The Fantastic Journey
As I noted of Vortex, there’s a positive side to the reworking of the cast and the focus of the series. The random results places the viewer in a position where they can’t be sure what will happen next. This would be a problem if the series had plunged fully into incoherence, but Atlantium just about keeps a grip on the need to retcon its cast. As a result, it provides a clearer template of what’s to come.
Varian: Do you think he would have gone if he didn’t think you were strong enough to handle this, and understand his reasons?
Well, put it like that and no I don’t. However you cut it, the departure of Scott’s father in the Atlantis Transfer Generator makes him like a monstrous cock. Which is why I tend towards the more twisted explanation that the return to home by the trio was a big fat lie. Perhaps Paul was forced to write the note before being atomised? Or perhaps, being more advanced than Varian, they can fake whatever they need to for him to pick up Paul’s aura from the message (before Varian confirms it is genuine, Scott says, “I bet he didn’t even write it”). Either way, the thought that Scott is blithely wandering Evoland assuming he will one day meet up with Dad again, when he, Jill and Eve have actually been terminated, tickles me.
The Pool of Mirrors sequence(s) was surely included as a direct consequence of the unlikely departure scenario; if Scott can see his Dad back home, that will make it all alright. And it does, it seems; Varian gets to see his home too, his father’s lands at summer solstice, so either the Pool extracts what you want to see from your mind or its telling the truth. I know, I know, I’m clutching at straws wanting Paul to have been “rid of”. Curiously, no one seems to care about Fred seeing anyone he misses; it’s not much of an episode for Fred, who has enough problems with politics in his own time, dig it? Later, we learn of a Hall of Dreams, which Scott is directed to. His psychedelic trip-out appears genuine (crazy-coloured surfing!), although it is clearly used as a front to lure him to the Source.
Scott takes it all remarkably well after his initial, understandable, disbelief (“I just know dad couldn’t have left me”). It’s okay, because Varian’s there to be an instant surrogate. Kids in this sort of show tend to grate. Other culprits include Walt in Lost (“Waaaaaaalt!”) and Wesley Crusher in The Next Generation. Scott’s a little on the wet side, but that’s preferable to making him a little tyke who acts up each week. Eisenmann plays him with more depth than the character probably deserves. Scott is never less than sincere and utterly guileless, and readily accepts the family dynamic his companions represent (they even have a pet!)
The attention the Source directs at Scott highlights the habitual nature of the series’ plotting from now on in. A nefarious force will set upon a different member of the group by (well, except Fred). On a couple of occasions, including this one, it allows for some possessed acting. This is usually a good way of creating an unsettling effect, and this is no exception. The voice of the Source comes from fake Scott’s mouth when he leads Varian and Fred to the Pool for a second time. Fake Scott’s cheerful “Oh, I sure will!” in the previous scene, as he is instructed to terminate his friends, is similarly effective.
Varian, who’s a very clued up dude, helpfully sets his companions straight on the history of Atlantis. We might normally expect the Atlanteans themselves to do this (or whichever society they are visiting this week). Patrick Duffy was starring in the short-lived Man from Atlantis simultaneously, so there was definitely something in the air.
Varian: By my time we’d uncovered proof, that Atlantis did exist.
Scott: Yeah, but look at all of this. How come, if they lived so long ago, they’ve got all this futuristic stuff that we’ve no longer heard about.
Varian: They were, and they are, a race far in advance of even my own time. They had atomic power, and lasers. They were masters of the World, as it existed then. And it was a far different world.
Scott: What do you mean?
Varian: Well, in their day there was a landmass between what we call North America and Asia. And the whole planet was different, the continents and the oceans. If you’d seen a map of the World in their time, you wouldn’t have known what you were looking at.
Scott: Well, what happened?
Varian: When they were destroyed, the forces were so powerful it reshaped the Earth into what it is now.
This account of a technologically advanced pre-history sounds like it owes much to Edgar Cayce. There’s no reference to the Law of One, and the Giant Brain Sponge certainly didn’t appear in his readings. But aspects such as lasers and telepathy (even if it’s Liana and her cat) seem to have been carried over from his material. Writer Katharyn Powers stops short of blaming the destruction of Atlantis on the Atlanteans themselves. But the society we see here, which has lost touch with its better instincts, is resonant of the fall of Atlantis (although, it sounds as if it was a nice enough place until the Source took over).
It’s unclear at what point Varian considers Atlantis to have been destroyed, but he picks on Atlantium as being a civilisation in its prime (optimistic!) 30,000 years ago (which ties in with Cayce). Visualising ancient Atlantis as something akin to ’70s Californian mall-culture is perhaps inevitable and goes some way to diluting the myth-building.
Varian: In my time there was speculation about extra-terrestrial visitation. We called them, “The Chariots of the Gods”.
Why people in the 23rd century would be using a twentieth-century expression is unclear. Varian’s spider sense doesn’t tingle nearly enough given what’s in store for Scott, nor Atlantium’s rotten underbelly, so it’s up to a half-alien to show him the truth. Varian’s abilities only ever work according to the expediencies of plot, it seems. Dangerous situations wouldn’t arise nearly as regularly if he were consistently prescient.
His reticence over becoming involved in the plight of Atlantium suggests his future has its own version of the Prime Directive, as well as being pacifist. As with Star Trek, such attitudes are always viewed as being all very well until push comes to shove and action is required (interventionism is the American way). Varian uses his tuning fork more like a gun in this episode (thus his pose is akin to the use of the sonic screwdriver in nu-Doctor Who, or the Liberator wand guns in Blake’s 7).
The plot involving the rallying of the Unders (the servile force, Morlocks if you like) against the Giant Brain Sponge and his Atlanteans (Eloi) is very familiar. But Liana (Katie Saylor), the leader of this rebellion, spices things up. She is helped by a fellow Atlantean, IL-tar (Albert Stratton). Oh, and Liana’s super-psychic cat (Sil-El). The duo doesn’t seem terribly effective at rousing the Unders from their subservience, however.
Liana: If your mother had also come from another star, where the gravity was greater than that of Earth you too would seem strong besides those around you.
Liana is “the daughter of an Atlantean father and an extra-terrestrial mother“. Yes, her heritage is a bit garbled, not to mention the clumsy exposition she’s required to feed IL-tar (who surely knows it all anyway). Her father is Atlantean but she misses her home planet? Did he visit her home, marry and then bring Liana and her mother back? It seems not. She says each night as a child she would see her mother’s land (presumably as in, on her homestead, rather than through the Pool of Mirrors) and tells Varian she was a little girl when she came through to Atlantium. Was this through some mishap? IL-tar found her and took care of her. Someone hasn’t bothered to think this through. Besides being able to talk to her cat, she can psychically render antagonists unconscious by gripping their temples (a bit of a Spock thing going on there).
Fred: You are some handy lady.
Saylor is fabulously perky, and her Star Trek-style miniskirt ensures that much of her contribution is focused on her legs. It’s not necessarily easy to give a strong performance when taking on a measured, future-person cadence. All to easily the actor can come across as a bit wooden, but Saylor never fails to impress.
The background to the Source is fairly routine; it was once a man of great intellect, who stood above the crowd and was responsible for all their accomplishments (wait, so this isn’t typical technology of Atlantis we’re seeing? Perhaps his major contribution was architecture, and the rest of Atlantis lived in more exotic abodes)? Certainly, style isn’t the Source’s strong point. The Atlantean guards are armed with transparent plastic sticks (another design similarity to Blake’s 7; they resemble those used by the System in the episode Redemption). They also use communication devices that look as if they have mobile phone-type designer skins.
Everyone surrendered their will to the Source, and so they prospered. He discovered immortality and continued to rule “through cerebral forces”. While that sounds all well and good, it doesn’t make enormous sense that, if he now needs now needs an outsider to draw energy infusions from, he should later drain Rhea, Atar and Dar-L.
The expanding Giant Brain Sponge at the climax gradually takes on the aspect of a quivering blancmange, but the goodwill factor of featuring a brain in a jar should not be underestimated. As I mentioned under Vortex, a brain creature presiding over a society that only appears to be utopian is the subject of the William Hartnell Doctor Who episode The Velvet Web (that’s web, not fog). The Source isn’t in the pantheon of brain creatures, as the eyes stalks on a brain body of The Keys of Marinus are much more visually arresting. Still, you can count me as easily pleased.
I’m also easily satisfied by tales of Atlantis, so for all its faults this episode’s a winner for me. Sadly, it looks like crazy cat Sil-El will be left in Atlantium when Liana joins the travellers at the conclusion. So I was enormously pleased that Mr. Kitty devotedly follows them through to the next zone, and thus becomes a permanent member of the group.