Skip to main content

An end to male domination, my sisters. To freedom!


The Fantastic Journey
8. Turnabout

Joan Collins in the Battle of the Sex Slaves. And a mad computer. This episode, co-credited to Ken Kolb (whose claim to fame is Ray Harryhausen’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) and story editor/ex-Trekscribe D.C. Fontana, is at once both tiresomely obvious in its sexual politics and occasionally surprising in its narrative twists. It doesn’t get stuck in one mode throughout, and as a result proves surprisingly enjoyable.

Get back on that trapeze, Joan.

HalyanaYou were right. The complex has gone mad.

A fair portion of its watchability is also down to Joan Collins, the love interest of the best-loved Star Trek episode of them all (The City on the Edge of Forever; there are some familiar Trek sound effects in this episode, and throughout The Fantastic Journey). Always the budget version of Elizabeth Taylor, Collins tended to mix TV guest spots with less-than-acclaimed movies. The shoulder-padded Dynasty in ‘80s may be her best-remembered period, but she attained a certain cachet during the ‘70s as middle-aged hot stuff. She had entered her 40s and, if anything, it proved to be her prime; she’d finish up the decade with back-to-back soft porn romps The Stud and The Bitch. Despite their dubious merits, her unabashed carnality proved quite seductive to the young mind.


Can you feel an orgy coming on?

Here, she relishes the role of the patriarch-toppling Queen Halyana; it’s just unfortunate that the script furnishes the character with a great deal of empty bombast. She gets stroppy and then threatening with Varian and Willaway when they are unable to give her what she wants. And we end up seeing her as a bit of a silly woman who has got in over her head (surely not Fontana’s intention). It takes men to teach her the error of her methods (Willaway and Varian). Come the conclusion and she has reconciled herself to needing a good man to roger her; the decision to try and get along may be reaching towards an ideal, but it serves to undermine her and her sisters.

Willaway: You don’t seem to have too much regard for women in this society.

As is common with Journey’s “troubled society of the week” plots, this could fit into any given sci-fi series. Repeatedly in Journey, there is an almost cheerful disregard for internal logic. As soon as you start asking how the civilisation reached this point any pretence at dramatic integrity evaporates. King Morgan (Paul Mantee) presides over a rabble of brawny open-chested leather men (“It’s only a woman” he says of Liana). The women serve (including his wife Halyana) and there’s an all-powerful computer to take care of the everything else (the Complex – nice name).

It's the honeycomb middle that weighs so little.

Willaway: I’m afraid that mind may not be sane.

We learn that men built the city. Koriel is another example of prime ‘60s/’70s architecture, this time resembling a swiss cheese. They were also responsible for the computer, but the men we see in the episode are near-medieval lunkheads. One might assume that society has been devolving for some time, since these oafs (give Morgan some credit, he’s friendly enough to his fellow men) appear devoid of scientific knowledge. Morgan even comments, “What evil magic is this?” as the computer zaps his comrades. But Adrea (Julie Cobb) who reprograms the Complex (badly) states that her father was one of the machine’s designers. We are told that there are no more builders (within one generation?) No one bothers to address the imbalances between a technologically advanced society being so culturally and ethically backwards (see also An Act of Love).

Halyana: The city is ours. An end to male domination, my sisters. To freedom!

And why would a computer designed by sexist men have a female voice (perhaps because it is designed so that it “responds only to men”)? It sounds a little too authoritarian for the liking of these blokes.

Now that's a computer!

The design work for the computer room is memorable. It resembles a child’s play set; primary colours, an enormous yellow button atop the computer and symbols that would look at home on the puzzle floor in The Adventure Game. As routine as it is, the malfunctioning computer is easily the best part of the episode and adds urgency to the plot.

Halyana: Where did the Complex put the men?Adrea: I don’t know, your majesty. I don’t even think the Complex knows. Something has gone wrong.

The dematerialisation of the men to what looks like some kind of limbo (“It was a dark place, like a prison”) is the first of the episode’s peculiar choices. Where do they go? How does the computer achieve this? Initially, I expected a reveal that all the men were in fact computer constructs (that might have been interesting). But it’s much less high concept that that, with no logic to explain what has happened; this is a multi-faceted machine of unbridled potential, it seems. Then there’s the scene where Morgan materialises in Halyana’s chamber for some lurve action (“Why couldn’t you be like this all the time” she derides, before zapping him back to his dimensional dungeon).

Also introduced is a poison subplot; no one could accuse of Fontana and Kolb of a coming up with an incident-free story. The poison is only activated if you stop eating for a certain period. It’s not that these elements aren’t entertaining, but that the writers appear to have inserted them in a borderline random fashion.

Halyana: They’ll provide excellent breeding stock for our colony.
Willaway: Now you see here, I will not be referred to as “breeding stock”.

Initially it looks as if Liana will be the focus of the episode when Morgan and his pals kidnapped her (Sil-El, that pretty kitty, fetches the rest of the group after her). Perhaps because of Saylor’s illness (this is her last appearance) she ends up having relatively little to do (there’s a scene where Varian comes up with a ruse to keep Liana free, accusing her of being a lazy good-for-nothing).

Scott has little to do in this adult world (there isn’t a kid to befriend in sight), aside from overhearing that they’ve been poisoned. Varian offers the occasional pearl of wisdom; he’s resourceful and less recalcitrant than his original self. Halyana takes his explanation of the properties of his tuning fork as a refusal to allow her to use it. So he and Scott spend a fair bit of the episode writhing about under the influence of poisoned food (he also uses his Jedi tricks to take the strain of the effects Scott is suffering). Sil-El gets hissy with a robot cleaner (but is not endangered – phew!) So it’s mainly about Willaway and Fred.

It's like HAL 9000 all over again.

Varian: Looks like our main man finally did it.
Fred: Yeah, and he’s never going to let us forget it.
(cut to:)
Willaway: I am never going to let them forget this.

Willaway starts out apparently sucking up to his dubious host Morgan, much as he did with Tarrant in A Dream of Conquest. Later he enjoys the episode’s standout sequence as he attempts to shut down the Complex in a countdown race against time (The Complex: You are destroying me!)

Fred: Listen, lady. There’s a lot of open territory between being lovers and mortal enemies.

This is the closest Carl Franklin comes to a proper plotline in the series so far. Yes, he’s still called on to do the Dr McCoy thing (analyse and cure his friends of the poison) but he also embarks on a fledgling romance with Connell (Beverly Todd). This may be utterly unconvincing but it makes a change from his propensity for pugilism.

That Joan; she's insatiable.

Halyana: I only learned how to take orders. I never learned how to give them.

The Queen asks for the menfolk back, to Willaway’s disgust, and for some reason they return changed. Varian advises them to go forward “not as enemies, masters and slaves, but as equals”. It’s all so simple! Like a disaffected couple seeking advice from a marriage guidance counsellor, both promise to try to make things work. It isn’t explained how Morgan could be “not as you were, but as I wanted you to be” when he appeared in Halyana’s bedroom. Nor is his complete change in attitude towards wifey clear; is he a big fraidy cat in the dark? As is often the case, the travellers do not initiate regime change so much as provoke a different perspective on the part of the rulers. All very civilised.

Fred: I hope you don’t expect you to call us Master Willaway from now on.
Willaway: No, er, Doctor Willaway will do. I have PhD, you know. 

So how tightknit team by this point? De facto leader Varian continues to be blessed by Martin’s performance, even when his characterisation wobbles. Scott is a bit of a wet blanket, all told. It’s not so much Eisenmann, who manages not to be overly annoying as the wholesomely American-as-apple-pie youth, but that minors in family shows tend to suffer from predictability and limit story potential. Most consistent is Willaway, of course, and McDowall instantly became the show’s crown prince when he joined. Fred isn’t best served for plotlines, but Franklin has an easy chemistry with his co-stars (especially McDowall). Unfortunately the exiting Saylor was never best used, albeit possessed of tremendous legs and a beautiful pussy; Sil-El rocks, and leaves a lion-sized hole in the show as he too absents himself from the last two stories.

Varian: Some men can’t abide one woman and others aren’t satisfied with a harem.

Curious last lines. Varian appears to be making a network-friendly reference to sexual preferences. Daring stuff. There’s a surfeit of groan-inducing dialogue and corny situations in Turnabout, but they help to infuse it with a so-bad-its-good quality. At rare points it is genuinely quite good, but mostly it’s winningly ridiculous. William Shatner would certainly have had a great time in his one.


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.