Skip to main content

You could crush them like bugs.


The Fantastic Journey
5. A Dream of Conquest

A Dream of Conquestis yet another episode where a corrupt leader needs tasking. Special guest star John Saxon warmongers while a hideous furry pig dwarf is filled with hideous furry pig love for Sil-El. McDowall appears to have fully supplanted his co-stars, as yet again he takes advantage of the episode’s juiciest material. It’s a good thing too, as there’s little nourishment elsewhere.

Willaway: It never seems to change. Not even here.

This time, the society encountered is from another planet (Matteran?) Consul Tarrant (Saxon) is planning to lead an army to victory over other zones (hence the title). He rules in place of the natural leader Luther (Robert Patten), who has been stricken with a seemingly terminal illness (we later learn that this was Tarrant’s doing, as was poisoned en route to Earth).

Little effort is made to flesh out this colony; presumably they are peaceable enough in their natural state, but the divide between the militaristic Tarrant and the approach of Luther is uncertain. It’s doubtful the army suddenly came into existence under Tarrant’s watch. And everyone seems to consider the hideous furry pig man to be a mindless animal, so there’s hardly a surfeit of enlightenment outside of Tarrant’s circle.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tarrant is courteous to the travellers (we’ll see this again in Turnabout), and instructs that they should be escorted to the boundaries of the next time zone. But, before this can happen, he has to reluctantly allow Fred and Varian to take a look at Luther (“And their fees are very reasonable”, jokes Willaway).

Yes, it's the hideous furry pig dwarf. 
Fortunately, he doesn't become a travelling companion.

Meanwhile, Liana telepathically communicates with the hideous furry pig dwarf (a Neffring). Willaway, always surprising in his motivations, attempts to inveigle himself with Saxon. The reason he does this? A sexy lady (Lenore Stevens; she doesn’t appear to be Luther’s wife, maybe just his crumpet) is saddened by the war plans but knows there is only a chance of stopping Tarrant if the secret location of the army is discovered (yes, it’s all rather thin). Willaway, the charmer, says he will get the information but on the condition that, “… would you promise never to frown again?

Willaway: Best we had was a bomb, based on a thermo-nuclear principle.

Willaway playing Tarrant’s stooge is a lot of fun. It gives him a chance to show off his knowledge and simultaneously piss of Tarrant’s Number Two, Argon (Morgan Paull), as he appeals to Tarrant’s vanity.  McDowall has a run of humorous dialogue. “I don’t like to take the full credit”, he comments of the creation of the atomic bomb. He also dismisses his friends with “Oh, they are an idealistic group”. And he and old pro Saxon play off each other enjoyably; they’re complementary opposites in demeanour, so every scene featuring the pair is lively.

Didn't we see these guns last week?

The problem is, Saxon is stuck working with a wafer-thin character. Tarrant is bad because he is bad. He wants to wage war because that’s the kind of thing he does. This is the kind of society that only exists on the page during the day the travellers visit it; no one has given it much thought.

Fred's playing doctor. Again.

Scripter Michael Michaelian is credited for the rewrites of Vortex. He would also pen the far superior Funhouse. Other credits include Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Martin-starring War of the Worlds. Aside from the Willaway element, and Saxon’s performance, this is a disappointing piece. Yet another episode where Fred and Varian are stuck practicing medicine, and a convoluted secret that needs to be revealed (I’m still not that clear why Tarrant needs to keep his army’s location a secret, given that power resides with him).

Varian: Willaway, was I mistaken about you?

Inevitably, the doctor’s plan falls apart when his friends inadvertently expose his game. His conspiring has not gone unnoticed, and the discussions of Willaway’s motivation provide the most continuity with previous episodes (Willaway also talks about the zones visited in the series, perhaps unwisely, informing Tarrant that they represent no threat). Fred refers to him as a “turkey”. Varian’s infallible abilities seem progressively on the blink as the series progresses (perhaps his less evolved chums are contaminating him? I’ve read that NBC got cold feet over his Jesus-like healing powers so faded them out). You have to groan as he and Fred slowly come to the conclusion that Willaway has been working undercover.


WillawayYou could crush them like bugs.

There’s a scene where cruel tyrant Tarrant uses the hideous furry pig dwarf for target practice. Evidently, it’s designed to elicit our sympathy for the beastie. But this grunting little booger is more of an irritant than a cute Ewok type. He’s just the sort of cheap creature design work you expect to see in a ‘70s series, where the producers know that aliens get the kids watching but are faintly embarrassed that they have to go there. 


Jared Martin was unbeatable at the 100-yard dash.

Still, on the plus side the sequence establishes that Katie Saylor runs very well.

Fred: I cannot imagine Willaway as 007, superspy.

Naturally, all is okay come the end. Despite the series’ overt moralising, it seems that it is acceptable for the hideous furry pig dwarf to exact (underwhelming) mortal revenge on Tarrant. Hooray! One also gets the impression the Neffring would get a little too intimate with Sil-El, given half the chance. Fred cures Luther of his leukaemia-like condition with a blood transfusion. Hooray! Acceptable order is restored.

A totalitarian regime, or just misunderstood?

Willaway: Ah, the generals. They are numerous but not good for much.

At least Willaway furnishes the week’s moral in a classical context, quoting Aristophanes’ The Acharnians. It slightly makes up for the general lack of sophistication throughout. As for Sil-El, I’m a huge fan (and of his owner); he has a good showing, better than most of his companions Unfortunately the poor pussy is frequently mauled by the hideous furry pig dwarf.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

So, crank open that hatch. Breathe some fresh air. Go. Live your life.

Love and Monsters (2020) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.