We’re all embarrassed by our earlier writing, but if you really want to see me cringe, get yourself a copy of Hal Erickson’s Sid and Marty Krofft: A Critical Study of Saturday Morning Childrens Television, 1969-1993 and turn to the bit where I’m quoted going way, way over the top in my praise for this episode. The hyperbole in that section aside – you can kind of tell I’d been reading and rereading those Classic British TV books by Paul Cornell, Keith Topping, and Martin Day – I stand by it. This is my favorite episode of Land of the Lost, and there’s never been another half hour of children’s adventure TV produced for this country that I enjoy more.
Why does this work so well? I think it’s because it’s the perfect example of slowly exploring the very, very alien world around them without any answers. So much of what the Marshalls experience does not come with a satisfactory explanation. Perhaps, had the writers Dick Morgan and Tom Swale continued into season three, they may have circled back to this new temple and the technology and promise here, as well as the interesting hints about alternate universes and different Sleestak to come in the next installment, but this introduction is all that we get, and it’s tantalizing, thrilling, and very, very frightening.
The arrival of a strange red being, and the ghostly voices of the Pakuni whistling in the wind, are completely alien. I was mistaken in thinking that Daniel would be frightened by the previous episode, but the sad, quiet, desperate energy of this installment’s third act was every bit as scary as I imagined it would be to him. He was curled up in his mommy’s lap, whispering “I want to wait in my room until this show is over.”
I just love the direction of the scene in which Will asks the red being, the Builder, to leave them alone, that they’re returning the ring that they unwittingly took from the temple. Wesley Eure keeps his voice low but his eyes wide with fear. There’s no music, just a pulsing, ambient noise coming from the being. Sure, grown-ups won’t be frightened by this, but how can kids help but be alarmed when they don’t even know what the red man is or what he / it wants?
Everything about this episode is just terrific; everybody involved was clearly working very, very hard to make the whole experience completely immersive and believable. The animators did one of their best jobs ever with Big Alice and Junior, the director lined up every single shot perfectly, the designers of this temple had a field day making it real, and the final scene’s revelation that Cha-Ka’s selflessness and bravery has paid off in a very unexpected way is simple, effective, and downright magical. I love this episode to pieces.