The Fantastic Journey
10. The Innocent Prey
The unjust end. Cut off before it even found its sea legs. It may be no coincidence that many of the series making the strongest impression on my young mind were lucky to last a season; Manimal, The Gemini Man, Automan, Otherworld, The Man from Atlantis, Tales of the Golden Monkey. They all had imaginative premises, not exactly the bread and butter of network TV. It also makes it look like the BBC (and ITV) were mad keen on picking losers.
Rayat: Would you do me the honour of looking after the puppies?
I think the reason The Fantastic Journey made such a lasting impression, the nightmarish Riddles aside, was its scope, and the potential of the mythic unknown. The series barely acknowledged the Bermuda Triangle after depositing its travellers there but the possibilities inherent in forgotten, hidden realms do a crucial amount of heavy lifting in ensuring its appeal. It doesn’t matter too much that the quality of the TV or films exploring such concepts tends to be variable at best. From Journey to The Land that Time Forgot, to The Lost Islands.
Journey certainly has little going for it aesthetically. This is not a “designed” series the way that Star Trek is; visually it’s non-descript and quite tatty, the kind of show you expect to be filled with cast-offs from other productions.
But there are also the key figures of Roddy McDowall and Jared Martin. The former would cement his instant likability in Golden Monkey a few years later (but McDowall was so ubiquitous there probably wasn’t a time I didn’t know of him) while Martin got an instant free pass on the basis of his thoughtful heroics here.
Varian: Jonathan, I’m sure that Rayat is able to manage his land by himself and we should not advise him.
For a premature demise, The Innocent Prey isn’t a bad place to bow out; it’s in my top four episodes on the strength of the series’ most impressive guest cast and a plot that, while not especially original, succeeds in working on several key levels. It’s dramatically coherent, the characters are clearly motivated, it’s (just about) internally consistent and, most of all, it’s thematically satisfying. It has probably the best resolution of any episode in the series. And, yet again, it promotes peaceful ends even when the antagonists use violent means. This is a show that never (didn’t get a chance to) fell into Star Trek’s “We come in peace… Shoot to kill” rhythms.
That said, it’s not all plain sailing. Robert Hamilton has nary a science fiction or fantasy credit to his name outside this episode, and the lack of conceptual sophistication shows. Star Trek Director Vincent McEveety previously worked on A Dream of Conquest, and this episode shares some of the same lumpiness of an ill-thought-out society. The old science-fiction plot of a pacifist society (well, barely 25 bodies is hardly a society…) preyed upon by those with no such tendencies is the bedrock. Yet Rayat (Lew Ayres) is ultimately shown to be consistent, and not misguided, in his beliefs. The twist is that the travellers do not end up extolling that violence is the only answer; turning the other cheek actually seems to work.
Rayat: Even I do not understand it.
Nevertheless, the Orb is a typically elusive artefact central to an unexplained group. It represents the order and peace of Rayat’s small colony. Magical MacGuffins are rife in the series; they motivate the story but precious little time is spent integrating them coherently. Previously, we have seen the likes of super computers (Turnabout), magic stones (Riddles) and love darts (An Act of Love). We are told outright that “It is a mystery” and “No one controls the Orb”. It’s all very convenient for the writer. “Everything here is so totally in tune.” There’s perhaps a sense of the recognition of the ’60s hippy ideal (Rayat and his people) butting up against the grim meat hook realities of the post-Manson ’70s (Richard Jaeckal’s murderous York). Rayat’s utopian society is no longer an aspirational one. Rather, it is out of reach of the rest of us. It is even beyond Varian, who began the series as the most advanced, peace-loving dude you could contemplate.
Rayat: These terms are strange to me. What are doors?
Hamilton can’t resist over-stoking the furnace, though. We discover that Rayat is so engorged with hippy superlove that he’s never even heard of a door. Surely, he could have thought up a better metaphor for foreign concepts like thievery and general negative intent? On a basic common-sense level, most societies are likely to invent doors in order to retain heat when they go in and out of their shelters. Or when they’re flying their ships in the vacuum of space they presumably don’t want to be sucked out (this bunch must have reached Earth somehow; did they travel in a self-sealing bag?)
Willaway: Sir, haven’t you ever heard of a lie?
Only Roddy McDowall could make a line like that fly. Ayres lends Rayat an earnest beneficence that just about forgives his sillier remarks. Although, perhaps it’s just an act; the first thing he does when the travellers arrive is butter up Scott by letting him look after his puppies.
Also playing uber-hippies are Jim Poyner (Roland) and lovely Cheryl Ladd (Natica). Ladd was about to find stardom as Kris Monroe in Charlie’s Angels. Here, she seems like the perfect embodiment of the naïve flower child, so playfully innocent that she turns strawberries into diamonds as a party trick. And, in the absence of Katie Taylor, Ladd provides the episode with a much-needed totty quotient.
Rayat: But one man to take another man’s life? It’s monstrous.
The balance of the good vibrations Rayat and his community are leaking everywhere is provided by the episode’s villains. Usually the show would find them as a splinter faction within an otherwise jolly colony. But structurally, The Innocent Prey is quite atypical.
It starts off like an episode of U.F.O., as we see a flying saucer en route to Cape Canaveral. That’s right, in the future the US government flies UFOs for all to see. I was a little surprised by this, on first sight. If the reason for the model sequence is rather prosaic (stock footage from The Invaders) the effect is to imply that the UFO phenomenon is somehow linked to NASA and the government. So it was all a conspiracy! And then we’re thrown another unexpected plot development. Shuttle 467 (which inevitably is pulled into the Devil’s Triangle) is carrying prisoners (a routine flight to Chicago). It’s an appealingly mundane function for a futuristic vessel.
Tye: What good are they (diamonds) to you in the jungle?
There are two prisoners; psycho York (Jaeckal) and well-meaning thief Tye (Nicholas Hammond). Jaeckal is instantly recognisable, forever cast as the heavy in films and TV (he appeared in The Dirty Dozen, but his final role was as a friendly regular on Baywatch).
Like Ladd, Hammond found fame a year or so later. Both took roles that would unfortunately define the rest of their careers. Hammond played Peter Parker in the endearingly cheap The Amazing Spider-Man (before that he had a guest spot on D.C. Fontana’s follow-up series Logan’s Run). It’s perhaps appropriate that Natica and Tye end up together (they make a horrendously wholesome couple).
Willlaway: Now for that chat.
So we have the bad bad guy and the good bad guy; York makes short work of the pilot and Tye fails to finish off the co-pilot. They disguise themselves in pilot uniforms and pose as the crewmembers; when our travellers, who saw the crash, go to their aid they don’t suspect a thing. It’s only later, when Willaway sees York speaking to the co-pilot (before atomising him) that suspicions arise.
Rayat: We do not cage living creatures.
According to the prisoner manifest, York was “Convicted of first-degree murder and mad psychotic behaviour”. That’s not just psychotic behaviour, but mad psychotic behaviour. An important technical distinction. He’s a thoroughly bad egg, basically.
Unusually then, the villains are employed in parallel to the travellers. Both converge on the same settlement and discover it from opposing perspectives. No episode previously has taken such an approach; I wouldn’t exactly label this an example of narrative complexity, but it’s refreshing not to have the focus purely on the regulars.
Of course, York is hell-bent on grasping the power of the Orb for his own enrichment (he observed the diamond incident). Tye, in contrast, only has eyes for Natica. It’s his guilt over York’s actions and desire to stop him that is key in turning the tables; Tye is willing to leave the woman he loves to prevent further killing (he failed prevent York from murdering Roland). Of course, we discover that the outcome would be the same for York no matter what Tye did; the only potential difference would be the body count.
Fred: Tell you what, the next time I get a chance you and I are going over the eye chart together. And no memorising.
The regulars comfortably fit into their now well-orchestrated positions. Varian recognises the sheer chilled-outness of Rayat’s abode, labelling it “rare”. The only hiccup is the discussion over best course of action to take once it is established that York is a right bastard. It goes around in circles for a bit, with Willaway nominally taking the flighty tone (“Our goal is finding Evoland”) before agreeing with Fred as if Varian didn’t favour sorting things out all along. Varian recognises their responsibility, having brought York along with them. Varian’s position of non-interference is thus slightly different to the one he espoused in Atlantium (where he only gets involved because Scotty is in danger).
And the conundrum of how to deal with York (if he is allowed to travel to different zones he will be as destructive a force there; they could just send him to the privateer zone, he probably wouldn’t last too long) is well stated. One might suggest that the conclusion is accordingly too neat, but I think it suggests an interesting moral philosophy (for some, rebirth is the only means of recuperation).
Willaway: I tell you, Varian, something is wrong.
Varian exercises his own version of the Prime Directive (his comment to Willaway on not interfering with Rayat’s outlook) but positing him in a situation that represents an extreme version of his 23rd century harmony has the effect of making him appear much closer to twentieth century savvy. It’s a continued disappointment that Varian’s perceptiveness of others’ true motivations has to take a backseat to the mechanics of plot tension (if he called York out as a liar straight off the bat there wouldn’t be much story).
Willaway: Oh, Varian’s a musician. He thinks that corkathon is part of an apple.
What Varian loses, Willaway gains. As usual he starts out attempting to pal up to the bad guy, which soon sets him on to his inherent dodginess. McDowall and Jaeckal are given some enjoyably abrasive interplay, as Willaway innocently questions York on future space tech. York effectively tells Willaway to piss off, commenting that there are two types of pilots, “Those who fly the ships and those who talk a lot. I do not like to talk, Mr Willaway”.
Fred: We know what you did and you’re not going to get away with it… And I just want you to know that I will get right down there in the gutter with you.
If Willaway and Varian lead the initial investigations into York (they discover the prisoner manifest), it’s Fred who holds the episode’s emotional focus. It’s about time Franklin was given something a bit more substantial, although the streetwise aspects of Fred come across as a bit lazy. He recounts how he grew up with people like York (presumably this was in the ghetto) and at one point they beat up his mother. She was too scared to call the police and so justice was not served.
Fred: See, that’s the problem. Nobody never does nothing.
This is somewhat crude motivation, but it provides an appropriately Captain Kirk-type physical opposition to the antagonist (Fred may be the doctor, but he’s completely dissimilar to McCoy). Although he’s the leader, Varian’s measured sensibility is closer to Spock (albeit a much warmer version). So it’s Fred who gets to engage in the action heroics. When York rigs the shuttle to blow (with Scott on board), Fred swings in and disables it. Later, he is quite willing to kill York (and him, a doctor!) until Rayat wisely intervenes.
Rayat: No, you must not have blood on your hands.
The fake-out demise of the travellers in the exploding shuttle requires York to commit the cardinal sin of the average Bond villain; he leaves the scene before witnessing the hero’s destruction. But it’s a small price to pay for the thematic unity of York’s fate.
York: I want the secret of the Orb. How to transform objects. How to tap its powers.
York returns to the colony to take the Orb by force. He grasps it, cries out, then falls to the floor. Before the travellers’ eyes, he physically regresses to a baby.
Rayat: The Orb has given him the quality all must have who would share in his power and live in our kingdom.
Rayat: The inevitability of harmony cannot be denied.
It’s a catchy line and an appealing concept; if only! Rayat also warbles something about the total symmetry of perfection in nature being maintained. The nature/nurture argument is left open (will York grow up to be a good man, having been granted a second chance?), but the inference is clear that the influence of Rayat will be positive. A few years later Doctor Who’s The Leisure Hive would offer a similar solution, as the despotic Pangol is rejuvenated into an infant.
Apart from petting puppies and being used as a hostage (at which point Eisenmann does some sterling gag acting), it’s another less than illustrious showing for Scott. He makes pals with Spider-Man, until it becomes clear he’s an unwelcome third wheel; all Spidey wants to do is get hot and heavy with Charlie’s Angel (with this and An Act of Love, Scott does tend to get in the way of the grown-ups doing their sexual thing). Still, Scott’s ever useful as means to seal up potential plot holes.
Scott: There’s just one thing I don’t understand.
Willaway: Only one?
Scott: If Rayat knew that York was guilty all along then how did he know that harmony would be restored?
Varian: Because he believes. Maybe that’s the secret of the Orb.
I’m not all together sure about his one. Did Rayat know York was guilty all long? He certainly didn’t sound like it during the early stages. This is a guy who claims not to know what doors are. Does he know what windows are? Still, he’s evidently a magnanimous chap, embracing a regressed murderer as his son. Has he ever eaten a ripe cheese? And Varian’s heady musing is tantamount to a validation of faith, so he’s come a long way since his scorched earth response to belief systems in An Act of Love.
The Innocent Prey may not have the most inspired of plots, but it’s a commendable step out of the series’ normal routine. It’s also blessed with a solid guest cast and a strong ending. The script for an unfilmed eleventh episode, Romulus, used to be available to read on the net, but I haven’t been able to locate it. Truth be told, not many episodes of The Fantastic Journey are all that good. But they are all eminently watchable (yes, even the Lord of the Flies one). There’s a legitimate defence for the variable quality as the producers had to scramble to get shows on air once NBC accepted the reworked pilot. Yet no matter how tiresome and predictable the plotting is, or cheap and shoddy the sets and costumes are, it has the lure of a great premise and characters you want to follow each week (well, Scott maybe not so much). And, of course, it has Roddy McDowall.
4. The Innocent Prey
7. A Dream of Conquest
8. An Act of Love
9. Beyond the Mountain
10. Children of the Gods