Tag Archives: tom swale

Space Academy 1.4 – Countdown

After the last episode of this show, which was so painfully stupid, my enthusiasm had ebbed. But then I saw that Tom Swale, who wrote three really good episodes of Land of the Lost, was credited with this script and sat up straight. While not on the crazy high level of those three gems, it’s still very good, by leagues the best of this show so far.

This time out, Laura, Chris, Tee Gar, and Loki are assigned junk duty and fly out to blast some debris from a two hundred year-old war between Earth and a rogue colony, Vega, that has drifted into the academy’s orbit. Among the junk is a large, sealed section of an old warship with a cryogenically-frozen Vegan. He’s played by George DiCenzo, who had recently starred as Vincent Bugliosi in the TV adaptation of Helter Skelter and would go on to do many hours of voiceover work for Filmation’s cartoons.

The story is a really interesting one. The Vegan has the power to immobilize his enemies with a touch, and he doesn’t believe the war ended with peace centuries ago. Complicating matters, a mine has attached itself to the Seeker’s hull. So there’s a lot going on, and even if the script doesn’t do anything too unexpected or weird, it’s a sold half hour that kept our son very curious and occasionally worried, and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t insult the grownups’ intelligence,

Well… I say that, but part of this show’s arsenal of tricks is that people can survive in the vacuum of space with just a little wristband. I guess we’re meant to pretend that it creates an invisible force field that works like a pressure suit around them? I realize the budget of this show was very tight and they spent a lot more money than any previous Filmation production, but they really should have shelled out for a couple of spacesuits. This is meant to be somewhat educational!

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Land of the Lost 3.10 – Timestop

From the ridiculous to the (almost) sublime, “Timestop” is by leagues the best episode of Land of the Lost‘s third season, and it’s probably not coincidental that it’s the only one of the thirteen to have any writing or directing input from somebody who worked on the show’s first two years. Tom Swale had been a “production coordinator” – I’m honestly not sure what that entails – on season one and moved up to associate producer on season two, where he contributed two excellent stories.

“Timestop” is almost as good. I think it’s one draft away from being ideal. It really should have written out Enik, which, to be completely fair, isn’t the sort of thing that kids’ shows did forty years ago, but it missed a great opportunity by way of a big plot hole. The story concerns an old Altrusian “temporal regulator” that Will and Holly find. Enik wants it to return home, but they find themselves at cross-purposes. Things get worse when Torchy, the fire-breathing dimetrodon, chases Cha-Ka out onto a geyser bed and – get this – sinks to its death beneath the soft mud. I clearly remember this blowing my mind as a kid, and today, my son also gave this a solid, eyes-popped-out “whoa.”

But Cha-Ka is now stranded next to the geyser on a small patch of rock, and will also be killed when the geyser next erupts. Enik explains to Jack that anybody inside the pylon that the temporal regulator controls will be unaffected by reversing the flow of time, and they agree to a deal: Jack reverses time to save Cha-Ka, and then Enik opens a separate door to reverse his own timestream and go home, but then Enik idiotically steps outside and lets Jack get on with it, meaning he gets reversed as well, while Cha-Ka and Torchy get saved. As errors go, that was a massive one. Why in heaven would he do that?

In a perfect world, this should have been the season finale, writing out Walker Edmiston’s character, and giving the Marshalls a heroic finale, sacrificing their opportunity to leave to save both Cha-Ka and Enik. Since the series was not going to get renewed – more on that in a couple of weeks, although, since all thirteen episodes were probably taped before the first one aired, they couldn’t have known that – it would have served as the best possible series conclusion from the shows available.

So on the one hand, I can’t help but grumble about the missed opportunity, but “Timestop” is nevertheless a really good half hour. It brings back that sense of exploration and discovery that has been badly lacking this year – to its credit, the next episode also has a bit of it, though nowhere as good – and plays with science fiction elements with more success than any other installment this year. The sense of danger is massively ramped up, and the split-second error where Jack accidentally moves time forward, almost killing Cha-Ka with the geyser’s eruption, gave Daniel a sudden and genuine scare. When the episode concludes with another dead end – the resurrected Torchy blasts the pylon with enough heat to fuse its key in place, keeping anybody from entering it to use the temporal regulator – it’s downright heartbreaking.

But honestly, what’s really heartbreaking is knowing that Land of the Lost was once this good every week.

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Land of the Lost 2.11 – The Musician

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.

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Land of the Lost 2.5 – The Test

Big Alice always plays second fiddle to Grumpy when people remember Land of the Lost, but I always liked her best. I love how she always brings her head really low. The animation in the show is dated, but the crew put so much personality into those models. And make no mistake: she is absolutely convincing and utterly horrifying to kid viewers. Daniel was buried under a blanket for most of this installment, occasionally bellowing “I don’t want to watch this show of Land of the Lost!”

But he stuck with it, and was rewarded with the stop-motion team’s other great triumph. Tom Swale’s script – his first of three, all of which are very, very good – involves Cha-Ka being instructed to steal an allosaurus egg as part of the Pakuni rite of manhood, and if you don’t predict that the egg is going to hatch, you must be new to this kind of story. The baby allosaur, who is quickly named Junior, is the cutest thing in the entire universe, and communicates in an obnoxious but somehow charming squeak. Somewhere in TV Heaven, Junior is hanging out with the Clangers, squeaking and whistling at each other.

The story really shines from the direction. Like “Tag Team” in season one, this is a very simple story without a lot to it, and so Bob Lally has to build remarkable tension with the characters in mortal danger from the special effects, relying on music and pacing to make it all work. The first commercial break comes with Cha-Ka in the foreground struggling with the egg, unaware that Big Alice, on the other side of the Lost City’s plaza, has caught sight of him, has lowered her head, and, deep in the background of the shot, is slowly walking toward the camera. There’s no WOW! shot, no musical sting, and no need for pizzazz. It’s quiet and subtle and it worked astonishingly well; our son was scared out of his wits by it.

On the side of the plaza where Cha-Ka is fumbling with the egg, we get our first glimpse of a strange, ruined building that the Marshalls have not visited before. I can’t tell you how much I love the way the writers just planted all these seeds to revisit in later stories. Not even the prime-time dramas on American TV in the ’70s were so willing to develop long continuity like this. This was so ahead of its time.

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