The Fantastic Journey
3. Beyond the Mountain
The main attraction of the third episode is the star-powered entrance of soon-to-be travelling companion Roddy McDowall. McDowall’s an ever-charismatic and humorous performer, blessed with a likeable erudition and etiquette. It’s a shame that the plot that introduces him is at best ho-hum and at worst and embarrassment of clichés.
With some justification, McDowall’s Dr. Jonathan Willaway, a “rebel scientist from the 1960s” (1963 to be precise, and don’t you love that he’s a rebel scientist?) has been compared to Dr Smith in Lost in Space (“You dolt!”). Willaway is (at least here) the embodiment of fussy, cultured villainy. His behaviour is born out of egocentricity to the extent that you can just about buy into the idea that the group would welcome him at the end (well, maybe not Fred) but the turnabout does seem rather lurching (he threatens murder and forced marriage at one point). Far more compelling is the idea that they realised it might be fun to have Roddy McDowall hang out with them for a bit (because, really, that would be fun wouldn’t it?) His wily intelligence will frequently be the highlight of future episodes, as he butters up the bad guys and approaches problems laterally.
Willaway: If you ever mention the swamp to anyone ever again I will take you a-part.
Willaway’s unrepentant villainy is so appealingly cavalier that you end up rooting for him anyway. Particularly when the two groups he has oppressed are such an insipid lot.
Some rubbish green aliens (Farujians or Arujians?), who built the androids that Willaway now presides over, have been relegated to a nearby swamp. I say nearby, but director Irving J Moore has made no attempt to connect the (quite impressive) soundstage mire to the location shoot at the series’ latest appropriation of modern architecture. Scripter Harold Livingston appears to be beating the audience with an allegorical stick; Willaway has stolen the swampies’ (they are like a Mephistophelean version of the Swampies in Doctor Who’s The Power of Kroll, aired about sixteen months later) land and property. Willaway’s basically a more effete version of John Wayne in Red River. It’s a very loose analogy, however. The swampies are benign so it’s okay for them to have a robot slave force; it’s only a bad thing when Willaway takes charge. It isn’t clear why the swampies are suddenly rendered incapable once they’re evicted. Surely, they don’t suddenly become scientifically backward? But they seem stuck scrubbing about in a bog.
Willlaway: I find their company a great deal more pleasant than any I previously encountered.
Livingston may have overfilled his narrative pot, but the last thing it results in is thematic or structural complexity. He awards a nascent consciousness to his androids in the form of Cyrus (John David Carson), who develops a full-on robot chubby for Liana (well, who wouldn’t?) But he also muddles Willaway’s role. Is he the slave owner, or the traditional patriarch (to be obeyed unquestioningly)? When his “son” (as he has dubbed Cyrus) rebels, Willaway responds as any unyielding father would; he punishes him (instructs his reprogramming). And the situation with Liana has Oedipal undertones (not in the mother-marrying sense, but the father-usurping). Willaway is at least as threatened by Cyrus for his way with the ladies as for his undermining of the doctor’s authority. Being a family show it’s never clear if Willaway satisfies his needs with android companion Rachel (Marj Dusav), whom Liana initially (as do we) assumes is his wife. This isn’t surprising, as she says very wifey things about Jonathan; he is “a very strong-minded man” (the sort of comment that would lead you to expect bruises).
Willaway: Then you shall all die – together!
Livingston went on to receive a co-credit on the screenplay of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, another story of machine life gaining sentience. In that instance he does the very Trek thing of furnishing V’ger with godlike delusions. In this case, Cyrus’ act of self-sacrifice destroys the robot power source just as Willaway has ordered the travellers’ deaths. Either the swampies aren’t aware of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, or Willaway overwrote them. Cyrus death isn’t especially noble; he does it because Willaway “makes her unhappy” (and because he has the hots for her). The robotic tear he releases as he expires lays the point on so thickly that the scene turns into a fondue party.
The Cyrus/Liana plotline is leaden and predictable, and includes some really ripe dialogue (Liana makes Cyrus feel “good and happy”; being a robot these responses need to be explained to him). Willaway’s crushing dismissiveness of robot emotions is also very obvious, but at least McDowell adds relish to the delivery.
The worst aspect of the series tends to be the spelt out and simplistic moralising of the farewell scenes. The swampies end up in much the same place as the Atlanteans in the previous episode, rebuilding their society. They thank the travellers for the courage to become again what they once were (because the oppressed need a leg up from wiser folk?). Amusingly, they tell Willaway he is free to leave and add that he “may have the swamp if you desire it”.
Willaway: Society and I do seem to have our problems.
McDowall being McDowall, he turns audience sympathy round in an instant when the swampies banish him. It’s his turn to emit a tear, and it’s ironic that you care more for his predicament than the death of his “son”.
Varian: As you said, “I heard that”.
Oh dear, Varian’s attempt to “get down” with Fred by using hip-speak is rather unfortunate. Martin seems almost apologetic.
The travellers are separated almost immediately on arriving in this zone by a red cloud, with Liana ending up at Willaway’s villa and the others in the swamp. But not before reuniting with Sil-El. Yay! He’s one cute kitty. He proves impossible to keep a track of, so you have to assume he will show up again by the end of the any given episode. Which he doggedly does. With new recruit moggy on board, Varian comments “One more and we’ll be back to our original number”, conveniently forgetting the casualties in the first episode (and what is this, Blake’s 7? Why is he keeping count?)
Varian: You’ve decided against the swamp.
Willaway: It’s not my style.
The swamp-bound trio have little interesting to do. Fred and Varian set about curing the swampie leader, afflicted with a bacterial disease, bearing all the hallmarks of malaria. Calling on their medicinal skills becomes something of a series trope; what else are they going to do with Fred (actually, the arrival of Willaway enables the writers to mine a rich stream of mistrusting dialogue aimed at the rebel doctor). Eventually they visit Willaway, who fobs them off that Liana has departed. But they return, demanding her return (Varian can sense Willaway is lying).
Willaway: Why would you possibly want me to travel with you?
Varian: You’re alone. And you never would have killed us.
The news of the Jonathan Willaway Award perks up the rebel scientist. Varian tells him that it is given annually in his time to scientists whose work is “distinguished most for its contribution to life, not death”. It’s scarcely credible of the Willaway we see here, that this posthumous memorial credited him with “creating a scientific ethic which became universal. One of the building blocks in achieving the kind of world that I knew”.
Willaway: Liana, I hope you can forgive me. All I really wanted was some human companionship.
Liana: (impassive, then smiling) Oh, well I think we can give you that.
These half human/half aliens will forgive anything, I guess. Drugging, forced betrothals and death threats. Actually, scratch that; McDowall can get away with anything.
Beyond the Mountain is a run-of-the-mill oppressed culture episode, but it gets a considerable lift from Roddy McDowall. The references to Evoland will be commonplace from hereon in, and it has to be one of the hackiest science fiction names ever. I presume someone went with the first syllable of evo-lution after an unfruitful brainstorming session. It conjures images of Elmoland (or worse, Emoland).