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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I am you, and you are me, and we are here. I am the dreamer. You are the dream.

Communion (1989)
(SPOILERS) Whitley Strieber’s Communion: A True Story was published in 1987, at which point the author (who would also pen Communion’s screenplay) had seen two of his novels adapted for the cinema (Wolfen and The Hunger), so he could hardly claim ignorance of the way Hollywood – or filmmaking generally – worked. So why then, did he entrust the translation of a highly personal work, an admission of/ confrontation with hidden demons/ experiences, to the auteur who unleashed Howling II and The Marsupials: Howling III upon an undeserving world? The answer seems to be that Strieber already knew director Philippe Mora, and the latter was genuinely interested in the authors’ uncanny encounters. Which is well and good and honourable, but the film entirely fails to deliver the stuff of cinematic legend. Except maybe in a negative sense.

Strieber professes dismay at the results, citing improvised scenes and additional themes, and Walken’s rendition of Whitley Strieber, protagonist…

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

He did it. He shut down the Earth.

Escape from L.A. (1996)
(SPOILERS) It seems it was Kurt Russell’s enthusiasm for his most iconic character (no, not Captain Ron) that got Escape from L.A. made. That makes sense, because there’s precious little evidence here that John Carpenter gave two shits. This really was his point of no return, I think. His last great chance to show his mettle. But lent a decent-sized budget (equivalent to five times that of Escape from New York) he squandered it, delivering an inert TV movie that further rubs salt in the wound by operating as a virtual remake of the original. Just absent any of the wit, atmosphere, pace and inspiration.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.