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Land of the Lost 2.13 – Blackout

If the previous two episodes were horrifying because of their alien strangeness and lack of answers, then this one is a more conventional creepy, with a pretty epic battle against the Sleestak. They apparently figured that if a malfunction in a pylon earlier in the season would keep the sun from going down, then some deliberate sabotage would keep the sun from coming up. They had asked the Library of Skulls how to obtain “eternal night,” and the Skulls showed them precisely that. The Sleestak want it to be night to be able to hunt their moths – important for their eggs’ fertilization somehow – but the longer it’s dark, the colder it gets, killing all the moths.

This turned out to be Spencer Milligan’s last episode of the show, but he went out on a high note. It’s written by Dick Morgan and Donald F. Glut – and I’m pretty sure that everybody in the United States who was under the age of twelve in 1980 owned a copy of Glut’s Empire Strikes Back novelization, which was a whole lot better than Mel Cebulash’s Love Bug novelization – and directed by Bob Lally, who did an amazing job making those three Sleestak costumes look like dozens this time out. Turning down the studio lights to represent darkness worked pretty darn well, too.

So that was it! That was all the Land of the Lost they made. It was more than just a great show, it was absolutely the best of its genre, but it ended after thirty episodes, and that’s all there is of that, yes.

No. No, that’s not true at all. I’m lying. There’s more to come. I’m sorry. There’s more.

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Land of the Lost 2.12 – Split Personality

This episode is horrifying. It’s completely amazing and it’s completely horrifying. I can’t imagine anything like it being shown on kids’ TV today. We can make some pretty good guesses about what happened, but, like last week’s episode, we don’t get any kind of definitive answer. But this time, unlike “The Musician,” it’s not just the unknown alien nature of the situation that’s frightening, it’s the amazing acting job that Kathy Coleman pulls off.

What seems to happen – and this is the most obvious explanation, built on the assumption of decades of media fantasy and SF, but by no means the only one – is that another Marshall family in another universe met a horrifying accident. They attempted a way home just as an earthquake hit, a quake so powerful that, with a time doorway open, it merged their Land of the Lost with ours.

In the mid-1980s, there was a popular computer game called Wizardry, the only one of its genre I ever played. If you cast your teleportation spell wrong, then you and your party would be trapped in rock. I swear the game’s writers got that from this episode. See, the “other” Holly, fading in and out of our reality, begs them for help, using our Holly as an anchor to speak, and leave mixed memories. Our Holly explains that she’s inside the rocks, and the rocks are inside her. And then there’s that image. The merging of dimensions is so scrambled that their floor becomes our wall.

But between those two moments, there’s one of the most shocking scenes in the entire series. Our Holly won’t go in the cave, slowly panicking, tears running down her face as the other Holly’s memories fade. “I’m losing her, Daddy, I’m losing her…” The implication is obvious: the other Holly has died of her injuries. You might could read that another way – after all, the beauty of this episode is that we are not given specific answers – but I can’t, not with Coleman’s stunning acting. It’s a heartbreaking moment.

Daniel was so scared by this episode he refused to acknowledge liking anything about it except Grumpy falling into a crevasse when the earthquake hits. Just about anything can be forgiven when a tyrannosaurus falls in a hole, I guess. I didn’t get the chance to ask him what he thought about the other Holly trying to explain that they should not trust the black Sleestak.

It’s natural to want answers, and to think that maybe had Dick Morgan stayed with the show into the next season, we’d learn more about the Zarn (and have him meet Enik!), and the Builder, and the black Sleestak, but another part of me kind of enjoys how, like the Marshalls, we never got those answers. All we can do is speculate in the dark.

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Land of the Lost 2.8 – The Pylon Express

I remembered this one as a very fun episode, without anything that would shock our son too badly. Wrong!

It turns out that every few years, the moons will line up in a certain order several times over the course of a few nights, opening time doorways inside a locked, key-less pylon, and dumping things into the Land. Ta has taken advantage of this, and leads the Pakuni in a ritual dance as though he opens it. He also quickly realizes this is a chance to get rid of the humans and get all their stuff, too. Holly spends several worried hours with her brother and father missing before Ta agrees to “open” the door for her as well. They return right behind her and we see, from her perspective, the bizarre journey across time and space until she can get back as well.

This was Theodore Sturgeon’s only script for the series, although his associate Wina had written a season one episode under her professional name of Wina Sturgeon. Since the journey is a real tax on the show’s meager resources, even with a lot of cut corners, more than two-thirds of the episode is in the Land, with Holly trying to get the Pakuni to explain what happened, and where they got a shopping cart full of groceries. Daniel loved all this business, as well as the only dinosaur moment of the episode, when the baby allosaurus, Junior, stops by for some squeaks.

The trip is just kind of curious and odd. One of the stops is apparently ancient Altrusia, with a beautiful (drawn) depiction of the Lost City before the civilization crumbled, and Daniel said later that he really liked that. Then Holly gets a strange fellow passenger – the robot box shown above – and then we see an alternate version of the Land – it looks like they turned the greens of the jungle up to purple on the video desk, wild fringing and all – which has the words HOLLY DON’T written in the dirt. The robot box bounces out and is destroyed by an unseen force.

Then things fell apart. Holly only spends a few seconds on the next world, depicted by animation. It looks like a miles-long vacuum cleaner hose, emitting a horrible beeping noise, spots the pylon and investigates with a menacing red glare. Daniel was absolutely horrified. You can never tell! I didn’t think anything in this episode was all that troubling, but those ten seconds of animation, and Kathy Coleman’s shocked reaction to the cleaner robot, sold the scene as much scarier to kids than I remembered. He confessed later that he really liked this episode except for the giant robot vacuum. I assured him it wouldn’t return.

Suddenly it’s a shame that it didn’t…

Oh, yeah, and the words HOLLY DON’T…? Rick and Will didn’t write them. So who did? Hmmmmmm…

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Land of the Lost 2.7 – The Longest Day

Forty years on, and it remains absolutely astonishing that “The Longest Day” was broadcast on Saturday mornings with the rest of the television for children. This is the episode where Rick inhales a roomful of Sleestak smoke in order to have a telepathic conference with the Sleestak leader, and has to come down via a boatload of freaky hallucinations. In these, his children recede into the distance, they become cavemen, and Kathy Coleman briefly plays a young lass from the 1760s who will not be born “for two hundred years hence.” Will becomes a football player tackled by two ungainly fellows in green uniforms, and a weird swirly video effect makes a silent bargain with the human.

Joyce Perry’s script is obviously playing on a couple of archetype, folk notions. This story is effectively about climbing to the top of a mesa and ingesting your weight in peyote and mushrooms and communing with spirits in order to understand them and your enemies better. No, I’m somehow not surprised that something like this was made by Sid and Marty Krofft, but I am amazed that the snickering chuckleheads who insist that H.R. Pufnstuf stands for “Hand Rolled” aren’t watching this with their jaws on the floor, and I’m absolutely astonished that NBC broadcast it.

Naturally, this was unsettling and weird for Daniel; heck, it’s weird for everybody, but it’s really the visceral shocks of Sleestak jumping out from behind people in dark corridors that provided the real punches.

In an earlier entry, I mentioned that the Kroffts invested in some new sound effects and music and seem to have split the cost between this show and Far Out Space Nuts, which was made at the same time and shown on CBS. About half the aliens in that series spoke through some kind of vocoder or processor which must have sounded insanely weird in 1975, and in this episode, Walker Edmiston got to use it to play the disembodied voices of some of the ancestral skulls. We’ll be hearing more from them later.

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Land of the Lost 2.4 – One of Our Pylons is Missing

Here’s a great example of that wonderful phenomenon of “the memory cheats.” My recollection of this episode had been a completely amazing special effect sequence at the end, with the people and objects sucked down by the large red “power source” moving very believably, and much, much faster. Think of all the oddball objects spinning around at the end of the video for “And She Was” by Talking Heads. The reality is a little less impressive.

Bill Keenan’s script challenged the special effects team more than anything in the show before. We learn this time that in a clearing where there should be a pylon, there’s a “black hole” that occasionally opens and sucks things down below, where a glowing red ball of matter waits. It keeps everything it sucks in an orbit until it absorbs it, and then redistributes it into the Land as energy. The “floating in space while orbiting” effect is accomplished by having the actors sit awkwardly on a blue screen floor, the sort of oddball acting school exercise that was a long time in Spencer Milligan’s past.

Daniel was absolutely terrified by this episode, despite the absence of Grumpy, Spike, or Sleestak. “I just want to go wait in my room until this is over,” he whimpered, but he never did actually budge, just frozen in place waiting to see what would happen next.

Last time, we either had the Sleestak egg caves and nursery on Grumpy’s side of the chasm or the animators used the wrong dinosaur model. This time, they’re evidently exploring on Big Alice’s side, but they refer to the allosaurus model as “he” and the sound effects crew gives Alice the roar of Grumpy. Unless there is a male allosaurus on that side of the chasm as well…?

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Land of the Lost 2.2 – The Zarn

“It’s a… jingle man,” Daniel said, as the Zarn slowly made his way into the show with the sound of wind chimes. He found tonight’s episode curious as it unfolded, but was very quietly aggravated with the resolution. He didn’t like that “Sharon,” whom we thought was another stranded human from Indianapolis, turned out to be a robot sent by the Zarn to study the family. He didn’t like that at all, and quietly steamed, outraged on their behalf.

The Zarn is an incredibly interesting idea, realized with brilliant simplicity. The character is played by longtime Krofft puppeteer and actor Van Snowden, with the unmistakable baritone voice of Marvin Miller. Miller is arguably best known as the original voice of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, and starred for years in a hit 1950s series called The Millionaire. Later, the Kroffts would tap him to provide the breathless, ridiculous narration on Electra Woman & Dyna Girl. Snowden played the Zarn on a blue screen stage, wearing a blue body stocking dotted with white circles and rhinestones. Some years later, Peter Gabriel would wear a similar “suit of lights” in the video for “Sledgehammer,” which MTV played approximately three million times, allowing every viewer in the United States between the ages of 14 and 21 plenty of chances to shout “The Zarn!”

But it’s not just the new recurring character that debuts this week. If the previous episode felt like a gentle reminder of dinosaur fun, this time out, everything is thunderously new. The lighting is radically different, and there’s a whole new bank of sounds and musical cues. The Kroffts invested in a new score, with a low, urgent guitar and twinkling piano, which also appeared on their new series Far Out Space Nuts on CBS this season, but there’s also a new stock of strange, ambient music, and I use that term specifically because it reminds me of Fripp & Eno’s No Pussyfooting.

Brilliantly, there’s an entirely new set for the creepy, dark Mist Marsh where the Zarn’s ship is parked, and it’s established that it’s all below ground level. Rick and Will, mapping out the area, take shelter in the mist when Grumpy chases a wounded Spot in their direction, and that’s when they introduce the new score, when the actors are in a completely new and alien environment, dotted with weird, petrified trees and mist. Wesley Eure is completely convincing as Will just wants to get the heck away from there, and Spencer Milligan really gets a chance to shine this week as he befriends Sharon and just feels complete relaxation and relief having somebody about his own age to talk to.

I think that’s what aggravated Daniel so much about the story. Even knowing that something was strange about Sharon, Rick Marshall was happy for a little while, and the Zarn is an arrogant bully who stole it away. Milligan completely sells the situation, and it’s telling that he can only just walk away from it, hoping that he never has to cross paths with this other visitor ever again.


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Land of the Lost 1.17 – Circle

It may be intensely silly to complain about a continuity error in a story about a time paradox, but it’s always bothered me that the Marshalls discover that the Sleestak have a dormant season in this episode, when they already knew about it four shows earlier and they watched that season come to an end when the underground lava pit rises. Yet this is clearly intended to be the series finale; kids shows never had “final episodes” back in these days, and nor was it all that common for live-action kid shows, particularly the incredibly expensive Sid and Marty Krofft shows, to get a second season. So Larry Niven and David Gerrold seem to have crossed their various drafts, originally intending this to appear much earlier in the season, but they realized it would make a fine finale.

It’s a bit heady, but basically Enik discovers that there are two sets of Marshalls: one made it into the Land and the other is trapped in a time loop on Earth. Nobody can leave through a time doorway – another sign that this was intended for earlier in the season, because Beau Jackson did just that in the previous episode – until it is resolved. Enik can manipulate a doorway to bring the alternate Marshalls into the Land, but will not; such interference is against his people’s code. So Rick Marshall does it, bringing the other family in so that his family can leave. There’s a little more to it than that, but there’s the gist.

So Marshall Family # 1 experienced the Land up through the events of “Circle” (wherever it actually fits in the show’s chronology, probably around episode 12) and went home. Marshall Family # 2 experienced the same events, skipped “Circle,” and continued onward, probably popping from Beau Jackson and “Hurricane” to the next episode that we’ll watch. Confused yet?

Don’t worry; kids can understand it. Daniel loved this episode and bravely insisted that he wasn’t scared. That’s actually not completely true, because he whimpered through all the Sleestak bits, and when one popped up out of nowhere to grab Spencer Milligan from behind, he leapt about three feet with a shout.

Sadly, this was the end of Gerrold and Niven’s tenure on Land of the Lost, and with them went most of the pipeline to all the Star Trek writers. But even without Gerrold’s guiding hand, season two still has a heck of a lot of great material in it, including what’s by far my favorite episode of the series. Gerrold went on to focus on writing some very good novels, but has occasionally dabbled in television. In 1989, I wrote him a fan letter and he kindly replied, noting that he and some associates had almost got to make a Return to the Land of the Lost series a few years previously. It’s a shame that program, whatever they planned, never happened. I am absolutely certain that it would have been superior to season three of this show, and hundreds of miles better than that diseased 1990s remake.

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Land of the Lost 1.15 – Elsewhen

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?

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