticide that will prove harmful to the insect world, and mankind himself.
As Wonder Woman, Diana Prince clashes with Formicida, even though she realizes the evil villain may, on this occasion be on the side of good…
Although tiny in size, evil ants loomed large in the 1970s science fiction pop culture, second only in the insect world to killer bees, perhaps. Ants threatened to take-over the world in the brilliant and odd Saul Bass film, Phase IV (1974), and grew to enormous size and attempted to brainwash humanity in Bert I. Gordon’s The Empire of the Ants (1977).
In “Formicida,” Wonder Woman clashes with a villainess who can harness the power of ants -- to chew through wood support beams, mainly -- to wreak incredible damage and conduct industrial espionage. In this case, real ants are seen in close-up throughout the episode, which lends the menace a sense of visual authority, at least.
Formicida herself makes for a unique foe for Wonder Woman in that she may be evil (and highly destructive…) but her motives are actually good. Formicida is trying to save the world, but using means that are questionable. That kind of complexity elevates this episode above mere spectacle, in my opinion, and allows 1970s kiddies some red meat to latch onto. Not much, perhaps, but enough. The episode’s coda sees Wonder Woman use her magic lasso and make Formicida -- Irene -- forget forever her dark identity.
Additionally, the Jekyll/Hyde aspects of Formicida’s character make for some interesting observations about character, and even self-confidence here. When in human guise, the villainess is simply a scientist named Irene, but when she is Formicida, she takes on the qualities of ants, she claims. The ants are everything that Irene isn’t, she observes: social, organized, determined, and tenacious. Irene believes she is “empowered” by her connection to the colony, and is unable to see that she herself possesses such qualities without it.
And since Wonder Woman hides behind a “meek” human identity, Diana Prince, there’s a good mirror image between hero/villain in “Formicida.” Irene is the “real” person, apparently made strong by her super serum, whereas Wonder Woman is the “real” individual, and Diana Prince the face of anonymity behind which the hero hides. In other words, Wonder Woman must be weak to “blend in,” and Irene must be Formicida to stand-out.
Formicida is portrayed by the late Lorene Yarnell (1944 – 2010) of “Shields and Yarnell” fame. Her partner, Robert Shields, also makes an appearance in this episode. At the time of Wonder Woman’s airing, the dance/mime duo had their own series on CBS The Shields and Yarnell Show, so the couple’s appearance here was no doubt part of an attempt at cross-promotion “synergy.” That fact established, Yarnell is physically convincing as Formicida, and emotionally convincing as the meek Irene. Had Wonder Woman returned for a fourth season, I wonder if Formicida would have made a return appearance to protect the ant world and the environment.
“Rover,” the little IADC robot that appears in Wonder Woman’s third season boasts a larger than usual role in this episode, and saves the day. The small ambulatory drone learns to speak “ant” language and convinces the colony not to bring down the chemical plant housing the dangerous pesticide. Many moments in this episode involve Rover cruising through small vent shafts or corridors, attempting to complete his mission, and are dull beyond compare.
One final note about the ants in “Formicida:” they are exceptionally clever since they are able to anticipate when characters are going to use certain staircases or walk into certain rooms. The stairs and ceilings collapse instantly upon egress, and always on cue. Even a whole of ants, it would seem to me, would spend a while biting through a solid wall, or ledge platform. Smart little buggers, I guess…
Saturday, January 23, 2021
This week on Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977), the episode is titled “Cornered” and it involves a fire-breathing dinosaur, nicknamed Torchy. This Dimetrodon-like dino arrives in the Lost City and begins spraying flame into the Sleestak tunnels. Torchy also battles Big Alice, at least briefly. The mighty Allosaurus turns tail and leaves her territory in a hurry rather than confront the biological flame thrower.
The Sleestak blame the Marshalls (again!) for the presence of Torchy in their valley and Enik (Walker Edmiston) demands that the humans eliminate the threat by nightfall. As leverage, Enik offers Uncle Jack (Ron Harper) the cure to a mysterious illness that has felled Will (Wesley Eure).
The young man was struck by Torchy’s poisonous tail and now risks falling into an eternal sleep. Enik promises that if Torchy is dispatched by sundown, he will give the Marshalls the cure.
With Holly (Kathy Coleman) and Chaka (Philip Paley) in tow, Uncle Jack attempts to lure Torchy out of the valley, using giant coal bricks as breadcrumbs. The mission is successful, and Will heals on his own.
In other words, Enik was tricking them…
Although “Cornered” is perhaps not as downright, upfront awful as “Survival Kit” or “The Orb,” it’s pretty close.
Once more, the Sleestaks are out to destroy the Marshalls, despite a past history of cooperation. And once again, Enik lets himself be used as the Sleestak mouthpiece…as though he is just a slightly-less evil member of that race.
It’s actually grating to watch the scenes of the Sleestak Leader ordering Enik around because these scenes forget that Enik is an evolved Altrusian from another era, not a lapdog or lackey for the barbaric Sleestak. Why Enik allows himself to be used this way is a mystery.
Once more, in “Cornered” we get a strange reference (from Uncle Jack) to Enik’s “famous logic,” an allusion not to the real Enik, but to the “Mr. Spock Enik” that this season has introduced.
Finally, just when you think “Cornered” can’t possibly get any worse, Will wakes up and sings a syrupy song while plucking the guitar. At this juncture, the series loses any sense of respectability and dignity, and emerges as ridiculous high-camp, going from fire-breathing dragons one minute to terrible musical-numbers the next.
Then, the episode just stops…mid-moment, as though in terminal embarrassment. The final cut and lead-in to the end credits is jarring and sudden…but you can’t blame the editor for pulling out.
I don’t object in theory to the idea of a fire-breathing dinosaur in the Land of the Lost, but as usual, the third season writers seem to forget that the land boasts rules. Altrusia maintains a sense of balance, and it is also closed universe. Given these facts, where did Torchy come from? Why hasn’t he been seen before? I’d be perfectly happy to accept that the earthquake of “Aftershock” stirred him from a long subterranean slumber. But no such explanation is provided.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
In “Alice in Disco Land,” David Banner gets a job as a bus boy at Pandemonium Disco, and meets a runaway teen, Alice (Donna Wilkes) whom he knew as a child.
In fact, David has fond memories of taking care of Alice as a girl, and reading to her from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Now, however, Alice isn’t doing so well. Virtually abandoned by her wealthy mother, she is adrift and alone. And although she is a great disco dancer, Alice is also an alcoholic. She can’t go a day without drinking, a fact that David gently reminds her of.
When David attempts an intervention, however, the disco’s ganger owner, Ernie (Marc Alaimo) thinks that Banner is compelling her to testify in a Federal case against him, and sets out to punish him. But Ernie hasn’t counted on the fact that David can transform into the Hulk.
Before long, the denizens of Pandemonium Disco meet the Hulk on the dance floor, and terror ensues.
I had forgotten, before watching a few The Incredible Hulk (1978 – 1981) episodes this week, just what a time capsule for the 1970s the series is.
“Alice in Disco Land,” which aired on November 3, 1978, derives all its energy from the ascendant disco culture of the era, including the blockbuster film Saturday Night Fever (1977). To wit, most of the action takes place inside Pandemonium Disco, and under a glitter ball.
While David works as a bus-boy, hairy men in tight polyester pants and flowery shirts and ultra-skinny women (sans bras…) gyrate on the dance floor to songs you never heard of (including a disco-fied version of the series’ piano theme).
Underneath these disco trappings, however, it’s clear that “Alice in Disco Land” actually concerns alcoholism, and the story attempts to draw a signficant connection between David and Alice. At one point, late in the action, Alice notes of her drinking problem: “You don’t understand, this is something in me. I need to control it.”
Clearly, those words resonate with David. The purpose of his life now is to control that thing inside himself, the rage that brings life to his alter-ego, the Incredible Hulk. Both he and Alice must fight internal urges if they are to succeed against the odds, and be whole once more.
“Alice in Disco Land” is one of the episodes of The Incredible Hulk I vividly remember watching during the series’ original run. I was eight years old at the time, and I remember that my older sister and I attempted to re-create the disco milieu (using a Bee Gees album on the record player), and I would pretend to be the Hulk, smashing and throwing sofa pillows in our family room.
That personal story is no weirder, I promise you, than the events of“Alice in Disco Land.”
It was a strange time.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
In “The Antowuk Horror” by Nicholas Corea, David Banner (Bill Bixby) is hiding out in a small resort town, and has taken a job in a local hardware shop.
There, he tutors a young girl, Sam (Debbie Lytton), and works for her temperamental and resentful father, Harlan (Bill Luckings).
When Harlan treats David badly and makes him complete an inventory in a messy and dangeroius storage closet, David injures himself on a propane tank and crow bar, and transforms into the Hulk.
Harlan sees the Hulk, and realizes that a monster like him could revive Antowuk’s ailing economy.
He sets out to orchestrate a hoax involving “The Antowuk Horror,” unaware that an old friend of McGee’s (Jack Colvin) -- a hunter looking to make a name for himself again -- is hell-bent on shooting dead the Hulk and any other monster in his sites.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this early Incredible Hulk (1978 – 1981) episode is the strong recession vibe it so dramatically expresses.
In one early shot in “The Antowuk Horror,” a young girl (Samantha) walks down a small-town street and behind and around here there are signs everywhere for stores going out of business or “fire sales.” Some buildings are even boarded up. It looks a lot, in other words, like America circa 1978-1979 (or, actually, 2008…).
Indeed, the central premise of the episode is that the economy of a resort town has failed to such an extent that only a myth like “Bigfoot” (name-checked in “The Antowuk Horror”) can resurrect its fortunes. You almost can’t blame the desperate Harlan for seizing on the inspiration the Hulk provides: his friends (including one played by Lance LeGault) are planning to leave town permanently. Everyone is giving up.
In some ways, what’s much worse about Harlan than his hoax is his resentful, insecure, anti-intellectual attitude. He’s a bully, and acts abusively towards David. In fact, he’s an arrogant, entitled redneck, and those qualities go some distance towards making him less-than-sympathetic, whatever his economic woes. I mean, he basically beats David up, and David – unable to go to the authorities – stands for this behavior.
In The Incredible Hulk, David is often the very definition of long-suffering. He always attempts to control his anger, fear and rage, but those limits are severely tested (at a rate of twice per hour-long episode) all the time. Here, he tolerates being pushed around, and gauging his palm with a crow-bar, but when a heavy gas tank falls on his foot…that’s it.
The Hulk is in the building.
“The Antowuk Horror’s” other contextual subject (besides the Carter Era recession) is the nation’s fascination -- in the 1970s -- with the Bigfoot legend.
Here, we see lemming-like news crews, recreational campers, tourists, and other folks storm into the resort town for a glimpse of a Sasquatch-like cryptid. In the decade of the Bionic Bigfoot, Bigfoot and Wild Boy, and In Search Of, “The Antowuk Horror” is a not-unexpected our out-of-place addition to the Hulk canon.
Unfortunately, the episode doesn’t feature the kind of final fight it might were the Hulk were actually to battle the real Bigfoot. Harlan is a paper tiger a man masquerading as a werewolf-like beast. The Hulk makes short work of him, but when Samantha is endangered, comes to his aid.
I always loved this aspect of the TV rendition of the Marvel character. David’s goodness shines through, even when he’s mean and green. Angry or not, if you've good character is good character, I guess you might say.
Although by no stretch one of the best installments of the series’ seven year run, the inaugural episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ...