Well, here’s a pleasant surprise. This episode is markedly better than I remembered it. I’d place it in that top tier with “After-Shock,” “Cornered,” and “Timestop.” Weirdly, this is another one of the better episodes of year three that ends with Wesley Eure lip-synching one of his bubblegum songs. You’d think that sort of thing would lower the installment a notch or two, but no, it’s really not bad, and better than the average.
I love that it just dumps more information and half-explained material into the story, including a new area that they’ve never visited. Most unusually, the episode opens with the Marshalls being pursued by some unseen tree-climbing creatures that are throwing things at them. These beasts, whatever they are, are never mentioned again.
The ancient guardian of the title is a statue with a heat ray inside. It has been protecting the valley from an incredibly long-lived hairy beast called Kona for many, many years by keeping the rocks and air in the only passage from a high mountain area super-heated.
It’s clunky, and during one dopey moment where Jack concludes that some algebraic equations on the statue have to do with optics, obnoxiously so. It’s directed with absolutely no grace or style by Joe Scanlan, who has to once again lower the Sleestaks’ threat level by having them flee, awkwardly, in terror from Kona rather than fighting to the death. It’s written by Peter Germano, and 90% of his resume prior to this was westerns and not SF, but somehow it all just about works, and there’s a sense of weirdness and urgency that raises the episode above the low average for the season.
Incidentally, some money was clearly saved this week by having the Tapa costume from “Abominable Snowman” dyed and sent back for a different actor to wear. Last time, Jon Locke, who normally played the bombastic Sleestak Leader, wore the suit, but this time, Locke has to appear in some of the same scenes as the beast, so Mickey Morton plays Kona. Morton, who was a really big guy, would later play Solomon Grundy in Legends of the Superheroes and one of Chewbacca’s relatives in The Star Wars Holiday Special. He’d earlier worked for the Kroffts on two episodes of Far Out Space Nuts, and in a Wonderbug installment that was probably made within a month or so of this. The first commercial break came with the hairy monster casting a shadow on the Marshalls’ temple door, which gave Daniel a solid little fright. He really enjoyed this episode, especially since both Grumpy and Spike put in brief appearances.