Skip to main content

Society and I do seem to have our problems.


The Fantastic Journey
3. Beyond the Mountain

The main attraction of the third episode is the star-powered entrance of soon-to-be travelling companion Roddy McDowall. McDowall’s an ever-charismatic and humorous performer, blessed with a likeable erudition and etiquette. It’s a shame that the plot that introduces him is at best ho-hum and at worst and embarrassment of clichés.

Nice pins.

With some justification, McDowall’s Dr. Jonathan Willaway, a ”rebel scientist from the 1960s” (1963 to be precise, and don’t you love that he’s a rebel scientist?) has been compared to Dr Smith in Lost in Space (“You dolt!”). Willaway is (at least here) the embodiment of fussy, cultured villainy. His behaviour is born out of egocentricity to the extent that you can just about buy into the idea that the group would welcome him at the end (well, maybe not Fred) but the turn about does seem rather lurching (he threatens murder and forced marriage at one point). Far more compelling is the idea that they realised it might be fun to have Roddy McDowall hang out with them for a bit (because, really, that would be fun wouldn’t it?) His wily intelligence will frequently be the highlight of future episodes, as he butters up the bad guys and approaches problems laterally.

WillawayIf you ever mention the swamp to anyone ever again I will take you a-part.

Willaway’s unrepentant villainy is so appealingly cavalier that you end up rooting for him anyway. Particularly when the two groups he has oppressed are such an insipid lot.  

I just can't see this lot living at Willaway's villa.

Some rubbish green aliens (Farujians or Arujians?), who built the androids that Willaway now presides over, have been relegated to a nearby swamp. I say nearby, but director Irving J Moore has made no attempt to connect the (quite impressive) soundstage mire to the location shoot at the series’ latest appropriation of modern architecture. Scripter Harold Livingston appears to be beating the audience with an allegorical stick; Willaway has stolen the swampies’ (they are like a mephistoclean version of the Swampies in Doctor Who’s The Power of Kroll, aired about sixteen months later) land and property. Willaway’s basically a more effete version of John Wayne in Red River. It’s a very loose analogy, however. The swampies are benign so it’s okay for them to have a robot slave force; it’s only a bad thing when Willaway takes charge. It isn’t clear why the swampies are suddenly rendered incapable once they’re evicted. Surely they don’t suddenly become scientifically backward? But they seem stuck scrubbing about in a bog.

Extreme internal body massage.

WilllawayI find their company a great deal more pleasant than any I previously encountered.

Livingston may have overfilled his narrative pot, but the last thing it results in is thematic or structural complexity. He awards a nascent consciousness to his androids in the form of Cyrus (John David Carson), who develops a full-on robot chubby for Liana (well, who wouldn’t?) But he also muddles Willaway’s role. Is he the slave owner, or the traditional patriarch (to be obeyed unquestioningly)? When his “son” (as he has dubbed Cyrus) rebels, Willaway responds as any unyielding father would; he punishes him (instructs his reprogramming). And the situation with Liana has Oedipal undertones (not in the mother-marrying sense, but the father-usurping). Willaway is at least as threatened by Cyrus for his way with the ladies as for his undermining of the doctor’s authority. Being a family show it’s never clear if Willaway satisfies his needs with android companion Rachel (Marj Dusav), whom Liana initially (as do we) assumes is his wife. This isn’t surprising, as she says very wifey things about Jonathan; he is “a very strong-minded man” (the sort of comment that would lead you to expect bruises).

That shirt has to go.

WillawayThen you shall all die – together!

Livingston went on to receive a co-credit on the screenplay of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, another story of machine life gaining sentience. In that instance he does the very Trek thing of furnishing V’ger with godlike delusions. In this case, Cyrus’ act of self-sacrifice destroys the robot power source just as Willaway has ordered the travellers’ deaths. Either the swampies aren’t aware of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics or Willaway overwrote them. . Cyrus death isn’t especially noble; he does it because Willaway “makes her unhappy” (and because he has the hots for her). The robotic tear he releases as he expires lays the point on so thickly that the scene turns into a fondue party.

He's just like Roy Batty.

The Cyrus/Liana plotline is leaden and predictable, and includes some really ripe dialogue (Liana makes Cyrus feel “good and happy”; being a robot these responses need to be explained to him). Willaway’s crushing dismissiveness of robot emotions is also very obvious, but at least McDowell adds relish to the delivery.

The worst aspect of the series tends to be the spelt out and simplistic moralising of the farewell scenes. The swampies end up in much the same place as the Atlanteans in the previous episode, rebuilding their society. They thank the travellers for the courage to become again what they once were (because the oppressed need a leg up from wiser folk?). Amusingly, they tell Willaway he is free to leave and add that he “may have the swamp if you desire it”.

WillawaySociety and I do seem to have our problems.

McDowall being McDowall, he turns audience sympathy round in an instant when the swampies banish him. It’s his turn to emit a tear, and it’s ironic that you care more for his predicament than the death of his “son”.

VarianAs you said, “I heard that”.

Oh dear, Varian’s attempt to “get down” with Fred by using hip-speak is rather unfortunate. Martin seems almost apologetic.

Nice pins.

The travellers are separated almost immediately on arriving in this zone by a red cloud, with Liana ending up at Willaway’s villa and the others in the swamp. But not before reuniting with Sil-El. Yay! He’s one cute kitty. He proves impossible to keep a track of, so you have to assume he will show up again by the end of the any given episode. Which he doggedly does. With new recruit moggy on board, Varian comments “One more and we’ll be back to our original number”, conveniently forgetting the casualties in the first episode (and what is this, Blake’s 7? Why is he keeping count?)

VarianYou’ve decided against the swamp.
WillawayIt’s not my style.

The swamp-bound trio have little interesting to do. Fred and Varian set about curing the swampie leader, afflicted with a bacterial disease, bearing all the hallmarks of malaria. Calling on their medicinal skills becomes something of a series trope; what else are they going to do with Fred (actually, the arrival of Willaway enables the writers to mine a rich stream of mistrusting dialogue aimed at the rebel doctor). Eventually they visit Willaway, who fobs them off that Liana has departed. But they return, demanding her return (Varian can sense Willaway is lying).

Make Roddy a Regular or don't Make Roddy a regular? A no-brainer.

WillawayWhy would you possibly want me to travel with you?
VarianYou’re alone. And you never would have killed us.

The news of the Jonathan Willaway Award perks up the rebel scientist. Varian tells him that it is given annually in his time to scientists whose work is “distinguished most for its contribution to life, not death”. It’s scarcely credible of the Willaway we see here, that this posthumous memorial credited him with “creating a scientific ethic which became universal. One of the building blocks in achieving the kind of world that I knew”.

WillawayLiana, I hope you can forgive me. All I really wanted was some human companionship.
Liana: (impassive, then smiling) Oh, well I think we can give you that.

These half human/half aliens will forgive anything, I guess. Drugging, forced betrothals and death threats. Actually, scratch that; McDowall can get away with anything.

Beyond the Mountain is a run-of-the-mill oppressed culture episode, but it gets a considerable lift from Roddy McDowall. The references to Evoland will be commonplace from hereon in, and it has to be one of the hackiest science fiction names ever. I presume someone went with the first syllable of evo-lution after an unfruitful brainstorming session. It conjures images of Elmoland (or worse, Emoland).


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

What do you want me to do? Call America and tell them I changed my mind?

  Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) (SPOILERS) The demolition – at very least as a ratings/box office powerhouse – of the superhero genre now appears to be taking effect. If so, Martin Scorsese will at least be pleased. The studios that count – Disney and Warner Bros – are all aboard the woke train, such that past yardsticks like focus groups are spurned in favour of the forward momentum of agendas from above (so falling in step with the broader media initiative). The most obvious, some might say banal, evidence of this is the repurposing of established characters in race or gender terms.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you got yourself killed.

Bloodshot (2020) (SPOILERS) If the trailer for Bloodshot gave the impression it had some meagre potential, that’s probably because it revealed the entire plot of a movie clearly intended to unveil itself in measured and judicious fashion. It isn’t far from the halfway mark that the truth about the situation Vin Diesel’s Ray Garrison faces is revealed, which is about forty-one minutes later than in the trailer. More frustratingly, while themes of perception of reality, memory and identity are much-ploughed cinematic furrows, they’re evergreens if dealt with smartly. Bloodshot quickly squanders them. But then, this is, after all, a Vin Diesel vehicle.