If I cared more for American TV sci-fi of this period – I generally don’t at all – then this blog would probably see an awful lot of D.C. Fontana’s work. Yet another veteran of Star Trek, both the original show and the cartoon, to be brought on board by David Gerrold, she would go on to write for several later Trek shows and its competition / descendants / peers / ripoffs / what have you, almost none of which I’ve ever seen and have barely heard of. I’ll tell you this, though: “Elsewhen” is so darn wonderful that I’m tempted to track down what Fontana came up with in her scripts for gobbledygook like Automan and Babylon 5.
I remembered this one having the promise of being particularly rough for Daniel, and boy, was I ever right. The entire thing is set inside the Lost City, with the Marshalls stubbornly deciding to risk the Sleestak in order to fiddle with Enik’s time doorway, and then they go looking into a weird hole in the wall of a deep chasm. While they’re exploring, a strange woman named Rani, played by Erica Hagen, comes through to give Holly a pep talk and a word or two of predestination. Inevitably, for people used to television’s later embrace of timey-wimey business like this, Rani is revealed to be Holly’s future self, but for a kid’s show in 1974 this was mind-blowing.
(And I obviously reference Doctor Who in that sentence, but heck, Daniel’s familiar enough with the concept from a favorite Spongebob Squarepants that sees dozens of Mermaid Men and Barnacle Boys from different points in their history all showing up. Children’s television, across the board, may be infinitely safer and less frightening than it was forty years ago, but it also assumes a lot more intelligence of its audience.)
But yes, the Lost City is very much marked out in Daniel’s understanding as A Bad Place, and it was a little bittersweet watching him hum and sing along with the theme music, ready and hoping for more dinosaur fun, knowing that the entire episode was going to be one darkly-lit underground nightmare with Sleestak. He didn’t like this one much at all. I had to promise him the next episode is nowhere as terrifying.
Notably, though, apart from the time doorway business, this one also features that astonishingly, thunderously strange and powerful image of the sun rising while Holly is in the hole, holding on to the rope, to see that, thanks to the Land being a closed universe, she has emerged… well, it’s unclear. The obvious answer is that she’s gone down so far that she’s come back out the top and is holding on while the distant mountains rise upside down beneath her, but that doesn’t explain why the sun would rise when it was already daylight. There were two pylon keys mounted into the walls on the climb down to the hole. Was this a doorway to a parallel universe? A time doorway to an earlier, or later point in the Land? Is that upside-down landscape the ancient Altrusia of Enik’s time?